"Strap ends provided the dual service of preventing straps to which they were attached from fraying or curling, and on items of costume, adding weight to make them hang down attractively. One can deduce from their considerable variation in size and the fact that they were evidently worn in sets, pairs and singly, that the range current during this period encapsulated several functional contexts.” Dr Gabor Thomas
Early medieval strap-ends are well documented in literary material, dated by contextual excavations and by design, and thus, classified. Classification is based upon design type and period of manufacture, notably in Finds Research Group AD700-1700, Datasheets 32 and 33, comprehensively documented by Gabor Thomas, whose classification system is used within this paper as a point of reference. Examples of strap-ends have been taken from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (P.A.S.) database and the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database (UKDFD).
The aim of this paper is to draw attention to, and make a case for the discussion of, a post-cast modification to strap-ends of the early medieval period that presently appears to be unrecognised or misunderstood. The objectives are to determine the purpose and use of the modification.
It has become apparent, after studying early medieval strap-ends, that many dating to the 8th–11th centuries have been recorded with a patch of iron corrosion on their back. On closer comparison with each other, it was noticed that although the location and classification of strap-end varied, the corrosion pattern remained fairly consistent. This being, in most cases, a sub-rectangular deposit near the terminal end. In a few cases, the remaining iron deposits projected in the form of a lug or possibly a hook. The iron appears to be attached by solder in most cases and riveted in others.
On the P.A.S. database, at the time of conducting the research, there were 1,856 early medieval strap-ends recorded. 32 of these, with images of the backs available to view, were noted to have this distinctive patch of corrosion, or to have a rivet hole at or near the terminal end. On the UKDFD, there were 250 early medieval strap-ends recorded, 12 of which exhibit the same corroded patch or rivet hole.
It would seem too much of a coincidence for all the strap-ends in question to acquire this distinctive patch of corrosion within the soil after being deposited or lost in antiquity. A separate functional attachment, made of iron, must once have been present in this position.
The questions to consider at this point were:
(1) Were the iron fittings on the back of the strap-ends attached at the time of manufacture, or were they added at a later date to modify their use?
(2) What was the purpose of these iron attachments?
Of the examples considered, there were some that stood out, suggesting answers to their possible use. Those below show the differing methods of plate attachment.
WILT-F6B056. 9th century, Class A, Type 1: soldered only attachment
NMS-65D2E2. 8th–9th century, Unclassified: riveted iron plate and possible hooked terminal
WMID-FF7685. 8th-10th century, Class A, Type 2: riveted plate remains
UKDFD 29734. 9th–11th century, Class B: rivet hole only
UKDFD 6650. 8th–9th century, Class A, Type 2: rivet hole and iron plate
UKDFD 23854. 8th–9th century, Class A type 5: projecting iron lug
There are, in addition to the above, rare strap-ends with an integral copper-alloy lug or hook that projects from the back near the terminal end. Only one recorded example of the type with an integral lug has been found, namely P.A.S. GLO-8C25F2, which is unclassified and dated 9th-10th century. Two examples of the type with an integral hooked projection on their back are illustrated in Benet's Artefacts: A12-0105 and A12-0120. In all the above cases, the integral projections are in the same position as the iron attachments on the strap-ends under consideration. Another strap-end, P.A.S. IOW-4825B2, is most unusual, being an unclassified type having an integral hook extending rearward from the terminal itself.
In view of the above, the remains on the back of the modified strap-ends were most likely either lugged or hooked attachments, the same as their integrally cast and rarer counterparts. These modifications were presumably of iron rather than copper-alloy for strength in functional use, but being made of iron, have corroded away leaving only traces of their once permanent place on the strap-end.
Determining whether the lugs or hooks were attached purposefully at the time of manufacture, or attached at a later date as modifications, inevitably presented a problem. This was eventually resolved by examining examples that were drilled and riveted for the intended modification. By this means, it could be established whether the drilled hole destroyed the decorative features on the face of the strap-end. If so, it would imply that there was little concern for aesthetic considerations, as purpose and functionality were the dominant objectives.
