Jingle All the Way to the Grave

Ever since I found out about “spangles” I’ve been intrigued by these funny little plates.  I also have a certain fondness for them because of the term German archaeologists use for them.  There are few words more fun to say than “Klapperschmuck“.

A few weeks ago I was visiting Lincoln Collection to record a couple of 5th-6th century grave assemblages from Carlton Scroop and Woolsthorpe by Belvoir (two more great names) and I came across my first proper set of Klapperschmucken.  I’ve encountered them a couple of times before; rather sorry examples dangling from brooches (being so thin, they tend not to preserve very well, if at all).  But nothing as nice as these ones that have been looped onto the head of this large dress-pin.

Dress pin with spangles from Carlton Scroop, Lincolnshire. From the collection of Lincolnshire County Council and Heritage and Library Service (Lincoln Collection, LCNGR:1995.3509), reproduced with permission. Photo by T. F. Martin.

The interesting thing about spangles is that they probably served little purpose beyond being flashing, jingling tags, which would have announced the presence of their wearer audibly.  Accordingly, they ask us to think about aspects of early Anglo-Saxon women’s dress that we wouldn’t otherwise contemplate: clothing and jewellery can be designed for the noises they make, as well as the way they look and feel.  Spangles demonstrate a desire to intrude on others’ senses, to interrupt the scene with a subtle announcement of presence. The way they move and flash suggests a similar bid for visual attention. They wouldn’t have made a particularly loud noise, but just enough that you might recognise the approach of the woman you knew wore these objects.  The association between recognisable sounds and, for instance, particular family members, makes the presence of spangles on mortuary costumes all the more evocative and helps us to imagine some of the sounds as well as the sights of an Anglo-Saxon funeral.

Though small, fragile and rarely discussed, these little plates actually stand for quite a lot.  For me, they represent the sensory aspects of the past that were fleeting even at the time.  Crucially, these fractured and tarnished fragments allow us to re-imagine a once bright, vibrant world full of sights, sounds smells and emotions, all too easily lost when something has been buried for one and half millennia!

Detail of the three triangular spangles. From the collection of Lincolnshire County Heritage and Library Service (Lincoln Collection, LCNGR:1995.3509, reproduced with permission). Photo by T. F. Martin.


3 Comments on “Jingle All the Way to the Grave”

  1. Rosie Weetch says:

    This is a really interesting way to look at these objects. In fact, with your permission of course, I may see if I can get something about their possible sensory function in the label for this example going in to the new Gallery at the British Museum – it might jazz it up a bit! Also, what are your feelings about these possibly being hair pins?


  2. Toby Martin says:

    Thanks! Use away for any BM labels, I would be flattered!

    From what I know, use as a hair pin is unlikely. All the examples of these pins that I know of have been found in burials on the chests of women. That’s not to say there are not exceptions, and I am by no means going by a comprehensive survey, so I wouldn’t like to give a definitive answer. However, Penelope Walton Rogers’ book “Cloth and Clothing in Early AS England” (p.126) says the same though, and that’s far more authoritative than anything I can offer.

    The one in the picture is colossal, it looks a bit lethal!

  3. Nicky Moxey says:

    My mother used to wear a charm bracelet, and could be heard coming from half the length of the house :) Thanks for a sound-memory…

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