Martin Welch

title.none: Brugmann, Glass Beads (Martin Welch)

identifier.other: baj9928.0509.028 05.09.28

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Martin Welch, University College London,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Brugmann, Birte. Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves: A Study of the Provenance and Chronology of Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves, Based on Visual Examination. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004. Pp. xiv, 145. $59.95 1-84217-104-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.09.28

Brugmann, Birte. Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves: A Study of the Provenance and Chronology of Glass Beads from Early Anglo-Saxon Graves, Based on Visual Examination. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2004. Pp. xiv, 145. $59.95 1-84217-104-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Martin Welch
University College London

It is through the research of a German scholar, Dr Ursula Koch, that we enjoy our current understanding of the contribution of beads to the rich yet relatively uniform female dress assemblages of western Europe in the Merovingian period. Appropriately another German scholar of the emerging generation has taken up the challenge of making sense of the beads found in contemporary Anglo-Saxon cemeteries between the fifth and seventh centuries AD. Birthe Brugmann has moved on from her doctoral research and publication of the sixth-century cemetery at Mill Hill near Deal in Kent to produce this very important new study. Funded as a two-year post-doctoral research project with the data collection achieved during 1997 and 1998, her research took advantage of a new computer programme for the standardised recording and processing of all bead types. Although she used a simplified adaptation rather than the full programme itself, ProPer, developed at the Romisch-Germanischen Kommission at Frankfurt-am-Main, facilitated her research. The emphasis was placed on glass beads, both those made of a single colour (monochrome) glass and dual or multiple-coloured decorated (polychrome) glass, though reference was made to associated beads from the same grave assemblages made of natural materials, including amber (mostly imported from the Baltic region), amethyst and cowrie shells (both being imported via the Mediterranean world). Some of the glass beads were themselves imports and provide key linkages with continental European cemeteries and their chronological sequences based on coin and tree-ring dating. Brugmann also seeks to relate the Anglo-Saxon glass beads to bead sequences from cemeteries in the continental homelands of the Saxons and Angles in northern Germany and Scandinavia.

Beads provide a rich source of evidence, occurring in significant numbers. Typically they were worn strung between brooches in fifth to sixth-century graves and combined with metal wire rings and metal beads in later seventh-century burials. Changing combinations of beads types have been recognised in the past, but systematic study has been facilitated enormously by computerisation and by the development of statistical tools, above all correspondence analysis. Brugmann decided to exclude the beads that can be recovered from cremation deposits, because they represent incomplete sets deposited in a container (usually a pot). She limited her analysis to well-recorded excavated inhumations and her sample consisted of 106 sites spread as evenly across Anglo-Saxon England as possible, subdivided into regional groups to facilitate inter-regional comparisons. Not all her regions provided satisfactory evidence, as the author points out, and this aspect of her research will bear further analysis in the future as new sites become available. In particular the Avon Valley (West Midlands) is poorly represented here. Her 106 sites produced 32,231 beads and 56% of these were made of amber, only 43% of glass and a further 1% of other materials. There was some regional variation here as well, with Kent producing the smallest percentage of amber beads.

As the author points out, in some cases the manufacture of beads may have been a cottage industry recycling scrap glass. She cites Bergh Apton (Norfolk) Grave 34 with its bag containing scrap glass and beads made of the same colour glass. In other situations, however, glass workshops producing vessel glass from raw materials may have had associated production of beads made using standardised recipes and manufacturing techniques. She defines a series of techniques used to shape and form beads (winding, drawing, piercing, folding, mosaic and segmented) and a range of methods used to apply decoration on polychrome beads, as well as addressing issues of transluscence and opacity of the glass and difficulty in establishing colour descriptions. Not all archaeologists will be enamoured with the descriptive terminology Brugmann developed for specific bead types. Candy, Traffic Light and Sunflower are three examples and it will be interesting to see whether or not these descriptors stand the test of time and become widely accepted. She developed them as a means of expressing her view of their appearance and because the correspondence analysis needs a short word description to be entered for each defined type. The reviewer notes that Koch numbered types could also be entered, e.g. Koch 34.

Turning to her results, there does not seem to be a significant overlap between Late Roman female bead assemblages and the earliest Anglo-Saxon bead assemblages as represented in her sample. Admittedly a Late Roman female burial assemblage within Canterbury (Stour Street) combined fifteen typical Roman glass beads with seven "Germanic" types, including a Brugmann "Sunflower" type bead. This represents the adoption of "barbarian" taste for decorated dark-coloured (visually effectively black glass) beads within Late Roman Britain. Some of these "early" Germanic "dark" beads also occur in Anglo-Saxon graves, but Roman type beads normally occur as single items within Anglo-Saxon bead assemblages. Only a few strings of entirely Roman beads seem to occur in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and unfortunately these are in poorly-recorded circumstances, e.g. the 1890s excavations at Highdown in West Sussex. As fifth-century burials are under-represented in Brugmann's sample, this aspect of her research will clearly repay further analysis from a more representative sample in the future.

