So I got a copy this Christmas of the SAS monograph of 1979-1981 excavations in Perth. Yes, very dull. (I should have asked for more than just technical books)
However, something inside it reminded me of the importance of recording all the information you can about your finds. There is a drawing and write up of a small disc of lead with a hole through the centre that looks like a spindle whorl, and is so identified. They measured it, but didn’t weigh it.
Which is annoying.
The important point about spindle whorls is that the weight affects how they perform, how long they spin for (or is that also to do with size, I can’t recall), and therefore what diameter of thread they are useful for.
So if you can weigh lots of lead spindle whorls and work out the spread of the weights you can tie that in with thread diameters that they were used for, which might lead to questions of were they used for linen or wool thread, does the thread they were used for match specific types that have been excavated, etc.
And an idea of how closely to specification they were produced. If such information as weight isn’t published, a future researcher will have to trail around all the museums in the country to weigh each spindle whorl. Hence why recording information is important.
Of course, if you think about it, the excavators at the time simply didn’t know that that information might be important in the future. What I suspect is more likely is that 32 years ago they simply didn’t access to a decent balance. The only weights I can find after looking through the monograph are the coin weights, in grains, and seeing as many of them are precious metals they would be worth appraising separately.
I think most of you might know how underfunded and difficult archaeology can be, especially 30 years ago, but if you didn’t, it is.
Other, newer excavations at places like York have weighed lots of things, including artefacts of pieces of metal casting mould. Knowing how small the pieces of mould are could give a rough indication of the size of the item being made. The number of mould fragments by total weight could, the authors suggest, be used to compare activity in different times and places.
In the Perth case, it is a clear example of lack of proper funding – the write up began during the excavation, but took over 6 years before it was finally published. In fact there’s still further excavations from Perth High street around 1980 or so that haven’t been published yet! I had heard that they were heading towards publication, but not so far.