Museum Musings – February 2021

This month for Museum Musings I’ll be looking at S-shaped fasteners, also known as ‘snake buckles.’ 

The one below was declared treasure in 2009 and subsequently acquired by West Berkshire museum. The buckle, or strap fitting as we record them, consists of the heads and necks of two snakes curved and joined together to form an ‘S’ shape. The snakes may be representations of cobras as they have puffed-out throats.

BERK-40D5C3  Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

The strap fitting is quite small (only 2cm) and is postulated to have belonged to a child. When tested it turned out it was 92% silver and 8% copper, meaning it needed to be declared as treasure. It appears to be the only silver example on the database. All others are of copper-alloy.

These type of strap fittings seem at the moment to date from the late 16th and 17th centuries (Read 2008, 230; nos 822, 823), and there seems to be a gap between them and the modern S-shaped ‘snake-belt’ fastener (Read 2008, 230-231; nos 825, 826).

These type of fittings are known in various styles and, although sometimes referred to as ‘snake-head buckles’ the ends are not always in the form of a snake.

Some examples have a snakes head at one end, tail at the other and are covered in decoration representing scales.

LEIC-CD27F5 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

Others have the same type of decoration but have a snake head at both ends.

LEIC-CD27F5 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

This is where the term ‘snake head’ becomes a misnomer as some examples are very clear and have what appear to be goose or duck heads at either end. Many examples also have some decoration in the middle of the ‘S’ shape.

PUBLIC-BE593C Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

These were attached to a belt with elongated loops at either end, in turn attached to the fitting by a small ring. These loops could be plain and simple or more elaborate and have their own decoration.

DENO-DBF679 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0
YORYM-BD3FE6 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

These types of fittings are most often associated with riflemen’s belts of the 19th – early 20th century and were used by British troops. They were also used by American’s during the civil war.

A member of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in WWI

Photograph of NMP Constable William Issac Loney taken in 1891, wearing a snake clasp on his belt (Qld Museum, Neg. PM0606)

Before this 16th – 17th century examples were probably used as sword belts. More research is needed into these to understand the different periods of use, decoration and styles.

It is interesting then that the small silver example acquired by the museum has been interpreted as a child’s buckle and is over 300 years old. Despite an apparent gap in their use between the 17th and 19th centuries they were never just a military object.

These strap fittings have proved so popular that they moved beyond the use mainly for sword/rifle belts but are now a fashion item which can still be bought today. It just goes to show how something that was once adopted and used by a specific group of people can transcend into everyday life.


Bateman L. 2018. Snake Buckles on the Frontier. Archaeology on the Frontier.

Janusus, S. 2019. It’s All About that Belt… . SCARLETT JANUSAS ARCHAEOLOGY INC.

Read, B. 2008. Hooked-Clasps and Eyes. Langport:Portcullis Publishing