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Merovinian Gold Braids

Merovinian Gold Braids

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EarlyAnglo-SaxonGoldBraids
By
ELISABETH
CROWFOOT
and
SONIACHADWICK
HAWKES
OxfordUniuersiiyInstitute
of
Archaeology
GOLD
threads
have
been
foundinmanyAnglo-Saxonandcontinental
Germanicgraves
of
theperiodfromthe5thtothe8th
century
A.D.
(see
catalogue,
pp.
66
ff.).
Early
recognized
asthe
remains
of
costly
wovendecorations
to
headdresses
andthe
borders
of
garments,
during
the19th
century
particularly
they
attracted
much
interest
and
discussion,
some
of
it
very
pertinent.'Technicalattention,
however,
of
thekind
required
bytheirfragmentarystate,wasnot
then
available,anditisonly
comparatioely
latelythatthe
discovery
of
fresh
examples
in
some
newry
excavated
Frankish
graves
has
caused
a
revival
of
interestinthe
subject,
withthehopeful
prospect
of
detailed
technical
studiesto
come
fromthe
continent
inthefuture.
INTRODUCTION
M
ORE
than
twenty
yearsagothe
late
Mrs.
Grace
M.
Crowfoot
began
to
work
on
the
fragments
of
goldstripfroma
number
of
early
Anglo-Saxongraves.
Her
notes,
expanded
andbrought
up
todate,
haveprovidedthefoundation
and
theinspiration
for
the
present
paper.
Mrs.Crowfootherself
had
beenprompted
tothisresearchby
thepublication,immediately
before
the
last
war,
of
the
textilesfromBirka,a
Vikingtrading-settlement
inSweden,>
where
many
graves
containedtheremains
oftablet-woven
braids
brocaded
withgold
and
silverthreads.AgnesGeijer
had
proved
that
itwasoftenpossible,even
where
the
textile
had
decayed,to
work
out
thebrocaded
patterns
from
the
pressure-marksleftby
the
fabric
threads
on
the
metal.
When
Mrs.Crowfoot
examinedthe
fragments
of
gold
strip
from
the
rich
barrow-burial
at
Taplow
in
Buckinghamshire
(no.
I),
whichincludethe
only
two
piecesfromanAnglo-Saxon
gravewith
any
identifiable
textilesurviving,shefound
that
here,too,
the
fabricwasa
tablet-woven
braiddecoratedwith
surface
brocading
ingold
(PL.
IX,
A-C).
These
pieces
both
came
from
asingle
wide
braid,
but
fromsome
other
goldstrips
with
notextile
adhering,
but
showing
marks
and
foldsfrom
the
weave,it
proved
possibleto
reconstructthe
brocaded
pattern
of
asecond
and
narrower
band
fromthis
important
grave
(FIG.
12,
no.
2).
Mrs.Crowfootwas
thusenabled
toweave
the
reproductions
of
the
two
braids
now
onshowin
the
British
Museum
(PL.
IX,
D).
I
Cachet
(1859),
pp.
173
ff.;
Roach
Smith
(1868),
pp.
142
ff.:
Lindenschmidt(1880-g),
I,
S81
ff.;
BaldwinBrown(1915),
III,
385
ff.:
etalia.
For
keyto
shortened
references,see
the
Abbreviations,
p,
86.
,Geijer(1938).
 
