Ralph Mills

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.

Last updated 1st February 2018

Mills, Ralph (2010). Miniatures in historical archaeology: Toys, trifles and trinkets re-examined. Master's thesis, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester.



My MA dissertation was researched and written in 2010. Much of what I touched on has been superceded by my PhD research, so my thinking and conclusions may have changed somewhat. Some of it, hopefully not too much, may simply be wrong! But it still serves as a useful introduction to my study, and it indeed acted as a rickety foundation to my subsequent research.

I am proud that this work won the 2010 Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Postgraduate Dissertation Prize.