Technologies of Enchantment: Early Celtic Art in Britain

Kirburn sword, Iron Age, 300-200 BC

The Celtic art database

The project team has compiled a comprehensive database of all Celtic art found in Britain to date. This includes excavated finds, and finds recently reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Early Celtic art in Britain (Excel, 2 Mb)

This document will be updated annually by:

  • Adam Gwilt (Curator of Bronze and Iron Age collections, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales)
  • Jody Joy (Curator of British and European Iron Age collections, British Museum
  • Fraser Hunter (Principal Curator, Iron Age and Roman collections, National Museums, Scotland).

The database was last updated in August 2010

Database construction

The database was constructed in such a way that each object occupies one ‘row’, whilst the information about that object is contained in multiple ‘columns’. The information relating to each object divides, along with date, into these categories:

Object description

Information about what kind of object each entry refers to (e.g. tubular torc, parallel-winged terret, scabbard chape-end, etc.), the material(s) it is made from (copper alloy, gold, enamel, etc.), and its condition(complete, semi-complete, fragment, etc.). It also includes a lengthier written description of the object, detailing any outstanding or defining features, the type of decoration used, etc. In total, 186 different object types are listed (this represents the highest figure possible, with cow-shaped bucket mounts, for example, listed separately to bird-shaped ones, etc.). Thus in order to make comparisons between different objects, each item was also assigned to one of 19 broader object categories. For example, tubular torc becomes ‘torc/collar’, and a parallel-winged terret becomes ‘terret’.

Broad object categories:

  • Animal/human form
  • Armlet (massive)
  • Arm ring
  • Bowl/bucket/cauldron
  • Dagger
  • Fire dog
  • Horn-cap
  • Horse bit
  • Horse gear (general)
  • Linch pin 
  • Mirror
  • Ornamental strip
  • Shield
  • Spoon
  • Sword
  • Tankard
  • Terret
  • Torc/collar
  • Other

 

Location

Information about both the contextual and geographical locations in which each object was found. Contextual information, if sufficiently detailed in the original source, is recorded at several different levels. An object’s location might, for example, read ‘hillfort’, ‘hut circle’ or ‘within stone wall’ in different columns. As with object types, in order to allow comparisons, each object was assigned to one of 18 broader context/site types. The geographical information provided in most original sources generally detailed the nearest farm, village or town to the findspot, along with the county. For the purposes of the project, it was necessary to transfer this information into a co-ordinate system which could be used in GIS. This was achieved by finding the Ordnance Survey co-ordinates for each of the given place names (where these had not already been given).

Broad site/context types:

  • Bog/fen
  • Broch/crannog
  • Burial – inhumation
  • Burial – cremation
  • Hillfort
  • Iron Age settlement
  • Lake/sea
  • Landscape hoard
  • Late Iron Age/Romano-British settlement
  • ‘Oppidum’
  • Romano-British settlement/villa
  • River
  • Roman fort/camp
  • Temple
  • Villa
  • Other
  • Stray
  • Unknown

Sources/references

Information about where each object has previously been published, and where it is currently held. In the case of the former, the information included in the database is not comprehensive, but details the relevant catalogue numbers in Jope (2000), MacGregor (1976) and Spratling’s (1972) corpora, and elsewhere if necessary, where further references to the original find/site reports can be found. In cases where finds had not been published in the traditional fashion (for example, many of those found as a result of the Portable Antiquities Scheme), this is clearly stated. Details about the current location of each object (in most cases a museum) are provided, as is the museum accession number (where stated in the original source).

For a full description of how the database was constructed see:

D. Garrow, ‘The space and time of Celtic Art: interrogating the Technologies of Enchantment database’. In D. Garrow, C. Gosden & J.D. Hill (eds) Rethinking Celtic Art (Oxbow, Oxford, 2008).

Phases

Phase Period Dates Correspondence with other dating schemes
1 Middle Iron Age Pre 100/80 BC La Tene B, C & D1
2 Late Iron Age Around 80 - 20 BC La Tene D2/Haselgrove Coin Phase 2
3 Pre-Conquest Around 20 BC - AD 40 Augustan & Julio-Claudian/Haselgrove Coin Ph. 3
4 Conquest period Around AD 40 - AD 65/70  Conquest of South Britain  to the start of the Flavian period
5 Late first century AD Around AD 65/70 - AD 90/100 Flavian period
6 Second century AD+ Around AD 100+ not applicable

 

Sources

Note that certain other key papers (Taylor and Brailsford 1985, for example) are not listed because their findings had already been fully incoporated by Jope 2000.

R.R. Clarke, The Early Iron Age treasure from Snettisham, Norfolk. In Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 20, 27-86, 1954.

J.D. Hill, pers. comm. (personal files held at British Museum)

F. Hunter, pers. comm. (personal files updating MacGregor at National Museum of Scotland)

N. Hutcheson, Later Iron Age Norfolk: metalwork, landscape and society. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports British Series 361, (2004)

M. Jope, Early Celtic Art of the British Isles. (Clarendon, Oxford, 2000)

J. Joy, Reflections on the Iron Age: biographies of mirrors. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Southampton (2008)

P. MacDonald, Llyn Cerig Bach: a study of the copper alloy artefacts from the Insular La Tène assemblage (University of Wales, Cardiff, 2007)

M. MacGregor, The Iron Age metalwork hoard from Stanwick. In Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 28, 17-57, (1962)

M. MacGregor, Early Celtic Art in North Britain (Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1976).

V. Megaw, A group of Later Iron Age collars or neck-rings from western Britain. In British Museum Quarterly 35, 145-156 (1971)

N. Palk, Iron Age bridle bits from Britain. Edinburgh: Department of Archaeology (1984).

N. Palk, Metal horse harness of the British and Irish Iron Ages. Unpublished DPhil thesis, University of Oxford (1992)

Portable Antiquities Scheme 2007. http://www.finds.org.uk/

M. Spratling, Southern British decorated bronzes of the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age. Unpublished PhD. thesis, University of London (1972)

I. Stead, The Snettisham treasure: excavations in 1990. In Antiquity 65, 447-464 (1991).

I. Stead, Iron Age cemeteries in East Yorkshire: excavations at Burton Fleming, Rudston, Garton-on-the-Wolds and Kirkburn (English Heritage, London, 1991)

I. Stead, British Iron Age swords and scabbards (British Museum, London, 2006)


Image: the Kirburn sword, Iron Age, 300-200 BC. From a burial at Kirkburn, East Yorkshire, England

 


Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

 

 

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