5.3 Hair rings

Hair rings, or fermatrecce, are common female ornaments that are present in 50.7 per cent of Phase II female burials (see Table 7). By contrast, they are present in only 3.4 per cent of male burials from the same period (see Table 6). Hair rings are generally constructed from coiled bronze wire with distinctive undulating ends and are presumed to have fastened hair into sections or plaits.

Burial 134 is a rare example of a burial that has anomalous rings placed in positions at which hair rings are usually found. Rather than hair rings, this adult male has three suspension rings: one positioned on his cranium and one each at the left and right jaw.

Figure 8
Figure 8: Osteria dell'Osa cemetery, northern section, distribution of burials with rings indicating locations of anomalous hair rings (plan excludes burials with no surviving clothing or ornament in their grave goods) (L. Cougle, digitised in ArcMap after Bietti Sestieri 1992b, Fig. 7.1a)

Burial 134, however, is not unique. Five Phase II burials have anomalous rings positioned at locations on and around the head. Interestingly, these all occur in the earlier, western, part of the main burial group, but three of these are Phase IIB burials (see Figure 8). Two of the Phase IIB burials are male (burials 196 and 134) and the other is tentatively identified on the basis of dental measurements as female (infant burial 152). However, the sex of this infant must be considered unknown owing to the recognised difficulties in determining the sex of subadults, particularly through observation of dental dimorphism (see Molleson et al. 1993, 23; Mays and Cox 2000, 123-25; Moss and Moss-Salentijn 1977, 407).

Burial 196 is on the fringe of the earlier part of the cemetery, and although it is dated to the later part of Phase IIB by Bietti Sestieri (1992a, 717) its location is not out of the ordinary. There are 35 burials in the same cluster as burial 196, five of which are thought to belong to the final part of Phase IIB. It is interesting to note that burial 196 is adjacent to contemporary burial 202. This neighbouring burial belongs to an old adult female, identified by Bietti Sestieri as an important woman (1992a, 714), but her status does not appear to be shared by burial 196. There is nothing to suggest prestige in burial 196 - indeed, the ring on the cranium of the deceased is the only notable aspect of the burial or the corredo. At the centre of the cluster, Bietti Sestieri (1992a, 718) identifies the slightly earlier burial 197 as prestigious, partly on the basis of its position, but this does not appear to be a universal feature of important burials. The location of burial 202 near the edge of the cluster, and its proximity to the modest 196 suggests that individual status was a less important determinant of location than broader group membership in Phase II.

Hair rings are common in female burials throughout Phase II, and appear to decrease only slightly in popularity between Phase IIA and IIB (see Table 7). It seems, therefore, that the anomalous hair rings of Phase IIB are not intended to make a connection with the past. Indeed, two of the burials with anomalous rings substituted for traditional hair rings belong to the earlier part of Phase IIA (burials 141 and 316).

Examination of the spatial distribution of burials with non-standard hair rings reveals features that are not immediately obvious from analysis of corredi, age and sex. The positioning of all later examples of Phase II anomalous hair rings in the western section of the main area of the cemetery suggests the social identities of the individuals with whom they are interred were in some way different. The fact that at least two of the three Phase IIB examples are male seems to confirm this. It is tempting to ascribe a feminine gender identity on the basis of the hair rings being a primarily female artefact.


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