Helen Chittock

The aesthetics of the everyday in Iron Age East Yorkshire

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

What does it mean to decorate something in a world where most objects are plain? My research explores this question using objects from Iron Age Britain.

Start Date: October 2013
End Date: October 2016
Theme: Objects, meanings and knowledge, Technologies, materials and innovation
Research discipline: Archaeology
Locations: UK
Staff member: JD Hill
Department: Department of Prehistory and Europe
University and department: Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton
University supervisor: Andy Jones (Supervisor), Josh Pollard (Advisor)
Profile: Academia.edu

Who made these objects?

Scientific and stylistic analyses can help us to identify objects as being produced by local craftspeople, or being traded from further afield.

Why decorate?

The decision to decorate certain objects may have been based on artistic traditions, practicality, design innovation, expressions of identity or cosmological beliefs.

Were decorated and undecorated objects treated differently?

Analyses of the use-wear and depositional contexts of objects will help me to ascertain whether decorated objects were treated in special ways.

About my research

This research takes a holistic approach to material culture, using pottery, bone tools and metalwork to build up a detailed picture of decorative traditions across East Yorkshire and beyond during the Iron Age.

The aesthetics of elaborate ceremonial metalwork will be contextualised within the aesthetics of more commonplace, everyday objects in order to explore the possible functions of decoration and the ways that these varied items may have fitted into to the full assemblage of man-made objects.

The project will be analysing objects using a biographical approach, tracing processes of production, use, exchange and deposition, to ascertain whether objects made from different materials or with different kinds of decoration were treated in different ways. Objects both within and outside of the British Museum’s collections will be analysed in order to explore compliance with tradition, innovations in design, the multi-functionality of objects and, above all, the meaning and motivation behind decoration.

Aims of my research

The primary question behind this research is ‘why decorate?’ The project aims to explore the complex question of why people choose to spend time decorating objects during their day-to-day lives.

It is hoped that bringing together many strands of evidence will help to build a full and detailed picture of the production, use, exchange and deposition of both decorated and undecorated objects.

The ultimate aim of this research is to use discussion of the meaning and motivation behind decoration to advance understandings of Iron Age personhoods and identities on multiple scales. A greater understanding of decorative practices may lead to a greater understanding of individual people, local and regional communities and even wider Iron Age society.


Arts and Crafts in Iron Age Britain: Reconsidering the Aesthetics of Weaving Combs, Iron Age Research Student Symposium 2012, University of Southampton

What are Weaving Combs? Interrogating the Weaving Assemblage of Glastonbury Lake Village, European Iron Age Artefacts Symposium 2012, University of Leicester

Searching for Gender in Weaving Assemblages: How were categories of people conceptualised and expressed in Middle-Late Iron Age Wessex? Iron Age Research Student Symposium 2013, University of Bradford / Later Prehistory Seminar 2013, University of Southampton

Everyday Aesthetics: Absence and presence in the visual culture of Iron Age East Yorkshire, 400-100BC, Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference 2013, Bournemouth University

Technical Weakness or Cultural Strength? Shapeless Jars in Iron Age East Yorkshire, Postgraduate Research Archaeology Symposium 2014, University of Southampton / Iron Age Research Student Symposium 2014, University of Edinburgh and Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre / Later Prehistory of Atlantic Europe Seminar 2014, University of Southampton

Also co-organising the workshop, Art, Aesthetics and Function: Collaborative Approaches to Everyday Objects, held at The British Museum on the 20th April, 2015.

Read more 


Chittock, H. (2014), Arts and Crafts in Iron Age Britain: Reconsidering the Aesthetic Effects of Weaving Combs, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 33(3).

Further information 

Chittock, H. and Valdez-Tullett, J. (Eds.) (In prep.), Archaeology with Art: Space, Context, Fabrication and Gesture, Southampton: Highfield Press.