TMR review of _Gold and Gilt: Possessions and People_
- This looks like it could be a REALLY useful book!
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-- Christian de Holacombe
From: The Medieval Review <tmr-l@...>
Sent: Sep 23, 2005 11:02 AM
Subject: TMR 05.09.25 Hinton, Gold and Gilt: Possessions and People (Lee)
Hinton, David A. <i>Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins: Possessions and
People in Medieval Britain</i>. Oxford and New York: Oxford University
Press, 2005. Pp. xi + 439. $56.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-19-926453-8
Reviewed by Jennifer M. Lee
Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
David A. Hinton's book <i>Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins: Possessions
and People in Medieval Britain</i> appears as part of the <i>Medieval
History and Archaeology</i> series published by Oxford University
Press. A stated goal of the series is to present archaeology in a
manner accessible to historians. This book achieves this aim admirably
by presenting an encyclopedic discussion of medieval material culture
and its social uses in Britain from the fourth to the sixteenth century.
The subject of <i>Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins</i> is primarily
medieval luxury goods retrieved through archaeological excavations.
Most of the objects discussed are made of metal, and the emphasis is
placed on items made of precious metal. Jewelry and coins figure
prominently, though tools and implements are also discussed, as are
ceramics and glass and a few textiles. In general, these are the
excavated items that could be placed in a display case in a museum.
This represents a narrowing of focus from his earlier book,
<i>Archaeology, Economy and Society: England from the fifth to the
fifteenth century</i> (London: Seaby, 1990), which considered
buildings, landscape features, bones, and soil components as well as
the portable, manufactured items that are the focus of the present
work. His new book analyzes the archaeological record to understand
changes in the ways medieval people used valuable objects to
communicate social meanings.
As in <i>Archaeology, Economy and Society</i>, Hinton's temporal
divisions are based on changing patterns in the medieval material
culture, and so they correspond only roughly to centuries. Chapters are
primarily descriptive rather than thesis-driven, though his chapter
titles and the chronological points at which he divides them indicate
the trends he wants to emphasize. Objects are never brought up merely
to support an argument. Rather, he begins with the archaeological
material, and interpretations, sometimes multiple or contradictory,
follow in his discussion as they relate to each piece. Each chapter
also attends to regional variations, including explaining what is
distinctive about Scotland, Wales, and the northern isles. The text is
illustrated with 108 highly legible black and white photographs and
and eight pages of color plates.
In the first chapter, "Adapting to Life Without the Legions: From the
End of the Fourth Century to the Mid-Sixth," the reader is introduced
to the types of
objects that will be discussed in the following sections: objects from
buried hoards and furnished graves, as well as accidental depositions.
The brooches, coins, buckles, ceramic sherds, and plate vessels
illuminate issues of ethnicity, authority, social control, local
economics, and long distance trade.
In chapter two, "Expressions of the Elites: From the Later Sixth
Century to the Later Seventh," material culture is seen to assert and
construct cultural identities, which are not necessarily simply a
factor of biological or ethnic origin. An important theme in this
chapter is the differentiation of the elites through changes in burial
practice and personal display, as seen, for instance, at Sutton Hoo. In
this period, the elites increasingly directed their material
expressions toward one another rather than to foreigners or to their
followers. The deepening acceptance of Christianity is another
development documented by the archaeological record in this period.
Chapter three, "Kings and Christianity: From the Late Seventh Century
to the Early Ninth," is characterized by changes in burial patterns.
Deposition of grave goods with the deceased continued to the end of the
seventh century (78), but goods were increasingly concealed in purses
and pouches rather than worn for display or deposited openly, a pattern
that suggests disposal of items associated with the deceased rather
than public ostentation at burial. Grave goods became rare in the
eighth century, partly due to the scarcity of gold, and largely due to
the widespread adoption of Christianity. Anglo-Saxon styles and
cultural habits were assimilated or adapted by other groups such as
Picts and Britons during this time, though not uniformly. This period
was also marked by the emergence of the wics, or major trading centers.
These centers facilitated changes in patterns of production and
exchange of goods, and also an increase in the use of coins, though
much of the new coinage was of silver rather than gold, and was issued
in smaller denominations than coins of earlier periods. The highest
status items discussed in this chapter are helmets and swords. Hinton
effectively turns at several points to <i>Beowulf</i> to illustrate the
significance of material goods such as warrior's gear and feasting
vessels (e.g. 89, 107).
