Reenactors wishing to reconstruct the Early Middle Ages are often confronted with the fact there are no indications of belt components in about a half of all graves. The absence of any belt applies to both richly equipped and less expensive graves throughout Europe. It is, of course, possible that the belts were not placed in the graves. However, there may be other solutions to this problem.
As reenactor János Mestellér showed, belts from the Early Middle Ages were expected to perform fastening and hanging function, to allow comfortable and quick hanging of objects on straps through eyelets, randomly created in the belt (Mestellér 2018). Because of the absence of pockets, this solution is logical. A belt fulfilling these basic functions does not have to be equipped with a buckle, as shown by some Early Medieval finds and medieval iconography, and so the absence of belts can be attributed to the passing of time that ruthlessly engulfed belts without any metal component.
We completely agree with this opinion, but we believe that a certain part of these belts could be equipped with components – buckles and strap-ends made of bone, antler and walrus. The evidence is not only the Eiríks saga rauða (5), in which a “walrus tusk belt” (tannbelti) becomes a gift, but also at least 30 buckles and at least 24 ends dated to the period of 8th-12th century, which is presented in the attached list below. At least three components have been found in the graves, which illustrates the assumption we have just made. In two cases, the bone strap-end was placed in a grave with other belt components made of metal, so it can be assumed that the organic end also occurred in some graves, in which we now have only buckles. In the article below, we also try to illustrate that these materials, which at first glance do not seem ideal for the production of belts, have been used for a large part of European history to make belt components. In this article, we will limit ourselves only to buckles and strap-ends, as other components cannot be confirmed, even though there are analogies from the late Middle Ages / Early Modern Period (Musée de Cluny 2019). Organic nomadic buckles from Eastern Europe, of which we probably know several hundred, will not be mentioned in this article.
Buckles made of bone, antler, walrus and ivory have a tradition in the European past from the beginning of Roman times to the Early Modern Period (MacGregor 1985: 103-105; Gothic ivories 2019). Two types of buckles come from the period we are dealing with here – one-piece (with or without an integral prong) and multi-piece with a rotating prong and a buckle plate. In the second case, the organic variants copied the metal variants. The material for production became bone, antler and walrus. Ivory was used for religious buckles (Werner 1977; Gothic ivories 2019). Buckles are commonly decorated. Any circular bone or antler objects with a drilled hole inside could also be used as buckles, but we are not able to prove this function.
Finds from Friesian terps, The Netherlands
At least ten bone buckles or fragments have been found on Friesian terps (Roes 1963: 77-79, Pl. LIX: 4-10). More than half of them give the impression that they are unfinished or unsuccessful products. Buckles are dated to the Carolingian period (Roes 1963: 79; MacGregor 1985: 105). We will now describe some of them. The first buckle (Roes 1963: 77, Pl. LIX: 4), originating from Dongjum, is 52 mm long. It was made for a thin belt which was fastened to it with three rivets. The buckle is one-piece. The prong, now missing, rotated on a bar, leaving a notch. The oval frame is decorated with a small protrusion. The buckle plate is decorated with circles and two lines filled with transverse lines. The second buckle (Roes 1963: 77, Pl. LIX: 5) is similar to the previous one, but the frame is rectangular in shape. Two protrusions extend into the hole for the belt, which were to hold the bar and protect the prong. It is missing, but a triangular notch was created for it on the opposite side of the frame. The buckle was never completed, there are no holes for rivets, bar nor prong. The third buckle is of a different shape (Roes 1963: 77, Pl. LIX: 6). It consists of a narrow rectangular piece that is slightly curved, so it better copies the waist. The buckle has two holes for rivets. The hole for the belt is relatively large and round. Next to it, there is a smaller hole, while the divider served a bar for the prong, which is missing. It is a very practical and functional piece. The fourth piece (Roes 1963: 78, Pl. LIX: 7) is a fragment of an elegant buckle, from which a piece of the frame has been preserved. It is decorated on the edge with a series of lines. It is provided with a triangular notch for the prong. The fifth buckle (Roes 1963: 77-78, Pl. LIX: 8) is an illustrative example of the work of a craftsman, who prepared a suitable piece of material, cut it into the correct shape, cut the edges of the future frame and drilled two holes close to each other that were meant to be joined, creating the hole for the belt. Before joining the holes, perhaps in order to fasten the object in a better way, the craftsman began to cut a wedge-shaped notch for the belt, when the front side cracked and the craftsman threw the buckle away. The sixth buckle (Roes 1963: 78, Pl. LIX: 9) is considered the work of an amateur who began to decorate the work before he completely modeled it, and because the appearance was not satisfactory, the buckle was discarded. The seventh buckle (Roes 1963: 78, Pl. LIX: 10) is 40 mm wide and 9 mm thick. Due to its massiveness, it was attached to a narrow belt. The buckle never had a prong, so the belt had to be wrapped around the rest of the belt after passing through the hole.
