I've found a lot of items in the Portable Antiquities Scheme that I never knew they even existed so I would like to find more information about what those things actually are. For example there are a lot of items named "bow brooch" in the database and I would like to ask questions like:

  • Is it correct to define an ancient bow brooch like "a T-shaped brooch with the crossbar in form of a straight line or arch (or inverted breve) form"?

  • What is the difference between an ancient and a modern bow brooch? Searching "bow brooch" on Google images return butterfly-shaped ribbon or wire brooches.

  • "What's the difference between a furniture fitting and a furniture mount?" - this question didn't go well at the DIY SE

Without the historic background, these questions look like questions about clothing, jewellery, furniture, tools, hardware etc

2 Answers 2


As long as you document your research in the question, you'll probably be OK. Let me illustrate with an example.

If it's OK, I'll use your question What's the definition of "Splashware"?

If I Type:

"splashware" (ceramic,pottery)

into Google, and browse the first page of the results, I can see that:

  • Splashware is "a technique for decorating pottery vessels using different colours beneath or on a lead glaze. During the firing process the colours spread irregularly, as if splashed on the body".
  • It normally earthenware "splashed with polychrome glazes".
  • The splashware technique with polychrome glaze was derived from Chinese T'ang pottery.
  • From China the technique spread to the Islamic and Byzantine worlds, with examples found from Afghanistan and Iran in the east to Turkey and Cyprus in the west.

If that is all you need, then the question is "a request for trivia", as they say round here, and so is going to be off-topic. If you want more than that, the you should include all of the above in your question and explain why it isn't a sufficient answer.

Another way to think about it is that the bar to be cleared here should be Mark's "preliminary research test".

It can also be helpful here if you familiarise yourself with some useful Google search techniques.

For your example questions

  1. Check Wikipedia:

"The body of a fibula is known as either the bow or the plate, depending on the basic form. A bow is generally long and narrow, and often arched. A plate is flat and wide."

  1. On a modern brooch, "bow" can also refer to a ribbon (or representation of a ribbon) shaped into a bow, for example. Don't assume that non-archaeologists will use the same terminology as archaeologists.
  2. In an archaeological context, a fitting is normally functional (like a handle, for example) while a furniture mount is more decorative (corner brackets might be an example). Unfortunately, people aren't always consistent in how they use the terms, and a handle in the shape of a dog is both decorative and functional.

I suspect that the first question might just be on-topic here. While it is trivial for me to answer, it might not be for someone who doesn't know to search for "fibula" in the context of a brooch.

I think the second might be considered off-topic, but then we are back to the question of do people know what a "fibula" is in this context.

I would certainly argue that the third question was on-topic. The specific use of the terms in archaeology - and by extension in historical articles and journals - differs from common modern usage. Provided that it made explicit reference to an historical or archaeological context (e.g. the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme), I think that this would be on-topic here.

To clarify my answer to the third question above (since the comments below seem to indicate some confusion) consider the example of an escutcheon plate on a lock:

simple escutcheon

The function of an escutcheon plate is obvious - it protects the wood around a keyhole from damage when keys are repeatedly entered and removed from the keyhole. They are particularly associated with warded locks and examples have been found in contexts from Ancient Rome and Ancient China. In its simplest form it is just a disk or rectangle of metal with a hole of appropriate size and shape cut into it. Most of us would consider this to be a "furniture fitting".

But I suspect that most of us have also seen much more elaborate escutcheon plates, for example:

elaborate escutcheon]

This still performs the function of an escutcheon plate, but is also now a decorative item. Is it now a "furniture fitting", or a "furniture mount"? Where should we draw the line?

There is no hard-and-fast rule.

These are just labels used by archaeologists to describe groups of artefacts. Hopefully all the archaeologists working for a particular unit will be consistent (if that unit actually has guidance that specific!). Failing that, we might hope that each archaeologist would use the terms consistently. When we start talking about archaeologists working in different countries, all bets are off ...!

Modern furniture makers are somewhat indiscriminate in their use of the terms (which, I suspect, was the root of the problem when you asked that question on DIY:SE).


I say "NO," to "general" questions about "fashion and furniture items found by archaeologists." We have an "off topic" reason that disqualifies questions on "social sciences other than history unless they involve history in some way." The other stricture is against "trivia or basic historical facts."

That said, I would say "YES" to specific questions regarding the historical significance of a particular fashion or furniture item. Having meaningful "context" is everything when dealing with history.

Basically, I would like to see the site discourage "ID" or "fishing" questions, while allowing conceptual questions regarding the same items. So a question like "What is the difference between a furniture fitting and a furniture mount? would be off topic. This might even be better for an English language site because it is a "terminology" question. On the other hand, a question like "why did American/English/European families prefer furniture fittings over furniture mounts in the Xth century?"would have historical significance and be on topic.

  • The question is about items "found by archaeologists", not items "followed by archaeologists". Generally, that gives them" context", both in the historical and archaeological senses of the word. Oct 14, 2017 at 12:46
  • @sempaiscuba: Archaeology is not history. It's not enough to say the there is context; the "historical" context should be explained, or at the very least alluded to in the question. My example showed how to do this. Mere "terminology" questions belong on English, or other language sites. Like the Latin question that was migrated.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 14, 2017 at 15:16
  • You are right that archaeology is not history (I am fortunate enough to have studied both). However, archaeological terms are routinely used (and misused) in historical journals, so understanding the meaning of the term is frequently important in an historical as well as an archaeological context. The problem with your argument is actually well illustrated by your chosen example. Your suggested on-topic version of the question is meaningless (see my answer about furniture fittings/mounts above). Oct 14, 2017 at 15:29
  • @sempaiscuba: No, my version is not meaningless. A historical question would be something like "Why did people prefer decoration over functionality (or vice versa) in furniture at such and such a time? Ideally the difference between decoration and functionality should be alluded to in the question, and if they are basically one and the same, as your version suggests, the question is trivial. From the DIY site: "I think you're applying specific definitions to general terms. Some context might be helpful. What problem are you trying to solve?"
    – Tom Au
    Oct 14, 2017 at 15:38
  • The question "Why did people prefer decoration over functionality ..." would indeed be fine. The question ""Why did people prefer furniture fittings over furniture mounts ..." is not the same thing. The terms "fittings" and "mounts" are just labels used by archaeologists to describe collections of artefacts. You might as well ask "Why did people prefer handles (fittings) to decorative brass corner brackets (mounts) ..." It is meaningless. Oct 14, 2017 at 16:46

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