Rare 17th century glass bead from Venice found at archaeological dig in Plymouth

The glass bead from Venice found during the Plymouth dig Credit: Chloe Rowland, Plymouth Archaeological Society

An archaeological dig at the site of Plymouth’s first navy supply yard has uncovered fascinating evidence of pottery, glassware and other rare items from the 17th century.

Experts from the University of Plymouth and Plymouth Archaeology Society have spent time carrying out excavations at Commercial Wharf to the south of the Barbican.

The star find was one half of a glass bead, believed to have been made on the island of Murano in Venice lagoon.

The island of Murano is renowned for its long tradition of glass-making.

Also known as a Chevron or Rosetta bead, complete 17th century examples can be found in museums around the world such as the Corning Museum of Glass in New York.

The bead Credit: Chloe Rowland, Plymouth Archaeological Society

The area where the precious items are being discovered was used for nearly 200 years to supply the Navy with bread, biscuits and beef until those operations moved to Royal William Yard in the 19th century.

However, investigations have found several items dating from before the quay wall of the victualling yard was built in the 1660s.

Volunteers working on the site also found Mediterranean and Iberian pottery, including fragments of Pisan-type marbled ware and Montelupo ware from Florence.

They also have part of a costrel of Portuguese coarseware from Aveiro and now have three fragments of Chinese blue-and-white Ming porcelain, which were used by those in high society at the time.

Tableware, jars and a candlestick have also been found. Credit: Plymouth Archaeological Society

Other finds indicate aspects of daily life in the town, including clay pipes, butchered animal bones, oysters, cockles and a fish vertebrae, probably from a cod.

These have been added to discoveries which led to the current investigation, including pottery from the UK and Europe as well as tableware, jars, and a candlestick.

The project was launched after conservation work on the quay wall at Commercial Wharf revealed important 17th century material.

University of Plymouth maritime archaeologist Martin Read, chairman of the Plymouth Archaeology Society, has been directing the work.

Experts said the artefacts were proof of the city’s status as “an epicentre of global trade”. Credit: Plymouth Archaeological Society

He said: “The finds we have uncovered over the past week have given us a fantastic insight into life in Plymouth during the 17th century. They reflect the triangular fishing trade between Plymouth, Newfoundland and continental Europe, which saw thousands of fishermen each year sailing to Newfoundland in the spring and salting the cod they caught on the Grand Banks (& in New England).

"Some of these vessels would then journey to Iberia and/or the Mediterranean at the end of summer, from where they always brought back cargoes of fine tableware to sell in Plymouth.”