A pair of unfinished early Anglo-Saxon wrist clasps from Sutton, Suffolk

In spring of 2015 a conjoined pair of unfinished early medieval copper alloy wrist clasps were found by Mr Michael King in the parish of Sutton, Suffolk whilst he was metal detecting. The pair are a particularly interesting discovery because they are the only two found still attached in this way and may be able to tell us more about how this type of artefact was made.

 

SUT_SF-66EDD6_DWG_Grey2
An unfinished wrist clasp from Sutton, Suffolk. Copyright: Suffolk County Council. Drawing by Donna Wreathall

Wrist clasps like these were used to fasten the sleeves of garments during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. They would have been sewn in place via four lugs around their inner edges. The outer edge of one half had a hook-piece and the other had a catch-piece, which would fasten together when in use. The fact that this pair includes one of each half suggests that they were intended to be worn as a pair when finished.

Wrist clasp distributions
Distribution of similar wrist clasps (C) Suffolk County Council

They appear to have been made in a two-piece mould with copper alloy poured in above the hook-element. The pair sit at a 70-degree angle to each other, with one of the lateral terminals and the terminals of the central bars almost touching and joined by casting sprues. This arrangement initially appears careless, but was perhaps intended to minimise the distance in between and maximise the efficiency of the casting. The clasp-halves are also attached to each other via a rough, thin sheet of metal in between. This flashing could be the product of the two parts of the mould separating during the casting process. This may be why the clasps were discarded, although it would have been possible to remove this excess metal during finishing. Unfinished features of the pair include the unpierced catch-element and attachment lugs. On the central arm of each clasp-half the lugs unusually take the form of an opposing pair of D-shaped protrusions either side of the terminal. Both faces of the unfinished lugs have small circular depressions in their centres, intended as a guide for piercing.

Little is currently known about metalwork techniques during this period and it is likely that several production techniques were used simultaneously (Mortimer 1990, 226). We know of a few other unfinished wrist clasps, including one from Quidenham, Norfolk (PAS NMS-1EE325), one from Wortham, Suffolk (PAS SF-15D384) and one from Castle Acre, Norfolk (Hines 1993, 37). There is also a small amount of evidence for the use of two-piece moulds in the production of other contemporary artefacts. Because so little is known we cannot be sure whether the method of making wrist clasps in pairs was standard, but this object contributes to our growing knowledge of this interesting subject.

The full record can be viewed on the PAS database here: SF-66EDD6.

 

References

Hines, J. 1993. Clasps HektespennerAgraffen: Anglo-Scandinavian Clasps of Classes A-C of the 3rd to 6th Centuries A D: Typology, diffusion and function. Stockholm: KunglVitterhetsHistorieochAntikvitetsAkademien.