The curious case of a small wooden bowl

 

Rory Dunlop, NIKU

One of the strangest, most inexplicable things that the author has ever come across on an excavation at Bryggen in Bergen – or anywhere else, for that matter – turned up on the site of Finnegården 6A, investigated in the autumn of 1981. When a firelayer in the site’s southeastern half was removed, numerous timbers forming the foundations of a wooden building (designated K39) were revealed. And resting on top of one of these timbers, very close to the eavesdrop separating K39 from the neighbouring building towards the northwest, was a small, flat-bottomed bowl of turned wood, which had been secured in place by four small wooden pegs spaced at regular intervals around the outside of the bowl’s rim (see photograph – which is of relatively poor quality, but it was a very wet autumn!).

The dating of the firelayer is to around the end of the first quarter of the 16th century, and building K39 must have been erected sometime around the end of the third quarter of the 15th century.

Was this an act of superstition, some kind of votive offering that was put in place when the building was constructed? Or was it left there for someone’s favourite cat? (There may well have been an open crawl-space under the floor for many years after the building’s completion, before it became choked as the result of soil accumulation, so it is quite likely that the bowl would have been accessible to an agile feline.)

The bowl was routinely collected as one of the small finds of organic material and sent off for conservation (accession number BRM104/499) but, regrettably, it does not appear to have been examined subsequently to see whether or not it contained any residue that might have lent itself to foodstuff analysis.

References

Dunlop, A.R. 1982. Report on the excavations in Finnegården 6A, 1981. Riksantikvaren Utgravningskontor for Bergen.