Diameter: 194.000 mm
Gift of W.S. Jefferies
P&EE 1979 10-2 1
Room 50: Britain and Europe
Decorated bronze mirror
Iron Age, 50 BC - AD 50
Probably from a cremation burial at Aston, Hertfordshire, England
The back of bronze mirrors were ideal for demonstrating both the skills of the bronze worker and decorator. The decoration required considerable time and skill to produce, and only a few people could make them. Because of this they became a symbol of the high status of their owners.
Recent archaeologists have suggested that mirrors should be seen as symbols of female status and power, making as significant a statement for women as swords did for men. However, there is very little evidence to tell us which sex used mirrors, or if they were used exclusively by one sex or another.
Mirrors are mysterious and magic objects in many cultures, and indeed thay have curious properties: they are like water, but portable; they reflect an image with left and right reversed; when you look into a mirror you can see in two directions at once. The polished plate can be used to reflect a bright beam of light and heat onto a person or object, and even to signal over distances.
This mirror was probably placed in a Late Iron Age cremation grave, but the grave was destroyed by ploughing. The main part of the mirror was found by a farmer, the handle found the following year. The pattern on the back can be interpreted as an abstract or hidden face. The very fine lines of the symmetrical pattern were made with a graver, a tool with a hard, sharp edge. In parts of the pattern, lines were made at right angles to each other to make a prominent 'basket-weave' effect.
These mirrors were only made in Britain.
A.G. Rook, P.R. Lowery, R.D.A. Savage and R.L. Wilkins, 'An Iron Age mirror from Aston, Hertfordshire', Archaeological Journal-2, 62 (1982), pp. 18-34
S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
I.M. Stead, Celtic art in Britain before t (London, The British Museum Press, 1987, revised edition 1997)