Claw Beakers

Claw beakers tend to be sited as a Pagan Anglo-Saxon glass form. They are found as grave goods during this period and were until relatively recently unknown in the period 700-1000AD. Most claw beakers or parts of beaker appear to be found in a grave context and not as generally rubbish. As burial with goods ceased with the advent of Christianity, it begs the question of whether the form really did cease or whether later claw beakers were recycled as cullet, a processes often practised where glass was a rare commodity, in to other forms as time progressed, however no evidence has been found for this as yet.

The first rudimentary claw form is seen in the north about 300AD,at Marne, and the basis for the form can be seen in late Roman vessels. In the beginning of the Anglo- Saxon period the glass was made by Syrian craftsmen working in the Seine/Rhinelands, this was a continuation of the mass importation of glassware from the same area and craftsmen in the Roman period, however it was on a much reduced scale. Analysis shows not interruption of soda supplies to the Rhineland and no disruption of the industry in the post Roman period.

A typical analysis of Soda Glass of the 5th Century would be in the range

Glass(greenish yellow) by %

66.35 SiO2,


6.52 CaO,

0.65 K2O,

2.8 Al2O3,

1.25 MgO,

0.45 Fe2O3/FeO,

1.03 MnO

Different Oxides in the mixture would give differing colour, for example Copper for red, blue or green, Iron for black, tin for yellow.

Soda glass is made clean , stone free sand, usually river bed sand with the addition of Soda imported from the Mediterranean in a form known as Naton. Potash as an addition was generally not used until the 10th Century and our one late claw fragment is of this type was found at Ipswich, it was suggested by Evison(1988) that this composition of glass may have been used as early as the 9th century. The Naton/quartz mixture was heated in an oven for several days the mixture was constantly agitated allowing waste gases to escape, it was then broken in a crucible and melted in a furnace, this occasionally failed to make glass and the waste material was left which has been excavated.

This beakers can be found in site distributed throughout both England and in the Germanic continental areas , suggesting a trade in these items, initially all from the continent. However there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that into the late 6th , early 7th century glass making was taking place in the Kent area, this had always been a area where many goods entered England and it is probably that not only the glass but a craftsman or the technology entered here also. A variant of the claw beaker is seen in this area and also in the Vendel areas of Sweden at this time. As claw beaker production is a difficult one to master. (An modern English glassblower mastered the technique after 3 years practice, having already been blowing for 10 years) it seems likely that the Kent craftsman, learnt his craft from an established blower rather than independently, suggesting movement of person, the appearance of the Kent style in Sweden can either be seen as another move or of trade.

Claw beakers changed both in style and colour range during the period as illustrated, in brief, by table 1 below.

Period Typical Colours Typical Trail Colour Typical Style
Early Saxon

Type 1,2, 3

indefinite greens, olive, browns, a few definite blues One colour, trails in same colour claws 2x5 or most usually 2 x 4

Mid Saxon

Type 4,5

blue with red streaks, dark olive, dark green , dark brown with white trails, Trails in 2 colours claws, few 2x5, greater variety eg 3 x 4, 2x 3, 1 x3

Bag style beaker

Some knobs

late Saxon Potash claw

Baldwin Brown The Arts in Early England Vol 4 John Murray (1915)

Clark John Museum of London discussions with.(1999)

Evison Vera 'Anglo-Saxon glass claw beakers' in _Archaeologia_ 107 (1982) 43-76. Evison Vera 'Some Vendel, Viking and Saxon glass' in B Hardh, L Larsson et al (eds) _Trade and Exchange in Prehistory - Acta Archaeologia Lundensia_ 16 (1988) 237-45.

Glass News(Journal of The Association for the History of GlassLtd) supplement

Guido M The Glass Beads of Anglo-Saxon England Boydell & Brewer(1999)

Harden, D Ancient Glass III Post Roman in Archaelogical Journal (1971)

Harden, D Anglo-Saxon and later Medieval Glass in Britain in Medieval Archaeology (1978)

Hugget, J Imported Grave goods and the Early Anglo-Saxon economy in Medieval Archaology (1988)

Singer A History of Technology Vol II, Oxford (1956)

Smith R A British Museum Guide to Anglo-Saxon Antiquities (1923)

Thorpe W A English Glass A & C Black (1935)

Taylor Mark discussions with 1999