Indra Werthmann is currently undertaking her PhD under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Semple at Durham University, exploring the re-use of Roman objects in early Anglo-Saxon graves and settlements in Kent and East Anglia. Her research also draws on continental practices from Germanic speaking regions. She holds a B.A. in Archaeology (major) and Art History (minor) and a M.A. with Distinction in Archaeology both from University College Dublin. Her PhD developed from her MA dissertation on: The Past in the Past – The re-use of Roman objects in early Anglo-Saxon graves, 5th to 7th century AD.
The Image of the Past in New Contexts – The significance of reusing Roman objects in early Anglo- Saxon society, 5th to 7th century AD
After the cessation of Roman military presence in Britain and an apparent economic decline at the beginning of the 5th century, incoming Anglo-Saxon communities brought a new array of material culture and funerary rites. These communities encountered and engaged with surviving Roman structures, sites and material culture. It is clear from past research that Roman monuments continued to exert an important influence on the activities of early medieval populations, however, the continued use and circulation of Roman artefacts and their significance has only received brief attention. There is increasing evidence that spoils were selected and used by distinct groups as integral parts of dress and costume within communities, signalling distinct social identities.
This paper will examine the use and significance of Roman objects found in early Anglo-Saxon funerary contexts in Kent. Roman material was collected, curated, circulated and reused in different ways. Some were used without alteration to their forms as personal items and dress accessories; others were recycled and changed in form, taking on new shapes and functions. Their constant renegotiation and changing cultural values in Eastern England may relate to similar processes occurring on the continent. The paper therefore draws on comparative material from Merovingia of the 6th to 7th centuries to explore possible connections between funerary rites and fashions involving reused and recycled Roman items. The focus of attention here are Roman objects which were unaltered but were used afresh in differing ways in the funerary rites of communities in the 5th -7th centuries.