It's a self-evident human imperative that the latest technology should be used in order to produce items which improve the quality of life by making it either quantifiably easier or ‘nicer’.
Look at recent history for instance – digital technology provides enhanced scope for entertainment along with innumerable ‘shortcuts’ that remove the necessity for tasks deemed to involve too much drudgery or sheer hard work. It would appear that this was forever thus – whatever was deemed to be quite literally the ‘cutting edge’ at any period was readily embraced for these same reasons.
The majority of items we have listed under this category can be categorized as being used to make life nicer; they are decorative, pretty things, but also practical when it comes to the many clasps or clothes pins we have had, whether made from bronze or iron; non-functional ‘jewellery’ is also regularly listed, brooches and pendants from numerous civilisations, evoking pagan or Christian deities and a wide range of motifs from the natural or supernatural worlds.
On a somewhat darker tack, the process of making life easier can also be said to require ensuring that folk were in a position to dominate their rivals. And so we find military artefacts here too – arrowheads, spearheads, bladed weapons – all of which would have given those able to manipulate the material from which they were made a distinct advantage over those who lacked similar martial wherewithal.
Metal artefacts were, therefore, almost entirely about improving status in one form or another; if you were able to placate your gods by wearing a ‘branded’ clasp in their honour which also kept your cloak warmly in place whilst you stabbed and slashed your enemies in to submission, your ability to fashion metal artefacts had very definitely enhanced your quality of life.
Clearly, this desire for betterment was exhibited by many different civilisations, and hence we are able to offer early English weaponry, Jutish jewellery, Celtic pendants, Norman horse tack, a decorative Viking pin and even an enamelled Roman frog brooch. It should be noted, of course, that these peoples generally arrived at the point on their evolutionary curves where they developed a mastery of iron or bronze at the same time as others, with whom they consequently ended up in direct opposition, but what started off as such divisive tools ultimately lead to the ‘civilisation’ of wider populations. England, for instance, was made collective under the force of arms which lead to the coalescence of disparate Saxon kingdoms, broadly united in opposition against the Vikings.
The common knowledge of metal working possessed by such once implacably opposed realms would go on to underpin their collaborative co-existence once they had stopped all the stabbing and slashing; the sharing of knowledge was a builder of bridges – literal and metaphorical – as they came together with the passage of time.
These metal artefacts, as well as being intrinsically of their discordant times, are therefore also part of the shared experiences which have seen us consolidate and coalesce over thousands of years – they’re very fine and evocative things indeed, and they can also stop your hat blowing off, as they always have done.