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The Fibula Event Horizon

One of the weirder concepts that I came across working through the MOOC on Hadrian’s Wall is that of the “Fibula Event Horizon”. This is apparently a recognised archaeological term, referring to the sudden and dramatic increase of small brooches (fibulae) found in late iron-age contexts in Britain just before the Roman conquest. It is surmised that it relates to a change in fashion so that clothes needed to be fastened with brooches.

What struck me particularly was the similarity of the term to the “Shoe Event Horizon” discussed by Douglas Adams in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy series. Adams says that when a society gets depressed, people look to cheer themselves up by buying shoes. So it becomes economically viable to build more shoe shops. However, the quality of the shoes decreases as more types are made, and so people have to buy still more shoes. This becomes a vicious circle until the only industry on a planet is concerned with the manufacture and sale of shoes – the so-called Shoe Event Horizon – at which point civilisation collapses. I thought it unlikely that Adams would have been influenced by an obscure archaeological term, and in fact it appears that he was in fact punning on the title of a Frederick Pohl novel, Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. It’s much more likely that the archaeologist who first identified the surge in fibula production was a closet science fiction fan. I’ve tried to trace the first use of the term Fibula Event Horizon, and it appears to be by a British archeologist called J.D. Hill in 1995, well after the Shoe Event Horizon appeared in Adam’s radio series of Hitchhikers in the early 1980s. So I think I can deduce what type of fiction Hill liked to read! I find it highly amusing that the term has been adopted by a load of completely straight-faced archaeologists!