Hair Pin

Description of artifact & function:

This bone pin has an ovular head with a flattened top, its shaft swells slightly in the middle, and its point is broken off. Based on the shape of the head, it falls into the category of Type 3A bone pins.¹  Through a comparison with other pins of this type, we can roughly date this pin to the 3rd or 4th century AD.² Type 3 bone pins were typically homemade by hand-carving and polishing a piece of bone.³ From burial contexts, we know that comparable pins were used to hold women’s hair in place.⁴  These pins could also have been used for secondary purposes, such as fastening clothes.⁵

Archaeological context:

Site plan, courtesy of Trasimeno Archaeology Directors.

This pin was found in an upper strata in the west side of trench A6. It was found among fill material, indicating that it was likely included in the unwanted dumped material, or dropped during the dumping process. Because the pin is small in size, it also could have moved to its depositional location via erosion.

Why this artifact matters:

In ancient Rome, women elaborately styled their hair not only for physical appearance but also for displaying their individuality, virtues, and personality.⁶ In a culture that expected women’s domesticity, public silence, and modesty, hairstyles were a means for women to project their identities within the confines of social expectations. Through busts, paintings, coins, and even instances of hair preserved in burials, we know that women had their hair meticulously styled to suit contemporary fashion trends, as well as their age, social status, and public profile.⁸ Because the time-consuming styling of hair took place in the privacy of the home,⁹ elaborate hairstyles projected chastity and domesticity.¹⁰ Unnaturally styled hair signified civilized sophistication, and it was often associated artistically with literacy.¹¹ Holding these elaborate hairstyles in place required many hairpins such as the one found on our site. Hairpins held women’s hair firmly in place, creating a gendered contrast with men’s less styled and more flowing hairstyles. ¹²

By finding the hairpin and approximating its date, we know that women were among the occupants of our site during its post-second century BCE use. However, because we found the hairpin in a fill layer and not its original location, we cannot know exactly what areas of the site were used by women. Although the hairpin’s depositional context limits its factual utility, its nature as a personal object provides a more abstract opportunity: to imagine the lives of the villa occupants through the objects they touched on a daily basis.

  1. Crummy 1995, 22. These categories are based on pins from a Roman Britain site while this pin is from Campania; pin styles may differ regionally. Crummy 1979, 161.
  2. Crummy 1995, 20, 22. Rodet-Belarbi & Van Ossel found that all studied bone pins from their site were made of cow bones.
  3. Crummy 1995, 21.
  4. Simpson 2003, 21.
  5. Bartman 2001, 1.
  6. “Head of a woman.” Rome, Palazzo Corsini 642, back. In Crummy 1995, 12.
  7. Bartman 2001, 1.
  8. Bartman 2001, 4.
  9. The virtues associated with elaborately styled hair are comparable to those associated with weaving. If a woman was working the loom or styling her hair, she was at home rather than out in public with non-familial men.
  10. Bartman 2001, 6. Styled, unnatural looks contrasted with Roman notions of uncivilized barbarism. Roman artists often depicted provincial women with natural hair.
  11. Bartman 2001, 3.

Pin References

Bartman, E. 2001. “Hair and the Artifice of Roman Female Adornment.” American Journal of Archaeology 105:1, 1-25.

Crummy, N. 1979. “A Chronology of Romano-British Bone Pins.” Britannia 10, 157-163.

Crummy, N. 1995. Colchester Archaeological Report 2: The Roman small finds from excavations in Colchester 1971-9. Colchester Archaeological Trust Ltd.

MacGregor, A. 1976. Finds from a Roman sewer system and an adjacent building in Church Street. York Archaeological Trust.

Rodet-Belarbi Isabelle, Van Ossel Paul. 2003. “Les épingles à tête anthropomorphe stylisée : un accessoire de la coiffure féminine de l’Antiquité tardive.” Gallia 60, 319-368.

Simpson, C. 1997. The Excavations of San Giovanni di Ruoti : Volume II: The Small Finds. University of Toronto Press.

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