Volunteers work with experts to research Roman hairpins

31 July 2013

Archaeologists spend their time excavating and trying to understand the remains of the past, however, this work doesn’t stop when the digging is over, or even when the findings are published.

Millions of artefacts, plans and records from excavations in London are curated by the staff at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC), in Hackney. They are available to researchers and the public so that people can continue to study them and develop new interpretations of London’s past.

One of its many treasures is an enormous collection of Roman artefacts, unearthed over the course of hundreds of excavations, and recently some of MOLA’s finds specialists have been assisting LAARC staff and a team of volunteers in recording the huge numbers of Roman hairpins in the archive.

(c) Museum of London. LAARC volunteer John recording a Roman hairpin

Roman hairpins are fascinating objects used in the elaborate female hairstyles of the period. They come in many different shapes and sizes and are made out of materials including, bone, stone, glass and bronze. They are often decorative and occasionally have ornate figurative heads in the form of plants, animals or people.

More than 1000 hairpins are known from London forming an amazing resource for research but also a big challenge. MOLA has been involved in providing training and guidance in recording hairpins to the LAARC volunteers; who have already created high quality images and catalogue entries for over 500 bone pins over the course of a 10 week project. We are also helping the team to explore and interpret their data.

The LAARC project is a chance for volunteers to get hands-on experience with objects, take part in original research and learn new skills. What’s more, the findings should help to clarify how hairpins and hairstyles changed through time and reveal how similar the fashions in London were to other Roman settlements, both in Britain and beyond. The different types and their distribution in the city may reflect aspects of wealth, identity and belief and should tell us more about the character of the city and about the female population of Londinium itself. 

The overall results will eventually be published and the project will make this part of the archive more accessible to the wider public and researcher as a searchable online resource.