Miniatures in historical archaeology

Toys, trifles and trinkets re-examined


This paper examines miniatures in historical archaeological contexts. Miniatures — scaled-down, often-mass-produced representations of real and imagined subjects — can convey much information about the people studied by historical archaeologists. It is suggested that they have often been both overlooked and dismissed too lightly. It also claims that historical archaeologists, and other interpreters, readily classify too many miniatures as child-related "playthings." The study proposes that, just as miniatures acquire potent meanings for adults in the present, it is likely that they would have been equally important to people in the past, especially following the rise of mass-production. It demonstrates that miniatures can potentially illuminate the lives of individuals who would otherwise remain archaeologically and historically mute. After examining the phenomenon of miniaturisation, it surveys miniatures of the recent past (1700—present). The paper then presents two case studies that throw up some of the challenges of studying miniatures in archaeological contexts: a survey of how recent projects have approached miniatures and an overview of the miniatures listed in the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. After discussing how miniatures can inform the historical archaeologist, revisiting historical archaeological approaches to toys, collections and bric-a-brac and proposing the creation of a contemporary archaeology of miniatures, some overall conclusions are drawn from the study.

Miniatures in Historical Archeaology
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