It’s been a bit quiet on this blog, but it isn’t because I’ve forgotten my readers. For the last year I’ve been working very hard to prepare my thesis for publication and this has taken a very long time! Although there’s been very few changes to the text except for a bit of reorganization, I wanted to re-make most of my images for consistency and clarity. This has meant re-visiting a lot of my data, which has been very useful! I also wanted to approach the catalogues of site and artefact data a little bit differently than I did in my thesis text, which means that it will also be useful data that other people can use. I think that overall, it will be presented much better than it was in the thesis.
If nothing else, it has reminded me about a lot of topics that I aim to share on my blog and a lot of mini-research projects that I would like to undertake (and share here).
Once I’ve sent the text off and I have a better idea of when it will be published, I will of course share all details in another post. Till next time….
Although a history of glass in Britain begins in the Bronze Age, it is in the Iron Age (c. 800 BC – AD 43) that we find evidence for objects made of this material in increasing quantities. Glass objects in this period are mainly beads. In the past, studies have focused on typological and compositional analyses (Guido 1978, Henderson 1982), but this study aims to create a social understanding of the use of glass during this period. This poster will explore alternative approaches in early glass use in Britain and their implications for regional identities in the Iron Age.
Four study regions were selected for comparison that encompass a wide variety of archaeological evidence (Figure 1). Data was obtained from catalogues (Guido 1978, Henderson 1982), research and commercial excavation reports, and information gained first hand through analysis of museum collections. Glass beads are not evenly distributed throughout Britain (Figure 2), which may be the result of a suite of factors discussed elsewhere (Foulds 2014).
Analysis suggests that there were two major trends in glass colour and that strong regional
patterns are present (Figure 3). Blue and white are often combined, as are colourless and yellow (Figure 4*). Other colours are found in very small quantities and could be considered to be rare occurrences.
Dot and linear motifs are the main types of decoration found on these beads. Most dot motif
beads only have three dots created by layering two different colours, usually white and blue (Figure 5*). Large beads with dot motifs alternate in a 2-1-2 pattern (Figure 7). Linear designs exhibit a greater range of variability in both motif and colour (Figure 6*). Single wave/zig-zag beads are commonly found, but span the Iron Age and Roman periods. Spirals seem to be more distinctive to the Iron Age period. These analyses show that there were clear regional patterns, which suggest that they may have held important information when used or put on display in the Iron Age.
There are only a few instances where glass beads have been found within inhumations,
rendering it exceptionally difficult to understand how they were used. Were they all worn as necklaces or charms? Perhaps they were sewn into clothing? Or, used to adorn horses, or other animals? Could the largest examples have been used as spindle whorls? In the areas of study, there were 34 instances where glass beads were found in inhumations (Southwest England: 9; East Yorkshire: 25). Figure 8* shows some possible reconstructions.
Just as there are strong regional settlement and burial patterns for Iron Age Britain, there are also regional patterns in the glass beads and other dress objects. This may indicate that dress was used to mark out different regional identities. However, there is a danger in assuming that glass beads were intrinsically high status. For example, while they may seem rare compared to other types of material culture (e.g. brooches and coins), the number of known glass beads is the product of not only different regional and chronological practices in the past, but also different recovery techniques and methods in the present. Yet, at Wetwang Slack, East Yorkshire (3rd-2nd century BC cemetery), only 17 out of 446 graves contained glass beads (assumed to be necklaces/bracelets) These individuals account for approximately 3.8% of the cemetery population, which further adds to the mystery of Iron Age glass beads in Britain.
This research would not have been possible without the extraordinary help from a number of people and organisations: Doctoral thesis supervisors: Dr Tom Moore, Prof Richard Hingley; Funding bodies: Rosemary Cramp Fund, Prehistoric Society, Association for the History of Glass; all of the museums and Historic Environment Offices I visited; and of course a whole host of individuals that suffered through all my questions and read through copious drafts of my thesis.
