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Settlement shift at Cottam, East Riding of Yorkshire , and the chronology of Anglo-Saxon copper-alloy pins

Settlement shift at Cottam, East Riding of Yorkshire , and the chronology of Anglo-Saxon copper-alloy pins

By Haldenby, D. and Richards, J.D

Medieval Archaeology, Vol.53 (2009)

Introduction: Copper-alloy dress pins were a common and easily lost costume accessory of middle Anglo-Saxon and late-Saxon England. Their function is uncertain, although the location of pins on the upper torso in female graves of the early Anglo-Saxon period has led Walton Rogers to conclude that they generally pinned a veil, lightweight scarf or shawl.

In his 1991 doctoral thesis, Seamus Ross argued that they may have had multiple functions, pinning veils and headbands, and holding up plaited hair. At that stage most pins had been recovered from burial contexts, from early Anglo-Saxon graves. Ross identified 83 different types, but he was unable to refine the chronology within the middle Anglo-Saxon and late-Saxon forms of the 8th–10th centuries ad. Hinton and Parsons, in writing up the finds from middle Anglo-Saxon Southampton, categorised the pins into nine types A–I, but provided no chronology. Since then they have become a characteristic find from so-called ‘productive sites’, frequently from unprovenanced metal-detected contexts, so that there are now several hundred new examples listed in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

The settlement shift identified at the productive site known as Cottam B, between the Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian periods, provides an opportunity to examine the transition in a number of artefact forms, and suggests a clear change in the popularity of pin types between the 9th and 10th centuries. Indeed, re-examination of the finds distribution demonstrates that the category of facetted pins undergoes a major decline in use in the 9th century when disc-headed forms replace them.

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