Tiny Beauties! Signatures of clothing: toggles and fasteners

Tiffany Treadway, PhD Candidate
Cardiff University

Toggles and fasteners are used to bind cloth much like a modern zipper or buttons. These pieces are often secondary when we think of British Iron Age materials. However, the range of typology presented during this period is phenomenal (e.g. see Worrell 2008, Wild 1970s catalogue). These examples were pulled from wetland sites in Scotland and used to show the creative forms of such small pieces.  

Teardrop button and loop fastener. Photo used with permission from National Museum of Scotland (@ntlmuseumsscot).

This copper alloy teardrop loop and fastener, which at one time had an enamelled central boss design, was reported from the floodplain south of Malthouse Burn. Based on its typology, Wild Class Vc (1970), it was produced around 80 to 180 AD. This type of fastener has been found on both clothing and equestrian dressings (Hunter 2018: 173).

Wooden toggle. Photo used with permission from of The Scottish Crannog Centre (@scottishcrannog).

Not all toggles and fasteners are made from metal! This dumbbell beauty was found during the excavations of Oakbank Crannog and is whittled from wood (species unknown at this time). Its date is believed to be contemporary with the crannog’s occupation from which dated from 450 to 400 BC. The picture shows a small hole perforated through the centre where it would have been secured.  

Reconstructed crannog of Oakbank at the Scottish Crannog Centre (@scottishcrannog) at Loch Tay.

Next is a zoomorphic button and loop fastener which was reported from the floodplain at the junction of Burn Linkwood and the River Lossie. The fastener is considered to be of class III according to Hunter (2015) and dated based on typology from 0 to 200 AD. This fastener is in the playful zoomorphic form of a duck, which is very fitting that it was found in a wetland landscape.  

Zoomorphic button and loop fastener (class III). Photo used with permission from the ©Elgin Museum (@ElginMuseum).

Imagine having your clothes held together by a duck! Even bar toggles have not gone out of trend in today’s fashions which is often seen on winter coats by designers such as this one from Saint Laurent which costs over £1000.

A coat from Yves Saint Laurent showing how toggles are still in fashion today.

In terms of deposition tradition, these items are commonly found in single object deposits in Scotland for the Iron Age. I like to think that they are an intimate act of purposeful placement into their chosen wetland landscape. Small items, even in isolation, can be great mementos if we consider their handheld size. Additionally, they and other pieces likewise found in isolation, hold momentous importance for Iron Age studies especially when we consider typologies. Often singular pieces, and small ones at that, are often disregarded, believed to be accidental losses. Garrow and Godsen (2012: 156) state that individual objects found in isolation of other contemporary finds are useless for analysis of material culture networks. Haselgrove and Hingley (2006: 147) suggest that deposition through accidental loss was quite small and that the majority of objects are the result of purposeful intention. As a result, holistic review of the pieces in regards to their typologies and materials, can tell us not only the local fashions, but network of influences, trade, and sources of manufacture which can be local, internal (i.e. Britain), or external (i.e. everywhere else). Therefore, single object finds, no matter how small are important.

References:

Haselgrove, C. and Hingley, R., 2006. Iron deposition and its significance in pre-Roman Britain. Bataille & Guillaumet, dir, pp.147-163.

Zoomorphic Fastener, Elgin Museum record card (2014.22), https://canmore.org.uk/site/351729/barmuckity

Garrow, D. and Gosden, C., 2012. Technologies of enchantment?: exploring Celtic art: 400 BC to AD 100. Oxford University Press.

Haselgrove, C. and Hingley, R., 2006. Iron deposition and its significance in pre-Roman Britain. Les depots metalliquesau second age du Fer en Europe temperee. Glux-en-Glenne: Bibracte Centre Archeologique Europeen. 147-163.

Hunter, F. 2015. Moray, Barmuckity, Metal detector find. Discovery Excavation Scotland, 2015. Edinburgh: The Council for Scottish Archaeology. 140.

Hunter, F. 2018. Melrose, Metal detector find. Discovery Excavation Scotland, 2017. Edinburgh: The Council for Scottish Archaeology. 173.

Melrose Fastener, Treasure Trove record (TT99/16); National Museum of Scotland digital record (X.FRA 671), http://nms.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-180-001-820-C

Wooden Toggle. Scottish Crannog Centre record card (OB2018.78, DBC90 SF54)

Wild, J.P., 1970. Button-and-loop fasteners in the Roman provinces. Britannia. London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

Worrell, S., 2008. Roman Britain in 2007 (II. Finds Reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme). Britannia. London: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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