Barbaric splendour: the use of image before and after Rome

Coins_webpage

Over the last few months, my colleague Dr Wendy Morrison and I have been organising a conference to be held at the University of Oxford’s Department of Continuing Education on the 14th November 2015.  The name of our day conference is Barbaric splendour: the use of image before and after Rome.  As the title indicates, we want to take a comparative approach to how archaeologists explore the visual cultures of peoples referred to by the classical world as ‘barbarians’.  Appropriately, therefore, our conference is all about bringing together scholars and students of the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Periods.  This is a subject that has been of some interest to me for a long time.  Similarities between the artistic styles, subjects and contexts of the two periods are considerable and though they have often been casually observed, as far as I am aware, they have not been previously explored in depth. We are not so much interested in drawing lines of continuity between these periods (this isn’t about a transcendent barbarian spirit or culture), but exploring how archaeologists of different period-specific traditions have treated this material, and what we can learn from each other.

We’re thrilled by our lineup of speakers made up of experts from both Iron Age and Early Medieval Archaeology, including Charlotte Behr, Chris Fern, Anna Gannon, Melanie Giles, Chris Gosden, Jody Joy, Siv Kristoffersen, Laurent Olivier and Leslie Webster.

Registration is now open, and you can sign up on our website, where you can also find plenty of other details: https://barbaricsplendour.wordpress.com.


An interview for “Medieval Herald”

9781843839934

The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England. You can purchase the book here.

Here’s the transcript for an interview I recently gave for Boydell and Brewer’s Medieval Herald XXII (2015, the original is published here)

Can you tell us about your career in archaeology to date and what lead you to focus on the early middle ages?

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study archaeology as one of my A‐levels at Cirencester College, a town very much steeped in Roman archaeology. Even by that point I think I was hooked and went on to study for a BA in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Oxford. After finishing my degree I worked for an archaeological field unit, whilst also supervising excavations in Romania and Belarus. Following that I studied for my PhD at the University of Sheffield, and now I’m back at the University of Oxford on a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. The early middle ages have always fascinated me because of the special place they play in our European past. The power of Rome fades and we are left with a lot of unanswered questions about how we get from there to the Norman Conquest. That period was longer than the Roman occupation of Britain, but it is still often glossed over as the ‘Dark Ages’.

For anyone still wondering, describe a cruciform brooch for us.

Cruciform brooches were used by women in the 5th and 6th centuries AD to fasten their clothing. They were quite bulky items of jewellery, often ornamented with intriguing animal and human forms. They start out as these small and simple safety pin‐like objects, but within the space of about a century they develop into enormous gilded plates. Quite why this happened is essentially what the book is about. Not to give too much away, but I think it suggests their meaning adapted dramatically during that period, perhaps due to changes in how communities were constructing their identities using material culture.

And the shape has no link to Christianity, is that right?

No. The name ‘cruciform brooch’ is misleading. Like most archaeology terminology, it’s actually quite a prosaic description of their overall shape, which is formed by the three decorative knobs that protrude from the headplate, and the long foot that extends beneath them. This period, in northwest Europe at least, was pre‐Christian, and some have argued that the kinds of iconography we encounter on jewellery like cruciform brooches may in fact reference pre‐Christian cosmologies involving the animal and human worlds.

Is it possible to trace a single point time or place from which the form originated?

Cruciform brooches emerged at some point in the early part of the 5th century AD. Their geographical origin is important because cruciform brooches appear on our shores around about the time of the documented Anglo‐Saxon migrations. I think we can now be fairly sure that the prototypes of cruciform brooches lie among a group of rather unprepossessing items from northern Germany and southern Jutland known as Nydam brooches. Whether or not that indicates the extent of the migrations to lowland Britain from this part of Europe is another question, but it does indicate the connectedness of these societies around the North Sea.

Why focus on brooches as opposed to other surviving artefacts and jewellery?

During the 5th and 6th centuries AD, brooches start to be worn exclusively worn by women, and they also become larger and more elaborate. Crucially, they also start to be deposited in graves, fastening funerary garments. As such, brooches seem to take on a special role in this period, and it makes them a very useful entry point into thinking about the nature of the societies that produced them. Quite why such value was placed on ostentation using skilfully crafted metalwork is something I am very interested in.

