Hair pins tell us a story

Delve into the past in the Victorian museum

Not rubbish, but evidence We don't know the name of any owner of the villa, or the names of anyone who lived here. To some extent the people are invisible to us.

Archaeological excavation has recovered some long discarded objects that belonged to these ghost-like people. In essence it is their rubbish. I love delving through this litter, piecing together stories.

Traces of females

In the museum there are a number of bone hair pins on display. If you just glance at them they are not particularly stunning to look at, or memorable, but they are an amazing piece of evidence. They are one of the only pieces of physical evidence that females ever lived, or visited the Roman villa. Very few objects can be said to have been used by only females in the Roman period. Men also wore brooches, finger rings and bracelets. Men did not use hair pins to dress their hairstyles; this was an entirely female activity.

One of the only pieces of physical evidence that females were ever at the villa
A selection of Roman bone hair pins
One of the only pieces of physical evidence that females were ever at the villa

Ladies' maid and home made

The hair pins may tell us something else - the women who wore them were likely quite well to do, as elaborately pinned hairstyles required the help of maids. Where did the women get the hair pins from? The remains of partially made bone and antler objects suggest some were made here, at the villa. We know cattle were butchered at the villa, so a plentiful supply of bone was on hand. Many of the hair pin designs are quite simple, needing little skill to shape them.

A possible story?

So from just a few simple, not beautiful, objects a story emerges. Someone has taken left over animal bones and carved them into pins with long shafts and shaped heads. A female servant has stood behind a lady and combed and pinned her hair into a fashionable style using these pins. What conversations did they have? Was it a special event, or a normal day, or outing? How and why did the pins get lost and fall beneath floorboards or into rubbish pits, never to be reclaimed by their owner? To me it is amazing that we can look at them today and imagine.