It is extremely rare to find glass beads in British Iron Age burials. This is partially because there are so few burials of human remains that can be attributed to this period. It seems that the practice of burying the deceased in formal graves was not the dominant practice. Instead, the archaeological record suggests that different communities treated the dead differently. For example, the well known square burials from East Yorkshire (e.g. Wetwang Slack, Arras, etc.) were a part of a relatively short lived practice limited to this particular geographic region.
The Chesil Mirror Burial
One type of burial that is specific to the Iron Age, is the ‘Mirror Burial’. As the name suggests, these are burials of individuals where a mirror was included as part of the grave goods. The
Chesil Mirror burial from Dorset, discovered in 2010, is among the most recently found of this type of burial. The burial contained a young woman that was only about 18 or 20 years old when she died. Analysis of her skeletal remains shows that she suffered from poor health throughout her life. In addition to the mirror, her grave also contained a Langton Down and thistle brooch, a spiral copper alloy bracelet, tweezers, a perforated Roman denarius serratus, and eight beads. The artefacts allow the burial to be dated to around 15 BC at the earliest to about 50 or 60AD.
Taken as a whole, the date of burial and the range of artefacts included within the grave tell
an interesting story about the young woman and possibly local society at the end of the 1st century BC and early 1st century AD. She would not have been alive during Julius Caesar’s invasion, but she may have lived through the Claudian invasion of 43 AD. Nevertheless, she would have lived during a time of change and the artefacts included in her grave reflect this as she was buried with local (or
at least typical ‘British’) artefacts, as well as ‘Roman’, and potentially more general objects from continental Europe.
Of the eight beads that were found with the Chesil woman, three were made from stone and five are glass. All of the beads are annular in shape and all but one are very large. The smallest bead (Figure 1) is also the plainest. It was made from a purple-brown translucent glass, which is not a colour that is often used on beads from this period. There are striations around the circumference of the bead, but these probably resulted from weathering rather than from some sort of decoration.
Three of the other beads are similar in that the
decoration is formed by thin threads of contrasting glass that emirate from the perforation on one side of the bead and curve around to the other side. However, each of these three beads is different in colour and the way the contrasting decorative threads are executed. One is translucent blue with opaque yellow threads (Figure 2), another (Figure 3) is translucent purple with opaque white threads (and translucent purple cross-threads), and the third (Figure 4) is made from an opaque green glass and decorated with opaque white and a
brown-black glass. Beads made from translucent blue and opaque yellow glass are ‘normal’ colours for beads of this period, but these two colours aren’t often used together. The colours used on the other two beads are extremely unusual for this period. Translucent purple is almost unheard of, and this may be the only instance of the use of opaque green glass from this period in Britain. Although there are beads found elsewhere in Britain that are similar to these three beads, they are all made from different colours of glass. This makes these three beads unique in Britain, but also difficult to date. While they may be few in number in Britain, the style is well known in continental Europe, especially around the Upper Rhine, but they are also found in France, Northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic.
Although four of the beads are unusual and unique to Britain, the fifth bead (Figure 5), is a
well known type. There are a number of these beads, or fragments, found throughout southern Britain. Unfortunately, they were not found in clear contexts that would allow a date to be approximated. This particular type has also been noted in continental Europe, but are found in smaller numbers compared to the other three described above.
Unfortunately, it is unclear how the beads were placed with the remains of the young woman buried in the grave, as this may have helped to indicate how the beads were used. As there are so few inhumations from Iron Age Britain, and even fewer have had glass beads, it isn’t always clear how they were worn. The large size of the majority of the Chesil beads also makes it unclear how they were used. Figure 6 shows a hypothetical reconstruction of how the glass and stone beads would look if they were all strung together. However, the largest stone bead has a very large perforation, so in reality it would hang further down. It may be that they were worn like this, but it seems like this would be very awkward and heavy.
