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W. Knight




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Nov, 2011 11:54 am    Post subject: The Purpose of the Sutton Hoo "Shoulder Clasps"         Reply with quote

Hello all,

I am interested in what knowledge members of these forums may have about the purpose of the jewelry pieces found in Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, which are called "shoulder clasps" because they clearly seem, (from their shape and the position in which they were found in the grave relative to the other items), to have been worn on the shoulder. I have heard of linen or leather armor, or simple just an extremely ornate method of fastening regular textile clothing, as a means of showing the wearer's status, like much of the other highly decorated items this culture produced. Also, I just read a comment in another thread about possible baldric attachment, which I would be very interested to hear more about...

My own thoughts on these center very much on the shape and design, since, as noted above, the solid gold form, and the ornate decoration in garnet and millefiori glass are found on many items in Mound 1, and are clearly representative of wealth and status. The curved shape fits best the shoulders. The loops on the back of both sides of each pair suggest they were stitched as the means of attaching them. The hinged design would suggest that they are attached to something rigid, as I am aware of nothing ever constructed by mankind using hinges that is not of rigid substance. The removable nature of the pin in the hinges suggests whatever they were attached to came in two halves, and even that, perhaps, the nature of this garment they were attached to made it somehow more convenient or functional to put on or take off said garment in two halves The chain connecting the pin, which clearly serves to keep it from coming off and having to be stored separately, or even from getting lost, suggest to me that it may even have been necessary to take the pins out to remove this garment, unless the purpose of this is the enable each half to be stored separately when not worn, as opposed to keeping the whole garment always together at all times, as would be the case if the hinges were fixed.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts, and I wanted to post them here (so any issues on my thoughts concerning them can also perhaps be addressed) before asking for what other, more knowledgeable members might see as the purpose of these clasps and what the nature of the garment they were attached to might be.

Here is a pic of one of the clasps (two identical ones were found in Mound 1):

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W. Knight




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Nov, 2011 12:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I should note one thing I just noticed before it is pointed out. It appears from photos of the clasps closed that the hinge only works one way (the clasps will fold inward, but not outward?)...
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Tue 08 Nov, 2011 1:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In no way do I consider myself any sort of expert in this period, or any other. But here's my (probably worthless) guess.
At the time, there was probably still some part remembered accounts of the Romans in Britain. Could the clasps possibly be fitted to some form of a moulded leather "muscle" curaiss ? To me..that makes more sense than fitting to plain cloaks or tunics ? I don't know how much these clasps weigh..but I'm guessing something this size would drag down any light fabrics. Does anyone know if there were any traces of leather found during the excavations at Sutton Hoo ??
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Matthew Amt




Location: Laurel, MD, USA
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PostPosted: Tue 08 Nov, 2011 5:38 pm    Post subject: Re: The Purpose of the Sutton Hoo "Shoulder Clasps"         Reply with quote

W. Knight wrote:
The hinged design would suggest that they are attached to something rigid, as I am aware of nothing ever constructed by mankind using hinges that is not of rigid substance.


Ha, you've never seen a Roman belt, then! They ALL have hinges, connecting the buckles and the dagger suspension discs to the metal plates:

http://www.larp.com/legioxx/belt3BM.jpg

http://www.larp.com/legioxx/baltei.jpg

http://www.larp.com/legioxx/frog.jpg

http://www.larp.com/legioxx/Creanblt.JPG

Late Roman fittings (e.g., 5th century) still have hinged fittings. Buckles hinged to plates are still common in the Saxon era, so it would be a well-known concept.


Ralph Grinly wrote:
At the time, there was probably still some part remembered accounts of the Romans in Britain. Could the clasps possibly be fitted to some form of a moulded leather "muscle" curaiss ? To me..that makes more sense than fitting to plain cloaks or tunics ? I don't know how much these clasps weigh..but I'm guessing something this size would drag down any light fabrics. Does anyone know if there were any traces of leather found during the excavations at Sutton Hoo ??