With the limited number of examples of this type recorded on both the P.A.S. and UKDFD databases, it would appear that the perforations were either made with no real regard to the decorative element, or drilled in a way that, at best, caused least damage to the overall design. This observation establishes that the modifications were completed post-cast, but it could not be confirmed positively whether they were made at the time of manufacture or at a later date. It would appear most likely, however, that the modifications were made at a later date, as the decorative elements for all classes were not altered over the lengthy period of time concerned to take the modification into account.
Approximately 1 in 20 strap-ends recorded on UKDFD have been modified, compared to 1 in 58 of those on the P.A.S database. (This figure may be higher, but not all records contain images of backs). Assuming a combined average of 1 modification in 48, it becomes apparent that the modification would not warrant a design change to take a minority modification into account over a productive time span of 300-350 years.
What were the modified strap-ends used for?
As stated by Gabor Thomas above, strap-ends are generally accepted as being a decorative accessory, to prevent the strap terminal fraying and also to keep it weighted down. With the addition of a lug or hooked fitting on their back, their purpose becomes more useful, as straps can now become tensioned, linked, or held together. (See drawing; diagram 1). The evidence would suggest this to be the case of modification and use. It would appear then, that the modification was known during the period concerned, and adaptations were made as and when required.
The list of current examples below is taken from database imaged examples currently available. With educated future actions taken into account, the examples recorded are expected to increase, and these figures can be evaluated over a period of time more positively.
Modification by Thomas class
Modification by distribution
Norfolk: 6 examples, class AAAAUU
Cambridgeshire: 4 examples, class AAAA
West Midlands: 4 examples, class AAAA
Worcestershire: 4 examples, class AABU
Hampshire: 4 examples, class AABB
Northamptonshire: 3 examples, class ABB
Lincolnshire: 3 examples, class AAA
Somerset: 2 examples, class AA
Sussex: 2 examples, class BB
Wiltshire: 2 examples, class AB
Leicestershire: 1 example, class A
Hertfordshire: 1 example, class A
S.W Yorkshire: 1 example, class A
Essex: 1 example, class A
Kent: 1 example, class B
Dorset: 1 example, class A
Staffordshire: 1 example, class A
Buckinghamshire: 1 example, class A
Drawing of modification and proposed use (Diagram 1)
Examples of modifications
Examples of integral types (recorded)
Examples of integral types (from reference material)
The evolution of these strap-end hybrids can be compared with hooked tags of the period and their purpose modified for a wider range of generic employment, from harness or garment accessories to use on household items.
TYPE 1 (integral)
Type 1 strap-ends appear in two forms, those with integral hooks projecting rearward from the terminal itself and those with integral hooks projecting from the back. In one case, see diagram (a), the projection is a lug, rather than a hook, the function of which could possibly be utilised as a book clasp, which could explain its rarity as a recorded example (note also, the attachment end is not bifurcated).
TYPE 2 (separate)
Type 2 strap-ends represent the majority of those recorded and are recognised Thomas Class examples that have been modified post-cast to include a separate attachment. The hooked attachment is of iron rather than copper-alloy, and in the main leave only partial remains of their placement on the back of the strap-end due to corrosion or separation. It would appear that some difficulty was experienced in attaching the iron fitting onto the back of the copper-alloy strap-end, probably due to the soldering techniques of the period which lacked modern fluxes designed to clean a surface for better cohesion. Of those that remain, the iron projects in the form of a hook or lug. The fitting can be recognised by a corroded sub-rectangular patch on the back of the strap-end, often slightly angled, near the terminal end. In some cases this patch appears burnt, suggesting that the iron element was heated and pressed into the strap-end surface during the soldering process in an attempt to improve bonding. In other cases, and these cases are few in number, the strap-end was compositely fabricated with a riveted attachment passing through the decorative feature of the strap-end. This technique was utilised with or without the soldering process, but probably wasn’t a preferred method of fixing for aesthetic reasons.
List of referenced examples recorded on P.A.S. and UKDFD
With grateful thanks to the staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database and Paul Murawski (Benet’s Artefacts) for kind permissions in reproduction of copyright material. Thanks also to Dr Gabor Thomas, Reading University.
May 5th, 2013