Personal ornament and dress

Throughout the Urnfield zone, and indeed in the cognate late Bronze Age cultures of Northern and Atlantic Europe, personal ornaments are an important component of hoards and funerary assemblages. Some of the key types change with the transition to the first, Hallstatt Iron Age, which may reflect changes in dress and costume rather than simply decorative fashion, since the latter is commonly a factor of the former. Common to both periods in Central Europe are bracelets, generally of penannular form. Heavily-ribbed bracelets are especially characteristic of Bronze D and Hallstatt A1, but from the early Urnfield period bracelets are also decorated with fine, engraved linear ornament. Ribbed bracelets of a different variety, with more rounded, nut-like ribs, come into fashion in the final Urnfield phase, and continue in various changing forms through the Hallstatt Iron Age into La Tene.

Particularly prolific in both quantities produced and range of types in the Urnfield late Bronze Age are pins, with spherical, disc, conical, vase-shaped and poppy-shaped heads, among other variants, and a variety of ribbed embellishment of the stem. This proliferation of pin types had begun already in the late Tumulus phase, notably in the Lausitz province, some examples having their heads decorated with arcs, circles and running spirals, all rendered in a rather rigid geometric style. The position of the pins in graves suggests their use as dress fasteners, to fasten a cloak, for example, at the shoulder. But the great diversity of form and decoration suggests that they could also have conveyed, consciously or otherwise, the local or regional identity, or perhaps the status within the communal or familial group, of the wearer. The expanded head and ribbing were doubtless both decorative and functional, serving to retain the cloth at one end, while a cord loop would surely have been necessary to prevent the pin from slipping out of the fabric at the other.

In the Hallstatt Iron Age, grave-groups show that a variety of pins was still fashionable. From their position within inhumation graves it is possible to infer their use as hair-pins, or as part of some otherwise perishable head-gear, so that this possibility should not be discounted in the preceding Urnfield period. By the second Iron Age in Central and Western Europe, however, the pin has been largely superseded as a dress-fastener by the safety-pin brooch, one of the most prolific and diagnostic types of the La Tene assemblage. But the safety-pin brooch was already in use in the early Urnfield period, in the violin-bow form of the Bronze D phase. Thereafter, a variety of brooch types develop, notably those with leaf-shaped, arc or serpentiform bows, in the classic Urnfield assemblages north and south of the Alps. Likewise in the Hallstatt C and D phases, a number of spiral, boat, leech and serpentiform brooches have trans-alpine distributions. Though the La Tene brooch sequence is diagnostic, the development of a dress-fastener involving a pin, a catch-plate and foot, a spring and a bow, was not in itself a novelty.

One key ornamental type of the La Tene Iron Age that acquired a special status and symbolism was the neck-torc. Neck-ornaments certainly feature in earlier periods, though not with any direct connection with the later La Tene fashion. From the middle Bronze Age, twisted gold ribbon-torcs are known in Atlantic Europe, followed in the late Bronze Age by various forms of torcs in bar-gold, the distribution of which concentrates in Ireland and Britain, extending into north-western France and with a scatter beyond. Analogous forms of neck-ornament are known in the Mediterranean, but it is hardly a recurrent type in Urnfield Europe. In the Hallstatt Iron Age, plain gold torcs of various types are present in rich graves, including the exotic example from the princess's grave at Vix.

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