The Shorwell Helmet

Image of Shorwell Helmet replica
Replica of the Anglo-Saxon Shorwell helmet, made by Dave Roper (Ganderwick Creations), free to use

The Shorwell Helmet was found in 2004 on the Isle of Wight, and it dates to the early 6th century. It was found in a grave of a high status individual. The pieces were so fragmented that initially it was thought they came from an iron bowl but later analysis identified them as belonging to a helmet. The grave had also contained an iron pattern-welded sword blade, a silver pyramidal-shaped pommel, part of a gilded copper alloy scabbard mouthpiece, the socket from a broken spearhead, a shield-boss with extended grip, a copper alloy buckle (perhaps from a sword belt), a clear, fluted glass vessel, the remains of a Celtic copper alloy hanging bowl with bird-shaped mounts and two pieces of flint that may have been worked. A nearby square gold mount of Mediterranean origin inlaid with garnet and glass was also found. Later in 2007 a gold solidus was also recovered and is believed to have come from the same grave.

It was possible to reconstruct about two-thirds of the helmet from the fragments found, but by comparing it to other similar known artefacts, which are symmetrical in construction, it has been possible to envisage the final size and shape of this helmet.

Eight separate iron plates were riveted together and the frame was formed by an encircling brow band, a brow to nape band and two lateral bands. It is smaller than the Sutton Hoo or York Helmets, and is not believed to have had a nasal piece, but rather to have been in the style of a close fitting cap.

While the helmet would have needed to be worn with padding it is not clear whether this was present in the burial, and it may have been used over a separate woollen or linen cap rather than lined.

The helmet is very plain and functional rather than an elaborate object such as Sutton Hoo or the Staffordshire Hoard examples.  However the quality of work and thoughtfulness of the design imply it was made by a specialist such as an armourer.  It is typical of designs throughout Europe at the time, and the style is most closely parallel to Frankish helmets.  However, there are some differences. It is constructed from three bands, one joining the brow to the nape and two side bands, rather than only two bands crossing one another, for example.

The date c. 500-550 AD means that this helmet represents a bridge in  the  chronological  sequence  of  helmets  within  the  British  Isles  between  examples deriving from the Roman occupation and  the  helmets  known  from  the  Anglo-Saxon  period,  ie the  late  6th  to  the  late  8th  century. However the link to Frankish helmets also indicates it could be an example of a very early import or a local product influenced by Continental design.

Helmets were very rare and elite objects so the grave occupant is believed to have been a high status individual. The Frankish influence combined with the other finds in the grave, such as the belt plaque and the solidus, suggest that the owner may have been a Frankish warrior serving in the retinue of a local warlord.