Friesian terps bone buckles. Roes 1963: Pl. LIX: 4-10.
Ferwerd, The Netherlands
The Leiden Museum houses a rectangular bone buckle from Ferwerd terp (Roes 1963: 78, Fig. 27). A sharp spike used to fix the belt protrudes from one of the shorter sides. Buckles of this kind are also known from the Middle Ages from several parts of Europe (Roes 1963: 78; MacGregor 1985: 105). The dating of this item may be similar to previous Friesian buckles.
The bone buckle found in Friesian terp Ferwerd.
Roes 1963: 78, Fig. 27.
Alnwick Castle Museum, United Kingdom
In the collection of the Duke of Northumberland, which is stored in the Alnwick Castle Museum, there are two bone buckles without provenance (Brown 1915: 293, Pl. LII: 4; Bruce 1880: 76, Cat. No. 300; MacGregor 1980: 178, Fig. 61a; MacGregor 1985: 105, Fig. 60e). Apparently they come from England (MacGregor 1980: 178), stylistically they can be included in the period defined by us. Both are decorated with circles. One of them has a trapezoidal frame with a T-shaped hole. From the side there is a hole for a bar on which a prong has been installed. The buckle is lowered by a notch on the back, but we do not find any holes for rivets. The exact appearance of the second buckle is not known, as it is not found in the literature.
The buckle from the Alnwick Castle Museum collection.
From above: MacGregor 1980: Fig. 61a; MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60e; Brown 1915: Pl. LII:4.
B.M. 1880,0802.167, Goodmanham, United Kingdom
One of the best preserved buckle is the example from the Goodmanham, Yorkshire (MacGregor 1980: 178, Fig. 61d; MacGregor 1985: 105, Fig. 60h; British Museum 2019b), which was handed by Sir August Wollaston Franks to the British Museum, where the buckle remains under inventory number 1880,0802.167, in 1880. It measures 80 × 29 mm (British Museum 2019b). Judging by the ornament in the Borre style, it can be dated to the 10th century. The copper alloy prong still rests on the bar, which is engraved directly into the bone. There are also 4 rivets made of copper alloy, which surrounds the frame. At the tip of the frame there is now a hole, which could previously also be filled with a rivet. Attaching to the belt is problematic. From the drawings it seems that there are two holes between the ornament, but they are not visible in the photo (British Museum 2019b). If that were the case, the second line of holes would have to be in the damaged part; MacGregor (1985: 105) seems to be leaning towards this variant. Alternatively, the leather strap would be inserted into a wedge-shaped notch which appears to be at the very end of the buckle plate.
The buckle from Goodmanham, B.M. 1880,0802.167.
From left: MacGregor 1980: Fig. 61d; MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60h.
York, United Knigdom
Another interesting buckle was found during excavations on Clifford Street in York (MacGregor 1980: 179, Fig. 61f; MacGregor 1985: 105, Fig. 60i; Waterman 1959: 91, Fig. 19:6). It is cut from one piece of bone and provided with a prong and a bar of the same material. The bar is inserted into a hole that is drilled from the side. On the frame, we can notice a slight notch on which the tip of the prong was to rest. The buckle is decorated with a double zigzag grid and an intertwined knot, on the basis of which it is possible to date the buckle to 10th-11th century. The fastening system is interesting – the buckle plate turns into a protrusion, on the underside of which there is a hook, which was apparently hooked into the belt material.
The buckle from York.
From left: MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60i; Waterman 1959: Fig. 19:6.
Y.M. 1948.617, York, United Knigdom
Another equally important buckle was found in the same locality, during the excavations of Clifford Street in York in 1948 (MacGregor 1980: 179, Fig. 61e; MacGregor 1985: 105; Waterman 1959: 91, Fig. 19:7). The buckle is again made of one piece and its dimensions are 4.8 × 2.7 × 0.7 cm. Right next to the oval hole there is a smaller hole, the divider served as the bar for the prong, which is missing and whose tip rested in a triangular notch on the frame. The buckle is transversely decorated with lines. The leather strap was inserted into a wedge-shaped notch, in which it was secured with two rivets, apparently made of copper alloy (Waterman 1959: 91). The buckle is curious as it is painted a uniform dark green color with a copper base. In the Middle Ages, this colour was achieved with a solution of vinegar, vitriol and copper, or by leaving in a bath of goat’s milk and copper in a copper vessel stored for several days in horse manure (MacGregor 1985: 70). A nice recreation of the proccess was presented by Gear & Graith.
