Uncovering Hidden Stories

Trade and Migration

People have moved to new lands, traded goods, exchanged ideas, come together to marry, celebrate and witness events from earliest times. Archaeologists study artefacts analysing their materials, manufacture and the context in which they were found. This helps to discover where material was quarried, where an object was made, if they were used by local people, traded to more distant regions or deposited for safety in times of war. The context of an object tells many stories from religious practices to those of people moving to new lands taking their traditions with them.


The stone axe shown here, is one example of a variety of neolithic stone tools which were used in Ireland. This specific example dates from between 5th & 3rd Century BC and is made from polished jadeite. Such tools were formed from both common and rare rock types. Some were used as cutting tools or axes but others had ritual or ceremonial uses. The type of stone used can indicate the geographical origin of the material and when compared to the finding location may illustrate early trade or exchange, or migration routes during these periods.

The Cicada brooch was found in Utrecht but the materials and method of construction suggest that it was manufactured in a Roman workshop in the central Balkans. The remains of glass or enamel are visible on the wings, while the pin (composed spring on a single lug with transverse catch-plate) is considered characteristic for the Norican-Pannonian provinces. The find spot in Utrecht suggests women accompanied their husbands on military service to their posts alongside the Roman border (in Latin the limes).

The picture shows some early Byzantine coins depicting emperors on their throne. During this period, coins were minted by the state and used primarily for paying armies and officials, but the coinage did filter down to all levels of society and was also used for commercial purposes.

Ideas, symbols, religious beliefs and knowledge spread across early medieval Europe thanks to frequent exchange of goods, gifts, payments and people. The precious garnet stones in this fibula were imported to Europe from southern Asia. The brooch (or fibula) has a geometrical network of small vertically placed golden partitions or cloisons in which the garnets were inlaid. The early medieval population in Western Europe clearly had the opportunity and the means to buy exotic and high quality products.