Your book takes a very broad approach and links brooches with identity, specifically Anglian identity. Tell us more about that and what it was in the brooches you examined that led you to this conclusion.

Cruciform brooches have always been fundamental in debates about Anglian identity, precisely because their distribution matches the region in which the Angles from northern Germany settled according to Bede. As such, it’s pretty difficult to study these objects without getting involved in a debate that contributes significantly to present‐day notions of English identity. The very name of our country has its roots among the Angles, whoever they might have been. I wanted to tackle this head on and show how material culture can be intimately involved in how regional identities evolve, rather than just seeing objects as a passive reflection of those identities.

And it’s true that you examined over 2000 brooches in your research?

For artefact specialists, encountering the material first‐hand is an important part of our research. It’s also the most enjoyable part. The experience of holding a possession of someone that lived and was buried with it a millennia and a half ago is a privilege that does not diminish. I went on a tour of most of the local museums in eastern England to document more than 500 brooches. A large portion of my study sample was also taken from the online catalogue of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, an initiative that’s been running since 1997 with the aim of recording objects unearthed by metal detectors and kept in personal collections. There’s a lot you can take from the photos and commentary freely available online, but it will never replace the unique value of first‐hand experience.

Where are most of them and where might our readers view the best examples?

Cruciform brooches are generally found in eastern England, from Kent, East Anglia, the East Midlands, Lincolnshire and the Northeast. Because of their prominence in these regions, local archaeology museums in these places will usually have a few on display. A particularly good place to see a few very fine examples is the recently revamped early medieval gallery at the British Museum, where you’ll also be able to compare them to more exotic related items from all over Europe. It’s a trip I’d highly recommend!

What does your new typology and chronology bring to the study of these brooches? Are you confident they will be accepted?

Typology and chronology are most accurately seen as not so much replacing outmoded models, but rather as building and refining the work that has gone before. Nils Åberg, for instance, built a serviceable typology as long ago as 1926 which is still in use. And it’s still in use for a reason: it offers a very simple but highly practical method of classification into just 5 types. My typology, thanks to the number of new brooches that have been discovered since, features more than 40 types, and the chronology is correspondingly more refined. The level of detail it offers is therefore going to be more useful for some purposes. While I would certainly hope that other researchers found my typology useful, I should emphasise that the scheme itself was conceived around the research questions I wanted to answer. The typology is all about the structure of design, because I was interested in how these objects were conceived in the minds of those who made them. That may or may not be interesting to future researchers, but I’d still very much hope that my model offers a practical solution to a problem of classification that has been around for a while.

What’s next for you now? Have you seen enough brooches or do they still have more to tell us?

Never! Material culture, like historical literature, can always be revisited. There’s an occasional misplaced sense that once a type has been ‘done’ we can move on to the next. Cruciform brooches provide a good example of why that is precisely not the case: they’ve been repeatedly studied since the early 20th century, always with new questions that produce new interpretations. However, once I’d finished writing this book I took a step back and started thinking about the wider context. Eastern England looks terribly small when you start to think that related brooch types were being worn throughout Scandinavia and Continental Europe all the way across to the Crimea. I’m currently working on a project funded by the British Academy to investigate this phenomenon from a more global perspective. Why was it that women in the 5th and 6th centuries AD throughout Europe were wearing such large personal ornaments? To what extent does this show the connectedness of all these places in Europe?


Bringing up the (Anglo-Saxon) bodies

Body

A reconstruction of early Anglo-Saxon feminine dress. The outer garment is a cloak dual-fastened by a pair of cruciform brooches (illustration by L. Martin, © L. Martin).

A few months ago a paper of mine came out in print called  ‘(Ad)Dressing the Anglo-Saxon body: corporeal meanings and artefacts in early England’.  It was published among a collection of papers edited by Paul Blinkhorn and Chris Cumberpatch called The Chiming of Crack’d Bells: Recent Approaches to the Study of Artefacts in Archaeology (see here). The paper was the result of a presentation I gave during a session at the 2012 Theoretical Archaeology Group conference run by Lisa Brundle, called Archaeologies of Bodily Gesture: Exploring Representation and Performance.  That paper was all about early Anglo-Saxon women’s bodies and dress, but in the published form I also wanted to explore some ideas about masculine bodies.

