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Category: Celtic Art & Archaeology
A lot of what we know about Celtic-speaking peoples or the Neolithic and early Medieval residents of places settled by Celtic speaking peoples is from Celtic Art & Archaeology. Their art and artifacts, whether metalwork, massive stone structures, small inscribed stones or monuments, pottery, inscribed tablets, pottery or manuscripts, tell us about the earlier peoples living in lands that were inhabited by Celtic speaking peoples. While it’s true that we do not know what languages the Neolithic peoples who settled the lands that by the Middle ages were Celtic speaking regions in Europe, their artifacts share some common features with the Celtic art and archaeology of the later settlers.
The following posts discuss Celtic art and archaeology.
Ötzi is the name given to a 5,300-year-old European glacier mummy, the frozen remains of a hunter from the Copper age. He is thought to have been about 45 years old when he died, probably from blood loss after an arrow to the should, some 5,300 years ago. When he died Ötzi was wearing a woven grass coat with wore leggings and shoes of leather. He has some line tattoos that may have been spiritual or medical in nature, and carried a copper axe, a knife and flint-tipped arrows.
The first in-depth analysis of the hunter’s stomach contents reveal that half of his last meal consisted of animal fat, primarily from a wild goat species known as the Alpine ibex.
While researchers have previously studied remnants of food in Ötzi’s intestines, a more complete picture of his final feast was delayed because they could not find his stomach. It was finally located by a CT scan, tucked up under his ribcage near his shrunken lungs.
Très Riches Heures Musee Cluny MS. 65 f. 11v Calendar page for November Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The November calendar page for the Trés Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (Cluny Musee MS 65 F11v) is one of the pages in the book of hours that the Limbourgs did not complete before they, and their patron Jean Duc de Berry, died June 15 1416 in Paris. Charles I, the Duc de Savoie, commissioned Jean Colombe to finish the central image of the November calendar page sometime between 1485-1489.
Acorns are still used to “finish” pigs destined for a later appearance as ham, even now.
Detail for the month of November showing peasants harvesting acorns for pigs
The central panel features a pastoral scene of peasants harvesting acorns from oak trees, for the benefit of swine grazing beneath the trees. In the background on the left a château is partially visible on the bank of a river. The château has not been identified; it’s possible that Colombe relied on his imagination in depicting the château; it’s also possible that it’s not extant and therefor unrecognized.
The peasant on the left looks poised to hurl his stick into the trees, striking the ripe acorns so that they would fall on the ground to be consumed by the waiting pigs. Farther back, in the middle distance, two other peasants accompanied by sticks and pigs are engaged in watching the pigs, and in assisting the acorns to fall.
You’ll notice that the oak trees are very straight, and have had their lower branches lopped off in a practice known as pollarding. It was common in the middle ages in Europe to pollard oak and hazel nut trees by lopping off the lower branches every year or so; these could be used for firewood, and the tree would still grow and bear nuts. It also allowed more trees to be planted, because they could be planted closer together without lower branches inhibiting the growth of nearby trees.
November in Europe has a rich tradition of feeding acorns to pigs, and not just in the Mediterranean countries; Ireland and Britain both relied on acorns (and hazelnuts and hawthorn haws) as important fodder crops. The medieval Brehon laws of Ireland have specific restrictions and protections for the use of mast, particularly acorns. They were crucial in particular in terms of fattening pigs or “finishing” pigs before butchering. Green acorns were hazardous to horses and cows, and not really helpful to swine, hence the practice of harvesting ripe acorns, with the aid of stick or flail.
This grape-picking scene from the Très Riches Heures is one that was completed after the death of the book of hours’ original owner, Jean Duc de Berry. The Duke died in 1416, as did the three Limbourg brothers. In 1485, the Duc de Savoie, who acquired the unfinished manuscript, had the artist Jean Colombe finish half of September. Jean Colombe relied on a placeholder sketch previously made by the original artist. The top portion of the scene, featuring the Château de Saumur, was completed earlier.
In the warmer wine-producing parts of Europe, September, even now, brings the grape harvest. Peasants took to the fields in September to pick the grapes, engaging in the standard labor of the month depicted in the the calendar pages of books of hours for the month of September (at least in warmer climates).
If you look at the detail from the central portion of this calender page for Sepetember, you can see that the Château has a mote, with what appears to be a small draw bridge before the entry. A woman with a basket on her head is entering, and a horse (surprisingly it does not appear to be a donkey) with panniers is leaving. Between the Château and the grape vines is an enclosure that served as a tilting ground for tournaments. Just to the right of the tilting ground stands an ox.
