How to Search the Database

Introduction

Without knowing how to search, you can’t get any data out of the PAS database. It’s important to know how to construct searches so that you can find the records you need. For recorders, it’s essential to know how people will be searching, so that you can make records which are easier to find.

This guide will also help you map your search results, and download search results as a spreadsheet.

How to find the search forms

The database welcome page (https://finds.org.uk/database) has a Basic Search box at the top (labelled ‘Search our database’). You can find all the other searches by going to the Search page; click on ‘Search database’ at the top of the menu on the left-hand side. The main menu on this page lets you choose between the 12 different search forms.

On every Search Results page, you will find a menu above the search results which allows you to click back to either the Basic Search or the Advanced Search form.

The Advanced Search

Paradoxically, it’s best to start learning about searching the PAS database with Advanced Search. The Advanced Search gives you a lot of help in constructing your searches.

The 23 boxes are taken from both the Artefact form and the Findspot form. Have a go at filling in the boxes and see what results you get.

How to find the Advanced Search box

From anywhere in the database, you will find ‘Search database’ at the top of the left-hand menu. Click through to the Search page and choose ‘Advanced Search’ at the top of the menu.

The Advanced Search boxes explained

Each box is slightly different. Some are tick-boxes, some ask you to choose between the drop-down menu options, and others are free-text fields. Some (e.g. the Object Type box) look like free-text fields, but when you start to type, they will offer you a set of drop-down results based on your initial typing.

The ‘Object Description Contains’ box will, in theory, search on the precise string of letters (so entering ‘brooch hare’ will give different results to ‘hare brooch’) but it adds some fuzziness to the searches. This is known as ‘approximate string matching’ and means that the database searches for plurals and past tenses as well as the specific word. So if you want to find a radiate-headed brooch, instead of a coin with a radiate head, you may need to use the filters (see below) to narrow down your search results.

Filling in the ‘Start date’ and ‘End date’ with numbers will mean that your search will find everything after the start date and before the end date. So if you enter ‘1500’ as the start date and ‘1600’ as the end date, you will get records with date-ranges of 1500-1600, but also 1500-1550, 1520-1550, 1550-1600, etc.  Because the searching is done mathematically, BC dates need a minus sign at the front, so 800 BC is -800.

If you are looking for records by date created or updated, click in the relevant box and a calendar will come up. Choose the year, month and finally day and the date will be automatically entered in the correct format.

Search results

The search results page will give you the details of what you searched for at the top. The url box at the top also gives a precise ‘address’ for your search results.

The filters down the right-hand side allow you to narrow your search results without going right back to the advanced search form. Filters can be applied or removed very easily (see below).

Basic (or Simple) Search

This is in fact a very powerful tool, and all the most complicated searches are done from this simple box.

If you type a single word into the Basic Search box, the database will search for this word across most of the fields in a record. So if you search for ‘Birdlip’ (or ‘birdlip’ – it is not case-sensitive), you will get all of the Roman Birdlip brooches that were recorded using this word, but also all of the finds recorded as from Birdlip in Gloucestershire, and all the Iron Age combs which can be paralleled by a comb from Birdlip.

If you type a PAS number into the Basic Search, like SUSS-8D0E38, the results will include that record, but also every record that has quoted it as a parallel. So the Basic Search is really useful when you don’t know which field the information might have been put in.

If you type two or more words into the Basic Search box, the database will search for records that contain both or all of these words somewhere in the record, separately. So if you type ‘strap end’ into the Basic Search box, it will search for all records which include both the word ‘strap’ and the word ‘end’.

If you would like to search for the string ‘strap end’ – that is, the precise phrase with the words in that order – then you have to wrap them up in double inverted commas. Searching for “strap end” will get the right results.

If you would like to search for records that contain either of two words, see below under ‘Search operators’.

You can restrict the Basic Search to a particular field; see below, under ‘Turning Basic Search into a very powerful tool’.

Search operators

If you type two or more words into Basic Search, it will search for records that contain both of these words somewhere in the record. It is just as if you have typed AND between the words. For example, ‘brooch lead’ will find you all records that have both of those two words; ‘brooch AND lead’ will give the same set of results. Note that if you type ‘brooch and lead’ you will get all records that contain those three words – brooch, and, and lead. Putting AND in capitals tells the search engine that the word is an ‘operator’ – something that instructs the search engine to narrow the search.

Two other commonly used operators are OR and NOT. Searching for ‘brooch OR lead’ will give you all those records with ‘brooch’ in them, and all the records with ‘lead’ in them. Searching for ‘brooch NOT lead’ will retrieve all the records with ‘brooch’ in them, except for those which also use ‘lead’.

Searches using AND, OR and NOT are also sometimes called Boolean searches. They are often visualised with Venn diagrams.

Venn diagram illustrating the results of AND, OR and NOT searches
Venn diagram illustrating the results of AND, OR and NOT searches

If you want to search using three or more terms, you need to add brackets to tell the database which set of records to search within.

For example, what would you need to write if you want to find all objects decorated with a knight, which also had either a horse or a sword? You would use ‘knight AND (horse OR sword)’.

If, on the other hand, you put the brackets around the other two terms – ‘(knight AND horse) OR sword’, your results would include every record with both ‘knight’ and ‘horse’, and every record with ‘sword’.

The wild card *

The asterisk can be used to replace text. For example, if you wanted to search for records which had used the word ‘lozengiform’ and those which had used the word ‘lozenge-shaped’, you could type ‘lozeng*’ in the Basic Search box and the database would find any word starting with those letters. Similarly, if you wanted to find records that had used ‘circular’ ‘triangular’ or ‘rectangular’, you could type ‘*ular’ to retrieve records with all of these.

How to find the Basic Search box

The database welcome page (https://finds.org.uk/database) has a Basic Search box at the top (labelled ‘Search our database’). If you click through to the Search page (‘Search database’ at the top of the menu on the left-hand side) you will find another Basic Search box at the top.

Searching across individual fields using the Basic Search

You can ask the Basic Search to look at one or more specific fields. You type a code for the individual field, then a colon, and then the term to search for – in this format: classification:annular. The search operators can be used as well, so in effect this is a better, more flexible version of the Advanced Search.

Most of the codes for the individual fields can be found in a little-known but very useful area of the website. Scroll down to the bottom of any page, find ‘About Our Site’, and click on the final option, Help. Option 3 is Searching our database. and contains many of the codes. A fuller list of the field names is also given below.

One way to work out the names of the fields and the codes for different drop-down options (such as the materials options) use the Advanced Search and check the url. For example, if you search for Primary Material = Silver, the url of the search results will be: https://finds.org.uk/database/search/results/material/22. This will show you not only the name of the field (material) but also the code for silver (22) which you can then use to search for Secondary Material, which does not appear in the Advanced Search fields.

Another way to work out the field names is to do an Excel download. The column headers will be the field names.

By the way, it is also worth looking at option 1, Searching the PAS database for the first time.

Full list of fields

If the field you want is not included here, it is usually better to use one of the more specific searches. For people (finders and identifiers) or dates (date from, date to, dates record created or updated), use Advanced Search (and remember that you may not have the correct access level to access the People database). For coin-specific fields, use the relevant numismatic search.

A string is a set of characters that can contain letters, numbers and symbols (such as hyphens). The numbers are treated as symbols rather than as mathematical units.

If your string contains a space, the database will search as if you had added AND as an operator, unless you enclose it in double inverted commas. Wildcards (*) can be used in strings, but not in numeric fields.

Search terms for nearly every field on the database.
Search terms for nearly every field on the database.

For date from and date to searches, you have a choice of how precise to be. Using the search fromdate:700 will give you that precise result; all the records where the date from has been entered as 700 AD. Similarly, if you enter fromdate:700 AND todate:800 you will get all records where both these fields have this precise value. It will not retrieve a record with dates of 700-750, or 710-780.

On the other hand, if you use Advanced Search and entering ‘700’ in the Start Date field will retrieve all records from 700 AD onwards, right up to the present day. Entering 700 in Start Date and 800 in End Date will retrieve all records with ‘date from’ 700 AD and later, and ‘date to’ 800 AD and earlier.

Using your search results

‘The two given tokens do not match’ and similar messages

Ignore this, and simply press the ‘Search’ button again. It’s a bug which has defied efforts to fix it.

Filters

A lot of precise searching can be done by starting with a wider search, and narrowing it down via the filters on the right-hand side of your search results. The filters allow you to see the range of your search results, and allow you to quickly reverse searches that didn’t work out as you hoped.

In order, the filters are: Object type; County of origin (this is the county it was found in, not the county it was recorded in); Broad Period; Institution (the prefix of the office which recorded the find); Ruler/Issuer, Denomination and Mint (for coins only); Material (i.e. Primary Material); Workflow (green, orange or red flag); and Reece Period (for Roman coins only).

Each set of filters only displays the ten most common options. If there are more than ten, there will be a grey button below labelled ‘All options’ which opens a new window from which you can choose an option.

When you have a filter applied, this will be shown at the top of the search results, and in place of the list of filter options, only the one chosen will be shown. Below will be an option for ‘clear this filter’ which allows you to quickly reverse your search and try another.

Search statistics

Above the filters are some search statistics. The number of ‘total results available’ is the number of records found with this search. The ‘total quantity’ is the number of objects within the records; sometimes, particularly with hoards, one record may refer to more than one object.

Ordering your search results

Above the search statistics are some ways to sort and order your results. You can choose between most recently created (the default) or several other methods, and choose between seeing them in ascending or descending order. At the top you can choose how many you see on a single page, and whether to exclude those without images or not.

All artefacts and coins

If you want to search using just filters, then find the ‘all artefacts and coins’ button in the left-hand menu. This is a very quick method of searching, particularly for an unusual or recently recorded item.

Brooches

Introduction

A brooch is essentially a pin with something (a plate, a frame etc) joining the two ends, effectively keeping the pin from falling out of the costume. It can be used for fastening things together, or just for decoration.

PAS object type to be used

Use BROOCH for all brooches, whether they are bow brooches, plate brooches, penannular or annular brooches, etc.

Modern low-status brooches are often called ‘badges’, but this has a particular meaning for portable antiquities (see BADGE for details). If it has a pin, and something joining the two ends, it’s a BROOCH.

PAS classifications and sub-classifications to be used

Because BROOCH is such a huge category, the classification and sub-classification fields are of great importance in searching and analysing the data. Please try to fill in these fields correctly.

Specific guidance will be given below, but as a general rule the common name of the brooch goes in the classification field (e.g. Polden Hill, cruciform, cogwheel) and any specific typological classification goes in the sub-classification field (e.g. Mackreth 3.b, Martin type 3.2.1, Weetch type 15.B).

Terms to use in the description

The terms to be used in the description vary from period to period and in some cases from brooch to brooch, and so there is much more detail below. There are some terms that are used across all brooches, though, and these are described here.

There are two main forms of brooch, the kind with a pin which swivels on a frame, and the kind with a pin which hinges or is sprung behind a solid element. The frame brooches normally divide into annular and penannular brooches, and the others normally divide into bow and plate brooches.

Examples of a gold medieval annular brooch (top left, LVPL-039CF2); a Roman penannular brooch (bottom left, PUBLIC-188FBE); an Iron Age bow brooch (centre, BERK-B2FE61) and a Roman plate brooch (right, NCL-D05155).
Examples of a gold medieval annular brooch (top left, LVPL-039CF2); a Roman penannular brooch (bottom left, PUBLIC-188FBE); an Iron Age bow brooch (centre, BERK-B2FE61) and a Roman plate brooch (right, NCL-D05155). Not to scale.

Annular and penannular brooches have a pin and a frame. The pin has a loop, a shaft and a tip. Annulars may have a pin constriction or pin hole around which the pin is fixed, and a pin rest where the tip of the pin sits. Penannulars have terminals to keep the tip of the pin in place.

The parts of annular and penannular brooches, and their pins. Left; SF-F95D33. Centre; IOW-12F78B (above) and IOW-BD651F (below). Right; YORYM-D1B10C.
The parts of annular and penannular brooches, and their pins. Left; SF-F95D33. Centre; IOW-12F78B (above) and IOW-BD651F (below). Right; YORYM-D1B10C.

Bow brooches have a head and a foot, and the bow is the part in between. The pin runs from a hinge or spring at the head, to the catchplate at the foot. The catchplate is curled over to provide a pin rest. Plate brooches are similar, but generally there is no distinction between the head and the foot. The pin is normally hinged.

Parts of a bow brooch (NARC-A482A4) and a plate brooch (LVPL-2CEBA5).
The parts of a bow brooch (NARC-A482A4) and a plate brooch (LVPL-2CEBA5). Both are of Roman date.

Pins can be made from the same metal as the rest of the brooch, or can be made separately from a different metal. Most Iron Age, Roman and medieval brooches have pins made from the same metal, and these often survive well. Most early-medieval brooches have pins made from iron, which do not survive well.

There are major differences in the pin arrangements used in each period, and these are useful in dating brooches. They are described fully in the period-specific sub-sections below.

How to take dimensions

Length is normally measured parallel to the pin, and width perpendicular to the pin. The thickness is much harder to define; it may include the pin arrangements on the reverse, or not.

Because brooches come in so many shapes and sizes, it is difficult to be consistent. Please explain how you have taken the dimensions of your particular brooch, in the Object Description field.

Brooches of the Roman period and earlier

This part of the guide is still in development and will be added as soon as possible. Until it is available, please carry on recording brooches using Mackreth 2011, Bayley and Butcher 2004 and Hattatt 2000, and of course other PAS records.

Early-medieval brooches

The range of early-medieval brooches depends very much on the sub-period. It is essential to add the sub-periods to records of early-medieval material. This part of the guide is divided by sub-period and then by brooch type.

Early Anglo-Saxon brooches

Although early Anglo-Saxon brooches are almost as complicated as Roman brooches, there is no equivalent to Mackreth 2011 for this period – no single source that covers everything. Instead, specific types have been studied in isolation, and a wide library is needed to cover them all in detail.

An alternative is to try to source a copy of MacGregor and Bolick 1993, the catalogue of the early Anglo-Saxon objects of non-ferrous metal in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Copies are now scarce, but it’s a very useful book. It has summaries of all the relevant research up to 1993, and lots of useful photographs of objects from the Ashmolean’s collection. If you use this book in conjunction with existing PAS records, then you will have most of the information you need to make good new records.

There is also a good overview of research in Lucy 2000, 25-40, which covers both the practical results of work on brooches from graves, and the theoretical perspectives used. This is an essential book for anyone planning their own research on early Anglo-Saxon material.

Another very useful source of Anglo-Saxon objects is West 1998, now available to download free from the East Anglian Archaeology website, although this is more useful as a source of parallels and less useful as a signpost to research.

Whatever books you have, this guide aims to give a quick overview of the commonest types of early Anglo-Saxon brooches, and how they should be recorded on the PAS database. Most early Anglo-Saxon brooches are either ‘long’ brooches (bow brooches) or circular brooches, and these will be looked at in order, starting with the commonest long brooches.

Cruciform brooch

This is the commonest early Anglo-Saxon brooch on the PAS database. Its name is unfortunate, as it is not at all cross-shaped. It can be defined as having a horse-head terminal, although in some rare cases the horse-head is also, or alternatively, a human face. Put ‘cruciform’ in the classification field, and if possible the Martin type (see below; e.g. ‘Martin type 3.1.2’) in the sub-classification field.

The best source for information on cruciform brooches is Martin 2015. This is based on Toby Martin’s PhD thesis (Martin 2011) which is available to  download free from Ethos, but the thesis contains few of the illustrations available in the book.

A cruciform brooch looks daunting to describe, but the trick is to divide it up into three – the head, bow and foot – and take each part individually.

The names of the parts of a cruciform brooch are detailed in the illustration below. PAS terminology largely conforms to Martin 2015, but there are some differences. Martin’s terms worked well for cruciform brooches, but our terms need to be consistent across all early-medieval brooches, and if possible across brooches of all periods.

Parts of the cruciform brooch, showing NCL-248642 to the right and composite drawing of SF3889 and SF6475 to the left.
Parts of the cruciform brooch, showing NCL-248642 to the right and composite drawing of SF3889 and SF6475 to the left.

Head

The head can be divided into headplate and knobs. The headplate often has a slightly raised central panel and slightly thinner wings. The knobs usually consist of a base, a waist and a dome.

The two side knobs were originally functional, with drilled holes in which the ends of the iron pin bar were held. The side knobs were then fixed on to the edges of the headplate via a slot or, less commonly, a tab.

Most cruciform brooches have top and side knobs made to match. They come in two basic shapes, known as full-round and half-round. The general trend is for full-round knobs to be earlier than half-round knobs.

Normally the PAS deplores the use of an imprecise term like ’round’, but here it’s quite helpful, as full-round knobs can be circular or oval in cross-section, and half-round knobs can be semi-circular or semi-oval in cross-section. A full description, as well as the shorthand term, is therefore necessary. The illustration below will give you all the terms you need to describe the knobs fully.

The parts of cruciform brooch knobs. Two separately made side knobs, one half-round with a slot (FAKL-910E67) and the other full-round with a tab (DENO-A9EAE3).
The parts of cruciform brooch knobs. Two separately made side knobs, one half-round with a slot (FAKL-910E67) and the other full-round with a tab (DENO-A9EAE3).

Knobs can also be cast in one with the headplate; it is not unusual for top knobs to be cast in one but the side knobs still to be made separately.

The rest of the head, apart from the knobs, is the headplate. This is usually divided into a thicker raised central panel and flatter wings, but sometimes the headplate is just a simple rectangle.

There are often vertical lines of small stamps or punchmarks down the edges either of the wings or of the central panel – look hard for these, as they can get very worn. You can record these in the Object Description field using the words ‘stamp’ or ‘punch’ (or perhaps both, ‘stamped punchmarks’) but please also use the drop-down ‘Stamped’ in the Surface Treatment field, so that we can guarantee to be able to find all the stamped examples.

On the reverse there is usually a single pin bar lug, occasionally a double lug, and this is always set longitudinally, in line with the pin.

Cruciform brooches with integral knobs (NMS-027251, YORYM-13ED43, NMS-A51D6D and SF-178685)
Cruciform brooches with integral knobs. Left: NMS-027251, with stamps down the edge of the central panel. Centre: NMS-A51D6D (above), YORYM-13ED43 (below). Right: SF-178685, with headplate with no wings.

Bow

The bow is the next element of the cruciform brooch and is the hardest to describe. There is little established terminology and the shapes can be complex.

Typical bows from cruciform brooches. Left to right: SWYOR-E64DF4, NMS-94327D, SF-CA0B51.
Typical bows from cruciform brooches, shown on brooches of very different sizes. Left to right: SWYOR-E64DF4, NMS-94327D, SF-CA0B51.

Above you can see the commonest form of bow found on a cruciform brooch. It has a rectangular-section area to top and bottom, and in between these, the front of the bow is curved or angled from side to side (transversely). If the reverse of the bow is flat, this can be described as D-shaped in cross-section or triangular in cross-section; if the reverse of the bow is hollowed, this area could be described as C-shaped in cross-section, or V-shaped in cross-section.

Bows also obviously curve from top to bottom (longitudinally) and they can vary in how highly they are arched.There is a tendency for designs to get flatter over time (see below).

Decoration down the centre of the bow is common, often grooves or lines of stamped punchmarks. Decoration can wear off in the centre of the bow, so check the top and the bottom carefully for traces.

The word ‘faceted’ should be avoided, as it’s difficult to know which facets are being referred to. In the examples above, the centre of the bow has two facets, but the rectangular-section ends also have little facets where they meet the centre.

Less commonly, bows similar to those on great square-headed and small-long brooches can also be found on cruciforms. These include bows with central ridges or bosses, and very simple bows.

Foot

The foot of a cruciform brooch can be divided into the flat panel at the top and the terminal below this. Lappets can project from the flat panel, and these can carry relief decoration, usually of predatory birds’ heads with eyes, headframes and curling beaks.

The flat panel is often undecorated, but may be divided into two or three parts with transverse grooves and ridges, may have bevelled edges and may have lines of stamped punchmarks.

On the reverse of the flat panel is the catchplate, which has a pin rest which almost always curls the same way. This is described as you view it from the reverse, so it almost always curls to the left. Often the pin rest is missing, but if it is in good condition and uncurled, it generally means that the brooch is unfinished. Unfinished brooches are very interesting, and so it is worth ticking ‘Find of Note’.

The proportions of complete catchplates can be very hard to describe. A ‘deep’ catchplate might run for a long distance down the foot, but not project very far from it; or it might be the other way round. This is the same for other words you might reach for – wide, long, short, narrow, or shallow. Make sure that what you are saying can only be interpreted in one way. This may well mean a longer description.

The terminal is almost always in the shape of a long animal head, thought to be a horse; on occasional late brooches it may develop into a human/animal hybrid or a human face. The horse does not have ears, but has rounded relief eyes, a nose which usually has a curved or angled front, and nostrils. The nostrils can be oval or circular, or sometimes comma-shaped. Between the nostrils there can be a flaring projection, which has been interpreted as the horse’s tongue or long top lip.

A selection of typical terminals from cruciform brooch feet. Above, left to right: narrow cruciform brooch with simple terminal (NMS-F01A8C), simple terminal with prominent nostrils (SF-C802B6), and comma-shaped nostrils (SWYOR-2F29A6). Below, left to right: scrolled nostrils (DUR-12BE53) and a florid terminalwith relief decoration, where the horse-head ends in a human mask (SF-D49056).
A selection of typical terminals from cruciform brooch feet. Above, left to right: narrow cruciform brooch with simple terminal (NMS-F01A8C), simple terminal with prominent nostrils (SF-C802B6), and comma-shaped nostrils (SWYOR-2F29A6). Below, left to right: scrolled nostrils (DUR-12BE53) and a florid terminal with relief decoration, where the horse-head ends in a human mask (SF-D49056).

Classification, chronology and distribution

Several general trends can be observed in the development of the cruciform brooch. They tend to get larger overall, and especially wider and flatter, over time. Knobs start off made separately and are full-round; over time they become half-round and cast in one with the brooch, and then become flatter, to accommodate relief decoration.

Cruciform brooches were the first Anglo-Saxon brooch type to be studied in depth, by Åberg (1926). His classification has proved amazingly resilient and is still used and quoted. It was the basis for other work by Reichstein (1975) and Mortimer (1990), but all these have now been superseded by Martin (2011) and Martin (2015).

Martin divides his brooches up into four Groups and then these are sub-divided into Sub-Groups and then Types. For ease of entering data and searching, we use the word Type for all of these. Use ‘cruciform’ in the classification field, and the Martin type in the sub-classification field, in this format: ‘Martin type 3.1.2’.

It is easier to allocate a type if you have a complete brooch, but you can often get a rough idea even if you only have a fragment. There is a handy summary of dating in Martin 2015, 126-8.

Type 1 brooches are small and narrow, with no or very small wings. They normally have full-round knobs, and often have long catchplates extending down onto the reverse of the terminal. Oval nostrils are most common, but sometimes these are joined to form a single heart-shaped element. Type 1 cruciform brooches are in use from c. 420 to c. 475 AD.

Type 2 brooches are larger, broader examples of the same basic form, but tend to have half-round knobs. Wings are medium-sized and rectangular. Comma-shaped nostrils can be found as well as oval nostrils. Small, simple punchmarks are often found on Type 2 brooches, but there are no lappets or large projections at the end of the foot. Type 2 cruciform brooches are in use from c. 475 to c. 550 AD, but were probably commoner in the earlier part of this date-range.

Type 3 is the commonest type, and is again a bit larger and a bit more elaborately decorated. Wings are larger and can flare to a trapezoidal shape. Feet often have lappets at the top and projections at the bottom. Punchmarks are common. Type 3 cruciform brooches are in use from some time after c. 475 (perhaps around 480) to c. 550 AD.

Finally, Type 4 are the ‘florid’ brooches, with relief Style I ornament. They come into use at the same time as Style I, whose start date is still not fixed absolutely. The earliest ones were perhaps in use by 480 AD and the fashion continued until c. 570 AD; to narrow down this long date-range, you will need to be able to identify the sub-type of the brooch concerned.

Examples of Martin's Types, showing how they increase in size over time. From left: type 1 (NCL-EF51D5), type 2 (LIN-D481A6), type 3 (DUR-FF0ED2) and type 4 (FAKL-BD5E61).
Examples of Martin’s different types, showing how cruciform brooches increase in size over time. From left: type 1 (NCL-EF51D5), type 2 (LIN-D481A6), type 3 (DUR-FF0ED2) and type 4 (FAKL-BD5E61).

The distribution map of PAS records of cruciform brooches shows that they are commonest north and east of a line drawn between Felixstowe and Derby, then northwards along the Pennines. This area is sometimes thought of as the area of ‘Anglian’ culture in England (as opposed to ‘Saxon’). There is also a separate group of cruciform brooches in Kent.

There is then a lighter scatter of finds across all of southern England east of a line drawn southwards from Derby to the New Forest. A very few in the West Midlands are outliers to the main distribution.

Great square-headed brooch

Again, the traditional name of this brooch type is inaccurate, as the head is very rarely square; it is more often rectangular. Hines 1997 is by far the best source of information, but it is out of print and not cheap or easy to find second-hand. Alternatively, there are now nearly 300 records of great square-headed brooches on the PAS database which can be used to help set your particular brooch in context. Put ‘great square headed’ in the classification field, and the Hines type if possible (see below; e.g. ‘Hines group XVI’) in the sub-classification field.

The names of the parts of a great square-headed brooch are detailed in the illustration below (adapted from Hines 1997, 5, fig. 1). PAS terminology follows that in Hines 1997.

Parts of the great square-headed brooch, from Hines (1997, fig. 1)
Parts of the great square-headed brooch, from Hines (1997, fig. 1). The headplate second panel (b) may not be present. On the reverse there will be a pin bar lug (either single or double) and a catchplate.

Great square-headed brooches are quite large and heavy, usually about 100-150mm long when complete. They are usually made from copper alloy, but about 1 in 20 are made from silver. The most common surface treatment is gilding (about half seem to be gilded), but silvering or tinning is also known. A thin white-metal coating is usually tinning, but sometimes they were decorated with soldered-on silver plates. These rarely survive well in the ploughsoil, but you can sometimes see the patches of solder, as here on FAKL-0F4D67. Because the silver plates don’t survive well in the ploughsoil, they are not a proper component and so should not normally result in the brooch being considered as Treasure.

