The Scheme’s Finds Advisers have been discussing research topics amongst themselves and this is what they have come up with. If you want to perhaps take on these topics then you should contact them for a chat. This list is probably not complete but makes use of the database that has been running since 1997. Perhaps the Conference in April is the best time to get along and find out more about research potential?
Bronze Age – contact Sally Worrell
• The landscape contexts of Bronze Age hoards would help to shed light on hoarding behaviour, in the same way that Natasha Hutcheson (University of East Anglia) has established for Iron Age hoards in Norfolk. Richard Bradley (University of Reading) is planning a study looking at south-eastern England.
• Links between flint objects and early metal objects could profitably be explored using metal skeuomorphs of flint objects. There are several arrowheads with noticeably ‘lithic’ tendencies on the PAS database, and daggers could be brought into the argument too.
• Regional patterning in the use and deposition of Bronze Age dress accessories could be looked at using both PAS and excavated data. Dress accessories are relatively rare, but using both sources should provide enough information.
• More widely drawn regional studies (looking at weapons, dress accessories, tools, etc) could profitably be carried out for many under-studied regions of Bronze Age England. David Barrowclough (University of Cambridge) has recently completed a PhD on the regional character of Lancashire and Cheshire, using PAS data and museum collections; this type of study could be carried out in many other parts of the country.
• A remarkable resource of drawings (every BA metal artefact; these occur on 2,225 sites) exists in Norfolk, but as yet no research project has been formulated to use it. For comparison, the Bronze Age metal items on the PAS database (as of end January 2007) number roughly 1,600.
Roman – contact Sally Worrell for artefacts and Sam Moorhead for coinage
• There is still no generally accepted typology of Roman brooches. Computer analysis of the 8,600 brooches on the PAS database (as of end January 2007) should be able to suggest some broad principles.
• It may be that different classifications are appropriate for different areas within Britain. Do regional brooch distributions correspond to Iron Age tribal boundaries?
• In a more general sense, although Iron Age and early-medieval studies are strongly regionalised, Roman Britain tends to be seen as a continuum. Is this a real picture, or could we find evidence of regional variation to link the Iron Age to the early Anglo-Saxon period? Artefacts to do with personal adornment might be expected to show regional variation, and these might include bracelets, finger rings, nail cleaners, cosmetic sets and mirrors as well as brooches. Undergraduate dissertations could choose a single artefact type and compare the dataset in two counties.
• The establishment of ‘normal’ British brooch loss patterns, along the lines of Reece for coins, could follow on from the construction of a typology, and new and old assemblages could be compared to produce ‘brooch signatures’ for different types of site.
• Roman military equipment is well understood from the first century AD, but 2nd- and 3rd-century material could be used to improve our knowledge of military activity at that time.
Early Anglo-Saxon – Contact Helen Geake and Kevin Leahy
• Andrew Richardson (Kent FLO) has discovered that brooch types differ between excavated and metal-detected assemblages. He has suggested that this is because the excavated evidence comes from graves – the costume of the dead – and that PAS data includes a substantial element of casual loss from the costume of the living. Andrew Richardson and Laura McLean (Kent FLA) are comparing brooch type proportions from cemeteries and from PAS records in selected southern counties of England, but there is scope at undergraduate or master’s level to look at eastern midland counties too. To establish differences between funerary and living costume would revolutionise early Anglo-Saxon studies, which are traditionally heavily costume-based.
• Following on from this, if a costume of the living, distinct from that of the dead, can be established, there would be scope for county or regional studies of that costume.
• Continental links in 6th-century England are becoming more obvious from the evidence of dress accessories (e.g. radiate-headed brooches). It seems that more of these are being recorded on the PAS database than one might expect from grave evidence. An undergraduate dissertation might test this hypothesis; another might collect up all radiate-headed brooches on the database and compare with Koch 1998; a PhD might look at questions of Continental influence of costumes of the living and of the dead.
• Small-long brooches are crying out for a rigorous computer-based classification. The labour involved in this task has historically put off researchers, but now that there are 450 examples held together on the PAS database the job is becoming easier. Constructing a chronological framework for a new typology would, however, need to use the closed contexts of data excavated from graves. Much shorter projects, suitable for undergraduate dissertations, might include comparing the small-longs of different counties to try to pick up some regional variations.
• The role of the horse in early Anglo-Saxon England. A comparison of literary sources, grave data and PAS data could establish how far down the social scale horses were used. In addition, the social role of the horse could be explored by looking at the very similar objects which adorned both horses and women in early Anglo-Saxon England. The relationship between humans and animals in the early-medieval period has received a good deal of study recently (e.g. Aleks Pluskowski at the University of Cambridge and Neil Price at the University of Uppsala) and so the theoretical underpinnings of the subject are firmly in place.
• A small topic which would explore some aspects of the above would be the collection and analysis of sixth-century ‘bell-shaped’ pendants. There are 4 on the database and about a dozen known from elsewhere. There is no consistency about where they are found in graves, and it is suspected that they may be re-used horse-harness fittings. One is unfinished. They bear some resemblance to the foot-pendants of florid cruciform brooches and so might provide another link between horses and women.
• ‘Pressblech’ dies are beginning to be found in unexpectedly high numbers. A study of these might look at metalworking technology in early Anglo-Saxon England, or could compare the dies that have been found to the foils that they were used to make. Should we expect to find far more dies? Have we a random sample, or is there patterning to the die finds? Kevin Leahy (PAS Finds Adviser) is currently studying these to establish their research potential.
