Accepted Paper:

The repair and modification of early Anglo-Saxon brooches: theoretical Implications  


Toby Martin (University of Sheffield)

Paper short abstract:

Early Anglo-Saxon brooches are fragile objects whose accidental breakage may provoke a decision to repair. Consequently, the object becomes physically and symbolically transfigured. Different types of repair have various meanings in terms of economic value, availability of resources, and biography.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines a corpus of over 1000 early Anglo-Saxon brooches and locates a frequency of repair and modification as high as 20% for some brooch types. Not only does this raise questions about the economic worth and availability of such items, but the amateurish nature of most repairs and modifications emphasises the embodiment of personal memory in these objects, and perhaps helps to explain their high rate of deposition as grave goods. Repair and modification impart insight into the detailed biography of these artefacts. This is of critical theoretical importance to objects generally seen only in their last stage of biography i.e. as grave goods.

There is such a high variety of physical modification that generalisation obscures the subtler meanings. Thus a typology of physical transformations is constructed that demonstrates how the purpose of these modifications oscillates between practical function and symbolic meaning. This typology may also help to locate where and when these modifications are taking place, be it in a workshop immediately after a casting error, or a simple repair presumably performed in the home.

This has significant theoretical implications for both Anglo-Saxon mortuary archaeology, as well as the study of dress accessories in general. Specific types of brooches are suggested to be highly personal and inalieanable objects whose only proper place of disposal after their initial casting is physically attached to the owner's corpse.

Panel S12
Make-do and mend: the archaeologies of compromise?