Monday, 18 November 2013

The humble spindle whorl, an everyday find and how it worked.

The weekend brought a much needed relief to the cabin fever i have been suffering of late.
Clodhoppers MDC had a open dig which i was determined not to miss.

As ever the location was kept under wraps until the last minute.
It turned out that the venue was a 115 mile round trip for me, which is nothing unusual.

I arrived deep in the Worcestershire countryside at 8am on a crisp and refreshing November Sunday morning. The venue was adorned with new faces, as normally happens on open digs. The regulars were out in force too, all deep in conversations and forging new friendships’ along the way

The dig was on a site along a river valley with a disused railway cutting at the other side. The landowner had put on some food after slaughtering a pig to celebrate the occasion. I did not take part in the feast, however i believe the food was fantastic.

The detectorist whose permission it was gave a speech which informed all of no go areas and boundaries, then off we went.

The fields were easy digging along the riverbank, as the soil appeared to be sedimentary. In fact there were very few areas of the 100 acres that the digging was difficult. The fields had livestock in them; They were real noisy critters. There were about 20 longhorns with their calves in 1 field, and a Bull in the next field. A few sheep were tagging along with the cattle. I did notice 1 sheep which was hobbling around on three legs, however this is something that is not unusual. Wherever we go to dig, and sheep are present at this time of year, we find three legged hopalongs. I must find out at some point what it is that afflicts them.

After a couple of hours it became apparent that the fields were not going to be giving up tons of goodies, one would have to work for it.

As everyone disappeared off to the sausage chef for some luncheon, i decided to grid out a part of the field the size of a pair of tennis courts. This took me two and a half hours to complete, and yielded 3 coppers two modern 5p's two bag seals and a rather large spindle whorl.

The later find got me thinking about how many of these are found, and how important they must have been to everyday life back in the day. I say back in the day because they have been in use for over 2000 years.

After searching youtube for videos, i found that the use of spindle whorls still happens in some countries. Below is one such video, others are available.

Thanks to spin2weave for this video.

 An ingenious yet simple device that allowed the spinner to get some extra purchase on the spin of the spindle. 
I wonder how they could have been lost, but then again i wonder this about a lot of things i find.

I like to think about how these things were discovered by the ancient folk. I am sure that it was not the case of some one waking in the morning and thinking "if i put some weight on the spindle it will spin better". No, my imagination has some matriarch of the family spinning her spindle in a hollowed out stone. In fact the motion of spinning causes the spindle to wear through the stone and create a small hole. The spinner then finds that the spindle goes through the hole and accidentally grips the stone. On her next spin, the stone causes the spindle to spin for longer and faster than ever before. There and then the spindle whorl is a woman.

My paltry finds, oh but what fun. Spindle whorl bottom left.
In the clip below you can clearly see the whorl on the slender spindle as she flicks it between her fingers. The whorl gives weight and motion to the spindle, thus creating the twist in the fibres. A magical glimpse into what our ancestors would have been doing throughout our history.

Thanks to Ecuador 1 for this video.

All the very best to you diggers out there.


  1. Yes, indeed ... the humble spindle whorl is often discarded by many detectorists. This was my take on the subject:

  2. your write up is superb John, i doff my cap.