As far as I know, this is the first explicit application of body theory to the dress and jewellery of 5th- and 6th-century Anglo-Saxon England, which I find quite surprising given the prominence of actual bodies and their accoutrements in the archaeology of the period.  My approach was largely social anthropological, the starting point being Marcel Mauss’ classic 1934 essay ‘Les techniques du corps’.  I also wanted to explore some of Rodney Needham’s ideas about left and right from his edited (1973) volume Left and Right: Essays on Dual Symbolic Classification.  I readily admit that neither of these sources of inspiration is particularly cutting edge, but in my opinion both still have a lot to offer.

The paper itself was an offshoot of my work on Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooches.  I realised that there were quite a few under-explored aspects of how these objects were actually worn, and how dress assemblages taken as a whole can help to reconstruct aspects of the dressed body, its shapes and sizes, its possible movements and its habits. Brooches in the archaeology of this period are often treated in quite a dry and technical manner. It’s my ongoing objective to try and put these items back into their lived context, in this case as intimate and formative elements of women’s bodies.

I explored a few different areas in the paper, the major topic being how dress and its accessories shape, conceal and expose areas of the body.  Dress is a means of not only making bodies culturally intelligible, but garments also create the actual, physical bodily form as it appears on an everyday basis. There is something almost theatrical about this performance of what is hidden, what is exposed, when and where.  The ‘why’, of course, is the crucial question. As you might imagine, what we can know about this from the evidence is pretty minimal, but the little we do know  is pretty valuable.  It may well be a cliché, but for me these kinds of questions are crucial to bringing these rusty old items back to life.

I was also interested in the position of glittering items on women’s bodies, and how these positions on the shoulders, throat, breast, wrists and occasionally the waist create constellations of signified body parts which were not only gender-specific, but also seem to have varied with age.  I also considered the depiction of gendered bodies in contemporary iconography of the period, which is almost entirely masculine, and quite explicitly so, and far more focused on heads (resplendent with curled moustaches) than it is on either male or female bodies.  Movement is the final aspect that I explored, looking at the kinds of movements that may or may not have been possible in different costumes, and the noises that some items of jewellery would have created during movement.

Of course, a lot of this kind of research is relatively (and necessarily) speculative, but I think it’s important that when we think about dress and jewellery, we envision it as both dynamic and interdependent on the various bodies that it shapes and creates.

Martin, T.F. 2014. ‘(Ad)Dressing the Anglo-Saxon body: corporeal meanings and artefacts in early England’, in Blinkhorn, P. and Cumberpatch, C. (eds.) The Chiming of Crack’d Bells: Recent Approaches to the Study of Artefacts in Archaeology, 27-38. British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 2677. Oxford: Archaeopress.


Publication date for ‘The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England’

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The cover image, featuring an exquisite if unprovenanced brooch originally from the Hattatt collection and now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Just a quick blog to announce that we now have a publication date for my forthcoming book The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England, which will be coming out in April 2015.  Currently, it is available for pre-order from Boydell & Brewer’s website.

It’s quite difficult for me believe that this work I started in 2008 is finally coming to fruition, it’s certainly been both rewarding and challenging in equal measure.  When it does come out, there will be an accompanying electronic dataset for free download from the Archaeological Data Service.

To whet your appetite, here’s the blurb:

Cruciform brooches were large and decorative items of jewellery, frequently used to pin together women’s garments in pre-Christian northwest Europe. Characterised by the strange bestial visages that project from the feet of these dress and cloak fasteners, cruciform brooches were especially common in eastern England during the 5th and 6th centuries AD. For this reason, archaeologists have long associated them with those shadowy tribal originators of the English: the Angles of the Migration period.

This book provides a multifaceted, holistic and contextual analysis of more than 2,000 Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooches. It offers a critical examination of identity in Early Medieval society, suggesting that the idea of being Anglian in post-Roman Britain was not a primordial, tribal identity transplanted from northern Germany, but was at least partly forged through the repeated, prevalent use of dress and material culture. Additionally, the particular women that were buried with cruciform brooches, and indeed their very funerals, played an important role in the process. These ideas are explored through a new typology and an updated chronology for cruciform brooches, alongside considerations of their production, exchange and use. The author also examines their geographical distribution through time and their most common archaeological contexts: the inhumation and cremation cemeteries of early Anglo-Saxon England.