The buckle from York.
From left: MacGregor 1980: Fig. 61e; Waterman 1959: Fig. 19:7.
Y.M. sf.9797, York, United Kingdom
A fragment of a buckle dated back to the 10th century was found at Coppergate 16-22 in York (MacGregor 1999: 1942, no. 6799). The dimension is 24.6 × 13.5 × 6.4 mm (MacGregor 1999: 2012, no. 6799). The polished fragment consists of a piece of frame, on which we can see a triangular notch, in which rested the tip of the prong. The rest is probably decorated with a vicious ornament. Current storage can be expected at the York Castle Museum, but the exact inventory number is unknown.
The buckle fragment from York, Y.M. sf.9797
Source: MacGregor 1999: Fig. 902, no. 6799.
Winchester Museum, United Kingdom
Archaeologist Adam Parsons pointed out an interesting fragment of a bone buckle, which is stored in the Winchester City Museum. It is basically a buckle plate from which a rectangle extends, serving as a bar, to which a metal prong is attached. The plate is richly decorated with animal and floral ornament and was riveted to the belt with four rivets, leaving holes. Close-ups provided by reenactor Matt Bunker show that the now-broken frame also protruded from the rectangle – the entire component was made in one piece.
Buckle fragments, Winchester City Museum.
Photos: Matt Bunker.
Two Scottish bone buckles, United Kingdom
Craftsman David Constantine sent us two Scottish, yet unpublished buckles. Both come from the same coastal locality, which has a strong Norse element. One of the buckles has a rectangular or rather square shape, while the hole has a T-shape, similar to the specimen from the Alnwick Castle Museum. The prong is missing, but there is a notch for it on the rim. The belt was apparently fastened with at least two holes, one of which has survived to this day in the corner of the buckle. The second buckle is significantly damaged and and the only visible aspect is that the rim was rounded.
NM 04E1030:1307:1, Golden Lane, Ireland
A very important find is the bone buckle found in women’s grave no. CXXIX on Golden Lane in Dublin in 2005 (Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: 543, III. 332: 1307:1). The buckle is the only find from the grave, and the only grave we know that contains a buckle. The dimensions are 61 × 22 mm. The construction is one-piece. The prong is missing and was originally attached to an integral bar. The buckle bears signs of wear. The leather strap was inserted into a wedge-shaped notch, in which it was secured with one iron rivet. The buckle is decorated with lines and circles.
The buckle from Golden Lane, NM 04E1030:1307:1.
Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: III. 332: 1307:1
NM E190:6273, Dublin, Ireland
A rectangle or trapezoidal antler buckle was found during excavations at Fishamble Street in Dublin. As far as we know, this buckle has not been published, except for occasional mentions (Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: 162). It is decorated with a circle and pit decoration set in lines and groups of three. The prong consists of a massive antler piece, which is attached to the bar. In the middle of the buckle plate there is one hole for attaching the belt. The object can be dated to the Viking Age. The buckle is currently on display at the National Museum in Dublin under inventory number E190: 6273.
The buckle from Dublin, NM E190:6273. National Museum in Dublin.
Photo: Matt Bunker.
NM E171, Dublin, Ireland
Another bone buckle was found at the same location, Fishamble Street in Dublin. As in the previous case, no specific details are known. From the photos, it is clear that the hole created by the frame is relatively narrow. The buckle has a preserved metal prong which is curved and apparently attached to a bar which is an integral part of the bone piece. The frame is decorated with an engraving. The buckle plate is E-shaped and consists of three massive protrusions. We do not know the fastening system. The buckle is currently on display at the National Museum in Dublin under inventory number E171.
The buckle from Dublin, NM E171. National Museum in Dublin.
Photo: Daniel Pilař.
NM E172:11175, Dublin, Ireland
During the Dublin excavations at Fishamble Street, another antler object interpreted as a buckle was discovered. It is a damaged product, decorated with braid ornaments. One end has intentionally marked holes for rivets, while the other is broken off just behind the integral bar that separated the hole from the frame. The prong is missing. The object can be dated to the Viking Age. It is currently on display at the National Museum in Dublin under inventory number E172: 11175.
The buckle from Dublin, NM E172:11175. National Museum in Dublin.
Photo: Matt Bunker.
