Global Glass: ‘Global Glass Adornments Event Horizon in the Late Iron Age and Roman Period Frontiers (100 BC – AD 250)’ is postdoctoral fellowship funded by European Commission through Horizon 2020-Marie Skladowska-Curie Actions based at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK (2015-2017). The project is multidisciplinary comparative research on the cross-cultural consumption of personal adornments, known as glass annulars, i.e. rigid, ring-shaped objects composed of coloured glass, used by the inhabitants of the European northwest borderland regions during the transition from the Late Iron Age to Roman period, c. 100 B.C. – A.D. 250.
The European Northwest in the Late Iron Age and Roman period is conspicuous for the high occurrence of glass annular adornments, usually referred to as glass bracelets or armlets. The most striking phenomenon is the massive increase in the numbers of glass adornments, their variability in use and decorative regionality in this transitional period. This phenomenon is termed in the project the ‘glass adornments event horizon’. The name for this phenomenon takes origins in the “Fibula Event Horizon”, coined by Sophia Jundi and JD Hill to explain the explosion of brooches in first century BC and AD Britain. The main features of this event are the increasing number and changing importance of brooches in Britain prior to the Roman conquest. Similar to that event is the ‘glass adornments event horizon’. The start of the production of glass annulars is dated to the second quarter of the third century BC in the heart of the La Tène cultural area, Central Europe, spreading further west in the consequent periods. In the Upper and Lower Rhineland, the La Tène culture borderland regions, it reaches its zenith in the Late Iron Age period, mid-to-late first century BC. With the arrival of Rome into these areas, early first century AD, the circulation of glass adornments decreases, yet the craft re-appears in the periphery of the Roman Empire, in southern Scotland, from where it spreads to Northern England, where it picks in late first-mid second century AD. This suggests that the ‘glass adornments event horizon’ is a strictly frontier pre-Roman phenomenon of inter-European nature, featuring chronological fluctuations in regional importance of glass adornments.
The project combines comparative literary and museum studies with theoretically and scientifically informed approaches, and hands-on experiments to provide an in-depth picture of the ‘glass adornments event horizon’ in the frontier regions of the Late Iron Age and Roman Europe.
Glass adornments of the European Northwest have primarily been studied from regional perspectives, focusing in particular on the typological and chronological development and distribution. This project aims to provide the first detailed study of glass annulars from the inter-European perspective. It will therefore assess the evidence, firstly, in four north-western European countries: Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and United Kingdom, and, secondly, explore its regional ramifications, by concentrating on one area, United Kingdom, in order to understand the manifestation of this inter-cultural event in a local setting. This will allow to investigate points of interaction between craftspeople of various frontier communities regarding the production of annulars as well as the rationale behind the adoption of foreign elements in the multi-ethnic communities’ practices.
Rather than solely investigating glass adornments’ typological and chronological development, and their distribution, the projects aims to explore their role in the construction and negotiation of societal and personal identities in the multi-ethnic borderland regions. Some of the reported finds’ contexts show significant variation in the use of glass adornments in different areas and its use by people of different social backgrounds. These variances indicate that glass adornments were treated differently by divergent populations and probably implied a multiplicity of meanings that remained contingent upon the social group using them. Such variables cast light on how identities were expressed and negotiated through adornments, including their role in the emergence of new frontier identities.
The project is expected to challenge long-standing perceptions related to the function and gender nature of glass adornments. The rigid annular objects composed of coloured glass are usually referred to as bangles, armlets or glass bracelets—signifying their function as arm ornaments—or pendants, implying their wear on a necklace, and usually seen as women’s adornments. Yet, these adornments vary considerably in size: some would fit a child’s arm, but also could be used as purse stiffeners or hair-rings or even as decoration for horse equipment. The variety of sizes indicates that they could be worn and used in many ways by anyone: children, women and/or men.
The project pays particular attention to the study of the annulars from the Late Iron Age and Roman Britain. There is a need to up-date the data on distribution, typology and manufacture of British glass annulars since the last inventory in 1976, which yielded roughly 420 fragments. By now more than 2000 fragments have come to light from ca 400 sites. The final number will be higher since the annulars from southern England and Wales have never been studied in detail. The large amount of these previously unpublished data will be stored and organized in a large database, which will be made accessible online to the wider scholarly community upon the project completion.