Friday, 27 September 2013

Not just for decoration? The significance of jewellery in the Iron Age

It was reported last week that the Yorkshire Museum is trying to raise enough funds to buy an Iron Age bracelet found in North Yorkshire before it is sold privately at auction. The torc is one of two found separately in 2010 and 2011 by metal detector enthusiasts at Towton, near Tadcaster, UK and has been valued at £30,000. The torcs have been dated to about 100 BC to 70 BC and are the first examples of Iron Age jewellery found in the north of England.

I took a look in the online archive to find out more about Iron Age jewellery and came across "Iron Age Hoards of Precious Metals in Palestine – an 'Underground Economy'?" an article by R Kletter published in Volume 35 of Levant. In it the author investigates how hoards of precious metals discovered in Palestine may not only have been for ornamental purposes but perhaps also had social and economic significance.

The following is a excerpt from the article's introduction:

"Hoards containing objects made of precious metals (silver/gold), often buried underneath floors, are a source of immense fascination. They are extremely photogenic, even mysterious: we wonder about the living persons who once held them, and why they concealed and never retrieved such hoards. What happened to the owners? In view of this fascination with hoards, this study should open with an apology for not including beautiful illustrations: but the discussion will concern the economics rather than the art-history of hoards. There will not be an exhaustive description of each hoard, nor a detailed typology of the jewelry found in it. Many types of jewelry were manufactured and kept for long periods of time, and their artistic merits have already been discussed at length. Most of the Iron Age hoards from Palestine contain damaged or cut pieces of jewelry and shapeless silver pieces (‘Hacksilber’), rather than whole objects. Hence, they indicate amalgamation of wealth. This is an attempt to understand the meaning of such hoards in terms of economic conditions and possible economic developments in Bronze and Iron Age Palestine."

Although the author goes on the conclude that caution should be used when interpreting hoards of precious metals as anything but that, hoards of precious metals:

"What about the ‘underground economy’ mentioned in the title of this paper? One ponders over the place of hoards in human societies. In dragon-based societies, hoards govern the economy, and influence the neighboring societies of Dwarves and Hobbits alike. By modern economic theory, ‘underground’ hoarding is not logical – capital should be ‘put to work’ to raise more capital (e.g., by interest-bearing loans). There is a famous debate about ancient economics. According to Polanyi, the notion of gain was not crucial, economy was embedded in the society; markets in the sense of price-determining mechanisms did not exist, and modern economic theory is not valid. This has been criticized sharply, and some rule that ancient and modern economics are one and the same. Perhaps Iron Age hoards in Palestine were perfectly logical for a world in which banks were scarce and violent threats common. The age of plastic credit cards and virtual reality, still full of conflicts and wars, does not mark the end of the phenomenon of hoarding."

>> Read the full article for free

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