Mending and making do?

Some of the objects recorded by the PAS might be considered to have something of a more direct or immediate link to the people of the past. This might be considered the case for personalised objects which are engraved with people’s names, or decorated with heraldry, for example. There are other objects whose biography is apparent through the evidence of any alterations they have received.

Medieval buckle (BUC-550336)
Medieval buckle (BUC-550336). Copyright: Buckinghamshire County Council. License: CC-BY.

An object whose extended life use caught the eye recently is a medieval buckle found in Central Bedfordshire (BUC-550336). The type of buckle is interesting in its own right and of approximately 12th-century date. However, its prime interest here is as an example of a repaired object, presumably because it was considered to be both useful and important to its wearer.

Medieval buckle (LVPL-7BD375)
Medieval buckle (LVPL-7BD375). Copyright: National Museums Liverpool. License: CC-BY.

Before turning to the evidence for repair of the object itself, we can consider an almost complete example of this type of buckle found in Scopwick, Lincolnshire (LVPL-7BD375). It would have had three bars extending from its attachment end, each once terminating in a circular expansion to take a rivet. The rivets that survive are made from iron. Coming back to our buckle, looking very closely we can see the vestiges of the three ‘bars’ at the attachment end where they survive on the Lincolnshire example. We can therefore speculate that these relatively weak extensions at one point broke off, perhaps all of them, perhaps not. To ensure that the buckle could again be attached to the strap, the user made two new holes, one at each corner of the attachment end. We can also tell that these were new at the time because they travelled through the decoration at these points. One hole was furnished with a new copper-alloy rivet with a square rove; we cannot tell whether the other rivet had a rove because it was made of something different – iron, which has survived far less well. Presumably, once fixed, the attachment end was neatened, with any surviving bars removed and tidied up.

Through close examination of an object we can delve into its life history, and get closer to its owner. In the case of this buckle there seems to have been a need to prolong its life, be it for practical or more personal reasons. Although the loss of the buckle’s pin could represent post-depositional damage, it may have been that when the pin broke that this previously cared for buckle was finally discarded. With this, though, we move further from observation and more into the realms of speculation.