Some of the complete great square-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database. From left: BM-11BCC0, LIN-7AC173, NARC-F91726, FAKL-0F4D67 and LIN-79D38D.
Some of the complete great square-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database. From left: BM-11BCC0, LIN-7AC173, NARC-F91726, FAKL-0F4D67 and LIN-79D38D. Note the silver plates on LIN-79D38 and the solder that was used to attach them on FAKL-0F4D67.

One of the reasons that we have so many records of great square-headed brooches may be that, like the cruciform brooches, they tend to break up very easily into lots of fairly recognisable, highly decorated fragments. Here are some hints on how to recognise fragments.

Head

The headplates of great square-headed brooches can be recognised by their concentric zones of relief decoration, divided by flat-topped ridges which are often undecorated.  The corners are usually emphasised in some way. There can be inlays of garnet or, more rarely, enamel. The relief decoration can include Style I animals and simple human masks (see FAKL-4E7F95, pictured below with a group of bows, for an example of a mask on a headplate).

Examples of headplates from great square-headed brooches (NMS-74D8BB and WAW-602D36)
Examples of headplates from great square-headed brooches (NMS-74D8BB and WAW-602D36).

On the reverse, there can be one or two lugs to hold the pin bar, always set vertically (parallel to the bow).

Bow

The bows of great square-headed brooches also tend to have relief decoration. Two bands of decoration are common, sometimes separated by a raised strip down the centre. These can be deep longitudinal grooves, or panels of Style I.  Roundels on the bow are found more rarely, and can occasionally develop into separately made discs fixed to the bow with a rivet (e.g. YORYM-F0C9C7). These discs can be hard to recognise when detached.

Examples of bows from great square-headed brooches (FAKL-BD0AB1, FAKL-4E7F95 and NMS-74D8BB)
Examples of relief decoration on bows from great square-headed brooches From left, FAKL-BD0AB1 has two deep longitudinal grooves; FAKL-4E7F95 has panels of Style I on the small stub of bow that survives; and NMS-74D8BB has a roundel filled with four spirals in a cross or swastika shape.

Foot

The feet of great square-headed brooches are basically lozenge-shaped, often with the corners emphasised or enlarged so that the foot is almost cross-shaped. The upper edges of the lozenge have profile animals above, with wide-open jaws springing from the top of the footplate and curling around to fill the space above the lozenge.

Many feet have a vertical ridge down the centre, and some have an openwork triangle to either side. On the reverse there will be a catchplate, set close to the top of the foot. These are normally integrally cast, but can occasionally be made separately and soldered on.

NMS-Feet from great square-headed brooches NMS-CD5994 and SUSS-8BA5B1
Feet from great square-headed brooches NMS-CD5994 and SUSS-8BA5B1.

Chronology, classification and distribution

Hines 1997 has proved a very robust and useful classification. The groups are defined by shared similar elements, and if enough of the brooch survives, it is usually quite straightforward to allocate a Hines group. If you do not have Hines, it is perfectly acceptable to simply describe the brooch well, paying particular attention to the decoration. The Hines group can always be added at a later stage.

Great square-headed brooches were dated by Hines to c. 500-570 AD (1997, 229-30) and this date-range still seems to be valid today.

They occur in the same parts of the country as the main concentration of cruciform brooches; east of the Pennines, and north of a line roughly between Felixstowe and Derby.

Small square-headed brooch

The smaller variants of the square-headed form are called small square-headed brooches. Like the great square-heads, they are usually made from copper alloy, but there many more silver examples among the small square-heads (about 1 in 6 of the PAS examples are silver). They are again usually gilded, and relief-decorated. They are normally less than half the size of most great square-headed brooches, with the commonest size of PAS-recorded examples perhaps 40mm long. Put ‘small square headed’ in the classification field.

There should not normally be a problem in distinguishing great square-headed brooches (with Hines types) from their small square-headed relatives.

There is no useful, up-to-date study of small square-headed brooches. Leigh 1980 is the only comprehensive source, an unpublished PhD which can be downloaded free from Ethos (link here). Leigh divided his material – about a hundred brooches – into three classes, I, II and III. Class I were “the finest and largest silver brooches”; Class II were “also of silver, but generally of smaller size and lesser quality”. Class III were all the copper-alloy brooches, about a third of the total (Leigh 1980, 3, 11 and 110). Leigh’s work is perhaps a little too broad-brush and it is not necessary to add Leigh classes to the sub-classification field.

Other research on small square-headed brooches can be found in two cemetery reports. The ten small square-headed brooches from the Kent cemetery of Mill Hill, Deal, were discussed by Birte Brugmann in a useful short study (Parfitt and Brugmann 1997, 35-39). Brugmann distinguished two types among the Mill Hill material, which she called ‘Kentish-continental’ and ‘Jutish-Kentish’. The ‘Jutish-Kentish’ type is rare; it is larger and better-made, with more individualistic designs. The ‘Kentish-continental’ type is far more common; it is less than 60mm long, and with simple, stereotyped relief decoration. Both types occur in both silver and copper alloy.

Twelve small square-headed brooches from the 1994 excavations at Buckland, Dover, are discussed by Brugmann (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 78-80) where (unfortunately) the larger ones are termed ‘great’ square-headed brooches.

In contrast to Leigh’s broad-brush work, Brugmann’s individual studies are perhaps too detailed for us to apply more widely. In the absence of anything in between, it is not necessary to add anything to the sub-classification field.

The terminology for these brooches follows that of the cruciforms and great square-heads. Again, of course the headplates are usually not square but rectangular, and they usually have relief decoration set in concentric zones, often with a raised, fairly plain (but not necessarily undecorated) band separating them. The relief decoration can include Style I animals, or can be simple geometric shapes.

Bows often have relief decoration too, generally in two long narrow panels. Feet generally have a lozenge- or cross-shaped design, often with shapes derived from profile animals in the spaces above, showing their relationship to the great square-headed brooches. The pin bar lug is normally single, and thecatchplate can be located anywhere from right below the bow to the centre of the foot. Silver examples often have inlaid niello, and exceptionally can have inlaid glass or garnets.

Some near-complete small square-headed brooches. Left to right: KENT-24332D, SUSS-BAE856, SF-4E5CC6, NCL-8E7D13.
Some near-complete small square-headed brooches. Left to right: KENT-24332D, SUSS-BAE856, SF-4E5CC6, NCL-8E7D13.

Leigh’s thesis is entitled The Square-Headed Brooches of Sixth-Century Kent, because he believed that they were all made in Kent; his hundred examples were concentrated in Kent and, to a lesser extent, the Isle of Wight. Because of this, the brooch type is also occasionally called the Kentish square-headed brooch. The PAS database avoids this term in the classification field, using ‘small square headed’ instead.

PAS records show that in addition to the traditional concentrations in Kent and the Isle of Wight, they were also commonly used (albeit in lower numbers) across the area south and east of Oxford, and there are occasional examples over much of the rest of Anglo-Saxon England.

Distribution map of small square-headed brooches
The distribution of small square-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database (retrieved 30th August 2018).

Leigh dated small square-headed brooches to c. 500-570 AD (Leigh 1980, 474-83). This dating has since been thoroughly tested and confirmed by Brugmann (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, quoting Brugmann 1999, table 3.2; absolute chronology can be found in table 3.3).

Small-long brooch

The small-long brooch is essentially a kind of small imitation of a cruciform and/or a great square-headed brooch. This probably explains the rather enigmatic name – if cruciforms and great square-heads are ‘long’ brooches, then these are the small variants of the long brooch. Put ‘small long’ in the classification field.

Fragments of small-long brooch can be distinguished relatively easily from fragments of square-headed brooch, both large and small, because small-longs never have any relief decoration. Decoration is confined to incised lines or simple ridges, and stamped motifs. But distinguishing a fragment of  large, well-made small-long from a bit of a small cruciform brooch can be difficult. Here are some tips.

Generally cruciforms will be larger and better made. The headplates of cruciforms normally have central panels and wings; small-longs tend to have headplates designed with a single rectangular area. The bows of cruciforms are more standard than small-longs (see below for the variety of small-long bows), and the same generally holds true for the flat panel at the upper part of the foot. Of course cruciforms are defined by their horse-head terminals, so there won’t be any problem if the only part surviving is the terminal.

There will always be difficult cases where you cannot be sure of which type of brooch you are dealing with. If you cannnot decide, add both possibilities to the classification field – enter ‘small long or cruciform’.

No classification of small-long brooches has yet been successfully carried out, although the challenges are no greater than for any other early Anglo-Saxon brooch. MacGregor and Bolick (1991, 124-147) illustrate the range, and comment on scholarship up to 1991. Since then, small-longs have been included in the chronological work of Penn and Brugmann (2007) who concur with MacGregor and Bolick (1991) in allocating a date-range of c. 450-550 AD.

Penn and Brugmann (2007, 24-5, 70-2) then divide small-longs into three types (sm1, sm2 and sm3) based on head shape and lappets. The presence of lappets puts a brooch into type sm3, which is dated to c. 480-550 AD. If you want to cite Penn and Brugmann’s types, please do, but beware of the non-standard terminology used in the descriptions of the types on p. 25.

Small-long brooches are found across most of England west and south of the Pennines. As with cruciform brooches, there is a higher concentration in the traditionally ‘Anglian’ areas of England (yellow dots below), with smaller concentrations in Kent, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.

The distribution of small-long brooches recorded on the PAS database
The distribution of small-long brooches recorded on the PAS database (retrieved 20th August 2018). Most are concentrated in ‘Anglian’ areas, but there are other hotspots in Kent, the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.

As with the other ‘long’ brooches, small-longs can be considered in three parts: head, bow and foot. There is some evidence that this is the way that the early Anglo-Saxons conceived their brooches, so it isn’t an entirely artificial exercise.

Head

The basic shape of a small-long headplate is square or rectangular. This is often embellished, most commonly with U-shaped cut-outs or with flat projections. Cut-outs and projections can merge into one another, and it can be hard to know whether it’s best to describe the parts that have been removed or the areas that are still left. The answer is to do what’s clearest and easiest for the individual brooch and don’t strive for consistency at the expense of clarity. There is no standard terminology for these brooches yet, and simply describing the headplate as (for example) trefoil, or cross potent, will not capture the complexity adequately. Put all the detail in as well as the shorthand words.

Headplates of small-long brooches, from simple rectangular examples to complicated ones with cut-outs and/or flat knobs. Left, top to bottom: BUC-15A755, SF-4F1203, WAW-B6614A (with stamped decoration). Right, SF-FDBF8A (above), SF-77C364 (below).
Headplates of small-long brooches, from simple rectangular examples to complicated ones with cut-outs and/or flat knobs. Left, top to bottom: BUC-15A755, SF-4F1203, WAW-B6614A (with stamped decoration). Right, SF-FDBF8A (above), SF-77C364 (below).

Bow

See above, under ‘Cruciform brooch’ and ‘Bow‘, for how to describe a bow.

The bows on small-long brooches are more variable than those on cruciform brooches. In addition to the common type found on cruciforms, with a rectangular-section flat panel at top and bottom and a V-shaped cross-section in the centre, there are three other common forms. One has a triangular facet at top and bottom, and a long trapezoidal facet on each side; another is V-shaped in cross-section throughout, with a long facet on either side which continues to a point at either end; and finally there is a very simple bow, oval or perhaps semi-oval in cross-section. There will always be oddities and minor variants, but these four types are by far the most common.

The four most common types of bow found on small-long brooches. Left: BERK-59B2F7 (above) and NLM-86A1E2 (below). Right: KENT4742 (above) and BERK-0732F1 (below).
The four most common types of bow found on small-long brooches. Left: BERK-59B2F7 (above) and NLM-86A1E2 (below). Right: KENT4742 (above) and BERK-0732F1 (below).

Foot

Feet come in two main types. The commoner type has a narrow flat panel at the top and a flared terminal; the other, much less commmon, is broadly lozenge-shaped but can end in a flared or circular terminal.

Flared feet can have a straight or curved edge at the bottom, and later examples can occasionally have simple lappets projecting from the flat panel. The presence of lappets is used by Penn and Brugmann to define their type sm3, which is their latest type, dated to c. 480-550 AD (2007, 24-5, 71-2).

Examples of feet from small-long brooches. Left: feet with flared terminals (top to bottom, ESS-8A8771, BH-18543A, YORYM-F70D22). Centre: lozenge-shaped feet (top to bottom, BERK-4AE6C5, WILT-DA9EF7, DENO-AADAF4). Right: feet with lappets (top to bottom, SF-1D0E85, NLM-FDFB3A, SWYOR-B8E3A7).
Examples of feet from small-long brooches. Left: feet with flared terminals (top to bottom, ESS-8A8771, BH-18543A, YORYM-F70D22). Centre: lozenge-shaped feet (top to bottom, BERK-4AE6C5, WILT-DA9EF7, DENO-AADAF4). Right: feet with lappets (top to bottom, SF-1D0E85, NLM-FDFB3A, SWYOR-B8E3A7).

Whether the foot is flared or lozengiform, the catchplate will be at the top, just below the bow. When a break has removed the catchplate, and you only have the terminal, the fragment can be difficult to identify as part of a brooch. We have far fewer small-long foot fragments recorded on the database than we should, so keep an eye out for difficult examples.

Terminals from small-long feet (SF-0C9A26, NLM-439C48, NLM-FE193D, NMS-4965FE)
Terminals from small-long feet broken off below the catchplate (SF-0C9A26, NLM-439C48, NLM-FE193D, NMS-4965FE). These can be difficult to identify with certainty and are probably being under-recorded.

How the elements are combined

The pictures above include some more-or-less complete examples, but here are some more combining head, bow and foot. While the flared foot is often combined with a trefoil or cross-shaped head, and the lozengiform foot normally has a rectangular head, there are no hard and fast rules about how the elements are combined.

Some complete or nearly-complete small-long brooches. Top left, NLM-7FF813 which has lost its terminal but retains its iron pin. Bottom left, LIN-93123A. Centre above, CAM-2CA569; centre below, LEIC-C09B56. Right, two brooches with lozenge-shaped feet, WAW-F176D2 above and BH-617A21 below.
Some complete or nearly-complete small-long brooches. Top left, NLM-7FF813 which has lost its terminal but retains its iron pin. Bottom left, LIN-93123A. Centre above, CAM-2CA569; centre below, LEIC-C09B56. Right, two brooches with lozenge-shaped feet, WAW-F176D2 above and BH-617A21 below. Note the stamped decoration on LIN-93123A, CAM-2CA569 and LEIC-C09B56.

More unusual shapes can be unusual combinations of standard elements, or can have heads, bows and feet that are unusual in themselves. You won’t come across many of these, but here are a few oddities to illustrate the range.

Some unusual small-long brooches. Top row, left to right: NMS-B27BE9, SOMDOR-DEA564, NLM-694867, SUSS-EF9934. Bottom row, left to right: KENT-0FF983, PUBLIC-D52688, SF-C3875F, BUC-6C19E3.
Some unusual small-long brooches. Top row, left to right: NMS-B27BE9, SOMDOR-DEA564, NLM-694867, and SUSS-EF9934 (with, very unusually, relief decoration on the foot). Bottom row, left to right: KENT-0FF983, PUBLIC-D52688, SF-C3875F, BUC-6C19E3.

Radiate-headed brooch

Radiate-headed brooches are small brooches with semi-circular headplates and decorative knobs that radiate from the headplate. Their feet can be of various shapes and they normally have relief decoration. They are usually made from copper alloy, but 1 in 6 on the PAS database are made from silver. They are often gilded. Put ‘radiate headed’ in the classification field.

There are a surprising number of radiate-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database, given how few have been found in excavations of early Anglo-Saxon graves. Because they are rare in graves, they lack the good contexts that help us understand them, and English finds haven’t received much study so far. A welcome exception is Brugmann in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 80-2.

Radiate-headed brooches are much more common in graves in Continental Europe, mainly in France but with variants all across Europe. The commonest French type normally has five integrally cast knobs around the head, and a parallel-sided bow and foot decorated together with hardly any break between the two. Examples can be found in museums which include collections of Continental material, such as the Ashmolean (AN1909.646) or the British Museum (try this search for the BM’s collection of over a hundred radiate-headed brooches).

This type is not common on the PAS database, but there are a few examples. The heads are easy to recognise, but the bows and feet are harder.

Radiate-headed brooches with five knobs and a parallel-sided foot. Left: DENO-6D3516 (silver). Top row: NMS-8FD211 (silver), WAW-B11F93. Bottom row: LIN-9738C0, SF-75B422, KENT-F97E52.
Radiate-headed brooches with five knobs and a parallel-sided foot. Left: DENO-6D3516 (silver, with silver pin surviving). Top row: NMS-8FD211 (silver), WAW-B11F93. Bottom row: LIN-9738C0, SF-75B422, KENT-F97E52.

Most of the radiate-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database have three knobs. Their heads are again generally semi-circular (sometimes triangular or oval) and the knobs are again cast in one piece with the headplate; sometimes they are so small as to be vestigial. The feet are usually triangular or lozengiform. Sometimes these are called ‘miniature bow brooches’, but as they resemble the Frankish type of radiate-headed brooch so closely, we should stick with this name and put ‘radiate headed’ in the classification field.

Radiate-headed brooches. Left to right: IOW-B3C471, KENT-7882DB, IOW-E9CC91, HAMP-30F0CC, NMS-C5EBB3.
Radiate-headed brooches. Left to right: IOW-B3C471, KENT-7882DB, IOW-E9CC91, HAMP-30F0CC, NMS-C5EBB3.

The distribution map of radiate-headed brooches shows that they are found thinly spread over most of Anglo-Saxon England, with a slightly higher density in East Anglia, Kent and Hampshire.

Distribution map of radiate-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database.
Distribution map of radiate-headed brooches recorded on the PAS database.

The only readily-available discussion of the three-knob variety appears to be Brugmann, who discusses one from grave 102 at Mill Hill (Parfitt and Brugmann 1995, 39, fig. 191) and one from grave 408 at Buckland Dover in 1994 (Brugmann in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 80, fig. 10.57). Mill Hill grave 102 is dated to Brugmann’s Kentish Phase III (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, 80) which is allocated the calendar dates of 530-570 AD (Brugmann 1999, 51, table 3.3).

Equal-arm brooch

Brooches with identical head and foot are found from the Roman to the late early-medieval periods, and the shapes and terminology differ slightly from period to period. In the early Anglo-Saxon world, equal-arm brooches have triangular heads and feet, and three different variants have been identified so far.

Wide

This type is large and heavy, with a wide triangular head and foot tapering towards the bow. They are the best-studied type, having been looked at by Dot Bruns, now Dot Boughton (Bruns 2003), and before that by Vera Evison (1977). The wide equal-arm brooches are also found on the Continent, and the art on them is sometimes called the Saxon Relief Style.

There are not very many records of wide equal-arm brooches on the PAS database. Bruns 2003 identifies several separate types, and these can be added to the sub-classification field if desired. In order to leave the sub-classification free, please add ‘wide equal arm’ to the classification field rather than simply ‘equal arm’.

Wide equal-arm brooches. Above, left to right: SF-F10E65, SF-770321. Below, left to right: NMS-647B60, FASW-948D00, PUBLIC-2E9A21.
Wide equal-arm brooches with relief decoration. Above, left to right: SF-F10E65, SF-770321. Below, left to right: NMS-647B60, FASW-948D00, PUBLIC-2E9A21.

The terminals of the wide equal-arm brooches are not always identical – there are sometimes small differences in size and/or design.

There is also a version of the wide equal-arm brooch which doesn’t have relief ornament – the surfaces are flat instead, with ring-and-dot or stamped designs.

Wide equal-arm brooches with simple decoration. Left to right: NMS-82BE20, SUR-E536A3 and SF-43AEC1.
Wide equal-arm brooches with simple decoration. Left to right: NMS-82BE20, SUR-E536A3 and SF-43AEC1. Note the copper-alloy spring and pin on NMS-82BE20. It is possible that SUR-E536A3 has been photographed upside down.

Wide equal-arm brooches can have idiosyncratic pins and pin fixings. The pin bar lugs are usually double and widely spaced, to support a sturdy spring and pin holding a large and heavy brooch, but oddly there are also some which have far weaker separately made and soldered-on pin fixings. NMS-82BE20 has, exceptionally, a copper-alloy spring and pin.

Anglian

The Anglian equal-arm brooch is not commonly recorded on the PAS database, but it is occasionally found in graves and is briefly discussed by Hines (1984, 253-9). It is normally undecorated. Its name comes from its distribution, which is restricted at present to ‘Anglian’ areas of England. In the unlikely event that you record one, use ‘Anglian equal arm’ in the classification field. They date to c. 500-570 AD.

Anglian equal-arm brooches from the PAS database. LANCUM-2322A4 (left), SF3876 (centre), NMS-511A83 (above right), NMS-BC1122 (below right).
Anglian equal-arm brooches from the PAS database. LANCUM-2322A4 (left), SF3876 (centre), NMS-511A83 (above right), NMS-BC1122 (below right).

Long

Another type of equal-arm brooch is rarely found in graves, so before the PAS began recording them they were almost completely unknown. They are now much more common on the PAS database than any other sort of equal-arm brooch.

These brooches are generally substantially longer than they are wide, and the terminals taper the opposite way to those on the other two types – they taper away from the bow. Until now they have not had a precise name, but ‘long’ would seem to fit well as a contrast to ‘wide’. Therefore, please add ‘long equal arm’ to the classification field.

As with the wide equal-arm brooches, the terminals of long equal-arms are not always identical – there are sometimes small differences in size and/or design. In particular, the foot is often slightly longer than the head.

Long equal-arm brooches: Left: IOW-08DCB1. Top row: HAMP-5F30D6, BH-825EB9, HAMP-2BABC7. Bottom row: IOW-A1F47D, GLO-4E0EBD, KENT-028FFE.
Long equal-arm brooches: Left: IOW-08DCB1. Top row: HAMP-5F30D6, BH-825EB9, HAMP-2BABC7. Bottom row: IOW-A1F47D, GLO-4E0EBD, KENT-028FFE.

We now have so many recorded on the PAS database that English design and manufacture is suspected. The unpierced pin bar lug on IOW-A1F47D (pictured above) appears to confirm this.

As the range shown above indicates, long equal-arm brooches can be made from silver (KENT-028FFE) or copper alloy, and can have gilded relief decoration. They are quite small, usually about 40mm long. Much of their inspiration seems to come from the footplates of small-long or small square-headed brooches, and Barry Ager has suggested that they may be the result of casting two footplates together with a bow (in Annable and Eagles 2010, 27). Consequently, detached foot fragments can be difficult or impossible to identify with certainty. The knobs on HAMP-5F30D6, however, show that elements of cruciform brooches were also being used.

There is some scope for confusion with ansate brooches, which also have identical  or near-identical terminals. Diagnostic features can include the pin fixings; both the pin bar lug and the catchplate are always in line with the pin on long equal-arms, and the pin bar lug is normally single. Ansate brooches can have the pin fixings set transversely, and often have double lugs. Other things to look out for on long equal-arm brooches include stamped or relief decoration in early Anglo-Saxon style.

A useful excavated parallel to PAS finds comes from grave 26 at Blacknall Field, Pewsey, and is discussed by Barry Ager (in Annable and Eagles 2010, 27-28) who lists other excavated examples from Alfriston 29, Lyminge 24, Stapenhill, and East Shefford grave 18. One from Frilford, now in the British Museum, could be added to this list (1867,0204.8).

Other equal-arm brooches

There are a very few equal-arm brooches which appear to be made by casting two headplate elements together, one either side of a bow. We have one which appears to combine two small-long headplates (NMS-192D40) and one which appears to combine two radiate-head headplates (WILT-BA0E35). Detached headplates from this type of brooch would be difficult or impossible to identify. In the unlikely event that you record one, simply add ‘equal arm’ to the classification field, and be sure to tick Find of Note.

Supporting arm brooch

This is one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon brooches, and is clearly a development from Roman brooches. The type was first defined in Germany, and the name ‘supporting arm’ is a direct translation from the German Stützarmfibel. Put ‘supporting arm’ in the classification field.

The ‘supporting arm’ is in fact wings, each with a perforated lug on the reverse to hold the pin bar, around which the spring is wrapped. There can be a third or even a fourth perforated lug in the centre. The foot is normally short and slightly flared, with transverse grooves and bevelled edges.

In 1993 these were described as ‘comparative rarities in England’ (MacGregor and Bolick 1993, 150), but the PAS has now recorded over 50 supporting-arm brooches.

Evison (1977, 127-130) defines the two main sub-types first isolated by Bӧhme (1974); the wider Mahndorf type, with head width of 25-30mm, and the narrower Perlberg type, with head width of 12-22mm. Many PAS examples fall into one of these two categories, and the sub-type can be put in the sub-classification field if so; but a surprising number fall between the two types, and are between 22mm and 25mm wide.

There is also a small group of more ornate, relief-decorated versions (e.g. NMS-D013E4 and ESS-999D76, with a good parallel from Eastry in Kent published in Ager 1989 (pdf here)).

Supporting-arm brooches. Left, the wider Mahndorf type (above, WILT-D50E12 and the narrower Perlberg type (below, BH-9F9533). Centre, two brooches which fall between the two types (above NMS-478896, below SUSS-FFC705). Right, two unusual brooches (above NMS-532664, below NMS-D013E4)
Supporting-arm brooches. Left: the wider Mahndorf type (above, WILT-D50E12) and the narrower Perlberg type (below, BH-9F9533). Centre: two brooches which fall between the two types (NMS-478896 above, SUSS-FFC705 below). Right: two unusual brooches (NMS-D013E4 above, NMS-532664 below).

This brooch type is clearly derived from Roman brooches, with a catchplate at or towards the bottom of the brooch. But it also has many Germanic features, with a foot which is reminiscent of the flat panel at the top of the foot of most cruciform brooches, many small-longs and some equal-arms.

Because the foot can look so like the top of a cruciform foot, it is important to note whether it is complete, or whether it may originally have had a terminal which is now missing.

MacGregor and Bolick (1993, 150) summarises the current state of research. A date-range of c. 400-c. 450 should be approximately correct.

Annular brooch

An annular brooch has a closed frame or ring (always circular in the early Anglo-Saxon period) and a pin. These brooches are not particularly easy to use, as the layers of fabric have to be pushed through the frame before the pin can go through them. Straightening the fabric pulls the pin back against the frame to secure it. Put ‘annular’ in the classification field.