B.M. 1831,1101.145, Lewis, United Kingdom
At the beginning of the 19th century, an unique set of chess pieces made of walrus was found on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. A massive walrus buckle was also found in this set (MacGregor 1980: 178, Fig. 61c; MacGregor 1985: 105, Fig. 60g; British Museum 2019c). The dimensions of this buckle are 63.41 × 29.3 × 10 mm (British Museum 2019c). The buckle dates, like the rest of the set, to the period 1150-1175. The prong is made of the same material and is mounted on a bar made of copper alloy wire. The belt was attached to the underside with four copper alloy rivets. The upper side is richly decorated with engraved floral motifs, which are surrounded by grids. At present, the buckle is stored in the British Museum under inventory number 1831,1101.145.
The buckle from Lewis, B.M. 1831,1101.145.
From left: MacGregor 1980: Fig. 61c; MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60g; British Museum 2019c.
Uherský Brod, Czech Repulib
The bone buckle from Uherský Brod, Moravia, can also fit into the defined dating (Hrubý 1957: 162-164, Fig. 11: 7). This settlement find is dated to 12th-13th century and there are Czech analogies in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is intricately composed of seven pieces, which are riveted with iron rivets. The total length is 100 mm, the length of the plate is about 75 mm. The prong is attached to the bar, which is not an integral part. The sides form a raised frame. The front side is decorated with circles and openwork. The method of attachment is not known, as part of the buckle is broken.
The bone buckle from Uherský Brod.
Hrubý 1957: Obr. 11:7.
The buckle, which is similar to the find from Uherský Brod, was found in the Greenlandic “Western Settlement” (Roesdahl 2015: 271, Fig. 5). It is possible that this buckle also falls within the period defined by us. The buckle is 10.3 cm long and is decorated with border lines. Its material is a whale bone.
The buckle made of whale bone, found in Greenland. Roesdahl 2015: Fig. 5.
Budova Ø34, Qassiarsuq, Greenland
The defined period can include two buckles made of walrus, which were found in the Ø34 building in the “Eastern Settlement” in Greenland (Roesdahl 2015). They can be dated to the end of the 12th or 13th century. The first, apparently unfinished, is 44 mm long and 28 mm wide. The second buckle, which is finished and damaged, has dimensions of 26 × 26 mm. The second buckle is decorated along the edge and was originally attached with two rivets, leaving holes.
Two walrus buckles from Greenland. Roesdahl 2015: Fig. 1.
Unknown site, Denmark
A massive walrus buckle found in an unknown Danish locality also dates back to the 12th century (Roesdahl 2015: Fig. 3). This buckle is 9.5 cm long and was attached to the belt with three rivets. The only decoration is a border line. The closest analogy is the Lewis buckle.
The walrus buckle from Denmark. Roesdahl 2015: Fig. 3.
Gammel Brattingsborg, Denmark
Dating back to the end of the 12th century is also suggested in case of the find of the walrus buckle from Gammel Brattingsborg Castle on the Danish island of Samsø (Roesdahl 2015: 271, Fig. 4). The buckle is damaged; in its current state it is 4 cm long and 2.05 cm wide. It seems to be decorated. The holes for the rivets are not visible. The prong made of the same material still rests on the bar.
The walrus buckle from Gammel Brattingsborg.
Roesdahl 2015: Fig. 4.
MacGregor (MacGregor 1980: 179; 1985: 105) believed that belt ends made of bone or antler most likely belonged to belts fitted with buckles of the same material. This would be evidenced by later medieval and early modern ivory sets (eg Gothic ivories 2019; Musée de Cluny 2019). In at least two cases, however, the strap-ends were stored together with the metal belt components. The ends are made of bone, antlers and walrus. They vary in shapes and ways of attachment, but usually copy metal variants. All ends are decorated.
J.W.M. 67.1884, Leicester, United Kingdom
Probably the most famous end comes from Leicester. It was discovered in 1864 during the excavation of Highcross Street at a depth of seven feet (Page et al. 1907: 228, Pl. 2: Fig. 2), probably at the house number 25 (Backhouse et al. 1984: Cat. No. 133). It is made of bone (MacGregor 1980: 179; 1985: 105; Thomas 2000: Cat. No. 1125). Its size is 56 × 30 mm (Backhouse et al. 1984: Cat. No. 133; Thomas 2000: Cat. No. 1125). The end is tougue-shaped and convex in cross section. The surface is smoothly polished and engraved with symmetrical animal heads and acanthus leaves, which are placed in the space between the line lining the edge of the object. This type of decoration is attributed to Anglo-Saxon art with Carolingian influences (Brøndsted 1924: 159-160). The upper right corner is damaged, the end is about 90% complete. On the view side, the end is lowered by a notch on which there are three holes for rivets. Dating varies between the 9th century (Brøndsted 1924: 159) and the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries (Backhouse et al. 1984: Cat. No. 133). It is now stored at the Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester under inventory number 67.1884.
