The theory and methodology of classifications of the fifth and sixth centuries A. D. in Anglo-Saxon England with reference to great square-headed brooches
This thesis seeks to establish how to set up chronologically reliable classifications of fifth- and sixth-century metalwork, using square-headed brooches as the principal example. The problem arises from the absence in this period of the usual, more reliable, dating tools such as documents, coins and pottery. As a primary dating tool metalwork is therefore unsupported, and it is crucial that classification is carried out with great rigour and objectivity. The first half of this thesis (chapters 2 to 7) discusses various requirements which need to be met if classification is to be rigorous and objective. The overall conclusions are that: - existing classifications, not just of square-headed brooches but of all fifth- and sixth-century metalwork, may be unreliable; - reliance on existing chronologies, not just of square-headed brooches but of all fifth- and sixth-century metalwork, should be suspended for the time being; - the entire system should be re-assessed from first principles. The first stages of such a re-assessment are attempted in the second half of the thesis. Chapter 8 attributes much of the faulty existing methodology to a misunderstanding of the method devised and practised by Montelius in the late nineteenth century, compounded by a false analogy with biological evolution; and in chapter 9 a revised version of Montelius' actual method is proposed as a sound basis for re-assessing early Anglo-Saxon metalwork classifications. Chapters 10 to 12 then exemplify various attempts to classify a corpus of 95 complete great square-headed brooches by rigorous, objective methods. In chapter 13, however, it is shown that further progress is likely to be limited, for the time being, to applying the suggested methods to other artefact-types, thus producing groups of various artefacts all free-floating and awaiting evidence that will tie them down chronologically. Finally, in chapter 14 it is recommended that classifications of early Anglo-Saxon metalwork currently in use should be re-examined and if necessary revised; that (except for tentative dates for the beginning and end of Salin's Style I) the attaching of even suggested dates to artefacts of this period and their find contexts should be suspended; and that archaeologists should make an urgent search for objective methods of demonstrating contemporeanity of objects in addition to decorative similarity, especially toolmark links.