Annular brooches are another type of early Anglo-Saxon brooch that suffers from a lack of scholarly attention. Brief studies have been carried out by Leeds (1945, 46-49; clarified by Ager 1985, 1-2), Hines (1984, 260-269) and Penn and Brugmann (2007, 25). Although Leeds’s overview used the letters (a) to (g) for various forms, and Hines gives an ‘outline of the range’, neither of these is a formal typology, and Hines concluded by stating that ‘The sources and history of the annular brooch in Anglian England remain largely obscure’.

The situation has not changed much since, and it is often difficult to date an annular brooch within the early Anglo-Saxon period, or even to distinguish an early-medieval brooch from a later medieval brooch. There is a great deal of scope for more research.

At the time Hines wrote, there was no clear evidence for the use of annular brooches in graves before c. 475 AD (Hines 1984, 262) and this impression was confirmed by Penn and Brugmann (2007, 25).

Many annular brooches are not particularly well made or skilfully decorated. Because fragments can be very hard to recognise, we think that early Anglo-Saxon annular brooches may be under-recorded on the PAS database.

A good range of annular brooches is illustrated in MacGregor and Bolick (1993, 82-93). Many are from graves, so are definitely early-medieval rather than medieval.

When recording an early-medieval annular brooch, you will of course describe the outline and the shape in cross-section, but please also remember to record the width of the frame from exterior to interior (this can be called the ‘band’ if necessary), any gloss present (see below), and the material of the pin (if it survives). As you will notice, there is no standard way up to photograph an annular brooch.

The sub-headings below are an attempt to make it easier to find information on the particular type of annular brooch you have to record. They do not constitute a typology. Leeds’s types can be put in the sub-classification field when they fit well to your particular brooch, but they are not necessary.

Flat annular brooches (Leeds type g)

The most common early Anglo-Saxon annular brooch has a flat circular frame, usually between about 35mm and 65mm in diameter. The frame is nearly always of copper alloy; the pin is usually of iron, but can occasionally be of copper alloy. There is usually a constriction or a hole to hold the pin; sometimes the hole is long, and so is better called a slot. Penn and Brugmann (2007, 25) see pin slots as being earlier than circular pin holes, although an absolute chronological date for this change is not obvious.

The frame is generally flat and wide, often with a low D-shaped cross-section. Sometimes they can instead have a wedge-shaped cross-section, with the point of the wedge always towards the inside of the brooch. This feature can be difficult to show in a photograph and needs careful description.

Decoration of stamps and transverse grooves are common, and can help to identify a fragment; but many annular brooches are undecorated. Penn and Brugmann examined the designs on brooches from four Norfolk cemeteries, and could not find any obvious patterning in terms of chronology or group identity (Penn and Brugmann 2007, 25). Some have a curious gloss to their surface, which has presumably been caused by polishing against clothing, but does not appear on other early Anglo-Saxon brooch types.

Annular brooches with pin constrictions (NCL-A29D44 above, LIN-92AFFA below), a pin hole blocked with iron corrosion (SF-74C243) and a pin slot (SF-F95D33).
Annular brooches of late 5th- to late 6th-century date, with pin constrictions (NCL-A29D44 above, LIN-92AFFA below), a pin hole blocked with iron corrosion (SF-74C243) and a pin slot (SF-F95D33). Note the gloss on NCL-A29D44.

They can be made either from a closed frame, as shown above, or an open band with overlapping ends which each have a hole and are riveted together to close the frame. Occasionally the holes in the ends are simply kept together by the pin passing through them, as below on CAM-0B11E1.

Left: annular brooch made from strip with overlapping ends, closed by the copper-alloy pin within its pin hole (CAM-0B11E1). The other brooches in this picture all have stamped and engraved decoration (above, FAKL-9635F8 and BUC-08DE33; below, LIN-91032E and NCL-882DE8).
Left: annular brooch made from strip with overlapping ends, closed by the copper-alloy pin within its pin hole (CAM-0B11E1). The other brooches in this picture all have stamped and engraved decoration (above, FAKL-9635F8 and BUC-08DE33; below, LIN-91032E and NCL-882DE8).

The flat brooches with groove and stamp decoration appear to go out of use at the end of the Migration Period, perhaps c. 570 AD, so they have a life of about a century.

Broad-framed annular brooches (Leeds type e)

Occasionally a small annular brooch with a wider frame was used in the early Anglo-Saxon world. We do not have many on the PAS database, but examples include SF-965DBD and BERK-D25D70, both with copper-alloy pins, as well as several from the Ashmolean Museum such as MacGregor and Bolick 1993, nos. 10.2-10.4, 10.7, 10.11.

Chunkier annular brooches with ribbed decoration (Leeds type f)

A less common type of early Anglo-Saxon annular brooch has a chunkier oval or D-shaped cross-section, and cast decoration, with transverse ridges. It is hard to find a complete, unambiguous example of this on the PAS database, but some incomplete examples are shown below, and there is a complete example from Icklingham shown in West 1998 (fig. 56a no. 5). These are not easy to date within the early Anglo-Saxon period and a broad range of c. 475-c. 700 AD may be appropriate. The exception is when the grooves and ridges alternate with undecorated areas; this decoration appears to be confined to the late 6th and 7th centuries (see below).

Annular brooches with D-shaped or oval cross-section and ribbed decoration. Left to right: DENO-6CBC25, YORYM-7B4EB1 and NMS-F72267.
Annular brooches with D-shaped or oval cross-section and ribbed decoration. Left to right: DENO-6CBC25, YORYM-7B4EB1 and NMS-F72267. These are not easy to date within the early Anglo-Saxon period, although those with groups of transverse lines (left and right above) are likely to be late 6th or 7th century.

Late 6th- and early 7th-century annular brooches

At some point in the late 6th century, the broad flat brooches (Leeds’s type g) go out of use, but the thicker ribbed brooches (Leeds’s type f) continue in use. During the late 6th and 7th centuries, annular brooches start to show a trend to smaller sizes, although larger examples still exist (up to about 42mm external diameter). Cross-sections remain relatively thick and narrow, either circular, rectangular or D-shaped.

Many are undecorated (and so hard to recognise and date) but occasionally they can have characteristic late 6th- and 7th-century decoration such as Style II animal heads and groups of transverse lines. Some examples and discussion of annular brooches in late 6th- and 7th-century graves can be found in Geake 1997, 52-54.

YORYM-84D7D3, YORYM-507065, SWYOR-2E5F08, SWYOR-9F6907 and SWYOR-F9ECE2
Annular brooches of the late 6th and 7th centuries. Left, YORYM-84D7D3 (above) and YORYM-507065 (below). Centre: SWYOR-2E5F08. Right: SWYOR-9F6907 (above) and SWYOR-F9ECE2 (below).

Unusually for a 7th-century fashion, these annular brooches are concentrated in East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, with only very occasional examples found elsewhere.

Quoit brooches

The quoit brooch is a particular kind of annular brooch. It has a closed frame, but a notch in the inner edge of the frame through which the pin can pass, and a ridge or boss on either side to stop the pin falling back out through the notch. This makes it easier to fasten than an ordinary annular brooch, because the pin can be pushed through the fabric without bunching it up, and then passed through the notch and secured.

It works more like a penannular brooch, but Ager (1985, 5) argues persuasively that the quoit brooch is a development from the annular brooch, and is not related to the penannulars. Because they are really a sub-type of annular brooches, we record them with ‘annular’ in the classification field, and use the word ‘quoit’ in the sub-classification field.

Quoit brooches from the PAS database. Left, top to bottom: BH-8E9C92, BH-780DA1, FAJN-03B792. Right, top to bottom: NARC-63CBFD, NARC-63FA58.
Quoit brooches from the PAS database. Left, top to bottom: BH-8E9C92, BH-780DA1, FAJN-03B792. Right, top to bottom: NARC-63CBFD, NARC-63FA58.

Leeds (1945, 46-49) and Hines (1984, 260-269) both included quoit brooches in their studies of annular brooches. Leeds’s observations were summarised and illustrated in Ager (1985) who carried out further study on the smaller, less elaborate types. Ager divided quoit brooches into two types, one with a shorter pin which could pass through the notch (type D) and one with a longer pin which could not, and so must have been used in the same way as normal annular brooches (type E). This division does not work for us, as we so rarely have pins surviving, and although his article is fascinating, it is not necessary to use Ager’s types in the sub-classification field.

Ager also examined the dating of these small, simple quoit brooches (Ager 1985, 16-17). They appear to have come into use in the 5th century (Ager suggests the middle of the century) and a single example (Castle Bytham) is known from the early 7th century, with Style II decoration and cabochon-cut garnets. A date-range of c. 420 to c. 620 AD would seem sensible.

We have very few quoit brooches on the PAS database, but the group is homogeneous, with circular pin holes and concentric rings of stamps. Fragments of these quoit brooches would look very much like any other fragment of annular brooch. The stops are made either from bent-up parts of the frame, or from thicker ridges.

PAS examples are concentrated in the Midlands, with examples from Leicestershire to Gloucestershire. There are eleven more in the Ashmolean catalogue, from Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire and Northamptonshire (MacGregor and Bolick 1993, nos. 10.1, 10.5, 10.6, 10.8-10, 10.14-16, 10.20).

The more elaborate silver quoit brooches are few in number and come mainly from Kent and Sussex; there is only one example on the PAS database, IOW-0F3813. The art on these has given the Quoit Brooch Style (QBS) its name, but QBS is now known from more belt fittings than brooches (Suzuki 2000, 8-11).

Penannular brooch

A penannular brooch has an open or discontinuous frame, ‘penannular’ meaning ‘almost annular’. There is a tendency on penannular brooches for the pin to slip round the ends of the frame and fall through the gap, so the penannular brooch has a terminal at either end, which act as stops and prevent this happening. Put ‘penannular’ in the classification field.

Very unusually for an early-medieval brooch type, penannular brooches are also found (and are in fact more common) in the Iron Age and Roman periods. Perhaps because of this, they have been neglected for decades until Anna Booth’s recent PhD (Booth 2014) which can be downloaded free from Ethos here. Booth’s work covers penannular brooches of all dates up to 700 AD. Her early-medieval work is based on Fowler 1960 and Fowler 1963, but with significant changes, and so Booth types rather than Fowler types should be added to the sub-classification field.

Booth’s Figure 4.1 gives a visual summary of the types, with more detail in Figure 4.42 (Booth 2014, 116 and 197-8). The types are largely based on the forms of the terminals, but it is difficult to find precise descriptions and definitions. Types A-D are mainly Iron Age and Roman in date; Types E, I, J, L, M and O are mainly Roman in date. Information on these types can be found in the Iron Age and Roman brooch guide (forthcoming);

The two commonest early-medieval types are Type F and Type G. Type F has zoomorphic terminals, and is large (between c. 55 and 75mm in diameter; Booth 2014, 83, fig. 3.8). It can be difficult to decode the animal detail on the terminals, and in particular to work out which way the heads are facing; YORYM-7713B8 is exceptionally clear and shows that the frame emerges from the animal’s mouth (rather than being its neck).

Type G is the most numerous type in post-Roman contexts. It has solid cuboidal terminals, often with corners cut off to form lozenge-shaped faces, which can be decorated with dots. It is smaller than Type F, at between 15 and 40mm diameter (Booth 2014, 83, fig. 3.8), and is usually chunky with a ribbed frame.

Penannular brooches. Top row, Type F: SWYOR-4A2BC7, YORYM-F1BE89, YORYM-7713B8 and LIN-0C0594. Bottom two rows, Type G: IOW-4ECBF1 and LIN-35B2BE (left), LANCUM-0AF673 and SWYOR-213050 (centre), YORYM-554033 and SWYOR-6EA057 (right).
Penannular brooches of Types F and G. Top row, Type F: SWYOR-4A2BC7, YORYM-F1BE89, YORYM-7713B8 and LIN-0C0594. Bottom two rows, Type G: IOW-4ECBF1 and LIN-35B2BE (left), LANCUM-0AF673 and SWYOR-213050 (centre), YORYM-554033 and SWYOR-6EA057 (right).

Type H is a less common type with large expanded flat triangular terminals. It comes in a wide range of sizes, but we have recorded very few on the PAS database. WILT-5682E4LVPL2035YORYM-06B5C2 and GAT-9271F5 are rare exceptions.

Unusually, pins from penannular brooches are occasionally recognisable even when detached. These later brooches have straight pins, in contrast to the bent shafts of earlier examples; they have tubular loops with grooved decoration. Examples include HAMP-2773FB.

Type H penannular brooch (LVPL2035) and a detached pin from a penannular brooch (HAMP-2773FB)
Type H penannular brooch (LVPL2035) and a detached pin from a penannular brooch (HAMP-2773FB). The terminals of LVPL2035 are so close together that it is difficult to see how it could have functioned as a penannular brooch.

The chronology of penannular brooches is extremely peculiar and complicated (Booth 2014, 195). Types F, G and H are of post-Roman manufacture, although Type G is also known from late Roman contexts. Types A-E seem to be mainly Iron Age and/or Roman, but are occasionally found in early Anglo-Saxon graves; some of these brooches may have been old when buried, but probably not all.

There seems to be little dating evidence for Types F and H, but they are currently given a tentative range of c. 400-700 AD (Booth 2014, 195, fig. 4.40). Type G seems to have been made over a very long period of time (c. 100-700 AD), but the type is most common in the 6th century AD (Booth 2014, 195, fig. 4.40).

There is a small number of penannular brooches found in Conversion-period graves, which includes several small examples of Type C (with rolled-up terminals) decorated with transverse grooves, similar to BERK-EE2C16 and BH-7D0F30; there is also a penannular variant of the type with paired Style II birds’ heads (Geake 1997, 52-54, fig. 4.13).

Early-medieval penannular brooches are found across most of the country, not just in traditionally Anglo-Saxon areas.

Incidentally, there are two broken penannular brooches on the database (SUR-3D35C5 and DOR-91E293) which show that solid items like these do not have to be cast, but can be made by folding and hammering strips of metal together. This occasionally also happens with middle Anglo-Saxon pins (e.g. SF4659, BERK-435E07 and SWYOR-0E81D8), which break in an L-shaped pattern showing that the shaft was made by doubling a thin strip and hammering. (and any strap-ends?).

Penannular brooches do outlast the 7th century, but are only made in Irish, PIctish and perhaps Welsh styles. See below, under Middle and Late Anglo-Saxon Brooches, for details.

Disc brooch

Although the term ‘disc brooch’ is often loosely used for any flat circular brooch, the early Anglo-Saxon disc brooch is a very specific form. It is normally a sturdy, quite thick disc, flat or very slightly convex, with a limited range of decorative motifs. Put ‘disc’ in the classification field.

Decoration may consist of any or all of the following: concentric circles, central dots which may pierce the brooch, ring-and-dot motifs, stamps, and indentations around the edge. They often have a white-metal coating on the front, and when this has been analysed, it is generally of tin. Some appear to have been completely undecorated.

Disc brooches have not received much study. Tania Dickinson carried out some work in the 1970s, partly in her unpublished thesis (Dickinson 1976, 118-34; downloadable free from Oxford University’s Research Archive here) and partly in an article which is now difficult to get hold of (Dickinson 1979).

Dickinson (1976, 120-1) has pointed out that all of these decorative motifs can be found among late Romano-British metalwork, and both Leeds (1945, 49) and Dickinson have stressed the similarity of this simple decoration on disc brooches to that on annular brooches.

Early Anglo-Saxon disc brooches from the PAS database. Left, top to bottom: BUC-1541AE, DUR-8F4A7E, KENT-3D208B. Centre: IOW-AA0E06. Right, top to bottom: SF-E14483, BERK-66C1FC.
Early Anglo-Saxon disc brooches from the PAS database. Left, top to bottom: BUC-1541AE (with stamps), DUR-8F4A7E (with white-metal coating, central hole, ring-and-dot motifs and concentric grooves), KENT-3D208B (with white-metal coating and concentric grooves). Centre: IOW-AA0E06 (with notched edge and central hole). Right, top to bottom: SF-E14483 (with dots arranged in a cross, and ring-and-dot motifs) and BERK-66C1FC (undecorated).

Dickinson (1976, 123-134) gave a classification for disc brooches, with seven Groups (and several sub-groups) all based on decoration. It is not necessary to add the Dickinson group to the sub-classification field, although it might in future become a good way of dividing up a larger dataset.

Dickinson (1976, 118 and fig. 7a) noted that the size of the Upper Thames examples was very consistent, with most between 32 and 42mm in diameter. PAS data is rather different, with two peaks, one centring on 26mm and the other on 36mm. This difference is probably due to the wider geographic origins of the PAS dataset; in particular, it seems possible that the disc brooches of the Isle of Wight are smaller than others.

Diameters of PAS-recorded disc brooches compared to diameters of Dickinson's 1976 sample.
Diameters of PAS-recorded disc brooches compared to diameters of Dickinson’s 1976 sample.

The distribution of early Anglo-Saxon disc brooches on the PAS database is very different to that noted by Leeds (1945, fig. 30) and Dickinson (1976, 1979). Leeds’s distribution covered central-southern England only, stopping abruptly at a line between the Severn and the Wash and along what is now the M4; there were none in Norfolk or East Suffolk either, and few from Kent.  The biggest concentration was in the Upper Thames, around Oxford; the major concentration among PAS material is in Hampshire, Sussex and the Isel of Wight, which are almost blank on Leeds’s map.

Distribution of early Anglo-Saxon disc brooches recorded on the PAS database.
Distribution of early Anglo-Saxon disc brooches recorded on the PAS database.

There are a few potential pitfalls when recording an early Anglo-Saxon disc brooch. Firstly, undecorated disc brooches can be difficult to date securely, and there is a possibility that some brooches currently dated to the early-medieval period may in fact be Roman. There are similar disc brooches recorded on the database as Roman (compare WILT-9EF290, WAW-6BA33F, ESS-7B349A, LANCUM-58DE68, LANCUM-DD6F67, YORYM-F65A88, SWYOR-896690, LEIC-D4B1B1); conversely, some of those currently recorded as early early-medieval have double lugs and copper-alloy pins and generally have a rather Roman tinge to them (e.g. YORYM-E60C83 and LANCUM-8E2BB6, both found in unusual places for an early Anglo-Saxon brooch). Dickinson (1979, 49-51) lists the then-known Roman precursors to disc brooches, and this work could profitably be repeated using Mackreth 2011 to see if we are conflating Roman and Anglo-Saxon examples.

Secondly, it can be difficult to distinguish the cast backplate of an applied saucer brooch (see below) from a corroded disc brooch (see, for example, IOW-0CA342 and NARC-F2BE75). It is worth looking hard at corrosion to see if it is different on the front and on the back, and whether it might be corrosion product from solder rather than just the tinned surface or the copper alloy of the brooch.

Disc brooches are generally dated to the century 450-550 AD (Dickinson 1979, 42).

Openwork disc brooch

This is a less common variant of the disc brooch. They tend to be large (most around 45-50mm in diameter), and are often decorated with ring-and-dot motifs or stamps. Their most obvious feature is their cut-outs, often of T, L or V shape, making a reserved cross or swastika. There are fewer than a dozen of these on the PAS database, but it is still worth distinguishing them; put ‘openwork disc’ in the classification field.

Openwork disc brooches on the PAS database. Left, top to bottom: YORYM-285423 and NARC-C95B71. Right, top to bottom: LANCUM-AE3751 and NMS-04C8E5.
Openwork disc brooches on the PAS database. Left, top to bottom: YORYM-285423 and NARC-C95B71. Right, top to bottom: LANCUM-AE3751 and NMS-04C8E5.

Leeds’s distribution map (Leeds 1945, fig. 31) showed a restricted midlands distribution around the Cambridgeshire Ouse, the Nene and the Warwickshire Avon, but PAS examples fill in gaps in East Anglia, Yorkshire and, unusually, Lancashire. They appear to be of much the same date-range as other disc brooches, say 450-550 AD.

Button brooch

Button brooches are small cast circular brooches, generally about 20mm in diameter, which nearly always have the same decoration of a relief human face looking out at the observer. This is normally set within an upturned rim, or at least a bold groove around the edge giving the effect of an upturned rim. Because they are small and chunky, they are tough, and tend to survive in reasonably good condition, but the rim often erodes away in the ploughsoil. Put ‘button’ in the classification field.

Button brooches are always made from copper alloy, and are usually gilded. Although two lead versions are known, these are thought to be models used in the casting process.

There are two studies of button brooches. Avent and Evison 1982 is reliable and easy to use; it was revised and updated by Suzuki 2008, which is complicated and not always easy to use, but includes some PAS data.

Suzuki’s classification, based on Avent and Evison’s, divides the standard type of button brooches into classes A to L.

The face has several elements: helmet (or hair), eyebrows, eyes, eyerings, nose, moustache (normally combined with the upper lip), lower lip, and cheeks (Suzuki 2008, 3 and 13-28). The brooch can be embellished with stamped punchmarks, using the same repertoire of stamps as other early Anglo-Saxon brooches (see above, under Cruciform brooches, for how to record these).

Button broocheButton brooches from the PAS database. Right: KENT-AC16E8 (above) and HAMP-F4CAD3 (below). Centre: BERK-3E22D3 (above) and IOW-BDF9A5 (below). Right: HAMP-006CE5 (above) and IOW-AABE51 (below). All show facing human masks except for IOW-AABE51, which shows a profile mask facing right.s from the PAS database (KENT-AC16E8-HAMP-F4CAD3-BERK-3E22D3-IOW-BDF9A5-HAMP-006CE5-IOW-AABE51)
A selection of button brooches from the PAS database. Right: KENT-AC16E8 (above) and HAMP-F4CAD3 (below). Centre: BERK-3E22D3 (above) and IOW-BDF9A5 (below). Right: HAMP-006CE5 (above) and IOW-AABE51 (below). All show facing human masks, except for IOW-AABE51 which shows a profile mask facing right.

When photographing a button brooch, you will obviously show the mask on the front the right way up. When you turn it over to photograph the reverse, be careful to keep the orientation the same, to show how the pin fixings relate to the decoration. You can describe the locations of these in the same way as measuring the die axis of a coin; with the decoration on the front the right way up, hold the brooch at the top and bottom (12 o’clock and 6 o’clock) and swivel it round to see the reverse. Then describe the locations of the pin bar lug and catchplate using o’clocks.

Button brooches showing a variety of pin orientations. Left to right: BERK-9B8C0D, CAM-3E8A56, PUBLIC-61770D.
Button brooches showing a variety of pin orientations. Left to right: BERK-9B8C0D, CAM-3E8A56, PUBLIC-61770D. PUBLIC-61770D is also decorated with stamped annulet punchmarks.

Suzuki’s distribution maps (Suzuki 2008, 5-7) give the traditional distribution; concentrated in the south-eastern corner of England, with a scattering further north as far as south Norfolk. There are also 23 examples known from France; it is unusual for influences to spread south, rather than north, across the channel. The PAS distribution extends this; while confirming the concentration in south-eastern England, it adds rare examples from the Somerset Levels, south Wales, north Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Suzuki gives a date of c. 480 to c. 550 AD for button brooches (Suzuki 2008, 319).

There is a theoretical risk of mis-identifying small saucer brooches as button brooches. The two are distinguished by their decoration. Button brooches are defined as including a design based on a single human face (Suzuki 2008, xxv). If the design does not include a single human face, then it is a saucer brooch, even if rather a small one.

Cast saucer brooch

Traditionally there have been two types of saucer brooch, one made from several elements of sheet metal (the ‘applied saucer’ brooch) and one cast in one piece (the ‘cast saucer’ brooch). Recently some brooches have been recorded on the PAS database that suggest an intermediate type (see below, under ‘Applied saucer brooch’). Put ‘cast saucer’ in the classification field.

Cast saucer brooches are similar to button brooches, with the upturned rim that gives them their name, but they are larger and with more varied decoration. They were worn in pairs, so in graves it is normal to find two very similar, but not mould-identical, brooches together.

Tania Dickinson is the doyenne of saucer brooch studies, with three major articles on different aspects. Dickinson 1991 covers those with running spiral decoration, and Dickinson 1993 is a general preliminary overview; neither are easy to get hold of. Dickinson 2002 is an article on Style I as shown on saucer brooches, and is ideal for understanding Style I in general. A pdf of this article can be downloaded here.

Cast saucer brooches are generally bigger than button brooches, most recorded on the PAS database being from about 25mm to 50mm in diameter. A few really large ones can get up to 80mm in diameter. It seems that the ones that look later are often larger, but this needs to be established more firmly by detailed analysis. There are smaller examples (such as ) but unless they have a single human face in their design, even brooches as small as these are defined as saucer brooches.

They have a restricted set of designs, often in chip-carved style. Chip-carving is a term derived from woodworking, and does not mean that the design was carved into the metal, but rather that it is made up of V-shaped grooves and ridges.

No convenient typology has yet been developed, but we can use key words in the sub-classification field, based on the names used by Dickinson (1993). These are summarised, with dates, in the table below.

Decorative motifs found on cast saucer brooches, with date-ranges
Decorative motifs found on cast saucer brooches, with date-ranges.

Many of the designs on cast saucer brooches are based on Late Antique geometric motifs (Dickinson 2010, 181). The commonest design is the running spiral, so called because each of the spirals is linked to the next and they run around the brooch, normally with a pellet in the centre. The commonest number of spirals is five or six, but there are occasionally more; HAMP-D30EE2 has twelve.

Cast saucer brooches with running spiral decoration. Top, five spirals (BH-DA0FEC); centre, six spirals (WILT-7ED520); bottom, seven spirals (HAMP-005BE3).
Cast saucer brooches with running spiral decoration. Top, five spirals (BH-DA0FEC); centre, six spirals (WILT-7ED520); bottom, seven spirals (HAMP-005BE3).

Dickinson divided the five-spiral brooches into several Series for the purposes of looking at their design relationships. If you want to try to allocate a Series,  the easiest way is to use Dickinson’s illustrations (Dickinson 1991, figs. 13-16), and the relevant series can be added to the description field.

Other designs include the star, which can be five point or six point. Four point stars are also known, and can be difficult to distinguish from the variety of designs based on crosses. The floriate cross is very standardised, but other cross designs are quite variable. The most complex motifs are the Style I designs, which can be simplified to become sets of lines at right angles to each other, known as ‘basketwork’.