The strap-end from Leicester, J.W.M. 67.1884.
From left: Page et al. 1907: Pl. 2: Fig. 2; MacGregor 1980: Fig. 61g; MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60m; Thomas 2000: Fig. 3. 24c.
M.O.L 3993, London, United Kingdom
The second most famous strap-end is the piece that was probably found in London (Guildhall Museum 1908: 121, Cat. No. 91). Unfortunately, the circumstances of the find are not known at all, but it first appeared in the literature in 1908 (Guildhall Museum 1908: 121, Cat. No. 91, Pl. LII: 14). The latest literature states the dimensions of the ends 51.8 × 25.9 mm (Thomas 2000: Cat. No. 1132), although the older ones stated the size 54 × 25 mm (Guildhall Museum 1908: 121, Cat. No. 91). The material is bone / ivory (Thomas 2000: Cat. No. 1132) or walrus (MacGregor 1980: 179; 1985: 105). As in the previous case, this end is tongue-shaped and the decoration is concentrated within the space defined by the border line. The decoration, consisting of animals and birds facing each other, appears to be symmetrical. On the back there are engraved marks, including the × sign in a rectangle (Guildhall Museum 1908: 121, Cat. No. 91). On the view side, the end is lowered by a notch on which there are four holes for rivets. The end can be dated to the same time as the Leicester end (MacGregor 1980: 179; 1985: 105). During the existence of the Guildhall Museum, the end was stored there, after its transformation, the end was transported to the Museum of London. We contacted its curator Hazel Forsyth, who told us that the current inventory number is 3993 and that, unfortunately, the circumstances of the find are not known – it could have been an accidental find from the end of the 19th century. According to this scientist, the dimensions are 55 × 27 mm.
The strap-end from London, M.O.L 3993.
From left: Guildhall Museum 1908: Pl. LII:14; Page 1909: Fig. 22; MacGregor 1980: Fig. 61h; MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60k.
B.M. 1879,0520.1, London, United Kingdom
In his works (1980: 180; 1985: 105), MacGregor informs about an unpublished bone strap-end, which is similar to the previous piece from the London collection. According to him, it is primitively decorated with engraved ornament and is stored in the British Museum. In the online catalog of this museum it is possible to find the end under inventory number 1879,0520.1 (British Museum 2019a). Although photography is not available, the catalog suggests that it was probably found in Ireland and donated by William Edkins to the British Museum in 1879. At the same time, it is stated that it is not finished, that it bears the marks of braid decoration, has a length of 45 mm and can be dated to the period 9th-11rth century. Sue Brunning, curator of the British Museum’s Early Medieval collection, responded to our request and photographed the end for this site. It is clear from the photos that the front side of the end was decorated with engraved border lines, partially filled with decorations. The back is straight and undecorated. The end bears no marks how it was fastened to the belt.
The strap-end stored in London, B.M. 1879,0520.1.
Photo taken by Sue Brunning, curator of the British Museum.
Y.M. 1979.7.6833, York, United Kingdom
Another notable find is the complete bone tip, which was found in York during the examination of the site Coppergate 16-22 in 1979 (Roesdahl 1981: 115, Cat. No. YAB44; MacGregor 1985: 105; MacGregor 1999: no. 6800). The dimensions are 62 × 24 mm. It dates to the beginning of the 10th century, but was found in the context of the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries (MacGregor 1999: 1943). It is engraved on both sides: on the one side we find an intertwined ornament, on the other side a motif of a stylized plant. As in the previous case, this end is tongue-shaped and the decoration is concentrated within the space defined by the border line. In the upper part, instead of the holes for the rivets, we find one oval, centered cut-out, through which the end of the strap was probably threaded. The back side is cut to about half the thickness in the area of the opening so that it can receive the leather strap without offset. The end is now stored in the York Castle Museum in York under inventory number 1979.7.6833.
The strap-end from York, Y.M. 1979.7.6833.
From left: MacGregor 1999: Fig. 902, no. 6800; MacGregor 1985: Fig. 60l.
