Sunday, 7 February 2016

Bound by Brooches – a visitor from Oxford

This week’s seminar happening at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies was the visiting lecture by Toby Martin from the University of Oxford. He is a British Academy research fellow who works on the Early Medieval brooches in Europe and his talk at Stockholm was titled ‘Bound by brooches: multi-scalar networks in Migration Period Europe and Sweden’. He and Alison Klevnäs from the Department organise together a session in the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) conference in Vilnius in early September. This session is called What's it all worth? Material possessions and value in past societies. It all sounds very interesting, but let see what happens in my late August and late September.

Toby was talking about his broad study of the Migration Period covering the whole Europe. He has been compiling a database of the Migration Period bow brooches (Early Medieval Brooches of Europe Database, EMBED), a specific detail in a female dress of the period. These mainly cemetery finds are an interesting material, since their condition in the burial suggested that they had been worn as cloak fastener or similar during the life-time of the deceased.. Bow brooches appear suddenly in the European archaeological material in the 5th century AD and spread quickly across Europe having a series of distinctive regional types. The database includes 7560 bow brooches and 2044 grave contexts.

Composite objects

Toby had started studying Migration Period bow brooches in his PhD in which he analysed the distribution of the Anglo-Saxon brooches. These are neatly concentrated in Britain, so their connection to an ethnic group seems to be clear. There is even an absolute emptiness in Wales and Ireland, whereas the East of England is densely dotted. Similarly the types in the areas related to the Angles and the Saxons in nowadays northern Germany and to the Visigoths in central Spain the distributions are neat. On the other hand, the Frankish brooches have a wide spread, whereas the Ostrogoth brooches are everywhere in the central Europe.

European distributions

Through the Ostrogoths, this talk had suddenly a research relevance to me. I have had to look at the Ostrogoth settlement patterns in northern Italy lately and could comment on the sparse distribution in Italy. Naturally, the general network research design was also interesting. The lack of finds in my native Finland also got a comment. The bow brooches are a Scandinavian type, found in a few examples in Vöyri, if my memory does not fail me, and what is happening in Finland is quite different. As if I have excavated a Migration/Merovingian Period Period site in Finland. Naturally, in the Nordic countries these periods are part of the Iron Age, i.e. prehistory, not Early Medieval Period.

England works fine

Toby’s composite classification, since the brooches were made up of distinct parts that are recognisable in most examples, was interesting. He was using correspondence analysis for the recognition of any groupings but could only achieve fuzzy results. Any way, he specified 8 fields in the brooches and defined 77 different designs. His networks were defined by the minimum number of shared components and most often the good results were received with the minimum number of 4 [or higher]. As indicated, English and Continental networks are very different. However, he could verify Hines’ typology with the English great square-headed brooches.

The Italian brooches (Ostrogoths)

Sweden was then something else. Nearly every brooch out of 187 is a unique example and there is one definite type, Type Götene, one can say to be Swedish. Otherwise, the distributions are fragmented. However, there are evidence of moulding of these brooches from Helgö and Uppåkra – central place sites that need no presentation to a Scandinavian audience. The former was a trade post and the latter a ritual temple site. Metalwork was elite related, but very local and individual.

After the talk, we moved to celebrate the promotion of Jan Storå to a professorship. Naturally, it is not a chair post, but a recognition to his research in osteology and involvement in the Atlas project. Later, some of the seminar audience headed to the Östra Station for a supper. It was an unusually traditional archaeologist outing. We were the last customers to leave.

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