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TMR review of _Gold and Gilt: Possessions and People_

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  • Chris Laning
    This looks like it could be a REALLY useful book! BTW, TMR (The Medieval Review) reviews books regularly and their mailing list can be really useful to
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 23, 2005
      This looks like it could be a REALLY useful book!

      BTW, TMR (The Medieval Review) reviews books regularly and their mailing list can be really useful to subscribe to. I'd say they average maybe a dozen reviews a month, so it's not too burdensome. For myself, I find that about half of the ones I get are worth reading or saving, and maybe one every two or three months triggers an "Oooooooooo, I want THAT one!"

      Their subscription info and archive of past reviews are at:

      -- Christian de Holacombe

      -----Forwarded Message-----
      From: The Medieval Review <tmr-l@...>
      Sent: Sep 23, 2005 11:02 AM
      To: tmr-l@...
      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
      | <claning@...>
      + Davis, California
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