One-Piece Belt-Hooks of Kostrzewski Types Ib and IIb. Varieties – Chronology – Inspirations
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Zakład Archeologii Pradziejowej, Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytet Gdański, Polska
Submission date: 2023-04-03
Final revision date: 2023-05-10
Acceptance date: 2023-05-23
Online publication date: 2023-12-31
Corresponding author
Anna Strobin   

Zakład Archeologii Pradziejowej, Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytet Gdański, Bielańska 5, 80-851, Gdańsk, Polska
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2023;LXXIV(74):19-59

One-piece belt-hooks with hooks pointing in opposite directions are a characteristic element of women’s attire of the Late Pre-Roman Period in Pomerania. They were categorised for the first time in 1919 by Józef Kostrzewski, who distinguished types Ib (strip-like) and IIb (rod-like) based on the shape of the belt-hook’s body. Moreover, the scholar observed further features within the distinguished types in terms of ornamentation, the form of the longer hook and the raw material used in their manufacture. At present, there are 117 known one-piece belt-hooks of type Ib and IIb, found at 45 cemeteries, mainly in northern Poland, much less frequently outside this area (Fig. 1 & 2, cf. List of finds). One belt-hook was found at a settlement of the La Tène Culture (Bořitov).

Type Ib belt-hooks include 86 specimens made primarily of iron and, to a lesser extent, bronze (26 artefacts). They come from the area of the Oksywie Culture, less frequently from the Jastorf Culture and associated cultural groups from northern Europe, as well as the Poieneşti-Lukaševka Culture, and also from the Przeworsk Culture in Kuyavia region (Fig. 1). One belt-hook of this type was discovered at a settlement of the La Tène Culture in the Czech Republic, and two in graves of the Lubusz Group. Considering the formation of the belt-hook’s body, a distinction has been made between variety A, made from a plain strip, variety B with a ribbed surface, and variety C with at least one disc (usually with a small hole) or with a ring. In discussing the belt-hooks, taken into account are the shape of the body and the form of the long outer (attachment) hook, which was hammered flat (variant 1), expanded into a small (variant 2) or relatively large disc with a circular outline (variant 3) or, less frequently, terminated in a spherical or conical thickening (variant 4), or a zoomorphic shape (variant 5). The ornamentation of the artefacts in question has also been discussed. Variety A is represented by 61 belt-hooks from 35 sites (Fig. 3–8). They were made from a curved strip made of iron or, much less frequently, bronze. The body is usually strongly elongated – lanceolate (Fig. 4:5.6, 5:1.4.5, 6:2, 7:1–4, 8:1) – or in the form of a willow leaf (e.g., Fig. 3:2–4, 4:1–3; 5:3, 6:1.3.4), occasionally triangular (Fig. 8:2) and, in exceptional cases, rhomboidal (Fig. 3:1).

Belt-hooks of variety IbA typically measure from about 19 cm to 30 cm in length, with the greatest width ranging from 2 to 3 cm. Long and narrow forms (Fig. 6:2, 7:1a.1b) as well as decidedly shorter forms with a narrow body are also known. The latter have been found in northern Europe (Fig. 4:5), as well as in the Poieneşti-Lukaševka culture; one very narrow specimen was discovered at a settlement of the La Tène Culture (Bořitov). Rare finds include specimens that are more than 30 cm long (Fig. 3:2), as well as exemplars of significant width (Fig. 3:5). Noteworthy is the variety of forms of the longer hook, which most often takes the shape of a tapering strip, rounded or cut straight at the end (variant 1 – Fig. 3, 4:1–5). Belt-hooks with a widened, fan-shaped or semi-circular, hook terminal are far less numerous (variant 2 – Fig. 4:6, 5:1–4). Attachment hooks of variants 4 and 5 are very rare (Fig. 8:1.2).

The surface of IbA belt-hooks shows ornamentation that covered the outer side of the body, the long hook and the edges. It consists of continuous or dotted lines made along the edge of the body (Fig. 3:4, 4:6, 6:1.4, 8:2), as well as diagonal incisions of the edge of the belt-hook (Fig. 7:2). Using punched points, a decoration in the form of a zigzag, including a double one (Fig. 8:2), and horizontal rows (Fig. 5:4) was made. In addition to points, punched circles (Fig. 3:5), arranged in a houndstooth pattern (Fig. 4:6) or a zigzag (Fig. 3:3), are also present. The richest ornamentation of belt-hooks of variety IbA consists of a segmented composition (Fig. 3:1, 4:1–3, 7:2, 8:1). The surface of the attachment hook was also decorated (Fig. 3:1-4, 4:1.2.6, 5:1.3.4, 6:2.3, 7:2.3, 8:2). Variety B of type Ib of one-piece belt-hooks groups specimens with ribbed surface (Fig. 9). A prominent rib runs through the centre of the body, and the edges are raised upwards. In a few cases, the form of the body became more pronounced due to two additional moulded bands (Fig. 9:2.3). With some reservations, a total of 15 belt-hooks from nine sites have been included in this variety.

