This week’s Finds Friday object is an intact example of a jet finger-ring and continues our theme of artefacts made from Whitby jet.
Recovered during excavations of the Roman settlement near Baldersby, North Yorkshire, part of the A1 Dishforth to Leeming motorway upgrade in 2009-10, the ring has a pentagonal-sectioned band which expands to a slightly undercut oval panel. Accurate dating of rings is difficult, and any attempt must take into account the shape and style. In Britain however, it should be noted that finger-rings were common items of jewellery during the early Roman period. Our example is comparable to those found at both South Shields and York. There is evidence to suggest that jet was being worked in York as early as the 2nd century AD, however it became increasingly popular in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. The jet finger-rings from York are individual in style but mostly appear to copy metal forms.
Rings occur frequently on Roman sites and there are many designs and types worn by both men and women as decoration. Romans were highly conscious of how they presented themselves in public, with both sexes frequently using jewellery to demonstrate wealth, power, influence and knowledge. Made of silver, gold, bronze, iron or jet, finger-rings sometimes had precious stones and intaglios set in them and were a convenient way to carry seals. As yet, no recorded examples of jet seal rings have been found in Roman Britain, and no jet has been found carved into intaglios for setting into metal finger-rings.
Some finger-rings are very small and there are indications that members of the wealthier sections of society may have worn them on the top joint of their fingers, although children are also known to have worn finger-rings at a very early age. In some families rings were exchanged on betrothal and some of the jet finger-rings may have been intended for this purpose. Jewellery was particularly important to women during the Roman period as it was generally considered to be their own property, which could be kept independently of their husbands' wealth and used as they saw fit. They had the right to buy, sell, bequeath or barter their own jewellery.