Close up and Personal

Fossilised ‘sea-lilies’

These beautiful, delicate, snowflake-like fossils are found commonly in the fields and ditches of southern and eastern Warwickshire and are sometimes brought into the Warwickshire Museum as enquiries. They are often no more than about five millimetres in width. They represent the remains of unusual, stalked animals, known as ‘crinoids’, that lived in Warwickshire’s Jurassic sea roughly 180 million years ago. They are also known as ‘sea lilies’ and thrive in modern seas and oceans.

Stem Ossicle

Stem ‘ossicle’ of a Jurassic crinoid from Napton-on-the-Hill, near Rugby. This specimen measures roughly seven millimetres across.

The example above is a single segment or ‘ossicle’ of a crinoid stem, collected from Jurassic clay beds at Napton-on-the-Hill. Remarkable detail becomes clear when it is viewed under a microscope or with a magnifying glass.

The examples opposite, also from Napton-on-the-Hill, include two stem fragments made up of stacked ossicles. They are also very small, less than one centimetre in height.

Crinoid Fossils

Jurassic crinoid fossils from Napton-on-the-Hill, near Rugby

Living crinoids are rather flower-like in appearance. They are made up of a long flexible stem, and a cup-like ‘calyx’ (pronounced ‘kay-lix’) supporting long arms that gather up food from the seawater. At times, the Jurassic sea-bed must have been a carpet of crinoids, wafting in the gentle currents. Crinoid stems are made up of hundreds of ossicles. Jurassic crinoid ossicles, such as the examples illustrated here, show a five-sided (pentagonal) ‘radial’ symmetry, just like starfish and sea-urchins. This shows that these sea-creatures are quite closely related, despite their very different appearances. Crinoid ossicles are made up of the mineral known as calcite, like the shells of sea-urchins.

In the past, interesting folklore and theories have grown up around crinoid fossils. Robert Plot’s book entitled ‘Natural History of Oxfordshire’, published in 1677, contains several drawings of star-shaped Jurassic crinoid fossils, just like those from Napton-on-the-Hill. Plot, the first Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, rejected the idea that crinoids and other fossils were the remains of ancient organisms. Instead, he interpreted them as unusual mineral growths. Elsewhere in Britain, crinoid ossicles have been referred to as ‘St Cuthbert’s beads’.

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Stag beetle

Stag Beetle

Stag beetle or ‘Lucanus cervus’

The Stag Beetle Lucanus cervus is one of Britain’s largest and most spectacular beetles. The males can reach a length of 75mm and have hugely enlarged mandibles that resemble antlers. These are used for fighting other males in order to win the affections of the females. But do not be frightened as they cannot hurt you.

The huge larvae develop in the rotting trunks and rootstocks of dead or over-mature trees and take 5 years to grow, because dead wood is not very nutritious. The Stag Beetle was once widespread in southern Britain, but has become much rarer in recent decades, so much so that it is now classified as a Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species and is subject to research and conservation funded by Central Government.

The Stag Beetle was considered long extinct in Warwickshire, but several recent records suggest it may have survived here at very low population levels or is in the process of spreading back north into the Midlands. Have you seen one?

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Anglo Saxon Brooch

Anglo Saxon Brooch

Anglo Saxon ‘Great Square-headed’ Brooch

The Anglo-Saxons arrived in Warwickshire in about 500 AD. They came from a wide area of north-western Europe.

Several Anglo Saxon cemeteries have been excavated in Warwickshire, including sites at Bidford-on-Avon, Wasperton and Stretton-on-Fosse.

Front of Brooch

Front of Brooch

It was the custom to bury men with their weapons, such as spears and shields, and women with their jewellery. The possession of fine jewellery showed that the owner was an important person.

We know very little about the myths and legends of the Anglo-Saxon people who lived here in the 5th to 7th centuries AD. It is possible to imagine that animals, real and fantastic played a large part because of their appearance on jewellery, metalwork and stone carvings of the time.

 

Back of Brooch

Back of Brooch

This Great Square-headed brooch was found in a male grave at the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Wasperton. It is made of bronze and has been gilded. There are several different human and animal faces hidden in the designs around the brooch.

The pin on the back of this brooch was iron. It has now rusted away, but has left an impression of the cloth it was attached to. This gives us a clue to the type of cloth the person was wearing.

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Embroidered casket

Embroidered Casket

Embroidered Casket c.1650 – 1670

Wooden casket decorated with embroidery, laid threads, and paper leaves.

The casket belonged to a family in north Warwickshire. It has a double lid, and two front doors that open to reveal little drawers and a ‘secret’ compartment. It may have been used as a jewellery box or to store treasures! It is probably the work of a young girl, aged 12 – 14 years, who had learnt needlework as part of her ‘education’.

Embroidered Casket open doors

Casket with doors open.

The inside of the doors and drawer fronts are covered in ivory satin, and embroidered with flowers using silk-wrapped metal threads and gold coloured sequins. The doors no longer fully open.

The casket itself is wooden and was probably made by a cabinet maker. It is decorated with embroidered panels, paper leaves, and coloured threads. These have been laid and interwoven in a pattern of geometric designs and stylised fruits and flowers.

The embroidered panels on the doors and drawer fronts are in coloured silk threads on ivory satin.

The young girl may not have designed the patterns and pictures herself. In the 17th century, people could buy needlework kits just like we do today. These would include all the materials and designs needed to make the embroidery.

Casket, seen from the back

Casket, seen from the back

Embroidered Casket side

Side view of the casket.

The two sets of hinges on the back of the casket show where both lids open to reveal two compartments.

Embroidered Casket left door

Casket, left door.

The edges of the casket are trimmed with braid of silver coloured metal thread.

The sides and back of the casket are decorated with silk-wrapped metal and silver coloured threads. They are laid and interwoven to form geometric patterns and stylised fruits and flowers.

The left door shows a man wearing fashionable 17th century clothes, including very pointed shoes!

Both doors are covered in ivory satin, embroidered with various stitches, including satin and flat stitch.

Embroidered Casket right door

Casket, right door.

The right door shows a woman with fashionable clothes and hairstyle. Like the man, she stands under a bower of stylised flowers, fruits and leaves.

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