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Dress pins from Anglo-Saxon England

Dress pins from Anglo-Saxon England: Their production and typo-chronological development

By Seamus Ross

PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, 1992

Anglo Saxon pin on display at the British Museum – photo by Johnbod / Wikimedia Commons

Abstract: This thesis examines the development, production and function of dress pins in Anglo- Saxon England. It proposes a dated typology for the mid-5th to the mid-11th century and notes the implications of this for discussions of contact and cultural interaction between England and other parts of Europe.

Chapter 1 defines the parameters of the study, and describes the data that was assembled on Anglo-Saxon pins. An evaluation of the previous work on pins from Northern Europe (Chapter 2) is followed by an investigation in Chapter 3 of the methods and process of typological analysis. After arguing that one of the most important (and neglected) aspects of typological research is ‘the process of study’ the chapter provides terminological definitions for the components of pins. Chapter 4 examines the problems, principal methods and developments in pin production and discusses how changes in method reflected changes both in fashion and metal working techniques.

Building on this, Chapter 5 defines the groups of pins that have been found on sites of the Anglo-Saxon period, including: (1) definition of the types and sub-types; (2) determination of their date ranges; (3) description of their distribution; and (4) suggestions about the origin of each type. In Chapter 6 the types are put into chronological order, to demonstrate which types existed simultaneously and how pins developed over time. The function of pins is considered in Chapter 7 and several tentative hypotheses are put forward.

The final chapter draws a number of conclusions from the study including: (1) Anglo-Saxon pins display a great deal of insularity during all periods, but particularly in the 8th and 9th centuries; (2) while regionalism may have been a feature of 6th century pins, it ceases to be important by the 8th century when many finds from middle Saxon trading sites seem consistently to be the same types, suggesting that in addition to trade between England and the Continent and Scandinavia it is time to evaluate the micro-economic and information exchange networks in Anglo- Saxon England; (3) lastly it notes the problem of dissemination of artefactual analyses and the difficulties to be encountered in using typologies and it puts forward a preliminary proposal for the use of expert systems (computer programs that simulate human performance in specialist task areas) as a tool to distribute this information. An example of a knowledge base that might be used to disseminate the typology presented here, The Anglo-Saxon Pin Identification Assistant, is to be found in Appendix 2, as are several sample identification sessions.

Click here to read Volume 1 of this thesis from the University of Oxford

Click here to read Volume 2 of this thesis from the University of Oxford

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