If we look at beads found at sites in Britain from the pre-Roman Iron Age through the Anglo-Saxon period (roughly 1000 years), we can easily see Roman influence. You might be surprised to think we can see such a thing in such small objects (generally less than 1cm in diameter), but we can.
Here’s an example. In the pre-Roman Iron Age in Britain, one specific type of bead is a single background colour (often black or green or something) decorated with twisting, multicoloured cables (often lighter colours, like yellow and white or yellow and colourless). This is a type that I have only really seen in Britain, and it is apparently a very old style.
When the Romans come into Britain, we see a complete difference in the beads used. These twisted cable beads disappear, as do many of the other types of beads associated with the pre-Roman Iron Age. We see typical Roman beads enter the picture, but the main Roman objects made from glass are vessels.
The Romans leave Britain in the 5th century and the Anglo-Saxons come in, we see something interesting. The twisted-cable beads reappear, along with several other types from the pre-Roman Iron Age.
That’s right, a bead type that was out of use for roughly 400 years resurfaced. And not just one or two, they were fairly widespread. That’s like a significant number of people today decided to adopt fashions from the time of Charles I, Louis XIII, and the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock.
Honestly, I have a lot of questions stemming from that: Why do these beads disappear and then reappear? How do they reappear after so long? Does this have any connection to the change in glass chemistry during the Roman period? And if so, what does that mean? The change in chemistry probably came from a lack of access to resources, since the recipe they changed to was more brittle than the Roman glass. But design doesn’t necessarily change due to a lack of material. Could it be a cultural thing that somehow survived Roman occupation? But how would it transfer from the populations of the pre-Roman Iron age to the later immigrant populations of Angles and Saxons?
And here’s another thing: are we sure it’s a continuation of the previous pattern and not just a coincidental independent invention?
It leads to a whole question of whether classifying certain categories or designs of any object (including beads) is really an accurate way of trying to understand the past. There is nothing about this type that makes it solely Anglo-Saxon, since it existed in the pre-Roman Iron Age. Yet, we still class it as Anglo-Saxon. Why? Is that really a valid representation of that particular style?