EARLY
ANGLO-SAXON
GOLD
BRAIDS
43
Since
then,
the
goldthreads
froma
furthertwenty
Anglo-Saxongraves
have
been
studied,
and
their
patterns,
wherever
possible,
reconstructed
on
paper
(FIGS.
13-14).
All
appear
tobe
theremains
of
similarsurface-brocading,
and
the
natureof
the
patterns
suggests
that
most
probably
thebandsthey
ornamented
were,like
theTaplow
examples,tablet-woven.
This
is
hardly
surprising,for
the
tech
nique
was
popular
at
this
period
for
making
fabricedgings,belts,
and
plain
or
decorativebraidswhich
couldbesewnonto
the
borders
of
garments.3
Tablet-weaving,
practisedin
the
north
regularly
since
thelater
Roman
iron
age,producesa
very
firm
and
neat
fabric
which
can
be
varied
accordingto
the
skill
and
taste
ofthe
weaver.
Tabletscan
be
threaded
and
manipulated
to
producepatterns
incolour,
and
varioussurface-textures,
plain(tabby)
weave,
corded
ridges,
and
elaborate
diagonal
patterns;but,whateverthe
background,
themethod
used
when
brocading
is
the
same.
The
tablet-braid
is
complete
initself,
heldtogether
by
its
owninternal
weft,while
thebrocading
weftis
an
additional
surface
decoration,
agold,silverorcoloured
thread
that
passesto
and
fro
on
the
faceof
the
weave,concealing
it
except
whereheld
down
by
warp
twists
at
the
intervals
necessaryto
make
the
pattern
required.s
The
brocadingthread
ispassedacrossbyfingerorneedle,
and
it
has
been
suggested
that
the
ornament
might
have
beenembroidered
after
the
basic
braid
had
beencompleted.
With
atextileor'spun-gold'
thread
this
mighthavebeen
possible,
particularly
on
narrow
braids,
but
it
wouldhavebeen
difficult
with
aflat
metal
strip,
and
askilled
weaver
would
havefound
itless
trouble
to
put
in
the
brocading
weft
during
the
courseof
the
weaving.
The
metalthreads
usedontheseearlyAnglo-Saxon
braids
were
narrow
strips
cut
from
goldfoil,sheet
metalwhich
had
probably
been
prepared
by
a
long
process
of
heating,
stretching,
hammering
and
burnishing,
to
bring
it
to
thepaper-thin
pliability
and
brilliance
of
finish
required
by
the
weaver.
5
Thecut
strips
vary
in
width
fromless
than
o
5
mm.
(Taplow)
upto
2
mm.
(Faversham).
It
has
not
beenpossibletotest
their
quality
byanalysis,
but
superficial
appearances
3
Exampleshave
now
been
identifiedinthefinds
from
many
Anglo-Saxoncemeteries:
in
Lincolnshire
at
Laceby
(Grace
M.CrowfootinF.
H.
Thompson,
'Anglo-Saxon
sites
in
Lincolnshire:
unpublishedmaterial
and
recent
discoveries',
Aniiq.
].,
XXXVI
(1956),188
f.),
and
Fonaby(unpub.);
in
EastAnglia
at
St.
John's
College
(Cambridge),Hadleigh
Road
(Ipswich),Mitchell's
Hill(Icklingham),
and
Milden
hall(Grace
M.Crowfoot,'Textilesof
the
Anglo-Saxon
period',
Proc.
Cambro
Antiq,
Soc.,
XLIV
(195
I).
26ff.,
and
'Anglo-Saxontablet-weaving',
Antiq.
].,
XXXII
(1952),189
If.),
at
Eriswell
(ElisabethCrowfoot
in
PatriciaHutchinson,
'The
Anglo-Saxon
cemetery
at
Little
Eriswell',
Proc.CambroAntiq.Soc.,
LIX
(1966),32),
and
SuttonHoo(unpub.);
inEssex
at
Broomfield
(unpub.);
inBerkshire
at
BlewburtonHill(AudreyHenshall
in
A.E.P.
and
F.
J.
Collins,
'Excavations
on
BlewburtonHill,
1953',
Berks.Archaeol.
].,
LVII
(1959),17
If.);
in
Kent
at
Finglesham(ElisabethCrowfoot
in
Sonia
E.
Chadwick,
'The
Anglo-Saxon
cemetery
at
Finglesham,
Kent:
a
reconsideration',
Med.Archaeol.,
II
(1958),36
ff.),
at
Coombe
(see
Hilda
R.Ellis
Davidson
and
LeslieWebster,
'The
Anglo-Saxon
burial
at
Coombe
(Woodnesborough),
Kent',
above,pp.
I
ff.),
at
Bekesbourne,atSibertswold
Down,
andat
one
ofthe
cemeteries
represented
in
theMayer
collection
at
Liverpool
(unpub.).
4
On
thegirdle
among
the
earlyroth-century
vestments
ofSt.
Cuthbertat
Durham,
an
elaboratediagonal
weave
inshadesofredsilkisso
concealed
by
the
gold
that
theintricacy
ofitsfloral
patterns
can
beseenclearlyonlyonthe
back
ofthe
braid.
Crowfoot
(1939),
p.60f.,pis.
xix-xxi,
and
(1956),
p.
437,
pI.xli
and
fig.3.
The
patterns
sometimesdescribedas
'brocaded'
on
the
woollen
tablet-braids
from
Snartemo
and
Eveboare
notwoven
but
embroidered;the
tablets
are
turned
for
the
plain
edgesofthe
braids,
and
thepatternsworked
byneedleon
theuntwistedtablet-warps
inthe
centre.Hougen
(1935),
pp.
72-3;
H.
Dedekam,
'To
Tekstilfundfra
folkevandringstiden',
BergensMuseumsAarbok,
1924-5,
pp.
22
If.
5
Geijer
(1938),
p.
69
f.
 