Y.M. 1980.7.8146, York, United Kingdom
A lesser known but no less important piece is the antler strap-end found in York during the examination of the site Coppergate 16-22 in 1980 (Roesdahl 1981: 113, Cat. No. YAB20; MacGregor 1999: no. 7697). With its dimensions of 115 × 13 mm, it is the longest end from York. It is classified as unfinished. The shape represents a stylized animal head. The space for decoration, lined with border lines, is filled with engraved plait ornament, which stands close to the Anglo-Saxon style of Trewhiddle. The end can be dated to the 9th century, it was found in the context of the late 10th and early 11th century (MacGregor 1999: 1942-1943). The leather strap was inserted into a wedge-shaped notch, in which it was secured with two iron rivets (Roesdahl 1981: 113). The end is now stored in the York Castle Museum in York under inventory number 1980.7.8146.
The strap-end from York, Y.M. 1980.7.8146.
MacGregor 1999: Fig. 902, no. 7697.
Y.M. sf.2162, York, United Kingdom
A fragment interpreted as a bone end was found in a cesspit from 11th-12th century in the same locality, Coppergate 16-22 in York (MacGregor 1999: no. 6801). The size is 38.5 × 15 mm (MacGregor 1999: 2012, no. 6801). It has a rectangular cross-section, tapers to the broken tip, and the side where we could expect the belt to be fastened is also damaged. The sides show signs of sawing. The fragment is decorated with lines and cross decoration. Storage can be expected at the York Castle Museum, but the exact inventory number is not known.
A probable strap-end fragment from York.
MacGregor 1999: Fig. 902, no. 6801.
Y.M. 1981.12.sf63, York, United Kingdom
In 1981, another, probably the most remarkable end was found at 5 Rougier Street in York (Moulden-Tweddle 1986: 30-31; Moulden et al. 1999: 262, no. 85, Fig. 82b; Thomas 2000: Cat. No. 1378 ). The end is made of bone and is about 85% complete; only the sides are damaged. Its dimensions are 62.8 × 19.2 mm. The front side is decorated with five transverse fields with a circle and a stepped ornaments, which are separated by lines. The tip of the object is formed by an animal’s head when viewed from above – we can see its eyebrows, nostrils and eyes, which are inlayed with colorless enamel. On the view side, the end is lowered by a notch on which there are two holes for rivets. On both sides of the end there were also 6 pairs of iron rivets with a decorative function. The end was found in a cultural pit sealed with a layer from 11th-12th century and can be stylistically dated to the 9th century (Molden – Tweddle 1986: 30-31) or 10th-11th century (Thomas 2000: Cat. no. 1378). The end is now stored in the York Castle Museum in York under inventory number 1981.12.sf63.
The strap-end from York, Y.M. 1981.12.sf63.
Thomas 2000: Fig. 3. 34h.
Grosvenor Museum, Chester, United Kingdom
In 1964, a bone strap-end was found during the digging of the Watergate Street / White Friars in Chester, England (Griffiths 1991: 260, Cat. No. 13; Lloyd-Morgan 1994: 98, No. 1, Fig. 112; Thomas 2000: Cat No. 1140). It is almost complete. Its dimensions are 56.6 × 20.5 × 5 mm (Griffiths 1991: 260). The date can be the same as for the Leicester and London ends. The shape is tongue-shaped. The back is flat, while the front is engraved with a deep ornament, which consists of a stylization of a plant (thistle?) and two animals facing each other. On the view side, the end is lowered by a notch on which there are three holes for rivets. Currently, the end is stored in the Grosvenor Museum in Chester under an unknown inventory number.
The strap-end from Chester.
Griffiths 1991: 260, Cat. no. 13, Pl. 2:13.
Chester, United Kingdom
During excavations in the Abbey Green, Chester in 1975-8, a pit was found from the late Saxon period, in which there was a bone object similar to a strap-end (Griffiths 1991: 260-261, Cat. No. 14; Lloyd-Morgan 1994). The interpretation of the object is supported by the shape, dimensions 69 × 16.7 × 5.8 mm and the decoration, which on both sides consists of two edging lines, which are filled by the engraved braids on the front. If it were a strap-end, it would mean that it was discarted before completion. However, it could also be an unfinished model used for serial production of cast ends or a test product. The dating dates back to the 10th century. The location and catalog number of this item is unknown.
A possible strap-end from Chester.
Griffiths 1991: 260-261, Cat. no. 14, Pl. 2:14.