Cast saucer brooches, showing a range of sizes and motifs. Left: five-point and six-point stars (WMID-CE6945, SUR-FF9815, SF-EB7350). Centre: simple cross (KENT-30F985) and floriate cross (SOMDOR-EB4897). Right: two Style I designs (SUR-1C82C9 and WILT-52B85F) and 'basketwork' (SUR-FE99C1).
Cast saucer brooches, showing a range of sizes and motifs. Left: five-point and six-point stars (WMID-CE6945, SUR-FF9815, SF-EB7350). Centre: simple cross (KENT-30F985) and floriate cross (SOMDOR-EB4897). Right: two Style I designs (SUR-1C82C9 and WILT-52B85F) and ‘basketwork’ (SUR-FE99C1).

There is also a small group of saucer brooches which have got imitation jewelled inlays. These tend to be large and with wide rims, and are clearly influenced by keystone garnet brooches (see below). LEIC-6554A7 is a good example.

Saucer brooches are mainly found in central southern England, what’s thought of as the ‘Saxon’ culture-province. Dickinson 2010 looked at the change in distributions over time, and found that later finds tended to confirm this distribution. In late 2018 the distribution map of PAS-recorded saucer brooches looked much the same.

Applied saucer brooch

Applied saucer brooches would have looked very similar to cast saucers. They are circular and concave with relief decoration, but they are made up of several different parts, some or all of flimsy sheet metal. They are called ‘applied’ because the decoration is separately applied rather than cast, but a better name would be ‘composite’ saucer brooches because they are made up of many separate components. For now, however, put ‘applied saucer’ in the classification field.

Applied saucer brooches were developed in the earlier 5th century in Germany and the Netherlands (Dickinson 2010, 181) and seem to have inspired the development of the cast saucer brooch in England. We give them a broad date-range of 400-550 AD.

Evison (1978) is the best source of information on applied saucer brooches. This paper appeared as two articles in the same volume of the Antiquaries Journal; part I is pp. 88-102, and concentrates on the Continental brooches, and part II is pp. 260-278, and concentrates on the English examples. There is also a good summary in MacGregor and Bolick 1991, 32.

Because the components are fragile, applied saucer brooches do not survive  well in ploughsoil. Fragments are also hard to recognise, particularly when the applied decoration is missing. We do not have many applied saucer brooches recorded on the PAS database, and several of these are uncertain examples.

The basic form should have a backplate, often of sheet metal with slots cut for the insertion of pin lug and catchplate. A strip is bent around the edge of this to form the rim of the saucer, and this is probably attached with solder and/or rivets. More solder is used on top of the backplate to attach an applied decorative element. This is normally made from stamped foil (the Pressblech technique) but Dickinson (2010, 181) also refers to cast decorative plates being used on applied saucer brooches, and we may have one recorded at CAM-1DFBE1. The decorative foil can have any of the designs of the cast saucer brooches.

The PAS database has very few examples of the backplate with slots; the best is NCL-08F6E7. It contains several possible examples of a cast backplate, the most persuasive being LIN-A6943E, which has an elegantly concave shape, and WAW-F41664.

One foil has been recorded, at BERK-B4ED99, and remarkably what appears to be a die for producing similar foils has been recorded at BERK-27A491.

Applied saucer brooches, a die and a stamped foil. Left: NCL-08F6E7. Centre: WAW-F41664 and LIN-A6943E. Right: BERK-27A491 and BERK-B4ED99.
Applied saucer brooches, a die and a stamped foil. Left: NCL-08F6E7. Centre: WAW-F41664 (above) and LIN-A6943E. Right: a reconstruction of the fragment of die BERK-27A491, and foil BERK-B4ED99.

It is possible to mistake the backplate of an applied saucer brooch for an undecorated disc brooch. Look for a large amount of decayed white metal on the front, which could be solder from a missing applied plate.

Another complication in identifying incomplete applied saucer brooches is that disc brooches are also known with a composite construction (MacGregor and Bolick 1993, 68, nos. 4.64-4.66; there is a clearer drawing and discussion of the Berinsfield example in Boyle et al 1995, 77 and 193). It is hard to know how one might distinguish the cast backplate of applied saucer and disc brooches apart, unless possibly the former might be concave and the latter flat. It is therefore important to  photograph your brooch from the side, as well as the front and the reverse.

Jewelled disc brooches

This category yokes together three related but distinct types, the keystone, the plated and the composite brooches. All are occasionally known as ‘Kentish’ disc brooches, especially by those working in Kent, but this term is not helpful and should not be used in the classification field. The jewelled disc brooches include some of the most beautiful works of art ever created, and therefore must not be confused with the plain disc brooches.

What needs to in the classification field depends on the type. Put ‘keystone’, or ‘plated’, or ‘composite’ in the classification field, or use ‘jewelled disc’ if you are unsure of the type. The best source for them is still Avent 1975, and if you can establish the Avent class, put this in the sub-classification field.

Quite a lot of keystone brooches found outside Kent do not fit well into Avent’s classification, and more work is needed to establish a classification and chronology for these. If you are having trouble deciding on what to put in the classification field, make sure to tick Find of Note as well.

Avent’s dating (Avent 1975, 62) has been re-worked by Brugmann (in Parfitt and Anderson 2012, fig. 8.16, 8.17 and 8.19) and Hines and Bayliss (2013, 221-2, 460, 570). The arguments are very complicated, particularly for keystone brooches. Taken together they suggest a date for Class 1 and 2 keystone brooches in the middle of the 6th century (perhaps c. 525-575 AD), Classes 3 to 7 a little later (c. 550 to 600 AD), plated brooches later still (perhaps c. 580-620 AD), then composite brooches with gold cloisonné (c. 600-650 AD). Composite brooches with copper-alloy cloisonné, usually with slightly inferior workmanship, are the latest of all, dating to the middle of the 7th century, perhaps 640 to 670 AD.

The keystone brooch is cast in one piece and includes garnet (or occasionally glass) settings alternating with panels of relief decoration, sometimes recognisable as Style I animal elements such as heads, legs and bodies. We record roughly equal numbers of copper-alloy and silver examples, usually gilded.

Keystone disc brooches. Left, KENT4837 (above) and WILT-6F2B84 (below). Centre, HAMP-9B6151 (above) and WILT-F561A1 (below). Right, LON-915B21 (above) and BERK-6DD561 (below).
Keystone disc brooches. Left, KENT4837 (above) and WILT-6F2B84 (below). Centre, HAMP-9B6151 (above) and WILT-F561A1 (below). Right, LON-915B21 (above) and BERK-6DD561 (below).

The plated brooch is made from a circular silver backplate with a raised rim, and a central circular setting is soldered on to this.  A gold frontplate then is fixed to the front, with a circular hole through which the central setting fits. The frontplate has decoration of filigree and cloisonné settings. We do not have many plated brooches on the PAS database, and most that we do have are from Kent. They date to the late 6th and early 7th centuries, perhaps 580 to 620 AD.

A complete plated disc brooch, and two fragments. Left, KENT4546; centre, KENT-E11753; right, WMID-C2E8C8.
A complete plated disc brooch, and two fragments. Left, KENT4546 (above) and KENT-E11753 (below); right, WMID-C2E8C8.

The composite brooch is a remarkable work of art, although we are hampered in our knowledge of exactly how it was made, because of an understandable reluctance to take complete examples apart. They seem to be made from three plates, a backplate, middle plate and front plate, all held together by rivets which pass through the central setting and the four subsidiary settings. Composite brooches are quite thick, because there is a layer of plaster-like filler between the middle and front plates. The plates can be of gold, silver or copper alloy. For more detail, see Avent 1975, 19-21, or Scull 2009, 80-7, 88-91.

Generally the earlier composite brooches (dating to c. 600-650 AD) have cloisons (cell walls) made from gold, and the later examples (dating to c. 640-670 AD) have cloisons made from copper alloy. We have very few recorded on the PAS database, mostly as parts of grave assemblages; complete examples from LON-BAF907 and BERK-545C74 and fragments from YORYM-48DACA and BERK-EABAD8.

There are a few other jewelled disc brooches that do not fit into any of these types; they are not clearly of keystone, or plated, or composite type. At one extreme, where the jewelled settings are replaced by skeuomorphs in metal (e.g. BERK-D0201B, below left) these brooches can shade into saucer brooches such as LEIC-6554A7. At the other extreme, they may have been influenced by circular harness mounts with Style II decoration, such as BUC-B1B9A6 and YORYM-7186F7; Avent 1975 includes one of this type, from Winnall in Hampshire (Avent 1975, 55, no. 186).

For these brooches, it is difficult to give hard and fast rules about what to enter in the classification field. It is important to tick the Find of Note box.

Unusual jewelled disc brooches which don't fit into any of the normal types. Left, BERK-D0201B (above) and WAW-F604A2 (below). Right, BERK-9AE538 (above) and BERK-C89FDA (below).Examples of unusual brooches which do not fit into any of the normal types of jewelled disc brooch. Left, BERK-D0201B (above) and WAW-F604A2 (below). Right, BERK-9AE538 (above) and BERK-C89FDA (below).

Brooches of other shapes (bird, S-shaped etc)

Other shapes of brooches, not long bow brooches and not circular, are rare in the early Anglo-Saxon period. The main ones are bird brooches and S-shaped brooches; put ‘bird’ and ‘S shaped’ respectively in the classification field.

The eleven then-known S-shaped brooches from England were discussed in Briscoe 1968; over a dozen more are now recorded on the PAS database. Most are in fact of reversed-S shape; some tend towards a figure-of-eight shape (e.g. NLM-908608). One (KENT-344345) is of silver, but more often they are made from copper alloy, sometimes gilded or tinned. They are often decorated with predatory bird-head terminals with curved beaks, or heads with wide-open jaws or beaks which may be birds or may be other animals.

S-shaped brooches. Left to right, IOW-40D077, NLM-908608, KENT-D90FBC.
S-shaped brooches. Left to right, IOW-40D077, NLM-908608, KENT-D90FBC.

Combining the distribution maps of Briscoe 1968 and PAS examples, it is clear that S-shaped brooches are found thinly spread across the whole of early Anglo-Saxon England, from Harrogate to the Isle of Wight and all areas to the east. They are more common on the Continent, particularly in Frankish and Lombardic areas (Briscoe 1968, 47). In England they cannot be dated any more closely than to the fifth or sixth centuries, probably c. 450-550 AD.

Bird brooches are more common on the Continent, and the English finds have received little study. Some useful information on German and French examples can be found in MacGregor (1997, 86 and 144-7). 

Those recorded on the PAS database are all in profile looking to the right. They come in two main forms, one where the body is horizontal and one where the body is vertical. The vertical type all seem to be predatory birds, with curved beaks, but the horizontal type are different; they have been suggested as ducks and doves, and may have been intended as a variety of species.

Both types can have relief decoration or flat surfaces ornamented with stamps, and both types have the pin lug is on the reverse of the tail and the catchplate on the reverse of the head. 

Brooches in the shape of predatory birds, with vertical bodies and curved beaks. Left, HAMP-0ABB4E (above) and NMS-B913D5 (below). Centre, IOW-055A79 (above) and SUSS-C234F1 (below). Right, SF-14851A (above) and SF-E28B03 (below).
Brooches in the shape of predatory birds, with vertical bodies and curved beaks. Left, HAMP-0ABB4E (above) and NMS-B913D5 (below). Centre, IOW-055A79 (above) and SUSS-C234F1 (below). Right, SF-14851A (above) and SF-E28B03 (below).

All of the Continental examples in the Ashmolean Museum have vertical bodies and raptors’ beaks (MacGregor 1997, 86 and 144-7) and it has been suggested that the horizontal birds are of English manufacture (Arnold 1980, 57).

Brooches in the shape of other birds, perhaps ducks or doves. Left to right: BERK-9B6095, KENT-C0D077, BUC-0EC715.
Brooches in the shape of other birds, perhaps ducks or doves. Left to right: BERK-9B6095, KENT-C0D077, BUC-0EC715.

The distribution of PAS-recorded examples covers south-eastern England, from south Norfolk to Berkshire to the Isle of Wight. The vertical raptor types are probably to be dated to the first half of the sixth century AD; the horizontal bird brooches cannot be dated more closely than to the Migration Period, c. 420-570 AD.

Early Anglo-Saxon brooches made from lead

The PAS database has several fragments of early Anglo-Saxon brooches made from lead. They are normally small, due to the softness and fragility of lead. They are thought to be models, used in the process of casting a copper-alloy brooch, rather than brooches in their own right. To confirm this, when recording a brooch, be careful to look at the pin bar lug and catchplate to check whether they have been finished for use as a brooch (pierced and bent over respectively) or not.

The fragments include button brooches, small square-headed brooches and especially cruciform brooches, including Martin Group 4s (the florid cruciforms).

Summary of chronology and classification for early Anglo-Saxon brooches

Most early Anglo-Saxon brooches are dated from their occurrence in graves. We can assume that all the objects in a single grave were in use together. Over the life of an object type, it will occur in graves with earlier types at first, and later types towards the end. With enough object types, a relative sequence can be worked out, showing which types are earlier and which later. This dating technique is known as seriation.

It is harder to add absolute calendar dates to the sequence. From Roman times onwards, calendar dates usually come from coins, but there are no coins in regular use in the early Anglo-Saxon world. Several different strategies have been used to overcome this problem, with varying results. There are some coin dates on the Continent, and attempts have been made to fit the English sequences to Continental evidence. Correspondence analysis (a statistical method)  has been used to improve the precision and reliability of seriation (Penn and Brugmann 2007). Advances in radiocarbon dating have been used in conjunction with Bayesian statistics (Hines and Bayliss 2013). None of these techniques have proved completely reliable, or easy to use, and so there are still arguments over calendar dates.

One major change in artefact types during the early Anglo-Saxon period comes when most brooch types suddenly go out of use. This occurs at the end of the Migration Period (broadly 5th and 6th centuries) and the start of the Conversion Period (broadly 7th century). A convenient date of c. 600 AD used to be quoted for this transition, but this now seems to be too late; c. 570 AD is the currently used date, but it may change again in the future.

Another major change comes at the end of the early Anglo-Saxon period, when grave-goods stop being put in graves. Again, the absolute calendar date of this change is disputed. Hines and Bayliss have recently suggested a date in the 670s or 680s (2013, 471-2). At this point we do have a few coins in graves, and established numismatic chronologies across Europe suggest a date for the last coins in graves (B series sceattas) as c. 700 AD (Archibald in Hines and Bayliss 2013, 505-6). Given that the discrepancy here is only about twenty years, it seems sensible to quote the latest possible date for an item known from graves as rounded to c. 700 AD.

Below is a list of common types, with what to put in the classification and sub-classification fields for each one. It is divided into bow brooches, circular brooches, and other shapes. The database prefers no hyphens in the classification and sub-classification fields (so use equal arm, small long) but the use of hyphens for clarity is fine in the description field (so equal-arm, small-long can be used here).

NEW VERSION NEEDED OF THIS

Details of what to put in the classification and sub-classification fields for the commonest early Anglo-Saxon brooches, together with a summary of chronology.
Details of what to put in the classification and sub-classification fields for the commonest early Anglo-Saxon brooches, together with a summary of chronology.

Middle and Late Anglo-Saxon brooches

Rosie Weetch’s PhD thesis, Weetch 2013, covers all of the non-Scandinavian brooches found in England from the 8th to 11th centuries. It therefore includes some Continental and a very few Irish brooches. For Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches of early-medieval date, see below.

Weetch 2013 is very easy and quick to use to find types, parallels and dating evidence. This guide simply aims to give a quick overview and reminder of the commonest types of middle and late Anglo-Saxon brooches.

Middle and late early-medieval brooches can have a variety of pin arrangements on the reverse, which may indicate the place of manufacture. Please remember to describe the pin fixings on the reverse in detail.

Safety-pin brooches and Strip brooches (Weetch type 31)

Safety-pin brooches are a rare and flimsy type of 7th-century brooch designed to lie flat, like modern safety-pins, with the pin to one side and the bow to the other. The bow is generally slightly widened and can be minimally decorated. See Speake (1989, 46-9) and Geake (1997, 54-5) for examples.

At the start of the 8th century these develop into strip brooches, with wider bows in the conventional place in front of, not next to, the pin. Strip brooches are Weetch’s type 31, and can be made in one of two ways. Either the brooch is in one piece, with one end extended into a spring and pin and the other bent into a catchplate; or the plate has a separate riveted-on spring, pin and catchplate. It is possible that some of the rivet holes on strip brooches may be repairs, but most appear to be original features.

Strip brooches (Weetch type 31). Top row, left to right: DENO-3FD883, WILT-BF6D98, BH-9470B8. Bottom row, left to right: HAMP-CEBED7, BUC-4D849D, SUR-47F8A7.
Strip brooches (Weetch type 31). Top row, left to right: DENO-3FD883, WILT-BF6D98, BH-9470B8. Bottom row, left to right: HAMP-CEBED7, BUC-4D849D, SUR-47F8A7.

Strip brooches can have narrow bows with little decoration, or wide lozengiform bows with relief decoration.

Strip brooches with riveted construction are made in the same way as the more artistically complex circular brooches allocated by Weetch to her types 10-12 and 16 (see below, under Circular Brooches). Most of these also have pin gear riveted on (e.g. BUC-ABA063, BH-685AA3).

The one-piece construction is also found on occasional cross-shaped brooches (e.g. WMID-BDAA38) or circular brooches (e.g. CAM-C37AC3). These do not fit well into Weetch’s typology, but can be grouped by adding ‘one piece’ to the classification field.

One-piece brooches WMID-BDAA38 (left) and CAM-C37AC3 (right)
One-piece brooches WMID-BDAA38 (left) and CAM-C37AC3 (right)

Note that WMID-BDAA38, here called ‘cross-shaped’, could alternatively be seen as circular with four oval perforations. This is also true for Elmsett-type brooches, Weetch type 16, of which there are several on the PAS database including NMS-22D466 (with one-piece construction) and BH-685AA3 (with riveted-on pin gear). See below for more on circular brooches.

Ansate (bow) brooches

Weetch 2013 follows Hübener 1972 and Thörle 2001 in dividing ansate brooches into 12 basic types, numbered I-XII, with an additional Type XIII covering those that do not fit into any other category. A summary of these types is given below. All of the ansate brooches should have ‘ansate’ added to the classification field, and the Weetch type added to the sub-classification field in the following format: Weetch type II.Aiii

Quick visual guide to the types of ansate brooch.
Quick visual guide to the types of ansate brooch.

80% of the ansate brooches catalogued in Weetch 2013 fall into one of just four types: Type II, Type X, Type XI and Type XII.

Ansate brooches of Weetch's type II. Left to right, top to bottom: HAMP-38F4A4 (type II.Ai), SF-E2C237 (type II.Aii), NMS-51CE2D (type II.Aiii), NMS-2F75FB (type II.B), SF-92EE26 (type II.C).
Ansate brooches of Weetch’s type II, with ‘discoidal’ terminals. Top left: HAMP-38F4A4 (Type II.Ai, narrow bow and undecorated terminals). Bottom left: SF-E2C237 (type II.Aii, narrow bow and ring-and-dot decoration). Centre left: NMS-51CE2D (type II.Aiii,narrow bow and geometric decoration). Centre right: NMS-2F75FB (type II.B, disc on bow). Right: SF-92EE26 (type II.C, wide rectangular-section bow).

Ansate brooches of Weetch's type X. Left to right: SF-42D433 (type X.Ai, with parallel sides and undecorated), KENT-918A91, (type X.Aii, with parallel sides and transverse ribs) LIN-DFE605 (type X.B, with animal head decoration), SF-77B7A1 (type X.C, with bulging sides and transverse ribs).
Ansate brooches of Weetch’s type X, parallel-sided and D-shaped in cross-section. Left to right: SF-42D433 (type X.Ai, undecorated), KENT-918A91, (type X.Aii, with transverse ribs), LIN-DFE605 (type X.B, with animal head decoration) and SF-77B7A1 (type X.C, with bulging sides and transverse ribs).

Ansate brooches of Weetch's type XI (top row) and type XII (bottom row). Above, left to right: SF-DE72C4 (type XI.A), SUSS-040CE0 (type XI.B), SF9447 (type XI.D). Below, left to right: NMS-CC8531 (type XII.Ai), NMS-DC2A2E (type XII.Aii) and NMS-DD1ACE (type XII.Aiii).
Ansate brooches of Weetch’s type XI (top row) and type XII (bottom row). Above, left to right: SF-DE72C4 (type XI.A), SUSS-040CE0 (type XI.B), SF9447 (type XI.D). Below, left to right: NMS-CC8531 (type XII.Ai), NMS-DC2A2E (type XII.Aii) and NMS-DD1ACE (type XII.Aiii).

Circular brooches (non-enamelled)

Weetch 2013 divides non-enamelled circular brooches into 17 types, some of which have common names. The common name, if any, should be added to the classification field. The Weetch type should be added to the sub-classification field in the following format: Weetch type 15.B

Summary of Weetch types for circular non-enamelled brooches
Quick visual guide to circular non-enamelled brooches.

85% of the circular brooches catalogued in Weetch 2013 belong to one of six types: type 1, type 2, type 4, type 5, type 13 and type 15.

London types

There are four types of 11th-century brooch (Weetch types 23-26 inclusive), which are mainly found in London. All are made from lead or lead alloy. A few Type 25s (lobed) have been recorded on the PAS database from outside London (see list of search results here) and also some Type 26s (shield) (see list of search results here). The other London types do not yet appear on the PAS database.

Penannular brooches

Penannular brooches are rare after the 7th century AD, but Irish, Pictish and possibly Welsh examples do occur during the 8th and 9th centuries. The latest penannular brooch on the PAS database is currently LVPL-368972, the date for which extends into the early 10th century AD. Youngs 1989 is a good source for parallels.

Enamelled circular brooches

Several of Weetch’s types have enamelled decoration: type 8, and types 18-22. Only three are common, type 18, type 19 and type 20.

Quick visual guide to circular enamelled brooches
Quick visual guide to circular enamelled brooches. Put the common name (if there is one) in the classification field, and the Weetch type in the sub-classification field.

Type 18 have cross designs and are almost all made in champlevé. Type 19 are decorated with facing human busts; the presence of a halo or nimbus around the head has given these the common name of ‘saint’ brooches. Both champlevé and cloisonné techniques are used for saint brooches.

Weetch type 18 and type 19 brooches. Left: Weetch type 18.Ai, with the most common motif (NMS-DBA5E8). Centre: Weetch type 18.Aiv, with a more complex cross (BM 1984,0103.16). Right: Weetch type 19, a champlevé saint brooch (SF-27F435).
Weetch type 18 and type 19 brooches. Left: Weetch type 18.Ai, with the most common motif (NMS-DBA5E8). Centre: Weetch type 18.Aiv, with a more complex cross (BM 1984,0103.16). Right: Weetch type 19, a champlevé saint brooch (SF-27F435).

Type 20 have designs of stars, flowers or other geometric motifs, and are always made in cloisonné enamel. There are three main variants. Type 20.A has projecting lobes around the circumference which, when complete, have glass settings on them. Type 20.B does not have lobes, but has a beaded collar. These are both normally circular, but other shapes are known (e.g. ESS-BD2421, which is an oval type 20.B, and KENT-C63F33, which is a sub-triangular type 20.A). The third type is not numbered by Weetch, but called ‘hybrid’.

All are made with a separate central cloisonné disc. Type 20.A is then given a backplate with lobes to make a type 20.A; type 20.B is given a narrow collar (normally beaded) and sometimes a backplate, and the hybrid type is given a wide flat collar, often decorated with glass settings and sometimes with lobes as well.  All the surfaces are gilded. 

Weetch type 20 enamelled brooches. Left, Weetch type 20.A. Top to bottom: ESS-0A8B65, BUC-7A64C3, SF-32FF77, ESS-6C30D8. Right, Weetch type 20.B. Top to bottom, HAMP-C7100B, SUR-8C91E4, NMS-197839, SUR-8C91E4, NMS-197839, Right, Weetch 'hybrid' type. Top to bottom: SUR-AB3160, SF-210C3F, SF-16D477.
Weetch type 20 enamelled brooches. Left, Weetch type 20.A. Top to bottom: ESS-0A8B65(with cross), BUC-7A64C3 (with star), SF-32FF77 (with flower), ESS-6C30D8 (backplate only). Right, Weetch type 20.B. Top to bottom, HAMP-C7100B (with cross), SUR-8C91E4 (with stepped cross), NMS-197839 (with flower). Right, Weetch ‘hybrid’ type. Top to bottom: SUR-AB3160 (with bust) SF-210C3F (indistinct), SF-16D477 (with stepped cross).

Two techniques of enamelling are used on these brooches, both with French names: champlevé and cloisonné. Champlevé means ‘raised field’, and the technique normally involves casting shallow sunken cells into the thickness of the metal, ready to be filled with enamel. Cloisonné means ‘partitioned’, and here the cells are made by soldering vertical cell walls to a backplate.

Objects decorated with champlevé enamel are generally cheaper, simpler objects; objects decorated with cloisonné enamel can be of the highest craftsmanship and, like the Alfred Jewel, perhaps commissioned by those of the highest social class.

NB: if you are searching on champlevé or cloisonné, be aware that the PAS database will not find any record which uses the words champleve or cloisonne (without the accents on the final e). It is probably safest to search using champlev* and cloisonn*, which will pick up both spellings.

Brooches of other shapes

Weetch 2013 allocates four types to brooches of other shapes, three of which are fairly common.

Quick visual guide to middle and later Anglo-Saxon brooches of other shapes
Quick visual guide to middle and later Anglo-Saxon brooches of other shapes

English bird brooches come in two types, both with the bird seen in profile.

Type 30.B is of middle Anglo-Saxon date. It is in the shape of a dove, with curved breast and small drooping beak, and has a cross above its back which normally touches the back of the head. Type 30.B brooches appear in graves in France and Germany, and from these they are dated from the years around 800 AD (Pedersen 2001, 64;  Weetch 2013, 206); a date-range of c. 750-850 AD seems sensible for English finds. They come both in high-status (gilded silver and inlaid with niello) or simple copper-alloy versions.

Type 30.A is considerably later, perhaps 11th century. It has a three-pronged crest and a triangular tail separated from the body by a ridge. All known examples are facing right; they have their left wing (away from the viewer) raised above the body, and their right wing (towards the viewer) folded along the body. All are made from copper alloy, and have engraved decoration. These birds may be intended as cockerels, peacocks, or  lapwings. They are dated by their similarity to bird brooches without crests, found in 11th- to 12th-century contexts in Denmark (see below under Scandinavian brooches).

