Belongings in the Land of the Iceni

by Natasha Harlow

This paper explores the social and cultural transitions which occurred during the late Iron Age and early Roman periods (circa 100 BCE-200 CE) in the modern counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

I discuss issues of identity (belonging) and how people may have responded to these changes through portable personal objects (belongings).

I use the term belongings, or portable artefacts, to refer to the numerous small items of personal equipment or ornament  the trappings of everyday life that make up a person’s movable possessions. These ‘small finds’ are often compiled into catalogues of single artefact types, such as brooches (Mackreth 2011), seal boxes (Andrews 2012) or cosmetic grinders (Jackson 2010). Until relatively recently, belongings have been somewhat overlooked in studies of identity, in comparison to coins, ceramics or architecture. Through the work of writers such as Carr, Crummy, Eckardt, Hill and Swift, small finds have been recognised as a complex, non-verbal means of communication, and part of a discourse of resistance and identity: ‘subordinate groups in the province resisted the power and ideological projections of the Roman rulers in everyday practices using everyday things’ (Hill 2001: 14).

My doctoral research aims to look more widely at the assemblages of objects which people owned and, importantly, displayed. These include items of personal adornment, grooming and other forms of display such as horse trappings. I have also included objects linked to ritual practices like hoarding and votive deposition. The bulk of my data is drawn from the county-based Historic Environment Records (HERs) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the national voluntary recording project which encourages finders, particularly metal-detectorists, to report their finds.

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