The key result from her research is the definition of three successive groupings of bead assemblages, together with associated sub-groups, each with its key glass bead types. The basic sequence broadly matches the established relative sequence of associated metal dress fittings (brooches, wrist clasps, girdle hangers, etc.) from the same graves. In turn, these new glass bead phases are tied to the continental Merovingian sequences by imported glass beads and in the case of the last phase by the presence of amethyst and cowrie shell beads. Brugmann attributes the A assemblages to the fifth to sixth-century period with A1 beads dominated by her "Traffic Light" beads. These combine red, yellow and green colours and are particularly common in East Anglia. The A2 assemblages in Norfolk contain drawn bead types (her constricted segmented and constricted cylinder monochrome forms) and regional polychrome beads (Norfolk yellow and red and Norfolk blue and white bead types). Moving from the Norfolk sample (correspondence analysis 1) to a national sample (correspondence analysis 2), the author argues for a change from wound bead types (Traffic Light and monochrome blue and brown beads) in A1 assemblages to drawn beads (constricted segmented and cylinder forms) plus greater use of amber beads in A2. In her view, Anglo-Saxon A2 is matched in the combinations found in the German Lower Rhineland beads (groups C & D) in Frankish graves dated to the late fifth and sixth century. The A1 bead groups occur in graves with small-long brooches, cruciform brooches (typically of Groups I-IV in Aberg's scheme), annular brooches and wrist clasps, but not with girdle hangers. On the other hand, the A2 bead groups are nearly always found with Group IV cruciform brooches, there are relatively few small-long brooches, but high numbers of annular brooches, wrist clasps and there are also now girdle hangers present. A further sub-group, A2b, is indicated by the presence of reticella imported glass beads and by melon glass beads (a Roman type that seems to be re-introduced).

Moving on to Brugmann's B assemblages in England, these are defined by the presence of imports matched in south-west Germany. These are Koch types 20 and 34 beads, together with Brugmann's Dot 34 beads and monochrome cylinder beads (round cylinders and pentagonal cylinders). There seem to be some chronological overlaps between these sixth-century bead fashions with reticella beads (A2b) present in graves of Buckland (Dover) phases 2-4 and Koch type 20 beads (B) in Buckland phases 3-5. Again at Mill Hill, Deal, the constricted segmented and cylinder beads (A2) occur in its phases II and III, whereas reticella beads (A2b) are found in phases III and IV there. Although both drawn glass beads and reticella beads are in fashion within the thirty-year period of Mill Hill phase III, they do not normally occur in the same burial assemblage. A complication posed by the apparent stratigraphic relationship of graves 359 (Group B beads) and Grave 360 (A2 beads) at Morning Thorpe in Norfolk is raised by the author. This indicates that further research will be needed with an enlarged sample to explore the issue of overlap between the A2 and B groups. Group B is further subdivided into a B1 and B2 defined by the presence of Koch type 20 beads for B1 and Koch type 34 beads for B2 (see correspondence analysis 4).

Bead group C clearly belongs to the seventh century and seems to be established no earlier than the middle of that century, the so-called Final Phase period. It is defined by the presence of doughnut glass beads, orange (possibly originally green coloured) glass beads, wound spiral glass beads found together with imported amethyst and cowrie shell rim beads. Significantly, none of the Group B or Group C beads were found with small-long brooches, wrist clasps, girdle-hangers or simple disc brooches, though a few were associated with annular or saucer brooches. Developed great square-headed brooches of Hines Group XVI were limited to Group B assemblages. In Kent, jewelled disc brooches were accompanied by Group A2 and A2b beads (Avent classes 1 and 2) or Group B beads (classes 2, 3 and 6), but the C bead assemblages were found with later composite jewelled brooches. If Group A beads are correctly attributed to c. 450-580 (with A1 placed c. 450-530, A2 to c. 480-580 and A2b to c. 530-580), then Group B beads seem to fill the gap (B1 suggested here to be c. 555-600 and B2 as c. 580-650). Although we can question and probably tweak the absolute date ranges presented here, the relative sequence seems sound enough.

The implication is that we can now use Brugmann's bead assemblages to date graves which lack brooches and any other diagnostic items and that we will have to balance the information from bead groups with other datable items when phasing graves within a cemetery or region. While there are regional fashions in beads, there are sufficient cross-regional elements to enable us to link a national sequence for the first time to the bead chronologies created for western and northern Europe in the early medieval period. This is a major achievement and the author has already built on her research in her contribution to the analysis of four major inhumation cemeteries in East Anglia (Bergh Apton, Morning Thorpe, Spong Hill and Westgarth Gardens (Bury St Edmunds), which is due to be published shortly. Her work is also a significant contribution to the reappraisal of the chronology of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries which is currently being undertaken by an international team of archaeologists supported by English Heritage project funding. A national sequence of thirty-year phases spanning the period from the later sixth to the early eighth century has been created by combining high-accuracy radiocarbon dates obtained from human bone with correspondence-analysis of the associated grave assemblages. This new work is likely to confirm the c. 650 date for the beginning of Brugmann's Group C beads with classic "Final-Phase" female assemblages being centred on the third quarter of the seventh century. The success of the English Heritage project is such that a follow-up to reassess burials for the period spanning the late fourth century to the middle third of the sixth century in lowland Britain would be a logical next step. The use of radiocarbon dates calibrated against tree-ring sequences will provide an invaluable check on the relative and absolute dating of the glass beads proposed here, which is heavily dependent on imported "Frankish" bead types and the chronologies of the continental cemeteries. This project will refine, however, rather than alter a fundamental piece of research presented here by Brugmann.

The only danger is that Brugmann's work will be seen as a fully finished product rather than as the first stage in a process of analysing bead assemblages as part of our overall reassessment of the archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England. Compared to the Frankish regions of the continent, Anglo-Saxon female dress assemblages are more varied even within individual cemeteries and their burial grounds are relatively small (c. 100-250 graves), making a national or regional approach essential. It is a pity that at least two minor errors have been missed by the proof-readers, one being the consistent misspelling of the site of Zweeloo in the text as Zweelo (though the relevant bibliographical entry is correct) and the misdating of a 1979 publication by the late Sonia Chadwick Hawkes as Chadwick Hawkes 1997. Overall, however, this book is to be welcomed as an excellent demonstration of ambitious, yet focussed research that makes full use of computer and statistical resources. It is a reminder of the rich resources of furnished burial for this period that we can now begin to analyse electronically in a way that would have been impossible even fifteen years ago.