 


‘Odin’s breath’ and a New Type of Cruciform Brooch

During my ongoing research on early Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooches, I’ve come across a number of frustratingly unclassifiable fragments, so far only recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.  Although they looked so much like they came from the so-called “florid” series of cruciform brooches (and the PAS recorded them as such), this was not strictly demonstrable.  Nothing larger than these little plates, to my knowledge, had yet been found (I link to all 10 of these fragments at the bottom of this blog).

One of the mysterious fragments recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database (NMS-312CA1)

One of the mysterious fragments recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database (NMS-312CA1)

Among the cruciform brooch series they seemed unusual.  They have an uncharacteristic square outline, and the decoration is strikingly realistic among the more abstract and compositionally complex decoration that is typical of the period.  They are decorated, quite clearly, with unambiguous human faces, staring out at us with wide eyes, chubby cheeks and occasionally open mouths, apparently focusing a stream of breath towards us.  Occasionally, this motif is referred to as a ‘divine breath’ or a ‘tongue of fire’.  Some (perhaps overly imaginative) accounts have even referred to this motif as the breath of Odin, probably referring to the story where he breaths life into Ask and Embla, the equivalents of Adam and Eve in Norse mythology.

Needless to say, these items were produced considerably earlier (5th-6th century) than the Norse myths were written down (13th century), which makes such a specific link extremely tenuous.  That is not to say these motifs did not have specific symbolic significances, but we might equally see the mask as singing or shouting, especially in those other cases of the motif where from the mouth seems to issue forth a plethora of symbols (in a form of animal art known as Salin’s Style I).  This is depicted in the drawing of another cruciform brooches below.   A triangular field containing two crouched beasts (perhaps amphibious ones judging from their tapering bodies) erupt from the mouth of the moustachioed human mask.

Another example of the open-mouthed human mask motif, from a cruciform brooch from grave 81, Empingham II, Rutland (drawing by T. Martin)

Another example of the open-mouthed human mask motif, from a cruciform brooch from grave 81, Empingham II, Rutland (drawing by T. Martin)

The one thing that I did note down as important on the unclassified fragments was the occasional presence of up-curled eyebrows or fringes, a feature seen among a small group of “florid” cruciform brooches (which happen to fall into my sub-group 4.6).   I used this observation to loosely associate these fragments with that classification.  The other unusual thing about that sub-group, is that they have perfectly square head-plates, lacking the flanking wings seen on nearly all other cruciform brooches.  For these two reasons, I grouped them all together in the hope that one day a complete example would be found that shared similar traits.

Lo and behold, a larger example has finally arrived on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database with both of these features: a square head-plate and a human face with up-curled eyebrows.  It’s still a pretty fragmented specimen, but in my opinion it’s enough to conclusively identify these fragments as parts of cruciform brooches.  Interestingly, it’s only the knob at the top of the head-plate that is furnished with up-curled eyebrows (or hair), which explains the rarity of this feature among the other examples.  Differential treatment of the top-knob among the “florid” series of cruciform brooches is a relatively late trait.

Cruciform brooch head-plate from Marham, Norfolk (NMS-13B110 on the PAS database)

These new cruciform brooches actually represent quite an important group, probably being among the latest in the whole series, dating approximately to a point around the mid-6th century AD.  However, among this group they are very unusual for not being gilded and silvered (a decorative technique known as “bichrome”).  Based on that fact, one might be able to make an argument for them being a little earlier than this.  There is little unusual about their distribution, which is concentrated in Lincolnshire and Norfolk.

