An examination of glass beads from early medieval Ireland
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This is the first dedicated and comprehensive study of glass beads from Early Medieval Ireland, presenting the first national classification, typology, dating and consideration of the social context and symbology of glass beads. The study was initiated in part as a response to a widely acknowledged dearth of knowledge concerning glass beads in the canon of Irish archaeology (Hencken 1950, 133; Edwards 1990, 93). This dearth of study is in marked contrast to the situation internationally which, over the past number of years, has seen a number of seminal studies, with the result that a considerable body of work is now available on Anglo-Saxon and European beads (e.g. Andrae 1975; Callmer 1977; Guido 1978; 1999; Lunstrume 1976; Templemann---Macznska 1985; Venclova 1990; Legoux 1993-1994; Rasmussen 1995; Sasse and Theune 1995; Siegmund 1995; Stern 2001; Koch 2001; Brugmann 2004). Moreover, this research was also undertaken in recognition of the important contribution such a study could make to our understanding of various aspects of early medieval Irish society. An imperative applying to the study corpus is that it is a representative sample of beads current in Ireland during the early medieval period. So as to maximise information on the social context and performance of beads, the corpus is drawn from a range of excavated site types; secular and religious, from as broad a geographical area as possible. The methodology applied in this study focuses on a visual and microscopic inspection of the beads. The application of a dedicated methodology facilitated the consistent and standardised collection of information on all of the beads from the study corpus. The classification of the beads represents a defining goal of this research and has established an eighteen-fold classification comprising fourteen decorated types (based on shared attributes of form and decorative features or motifs), and four undecorated types (based on geometrical shape and colour). Dating for each class was established by analysis of the context information available for individual beads which also produced significant data regarding the social contexts in which beads functioned and performed. Beads, like all artefacts, contain information on human biographies and are endowed and re-endowed with meanings that extend far beyond their aesthetic or functional appeal, or value as chronological indicators. A powerful way of expressing one's identity is through display, through dress, hairstyle, body ornament, weaponry and jewellery. Being very visible objects of adornment, glass beads posses a suite of the attributes needed to create and portray an individual's identity. In this sense, beads speak to the concept of self-awareness, the expression of a perception of self, and in the wearing of these decorative objects, a medium through which one individualises one's body and one's self. Therefore, in addition to classification, this thesis also considers and discusses to the performance of beads in Irish society during the early medieval period.
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