There are other middle and later early-medieval bird brooches, apparently of Anglo-Saxon rather than Anglo-Scandinavian inspiration, which do not fit into either category and so must be given a broad date-range. These are grouped together as Weetch type 30.C. There is a group of four brooches within Weetch’s type 30.C which have very similar characteristics; DENO-484737 (illustrated below), NLM4341, YORYM-55D1F7 and a pre-PAS find from Ealand, Lincs (Kershaw 2010, no. 503).

Bird-shaped brooches. Top left: Weetch type 30.A (SF-1A4104). Bottom left: Weetch type 30.B (BH-9F86A6) Right: Weetch type 30.C (DENO-484737).
Bird-shaped brooches. Top left: Weetch type 30.A (SF-1A4104). Bottom left: Weetch type 30.B (BH-9F86A6) Right: Weetch type 30.C (DENO-484737).

It can be difficult to separate bird brooches of Anglo-Saxon inspiration from those of Scandinavian inspiration, and so the whole group is considered further below, at the end of the Scandinavian brooches.

Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches

These brooches are broadly defined as being decorated with Scandinavian-derived art. The best published source is Kershaw 2013. This is the published version of Jane Kershaw’s doctoral thesis, with an on-line catalogue available via the ADS here. The earlier unpublished version, Kershaw 2010, is difficult to get hold of, but the catalogue is fuller and easier to use. Note that there are differences in the type names used in the unpublished and published versions; where there have been changes, we use the later published names.

This guide aims to give a quick overview of the commonest types of Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches, again divided into circular brooches and brooches of other shapes.

Circular brooches

There are several types of circular brooches with Scandinavian art. They can be broadly divided into Anglo-Scandinavian (slightly larger and flatter, with pin lugs set parallel to the edge of the brooch) and more purely Scandinavian (smaller, domed and with a double pin lug, sometimes with a suspension loop as well). Pin arrangements, however, do not always follow the rules and must be carefully described.

There are four main types of circular brooch (below), most of which have variants. Several have Jansson classifications, from Jansson’s study of the brooches from Birka in Sweden (Jansson in Arwidsson 1984). Those with Borre-style animal heads are Jansson type II, and those with Jelling-style animals are Jansson type I. The Terslev-style brooches and the East Anglian series complete the group of circular Scandinavian or Anglo-Scandinavian brooches.

Quick visual guide to circular Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches
Quick visual guide to circular Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches

By far the commonest Scandinavian or Anglo-Scandinavian brooches – of any shape – are the East Anglian Series. These are flat and circular, and vary between 26 and 32mm in diameter. All are decorated with a highly standardised motif of a relief concave-sided lozenge, with sunken circle at its centre, each corner extending outwards into a double-strand ribbon which loops around itself in a loose knot and then ends in a rounded dot. The knots give a whirling clockwise effect to the ornament.

Much of the time, though, this ornament is very worn and difficult to see clearly. The wear may be hiding minor differences, so be sure to describe anything you can see in full. Although the motif is highly standardised, the pin and catchplate arrangements on the reverse can vary, so again a full description is needed. Put ‘East Anglian series’ in the classification field.

Over 60% of the brooches of the East Anglian series recorded on the PAS database were found in Norfolk. Their distribution seems to be restricted to East Anglia, the East Midlands and eastern Yorkshire. Because of their flat shape, and because their pin lugs are normally parallel to the edge of the brooch, they are thought of as Anglo-Scandinavian.

Brooches of Kershaw's East Anglian series. Left: SF-EF2ACD with pin lug and catchplate parallel to the edge of the brooch. Right: NMS-4DBC05, with pin lug parallel and catchplate perpendicular to the edge of the brooch.
Brooches of Kershaw’s East Anglian series. Left: SF-EF2ACD, with pin lug and catchplate parallel to the edge of the brooch. Right: NMS-4DBC05, with pin lug parallel and catchplate perpendicular to the edge of the brooch.

The next most common circular brooch is Jansson type II. This type is small, domed and often has Scandinavian-style pin arrangements. The decoration on the main type, Jansson type II A, consists of three Borre-style animal heads which look out at the viewer. They have large rounded ears and noses, and are often thought of as cat-like, or resembling teddy-bears. The animal heads are separated by three rounded loops bound by transverse bands.

Two brooches of Jansson type II A. Left: NMS-E84328, with English-style pin fixings. Right: NMS-CC7155, with Scandinavian-style pin fixings.
Two brooches of Jansson type II A. Left: NMS-E84328, with English-style pin fixings. Right: NMS-CC7155, with Scandinavian-style pin fixings.

There are also some uncommon variants of Jansson’s type II. Type II C has four animal heads, type II D again three, and both are combined with geometric decoration. If you record one of these, as a bare minimum put ‘Jansson Type II’ in the classification field. If you can get further than this using Kershaw 2013, 52-56, then add the precise code, e.g. ‘Jansson type II C’.

Terslev-style brooches are decorated in a highly geometric version of the Borre style. The patterns generally include three or four C-scrolls (called ‘volutes’ by Kershaw) which can have their curved backs towards the centre or the edge of the brooch. The scrolls are bound together by circles or squares. Put ‘Terslev style’ in the classification field.

Most Terslev-style brooches will fit into one of Kershaw’s motif types (2013, 70-8) but not all, and it is not always possible to read a worn design. So if you can, add the motif type to the sub-classification (in the form ‘Kershaw type II’), but don’t worry if you can’t.

Terslev-style brooches. Top row, left to right: SWYOR-4243E2 (motif type I) and SUR-72EC56 (motif type III). Bottom, left to right: SWYOR-D58AE0 (motif type IV) SF-8EE7E2 (motif type VI) and BH-2337E2 (motif type VII).
Terslev-style brooches. Top row, left to right: SWYOR-4243E2 (motif type I) and SUR-72EC56 (motif type III). Bottom, left to right: SWYOR-D58AE0 (motif type IV) SF-8EE7E2 (motif type VI) and BH-2337E2 (motif type VII).

Lastly there is a group of circular brooches with Jelling-style decoration, known as Jansson Type I brooches. The animal art on these can be difficult to decode; it often helps to colour in the identifiable elements, either in Photoshop or with a felt-tip pen on paper. Here are some examples.

Brooches with Jelling-style animal art picked out in colour. Left to right, SWYOR-114BB0 (Jansson type I A), SF7482 (Jansson type I D) and LIN-F00E1B (Jansson type I E).
Brooches with Jelling-style animal art picked out in colour. Left to right, SWYOR-114BB0 (Jansson type I A), SF7482 (Jansson type I D) and LIN-F00E1B (Jansson type I E).

For all of these, put the Jansson type in the classification field.

Jansson type I A brooches have a single animal with a narrow looping body and spiral joints; the rear foot grips the foreleg. There is an oval element around the head which tends to be interpreted as a ‘lappet’, which in Viking-age art is a kind of curl or tendril behind the ear.

Jansson type I D brooches have a single animal in profile, looking to the left, with the body forming a reversed S shape. The tongue comes out of the mouth and goes over the body and under the rear leg. The feet are hooked, and the body has transverse ribbing across it.

Jansson type I E brooches have two identical S-shaped animals. An element between their jaws is either a tongue or a tail; the feet grip the legs and necks.

Brooches of other shapes

Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches come in several other shapes, but only three are common on the PAS database: trefoil, openwork lozenge, and bird.

Quick visual guide to Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches of other shapes
Quick visual guide to Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches of other shapes

Trefoil brooches

Trefoil brooches are the commonest non-circular Anglo-Scandinavian brooch type, but this may partly be because they are prone to breaking into several easily recognisable pieces. Their ultimate inspiration was 9th-century Carolingian harness mounts and strap distributors, decorated with symmetrical plant ornament based around the acanthus leaf motif; compare NMS-10A1E1, SF-93D943, PUBLIC-B801A4, NMS-1E32C1, etc. The brooches can use this type of geometric or plant ornament, or one of the classic Viking-age art styles. Put ‘trefoil’ in the classification field.

The terms used for the parts of a trefoil brooch do not appear to have been standardised yet. Kershaw uses both ‘arm’ and ‘lobe’ for the three divisions of the brooch; ‘arm’ is most commonly used on the PAS database and seems acceptable.

It is not immediately obvious how to take the dimensions of a complete trefoil brooch, nor how best to record the dimensions of fragments so that they are comparable to complete examples. Firstly, please state how you have taken the dimensions, so that the photograph can be checked against the scale (e.g. on DENO-E9A0F5 it is explained that the dimensions were taken with the lobe with the catchplate at the top). Secondly, please record the width of the upper arm as well as the overall length and width, so that complete brooches can be compared with fragments.

Trefoil brooches from Scandinavia have been classified on the basis of their decoration by Maixner 2005, and this typology was then used by Kershaw in her study of the English examples (2010, 212-233; 2013, 79-91). If you can, put the Maixner type in the sub-classification field in the following format: ‘Maixner type G 1.3’.

The commonest type is type G, with geometric decoration; specifically, Maixner type G 1.3. The arms of this type have a motif consisting of V-shaped ridges, sometimes described as fir-tree or herringbone ornament but really a stylised acanthus motif. In the centre is a triangular panel which can have decoration or can be left blank.

Trefoil brooches of Maixner type G 1.3, with different pin fixings on the reverse. Left: LIN-56D731 (with pin lug and catchplate both perpendicular to the line of the pin). Right: DENO-E9A0F5 (with double pin lug, and catchplate perpendicular to the line of the pin). The pin fixings of LIN-56D731 are thought of more as an Anglo-Saxon arrangement and the pin fixings of DENO-E9A0F5 are thought of as more Scandinavian.
Trefoil brooches of Maixner type G 1.3, with different pin fixings on the reverse. Left: LIN-56D731 (with pin lug and catchplate both perpendicular to the line of the pin). Right: DENO-E9A0F5 (with double pin lug, and catchplate perpendicular to the line of the pin). The pin fixings of LIN-56D731 are perhaps Anglo-Saxon, and the pin fixings of DENO-E9A0F5 are perhaps more Scandinavian.

Maixner type P brooches have plant ornament, often interpreted either as acanthus leaves in the Carolingian style, or as a vine scroll; the two are not always clearly distinguishable. There are no complete brooches of Maixner type P on the PAS database, only fragments.

Maixner type E brooches have Borre-style interlace ornament; there is only one complete type E on the PAS database, NMS-56E967.

Trefoil brooches of Maixner type P (left: NMS-612AF4) and Maixner type E (right: NMS-56E967).
Trefoil brooches of Maixner type P (left: NMS-612AF4) and Maixner type E (right: NMS-56E967). Note the three elements on the reverse of NMS-56E967; the double pin lug and the third loop are Scandinavian characteristics.

Maixner type F brooches combine interlace with animal ornament; there are several good examples on the PAS database, including SF-EB5262 and WMID-308D55.

Trefoil brooches of Maixner type F. Left: WMID-308D55. Right: SF-EB5262.
Trefoil brooches of Maixner type F. Left: WMID-308D55. Right: SF-EB5262. Although SF-EB5262 is dirty and the detail is difficult to see, there is an excellent drawing on the record which gives far more detail.

Maixner type Z omits the interlace, so has purely zoomorphic ornament, as on BERK-CD5492 and WILT-9A5AE7. In most cases the animals will be in the Borre style, but on NLM5243 there is a mix of Borre and Jelling styles.

Trefoil brooches of Maixner type Z. Left: BERK-CD5492. Right: WILT-9A5AE7.
Trefoil brooches of Maixner type Z. Left: BERK-CD5492. Right: WILT-9A5AE7. Note the patches of solder on the reverse of WILT-9A5AE7; pin fixings are not always cast in one with the rest of the brooch.

Kershaw has added a further type to Maixner’s typology, type D (Kershaw 2013, 90-1). Note that although Kershaw’s sub-types I and III do indeed seem to be trefoil brooches, her sub-type II is now thought to be the tip of an Aspatria-type strap-end of Thomas Class E. See NMS-5AB1A7 for an example, initially thought to be a brooch fragment and catalogued by Kershaw as her no. 420; and YORYM-FDF9D2 for a complete example of a strap-end with the same decoration. There are as yet no examples of type D trefoil brooches on the PAS database.

Distinguishing fragments of trefoil brooch from fragments of Thomas Class E strap-ends can occasionally pose a problem, as with the Type Ds in the preceding paragraph. As Class E strap-ends are much more common than trefoil brooches, the likelihood is that any tricky fragment will be from a strap-end. So if you can find a parallel within trefoil brooches, excellent; but if you cannot, then your fragment is more likely to be part of a strap-end.

Openwork lozenge brooches

Openwork lozenge brooches are made up of four little Borre-style animal heads, looking outwards, with slender necks which meet to form a cross in the centre. The best-made examples (such as CAM-69EB68) have double-strand circles with which the necks interlace to form the kind of closed knots characteristic of the Borre style. There have been attempts to divide the openwork lozenge brooch into two types, Type I with beading along the necks and Type II with double ridges, but as most of our examples are very worn, it will not be possible to identify the type.

Openwork lozenge brooches. Left, top to bottom: CAM-69EB68 (type II) and NMS-5A6FD9 (type I). Right, top to bottom: NMS-9A5FA8 (with Scandinavian-style pin fixings) and NMS-E2D782 (with English-type pin fixings).
Openwork lozenge brooches. Left, top to bottom: CAM-69EB68 (type II) and NMS-5A6FD9 (type I). Right, top to bottom: NMS-9A5FA8 (with Scandinavian-style pin fixings including loop) and NMS-E2D782 (with English-type pin fixings).

A note on bird brooches of middle and late early-medieval date

It is difficult to distinguish Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian inspiration on bird brooches, and so it is worth considering all middle and late early-medieval bird brooches together. They fall into a few easily definable types, and there is a small group of other forms.

Weetch 2013 defined two main types, 30.A (with engraved decoration and crest) and 30.B (with cross above). Weetch’s third type, 30.C, covered  a disparate group of ‘other forms’, out of which one other definable group can be extracted; this consists of four examples, NLM4341, YORYM-55D1F7, DENO-484737 and one pre-PAS find illustrated in Kershaw 2010 (no. 503). See above, section 7.2.5, for details on these brooches.

Kershaw (2010, 168-70; 2013, 122-5, nos. 498-504) divided her seven bird brooches into three groups: Urnes/Ringerike-style, semi-realistic, and stylised. The Urnes/Ringerike group is exemplified by a brooch from Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk (Margeson 1988; Kershaw 2013, 123-4, fig. 3.74, cat. no. 500). It has both Ringerike-style elements (an engraved spiral marking the shoulder) and Urnes-style elements (a closed beak with a tendril-like curl projecting above). The Ringerike style is otherwise rarely found on brooches.

Similar brooches recorded on the PAS database include LIN-39FB8D and NLM5638. Two more, SF-6E8BFE and NMS-556A43, have patches of corrosion on the reverse, presumably where the pin fixings were soldered on, and another with this characteristic from Harworth, Notts., is recorded by Kershaw (2010, cat. no. 502).

The semi-realistic group includes one idiosyncratic bird brooch (DENO-0604D2), and the example from Harworth, Notts. (Kershaw 2010, cat. no. 502), which is very close to the Ringerike/Urnes group. The stylised group is the same as the group of four similar brooches in Weetch type 30.C (NLM4341, YORYM-55D1F7, DENO-484737, etc).

For all of these, put ‘bird’ in the classification field. If there is a Weetch type, add this in the sub-classification field.

Bird brooches of middle and late early-medieval date, whether Anglo-Saxon, Continental or Scandinavian in inspiration. Left,top to bottom: SF-1A4104 (Weetch type 30.A) and BH-9F86A6 (Weetch type 30.B). Centre: DENO-484737 (Weetch type 30.C). Right, top to bottom: NMS-556A43 and LIN-39FB8D.
Bird brooches of middle and late early-medieval date, whether Anglo-Saxon, Continental or Scandinavian in inspiration. Left, top to bottom: SF-1A4104 (Weetch type 30.A) and BH-9F86A6 (Weetch type 30.B). Centre: DENO-484737 (Weetch type 30.C). Right, top to bottom: NMS-556A43 (with patches of solder on reverse) and LIN-39FB8D.

The classic Scandinavian study of these brooches is Pedersen 2001, with figure captions and a comprehensive summary in English. Pedersen illustrates many Danish finds, among which prototypes can be found for several of the English types. Weetch type 30.A brooches are similar to Pedersen’s fig. 9a from Glim, and Kershaw’s Ringerike/Urnes brooches are similar to the six illustrated in Pedersen’s fig. 6. Both the Weetch type 30.A brooches and the Ringerike/Urnes style brooches are therefore best seen as Anglo-Scandinavian, as Weetch suggests (2013, 337). Pedersen dates all of these to the 11th century, possibly extending into the early 12th (Pedersen 2001, 63).

Pedersen discusses the inspiration behind these bird brooches, and as a result covers Weetch type 30.B brooches, which are not found in Denmark. They are found in Germany and France in datable contexts of c. 800 (perhaps best quoted as c. 750-850 AD; Pedersen 2001, 64).

A single Weetch type 30.C brooch, NLM4341, was included in Pedersen’s catalogue (2001, 57, no. 78) but with no discussion. The status of this group is very uncertain; there is no dating evidence for it yet, and whether it should be grouped with the earlier English/Continental series or with the later Scandinavian-style brooches is uncertain.

A note on the distributions of middle and later early-medieval brooches, and their possible meanings

Kershaw pointed out that the distribution of both Scandinavian-style and Anglo-Scandinavian brooches was in general limited to the Danelaw, with a particular concentration in Norfolk (Kershaw 2013, 184-6). This was interpreted as showing the presence of significant numbers of Scandinavian women in the Danelaw, and a desire among the local inhabitants to appropriate a Scandinavian appearance (Kershaw 2013, 216) or to actively construct a Scandinavian identity (Kershaw 2010, 442).

This view has now become established in the literature, with John Blair writing that “Kershaw shows that in the eastern zones of England, jewellery was employed for the enthusiastic display of Scandinavian identity from the late ninth century through to the early eleventh” (Blair 2018, 306).

Kershaw, however, was writing before Weetch’s PhD was finished, and although she could compare the proportions of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon brooches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire (Kershaw 2013, 236-41), the full distributions of non-Scandinavian brooch types were not available to her.

When these distributions are examined, there is some variety (Weetch 2013, vol. 2, 216-251). Type 20, for example, is found across much of England. But most of Weetch’s types are also found primarily in the Danelaw, again with a particular concentration in Norfolk (Weetch 2013, vol. 1, fig. 6.13). The most notable examples are the circular types 1 (back-turned animal) and 15 (cogwheel and openwork cross) and the ansate types XI and XII.  Moreover, hints of this distribution can be found before the establishment of the Danelaw boundary, even in the 8th century, with a tendency even for the largely 8th-century type 31 (the strip brooches) to cluster in the east of England.

Weetch has argued that this long-lived pattern shows that brooch-wearing was a way of showing an east-of-England identity (whether Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian) rather than showing a specifically Scandinavian identity. It seems that the practice of brooch-wearing was significant in itself, and the motif or form of the brooch was secondary (Weetch 2013, vol. 1, 299).

Looking more closely at the examples of Scandinavian brooch types with Anglo-Saxon pin fittings shows some interesting clusters, hinting that the true picture may be very locally specific and potentially very informative in terms of social identity (Weetch 2013, vol. 1, 299-301).

So that should encourage you to fully describe and photograph the pin arrangements on the reverse – this data really is essential!

Medieval brooches

12th century

In the 12th century the circular brooches which had been common in the preceding centuries came to be superseded by annular brooches, which had not been common since the early-medieval period (see above). They were used to fasten slits at the necks of gowns as well as to fasten cloaks. By contrast with later annular brooches it seems that early examples within the medieval period were both relatively small and relatively plain (Egan in Griffiths et al. 2007, 140).  As such, they are not sufficiently diagnostic to be attributed solely to the 12th century, but should have a range starting within it.

13th century

The 13th century seems to have been the high point for medieval annular brooches. A range of decoration, which is hard to find before the 13th century, exploded across annular brooches, which need not be circular, but encompassed lozengiform and multifoil frames: the assemblage from Meols, the largest in England, naturally shows this range well (Egan in Griffiths et al. 2007, 138-151). Many brooches datable to the 13th century could run into the 14th century. There are few hoards which help with dating, but a group from Coventry dating to the very end of the 13th century contains brooches with evidence of niello inlay, punched annulets and twisted (cabled) frames (Hinton 2005, 207; fig. 7.1), while a contemporary hoard from Canobie, Dumfreesshire, contains brooches with applied quatrefoils, and engraved inscriptions (Hinton 2005, 208; fig. 7.2). Cabled decoration is attested archaeologically in the mid 13th century, for example in London (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 249; no. 1310), and an engraved religious inscription from a context of the same phase (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 254-255; no. 1336).

Medieval annular brooch with cabled (twisted) decoration (BH-D9F2C8). Note that only half of the brooch has been decorated in this way.
Medieval annular brooch with cabled (twisted) decoration (BH-D9F2C8). Note that only half of the brooch has been decorated in this way. Copyright: St. Albans District Council; CC-BY licence)
Medieval annular brooch with engraved inscription (IOW-B09925). Note the use of Lombardic script.
Medieval annular brooch with engraved inscription (IOW-B09925). Note the use of Lombardic script. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)

A further major group which seems to really develop in the 13th century are annular brooches with gem or glass settings, often raised and called ‘collets’ (for examples dated to the 13th century in precious metals see Alexander and Binski 1987, 484-485). On many examples the setting has been lost and a white fixative can be seen. Other forms of annular brooches characteristic of the 13th century are those formed of either animals or people (Alexander and Binski 1987, 483). A final form to note are those with projecting hands. These often feature characteristic noted on other brooches of the period, which extend into the 14th century: inscriptions, applied decoration, gem-set collets.

Medieval annular brooch with two collets (BUC-41A793). Note the fixative visible due to the missing settings.
Medieval annular brooch with two collets (BUC-41A793). Note the fixative visible due to the missing settings. Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)

Other eminently datable brooches include those formed of contemporary coins. Some formed of pennies dating from the turn of the 13th century were turned into annular forms by removing the centre of the coin. However, most coin-brooches from the middle and end of the 13th century tend to be disc brooches, converted by the application of pin fittings to the coin’s obverse. Coins used could be of varying module, from smaller pennies or demi-gros, to larger groats and gros tournois, the latter being more common on PAS. On such disc brooches the obverse was often gilded. Many early jettons of the late 13th and early 14th century, often large module like the coins, were similarly converted into jewellery items, though few with brooch fittings specifically (Bliss 2017); many groats or continental equivalents also had hooks rather than brooch fittings (Kelleher 2012, 220-222).

Medieval coin-brooch formed of a gros tournois of Louis IX issued between 1265 and 1270 (NMS-FEC503)
Medieval coin-brooch formed of a gros tournois of Louis IX issued between 1265 and 1270 (NMS-FEC503). Copyright: Norfolk County Council; CC-BY licence)

14th century

Trends noted in the annular brooches of the 13th century continue into the start of the 14th century, and many brooches will have date ranges encompassing both, with the general exception of figurative and zoomorphic examples, and also coin-brooches. It has been noted that collets, high in the 13th century, as a rule were lower in the 14th (Lightbown 1992, 148). By the second half of the century, however, closer fitting garments, fastened instead by buttons and lace tags meant that brooches were used in far fewer numbers (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 272).

15th century

By the 15th century most garments which would have been fastened by brooches were now being fastened with buttons, although the obsolescence of brooches may have occurred faster in urban areas (Egan and Forsyth 1997, 220).

Post-medieval brooches

How to Record a Coin

Introduction

The main difference between recording a coin (or jetton, token etc) and any other object is that for a coin there is an extra form to complete, in addition to the standard finds form, findspot form, and so on. Coins are standard, mass-produced objects, and the numismatic forms are set up to capture this standard information in a standard way so that it can be easily searched.

This summary Guide will ultimately cover the main points common to the recording of all coins.

Period-specific numismatic guides, with detail on each period’s denominations, mints, rulers and so on, can be found using this link (select the correct period from the left-hand menu).

How to take a die axis measurement

  1. Hold your coin so that the design on one face is the right way up (the less clear one is best).
  2. Put your finger and thumb, or arms of calipers, at 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock (top and bottom).
  3. The top of the less clear face will be at 12 o’clock.
  4. Rotate the coin about the vertical axis you have created, and look at the other face.
  5. Where is the top of the design on the other face? This is what you record as the die axis measurement. So if it is upside down, the top will be at 6 o’clock.
  6. If you want to check you are doing it right, look at a modern coin. Modern UK coins have a die axis measurement of 12 o’clock. Modern US coins have a die axis measurement of 6 o’clock.

Iron Age and Roman coins – top tips from Sam and Andrew

Sam Moorhead and Andrew Brown, the Iron Age and Roman Coin Advisers, issued a revision sheet to FLOs in June 2018 to complement the Iron Age and Roman coin training. Attending a training day is vital for both FLOs and volunteers, and copious notes are provided on the day.

Detailed help on denominations, rulers, mints and so on can also be found in the on-line coin guides: https://finds.org.uk/ironagecoins and https://finds.org.uk/romancoins.

Some key points from Sam and Andrew’s revision sheet are given below.

It is important that the database records are consistent, so that our data is accessible and can be searched or edited as easily as possible. It is much better and far less time-consuming to have good records from the outset.

Which fields to use, and which to avoid

Find form

Don’t use ‘Classification’, ‘Sub-classification’ or ‘Inscription’ – these are only for non-numismatic objects. Put this kind of information in the fields in the numismatic form.

Periods – use ‘Roman’ for Roman Republican coins. Use ‘Greek and Roman Provincial’ for Greek coins (see below for these, and https://finds.org.uk/greekromancoins).

Don’t bother with the ‘Sub-period from/to’ drop-downs for Iron Age and Roman coins.

Notes – this is only for information that doesn’t fit in anywhere else. Sam or Andrew may add some text in the Notes box.

Find of Note – do use this if the coin is unusual

Measurements – you only need to give diameter and weight, not thickness unless this is unusual. Weight should be recorded to a hundredth of a gram (two decimal places).

Method of manufacture – this will normally be ‘struck or hammered’, but look out for cast coins.

Secondary identifier – please add Sam or Andrew if they have seen the coin, or an image of it.

Workflow – even if you can, please don’t publish a record to green-flag level; leave it at yellow.