Ipswich, United Kingdom
At the end of 2021, a monograph mapping the Anglo-Saxon antler and bone industry found in Ipswich in 1974-1994 will be published (Suffolk Heritage Explorer 2021). The publication will include four antler strap-ends. One of the authors, Mr. Ian Riddler, was so kind and provided us with information before publishing. All the strap-ends are complete. The first two (1191, 1192) are decorated with an intricate acanthus pattern and perforated by five and four holes in the groove behind the raised decorative area, and by a central hole at the rounded top. These two measure 40 × 28 mm and 45 × 30 mm and dated to the period 870 – 925/935. The third strap-end (642) is decorated with crudely-cut single framing line and perforated by two rows of three knife-cut holes. The fourth strap-end (641) is equipped with an angular knop, and decorated across its surface by three irregularly-spaced interlace designs, including two triquetras. Below the triquetras lies a band of triangular patterning and a row of dot designs. The strap-end does not possess any fastening holes.
The strap-ends from Ipswich. Kindly provided by Ian Riddler.
NM E71:10172, Dublin, Ireland
Another probable bone strap-end was found during excavations on Dublin’s High Street (Lang-Caulfield 1988: Fig. 121). Again it does not have mounting holes, its shape and dimensions of around 35 × 20 × 4 mm suggest that the object may have had this function. The artifact is highly polished and decorated on both sides with a plait engraving. There is one hole in the middle of the object. The subject can be dated to the Viking Age. At present, the object is exhibited in the exposition of the National Museum in Dublin under inventory number E71: 10172.
A possible strap-end from Dublin, NM E71:10172.
Lang – Caulfield 1988: Fig. 121.
NM E43:2405, Dublin, Ireland
Another tip made of antler was found on High Street in Dublin. It remains unpublished. As far as we can judge from the photos, it is decorated with circles arranged into crosses. The end is provided with two holes for rivets and the underside is apparently lowered by a notch in the area of the holes. The object can be dated to the Viking Age. At present, the end is exhibited in the exposition of the National Museum in Dublin under inventory number E43: 2405.
The strap-end from Dublin, NM E43:2405. National Museum in Dublin.
Photo: Matt Bunker.
NM E172:1938, Dublin, Ireland
The bone strap-end was also found during excavations at Fishamble Street in Dublin. As far as we know, this end has not been published. Judging from the photos, it is about 80 mm long and engraved with a circle decor set in rectangles filled with engraved beads. The tip of the end forms a stylized head of the animal with ears, eyes and snout. The leather strap was originally inserted into a wedge-shaped notch, in which it was secured with two rivets. However, the front side holding the belt is destroyed in the line of the rivet holes. The object can be dated to the Viking Age. It is currently on display at the National Museum in Dublin under inventory number E172: 1938.
The strap-end from Dublin, NM E172:1938. National Museum in Dublin.
Photo: Daniel Pilař.
594-358/82, Mikulčice, Czech Republic
In 1982, a small end made of antler was found in Mikulčice (Kavánová 1995: 234, 293, Cat. No. 689, Abb. XLVIII: 3, Taf. 32: 3). Its size is 30 × 16 × 8 mm. It is tongue-shaped. The sides are chamfered, while a raised profile protrudes from the middle, on which the iron rivet is located. All three fields of the upper side are decorated with circle decoration. The attachment to the belt could only be made from the underside of the end piece, as there is no notch.
The strap-end from Mikulčice, 594-358/82.
Kavánová 1995: Abb. XLVIII:3.
1487/80, Wolin, Poland
An antler oblong object found in the cultural layer in Wolin is also interpreted as a strap-end (Rębkowski 2019: 184). The object is 38 mm long, 26-17 mm wide and 3.5-4.5 mm thick. In the wider part, there is an oval hole measuring 15 × 4.5 mm, which was probably used to attach the belt, similar to the end of York (1979.7.6833). The find dates back to the second half of the 10th century.
The possible strap-end from Wolin, 1487/80.
Rębkowski 2019: Fig. 64.17.
Yet another strap end was found in Wolin, consisting of two antler plates embracing the opposite sides of the belt, riveted with two rivets (Stanisławski – Filipowiak 2011: 127, Ryc. 92). The dimensions are about 5.75 × 1.75 cm. The find dates back to the end of the 10th century or the beginning of the 11th century.
The strap-end from Wolin.
Stanisławski – Filipowiak 2011: Ryc. 92.
During an excavation at the Thulehuset site in Lund in 1961, an ivory strap-end was found (Blomqvist 1963: 190-191, Fig. 205). It is 44.5 mm long and decorated on both sides. Even though MacGregor claims it is a good analogy to the buckle from Goodmanham and can be dated in the same period (MacGregor 1980: 180; 1985: 105), the decoration seems to stand much closer to the buckle from Winchester Museum and the strap-end from Leicester. The primary literature also suggests an Anglo-Saxon influence (Blomqvist 1963: 191). The system of attachment to a belt is unknown.
