Love and Labour on Pins – Student Research

8 April 2014

Our student and Junior Dean Maximilian Buston (DPhil Archaeology) writes about his current research. 

The reader may ask, and I have often asked this question myself, if I ought to have spent so much love and labour on pins, but it just happened – the words of Paul Jacobsthal (1956) on Greek dress pins found in tombs and sanctuaries, 3000 alone from the celebrated Argive Heraion.

My subject matter, fibulae, were gradually adopted in the Aegean in the 13th and 12th Centuries BC during the peak and collapse of Bronze Age palaces such as Mycenae and Knossos. They were worn by men and women to fasten cloth and cloaks. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the invention of the spring – and thus ancient safety pin – where before things were fastened with string or a straight pin. Indeed whole new fashions of dress were enabled, even affecting cultural traditions such as dance and sitting, hence ladies sit on chairs (rather than the floor) in Greek vase paintings. Moreover it is their dedication as votive offerings that betray deeper social diversity and interaction across the Aegean. My interest is not only the social diversity within communities but the spectacularly divergent political and social institutions that are later found in the Archaic period (8th-6th Century BC).

A heavily corroded fibula from the Knossos North Cemetery

A heavily corroded fibula from the Knossos North Cemetery. At the end of March 2014 I studied 50 fibulae in the Stratigraphic Museum at Knossos on Crete.

ivory spectacle fibula

A characteristic ivory spectacle fibula of the 7th Century BC found in an Early Orientalising cremation urn at Knossos. These have been found across the Central Mediterranean and North Africa.

Another part of my research concerns so-called ‘defensible sites’ that proliferate in Crete at the beginning of the 12th Century BC. One site, Pandanassa Veni, a table-like mountain in the Rethymnon Isthmus is of particular interest. The summit measures c. 1000 x 400 m and houses a city occupied for 1000 years that is yet to be excavated. The neighbouring site of Thronos Kephala (3 km as the crow flies) has been associated with the fabled city of ancient Sybrita, but it does not hold the astonishing views and sense of power that the landscape of Pandanassa Veni readily projects.

The table-like mountain of Pandanassa Veni

The table-like mountain of Pandanassa Veni, some 750 masl, Crete.

Now back in Oxford my focus will turn to studying fibulae in Oxford’s Ashmolean before a trip to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens next year. Whilst I was away the short-term accommodation at Kellogg, 12 Bradmore Road, was finally made complete in that a celebrated wallpaper designed by Louis-Hippolyte Lebas in 1818 was hung in the guest washroom. This is my favourite room in the building and can be found under the stairs on the basement level. The wallpaper depicts vignettes of Paris and over it I hung a picture of Oxford c. 1860 that I found amongst Kellogg’s art collection. For the neighbouring living room feel free to browse my blog at Distinctive Interiors.

Les Vues de Paris, designed by Louis-Hippolyte Lebas in 1818

Les Vues de Paris, designed by Louis-Hippolyte Lebas in 1818 with sheer stripe Roman Blinds from the USA, in the guest washroom in 12 Bradmore Road. Framed is an Oxford engraving c. 1860.

Maximilian Buston, Junior Dean