Preliminary Analysis of the Warwickshire Hoard Yields Insights, Raises Questions about Fourth Age Suza Culture by Celeritas

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Story Notes:

This article was originally published in Centar Ardo, 56, 120-129, and is reprinted with permission of the publisher in honor of B2MEM 2011, Day 15: The cuisine of the Shire is unsurpassed. Write a story or poem, or create a work of art, featuring food.

Author's Chapter Notes:

Centar Ardo's standards dictate that for sources not arising directly from the literary tradition, Westron be used when referring to names and proper nouns in translation.  For the reader’s edification, Tolkien translated “Suza” as “the Shire” and “kuduk” as “hobbit.”

Preliminary Analysis of the Warwickshire Hoard Yields Insights, Raises Questions about Fourth Age Suza Culture 

Thanks to generous funding from the Tolkien Estate, the contents of a metal box unearthed by a metal detector in Warwickshire have been shown with 95% certainty to date to 7750 BP, or 5800 BCE, ± 75 years.[1]  While scholars are still unable to place this date in Gondor/Suza reckoning, this clearly places the hoard sometime in the first half of the Fourth Age, certainly well before any era of forgery.  The evidence of the material itself only corroborates the chemical evidence of radiocarbon dating.

The hoard, discovered in the spring of 2008, was identified as at least a claimant to the Ardan era by the presence of the so-called Voronwë seal (fig 1).  This seal, which is present on many of the extant copies of the Red Book of Westmarch, had been initially thought to imply ownership or identification with a historical figure, but has since been argued to signify “voronwië” or “voronwa,” for “lasting quality” or “long-lasting,” and may apply to objects as well as people.[2]  This is the first instance we have of a material object bearing the seal.

Three Tengwar indicating the consonants in

(fig. 1)

Even without the presence of the seal, the nature of the hoard itself suggests that it was intended for long-term preservation.  The box was made of a minimally corrosive metal alloy, lined on the interior with gold, and the points of contact between the box and the lid were coated with a substance apparently designed to create a hermetical seal.  Air samples from within the box indicated 25% relative humidity at 20° C, on the low-end of the preservation optima for vellum.  It should be noted that, given the box’s location and the long number of years it remained underground, it was often subjected to colder temperatures, and thus higher relative humidity; however, the vellum within did not gel, and the absence of mold spores combined with the effectiveness of the seal eliminated the possibility of mold.[3]

At any rate, the contents of the box are exceedingly well preserved.  Vellum is a highly durable material, and it was written on in carbon-based ink, another chemically inert substance.  Record-keeping practices of this time are unknown, so these may have been standard action; however, given the contents of the box, this does appear to be a preservation copy.

The box contains over three hundred loose vellum cards, each measuring approximately 3 x 4 ½ inches.  Most of them are written in the same, fair hand; however, some of the samples (usually those that claim to date the earliest) are written in different hands, using older modes of script.  It is believed that these are either earlier copies, or else attempts to copy the originals (or the copies of originals) so closely that even the hand-writing was mimicked.  See the case-study below.

Paleographical analysis of the cards indicates that they were written by kuduk, a conclusion reinforced by the size of the box which is rather small for Mannish hands.  More detailed analysis leads to the conclusion that these cards predate all of our extant copies of kuduk literature; however, the spellings of the words themselves, especially these “later” cards, are more in keeping with the later additions, especially some of the latest essays in the so-called “Fifth Volume” of the Red Book of Westmarch.[4]  This lends credence to the belief that the copyists of the Fourth Age were scrupulous in maintaining consistency with their original sources after the initial loss of content.  The content of the majority of the cards, however, probably dates no earlier than the early Fourth Age, because they make several references to foods not readily available in Suza before the King’s return.

All of the cards translated thus far contain recipes, and there is no reason not to assume that the rest of them do as well.  Their condition, though, suggests that they were never used in the kitchen, but made specifically for archival purposes.  This is reinforced when we look at one of the cards written with a variant hand.

Case Study: Bilba Labingi’s Seed-cakes

Several of the variant hand cards are written with thin strokes and are rather difficult for the untrained eye to read; almost all of these are identified in some way, shape, or form with Bilba Labingi, the famous Bilbo Baggins of Tolkien’s 1937 translation.  This particular card contains a notation in the main copyist’s hand, “These are the cakes which Bilba Labingi gave to the Dwarves ere he went on his Adventure.”

This recipe has previously been published as it was found in the marginalia of some of the Red Book manuscripts; however, notations to these recipes cast doubt upon their authenticity as some of the seeds called for were likely not present in Suza at the time. [5]  This recipe, by contrast, contains only ingredients which were present at the time (imported sugar is attested in customs documents dating to at least S.R. 1150).  This makes a more convincing case for the recipe’s being contemporary, but whether it was in fact Labingi’s or not is unknown.  The apparent attempt to imitate Labingi’s handwriting as attested in the literature suggests that the copyist wanted this to be so, but whether he was copying from an original containing his hand, or whether the copyist was merely using his imagination, is unknown.

The presence of these and several other “historical” recipes suggests, therefore, that the box was probably created, if not buried, during a period of high historical consciousness.  Most of the recipes, however, are not linked to any historical figures or events in the literary sources, and appear to come from later in the Fourth Age.

Text of Recipe

Ingredients - 1 lb. of flour, ¼ lb. of sifted sugar, ¼ lb. of butter, ½ oz. of caraway seeds, 3 eggs[6]

Mode.--Beat the butter to a cream, stir in the flour, sugar, and caraway seeds; and when these ingredients are well mixed, add the eggs, which should be well whisked.  Roll out the paste, with a round cutter shape out the cakes, and bake them in a moderate oven from 10 to 15 minutes.  The tops of the cakes may be brushed over with a little milk or the white of an egg, and then a little sugar strewn over.

