8.5.1 Dress

Whether as stray finds or from excavations, items of dress can say a lot about the social circles of people living in early medieval South East Scotland. There are relatively few culturally diagnostic dress items from the SESARF region, but they are nationally significant.

Massive silver chains consisting of double-links, and likely intended to be worn around the neck, have been found in East Lothian and the Scottish Borders, including at Hoardweel, Haddington, Whitlaw, Traprain Law and Blackcastle Rings. The chains from Blackcastle Rings and Hoardweel have gone missing since they were discovered in the late 1800s, but those from Haddington (NMS X.FC 149), Whitlaw (NMS X.FC 172) and Traprain Law (NMS X.FC 248) are currently in the National Museum of Scotland. The massive silver chains were formerly believed the be Pictish, and perhaps as late as the 7th century, as two examples have symbols inscribed onto their clasps, but their distribution, including several examples from southern Scotland, always raised doubts about this interpretation. New analysis of their silver composition, in light of new discoveries of Roman silver hoards in Scotland, has confirmed they were all made with varying amounts of recycled late Roman silver, and likely date from the 4th to the 6th centuries (Blackwell et al 2017).

Close-up photograph of a linked silver chain
Massive silver chain consisting of nineteen pairs of circular rings with a single ring at one end, from Traprain Law, 400–600 AD © NMS

An annular brooch of tinned bronze (NMS X.HD 750) was excavated from the floor layers of a small enclosed Roman Iron Age settlement on the Calroust Burn deemed ‘Homestead A’ near Crock Cleuch in Roxburghshire. It was found along with undated ceramic and a shard of Roman glass from the late 2nd or early 3rd century (Steer and Keeney 1949). The brooch, on the other hand, can be dated to the 6th century, and is one of only two of its type from Scotland (Blackwell 2018, 100, 138⁠–41). This type has a northern distribution within Britain, common in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries such as Norton, Cleveland, showing that parts of the SESARF region were participating in the latest fashions in the Northumbrian realms.

Illustration mapping out the layout of a homestead.
Crock Cleuch Homestead A © HES

Early medieval glass beads have been found at various sites throughout the Scottish Borders, primarily as stray finds, as well as through excavation at the sites of Traprain Law, Castle Park, Dunbar, and the cist at Hound Point, Dalmeny. The sandstone cist at Hound Point contained a necklace of 11 Anglo-Saxon type beads (NMS X.EQ 340) and a part of a hollow rim from a reused Roman glass vessel (Blackwell 2018). It is now understood as one of the northernmost iterations of the final phase of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ furnished burial (SESARF 8.4.3 Burial traditions).

Close-up photograph of a necklace made of glass beads in yellow, blue, black and brown.
Necklace of eleven glass beads of Anglo-Saxon type from Hound Point, Dalmeny © NMS

At Ayton a 7th century copper alloy Anglo-Saxon buckle plate (NMS X.2003.25) was discovered by a metal detectorist (Shiels 2004). The buckle plate has decoration that was either cast or stamped into it. The decoration features a warrior wearing a horned helmet and holding spears in both hands, that has parallels with figures found on the Finglesham, Kent belt buckle and with likely pagan religious significance (SESARF 8.4.1 Paganism and conversion).

Photograph of a buckle plate, dark with age.
Anglo-Saxon buckle plate with cast or stamped decoration featuring a warrior wearing a head-dress with horns, 7th century AD, found at Ayton, Berwickshire © NMS

Numerous finds of 8th and 9th century Northumbrian-style dress pins and strap ends have been found in the SESARF study area, with the most notable clusters of these items coming from Aberlady and Coldingham. At Aberlady three strap ends and three pins have been found via metal-detecting, all in the vicinity of the Glebe Field (Blackwell 2018, 107). Among the pins was a Mercian-style openwork pinhead pointing to cultural interactions at the site (NMS X.1992.24.1). They are part of the important assemblage of finds from this productive site (SESARF 8.3.3 Coinage). Similarly, the area around Coldingham has produced four Anglo-Saxon strap ends (eg NMS X.2015.282.1) amongst numerous finds and carved stones of Northumbrian-period styles.

