Length: 7.000 cm
Gift of T.E. Wells & Sons
P&EE 1978 12-2 37
Room 50: Britain and Europe
Traces of clothing
Iron Age, about 300-100 BC
From Grave BF20, Burton Flemming, East Yorkshire, England
Turned to rust
These two tiny, oddly-shaped lumps of rust are of tremendous importance: they contain impressions of a piece of Iron Age cloth and are almost the only direct evidence for cloth and clothing in Iron Age Britain.
Many millions of people lived in Iron Age Britain and all of them must have worn clothes of some sort. Yet few garment remains have survived. Because of this archaeologists have no direct evidence for the types of clothes people wore in Britain at this time. Articles of Iron Age clothing have not survived because wool, linen, skins and fur are only preserved in very dry conditions, or in particular anaerobic (oxygen-free) waterlogged conditions like peat bogs. Such conditions are rare in Britain and, even though archaeologists sometimes find waterlogged conditions when they excavate Iron Age settlements built near rivers, marshes or lakes, clothes are rarely found. Perhaps old clothes were burnt, repaired or used as rags.
These two iron lumps were found when archaeologists from The British Museum excavated an Iron Age cemetery in East Yorkshire. The lumps were part of a small iron object, which had corroded in the damp soil filling the grave. The iron object was lying on top of a piece of clothing. As the cloth rotted away and the outside of the iron object turned to rust, a perfect impression of the cloth was left in the rusted iron. From the impression it is possible to see the diamond twill pattern woven at the end of the piece of cloth, which was perhaps a shawl or cloak. This border was also embroidered with small rectangular insets and is the earliest evidence for embroidery in Britain.
I.M. Stead, Iron Age cemeteries in East -1, English Heritage Archaeological Report No. 22 (English Heritage in association with The British Museum Press, 1991)
S. James and V. Rigby, Britain and the Celtic Iron Ag (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)