The museum’s Archaeological Archive has a long standing reputation for involving volunteers in improving access to our archaeology collections. For the past year funding from Arts Council England has allowed us to develop an entirely new project, inspired by the museum’s Collections Online project, to digitally ‘open up’ our immense collection of Roman hairpins.
Hairpins are a neat little artefact. Not only are they a great dating tool for archaeologists but they also allow us to explore bigger questions about women in Roman London, especially their fashion tastes in hairstyling! Roman hairpins were made out of a variety of materials including bone, glass, copper, iron and jet (considered to have magical properties), all of which have been unearthed across London to its furthest outer boroughs. Many of the hairpins from London are of simple designs but some can be quite elaborate and unique, depicting humans, animals and, perhaps typical of Roman taste, phalluses.
The Archive has been training volunteers to digitise and catalogue this important collection of artefacts, providing them with a hands-on experience and the ability to learn new skills. However, this isn’t just a simple cataloguing project. With help from MOLA archaeologists and finds specialists we have been helping our volunteers explore and interpret the data, stretching their thinking, effectively turning them from ‘volunteer’ into ‘researcher’.
Studying the distribution, size and design of hairpins will hopefully allow us to explore aspects of identity, wealth and belief of Roman London’s female population and how their hairstyling changed over time. Already preliminary data from the project has revealed interesting patterns of ancient hairpin use across London and is allowing us to pinpoint when potential styles changed. Over the next year we will be refining this data and studying individual archaeological sites such as London’s Pre-Boudican Fort and Amphitheatre to explore our research questions.
For more information please visit the new Curated Group on Collections Online!