Paired brooches

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Oval/Tortoise brooches

Looking at all Scandinavian style jewellery the one type that most readily springs to the mind is that of the oval or tortoise brooch. They are crucial to the clothing of the upper strata of some Scandinavian societies. These brooches have their origin in the Vendel period and early styles tend to be simpler and smaller than later ones. The early period examples (mid 8th century) are unique items hand crafted to the individual woman. By the beginning of the 9th century, mass production has begun, and a few types become common in the entire Viking region. Two main types of brooch dominate the archaeological record - they are named after a study done by Petersson in 1928. There is the single shelled variant called P37 and the double shelled variant P51. Using Ingemar Jansson’s study of 1981 it can be evidenced that P37 dominated the ninth century and P51 dominates the early tenth century. There are no type P37’s in Iceland - probably due to its late settlement date. An earlier style - the Berdal style - dominates in Hedeby with very few - of any style, in use by the tenth century. The British Isles has evidence for both P37 and P51. Norway is dominated by P51’s but not nearly so much as Birka and Russia where in the latter very few P37’s have been found. What then does this tell us - well if you want to be a typical late Viking woman - buy a pair of P51’s.

This study also gives us the further information that the brooches were falling out of use in Hedeby by the tenth century. The data from the British Isles only consists of 9 brooches so any postulation on their commonality is rather futile. These brooches are usually made of Copper alloy (bronze/brass). Type P37 is usually cast without bosses, and pewter covered in silver foil is added to make the bosses. Type P51 has open-work bosses cast together with the main body of the brooch, plus further pewter/silver ones added after. Gilding and tinning are common and the addition of silver wire is another applied decorative technique used. The zoomophic animal decoration is executed with varying degrees of care and it can be shown that pairs of brooches are not true pairs in that they have not been cast from the same mould (Jansson, 1981. 4). There is evidence from Ribe that by the 9th century a mass production was taking place. Many clay moulds have have been found, and it is evident that by this time a method has been developed whereby the moulds can be reused several times. It is likely that the bronze caster had several molds of the same pattern so he did not have to wait for the mould to cool down before being able to cast another. This would also explain why pairs are not true pairs, but show variation.

Animal/Bear Headed brooches

Developed from the migration period bow brooch this style is almost unique to the Scandinavian island of Gotland. What few examples appear in other areas are generally considered to be belong to travelling Gotlandic women. They differ tremendously in style to the oval brooch in that they resemble the head of an animal. They have a lozenge shape, with clearly defined ears and muzzle. Invariably they are also manufactured of copper alloy and come in at least two main styles, a single shelled style and one where a plain body is overlaid with a decorative open-work casting- which make a double shelled style. Some brooches have no decorative features, some have gripping beast ornamentation, others are decorated with punched holes. Perforations appear at the wider end of some brooches and have been used to suspend bead strings or pendants. Therefore it can be said that they are worn with the nose pointing upward.

Finnish Pairs

A slightly different version of the oval brooch is that found further east in Finland. Where brooches are vaguely oval the Finnish version appear more pointed at either end and are sometimes described as egg shaped. However the most common shape for Finish women are round, bossed brooches such as grave 56 from Luistari, Eura, Finland. Again Finnish women wore jewellery significantly different to other Scandinavian women. Finland presents the highest concentration of beads for instance. Clattering type pendants were popular, copper alloy spiral jewellery was known and because they are so far east earrings are also evidenced as an influence from the Slavs.

Tongue Shaped brooches

A number of brooches from Norway, at least one pair from Kornsa, Iceland and a couple from Sweden come in the shape of a tongue. Whether these brooches are an independent development or if the shape comes from the shape of Frankish strap ends remains unknown. It is evident however from the ornamentation that the Swedish examples were made natively with the purpose of being brooches rather than modified strap ends. They provide an alternative paired brooch style. From the Birka find it is seen that they are worn with the round end facing up.


Credits: with thanks to Caroline Buckley.