Rather than stringing the beads on string, perhaps they were worn differently? Maybe a loop of thread was tied around them and the perforation faced the viewer? Or, perhaps they weren’t worn at all, but were carried in a bag? Could they have been used as spindle whorls? It’s difficult to speculate an alternative use, especially given that the other artefacts are related to jewellery, dress, and maintenance of the body. However, mirrors may also have had a mystical aspect, so it may be that that the beads were related to divination in some way.
Details about the burial can be found here: Russell, M., 2013. ‘A grave with a mirror: the woman who wore a picture of a charioteer’, British Archaeology, no. 132, 36-41.
Haevernick, T. E., 1960. Die Glasarmringe Und Ringperlen Der Mittel- Und Spätlatènezeit Auf Dem Europäischen Festland. Bonn: Rudolf Habelt V erlag.
Joy, J., 2010. Reflections on the Iron Age: biographies of mirrors. BAR British Series 518: Oxford.
Whimster, R., 1981. Burial Practice in Iron Age Britain. BAR British Series 90: Oxford.
A Glass Bead from Caerau Hillfort, Cardiff, South Wales
An Iron Age glass bead was discovered in an enclosure ditch during the 2013 excavations at Caerau Hillfort. Although unique in design, it bears many similarities to the glass beads from Meare Lake Village in Somerset, which suggests an Iron Age date of 300 – 50 BC. This suggests a general pre-Roman date for the bead (the specific date of manufacture is unclear), however, the ditch layer it was recovered from was on top of a layer containing probable 1st century AD pottery fragments. This isn’t too unusual, as other ‘typical’ Iron Age glass beads have been found in Roman contexts, such as at Blagdon Park 1 (Hodgson, McKelvey et al. 2012) and South Shields Roman fort (Allason-Jones & Miket 1984). Typical Iron Age glass beads found in Roman period contexts highlights the fact that many of these stayed in use, possibly for hundreds of years before they finally entered the archaeological record.
The Caerau bead is globular (nearly spherical) in shape, measuring 10.2mm in diameter and 8.2mm in height. The bead was formed with colourless glass and a trailed decoration of opaque yellow glass was applied, which creates the continuous spiral decoration that runs along the circumference of the bead. Overall, it is in very good condition and only exhibits a minor amount of weathering that has resulted in a slightly dull surface. It is nearly complete barring the small chip near the perforation, which is probably modern rather than an ancient break (the chipped area appears un-weathered).
The decoration on this bead is not a pattern that is often found on other beads of Iron Age date. The only comparable bead is a find from Meare Lake Village in Somerset (Bulleid & Gray 1966), but it is made from blue glass with an opaque white spiral decoration (G15), which is also unusual. The majority of beads made from colourless and opaque yellow glass have either a non-continuous spiral or herringbone design. There are other examples with different designs, although there are very few examples of each pattern. Overall, the Caerau bead fits in comfortably with these beads.
It is not unusual to find single Iron Age glass beads, rather than as a larger composite object, such as a bracelet or necklace. Unfortunately, this leaves us with little information about how they were used and why they were in the archaeological record. This bead was clearly unbroken, so it is unlikely it was cast aside because it could no longer be used. It may be that it was accidentally lost, or perhaps intentionally placed in the ditch. Another possible explanation could be that it was intentionally discarded because it was no longer wanted.
Allason-Jones, L. & R. Miket, 1984. The Catalogue of Small Finds from South Shields Roman Fort, London: Society of Antiquaries of London.
Bulleid, A. & H. Gray, 1966. The Meare Lake Village, Volume 3, Taunton: Taunton Castle.
Hodgson, N., J. McKelvey & W. Muncaster, 2012. The Iron Age on the Northumberland Coastal Plain, Excavations in Advance of Development 2002-2010, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums Archaeological Monograph No. 3: TWM Archaeology and the Arbeia Society.