The only downside to this discovery is that I found out about it pretty much the day I submitted my manuscript that details a new typology for cruciform brooches…

 

Known examples of the new type

NMS-13B110PAS record number: NMS-13B110

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Norfolk

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/597117

LIN-FE8EA4

 

PAS record number: LIN-FE8EA4

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Lincolnshire

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/154169

 

ESS-0C29F8ESS-0C29F8PAS record number: ESS-0C29F8

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Essex

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/79085

 

NCL-C90E94PAS record number: NCL-C90E94

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: North Yorkshire

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/384278

 

NMS-E911A6PAS record number: NMS-E911A6

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Norfolk

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/141708

 

NMS-5D0970PAS record number: NMS-5D0970

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Norfolk

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/235055

 

NMS-55AC65PAS record number: NMS-55AC65

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Norfolk

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/181112

 

NLM-CDB1D0PAS record number: NLM-CDB1D0

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Lincolnshire

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/51263

 

NMS-312CA1NMS-312CA1PAS record number: NMS-312CA1

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Norfolk

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/383504

 

NLM4175PAS record number: NLM4175

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Lincolnshire

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/11545

 

NCL-D4DF11PAS record number: NCL-D4DF11

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: North Yorkshire

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/108656

 

Finally, there is a single possible lead example, though I think I am now more inclined to see it as a fragment of some kind of mount, quite possible from a horse harness given its stylistic similarity to some other examples:

 

LIN-7E9045

PAS record number: LIN-7E9045

Object type: Brooch

Broadperiod: Early Medieval

County of discovery: Lincolnshire

Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/143676

 

 


A new ‘eagle’ mount from the Portable Antiquities Scheme

NLM24984

The new eagle mount from Lincolnshire, recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database as NLM-53E540 (the colour has been adjusted slightly from the version on the PAS database, copyright North Lincolnshire Museum)

I’ve written about about early medieval ‘eagle’ mounts in a previous blog (Eagles, Snakes, Romans and Anglo-Saxons).  Since then another related artefact, this time from Lincolnshire, has been published on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.

This example doesn’t have any good parallels in the extant corpus to my knowledge.  Strictly speaking, it isn’t really an ‘eagle’ mount.  Beyond the head with its curved beak, which is not even especially aquiline, I can make out no particularly avian features.  More typical of these mounts are curved, grasping claws, fanned tails and furled wings.  On this example, the construction of the head (the only avian part of the mount) actually bears some resemblance to the hippogryphs on a pair of mounts from Bergh Apton in Norfolk.  Although the complete form is unparalleled, the interlaced ovals at the base are paralleled on the double-ended ‘aquatic beast’ shield mount from Bidford-on-Avon grave 182 (pictures of these mounts can be found in Dickinson’s article linked to below, freely available online).

The suggested date on the PAS record (AD 650-700) seems rather too late.  The interlace on the body is not fully developed Anglo-Saxon Style II, but something more akin to the very simple entwined strands found alongside devolved Style I on the latest great square-headed brooches of the mid to late 6th century.  I would rather place this mount between the mid-6th or early 7th century, which is the conventionally accepted date for similar mounts.

These little mounts have traditionally been interpreted as decorative flourishes for shields, perhaps simply for the sake of ostentatious display, but potentially also due to a belief in the amuletic protective power of such symbols (see Dickinson 2005).  As I have blogged previously, predatory birds in the early medieval mindset probably had all kinds of complex meanings and they are pretty much ubiquitous on all kinds of objects throughout Europe in this period.  The massive mounts from Sutton Hoo and Vendel are good examples of those that decorated shields.

Recently, much smaller Anglo-Saxon avian mounts have been associated with horse gear (see Dickinson, Fern and Richardson 2011, 45-49).  Indeed, the little lugs on these smaller examples are most suited to attachment to leather, although that does not necessarily rule out their attachment to leather-covered shield boards.  Continental examples from Alamannic and Frankish regions seem to have made the transition from horse gear to female attire, decorating both chatelaines and purses (see Böhner 1989, 464-5, who also illustrates a few additional examples on p.481), as well as brooches.  The purse from the (most likely male) grave in Sutton Hoo Mound 1 features particularly elaborate garnet-inlaid mounts, whose predatory birds themselves seem to be (ahem) mounting ducks.

These little mounts are fascinating because they represent rare instances in early medieval art where the subject stands almost alone, not forced into the confines of the geometrically confined fields of a brooch, scabbard or other item whose shape was essentially dictated by function.  This lends their composition a certain freedom, clarity and forcefulness not seen in much else from the 5th-7th centuries.  This particular mount, however, maintains much ambiguity of form, and is therefore more typical of Anglo-Saxon taste.

I do wonder whether these rare beasts would have stood out quite so prominently in the later 6th century as they do today, or whether they were in fact painted onto the boards of many other shields, embroidered onto purses or depicted using other media that do not survive.  That, I suppose, is something we may never know.