The strap-end from Lund. Blomqvist 1963: Fig. 205.
SHM 35000: F 23357, Birka, Sweden
From the settlement context of Birka (Svarta jorden) comes another, only roughly worked and probably unfinished bone strap-end. It is tongue-shaped, about 60 mm long, and decorated with double zigzag band on a hatched background. The end is stored in the Swedish Historical Museum under catalog number SHM 35000: F 23357.
The strap-end from Svarta jorden, Birka.
Photos: Pavel Voronin.
SHM 15752:3:8, Slite, Gotland, Sweden
In the grave III/1916 of Slite, Gotland, which could be described as female grave, a tongue-shaped antler strap end was found (Thunmark-Nylén 1995: Abb. 246.8; Thunmark-Nylén 2000: 572). Its length is 53 mm, width 23 mm. It is decorated on at least one side with illegible lines that roughly copy the shape of the ends. Near the tip of the end, there is a hole that could have contributed to the fastening the belt. The organic belt was inserted into the notch and fastened with two iron rivets. No buckle was found in the grave.
The strap end from Slite. The photo comes from SHM catalogue, Stockholm.
Lindholm Høje, Denmark
An exceptionally interesting find is the bone strap-end, which was found in grave no. 1332 in Lindholm Høje, Denmark (Ramskou 1976: 49-50, Fig. 149). The strap-end was found in five pieces that were put together by conservators. The dimensions are 108 × 19 × 0.2-0.3 mm. The upper side is covered with two rows of annular ornament, while the lower side is unadorned. Both ends of the object are damaged, so we do not know how the end was attached. Very important information is the fact that the strap-end was found with a matching iron buckle. The end can thus be the answer to the question why many graves were equipped only with metal buckles and not with strap-ends.
The buckle and strap-end from the grave no. 1332, Lindholm Høje.
From above: Ramskou 1976: Fig. 149; photo by Bert Tessens.
64.6.78, Homokmégy-Halom, Hungary
Another significant find of the bone strap-end placed in the grave comes from grave no. 7 from Homokmégy-Halom, Hungary, which was discovered in the years 1951-2 during sand mining (Fodor 1996: 314, Fig. 2). According to archaeologist Flórián Harangi, the tomb can be dated to the 10th century. The end has dimensions of 104.3 × 27.4 mm. According to Fodor, this is a unique find in Hungary (Fodor 1996: 314). It is decorated with circles, between which there are decorative three-pronged notches. The end was attached to the belt with three iron rivets – one at the tip, two at the back. The underside is not decorated. The tip was originally attached to a belt that contained gold-plated silver fittings, so the strap-end was not considered a cheap product. Today, the strap-end is stored in the Miski Károly Museum in Kalosca under inventory number 64.6.78.
The strap-end from Homokmégy-Halom, 64.6.78.
Source: Fodor 1996: Fig. 2.
This article clearly showed that belt components made of organic materials had their place in the Early Middle Ages. They are concentrated mainly in settlements in the Czech Republic, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark (Greenland) and the United Kingdom, where they have been preserved as waste objects, but in at least three cases we also record them in graves. It is an inhomogeneous group of objects that sheds an interesting light on Early Medieval clothing, the production process and the copying of official art. Last but not least, this group can be the answer to the question why metal components are absent in the some graves.
This article would not have been possible without the help of many people. First of all, I would like to thank Monika Baráková for reviving my interest in this topic. I would also like to thank David Constantin, who provided me with literature and has already done much of the research himself in his work on bone, antler and horn production. Thanks also go to Are Pedersen and Denis Starcev, who also provided me with the missing literature. I am infinitely grateful to Roman Král for his warning about the find from Mikulčice. Bert Tessens deserves my thanks for notifying me of the finding from Lindholm Høje. No less recognition goes to Aleksandra Ščedrina, who drew my attention to the find from Birka. I am also indebted to Flórián Harangi, who directed me to the Hungarian find. Fot the pointing to the Gotlandic find, Ola Nigbor deserves a honourable mention. I would also like to thank Matt Bunker and Pavel Voronin, who created very detailed photographs of the finds from English and Swedish museums. My deep gratitude goes to Hazel Forsyth (Museum of London) and Sue Brunning (British Museum) for sharing the internal information about London’s strap-ends. Lastly, I would like to mention the archaeologist Adam Parsons, a skilled crafter who willingly consulted this list.
I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.
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As usual, an excellent resource.