44
ELISABETH
CROWFOOT
AND
SONIA
CHADWICK
HAWKES
suggest
that
most
of
them
were
made
of
goodgold,
not
too
heavily
alloyed
with
basermetals.s
Those
from
Taplow,
certainly,
and
indeed
many
of
the
others,
have
survived
over
twelvecenturies
underground,
and
anything
up
toa
century
and
a
half
ina
museum
case,
without
losing
eithertheirbright
colouror
their
pristine
suppleness
and
strength.
The
few
examples
where
thegold
is
nowmore
brittle
and
dull
in
colour
probablycontain
a
higherpercentage
ofsilver,
with
maybe
some
copperadded
torestore
the
desired
depth
ofcolour.
THE
BRAIDS
FROM
THE
TAPLOWBARROW
(no.A,
I,
p.
66
f.)
Until
1939,
when
excavations
at
SuttonHoo
inSuffolk
uncovered
the
great
wealth
of
an
East
Anglianroyalship-cenotaph,
theburial
under
the
Taplowbarrow
was
therichest
single
grave-findknownfrom
early
Anglo-Saxon
England.
The
deadman
had
beenlaid
torest
amidst
a
panoply
of
weapons,lavishly
decorated
drinking-horns
and
cups,glassbeakers,a
Coptic
bronze
bowl,
bronze
and
iron-mounted
wooden
vessels,a
harpand
aset
of
game-pieces.
Hehad
beenburied
in
hisclothes
and
accoutrements,
wearingon
them
gold-covered
belt
clasps
and
a
buckle
ofsolidgold.
Of
the
clothing
itself
only
afewsmall
fragments
of
cloth
and
a
great
mass
of
gold
threads
have
survived.Aswe
havealready
seen,
the
flat
gold
strips
had
formed
partof
twodecorative
braids,one
of
which
was
brocaded
toa
width
of
3em.,
theother
toa
width
of
I'
4
em.
In
the
piecesoftextile
from
thewider
braid
abasic4-hole
tablet-weave
wasused,
with
the
tablets
turnednormallyini-turns
to
produce
an
evenfabric.
The
thread,now
dark
brown
in
colour,isa
very
fine,
well-spun
wool,
which
hasleft
such
slight
pressure-marks
on
the
gold
strips
that
itis
extremely
difficultto
make
out
thebrocading
pattern
where
the
goldalone
survives.
Thecut
lengths
of
thisgold
rarely
exceed
26-27
em.
and
are
frequently
shorter,
and
they
are
also
very
narrow,
so
that
each
of
them
accounted
forless
than
5
mm.
of
pattern
on
thewider
braid.
Tangledandout
of
sequence,
themajority
of
themare
hopelesslydifficulttouse
in
determiningthe
pattern.
The
onlypiece
on
which
the
designis
at
all
clear
is
thebetter
preserved
of
the
twofragments
of
textile,
barely
I
em.long,still
woven
with
two
brocadingthreads
(PL.
IX,A,
B;
FIG.
12,
no.
1).7
This
showsa
section
of
mainpattern,
based
on
lozenge-,rectangle-
and,probably,
cross-motifs,
with
a
diagonal
strap-pattern
ina
narrow
border
alongone
side.
The
less
well-preserved
textile
fragment,
whichprobably
joined
the
first
(PL.
IX,
c),
appears
to
show
a
continuation
of
the
cross
pattern,
butit
shouldbe
noted
that
Mrs.Crowfoot'swovenversion
ofthis
braid
(PL.
IX,D)
isonlya
reconstruction
of
the
type
ofpattern
the
remains
suggest,
and
notanactual
reproduction.
With
thenarrower
braid,
however,
shewas
on
safer
ground.
The
goldstrips
are
of
thesamelength
as
those
on
the
wide
braid,
and
therefore
made
up
about
twice
thelength
ofpattern.
Fromthe
more
intact
of
6
Analysesofsimilar
threads
fromSaint-Denis,
Paris,
proved
that
the
gold
was
generally
very
pure,
rarely
containing
more
than
25
per
cent.
of
other
metals.
Salin
(1958),p.48.
7
The
oldphotograph
in
BaldwinBrown
(1915),
III,
pl.
lxxxiv,
I,
reproduced
here
as
PL.
IX,
A,
was
of
great
assistancebecause
many
ofthetablet-twists
have
since
decayed.
Compare
the
modern
BritishMuseum
photograph,
PL.IX,
B.

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