Ear studs, buttons or hair adornments? The studs are believed to be the only ones ever found in south-west England

BBC News Devon reports on 7 February that –

When archaeologists unearthed the contents of a tomb in a remote part of Dartmoor [south-west England] 18 months ago, they had no idea they were about to find an internationally important treasure trove. Academics and scientists alike were fascinated by the well preserved findings from this prehistoric cremation burial chamber which allowed them one of the best glimpses into life in Bronze Age Southern England that they have ever had. The booty included prehistoric jewellery, animal pelts and finely executed tailoring. Most remarkable of all was that the find included beads made of amber, a substance that doesn’t occur within 1,000 miles of Dartmoor, prompting new insight into possible prehistoric trade routes between Britain and other countries.

This absorbing programme follows up on a BBC Inside Out South West programme from earlier in the year. It highlights ground-breaking work by internationally renowned archaeologists as they get to grips with how this discovery helps paint a picture of Bronze Age society; and as a consequence, how North Dartmoor is being reconsidered as an area of historical importance.

Presenter Mike Dilger is on hand as scientists examine more secrets from the tomb including bracelets and yo-yo shaped ear studs that would have stretched the ear lobe. Most thrilling is when Mike and the TV crew are present when archaeologists reveal the contents of an intricately woven bag, unopened for 4,000 years.

The video, Mystery of the Moor, is available on BBC iPlayer until 7:59pm on Friday, 14 February 2014. Duration: 29 minutes.

Comment:

Putting aside Mike Dilger’s somewhat enthusiastic style of presentation, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the beauty and technical skill of the contents that emerged from the Dartmoor tomb. One or two things didn’t ring quite right however; the horsehair bracelet, with tin studs, was referred to as ‘woven’. To us it looked more like it was platted or braided, and the lady who was working on the reconstruction seemed to be using a platting/braiding technique not a weaving one. Given the right type of braiding stool, the tin studs could have been braided into the bracelet as it was being worked rather than being pushed through it. That thought led us to look at the ‘ear studs’ a little more closely as well. It would be interesting to know if similar wooden objects were being used in ancient Britain as ear studs. The tin studs in the bracelet and the wooden ear studs were very similar in shape, and the fact that there were two pairs of studs made in two sizes is puzzling. Why two sizes if they belonged to the same person? Surely someone who wore such a lovely necklace and bracelet would not have inserted rather crude wooden studs into their earlobes. The studs may, of course, have been covered in something to enhance their appearance but why two sizes if they were studs for the same person? Might they not just be a simple type of button or perhaps something else entirely? See mullien’s comment above.

Is it not possible that the wooden ‘ear studs’ were used in exactly the same way as the tin studs in the braided bracelet, but braided into the woman’s hair not inserted into her earlobes. They were, perhaps, decorated in some way but whatever that was has either been missed or has degraded beyond trace.

Finally, are these items really of ‘princess’ status? Because we find one set of grave goods of this standard doesn’t necessarily mean it belonged to a princess. Women everywhere, from all ages and from all social levels, would aspire to own things of beauty, and the woman whose grave has been found on Dartmoor would not need to be a princess to aspire to, or even own, such items.