A recently recorded glass bead from the Portable Antiquities Scheme provides
valuable insight into how late prehistoric beads were used. LON-041951(Figure 1) is a large translucent blue bead with a number of opaque white spirals that sit on protrusions in the glass. These spirals alternate between single occurrences and pairs along the circumference of the bead. It is reported to measure 25.60 mm in diameter, 16.37 mm in thickness and with a perforation diameter of 9.24 mm. It weighs 15.67 grams.
This type of glass bead is well known in Britain and can be attributed to the
Iron Age. Many examples, and those of a similar type, were recorded in Margaret Guido’s (1978) catalogue, while new examples have been discovered and subsequently recorded by the author (Foulds 2014). Guido classified these beads as her Class 6 Oldbury type. Many of the known examples are similar in appearance to the London example. However, a very small number present differences in colour, the complexity of the motif, and differences in the placement of the spirals.
Further examination by Foulds (2014) has shown that, despite exhibiting similar characteristics in the use of colour and decoration, there are some differences in the appearance of these
beads that cannot be quantified. For example, the execution of the spirals and the presence or degree of the raised protrusions varies. No two examples found in Britain look truly the same. However, the 31 examples made from a combination of blue and white glass (including the London find) cluster tightly based on the diameter and height dimensions. This suggests that there is some degree of cohesiveness to the type. A refinement in the typology has been suggested by classing all beads with spiral decorations together in Class 6g and then further sub-dividing the beads into specific types based on the number of spirals and placement on the surface, and the colours used. The presence or degree of protrusion has not been used as an attribute in the classification because its significance is unclear. The majority of examples fall into Type 1407, although in cases where the placement of the spiral is different, or the colours are different, the beads would be classed differently.
Very few of the Type 1407 beads were found through excavation, as most
were found as stray finds. A handful of examples have been recently discovered through excavation, but most are found accidentally, or through non-excavation processes. Out of all the beads that may date to the Iron Age on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, this type of bead is the most commonly reported after plain undecorated beads (many of which probably date to a later period). There are currently five other examples that are published on the database (SWYOR-EBF2F4, LVPL-26BA21, YORYM-7DAAE6, SF-62EB92, LIN-3A9556). It is interesting that out of all the possible types of Iron Age beads found in Britain and recorded through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, that Type 1407 is the most abundant. This could be in part due to their large size or reflective surface sheen, as some examples exhibit remarkably little or minimal weathering that dulls the surface. However, it may be that this was a very abundant type of bead, but that their popularity in the Iron Age is not accurately reflected in the number of excavated examples.
In comparison to most other Iron Age glass beads from Britain, Type 1407 is
very large and has a very large perforation varying from 4.1 to 12.6 mm. The London bead is particularly exciting because a copper alloy ring is threaded through the perforation. Exceptionally few beads are found in circumstances that demonstrate how they were used. In the case of these large beads, it has been unclear whether they were strung onto material of a correspondingly large diameter. If material of a smaller diameter was used, it would have to have been strong enough to withstand the weight of the bead. A thin organic thread made from wool or linen may not have been strong enough, but a thick woollen thread or leather thong would have been able to withstand the weight, especially if several were strung together.
Judging from the image, the wire that forms the copper alloy ring is only a
few millimetres in diameter. There is a small area where the two ends of wire overlap. The perforation displays a considerable amount of wear, which was probably caused by long term abrasion against the copper alloy. This suggests that the bead may have been allowed to dangle freely. The implication is that the wire ring attached the bead to something else, although to what is unclear. The overlapped wire may mean that the bead could be attached and later detached if needed.
Despite the importance of the copper alloy ring, it remains unclear whether it
attached the bead to something that allowed it to be worn on the human body as a part of dress. Although the rings could have been removed from a bead prior to deposition, most beads do not exhibit the same extent of wear as is visible on the London example. Only one out of more than 50 examples of Type 1407 was found on a metal ring, suggesting that this is highly unusual and potentially even unique. This further reinforces the idea that all beads from a single type cannot be said to have been used in one particular way, as each example could be used differently and that use could change throughout its life.