Typology is defined as “study of or analysis or classification based on types or categories.” In many ways, analyzing a group of objects according to type is the way that the ‘big picture’ can be seen. There are changes in shape and style of nearly every object under the sun, and describing those differences can help pinpoint the place and time of the objects.
For describing different styles is not really the primary point – it is to describe the sequence of styles, where and when they were used, and thus help to provide dates for a specific grave or object. Typologies can help determine if a particular item is common or unusual in a specific area. As a reenactor, my goal is not to recreate the most amazing works of ancient craftsmen, but to understand the style and aesthetic of the time and place. I want to know who would have used or worn a particular accessory, and with what other items. I would rather replicate the common than the unusual.
Typologies tend to be massive, data-driven works. Statistical analysis helps separate the objects into groups. These works are often expensive or written in a style inaccessible to non-academics. However, they are essential for full understanding.
The various typologies of objects each for a sequence of styles, for each culture. Each typology is constructed in part by references to other typologies. Pottery has often been the first artefact typology created. In turn, the dating of the pottery remains helps date the metal objects, which help date the beads, etc. Dendrochronology is an important cross-reference, as are dated coins in burials. Creating a typology of some particular object is often an important work in one’s career. If your typology is accepted, that is success, and word fame for decades. However, not every typology is constructed well, or widely accepted. Sometimes there are two competing typologies for the same category of artefact, at the same time. More often, a new typology supplants the older typology.
Then, various archeologist will use those categories defined by typologies in their excavation reports, and tend to use just the Type name in their description. Types are short-hand for date, physical style, construction technique, regional spread, and more. If you don’t have access to the typology the report references, you don’t have the details you need to fully understand the reports. You have to carefully cross-reference the date of the excavation report with the date of the typology. (Don’t just look at the publication date of a typology – seek out the thesis or working draft that was likely created first. Archaeologists who are aware of a forthcoming typology might have gotten access to it earlier as ‘grey literature.’)
One helpful resource for knowing what is the generally accepted typology for an object is the Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Recording Guides – while they are continuously updated, they describe for the various regional finding officers exactly what resources should be consulted, and how to describe those identified types in the artefact records.
Every typology WILL be incomplete, and open to revision. We have not found nor excavated every grave from history. Antiquarian grave opening often discarded the common, and saved only the outstanding and beautiful, a tendency I call ‘collection bias.’ Individual collectors in the 16th to 20th C tend to be the reason (as donors) for many museums to have the items they have – and those collectors did not acquire everything.
So finally we turn to the task of listing various typologies for Anglo-Saxon artefacts. Links will go to WorldCat to help you locate the work near you, purchase links, and any digital downloads available. Many reports use object classifications as listed in the Archaeological Objects Thesaurus developed by MDA, English Heritage and the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. The aim of the Archaeological Objects Thesaurus is to ‘provide guidance and common principles for the recording of object names within the archaeological profession and related disciplines, and to provide an interface with other national and international standards developed for archaeological objects’. For Anglo-Saxon objects, this is slightly modified, as seen in the Novum Inventorium Sepulchrale Object Classification scheme.
Because this post is so long, the typology listing/links are in Part 2. (coming soon)