Abstract: In this thesis the author examines the evolution, manufacture, and societal significance of zoomorphic penannular brooches, a type of metal dress fastener used in early medieval Ireland that is often decorated. The brooches examined are dated to the 6th and 7th centuries, during which the Irish underwent a process of religious conversion from Celtic paganism to Christianity, and social rank was paramount. It is in this social context that the brooches are examined. Despite the significance of this time of social change, brooches from this period tend to be overlooked by scholarship in favor of the more ornate metalwork of the 8th and 9th centuries. The author begins by discussing the origin and evolution of the zoomorphic penannular brooch form, and the motifs used to decorate it. This is followed by an explanation of the brooch in early medieval Irish society, based on an examination of early Irish law and literature.
By Esther Ward, Master’s Thesis, University of Nebraska, 2012
Zoomorphic Penannular Brooches in 6th and 7th Century Ireland
Many hundreds of brooches from the early medieval period have been recovered by metal detector enthusiasts since the hobby became popular in the 1970′s. Although much of this material remains in private hands, some of it has become available for study, either through purchase by the state, or by gracious individual loan. Brooches from Frisia were chosen for this study for several reasons. Firstly and quite crucially was the availability of suitable collections for handheld XRF (hhXRF) analysis. Secondly the region has a particularly interesting early medieval past, especially in terms of its relationship to the North Sea economy and the Carolingian hinterlands, the results could therefore be compared against current historical and archaeological theoretical frameworks.
Very little is known about the organisation of metalworking in the region at this time, a large scale compositional and morphological study could contribute to our understanding of trade, production and the subsequent use of these very personal items, subsequently providing a positive contribution to these debates. Typological studies of brooches also date back well into the 19th century and thanks to the dedication of the late Jurjen Bos, the typologies for two of the most numerous and important categories, the Equal-Arm and the Disc brooches were recently brought up to date (see Bos 2006b, 2006c), providing a solid starting point for my research. Finally, if successful, any results that were of merit could form the basis for future comparisons to other regions, further engaging with debate over the early development of Northwest Europe.
This Master’s thesis from the University of Leiden can be read at New Insights from the Metal Detected Brooches of Early Medieval Frisia. It runs to 180 pages.