UPDATE (10/9/2014):

There is in fact a far better parallel to the examples I give above – a mount, almost precisely the same diminutive size and with comparable (though certainly different) internal decoration, from grave 123 at Butler’s Field, Lechlade in Gloucestershire.  This mount was found on the shoulder of a 20-25 year old woman also buried with a button brooch, a disc brooch, 55 amber beads, a copper-alloy bead, a copper-alloy ring-headed ping, some intriguing iron objects looking something like a chatelaine (?), and an iron knife (Boyle et al 1998).  The Butler’s field example had a small amount of silver inlay on it, as well as two perforations, which the one from the PAS lacks.  Despite its well recorded context, the mount from Butler’s Field was still of an unknown purpose,  especially given its unusual position in the grave.

References

Böhner, K. 1989. ‘Germanische Schwerter des 5./6. Jahrhunderts’, Jahrbuch des Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg 34(2), 411-491.

Boyle, A., Jennings, D., Miles, D. and Palmer, S. 1998. The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Butler’s Field, Lechlade, Gloucestershire. Oxford: Oxford Archaeological Unit.

Dickinson, T. M. 2005. ‘Symbols of protection: the significance of animal-ornamented shields in early Anglo-Saxon England’, Medieval Archaeology 49, 109-163 [free download from the Archaeology Data Service here].

Dickinson, T. M., Fern, C. and Richardson, A. 2011. ‘Early Anglo-Saxon Eastry: archaeological evidence for the beginnings of a district centre in the kingdom of Kent’, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 17, 1-86.

 


The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England

IMG-20140320-00400

Free replica cruciform brooch not included.

If you were wondering why this blog’s been a little quiet over the last couple of months, it’s because I’ve had my head in the sand completing the manuscript for a monograph.   The Cruciform Brooch and Anglo-Saxon England is based on my PhD, so that stack of paper above represents a large portion of the last five years of my life.  Though this is by no means the end of the process (the book is currently in review), for me it certainly represents a major step.

Turning a thesis into a book has been a far greater challenge than I thought it would be. Knowing that too much had to be removed and the whole tone of the piece had to change, I barely even attempted a cut and paste approach but instead dived straight into a complete re-write from scratch. I didn’t want a book that felt patched together but something that stood by itself as a coherent whole, conceived over a very long duration but actually written over the course of ten or so months.  For this task, my editor recommended I read the book From Dissertation to Book by William Germano.  I would pass on that recommendation to anyone else about to undertake the same task.

The greatest challenge of the rewrite was finding a new voice.  Writing a thesis is quite a specific task, with a specific reader in mind.  Writing a book is also a specific task, and one must have a certain audience in mind, but it obviously has to be a broader one than the two individuals who generally examine a PhD.  The second challenge was updating the data set, re-doing the analyses and checking all the data.  The third largest task was producing new illustrations, many of which were hand-drawn – a highly time-consuming if quite enjoyable job.  Overall, it’s been a somewhat monstrous undertaking that has eaten into far too much of my supposed leisure time, but I’ve actually quite enjoyed the whole process and found it to be a highly rewarding one.  I dearly hope the results will be rewarding for others.

I’ll write a bit more about what’s actually in the book when it comes out. But in short, it contains a new typology for Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooches, based on a corpus of 2,075 of them, alongside an updated chronology.  These empirical matters, though important in their own right, form only the jumping off point for an exploration of the social significances of cruciform brooches in 5th and 6th century eastern (what was to become) England.

For post-Roman Britain this was a highly turbulent and transitional period.  It sits between a literally crumbling world of cities and the somewhat more familiar kings and missionaries of the 7th century.  I like to think of the 5th and 6th centuries as a time during which a profoundly different new world took shape.  I also like to think that this transformation depended, at least partly, on changing relationships between people and objects.  Instead of a world of cities and a power structure driven by their economic structures and civic administrations, our early Anglo-Saxons lived in a world dominated by central people whose power rested in no small measure on personal display, as well as their ability to channel skilfully crafted objects into particular, favoured hands. Dress and jewellery, therefore, played no small part in the forging of this new world.  That transition, in essence, is what the book is about.