Alumni family of detectorists dig UKC History (and some of their own)

A father-son metal detecting duo -both alumni of Kent- unearthed a medieval artifact this spring as they searched farm pasture by the site of a Roman temple on Hayling Island, Hampshire.

For Bart Smith (R05), a joint honors graduate of Politics and History, now living in Chicago, Illinois, it was a great opportunity to try out his new detector over a few sunny days with his father, Dr. Rod Smith (R74) who after completing an Electronics BSc graduated from Kent with a PhD in Information Theory and, suitably qualified, happily did the digging.

On their first day on the hunt they unearthed a small, muddy pebble from about a foot or so under a grassy pasture. “When we first unearthed the object from the mud we thought it might be a bottle tag or something used to help determine weights and measurements”, commented Bart. But once the object was brought home, Rod’s partner Sue Cox (Sue Pimm, D74 Social Anthropology) correctly recognized it as similar to a medieval seal – with an Agnus Dei motif. She enjoyed the opportunity to start deciphering what she suspected was Lombardic text around the edges.

Kent History academics dig in

Bart then quickly contacted Kent’s Medieval History professors to ask for their opinion. Academics Dr Andrew Gallagher and Professor Barbara Bombi replied the very next day, agreeing the artifact was likely medieval and an ecclesiastical matrix seal, used to authenticate documents in medieval times. They recommended that he register the find with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) a required step for anything deemed to be “treasure” by UK law. At the same time they connected him to Dr. Paul Dryburgh at the National Archives in Kew, a fellow of the Centre of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent. The archives at Kew hold one of the largest collections of medical monastic seals in the world. From some basic iPhone photos of the find, Dr Dryburgh could see the text clearly naming the seal’s former owner as “Ricardi”.

“Both Sue and I were delighted by the speed, expertise and enthusiasm with which the professors at UKC became involved and helped to solve the mystery while we awaited the PAS’ determination on the artifact”, said Rod. He added, “For Bart and I the metal detecting is a great overlap between our areas of study at Kent, and it was really satisfying to be able to call upon Kent’s History Department to bring this small part of medieval history to life for us.”

Find unveiled:

After being collected for study by the PAS, the seal was identified as an interesting find of cultural importance due to the rare nature of its inscription in stating the seal really does stand in for the seal-owner.

It’s described as a medieval (1200-1400) copper alloy non-heraldic personal seal matrix of pointed oval form that depicts the Virgin and child, the Virgin at waist height only cradling the infant to one side in her arm, above an Agnus Dei, the cross extending backwards at angle, its head turned back to look at it. There is a horizontal grooved line between them. Around is the inscription +[SIG]NO RICARDI C[REDI]TE SICVT EI (in modern English, the ‘sign’ of Richard, believe (it) as if it were he himself).

Rod and Sue
Rod and Sue

See the seal record online:

The National Archives in London:

Center of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Kent: Dr Paul Dryburgh

Fun fact: In not so ancient history, Rod’s first year next-door neighbour at Rutherford College was future UKC Chancellor Gavin Esler!