Numismatic form

For Iron Age coins, try to select Geographic Area, Tribe, Ruler as best as possible, although this is often difficult. We hope to improve this with a revised version of the database.

For late Roman coins, use broad ranges for uncertain types (e.g. Radiate, Uncertain Ruler 260-296).

If you are uncertain of the Mint, leave this blank. (Remember, usually CON = Arles/Constantia, not Constantinople.)

Do use the qualifiers ‘Probably’ and ‘Possibly’ – they are your friends! ‘Probably’ means over 50% certain, ‘Possibly’ less than 50% certain.

Don’t use abbreviations in the obverse and reverse description fields.

Do use [ ] for the missing parts of an inscription. We are recording what remains, not what would have been on the coin when it was struck.

If the inscription is unreadable, enter ‘Illegible’. If there never was an inscription, leave the field blank.

For Roman mintmarks, follow the basic guidelines here: https://finds.org.uk/romancoins/articles/page/slug/fourth-century-mints. If mintmarks are missing, enter [ ] (e.g. []//[] or -//TR[P]). If there never was a mintmark, enter  -//-

NB. S C in the exergue on early Roman coinage is not a mintmark. It is part of the reverse inscription, and so should be described with it (e.g. PAX AVG, S C)

Depending on your coin, try to fill in the following fields so that we get the best possible record at the outset: BMC (Hobbs) and/or ABC number; RIC or RRC number; Reece period; 4th-century reverse type; Republican moneyer; regular, contemporary copy, clipped, etc;

If possible, add the die axis measurement (this cannot always be established from an image).

For Iron Age coins, don’t use the ‘Celtic Coin Index number’ or the ‘Coin hoards of Iron Age Britain number’ fields.

Uncertain identifications and difficult coins

If you are uncertain, it is far better to state this uncertainty than have a guess at precise dates, emperors etc. If in doubt, ask – don’t be shy! The Coins Advisers are here to help. It is far quicker to ask them than to post a coin on the Forum – the Forum is not the right place to get a coin identified.

If you are uncertain about any aspect of a coin, please try and complete as much of the database record as you can and add an image (see below). Send this to both Sam and Andrew, for identification or editing. Your record will need at minimum an image, diameter, and weight, but if you think there are parts of legends or types you can see, especially those that don’t reproduce well on the photo, add these to the record so that we can see how you reached your ID.

You will also, of course, have to add all the information about find circumstances – finder’s name, findspot, date of discovery and so on. There will be a lot of information that only you can provide, so add all of this before sending to Sam and Andrew.

Use of abbreviations

Don’t abbreviate anywhere within the coin records – not in the Object Description field, nor in any of the numismatic form’s fields. Abbreviations of numismatic data are often hard to understand and are extremely difficult to search for. (You can use the normal ones, such as mm for millimetres, g for grams, p. for page, fig. for figure, pl. for plate and no. for number).

Images

All records should have images added, so that the Finds Advisers can check, edit and publish them. Coin images are orientated in a different way to non-numismatic objects – the designs on both obverse and reverse are shown the correct way up, and the relationship between the two is recorded through the die axis measurement.

References

Please do remember to add a coin reference (e.g. an RIC number) to a record, if you have it.

Editing a finished record

Please don’t edit records that have been green-flagged by a Coins Adviser, unless this is to add or correct things other than the identification (such as measurements, finders’ names, findspot, etc). If there is a problem with the identification of a green-flagged record, please alert Sam or Andrew. This is because a green-flagged record has been checked by Sam or Andrew, and editing it may introduce errors.

Descriptions for Iron Age coins

The Object Description field is the only field which appears in the search results, so it is very important. Put all information about that particular coin in the Object Description box.

Be consistent in your descriptions. Each record of an Iron Age coin should contain the following information in the Description field (where possible):

  • Metal
  • Denomination
  • Region or ‘tribal’ affinity
  • Date of issue
  • ABC type
  • Obverse type
  • Reverse type
  • Reference (e.g. ABC, Hobbs)

Examples:

A gold Iron Age stater of the North Eastern region / Corieltavi, dating to the period c.50-20 BC, South Ferriby type. Obverse: Wreath, cloak, and crescents. Reverse: Lunate horse left, star below, ‘anchor’ face above, pellet rosette beneath the head, and single forelegs. As ABC, p. 92, no. 1743; BMC (Hobbs) nos. 3148-3178 (cf. no. 3162 for the obverse).

A cast copper-alloy Iron Age potin of the Kent Region / Cantiaci, c.150-100 BC, ‘Thurrock Chicken Head’ type. Obverse: Bird-like head of Apollo left with open mouth. Reverse: Degraded bull left. As ABC p. 33, no. 126.

An Iron Age silver unit of the East Anglian region / Iceni, attributed to Antedios, c.AD 10-30, ‘Antedios Antd D-Bar’ type. Obverse: Two opposed crescents crossed by five alternating plain and pellet lines. Reverse: [AN]TÐ, Horse right with large oval head and pellet eye, S below head, two pellets below tail, pellet ring above horse, pellet triangle and a diagonal row of three pellets above the monogram. As ABC, p. 87, no. 1645; BMC nos. 3856-3959.

A gold Iron Age uninscribed stater, Gallo-Belgic import of the Ambiani, dating to the period c. 60-50 BC, ‘Gallic War Uniface’ type. Obverse: plain. Reverse: Sinuous horse facing right, single pellet below, pellets above. As ABC, p.28, no.16.

Remember to include if a coin is incomplete:

A base and incomplete silver stater of the South Western region / Durotriges, dating to the period c.60-20 BC, probably Cranborne Chase type. Obverse: Wreath, cloak, and crescents. Reverse: Disjointed horse left, body of crescents, four vertical legs, pellet below, many pellets above. Cf. ABC p. 111, no. 2169.

Or if it is a contemporary copy or modified:

A plated contemporary copy of an Iron Age silver unit of the East Anglian region / Iceni, dating to c.AD 10-43, probably ‘Ecen Corn Ear’ or related type. Obverse: Double opposed crescents on vertical wreath. Reverse: Horse right with pelletal sun above, S below head, three pellets below. Cf. ABC p. 89, no. 1657.

Descriptions for Roman coins

The Object Description field is the only field which appears in the search results, so it is very important. Put all information about that particular coin in the Object Description box.

Be consistent in your descriptions. Each record of a Roman coin should contain the following information in the Description field (where possible):

  • Metal
  • Denomination
  • Ruler (and their dates)
  • Date of issue
  • Reece period
  • Reverse type
  • Mint
  • Reference (e.g. RIC, LRBC, etc)

If any aspect is not clear enough to read, please use ‘unclear’ (e.g. ‘Mint unclear’ or ‘Unclear mint’) rather than ‘Uncertain’, as ‘uncertain’ implies that not enough research has been done to identify a mint or a reverse type, rather than that you simply can’t read this particular one.

Examples:

A copper-alloy Roman nummus of Valens (AD 364-375), dating to the period AD 364-367 (Reece period 19). SECVRITAS REI PVBLICAE reverse type depicting Victory advancing left holding wreath and palm. Mint of Arles. As RIC IX, p. 64, no. 9b.

A gold Roman aureus of Augustus (27 BC-AD 14), dating to the period c.9-8 BC (Reece period 1). C L CAESARES (in exergue), AVGVSTI F COS DESIG PRINC IVVENT reverse type depicting Gaius and Lucius Caesar standing resting hand on shield, spear behind each shield, above a simpulum to left and lituus to right. Mint of Lyon. As RIC I (2nd ed.), p. 55, no. 206.

A copper-alloy Roman radiate of Gallienus (AD 253-268), sole reign, dating to the period AD 260-268 (Reece period 13). FORTVNA REDVX reverse type depicting Fortuna standing left holding rudder and cornucopiae. Mint of Rome. As Cunetio, p. 116, no. 1215.

Remember, you might not be able to see everything on a coin, or the coin might be incomplete. In this case it is perfectly fine to demonstrate uncertainty (e.g. by using ‘possibly’, ‘probably’) but give as much detail as possible (and a photo!):

An incomplete silver Roman denarius of Hadrian (AD 117-138), dating to the period AD 117-138 (Reece period 6). Illegible legend, unclear reverse type depicting an unclear standing figure left. Possibly mint of Rome.

A copper-alloy Roman coin, possibly an as or dupondius of uncertain 1st to 3rd century AD ruler, dating to the period c.AD 41-260. Illegible reverse type. Mint unclear.

Also remember to include whether the coin is a contemporary copy:

A copper-alloy Roman barbarous radiate, probably copying a coin of Victorinus (AD 269-271), dating to the period AD 275-285 (Reece period 14). [PAX AVG] reverse type depicting Pax standing left holding branch and transverse sceptre. Prototype mint: Gaul mint I. Cf. Normanby, p. 206, no. 1907.

A copper-alloy Roman nummus, contemporary copy of the House of Constantine, dating to the period AD 355-361 (Reece period 18). [FEL TEMP REPARATIO] reverse type depicting a Soldier spearing a fallen horseman. Unclear mint.

Or if it is modified:

A clipped silver Roman siliqua of the House of Valentinian, dating to the period AD 364-378 (Reece period 19). [VRBS ROMA] reverse type depicting Roma seated left on a cuirass holding spear and Victory on a globe. Possibly mint of Trier.

Standard references for Iron Age coins

ABC – E. Cottam, P. de Jersey, C. Rudd and J. Sills, Ancient British Coins (Aylsham, 2010).

Hobbs – R. Hobbs, British Iron Age Coins in the British Museum (London, 1996).

Standard references for Roman coins

RRC -M.H. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1974).

RICThe Roman Imperial Coinage, 10 vols (London, 1923–2007).

Cunetio – E. Besly and R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure. Roman Coinage of the Third Century AD (London, 1983).

Normanby – R. Bland and A.M. Burnett, The Normanby Hoard and other Roman Coin Hoards, CHRB VIII (London, 1988).

LRBC – R.A.G. Carson, P.V. Hill, and J.P.C. Kent, Late Roman Bronze Coinage (London, 1960).

It is also very helpful to have copies of:

R. Reece and S. James, Identifying Roman Coins (Seaby, 1986)

S. Moorhead, A History of Roman Coinage in Britain (Greenlight, 2013)

D. Sear, Roman Coins and Their Values (Spink).

On-line resources

BM Republican coins: https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/rrc/roman_republican_coins.aspx

BM Collections: https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/search.aspx

OCRE (On-line Coins of the Roman Empire): http://numismatics.org/ocre/

Anepigraphic nummi – a special case

Between the 26th of July 325 and the 25th of July 326, Constantine I celebrated his vicennalia, twenty years since his accession to power. To mark this event a series of dynastic coins were struck in gold, silver, and bronze around the Empire that commemorate Constantine I and his family. These issues are distinctive in that they carry no obverse inscription, instead naming Constantine or one of the Caesars (Constantine II, Constantius II, or Crispus) on the reverse.

Although rare, we currently have 50 examples of these ‘anepigraphic’ nummi on the PAS database. Because they need to have their reverse inscription recorded in three lines (e.g. CONSTAN/TINVS/CAESAR) we cannot at present search for them, as the database will not allow the forward stroke / to be used in a search. Because of this, they need to be recorded in a specific way.

When recording these types:

  • Do not leave the obverse legend box blank, or enter ‘No legend’, ‘None’, or similar. This works for other issues, such as reverses of commemorative VRBS ROMA or CONSTANTINOPOLIS nummi, which we can search for in other ways, but does not work for this type.
  • Do enter ‘Anepigraphic’ in the obverse inscription field, and remember to select the correct 4th-century dropdown for the reverse type.
  • Also use ‘Anepigraphic’ in the Object Description field.
  • It is essential to add good photographs (both obverse and reverse) to the record.
  • Give an RIC number if you can (see below for hints)

If you come across any on the database which do not include the word ‘anepigraphic’, please alert Coins Adviser Andrew Brown ().

With one possible exception, all our examples are from the mints of Rome and Trier. There is much variation in the recorded examples, some are poorly struck or from poor quality dies, and it is likely that many are contemporary copies.

They will largely all fall into RIC as follows:

(C I = Constantine I; C II = Constantine II; Cr = Crispus; Cs II=Constantius II)

Trier (RIC VII, pp. 209-210)

-//PTR, AD 326

RIC no. Ruler Bust Reverse  Mintmark
485 C I Laureate head right CONSTAN/TINVS/AVG, legend in three lines, a wreath above  P S
486 C I Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right CONSTAN/TINVS/AVG, legend in three lines, a wreath above  P
487 C II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TINVS/AVG, legend in three lines, a star above P
488 Cr Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CRISPVS/CAESAR, legend in two lines, a star above  P S
489 C II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TINVS/CAESAR, legend in three lines, star above  P S
490 Cs II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TIVS/CAESAR, legend in three lines, star above  P S
491 Cs II Laureate and cuirassed bust right CONSTAN/TIVS/CAESAR, legend in three lines, star above  P

 

Rome (RIC VII, p. 329)

Wreath//SMRP, AD 326

RIC no. Ruler Bust Reverse Mintmark
281 C I Rosette diademed, draped, and cuirassed bust right CONSTAN/TINVS/AVG, legend in three lines P S
282 C II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TINVS/IVN NOB C, legend in three lines T
283 C II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTA/NTINVS/IVN NOB C, legend in three lines T
284 Cs II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TIVS/NOB CAES, legend in three lines Q

 

*//SMRP, AD 326

RIC no. Ruler Bust Reverse Mintmark
285 C II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TINVS/CAESAR, legend in three lines S
286 Cs II Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust left CONSTAN/TIVS/CAESAR, legend in three lines P Q

Greek and Roman Provincial coins

At the moment, coins from Mediterranean city-states of c. 500 BC-300 AD are recorded with a Broad Period, Period From and Period To as ‘Greek and Roman Provincial’ (although this may change at the next database re-vamp).

The detailed on-line guide to these coins can be found here: https://finds.org.uk/greekromancoins

Fill out as much of the database record as you can, add the images, then forward to Sam or Andrew for checking, editing and publishing.

How to Identify Fabulous and Mythical Beasts

Fabulous beasts are found on many types of object. They are not common in the early-medieval world, but develop in the medieval period when they are also found in bestiaries (books with descriptions and pictures of real and mythical beasts). They also occur in Greek and Roman myths, and are much used in heraldry.

Here is a list of the most common fabulous and mythical beasts that you are likely to come across, together with some hybrids and grotesques. At the top are the well-defined types. The taxonomy of these is not exact – people have disagreed since medieval times about the precise definitions – but as long as we use the same terms, we’ll be able to retrieve all the examples that the PAS has recorded.

At the bottom is a list of some names for the more poorly-defined or unusual animals, and also a list of some real animals that you may find on medieval objects.

It is essential to describe the animal as well as naming it. So if your object has a dragon on it, go on to say that it has four legs and two wings (or that only two of the four legs can be seen, etc). Otherwise you will find that what you felt was a harpy has been interpreted by someone else as a seraph.

Dragon

A dragon is normally defined as a reptile-like creature with four legs and two wings. For two-legged dragons, see Wyvern (below). For something with four legs and two wings that is not reptile-like (especially if it has long ears) see Griffin (below).

Roman dragons

The Latin word draco (from the Greek drakon) meant any great serpent, and so the term ‘dragon’ is used loosely by Romanists; neither legs nor wings are necessary to identify a monster as a dragon. Dragonesque brooches are supposed to have terminals in the shape of a stylised dragon’s head.

Roman dragons (HAMP-AF8352 and DUR-1CF3D2)
Roman dragons on a coin with ‘elephant trampling dragon’ motif (HAMP-AF8352) and a dragonesque brooch (DUR-1CF3D2)

Early-medieval dragons

Although dragons existed in Anglo-Saxon and Viking-age mythology (notably in Beowulf, where the words used include draca and wyrm), they do not appear to be recognisably depicted as such in early-medieval art. Fabulous beasts do not appear to have been classified in as rigorous a way as they were later in the medieval period, and on the PAS database we simply describe the animal we can see.

Medieval dragons

The dragon is the commonest mythical creature in the medieval world. It is normally shown as a reptile-like creature with four legs and two wings. The tail is often curled right over into a loop

Dragons often appear in medieval stories as the foe of St George or St Michael. These two saints can usually be told apart because St Michael has wings and a halo (he is an angel) but St George does not. St George is often shown riding a horse.

Another common story involving a dragon is that of Margaret of Antioch. This unpleasant tale has many variants, but essentially Margaret escaped after having been swallowed by a dragon. She is generally shown with a cross.

The dragons shown with saints often do not have the standard features (four legs, two wings, reptile-like), but you can identify them as dragons because they are with their saints.

St Michael and St Margaret (SOM-66F03F and NMS-725FA8)
St Michael and St Margaret with their dragons (SOM-66F03F and NMS-725FA8)

Wyvern

A wyvern looks like a dragon (i.e. reptilian), but it has only two legs. With two legs and two wings, they can look rather like birds, but their long tails, often curled into a circle like dragons’ tails, can give them away. They also should have reptilian heads, with jaws instead of a beak. Many animals currently recorded as ‘dragon’ on the PAS database are in fact wyverns.

Wyverns (WILT-D09287, SWYOR-5C94D1, SF10663)
Medieval wyverns on buckle plates (WILT-D09287, SWYOR-5C94D1, SF10663)

Griffin

A hybrid of a lion and eagle. It normally has the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. It can also have long ears, and the ears are how you recognise a griffin from its head only.

Griffin has two alternative spellings that you may see elsewhere, ‘griffon’ and ‘gryphon’. We only use ‘griffin’ on the PAS database, to allow easy searches.

Roman griffins

The commonest place to find a Roman griffin is on a razor handle. Note the long ears projecting from the top of the head, which distinguish the griffin’s head from a bird’s head.

Roman razors (PUBLIC-889594 and NLM-D150A3)
Griffin heads on Roman razors (PUBLIC-889594 and NLM-D150A3)

Occasionally griffins can be found elsewhere….

Griffin from the Crosby Garrett helmet (LANCUM-E48D73)
Griffin from the Crosby Garrett helmet (LANCUM-E48D73)

Medieval griffins

It can be hard to distinguish griffins from dragons, as both have four legs and wings. The griffin has a lion’s body and eagle’s head, and the dragon has a reptile’s head and body, but the details need to be clearly shown to be certain which one you are looking at. Long legs and long ears probably indicate a griffin. If in doubt, use both words.

Some medieval griffins (YORYM-066D9E, SWYOR-2BF7A1 and YORYM-2D1EE6)
Some medieval griffins (YORYM-066D9E, SWYOR-2BF7A1 and YORYM-2D1EE6)

Lion

You may not think that a lion belongs in the category of fantastic and mythical beasts, but this was not necessarily clear in medieval England. Lions in medieval art, unsurprisingly, do not look very realistic, but they do have certain identifying features: the tail ends in a tuft, and the neck is decorated to represent a mane. Contrast these with the more naturalistic lions produced in the Roman world.

Roman lions: mount (SF-434D85) and key handle (SF-6038E8). Lion on an 11th-century stirrup-strap mount (SOM-AB8488). Lion on a medieval buckle plate (NMS-EA1F40).
Roman lions: mount (SF-434D85) and key handle (SF-6038E8). Medieval lions: 11th-century stirrup-strap mount (SOM-AB8488) and buckle plate (NMS-EA1F40).

Heraldic lions are a little different in that they do not always have a mane. You can often identify them by their distinctive posture (e.g. rampant, passant guardant, sejant, etc). See How to Describe Objects with Heraldic Decoration for more details.

You may find a heraldic lion passant guardant referred to as a ‘leopard’, but this usage is now outdated and should not be followed.

Heraldic lion badges IOW-C796F1 and HAMP-A18340
Heraldic lion badges. Left: lion rampant with mane and tufted tail (IOW-C796F1). Right: lion passant guardant with minimal mane and tufts in the centre and at the end of the tail (HAMP-A18340)

Sphinx

Technically a sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human, and sometimes wings. Although the Egyptian sphinx has taken over our imagination, most sphinxes do not have its characteristic pose. The sphinx is not used much in medieval art, so most of our examples will be Roman (especially on coins) or modern.

Sphinxes (BH-5A9878, SWYOR-174FC1, NLM-EB59B7)
Sphinx on an Iron Age coin (BH-5A9878). Possible sphinx on a Roman amulet, with lion’s paw, woman’s head and body, and wings (SWYOR-174FC1). Egyptian sphinx on a modern regimental badge (NLM-EB59B7).

Harpy

A harpy is a bird (normally an eagle) with a human neck and head. They are almost always female. The plural is harpies.

Centaur

A centaur is a human-animal hybrid with the upper body of a man and the lower body (with all four legs) of a horse.

Mermaid

A mermaid is a human/animal hybrid with the upper body of a woman and the lower body and tail of a fish. The male equivalent (not often found) is a merman.

Centaur on a buckle plate (NMS-B8B005) and mermaid on a seal matrix (SWYOR-48F8B2)
Centaur on a buckle plate (NMS-B8B005 – albeit with lion’s body rather than horse’s body) and mermaid on a seal matrix (SWYOR-48F8B2)

Other hybrids

There are many other forms of human-animal hybrids, not all of which have names. Using the word ‘hybrid’ will help in searching. The term ‘gryllus’ is often used for a monster with a human face and an animal’s body. It can be a useful word, but remember that a gryllus comes in many forms and must be clearly described.

Other mythical beasts: yale, centicore, manticore, basilisk and others

There is no agreed definition for these and many other fabulous and fantastic beasts. You can use the words, but do be careful to explain what you mean by them and to describe the animal or hybrid precisely.

Real beasts commonly found in medieval art

Other animals you might find on medieval objects include hares and hounds, monkeys or apes, and squirrels.

Candle Snuffers and Wick Trimmers

When complete, wick-trimmers are shaped like a pair of scissors with the base and sides of a box attached to one blade, and a flat cover for the box attached to the other. The scissors are to trim a candle’s wick, and the box is for collecting the remains (the ‘snuff’).

If a candle’s wick gets too long, the charred end impedes burning, making the flame dim and smoky. The self-trimming plaited wick was invented in 1825 by Joseph Cambacères. It curls over into the hottest part of the flame and burns away.

Candle-extinguishers are also known, domed or conical in shape, but are rarely recorded, perhaps because they appear to be late post-medieval or modern in date.

PAS object type to be used

The only object type possible is CANDLE SNUFFER, as ‘wick trimmer’ does not exist in the mda thesaurus. The mda’s scope note states that a candle snuffer is ‘an object used to stop a candle burning’, but wick-trimmers were certainly known as candle-snuffers before the mid 19th century.

If you are interested in the etymology, an earlier use of the verb ‘to snuff’ was ‘to cut or pinch off the burned part of a candle wick’. It comes from the Middle English noun snoffe, ‘burned part of a candle wick’.

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

Put ‘wick trimmer’ in the classification field, or ‘extinguisher’, as appropriate.

Wick-trimmers

Terms to use in the description

The commonest part of a wick-trimmer to be found is a side-plate from the box.

Side plate from a candle-snuffer
Side plate from a wick-trimmer, with a solder scar showing the outline of the box (LIN-F6A115)

Occasionally a more complete example can be found, showing the detail of  construction.

One of the most complete candle-snuffers on the database (HAMP-917D56)
One of the more complete candle-snuffers on the database (HAMP-917D56)

HAMP-917D56 has the whole box surviving. Four elements are present: the base and bent-up sides, one of which has a notch to accommodate the blade to which the cover is attached; the soldered-on side plate; the blade soldered on to the box; and the blade and flat cover, which are made in one piece. The pin forming the hinge also survives, but the loop handles are  missing. The fragility of this soldered construction probably accounts for the few relatively complete examples.

Date

Two of the type of copper-alloy wick-trimmer usually recorded on the PAS database have been found in archaeological contexts, both from a post-medieval pit within Tenement 180 in Southampton’s French Quarter (SOU1382, nos. 106 and 114). The precise date of the pit within the post-medieval period does not appear to have been published yet.

Noel Hume (1969, 98) describes what sounds like a very similar type of wick-trimmer from colonial America, and suggests that they were in use by at least 1600. The decoration can include rocker-arm, which might suggest that they began to be used even earlier, perhaps in the 16th century.

The decline of the copper-alloy wick-trimmer is due to several factors. Firstly candles became less ubiquitous from the late 18th century, as reliable domestic oil lamps arrived, then paraffin and (in urban areas) gas lighting by the middle of the 19th century.  Secondly, although candles continued to be used as small, convenient portable light sources until the introduction of electricity in the first few decades of the 20th century, wick-trimmers became far less necessary after the invention of the self-trimming wick in 1825. Lastly, wick-trimmers from the late 18th century onwards were probably made from iron, as they are still today, although they now have a small open saucer to catch the snuff.

The type of copper-alloy wick-trimmer normally recorded on the PAS database, with a separate side-plate decorated with pierced trefoil terminals, therefore seems to be confined to c. 1550-c. 1750.

Occasionally a slight variation in shape or construction can be found (e.g. SUR-3D1C1E, LANCUM-E52223) and there seem to be slight indications that these may be later in date, perhaps 19th century.

Candle extinguishers

There are several records on the PAS database of conical objects with small handles or prongs at the sides, sometimes with machine-pressed decoration. These may have been used to extinguish candles. Examples include IOW-75E83C and YORYM-19CA39.

Candle extinguishers YORYM-19CA39 and IOW-75E83C
Candle extinguishers YORYM-19CA39 and IOW-75E83C

Rings

A ring is a circular loop which may have had a variety of uses.

PAS object type to be used

RING should be used for rings that do not fall into any other object type. FINGER RING or EAR RING should be used for those particular object types. Sword-rings of early Anglo-Saxon date should be recorded under SWORD.

Bronze Age rings

Rings with thick frames are often suggested as Bronze Age. Cross-sections vary, with oval, circular, lozenge-shaped and other polygonal shapes all recorded. Rings of these proportions have been found in Bronze Age hoards [citation needed] and sites (e.g. Flag Fen, Pryor 2001). A number of functions have been suggested: horse harness fittings, cauldron handles or cauldron suspension chains.

Possible Bronze Age rings (LVPL49DC54, WILT-091140, NMS-EAF666)
Possible Bronze Age rings (LVPL49DC54, WILT-091140, NMS-EAF666)

Do not use RING for similar penannular rings (formerly known as ring-money). Use PENANNULAR RING for these.