The body of variety IbB belt-hooks is usually lance-shaped (Fig. 9:1.2.5) or, rarely, triangular (Fig. 9:6). Their length varies from nearly 22 cm to 28.5 cm, while the maximum width of well-preserved specimens ranges from 1.7 cm to 2.5 cm. Attachment hooks of belt-hooks of this variety represent variant 1 (Fig. 9:1.2) and variant 3 (Fig. 9:3). It is possible that a hook of variant 5, in the form of a ducks head with a wide beak and incised at the end, was present on a belt-hook from Różańsko (Fig. 9:6). Type Ib belt-hooks of variety C include ten artefacts from nine sites (Fig. 10:1–7). Almost all of the belt-hooks, with the exception of a heavily damaged iron specimen from grave 87 from Rumia, were made of copper alloys. The specimens of variety IbC comprise a relatively sparse and diverse group, with artefacts ranging from approximately 19 cm to over 28 cm in length. Characteristic features include a narrow body, with a maximum width of up to 1.5 cm, and the presence of a distinct disc (usually with a small hole or decorated with a ring) or a ring. In a few cases, more discs and rings are present (Fig. 10:1.5). The remaining surface of the body is most often decorated with fields filled with an engraved ornament – a diagonal (Fig. 10: or, less frequently, straight-line grid (Fig. 10:5), and an envelope motif (Fig. 10:1.2.4). In the case of the two better-preserved specimens, the long hook was probably shaped like an animal head (variant 5 – Fig. 10:1.3a.3b).

Rod belt-hooks of type IIb include 31 artefacts found at 14 cemeteries of the Oksywie Culture, one of the Przeworsk Culture and three of the Jastorf Culture (Fig. 2, List). Apart from one copper-alloy specimen from Żukczyn, grave 84, all the others were made of iron. Type IIb belt-hooks measure from ca. 20 cm to 29 cm (or more, in exceptional cases) in length. A very short belt-hook (length 8.2 cm) was discovered in grave 4 at Domaradzice. The thickness of the rod usually ranges from 0.8 cm to 1.2 cm. One-piece belt-hooks with ends bent in opposite directions were formed from a rod of, most often, rhomboidal (Figs. 11:1–3, 12, 13:1–3), rarely rectangular (Fig. 13:4) or circular (Fig. 11:4) cross-section. The profile of the curved body was uniform along its entire length (variety A). Specimens with a clearly variable body form, which manifested itself in a changing cross-section of the belt-hook – square-and-circular or circular-and-rectangular (variety B – Fig. 14:1) – as well as with a distinct ring or disc with a small hole (variety C – Fig. 10:8), are rare.

Among the better-preserved specimens of varieties IIbA and IIbB, the attachment hook is in the shape of a flat-hammered strip (variant 1– Fig. 11), sometimes straight-ended, as well as a disc with a circular outline (variant 3 – Figs. 12, 13:1); less often, it terminates in a spherical or conical thickening (variant 4 – Figs. 13: 2–4, 14:1).

Decoration has been recorded on 12 or 13 iron belt-hooks of varieties IIbA and IIbB. Small incisions were made on the sharp edges of the belt-hook (Fig. 12:2.3). A more elaborate ornament is present on the narrow surface of the body. It consists of regularly spaced, diagonal or transverse groups of double and triple engraved lines (Figs. 12:2–4, 13:1), sometimes arranged into diamond shapes (Fig. 13:1). Only two artefacts have been classified as belt-hooks of variety IIbC. The specimen found in Rumia, grave 17, was made of iron (Fig. 10:8), while the belt-hook from Żukczyn, grave 84, was made of copper alloy.

The chronology of the different varieties of belt-hooks of type Ib and IIb is presented in the tables (Tables 1–4). Belt-hooks of variety IbA are dated from phase A2 to phase B1. One of the belt-hooks from grave 440 at the Poieneşti cemetery is supposedly older, and falls within the phase II of the Poieneşti-Lukaševka Culture (LT C2). It is possible that the belt-hook (most likely of the IbA variety) discovered outside the main distribution area of such belt-hooks is the oldest specimen of its type. Alternatively, the dating of this burial should be placed slightly later, in LT D1. The distribution range of IbA variety belt-hooks is wide and includes primarily the Oksywie Culture in Pomerania and the Chełmno Land, as well as the Oder Group of the Jastorf Culture (Fig. 15). Single finds of IbA variety belt-hooks are noted at sites of the Przeworsk Culture in Kuyavia, as well as in northern Europe, Saxony-Anhalt, and Moldova, at a site of the Poieneşti-Lukaševka Culture. A belt-hook of this type was also found at a La Tène settlement in the Czech Basin (Bořitov).

Variety IbB specimens, grouped within the range of the Oksywie Culture, mainly near the Bay of Gdańsk in the Pruszcz cluster and in Chełmno Land (Fig. 15), date to phases A2 and A3. Belt-hooks of varieties IbC and IIbC had an analogous range of occurrence and are dated mainly to phase A2 and early phase A3. A similar chronology has been established for rod belt-hooks of variety IIbA and the very rare belt-hooks of variety IIbB. The former are found in the Oksywie Culture and the Oder Group, as well as in the southwestern regions of Greater Poland (Fig. 16). Of interest is the distribution of bronze belt-hooks, which have been found only in the Oksywie Culture and in Kuyavia (Fig. 17).