Material culture dated to the later part of the period, the ‘Viking Age’, is not limited to finds of Scandinavian character, but also significant links to the Anglo-Saxon world and the wider North Sea trade area. The small mixed hoard from Gordon, Berwickshire (SESARF 8.3.3 Coinage and bullion) and the furnished burial from Auldhame (SESARF 8.4.3 Burial traditions) both show links specifically to the Hiberno-Norse material culture of the Irish Sea trade zone.

While digging for a grave in Cramond Churchyard in 1870, a leaded bronze ring (NMS X.NJ 19) was found. The ring is inscribed with Anglo-Saxon runes from the 9th or 10th century, but they do not spell any known words, so their meaning remains unclear, although they could represent a name or names (Blackwell 2018, 158–9). It joins a series of Northumbrian runic rings, many with cryptic inscriptions (Okasha 2003).

Photograph of a bronze ring inscribed with runes
Broad ring of leaded bronze inscribed with Anglo-Saxon runes, 800–1000 AD, from Cramond Churchyard © NMS

Only a handful of dress items from the ‘viking’ world are known from the SESARF area (Graham-Campbell and Batey 2011, 100⁠–2, 105⁠–6). Decorated combs were more than just functional accessories, they could also be symbols of status. The presence of Viking Age Scandinavian-style combs from the sites of Elbotle, Castle Park and North Berwick are important evidence for connections to Norse and Danish-ruled areas of Britain and Ireland. North Berwick and Castle Park are Ashby type 5 combs, dating to the 9th to mid-10th century, but the Eldbotle example may be a locally-made imitation and dates somewhat later to the 10th or 11th century (Ashby 2006; Graham-Campbell and Batey 2011, 105).

Illustration showing details of the appearance of a comb. It has a geometric pattern carved along the grip.
Ashby Type 5 comb © Steve Ashby, 2010
An antler comb shown from all four angles, front, back, top and bottom. It is decorated with cross hatching and has six small rivets. Mane of the teeth are broken.
A distinctive Viking-style decoration from Eldbotle which dates the comb to the 10th–11th centuries
© East Lothian Council

A bronze Baltic-type penannular brooch (NMS X.FC 153) was found at Gogarburn in 1811. This brooch has ornamented terminals based on cubo-octahedral trade weights that were imported to Britain via Norway and Denmark, though its provenance must from Midlothian must ultimately remain insecure (Horne 2021, 182⁠–183).

Photograph of a circular bronze brooch
Bronze penannular brooch found at Gogarburn, Midlothian, 850–975 AD © NMS

Another rare outlier is a large gold neck-ring made of twisted rods from Braidwood Fort, near Penicuik, dateable to the 9th or 10th century (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998, 101; Wilson 1863, 464-65). This prestige object was found around 1790, but was tragically sold to a goldsmith and now lost. As an antiquarian find with little context, there is not much more that can be said about how it got here. Based on parallels in Norway and Denmark, it would only have been used in kingly display. The ostentatious use of gold can be compared to the conspicuous consumption of silver in the massive chains of a previous age described above. Its findspot at a hillfort is tantalising and suggests high-level negotiations at a time of political crisis (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998, 101; Maldonado 2021, 92).

A faceted carnelian bead (NMS X.2014.280.1) found during excavations at Coldingham Priory is another prestige item of likely 9th-century date. Such beads were sourced from as far as the Indian Ocean and traded as luxury goods in Viking Age market towns in Scandinavia. Like a similar find from the Viking-occupied monastery of Repton, Derbyshire (Jarman 2021), it was an exotic trade item which came alongside central Asian silver coins during the period of largely undocumented raids in South East Scotland (Maldonado 2021, 92).

Close-up of a single red bead
Faceted bead of carnelian from excavations at Coldingham Priory © NMS