Chapter four is "Alfred <i>et al.</i>: From the Mid-Ninth Century to
the Mid-Tenth." Characteristic of this time are more hoards, more
royal rings, more silver niello objects, and fewer coins than in the
previous period. Fewer coins but more precious metal may indicate
"bullion economy" (119), in which metal was collected by weight or
quantity as a commodity to be traded or to give as gifts. Simply
manufactured rings of various sizes appear frequently, and would have
been ideal for such use. Scandinavian and Irish objects appear in
Britain during the ninth century. Also during this time, inscriptions
become more common, such as the phrase "Alfred ordered me to be made,"
on the well-known Alfred Jewel (129). The author considers an
increasing number of documentary sources in this chapter, such as such
as letters (e.g. 114, 129),
wills, (133), charters (123), and the <i>Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle</i>(128), as they often indicate contemporary uses of or
responses to important objects.
"The Epoch of New Dynasties: From the Later Tenth Century to the End
of the Eleventh" Hinton's fifth chapter, begins with a different sort
of discussion. In this period, Hinton recognizes the emergence of a
nation state, which was expressed through royal regalia such as crowns,
scepters, and seals. He does not examine these objects themselves, but
discusses their representations in ruler portraits in manuscripts and
on coins. His analysis of the Bayeux Tapestry is similarly focused on
the objects represented in its embroidery rather than on the tapestry
itself (143). These representations of royalty are entirely valid
inclusions in the book, but the distinction between representation and
the objects represented is blurry at times. The use of seals by the
nobility introduces a new category of meaningful objects, and one
linked to the social structure of the era. Testamentary evidence is
used to determine not only what objects existed, but to learn what
objects were passed on and to whom.
Chapter six, "Feudal Modes: The Twelfth Century and the First Half of
the Thirteenth," covers the change to a land economy. With unfurnished
burials being the norm, and high quality metalwork unlikely to be lost,
ceramics take up more of the author's attention. Within the category of
jewelry, there appears a new interest in gems. Heraldry became popular
in this period as a way to express individual identity. Group
affiliation was shown through the badges and ampullae first of
pilgrims, and soon after for other groups such as guilds and households.
Many of the same concerns continue through chapter seven, "Material
Culture and Social Display: From the Mid-Thirteenth Century to the
Beginning of the Fifteenth." The author makes increasing use of
documentary sources such as inventories, assessments, sumptuary
legislation, and royal expenditure records. This last category suggests
the importance of lavish display among the highest levels of society.
Meanwhile, activities of urban dwellers are represented by a wealth of
everyday objects excavated from waterfront dump sites in London.
The final chapter covers "The Wars and the Posies: The Fifteenth
Century and the First Half of the Sixteenth. Higher wages in London are
expressed by the variety and higher quality of cooking wares and
drinking vessels. Merchant trade with the continent was
well-established and shows itself through distribution patters of
various artifacts. Goods in this period were increasingly purchased on
the market, rather than commissioned by their owners from their makers.
Jewelry with mottoes and love tokens are represented in hoards, along
with private devotional objects such as wearable reliquaries. From this
period there are also more costume adornments and fasteners, sometimes
of base metals, as well as metal purse-frames. In general, the
archaeological record from this time tells us about how people
presented themselves during life, whereas the material from the early
centuries spoke more about presentation of the dead.
A two-page "Envoi" provides a concise summary of the previous 260
pages. In this reviewer's opinion, anyone intending to read chapters
selectively, or any reader not well-versed in medieval archaeological
finds, might benefit from reading the "Envoi" prior to delving into
other sections of the book.
Hinton's book is very detailed. Any given page may mention a dozen
objects from as many sites, all presented with equal consideration. The
106 pages of endnotes point the way for anyone seeking further
discussion of a specific object. A reader unfamiliar with the
particular artifacts might feel overwhelmed or disoriented by the sheer
quantity of objects described in the book. The author's refusal to
subordinate individual artifacts to the service of a thesis is both a
methodological strength and a challenge to the reader.
The vast array of items covered in the discussion give rise to numerous
methodological and interpretive questions. Hinton acknowledges a broad
range of these both in the text and the notes, including those he
chooses not to use. One methodological area that seems weak is gender.
With the exception of a brief discussion types of adornments and gems
associated with men and women in the fourteenth century (226),
references to gender are really little more than points where the
archaeological record implicates women. An opportunity has been missed
to elaborate on how material culture was used to define this important
set of social categories.
This book is a valuable synthesis of decades of archaeological work on
medieval material culture. Hinton brings together numerous site reports
and published discussions of specific objects or issues, all of which
are documented in the copious endnotes. One should not read this book
for a thorough discussion of any single site. Rather, it interprets the
totality of medieval British finds in light of the changing material
culture across the span of the Middle Ages in Britain. For
archaeologists, <i>Gold and Gilt, Pots and Pins</i> will be a good
jumping-off point for future studies of the types of objects that
appear in the medieval archaeological record. For scholars in other
disciplines, it is a useful survey of the objects used for display and
exchange during the Middle Ages that can provide necessary background
for wherever one finds material objects mentioned in medieval documents.
0 Chris Laning
+ Davis, California