Finding Buckles

Buckle recovered during recent excavations of a late eighteenth – early nineteenth century site in Fairfax County.

Buckle recovered during recent excavations of a late eighteenth – early nineteenth century site in Fairfax County.

by Samantha WoodstockCART Archaeological Technician

Buckles have been used for multiple different purposes throughout centuries. There are numerous types of buckles: knee, belt, shoe, girdle, boot/garter, spur, etc. A buckle  is made of two parts, the frame (or ring) and the chape. The chape itself has three parts, the pin, roll and tongue. The pin is placed on the backside of the frame where it is drilled into holes of the frame. The roll and tongue pivot on the pin but, they face opposing ways. Not every buckle has all five parts and use of the buckle is dependent on the size and shape of the parts of the buckles.

Buckles started to become a fashion statement in France during the reign of Louis XIV in the late 1600s. This fashionable icon came to the American colonies in the early 1700s. These particular buckles were lavish pieces that were gilded and jeweled to present wealth and power. Girdle buckles were lavish women’s buckles popular around 1740. The girdle was the leather belt that fastened a gown with a decorative piece in the front. Men had stock buckles were used to fasten a neckcloth with a lavish piece in front.

Horse saddles and harnesses also used buckles. These buckles are usually brass or iron with a single or double frame. These buckles are a simpler size and shape for more practical purposes. They are used to secure the harness to the horse through a leather and/or textile strap. They are also used in securing the rider to the horse through a saddle belt that is attached to the harness.

The pictures above are also of buckles excavated from sites that date from the eighteenth to nineteenth century.


Button Country. 2012. Div IV-Buckles & Claps. Electronic.

Hume, Audrey Noel. 1971. Wetherburn’s Tavern Archaeological Report, Block 9 Building 00 Lost 20 & 21. Electronic.

Hume, Ivor Noel. 1969. Artifacts of Colonial America. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press. Electronic.

White, Carolyn L. 2009. Knee, Garter, Girdle, Hat, Stock, and Spur Buckles from Seven Sites in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Springer. Electronic.


About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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