Sufficient to make 3 dozen biscuits.  Seasonable at any time.

These are the cakes which Bilba Labingi gave to the Dwarves ere he went on his Adventure.

Case Study: Quick Puddings

Most of the recipes take relatively little time to make, which seems to reinforce the numerous daily meals in the literary sources.  Of course, it is impossible to know how much each recipe was used in the household that compiled them, but the abundance of these recipes suggests how the kuduk managed their time with so many meals.

This, one of the recipes in the standard copyist’s hand, is one such dish, and it appears to have been adapted from the great steamed puddings usually made for the Yule-tide festival.[7]  The fact that this particular iteration of the recipe dates to the Fourth Age is suggested by the presence of lemon rind; before then, citrus was only available in Suza in dried peel form and was an exotic.

It is hoped that the inclusion of both of these recipes will give the reader a flavor for what appears to be authentic Suza cuisine.  A modern-day adaptation of both is included as an appendix.

Text of Recipe

Ingredients - ¼ lb. of butter, ½ lb. of sifted sugar, ¼ lb. of flour, 1 pt. of milk, 5 eggs, a little grated lemon-rind.

Mode.--Make the milk hot; stir in the butter, and let it cool before the other ingredients are added to it; then stir in the sugar, flour, and eggs, which should be well whisked, and omit the whites of 2; flavour with a little grated lemon-rind, and beat the mixture well.  Butter some small cups, rather more than half fill them; bake from 20 minutes to ½ hour, according to the size of the puddings, and serve with fruit, custard, or wine sauce, a little of which may be poured over them.

Sufficient for 6 puddings.  Seasonable at any time.

Questions Raised by the Warwickshire Hoard

Certain aspects of the Warwickshire Hoard call into question earlier assumptions about the culture of Suza at this time.

The presence of the box, for example, raises questions on the state of technology and contact with other cultures.  Preservation technology is not only highly sophisticated; it also must develop over generations of people who share the same concern for preserving items of the past.  There are literary antecedents for the preservation-minded--the Elven cultures come first to mind, followed by the Numenoreans.  What is most unexpected is for such a culture to be manifested in Suza, which has traditionally been represented as isolationist at this time.  Either the kuduk developed an embalming culture of their own, in response to their growing sense of historical awareness, or they had sufficient contact with an outside culture, or both.  In each case, the literary picture painted of Fourth Age Suza as an isolationist, technologically stable culture is called into question.

The squareness of the box and the chemical knowledge required to make the sealant suggest that the box was imported or commissioned, either from Arnor or else from the elven cultures.  The box itself must have been sealed with a technician present as well, to remove organic life from the box while maintaining an acceptable level of humidity.  Ultimately, the details of the creation of the box are lost to us.  It was created with preservation in mind, but how this happened is unknown.

The burial of the box is also a mystery.  Was the box intended for burial, and if so, why?  None of the cards translated so far contain any sort of legend that would be expected in (for instance) a time capsule.  Kuduk had never shared Mannish funerary rites in which the dead were buried alongside important belongings, and at any rate, these rites were only beginning to develop in the Fourth Age.

Yet the only other tangible reason to bury the box suggests duress, a crisis which almost certainly would have occurred after the careful creation and sealing of the box.  Under this interpretation, the burial might date to the Mannish incursions of c. 1900 F.A.  However, if so, one would expect other valuable items buried near the box, such as coins and metal artifacts, none of which have been found at the site of discovery.  These items Men were much more likely to take.  Alternately, the solitary burial of the box might suggest an internal conflict, in which recipes were valued by both those who buried the box and their aggressors.

Against the theory of crisis burial, however, stands the fact that the hoard is remarkably light, not so heavy that it could not be carried by a fleeing kuduk.

No signs of contemporary settlement have been unearthed near the hoard, although evidence from this time is, as always, scanty.  Thus, the hoard having been left behind at a deserted house cannot be outruled as a possibility.

These speculative theories are given to show the reader the numerous areas of inquiry that the existence of the hoard opens up.  The clearest conclusion that can be drawn is that the kuduk who buried this clearly valued recipes: not only as a means to prepare food, but also as an important social, cultural, and historical artifact.

[1] See Lowdham, A. A., et al. (2009).  Radiocarbon Dating of the Warwickshire Hoard. Middle-earth Archaeology, 21, 17-31.

[2] See Tolkien, J.R.R. (1967).  Some Thoughts on the Voronwë Seal. Journal of the Proceedings of the Arda Philological Society, 1, 1-25.  The reader will not need to be reminded that the presence of this seal neither confirms nor denies the “magical” aspect of the Elvish cultures in the literary sources, or even the efficacy of the technology whose presence the seal was intended to signal, as many other objects now lost to us may have had the same seal.  If Tolkien’s interpretation of the seal is correct, the only meaning that may safely be attached to the seal is that this cache, like many of the texts containing it, was intended for long-term preservation.

[3] For a chemical analysis of the substances, see Lowdham, A. A., et al. (2010).  Compounds and Alloys Used in the Warwickshire Hoard.  Middle-earth Archaelology, 22, 69-82.  

[4] First argued by Tolkien, J.R.R. (1954).  Notes on the Shire Records.  The Fellowship of the Ring, 13-15.

[5] See Luin, E (2005).  Bag End Seedcake.  Centar Ardo, 50, 24.

[6] Weights and measures have been translated.

[7] No such recipe has been found yet; however, not all of the cards have yet been translated.  Yuletide pudding recipes have been found in the marginalia of two manuscript copies.


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