Pair of 'button' brooches

Anglo-Saxon, 5th century AD
From Grave 40, Harnham Hill, Wiltshire, England

Two small gilt copper alloy brooches with face masks

Anglo-Saxon button brooches are generally only 2 cm in diameter and are usually, though not always, decorated with a single frontal face mask, sometimes quite degenerate. The faces are moustached, hence male.

Unlike saucer brooches, button brooches were often worn singly and have been found on different parts of the body, suggesting they were used as all-purpose garment fasteners. These, however, were found as a pair on the breast of the buried woman. They are found throughout South-east England and occasionally in France. More than one hundred of these small brooches are recorded, allowing a quite comprehensive classification of the types. These examples belong in Avent and Evison's Class C, which may have had a relatively limited span of production in the second quarter of the fifth century.

The origins and development of these small brooches is not fully understood. Although they are essentially miniature versions of saucer brooches, they may have been inspired by contemporary dress ornaments being worn in Scandinavia, such as clasp buttons, which also display frontal masks.

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More information

Bibliography

M. Welch, 'Button brooches, clasp buttons and face masks', Medieval Archaeology-3, 29 (1985)

R. Avent and V.I. Evison, 'Anglo-Saxon button brooches', Archaeologia-11, 107 (1982)

Dimensions

Diameter: 1.700 cm (left)
Diameter: 1.700 cm (left)

Museum number

M&ME 1853,12-14,56-57

MCS6658;MCS6657

Collected by J.Y. Akerman
Gift of Viscount Folkestone

Location

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