This copper alloy seal box lid was recovered by one of our volunteer metal detectorists on one of the spoil heaps at Binchester. For more information on the role and restrictions of metal detectorists at Binchester, check out our previous blog post.
Seal boxes are small, hinged containers, consisting of a base with several perforations and a hinged lid. In this case, only the lid remains, the stub of the attachment loop can be seen projecting from one edge. They are usually highly decorative, as with this example which exhibits a 3x3 chequerboard design inlaid with alternating squares of blue and yellow champlevé enamel. Roman coloured enamels tend to degrade in the soil, so the yellow has discoloured to brown in places, however, it would have originally been very striking. It dates to the 2nd – 3rd century AD.
They are generally interpreted to have been used as cases for wax seals attached to documents or valuables in transit. The owner or representative would use a signet ring to stamp their emblem into the warm wax both as a means of identification and to protect against tampering, essential when sending private documents or valuables over long distances.
You can see on the front edge where the metal has begun to flake away. This will be examined and stabilised by a conservator who will also hopefully be able to bring out the colours of the enamel through appropriate treatment.