Medieval rings

RING is used for cast copper-alloy rings of 2-3cm diameter and narrow frame. Medieval rings of this type often have faceted cross-sections, sometimes neatly hexagonal, more often irregular. Filemarks are often visible. Look for wear (interior or exterior) that might help to narrow down how the ring was used.

Medieval or early post-medieval ring (SWYOR-9F7F7E)
Medieval or early post-medieval ring (SWYOR-9F7F7E)

These are very common finds and may have had a variety of uses. They may have been part of horse-harness, or used for suspension of vessels, or as curtain-rings, and so on. Sometimes the rings have pins attached and so are clearly buckles (so should be recorded as BUCKLE). It is not possible to assign a function to rings on their own, so avoid the use of terms such as HARNESS RING or CURTAIN FITTING.

Medieval circular buckle frame (SUR-A91E13).
Medieval circular buckle frame (SUR-A91E13). If it lost its pin, it would not be identifiable as a buckle and would have to be recorded as RING.

These rings are not easy to date. Although they often have the filemarks that appear to be characteristic of the medieval period, they may continue in use into the early post-medieval period.

Late post-medieval rings

There is a group of silver wire rings, with a spiral or knotted bezel, that have in the past been hard to distinguish from early-medieval silver wire rings. After a lot of work by Barry Ager, it now seems that we can be certain that rings of two or more strands, and/or made of wire of square cross-section, are fairly modern in date and were used as finger-rings. They are discussed in FINGER RING, under ‘Rings with a spiral or knotted bezel’.

Modern finger-rings (DENO-470362 and DENO-A15253)
Modern finger-rings of silver (DENO-470362) and copper alloy (DENO-A15253)

Rings of uncertain date

Most rings will have to be put down as broad period UNKNOWN. Even if you think that a ring has a date-range of Bronze Age to Roman, don’t give it BRONZE AGE as a broad period, as this will clog up the Bronze Age with a lot of false positives.

Bells

A bell is a hollow object, which can be spherical, conical or of various domed shapes. It can be sounded by an internal clapper, an external hammer or (for spherical bells) an internal pellet or pea. A bell is more musical than a rattle, although the two are related.

An open bell normally has a clapper, and can be a variety of shapes. Conical bells can have straight or slightly concave or convex sides; if the sides are strongly convex, the bell may be hemispherical instead. A church bell typically has a low conical top above concave sides, and this shape can be found in smaller bells as well.  Fragments of large bell can be mistaken for fragments of cast vessel.

PAS object type(s) to be used

Always use BELL. The PAS database avoids ANIMAL BELL because in most cases we are unsure about the function of any particular bell. CROTAL is only used for a very rare Bronze Age object.

Roman bells

Bells with rectangular cross-sections

Roman bells have been studied by Ward (1911) and Clarke (1971). Clarke concentrates on bells with square or rectangular cross-sections and small feet, 50-70mm tall. They have integral loops, generally lozengiform externally and with a circular perforation. Excavated examples tend to come from first-century contexts. A good example on the PAS database is HAMP-ADCEE3.

Roman bell with rectangular cross-section and corner feet
Roman bell with rectangular cross-section and corner feet (HAMP-ADCEE3)

Roman bells of other shapes

Clarke (1971) points out that simple hemispherical and conical bells are known from both Roman and post-Roman contexts and considers unstratified examples of these as undatable. Concentric line decoration and a circular cross-section can be found on bells from Roman contexts (e.g. from Colchester, Crummy 1983, no. 4166) but also on 7th- to 8th-century Scottish bells (Schoenfelder and Richards 2011, 153). Most English or Welsh finds of similar bells, however, can be recorded as probably Roman.

Bells of probable Roman date, DENO-281EF3 and NCL-0BCA96
Bells of probable Roman date, DENO-281EF3 (with convex sides) and NCL-0BCA96 (with straight sides)

In their article on early-medieval ‘Norse’ bells of late 9th- to late 11th-century date, Schoenfelder and Richards (2011, 153-4) discuss bells with openwork decoration, bells with a circular cross-section, and those with decorative concentric lines. Openwork conical bells have a pronounced southerly distribution which differs from the ‘Norse’ bells, and although there is at present no dating evidence for them, we are recording them for the time being as Roman. See NMS-E837B5 for an example (illustrated below).

Early-medieval bells

5th- to 8th-century bells

Both of the bells illustrated in MacGregor and Bolick (1991) are likely to be Roman in date.

A small (28mm high) copper-alloy bell with circular base, large semi-circular loop and iron chain and clapper was found in the early 7th-century grave of Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo (Bruce-Mitford 1983, 893). So far we have no similar bells on the PAS database, so it may be an import.

A wide hemispherical bronze bell 40mm high was found in cremation 1281 at Spong Hill  which can be paralleled in another cremation from Little Wilbraham (Hills and Lucy 2013, 91-2). Both may be Continental imports of the 5th to 8th centuries.

Concentric lines and a circular cross-section (in other words, a conical shape) can be found on 7th- to 8th-century Scottish bells (Schoenfelder and Richards 2011, 153) as well as bells from Roman contexts (e.g. from Colchester, Crummy 1983, no. 4166).

‘Norse’ bells

‘Norse’ bells have been studied by Schoenfelder and Richards (2011) in an article which usefully includes some discussion of how to distinguish them from small copper-alloy Roman bells. Bells stratified in contexts of the late 9th to late 11th centuries are characterised by integral loops of various shapes, hexagonal cross-sections and straight tapering sides. The hexagonal facets may be slightly concave in cross-section and the lower edge may be scalloped, with the lower corners sometimes having feet. Ring-and-dot decoration is frequently found. The height range appears to be c. 27-37mm.

'Norse' bell (SF-ECD886) and openwork conical bell (NMS-E837B5)
‘Norse’ bell of late 9th- to late 11th-century date (SF-ECD886) and openwork conical bell of unknown date, perhaps Roman (NMS-E837B5)

Other early-medieval bells

Schoenfelder and Richards (2011, 153-4) also consider bells with openwork decoration, bells with a circular cross-section, and those with decorative concentric lines. Openwork bells have a pronounced southerly distribution which differs from the ‘Norse’ bells, but there is no dating evidence for them. At the moment we are recording these openwork conical bells with a broad period of Roman, as this seems the most likely date.

Concentric lines and a circular cross-section (i.e. a conical shape) can be found on bells from Roman contexts (e.g. from Colchester, Crummy 1983, no. 4166) and on 7th- to 8th-century Scottish bells (Schoenfelder and Richards 2011, 153).

Medieval and post-medieval bells

Medieval and post-medieval bells include a large number of spherical examples, either cast or made from sheet. Fragments of larger cast bells can also be found, but are difficult to distinguish from cast copper-alloy vessels.

Cast spherical bells

Post-medieval cast spherical bells are often known as ‘crotal’ bells (and sometimes as ‘rumbler’ bells). They are very common finds because they are robust and easily recognised. Make sure that these are recorded with the object type BELL. Well dated examples are scarce, but it seems that these were in use for many centuries with slow tiny changes in detail. Because of this, we need to carefully describe the shape of the loop (externally and internally), the number and shape of the sound holes, the slot, the seam or ridge between the two halves and any decoration. Look carefully for makers’ marks as these have the potential to help in dating. Often there is a mark of a founder’s hammer instead of, or as well as, an individual maker’s mark.

Features of a cast spherical bell
Features of a cast spherical bell, seen on WILT-1BFA8A and KENT-71B3F7

Some work has been done on the manufacture of cast spherical bells, and some makers and makers’ marks, published on the UKDFD website.

Other cast copper-alloy bells

There is a small group of distinctive medieval bells that are broadly spherical, but with an openwork lower half and therefore sounded by a clapper rather than a pea. The upper half has eight slightly flattened surfaces, four of which have shields of arms as decoration. The arms have received several interpretations, but are thought to be those of Edmund, 2nd Early of Cornwall, showing a double-headed eagle (referring to his claim to the Holy Roman Empire after his father was elected King of this in 1257) impaled with three chevrons, the arms of his wife Margaret de Clare. They married in 1272, making this the earliest possible date for these bells. See WILT-397A82 and SOM-AF84B6 for examples; also SF-A43191, which retains its clapper.

Cast spherical bell with openwork lower half (SOM-AF84B6)
Cast spherical bell with openwork lower half (SOM-AF84B6)

Sheet spherical bells

Small spherical bells made from copper-alloy sheet seem to have been used as dress accessories, or on hawks’ or dogs’ harness. As human dress accessories they were worn on belts, collars or sashes; there is a useful short chapter on medieval examples in Egan and Pritchard 1991 (336-341). They appear to come into use on human dress in the 14th century in Winchester (Biddle 1990, 725) and the late 14th century in London (Egan and Pritchard 1991, 336), although they were apparently in use as early as the late 13th century on animal harness (Egan and Pritchard 1991, 336-338, with examples from ceramic period 9, c. 1270-c. 1350).

These small sheet bells are still made, particularly for use on cats’ collars, and so unstratified examples are in theory hard to date more precisely. But, given that the fashion for humans wearing bells seems to have declined (apart from perhaps on children; Egan 2005, 57) and larger, heavier cast spherical bells began to be used for animals, it is likely that many of our examples will date to the late medieval period, perhaps into the 16th century.

Sheet copper-alloy bell, probably of late medieval or early post-medieval date (ESS-316509)
Sheet copper-alloy bell, probably of late medieval or early post-medieval date (ESS-316509)

Other sheet copper-alloy bells

There is a group of sheet ‘rumbler’ bells which are not spherical. They have a tall upper part with a butted-together (perhaps originally soldered) seam down the reverse, and a loop at the top which is pierced from side to side and which often projects forwards. The upper part can be gently tapering, or can be a narrow stem. The lower part is similar to sheet spherical bells, and has a separate pea. See KENT-1EABA5 and NMS-C700A1 for examples.

The loop is similar to that found on horse-harness pendants, and it may be that these bells had a similar function. Griffiths 1986, fig. 20 shows bells used on an elaborate horse-harness pendant set; see SF-D74876 for a bell mounted on a suspension mount and LIN-FD3808 for a bell attached to a plate. Whether their date is much the same as the spherical bells (late 13th to perhaps 16th century), or much the same as other horse-harness pendants (mid 12th to mid 14th century), is currently uncertain.

Bells of sheet copper alloy, probably from horse-harness
Bells of sheet copper alloy, probably from horse-harness (LIN-FD3808, SF-D74876 and NLM-5EFFAE)

Tin or tin-alloy bells

There is a group of 13th-century bells from London which, when analysed, have proved to be of tin or tin alloy. There are a few similar examples on the PAS database, mainly from Yorkshire or Lincolnshire, which tend to be recorded as being of lead or lead alloy.  These bells are cast in one piece, have four projections which may have been bent inwards to retain a pea, and are often decorated. Their use is uncertain; they can never have made a very nice sound. See Egan and Pritchard 1991, 338-340, nos. 1668-1671, and examples on the PAS database at YORYM-E51788, SWYOR-F92A53, etc.

'Rumbler' bells made with four bent-in petal-like projections (SUR-476322 and YORYM-E51788)
‘Rumbler’ bells made with four bent-in petal-like projections (SUR-476322 and YORYM-E51788)

As with other sheet spherical bells, the type made from four bent-in projections are still made (often sold today as ‘craft bells’). SWYOR-909DB1 is a copper-alloy example which looks very post-medieval, but how much later in date it may be is hard to say. Unstratified, undecorated, undiagnostic examples are therefore impossible to date precisely.

There are also occasional examples of tin-alloy bells made in the same shape as the later copper-alloy sheet spherical bells. These are cast, either in one piece or in two halves later soldered together, and are presumably of the same date as the copper-alloy examples (late 14th century onwards). See Egan and Pritchard 1991, 338-341, nos. 1672-1689, and examples on the PAS database at HESH-8F0DAE and BH-837BE7.

Spherical 'rumbler' bells made from tin alloy or lead alloy (HESH-8F0DAE and BH-837BE7)
Spherical ‘rumbler’ bells of medieval date, made from tin alloy or lead alloy (HESH-8F0DAE and BH-837BE7)

Lastly, a few clapper bells recorded on the PAS database have been identified as Canterbury bells. Canterbury bells are discussed by Spencer (1998, 123-125, nos. 126-128) who illustrates two from London with inscriptions linking them to Thomas Becket. Analysis has shown that the alloys used for these tend to be at least 90% tin (Spencer 1998, 125). PAS examples tend to be identified as lead or lead-alloy, and include PAS-2EE133, KENT-EC8680, LON-806D1C, LON-C82858 and LEIC-6F1903.

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used for medieval bells

For spherical bells, put ‘cast spherical’ or ‘sheet spherical’ in the classification field. For Canterbury bells, and any other bells which might be pilgrim souvenirs, put ‘pilgrim’ in the classification field. For all other medieval bells, leave the classification and sub-classification fields empty.

References

Bruce-Mitford, R.L.S. 1983. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial Vol. 3 (British Museum Press)

Clarke, D.V. 1971. ‘Four Roman bells from Scotland’ Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 103 (1971), 228-31

Crummy 1983 (available to download free here)

Egan and Pritchard 1991

Schoenfelder and Richards 2011

Ward, J., 1911. The Roman Era in Britain (Methuen), 217-219.

Taps

A tap is a valve that controls the flow of water from a container or a pipe. The container might be a barrel, a cistern (containing water for general domestic use) or a vessel; see Egan 1998, 242 for references to taps on copper-alloy vessels. Use TAP for all of these, and for taps on pipes (plumbing taps). It is not always possible to distinguish between barrel taps, cistern or vessel taps and plumbing taps.

PAS object type to be used

Use TAP for all taps, whether from barrels, cisterns, vessels or plumbing. Avoid BARREL TAP (and BARREL).  Items that have been recorded as TAP KEY in the past should be recorded either as part of a TAP (i.e. the handle) or as a key, either a KEY (WINDING) or a KEY (LOCKING), depending. A modern tap key is a tool comprising a crossbar on a long handle, enabling you to turn off the stopcock, and this is the only item that should be recorded as a TAP KEY.

Even if you only have the handle, this is still a TAP, just incomplete or fragmentary.

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

These have not yet been defined for this object type.

Terms to use in the description

Medieval and post-medieval taps consist of a hollow pipe (normally shown horizontally) with a hollow vertical cross-piece or socket into which the stem of the tap fits.

The part which is held to turn the tap on or off is the handle (not the ‘key’). The part below the handle that is turned is the stem; this usually has a hole through which the liquid flows when the tap is turned. The pipe is the part that brings the water or other liquid towards the tap, and the spout is the part that the water or other liquid comes out of.

Names for the different parts of a tap
Names for the different parts of a tap (LON-81C758 and SOM-901263)

Medieval taps

M-shaped or crown-shaped handles appear to be late medieval to early post-medieval; there are good examples  from London (Egan 1998, 242-4, with discussion of date) and Salisbury (Saunders 2012, 115 and 141). Similar examples from the PAS database include SUSS-ABB907 and NMS-2498B6.

M- or crown-shaped handle from a late medieval or early post-medieval tap (SUSS-ABB907)
M- or crown-shaped handle from a late medieval or early post-medieval tap (SUSS-ABB907)

The spouts of the London and Salisbury examples look zoomorphic, but similarly shaped spouts continue well into the post-medieval period.

Spouts in the form of animal heads, IOW-8F5BB4 and SF-07F127
Spouts in the form of animal heads, IOW-8F5BB4 and SF-07F127

 

Opinion seems to vary as to the date of other elaborate tap handles. Cockerels are the most common (with good examples at NMS-19B3AE, SF-07F127 and SUR-33DC8B, the last with maker’s mark) but there are also occasional fleurs-de-lis (such as DEV-8CDEC0 and IOW-1AA912) and even more unusual one-offs such as LVPL-4D7B13.

Taps are difficult to date if there is no handle. The examples from Colchester (Crummy 1988, 41) and Exeter (Allan 1984, fig. 193, no. 180), from a post-medieval context and a context of c. 1500 respectively, are similar to both medieval and post-medieval taps. See KENT-258C93 for a similar example on the PAS database.

Post-medieval taps

There are trefoil handles from early post-medieval contexts in Amsterdam (Baart et al 1977, 352-6); examples on the PAS database include GLO-5E8406 and LON-604625.

Tap with trefoil handle, GLO-5E8406
Tap with trefoil handle, GLO-5E8406

There is a tap from Norwich with a ‘bifurcated’ handle (T-shaped with both ends slightly curved; Margeson 1993, 137-8, no. 932), which has been dated to the 17th century by comparison with taps from Jamestown, Virginia (Cotter 1958, 192; pl. 90) and Basing House (Moorhouse 1971, 57-58; fig. 25, no. 152). Good examples of this type of tap are LON-81C758 and LVPL-71F288.

Tap with bifurcated handle, LON-81C758
Tap with bifurcated handle, LON-81C758

 

18th- and 19th-century taps have T-shaped handles with straight tops. Examples on the PAS database include PUBLIC-2806EA and SUR-8EC347.

Barrel tap with T-shaped handle bearing maker's mark, SUR-8EC347
Barrel tap with T-shaped handle bearing maker’s mark, SUR-8EC347

 

A common type of post-medieval barrel tap has a pipe with a closed end and perforations to act as a crude filter. This usually has a striated or corrugated outer surface, probably to provide grip against the wood of the barrel (see PUBLIC-B94B94 for a complete example and NLM-122009 for a fragment).  At the other end a boss would have been hammered to help get the tap into the barrel.  A tap comparable to PUBLIC-B94B94 was found at Launceston Castle, Cornwall, in association with later 18th-century pottery (Mould in Saunders 2006, 313).

Post-medieval barrel tap
Post-medieval barrel tap with closed pipe (PUBLIC-B94B94)

 

Book Clasps

Introduction

Book clasps were used to hold the covers of a book tightly, together to keep it closed and the pages flat.

There are two main types of medieval book clasp. One fitted over a peg on the opposite cover, and has a pierced terminal, probably to hold a cord to help pull it off the peg. The other type has a hook, which clipped over a bar or hooked into a slot on the opposite cover.

We know of examples that fitted over pegs from at least the 12th century onwards. These would have been used at the end of a strap fixed to one cover, and they are pierced with a hole which fitted over a peg on the opposite cover. A projecting terminal was pierced sideways, probably to hold a cord to help in pulling the clasp off the peg.

Objects that look like over-the-peg clasps, with pierced terminals but with rectangular or T-shaped slots instead of central circular holes, are from boxes (or caskets, coffrets, chasses etc). See DENO-392CC4 for an example.

The hooked type of book clasp is generally flatter and flimsier than the pierced type. We know of examples in place on books of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the decoration suggests that they begin in the late medieval period but perhaps become more popular in the 16th century.

Every clasp has to engage with another fitting on the opposite cover to keep the book closed, but both pegs and catchplates are rare.

A recent PhD by Charlotte Howsam (2016) covers both medieval book clasps and book mounts, and is downloadable free here. It gives a clear typology of both clasps and mounts, is copiously illustrated, and has lots of background information.

Howsam’s types A.1, A.2, A.7, A.9 and A.10 fit over pegs; A.3, A.4 and A.5 have hooks.

Type A.8, which is defined as being made from folded sheet metal, comes in both pierced and hooked forms.

Every clasp has to engage with another fitting on the opposite cover to keep the book closed. Pegs and their baseplates form Howsam’s type A.11; catchplates for use with hooked clasps form type A.6.

Howsam’s typology is derived from a catalogue of book fittings excavated from monastic sites. She comments that further excavation and more PAS finds are likely to expand the typology (Howsam 2016, 23), and indeed we have already recorded clasps of types not included; see below.

PAS object type(s) to be used

‘Book clasp’ is not included in the mda thesaurus, so we use BOOK FITTING instead, with ‘clasp’ in the classification field.

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

The Howsam type (Howsam 2016, 30-42) should be put in the sub-classification field, in the following format: Howsam type A.9.2

A note on dating

There are several ways of dating book clasps, unfortunately with different results.

Book clasps still in place on books can be of the same date as the rest of the binding, but because the leather straps tend to wear they are often repaired or replaced. When this happened, new clasps could be added to old books or old and precious clasps re-used on new books. Despite the uncertainty, clasps in place on books are very useful. There is a Howsam type A.5.2 on a late 16th-century binding illustrated  in Margeson (1993, 74).

Book clasps found in archaeological contexts seem to cluster in the late 14th and 15th centuries in London (Egan 1998, 277-80) and in early to mid 16th-century contexts elsewhere (Howsam 2016, 24-26). Howsam points out that many old books were destroyed at the Reformation, leading many old book fittings to be found in 16th-century contexts. The date of the context is not the same as the date of manufacture of the book fitting.

Art-historical parallels can also be used to date book clasps. Limoges-style enamel has been found on SWYOR-D9A074 and HESH-7ACEC5, suggesting a date between 1150 and 1300 AD. Stamped annulets have been found on many clasps of type A.1.1, perhaps suggesting a date in the late 12th or 13th century. Going further back in time, BERK-151457, LVPL-CDD0D0 and SUSS-5AF9E0 can all be dated to the 11th century on the basis of their (very different) art styles.

A famous late 12th-century statue from St Mary’s Abbey, York, shows an apostle holding a book closed by a clasp and peg (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, fig. 1505). And finally, a simple rectangular hooked clasp (LEIC-F82DD1) bears the initials EE and the date 1717.

See the individual types below for precise dating.

Medieval and early post-medieval book clasps

Clasps that fit over pegs

Howsam type A.1

This type has a solid cast element with a bar for a hinged plate. The solid cast element can be domed and pierced (A.1.1), or domed with a blind hole on the underside (A.1.2) or flat and pierced (A.1.3). All have a terminal in the form of a stylised animal head, pierced from side to side to hold the cord, and a plate, normally hinged around a bar.

A.1.1 clasps normally have hinge loops holding a separate bar, but occasionally can have a rectangular slot separating the loop from an integral bar (e.g. NMS-B9A166).

There is a group of A.1.1 clasps from late 14th- or early 15th-century contexts in London (Egan and Pritchard 1991, ; Egan 1998, ) but others with stamped annulet decoration (e.g. YORYM-2BBE37) are more likely on art-historical grounds to belong to the 12th or early 13th century.

There is only one example of an A.1.2 clasp recorded on the PAS database so far, BUC-B7EF37

Book clasps of Howsam type A.1.1. Left: SWYOR-0B8297. Right: YORYM-2BBE37.
Book clasps of Howsam type A.1.1. Left: SWYOR-0B8297. Right: YORYM-2BBE37, with annulet stamps.

There is a growing number of A.1.3 clasps on the PAS database. These are more various in shape and decoration than other A.1 clasps and can include openwork, stamped and Limoges-style examples. Some have decoration which can be dated as early as the late 11th century (e.g. BERK-151457); others can have Limoges-style enamel (e.g. GLO-EB53B3) and still others can resemble clasps of the standard A.1.1 type; the date-range therefore probably runs from 1050 or 1100 to at least 1450 AD.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.1.3, showing the diversity of shape and decoration. Left, top to bottom: NMS-F85129, NMS-5A7B07, NMS-42D9C5. Centre left, top to bottom: NMS-D590D7, GLO-EB53B3. Centre right, top to bottom: NMS-A664F2, SF-743945, BERK-B866CA. Right, top to bottom: BERK-151457, SUR-764574.
Book clasps of Howsam type A.1.3, showing the diversity of shape and decoration. Left, top to bottom: NMS-F85129, NMS-5A7B07, NMS-42D9C5. Centre left, top to bottom: NMS-D590D7, GLO-EB53B3. Centre right, top to bottom: NMS-A664F2, SF-743945 (note the orientation of the terminal), BERK-B866CA. Right, top to bottom: BERK-151457, SUR-764574.

Note that the simplest of all (e.g. NMS-42D9C5) could potentially be mis-identified as buckles.

Howsam type A.2

This is similar to type A.1, but with the plate made from an integral forked spacer. This is clearly related to buckles and strap-ends with forked spacers (the ‘composite’ type) which can be reliably dated to the 14th or early 15th century.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.2, one over twice the size of the other. Left: FAKL-5A14D0. Right: ESS-608C92.
Book clasps of Howsam type A.2, one over twice the size of the other. Left: FAKL-5A14D0. Right: ESS-608C92, retaining one of the plates soldered to the forked spacer.

Howsam type A.7

A simple type of pierced clasp has sometimes in the past been published as a belt mount.  This is formed of two rectangular plates attached to each other generally by two or four rivets and both perforated centrally to fit over the peg.  Howsam notes that they are often decorated along their edges with cusps, notches and apertures (Howsam 2016, 37). 

Many such fasteners are known from ecclesiastical sites such as Battle Abbey (Geddes in Hare 1985, 159; fig. 50), or Carmarthen Greyfriars (Brennan 2001, 66-67), but also from urban reports such as those for London (Egan and Pritchard 1991, 225; fig. 141) or Norwich (Margeson 1993, 39; fig. 22). Many from older reports are recorded as dress accessories.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.7. Left to right: SOM-47EC37, SWYOR-5A57B5, SF5386.
Probable book clasps, of Howsam type A.7. Left to right: SOM-47EC37, SWYOR-5A57B5, SF5386.

We do not yet know if the commonest type of rectangular mount – with a central hole, with a reserved lozenge surrounded by rocker-arm engraving (e.g. Egan and Pritchard 1991, no. 1054 and Margeson 1993, no. 264) – is a dress accessory or a book clasp. Examples on the PAS database include IOW-9357A4, LON-DCA744 and NMS-28FA14. At present we think they are not from books, as they have just one plate rather than two.

Howsam type A.8

Type A.8 clasps are made of a single piece of sheet metal folded in half. Most have a gap at the fold which forms the side-to-side perforation, and holes to fit over the peg. Type A.8.1 resembles Type A.7 above, but has the addition of the loop at the fold. Type A.8.4 has a rounded lobe with a dome over the perforation.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.8. On the left are two examples of type A.8.1 (IOW-2BF565 and SUR-FCC344). On the right are two examples of type A.8.4 (BH-0DDF66 and NMS-9BD911).
Book clasps of Howsam type A.8. On the left are two examples of type A.8.1 (IOW-2BF565 and SUR-FCC344). On the right are two examples of type A.8.4 (BH-0DDF66 and NMS-9BD911).

Type A.8.2 is as A.8.1, but has a dome which is also perforated. Type A.8.3 is shaped into a flat perforated roundel. Types A.8.2 and A.8.3 have not yet been recorded on the PAS database. Type A.8.5 is different in that it tapers to a hooked end and has no perforation, so is considered below under Clasps with Hooks.

