Warwickshire Museum hosts a collection of fascinating objects amongst which you can find an Iron Age miniature bronze shield. This item continues to baffle archaeologists, curators and historians alike as to its use, significance and values. Miniatures have been largely overlooked in academic research and so these queries remain potent.
Iron Age background
This Iron Age miniature bronze shield dates back to between 1000BC – 50AD, and was discovered by a metal detectorist around the year 2002/2003 near Alcester, and is to date the only example of such an object in the West Midlands. It is less than 10cm long and 5cm wide, with a depth of less than 1cm, and so is small enough to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. It is decorated with lines and dots engraved in a pattern on the front, and even comes with its own tiny handle on the back. It seemingly replicates the shields used by Iron Age Celtic warriors.
It should be noted that a reduction in size does not necessarily equate to a reduction in significance. By creating objects in miniature it offered a new way of experiencing the world around us, or some even argue to experience a new world: a world in miniature, a world so different from our own that our minds create new possibilities and experiences with these objects. They could symbolise power, status, performance and intellect. The size of the object alters the power balance between the owner and the object, and also makes the world more manageable.
What do they represent?
These items are frequently found buried in graves, which implies a funerary significance to the objects. Perhaps they represent the new dimension to life that the deceased will now experience, or represent a form of personal dedication to a person, community or belief. Equally, they could represent social relationships and identities, as people became more concerned with how they were publicly perceived.
They may allude to religious beliefs, in particular Celtic beliefs. These miniaturised items could have been used for ceremonial or ritualistic religious or war practices, perhaps as an offering to the Gods, and hence they are often referred to as votive objects. Miniature objects have been often associated with ritual locations.
Some studies suggest that handling miniature objects effects the agility of our brains, and our perception of time becomes altered. It also helps refine our concentration. Others support a more aesthetic use for these objects as ornaments and decorative items, perhaps as a fashionable item that was not only popular in the Iron Age but also became popular again in the Victorian era. This could also include their use as children’s toys or fasteners on clothing – however, the materials used to create the shield would have been expensive at the time and thus, the item was most likely considered a prestigious one.
As the only one in Warwickshire it is difficult to confirm a local style, but it is believed that each locality created such items in a specific shape and style, and so could be part of the local metalworker’s bank of works. The signs of wear and tear on the shield suggest that it was used for a purpose more than decoration.
Having these objects in miniature was perhaps considered a safe way of obtaining these objects without threatening the safety and security of the local community, as whilst the shield is a defensive object, miniature weapons were also created during this period. Miniature versions would prove far safer than their full-size counterparts.
See for yourself
Evidently, there are many different theories and suggestions regarding these fascinating miniature objects. Come and see the shield for yourself when the museum reopens and let us know your thoughts. I am interested to know what you think these miniature objects were used for?