Tuhat aastat tinulisi Eesti aladel: kasutamine ja valmistamine / Thousand years of tin plaques in Estonia: usage and the technology of their manufacture
Since at least from the end of the first millenium AD, clothes have been decorated in Estonia with small studs cast from tin, more often known as tin plaques (tinulised). The plaques were sewn onto the fabric through hooks found on their reverse sides. The use of round plaques is traceable up until the end of the Livonian War, the rectangular plaques remained essentially unchanged until the nineteenth century. A separate group was formed by the stick- or rosetteshaped plaques which were used on Latgallian-type shawls and headbands in Siksälä. Different forms of tin plaques were found in Jõuga and Makita Votic graves.
The moulds and methods of casting have remained quite unchanged through the centuries. Moulds were usually crafted from imported limestone, but there are also examples of moulds made from local materials. Moulds that were used to cast Estonian tin plaques consist of two halves, although usually only one half has survived.
The casting process was fairly simple. Molten tin was poured into a preheated mould using a ladle made of metal or clay. The plaques were usually made from a varying mixture of tin and lead. Most probably, scrap metal was also used.
The archaeological plaque material best allows us to describe their usage in southern and southeastern Estonia. Different theories have been put forward as to the origins of the custom of decorating clothes with plaques. However they have been widely used in the Baltic states and in areas east and northeast of Lake Peipsi by Finno-Ugric peoples.
Plaques were most often used to adorn shawls, headbands, and the edges of tunics. Due to the fact that tin does not survive well in Estonian soil, very few finds have been discovered that could allow to make a complete reconstruction of the placement of plaques on clothing. The last records about the usage of plaques date from the first half of the nineteenth century: in southern Estonia skirts with archaic tailoring – sõukesed – were decorated in this manner.
During the Iron Age plaques might have been made both for the local elite and for sale by the craftsmen dwelling in hillforts. Most probably, many craftsmen who made the plaques lived also in the villages on the countryside. It has been presumed that the making of moulds and casting tin might have been a female occupation. The assumption is based on the many female burials in the Baltics and near river Volga that contain ladles and moulds. Although much cheaper than silver and bronze, and easier to produce, it still cannot be said that plaques were used by the poor. Many have been found in rich graves with beautifully adorned clothing and valuable jewellery.
Freshly cast tin bears a resemblance to silver, thus it might be assumed that it was believed that tin adornments had similar protective-magical properties as silver jewellery.
Keywords: tin plaques, ornaments for clothing, tin casting, stone moulds, historical handicraft techniques