• The relationship between England and Scandinavia in the 7th and 8th centuries. Some objects hitherto thought of as characteristically Scandinavian are now turning up in England. We know of links in the 6th century, and from the end of the 8th century onwards; can these be joined up? Did the geographical focus of contact, both in England and in Scandinavia, stay the same? There are hints that the 6th century link between eastern England and south-western Norway is replaced by contacts with Russia and the eastern Baltic in the 7th.
• Pagan iconography on artefacts – human and animal art on pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon artefacts. How do these objects relate to Scandinavian finds, and do they become more prevalent as a backlash to the arrival of Christianity?
• Comparing Roman and early Anglo-Saxon landscapes; the distribution of 5th-century artefacts against landscape features (following the work of Jude Plouviez at Suffolk County Council and Mary Chester-Kadwell at the University of Cambridge)
Middle Anglo-Saxon – Contacts as above
• Continental links in 8th- and 9th-century England – the evidence of dress accessories (e.g. ansate brooches) and horse furniture. Until now most of these pieces have been seen as antiques imported as part of Viking activity – but there is now such a lot of 8th- and 9th-century Continental material that this explanation is looking untenable. What were the links at a popular level, at the time of Charlemagne and Alcuin?
Late Anglo-Saxon/Viking – Contacts as above
• Comparison of late Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian art styles within and outside the Danelaw. Is the administrative boundary reflected in these distributions? A larger international study could profitably compare Danish finds to establish just how Scandinavian the Danelaw was – or how English. Relating this to lingustics, for example the study of place-names, would add depth.
• Work needs doing on the types of object that are found decorated with the different Scandinavian art styles (as Karen Høilund Nielsen has done in the early Anglo-Saxon period, for objects decorated with Salin’s Style I and Style II). The late 9th- and 10th-century Borre style seems most common on simple strap-ends and brooches; the tenth-century Jellinge and Mammen styles are high-status and uncommon in England; and the eleventh-century Ringerike and Urnes styles are by far the most common – but the political and social factors underlying this could profitably be explored. There seems to be a greater variety of objects decorated in Urnes style, but we don’t know why. Some of the art styles are near-contemporary – do they have different meanings, or markets?
Norman – contacts as above
• Explaining (or filling) the 12th-century gap. There is relatively little on the PAS database that can be dated to the 12th century. Is the material in existence, but we can’t recognise it? If so, this would imply a strange lack of innovation, just at the time that we should be seeing a great deal of innovation, with the Norman Conquest ushering in a time of change. Or on the other hand, is there a real lack of production? In order to provide some chronological security, this kind of study needs to be an art-historical/archaeological collaboration.
High-medieval – contact Geoff Egan
• The PAS database holds nearly 1700 medieval seal matrices and adds about 400 new ones each year. By comparison, the largest list of seal matrices known before the Portable Antiquities Scheme began – Tonnochy’s catalogue of the British Museum collection which was published in 1952 – contains just 408 medieval examples. The PAS seal matrices are not only more numerous, but also different to the kind of seal matrices that have survived in museum collections or on manuscripts. Tonnochy’s catalogue includes 181 personal non-heraldic seal matrices; the vast majority of the PAS’s are in this category, and in fact are pretty low-status examples. They could provide a fantastic resource for the study of popular literacy in the later medieval period.
• A surprisingly large number of the PAS seal matrices bear women’s names and could be used to study questions of female literacy and female economic power.
• An art-historical study of the motifs used on seal matrices – stereotypical, individual, astrological, obscene, humorous, religious – has the potential to shed much light on popular thought.
• The unsophisticated religious artefacts from rural parish churches have often been thought of as typical casualties of the Reformation. Metal-detector finds of these are uncommon, but show the range that once existed. Candlesticks, censer-covers and processional crosses can be used to study the history of popular religion in the medieval period.
• One of the strengths of the PAS database is that, although it cannot yield the dating evidence that excavated finds do, it can provide a rural counterpart to the range of material found in major urban centres such as London, York, Winchester and Norwich. Geoff Egan (PAS Finds Adviser) has drawn attention to the theoretical differences that may arise in casual loss, suggesting that losses in densely populated areas where streets were constantly walked by the poor are likely to have been recovered far more often than losses in the countryside. He has detected an urban/rural pattern among the pilgrim badges – with many more silver examples found in rural areas – which may be closer to the ‘real’ pattern, and this may also hold true for other artefact types which occur in a variety of materials.
Early post-medieval – Contact Geoff Egan
• 17th-century trade tokens are very restricted in their distribution. Few FLOs ever see a token made outside their county or an immediate neighbour. 18th-century trade tokens, though, appear to have spread much more widely. A study confirming this hypothesis – perhaps in conjunction with the historical sources for 17th-century trade token production – would make a good undergraduate dissertation.
• 17th-century coinage is extremely complicated and interesting. In 1663 the milled coinage begins, but hammered coinage continues to circulate. The great recoinage of 1696 ends a period of amazingly eclectic coin use, with hammered coins, milled coins, trade tokens and foreign coins all circulating together. Silver bullion values were high, and comparatively little silver was minted, leading to clipping of silver coins. Can we establish the make-up of the average circulating handful of coinage between 1663 and 1696? To what extent was the political turmoil of the 17th century reflected in the coinage – or did the chaos of the currency contribute to it?
• Ancient Greek coins found in England are being found in surprisingly high numbers. Andy Meadows (British Museum) keeps a file on them, which could be augmented by PAS data. It used to be thought that they were all post-Renaissance collectors’ losses – but could some or all of them be real imports to Iron Age Britain?
Modern – Contact Geoff Egan
• Much research for later periods is at least para-numismatic, if not numismatic, because it requires substantial information to be encoded on the object itself. Topics include Russian flax seals and 18th-century trade tokens.