The Jastorf Culture community played a major role in the dissemination of belt-hooks with two hooks. The correlations between type-Ib belt-hooks and the chronologically older type-Ia belt-hooks (strip-like with hooks bent inwards) of Jastorf origin are well confirmed due to the presence of the latter in northern Poland, sometimes at the same cemeteries (cf. Fig. 1). The connection between rod-shaped belt-hooks of type IIb and belt-hooks of type IIa and similar forms (rod-shaped with both hooks bent inwards) is more difficult to prove. The range of occurrence of the latter in Poland is concentrated in the Gubin Group of the Jastorf Culture, where they most probably originated, and in the adjacent areas of Lower Silesia associated with the Przeworsk Culture. In other areas, they were less frequent and varied in terms of body shape (cf. Fig. 2).

Since the crystallisation of the features of the Oksywie Culture in phase A2, we observe in its inventories a variety of forms of belt fasteners, including two-piece hinged belt-hooks, as well as bronze three-piece specimens and different varieties of one-piece belt-hooks of type Ib and, to a lesser extent, type IIb. All of the aforementioned forms are less commonly encountered in the Oder Group. In addition to this disproportion in occurrence of various forms, there are differences in the use of particular varieties of one-piece belt-hooks by the peoples of the Oksywie Culture and the Oder Group. Varieties IbB, IbC and the very rare IIbB and IIbC have not so far been recorded at the sites of the Jastorf Culture (cf. Fig. 15, 16). Similar observations apply to the presence of bronze forms (Fig. 17). Moreover, the most common belt-hooks of varieties IbA and IIbA are not as frequently encountered in the Oder Group. Despite the differences indicated, it may be assumed that the waist decoration of the communities of the Oksywie Culture and the Oder Group during phase A2 was very similar, although more varied in the case of the population of the former Culture.

The discovery of a repaired, profiled rod belt-hook of Th. Voigt type A (Traunstein type) at the cemetery at Brzyno, Puck County, in a grave from phase A3, indicates that the people of the Oksywie Culture were familiar with imported belt fasteners (Fig. 18:1–5). Moreover, Th. Voigt also categorised the bronze belt-hook discovered in grave 639 (Kurzyńska – grave 805) at the Grudziądz-Rządz cemetery as a variant of profiled rod belt-hooks of type B (Fig. 19). The arrangement of decorative rivets on the body of this belt-hook resembles variant C distinguished by Ch. Pescheck (Sotin type – Fig. 18:4.5). The similarity between local one-piece belt-hooks of varieties IbC and IIbC (Fig. 10), found mainly at cemeteries by the Bay of Gdańsk and, to a lesser extent, in Chełmno Land and Kuyavia, and various types of profiled bronze rod belt-hooks known from the areas of the Jastorf and La Tène Cultures (cf. Fig. 18:1–5) indicates that their makers were inspired by the south-western design of women’s belts. The resemblance is emphasised by the raw material used in their manufacture, i.e., bronze, from which most of the belt-hooks were cast, by the narrow form of the body and, above all, by the presence of at least one separate ring or disc with a hole or ring.

One-piece belt-hooks used to hold clothing at the waist were an important part of women’s attire. The exact reconstruction of how the metal fastener was attached to the leather belt is difficult due to the cremation nature of the burials. Despite the problems with the reconstruction of the Pomeranian dress from the last centuries BCE, for the purposes of this article, several options regarding the use of belts consisting of belt-hooks and straps have been proposed (Fig. 20). The simplest way was to hook the ends of the belt-hook into a leather strap (Fig. 20:a). Further ways of using the fasteners can be proposed based on the varied shapes of the long attachment hook. Depending on the changing physical condition of the individual and the seasons, it was necessary to adjust the circumference of the belt. Subsequent holes in the leather strap near the short inner fastening hook may have served this purpose (Fig. 20:b). Another way in which belt-hooks may have been used involved tying the strap into a knot on the longer hook (Fig. 20:c.d) or threading the decorative disc through a slit along the strap (Fig. 20:b); in the latter case, the presence of the disc effectively prevented the leather part from sliding out.

Belt-hooks of types Ib and IIb are distinguished by a significant form variability. Taking into account the current state of research, one-piece belt-hooks with hooks bent in opposite directions can be considered a cultural identifier of women’s attire. The clear disproportion in the number of belt-hooks found within the area of the Oksywie Culture and the Oder Group, with a much higher number of artefacts known from the former territory, is rather a result of a less advanced state of research in Western Pomerania and probably does not reflect the actual differences in the use of this dress accessory. Considering the distribution of the different varieties also leads to the conclusion that the belt decoration of the people of the Oksywie Culture was more varied − richer  − in terms of belt-hook shapes and the raw material used to make them. The reason for this may have been more intensive contacts between the communities living along the lower Vistula River and those in the areas of Celtic and Germanic Europe, facilitated by the Amber Road. Familiarity with imported belt-hook forms aroused the interest of local women and provided the impetus for the manufacture of similar items.
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