Howsam type A.9

This type has an integral hollow attachment plate. Howsam sub-divides it into two types; A.9.1 with a dome over the perforation, and A.9.2 with a lozenge.

The hollow attachment ends can be compared with those on ‘lyre-shaped’ buckles and similar strap-ends, which are dated from effigies and brasses and on art-historical grounds to the very late 14th and 15th centuries.

Although these appear to be cast in one piece, it is possible that some examples were made in several pieces, carefully soldered together.

The transversely pierced terminal on A.9.2 clasps often contains a metal ring and, as with the buckles and strap-ends, the hollow end can have a separate backplate.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.9.2. Left to right: IOW-7D75B7, NMS-91A927, WAW-0592C0.
Book clasps of Howsam type A.9.2. Left to right: IOW-7D75B7, NMS-91A927, WAW-0592C0. Note the wear on the hole of NMS-91A927.

Howsam type A.10

Type A.10 is cast in one piece, with a hole to fit over the peg and a terminal pierced from side to side. Howsam only included one example in her catalogue (SWYOR-D9A074, illustrated below), but there are several other disparate one-piece book clasps that can also perhaps be allocated to this type.

As the group is quite heterogeneous, including different shapes and decoration, the date-range of Type A.10 is wide. More precise dates may be possible on the basis of the decoration.

One-piece book clasps which can perhaps be allocated to Howsam type A.10. Top row, left to right: SWYOR-D9A074, SUSS-0D63D3, WMID5232. Second row, left to right: HAMP2800, GLO-8F1C22, GLO-5B1D88. Bottom row, left to right: BERK-ED9750, LVPL-CDD0D0
One-piece book clasps which can perhaps be allocated to Howsam type A.10. Top row, left to right: SWYOR-D9A074, SUSS-0D63D3, WMID5232. Second row, left to right: HAMP2800, GLO-8F1C22, GLO-5B1D88. Bottom row, left to right: BERK-ED9750, LVPL-CDD0D0.

Type A.10 does not include all one-piece book clasps; it is a catch-all for those which do not fall into other types. Those made from a folded sheet belong to A.8, and those with hollow plates belong to A.9. 

Pegs – Howsam type A.11

The pegs over which these clasps fitted are very rarely found (or recognised). The only certain example on the PAS database is NMS-935146, with a square quatrefoil base-plate. No certain example of a detached base-plate for a peg has yet been recorded.

Occasionally pegs survive in place within a clasp’s perforation. Examples include WMID-3DC2A5 and WAW-C67F20.

Clasps with hooks

Clasps with hooks form Howsam types A.3, A.4 and A.5, and type A.8.5 also has a hook. Type A.3 has a flared attachment end, type A.4 is rectangular. Type A.5 has a hinge opposite the hook for attachment to a second plate. Catch-pieces for use with hooked clasps form type A.6.

Hooked book clasps are usually made from flat copper-alloy sheet. Hook-pieces have a central hook in one short end, and the hook is usually relatively wide and flat.  The catch-piece can either have a slot cut in it, or can have two projections rolled over a bar. The hook would have been clipped into the slot or over the bar to close the book.

Hook-pieces seem to be much more common than catch-pieces, perhaps because they are more easily recognised.  They were attached to leather straps with rivets and backplates which do not usually survive.

Howsam type A.3

Type A.3 is the commonest type of medieval book clasp. It is made from a long thin strip of copper-alloy sheet, with one end flared and shaped and the other end hooked. The metal appears brassy and has often corroded to a reddish brown. They are often decorated with longitudinal grooves, circular perforations, stamps and ring-and-dot motifs.

A selection of book clasps of type A.3. Left to right: FAKL-9EC55F, SWYOR-A411C7, KENT-E363E8, ESS-C923A9, WILT-CB74F6.
A selection of book clasps of type A.3. Left to right: FAKL-9EC55F, SWYOR-A411C7, KENT-E363E8, ESS-C923A9, WILT-CB74F6.

Type A.3 book clasps are difficult to date accurately. They appear to be later than over-the-peg book clasps, but the two types may overlap. Decoration that may help to assign a start date for the type includes rocker-arm, as on KENT-E363E8 above; and double lines of stamps (sometimes known as rouletting or interrupted rocker-arm), as on WILT-CB74F6 above. Evidence for the continued manufacture of this type into the early post-medieval period might include the colour of the metal and the presence on books. We tend to date them to the 15th and 16th centuries unless there is strong evidence for a date outside this range.

A good example of a late 15th-century book with its A.3 clasps in place was published at Cologne in 1493 and is now in the library of Michigan State University (KJA 1925 .N52 A36 149). The clasps are riveted to short straps and the catch-pieces are nailed directly to the opposite cover. Another in the same library, remarkably similar, dates from 1574 (QK 41 .D6 1574).

Howsam type A.4

This type appears to be the earliest type of hooked book clasp, perhaps dating to the 14th or 15th centuries. A.4.1 is a simple rectangular plate, but A.4.2 retains a small separately made pierced lug on the top. This would probably have been used with a cord or ring, to help in removing the clasp and opening the book.

Type A.4 clasps are not always strictly rectangular, as several flare slightly to the attachment end (and see NMS-52C783 for an oval example). Even if they have flared ends, the dividing line between A.3 and A.4 clasps is generally clear.

Decoration on the plates of type A.4.2 tends to be distinctively medieval, perhaps 14th or 15th century. Examples include SUR-6DA691 (rouletting), BERK-2C8241 (grooved aperture) and NMS-280856 (rocker-arm).

Clasps of type A.4.1 are rare, and some (such as NLM-0A25E8) may be incomplete examples of type A.4.2. There are a few examples which clearly never had the pierced lug, though, and these include SF3887.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.4. Left, type A.4.2 (SUR-6DA691 and NMS-280856). Centre left, type A.4.2 (BERK-2C8241). Centre right, type A.4.2 (BH-87AE0C). Right, type A.4.2 (SF-12E8D6) and type A.4.1 (NLM-0A25E8, SF3887).
Five book clasps of Howsam type A.4.2. Left, top to bottom: SUR-6DA691 and NMS-280856. Centre left: BERK-2C8241. Centre: BH-87AE0C. Centre right, top: SF-12E8D6. Below is a type A.4.1 which may in fact be an incomplete type A.4.2 (NLM-0A25E8). Right, a definite example of a type A.4.1 (SF3887).

Howsam type A.5

These are defined as having a hinge at the end opposite the hook, showing that they articulated with another metal plate (an anchor plate) rather than a strap. An example in place on a late 16th-century book is shown by Margeson (1993, 74).

Howsam divides these into three types, A.5.1 with a central hinge loop, A.5.2 with two hinge loops, and A.5.3 with a central hinge loop and separate pierced lug on top. So far only type A.5.1 has been recorded on the PAS database.

Book clasps of Howsam type A.5.1 (KENT-9565A3 and HAMP-4EF407).
Book clasps of Howsam type A.5.1 (KENT-9565A3 and HAMP-4EF407).

The date of type A.5 clasps is at present uncertain. They resemble A.3 clasps, so should probably be similarly dated, to the 15th or 16th centuries AD. Later post-medieval book clasps are also normally hinged to an anchor plate, but these later clasps are not included in Howsam’s classification.

The plate to which a type A.5 clasp is hinged is known as an anchor plate. Anchor plates are not normally distinguishable from catchplates, which form the next type, A.6.

Catchplates and anchor-plates – Howsam type A.6

 Howsam separates these into types with slots (A.6.1 and A.6.3) and types with projections rolled over to hold a bar (A.6.2 and A.6.4). The precise type depends on whether the plate is rectangular or triangular, but as you can see below the shapes are more variable than this. It may be that all flaring plates should be interpreted as rectangular (A.6.1 and A.6.2) and plates tapering to a point should be interpreted as triangular (A.6.3 and A.6.4). Alternatively and more simply, as we have not recorded many, they can all be recorded simply as type A.6.

Catch-pieces of Howsam type A.6. Left to right: type A.6.1 (BERK-11236D), two examples of type A.6.2 (SWYOR-40B394, SUR-92DC8D), three examples of type A.6.4 (BERK-56D1C8, PUBLIC-1DABA9, NMS-551569).
Catch-pieces of Howsam type A.6. Left to right: type A.6.1 (BERK-11236D), two examples of type A.6.2 (SWYOR-40B394, SUR-92DC8D), three examples of type A.6.4 (BERK-56D1C8, PUBLIC-1DABA9, NMS-551569).

Anchor plates are virtually impossible to recognise if they are detached from the rest of the clasp, and in fact one of the items pictured above as a catch-piece (NMS-551569) has a very close parallel which is clearly an anchor-plate (YORYM-C84DCC). Anchor-plates are not common in the medieval period, and nor are the type A.5 clasps that they fit together with. Clasps hinged to anchor plates seem to be more common in the post-medieval period.

Silver book-clasp of Howsam type A.5.1, with anchor-plate (Howsam type A.6)
Silver book-clasp of Howsam type A.5.1, with anchor-plate of Howsam type A.6.4 (YORYM-C84DCC).

Later post-medieval book clasps

As printing came in, paper began to replace parchment (animal skins) and this process of change continued until well into the post-medieval period.

Paper lies flatter than parchment, so book clasps to keep the book shut would not be so necessary; and paper books often had pasteboard (layered paper) covers, which did not hold nails and rivets to fix clasps and mounts nearly as well as the earlier wooden covers.

Parchment was expensive, but also strong; it could cope with luxury pigments and gold leaf, and so was retained into the 18th century for luxury books, such as bibles (Howsam 2016, 142). Clasps became more common again in the later 19th century, probably as part of the Gothic revival popular at the time.

Clasps from these books will not be as common as those from earlier books, and have not yet received any formal study. Searches in 17th- or 18th-century library collections (such as Thomas Plume’s library in Maldon, Essex) may add to our knowledge of these in the future.

Items currently tentatively identified as later post-medieval book clasps are generally dated by their decoration. All so far identified fasten using hooks. Below is an eclectic collection of things that have been identified as 17th- to 19th-century book clasps.

Objects that have been suggested as later post-medieval book clasps (DENO-7678B3, SOM-909472, NLM-4F2825, LON-63D127, PUBLIC-D033C8, LEIC-F82DD1).
Objects that have been suggested as later post-medieval book clasps. Top left, DENO-7678B3; note the Gothic initials E W, which probably date it to the 19th century. Bottom left, SOM-909472. Centre left, NLM-4F2825. Centre right,  LON-63D127 (above), PUBLIC-D033C8 (below), which has the initials WN in a curving, 18th- or 19th-century script. Compare PUBLIC-D033C8 to LEIC-ACBA86, which is attached to a binding strip. Right, LEIC-F82DD1, which is dated 1717.

Several other items have been suggested as post-medieval book clasps in the past. A variety of small openwork hinged items have been recorded as book clasps (such as HAMP-8D6FC9), but it seems more likely that these were simply small hinges from furniture. Another object type which is sometimes recorded as a book clasp is cross-shaped, with a large blunt hook (such as IOW-17AAC2); these are not like any other book clasps, and may be dress hooks instead. Stock clasps (such as YORYM-DAA383) are also sometimes mis-recorded as post-medieval book clasps.

Search

Search for all examples of book clasps.

Key references

Egan 1998

Howsam 2016

How to Write a Description

What is the description for?

Our descriptions should fully describe every aspect of the object. In other words, they are a text version of the object which replaces the object itself. Most of the objects that we record do not end up in a museum; they might be given away, sold, hidden, lost or even melted down. Unlike excavated archaeological finds, which are carefully curated in stores and museums, we won’t always be able to find out more by going back to the object.  So the record must stand instead of the object itself, and so must contain as much detail as possible and practicable.

PAS recorders must also give enough detail to allow the reader to check our identifications. We must back up our statements with evidence. Evidence for our identifications and evidence for our dates normally comes from citing parallels, generally either from other PAS records or from excavated finds.

The description is also crucial in allowing the record to be searched for and found. We cannot yet search on the object’s appearance; we need to search on the text used to describe it.

Lastly, in order to write a good description you have to look really closely and analytically at the object, and this makes you think hard about its function and date.

Principles

There are two initial principles to bear in mind when writing a description; firstly the record must be findable when you search for it, and secondly it must be understandable when you try to read it. These are different things; a very easy-to-understand record that uses clear simple language can be hard to find in a search, but a record with a very poor description can be found quite easily if it uses the right jargon term.

The consistent words that allow your record to be searched for and found are often unusual words that don’t occur in many records unless we deliberately include them. An example might be the ‘lyre-shaped’ buckle. This is a particular kind of late 14th- and 15th-century buckle with a sub-triangular or trapezoidal frame and an integral rectangular plate. To find examples, it’s easiest to search for the jargon term, so it’s good to include it in the description field. But to understand the details of one particular buckle, you need to describe every aspect in clear simple language.

A third principle to remember is to describe what you see. Don’t put in too much interpretation before you have set down all the aspects of the object. If you say ‘the remains of the pin loop can be seen on the bar’ then you aren’t adding all the information you could. Try saying what you can see – that ‘a flat strip of copper alloy 6mm wide can be seen wrapped around the bar. This may be the remains of the pin loop’. This allows the reader to judge for themselves whether it’s the remnants of the pin loop, or perhaps the hinge loops of the plate.

HInge loop or pin loop? Describe it so that the reader can decide.
HInge loop or pin loop? Describe it so that the reader can decide.

Another thing to say right at the start is that it is a good idea to look at and read through other people’s descriptions. You may find that you can copy and paste parts of another description and then edit it to fit your object. But beware – although you can learn a lot from other people’s descriptions, it is dangerous to copy and paste without thinking hard about how it fits your object, and how you can improve it to be even more useful.

Getting started

The first few lines of the description are the most important, because they appear in search results. It’s helpful to give the searcher enough information in the first few lines to let them decide whether they should open up the record and have a look. So it’s a good idea to start with the identification, the date and the material, plus a few of the most important attributes. The details can come further down the description.

Search results show the first seven lines.
Search results show the first seven lines. Putting basic information here can help the reader decide whether to open the record or not.

Once you have put down these basics, start to fill in the details. A lot of recorders imagine that someone is drawing the object from their description. So they begin with the outline shape and then fill in the details, and they work in a logical order. Perhaps they start in the centre and move outwards, or start at the edge and move inwards; whatever seems best for that object.

Examples of objects that are best described from the centre outwards, or from the edge inwards
Examples of objects that are best described from the centre outwards, or from the edge inwards. Left: NMS-ADCA16. Right: KENT4837.

Other objects will be best described from one end to the other, but watch out – you must tell the reader which end you are starting from and which way up you are holding it. Don’t rely on the image to tell them this. It is particularly easy to mix up ‘left’ and ‘right’ if you don’t know which way up the object should be.

Examples of objects that are best described from left to right, or top to bottom.
Examples of objects that are best described from left to right, or top to bottom. Left: IOW-392328. Right: BERK-475ED2.

Working in this logical order, we must go on to fill in the details. As our principle is to write down what you see, you shouldn’t put too much interpretation in before you have finished a proper description. Note down all the separate parts, what shape they are, what material, and how they are decorated.

What to include

Here are a few ideas.

Material: when you describe an object with several components, remember to state the material for each one, including rivets.

Components: each component needs a full description with shape, material, decoration, etc

Shape: there is lots of help in our separate guide to describing shape, form and decoration. If you use the word ‘sub-‘ (as in ‘sub-rectangular’) then tell us the details. Is one edge shorter than the others? Are the corners rounded?

How it was made: this follows on from Shape. Telling us that it was made from ‘sheet folded in half with a rectangular pin slot cut out of the centre of the fold’ really helps.

Decoration: don’t forget to say how the decoration was made, so instead of saying that there are ‘lines’, tell us if they are ridges or grooves. There is lots more help in our separate guide to describing shape, form and decoration.

Surface treatment: remember to tell us if something like gilding covers just the front, or the front and sides, or the front, sides and reverse.

Reverse: and if there are other faces or sides, then make sure you have described all of them.

Completeness: check that your description cannot be misunderstood. ‘Broken’ is a tricky word – something that is ‘broken’ can be cracked or fractured partly through, or can now be in two pieces, or can be missing entirely. Broken is not the same as incomplete; after all, if you have broken your leg, it should still all be there. Having a missing leg is something quite different. Parts that are still there are ‘surviving’.  Be careful to make yourself clear, even if it means making the description longer.

The description follows the same rules as the ‘Completeness’ field in the database, so ‘incomplete’ implies more than 50% surviving and ‘fragment’ less than 50%. Other more specific terms should of course be used if possible, such as ‘about half’ or ‘less than a quarter’ and so on. In the last resort, ‘part of’ an object has no precise connotations at all.

Wear: usually you only need to describe this if the object is unusually worn or in remarkably fresh condition.

Wear on the breaks: it is good to get into the habit of including this information. You don’t need to guess at whether the break is old or new; you can use less loaded terms such as ‘fresh break’ or ‘worn break’.

Colour of the metal: sometimes this will be relevant, but not always. You can add it if you like.

Corrosion and loss of surface: if an object is very corroded or has lost a great deal of surface, then say so.

Size and weight: copy the measurements in mm and g. You can then add supporting information (e.g. ‘width across wider end, 21mm; width across narrower end, 18mm’).

Names for parts of an object

The names for the different parts of different objects vary a good deal, and there is usually some advice in the individual object guides. But some words are common to all objects, and perhaps should be explained here. You can also find more detail in the guide to How to Describe Shape, Form and Decoration.

Front: Most objects have a front, and a reverse (see below). Sometimes it is easier to talk of an upper and lower plate (for example on a buckle plate) but still the upper plate will be the front, and the lower plate the reverse. It is not normally necessary to call the front of something the ‘front face’.

Reverse: The reason we don’t use ‘back’ is because sometimes an object has both a front and a reverse, and a back as well.

The difference between the back of YORYM-1716A4, and its reverse.
The difference between the back of YORYM-1716A4, and its reverse.

Face, side and edge: These words are often ambiguous – they can mean several different things.  ‘Side’ can mean each of the flat surfaces of a solid object, or either of the two surfaces of something flat and thin, such as paper. Used in this way, it is synonymous with ‘face’. Annoyingly, ‘side’ can also mean an outside limit, a line at which something ends. Used in this way, it is synonymous with ‘edge’.

On the PAS database, we tend to use ‘side’ to mean a face which is neither the front, nor reverse, nor top, nor bottom. If we want to describe the sides of the front, for example, we tend to use the word ‘edge’.

To add to the difficulties, ‘face’ obviously has a second meaning – the front part of the head, with eyes, nose and mouth. To help in searching, we usually use the word ‘mask’ for this type of face.

Front, reverse, sides, edges, top and bottom
Front, reverse, sides, edges, top and bottom

Section: Most people use this word to mean a part or area of something. But it is also used to mean an imaginary cut through an object (a cross-section). For archaeologists, it is a jargon word which means a vertical cut through a feature or structure (see below for an example). This can be confusing. In general, it is best to avoid the word ‘section’ in describing an object, if you can, and use ‘part’ or ‘area’ instead, or ‘cross-section’.

Profile: The word ‘profile’ has a technical meaning (side view) in archaeological illustration terms, but it is not widely understood, so be careful how you use this word. It is generally better to use the words ‘side view’. The side view – the shape when viewed from the side – is, in theory, different to a cross-section, but many objects will be the same shape in cross-section as they are in side view.

In plan: Archaeologists describe features or structures ‘in plan’ (i.e. the horizontal view, seen from above) as well as ‘in section’ (i.e. the vertical view, seen from the side). See below for an example. This works well for archaeological features, which cannot be picked up and turned over; it is less satisfactory for portable antiquities, when it is usually difficult to understand. If you are tempted to use the words ‘in plan’, try taking them out and see if it affects the meaning.

The Snape Anglo-Saxon ship, recorded in section (above) and in plan (below)
The Snape Anglo-Saxon ship, recorded in section (above) and in plan (below) in 1862 (PSA 2nd series, 2)

Ambiguous descriptions and difficult words

One of the benefits of looking at other people’s descriptions is that you can find that someone else has used a word in a completely different way from the way you use it. This usually means that the word is ambiguous (it can mean several different things) and that you either need to explain exactly what you mean, or you need to find another word. Below are some tricky things to describe and some difficult words. You can find more in the guide to How to Describe Shape, Form and Decoration.

Left and right, vertical and horizontal, upper and lower, top and bottom: These are all relative words, in that where they are depends on which way up you are holding the object. If you use them, make sure you have described which way you are holding the object, or give some other kind of supporting information (such as telling the reader that the ‘top’ is the wider end, or the end with the suspension loop). Don’t rely on the image to give this information.

The underside of something is perhaps the aspect that is described in the least standard way. It can be described as the base, the bottom, the underside, the underneath, the lower face and even the reverse. It is unlikely to be searched on, so clarity is more important than consistency. Pick the term that seems clearest in the circumstances.

Round: this word can mean all sorts of things. A ball is round, and so is a pancake, and so is a wedding ring – but they are all very different and need to be described differently. A better word for a ball is ‘spherical’, and a less regular three-dimensional shape could be described as ‘globular’. A pancake is best described as flat and circular. For more on shapes, see How to Describe Shape, Form and Decoration.

Thin: this word has been used to describe both flat things and narrow things. It can be a useful word, but it needs extra description so that we know if the object is thin from front to back (flat), or thin from side to side (narrow).

Strap-ends of both these shapes have been described as 'thin'.
Strap-ends of both these shapes have been described as ‘thin’. Left: SWYOR-C16415. Right: LANCUM-593AA1.

Bun-shaped, leaf-shaped, slipper-shaped, heater-shaped, etc: it’s always dodgy to describe something as shaped like something else. Buns and leaves can be of many different shapes, and my slippers may not be the same shape as your slippers! There are a few well-known exceptions, which it seems OK to use, firstly to give the reader a quick rough idea and secondly for ease in searching – but it is normally essential to also have a detailed description. The main exceptions include drop-shaped, heart-shaped, and the letter shapes (e.g. S-shaped, C-shaped). For more on shapes, see How to Describe Shape, Form and Decoration.

Identical decoration in several different places: ‘two rows down either side’ is very different to ‘two rows, one down either side’. Watch out that you are getting it right.

Grammar, punctuation and writing style

It is worth taking care over your spelling and grammar. If you spell (or type) a word wrongly then a search for that word won’t find it. If you are careless about grammar, it’s possible that a reader may misunderstand what you were trying to say.

It’s very important to describe the object in a logical order, and to make a logical argument giving enough information. The reader should be able to use the evidence to make up their own mind. Once you have finished the description, you can go on to give an interpretation.

It is easy to use too many words when describing shapes. If an object is flat and oval, it is simply that – you don’t usually need to add ‘in shape’ or ‘in plan’ or ‘in outline’ or even call it ‘oval-shaped’.

If the description gets a bit long, find a place to divide it up into paragraphs – maybe the plate and frame of a buckle could go in separate paragraphs, or maybe the front and reverse of a seal matrix.

Quoting parallels

It is a great idea to quote some parallels. It backs up your arguments if you can show that there are other similar objects which might be more complete, or with clearer decoration. Parallels on the PAS database are ideal for this, and are easily found.

You may also want to quote parallels to make a convincing argument for a particular date. For this, PAS records are not so good, because they don’t have any independent evidence for date. Archaeologically excavated parallels in published excavation reports are much better evidence of date, but of course they are much harder to find in the published literature. You may be lucky and find that a well-dated parallel has already been cited on a PAS record of a similar item.

Copying other descriptions

It is a really good idea to look at existing descriptions, and copy bits and pieces – but it is fraught with dangers. You must read them in great detail, and check every single statement against your object. If you aren’t absolutely sure it’s correct for your object, amend it or leave it out. Try to improve on the record you are using; take the best bits, and make your record even more logical and thorough.

It is very dangerous is to copy other descriptions without reading them carefully and checking them against your object, as errors may well creep in. It is a good idea to mention the parallel that you have used.

Dimensions, date, material, completeness

These have their own fields to fill in, but all of these details also need to be added to the free text in the Description field. This is for several reasons. Firstly it helps in reading, so that the description can be understood on its own without constantly having to look up and down the record. Secondly, the habit of always including these details minimises the chance that any of the data might be lost or forgotten.

Thirdly, you can use the free-text Description field to add supporting information.

  • For measurements, often you need to describe how you have taken these (e.g. ‘Surviving length 42 mm, original length c. 60 mm’; or ‘8 mm wide in the centre, tapering to 6 mm wide at either end’).
  • For dates, often you need to back up your opinion with evidence, otherwise the reader may not know why to believe you (e.g. ‘this object type is most common in the 14th century, but the use of niello inlaid in a criss-cross pattern suggests a late 15th- if not early 16th-century date for this particular example’).
  • For completeness, knowing something is incomplete or a fragment is more useful if we know whether the break is fresh (showing possible recent agricultural damage) or worn (possibly broken in antiquity or showing long-term agricultural damage).
  • For material, of course we need to know which components are made from which material.

Parts that are still there are ‘extant’ or ‘surviving’; parts that aren’t are ‘missing’. ‘Broken’ is a tricky word – something that is ‘broken’ can be cracked or fractured partly through, can be in two pieces but complete, or can be missing entirely. ‘Broken off’ is clearer. Be careful to make yourself clear, even if it means making the description longer.

As in the ‘Completeness’ field in the database, ‘incomplete’ implies more than 50% surviving and ‘fragment’ less than 50%. Other more specific terms should of course be used if possible, such as ‘about half’ and so on. In the last resort, ‘part of’ an object has no precise connotations at all! Don’t use ‘section’, as this has a technical sense as a slice through an object.

When you have finished writing the description

When you have now described everything you can see, go back and check the record through. Check that you have described both front and the reverse, and the sides, and the shape in cross-section (whether it’s flat, or three-dimensional; whether it is solid or hollow, etc). Check that you have added the material of each component, and the decoration of every bit. If you have copied parts of another record, check that you have left out everything that you can’t see on your object. If some aspect is visible to the naked eye but not on the photograph, note this down too. Watch out for spelling mistakes and check that the information is in a logical order. If you have used a bibliographic reference, check that this is in Harvard style, and remember to add the reference after saving the record.

The last thing to say is that you cannot describe every single aspect of an object. We generally try to record at a level appropriate to the importance of the object. For something unusual and carefully made, with a high level of investment in materials and craftsmanship, we should also invest our resources in its description. But for a commonplace mass-produced item, we should make our records adequate, but not exhaustive.