Not a new theory! In fact I think one of the original investigators posited the exact same thing. There were indeed leather remains in the grave, but I don't recall if the clasps were associated with any of that. On the one hand, early medieval artwork often shows "neo-classical" features, to the point where it is all blithely dismissed as stylization or fantasy. (Though why the nobles of the time should consistently insist on being portrayed in such gear, while in actuality refusing to wear such things, seems a good question to me!) On the other hand, not only do we not have any real parallels for these clasps from other contexts, we don't see anything really like them in artwork either. They don't actually look a lot like the shoulders on a Roman cuirass, which for the record were most likely bronze or even iron but probably not leather. AND there is no physical evidence, nor any *reliable* pictoral evidence for the existence of an early medieval cuirass like this. But then back on the first hand, there is Roman sculpture which suggests the existence of a soft cuirass-like thing which mimics the form of a muscled cuirass but really doesn't seem to be functional armor.

If you read through the threads I posted in that other discussion, you will probably find the answers from the folks who have done all the heavy research on the subject. (Was that the Roman Shoe thread?)

Matthew

Edit: Ah, I see W. Knight responded on that thread and did indeed read the others. Huh, I coulda swore there was more SOMEwhere, but maybe someone will turn it up.

It also occurred to me that TWO clasps is more likely to imply some single thing closed at both shoulders, rather than a pair of wide baldrics. Only one sword in the grave, for starters!
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Len Parker





Joined: 15 Apr 2011

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PostPosted: Tue 08 Nov, 2011 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a possibility http://www.tforum.info/forum/index.php?s=&...p;p=141782
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Tue 08 Nov, 2011 11:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

unlikely. The Romans stopped using this design centuries before pulling out of Britain.
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David Huggins




Location: UK
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 12:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mr Knight

May I point you in the direction of the pdf link that I previously posted on the Viking Age leather armour thread.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/9%20Adams-opt-sec.pdf

best
Dave

and he who stands and sheds blood with us, shall be as a brother.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 1:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

He denies the possibility that the clasps could has been attached to metal, which leaves leather and textiles. He specifically says that if it was attached to leather then it could not have been anywhere near thick enough to function as armour.
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Matthew Bunker




Location: Somerset UK
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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 1:15 am    Post subject: Re: The Purpose of the Sutton Hoo "Shoulder Clasps"         Reply with quote

W. Knight wrote:
they clearly seem, (from their shape and the position in which they were found in the grave relative to the other items), to have been worn on the shoulder. ]


I'd just like to point out that there is nothing about their position in the grave or their relative postions to each other to indicate that they were shoulder clasps on anything. They were only 4 cm apart when found, and were facing upwards (ie with the pins uppermost).

Settling after depostion (especially when the chamber finally collapsed) means that all of the goods in the mound have shifted a bit, but the clasps were found in close proximity to the sword, the components of which had only shifted by very small amounts in relation to each other.

They're a mystery.

"If a Greek can do it, two Englishman certainly can !"
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David Huggins




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 6:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan,

I was referring Mr Knight to the pdf link to share some information on the Sutton Hoo clasps, not suggesting they where used as a component of a leather armour. As Matt has pointed out the clasps are a mystery open to interpretation.

best
Dave

and he who stands and sheds blood with us, shall be as a brother.
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 6:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are the Taplow clasps
http://www.flickr.com/photos/thorskegga/3959418038/ These were found at the waist just like the Sutton Hoo ones, also with loops on the back. Scroll to 6th page for description
http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/catalogue...42_086.pdf
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Bjorn ter Keurs




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 7:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Matthew Bunker on that they are a mystery.

They seem to be one of a kind with no tradition or imitation. The only finds which slightly resemblances the clasps are the smaller clasps from the Taplow burial. These were presumably part of an elobarate belt.

They could belong to a variety of different garments. Even a peplos kind of garment is not unlikely, since there were no bodies found in the burial.

My personal guess is that they belonged to a fur garment which Einhard ( the biographer of Charlemagne) called a thorax: A garment which protects the upper body against the cold English weather.
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Len Parker





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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 10:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David, thanks for that link, didn't mean to repost the taplow image. I've seen the image from the Notitia Dignitatum http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/notitiadignitatum.asp many times and never noticed the two cuirass's. I guess we don't know if they're linen or leather. There is a mention in the Gododdin poem of men riding into battle in dark brown harness and others in maille.
Also I found this, down at the bottom next to Body Armor http://www.havenonline.com/moas/northstar/vol1no2/armor.htm there's this "a pair of simple buckles found at the shoulder of a warrior in a 7th century Frankish grave". Not much to go on.
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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 12:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

OK..after ready that british museum pdf, I'll retract my uneducated guess. Seeing as many folks now doubt the actual function of the clasps..has there been published any pictures of possible alternative functions ? I've seen several pics of re-enactors with the clasps mounted on shoulders..are there others showing different possibilities ?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

David Huggins wrote:
I was referring Mr Knight to the pdf link to share some information on the Sutton Hoo clasps, not suggesting they where used as a component of a leather armour. As Matt has pointed out the clasps are a mystery open to interpretation.

I was just summarising what I thought were the relevant parts of the paper, not insinuating anything from you. Apologies if you thought I was trying to start an argument.
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Matt Corbin




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 1:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another interesting possibility is presented in this thread:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...ht=horvath

It didn't seem to get much attention when first posted by the author. Has anyone examined this possibility in detail?

“This was the age of heroes, some legendary, some historical . . . the misty borderland of history where fact and legend mingle.”
- R. Ewart Oakeshott
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 1:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I just tried downloading the paper using the provided link and it doesn't seem to be available.
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Matt Corbin




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PostPosted: Wed 09 Nov, 2011 2:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It seems to be working for me. PM an email address and I can forward you a copy.
“This was the age of heroes, some legendary, some historical . . . the misty borderland of history where fact and legend mingle.”
- R. Ewart Oakeshott
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W. Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 10 Nov, 2011 12:01 am    Post subject: Re: The Purpose of the Sutton Hoo "Shoulder Clasps"         Reply with quote

Matthew Bunker wrote:
W. Knight wrote:
they clearly seem, (from their shape and the position in which they were found in the grave relative to the other items), to have been worn on the shoulder. ]


I'd just like to point out that there is nothing about their position in the grave or their relative postions to each other to indicate that they were shoulder clasps on anything. They were only 4 cm apart when found, and were facing upwards (ie with the pins uppermost).

Settling after depostion (especially when the chamber finally collapsed) means that all of the goods in the mound have shifted a bit, but the clasps were found in close proximity to the sword, the components of which had only shifted by very small amounts in relation to each other.

They're a mystery.


Mr. Bunker,
I am basing this on the diagram of the funeral deposits as they were found at the time of excavation. Below is a pic, though the quality is not at all good, but hopefully it can be read reasonably enough...



If the buckle and purse are assumed to be worn at the waist, the area of the clasps would be shoulder height. The fact that they are very close together could be accounted for by the body being turned somewhat on its side during the collapse of the chamber or just natural settling, as you mentioned. It would be very unwieldy to carry a body with a sword girt about the waist and the helmet on the head, to be buried, and this could account for the positions of these items on either side of the body, deposited separately. Of course this is only one possible way to interpret the relative positions of the items, but I do think there is enough to add some weight to the argument that the clasps were worn on the shoulders, although the best evidence for this is simply the size and shape, which seems to fit best the shoulders as opposed to other parts of the body.

Mr. Huggins,
That link is greatly appreciated. There is a great deal of information to assimilate, and I am still digesting all the parts about the various Eastern influences and so forth, but the conclusion at the end was very helpful.

I noted where he quoted a period source as describing leather as sort of a lower class clothing material at the time (though it is quite the opposite nowadays) and points out how these opulent clasps would probably have been worn on some of the highest quality textiles available, to justify attaching such costly clasps to them. Add this to the fact that the belt fittings and buckles all use rivet attachment (suitable for leather of decent thickness) and the clasps use very small loop attachment (suitable for only thin leather or textiles) and I am beginning to think leather unlikely as the garment material, but there's just no way to be sure Confused Then again, the removable nature of the hinge must be key to understanding this, for this cannot be without purpose, and I struggle to understand how a normal textile garment would require the unusual mechanism of detachable hinges to be fastened... hmmm... Question Question Question
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