In the lower portion of the scene, the grape pickers cut bunches of grapes from the vines and place them in baskets. If you look closely, the two pickers on the bottom left, both in grey, a woman wearing a white apron and a dark head-cloth and a man in grey, appear to be holding grape knives; these knives would also have been used earlier in the year to trim the vines.1)Called a billhook, this frequently used gardening tool had a double-edged curved blade and sometimes, an additional spike or point. It’s not that different from a modern grape harvesting knife. In Latin, the vineyard variety of a billhook was a falx vinatoria. Baskets of grapes are filled and placed in the panniers on the donkeys, or in the large barrels in the ox cart to the right. On the bottom left, a woman in blue and red with a adjusting her maroon head scarf and a white apron appears to be very pregnant. Just behind her, to the right, a young man in brown is sampling the grapes. In the middle right, a peasant is mooning the viewer.
Detail of the calendar page for September showing the Château de Saumur in the background, and peasants harvesting grapes in the foreground, the typical labor of the month in France.
Called a billhook, this frequently used gardening tool had a double-edged curved blade and sometimes, an additional spike or point. It’s not that different from a modern grape harvesting knife. In Latin, the vineyard variety of a billhook was a falx vinatoria.
Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks was edited by Fintan O’Toole and Catherine Marshall. The book, available as an ebook and as a printed book, traces the story of Ireland’s creative output from the revolutionary period until today. The book consists of 100 artworks created from 1916 (the year of the Easter Rising) to 2015, using each year as a spring board to trace the cultural history of Ireland. The works include visual works (paintings, sculptures, architecture) as well as literary; images of the visual works are included. The literary works are represented only by allusion and discussion in the short essays accompanying each piece. It’s interesting, though I suspect more interesting the more you know; I’m woefully ignorant of the visual arts of modern Ireland.
Print copies of the book can be purchased from the Royal Irish Academy. Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks is a project of the Royal Irish Academy, in partnership with The Irish Times. The ebook, in both Mobi and EPub formats may be downloaded here.
This is the July calendar image from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It shows wheat being harvested in a field to the left, while on the right a man and a woman are shearing sheep. The labors of the month are so very dependent on local seasons, and the cooperation of the weather, that it’s not really surprising to see sheep-sheering as a labor for June and July.
In the background is one of the Jean de Berry’s many castles; exactly which castle is in question (only three of his many castles are still extant). If you look very closely at the bottom left of the image, and in the river in front of the castle in the back ground, you can see swans. The swan is one of Jean de Berry’s heraldic devices (the bear is another; and his arms bear the royal fleur de lys).
This exhibit runs from September 24, 2015 – January 31 at the British Museum.
The Battersea Shield, British Museum
Celts: Art and Identity is an exhibit created by the British Museum in partnership with National Museums Scotland.British Museum lead curator of the exhibit, Julia Farley (she’s the Curator, European Iron Age collection, British Museum) describes it as “the first major exhibition to explore the full history of Celtic art and identity.”
2,550 year-old barley grains, post malting, from Eberdingen-Hochdorf
Ogma was a brewer, and so was Goibhniu, the smith god. Brigid too was a brewer, and there are many references to the consumption of beer in medieval Celtic texts. In that context the recent find that six specially constructed ditches previously excavated at Eberdingen-Hochdorf a 2,550-year-old Celtic settlement, were used to make high-quality barley malt, an essential beer ingredient. (You may recall Hochdorf as a principle Celtic site, where among other important finds in the museum is the grave of the Hochdorf prince.)
You can read the abstract, linked above, or download the .pdf of the paper, but the analysis of the malt, in the context of what we know about early brewing in the La Tène Period, fifth –fourth century BCE, Stika suggests that the beer would like have been somewhat smokey in character, with a sour taste (keep in mind that beer in this era would not have used hops).
there were countless trumpeters and horn blowers and since the whole army was shouting its war cries at the same time there was such a confused sound that the noise seemed to come not only from the trumpeters and the soldiers but also from the countryside which was joining in the echo (Polybius 206–126 BCE).
An archaeologist at Inrap (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives) Christophe Maniquet wanted to know what a carynx sounded like. Maniquet collaborated with Joël Gilbert, a brass instruments specialist and other experts from an acoustics laboratory at the Maine-CNRS University in Le Mans in order to create a replica of the carynx.
Ceramic plate from Gomadingen, Early Hallstatt, c. 700 BCE
Die Welt der Kelten: Zentren der Macht, Kostbarkeiten der Kunst (“The World of the Celts. Centers of Power—Treasures of Art”) will be at the Landesmuseum Stuttgart through February 17. It’s part of a year-long celebration of the area’s Celtic heritage. In an exhibit that is reminiscent of the joint European “Celtic World” exhibit featured as part of the EU opening ceremonies, the exhibit is described as be the largest exhibition of Celtic artefacts in the last thirty years, including some objects never before exhibited in Germany.
This is a joint production from the Archaeological Museum of Baden-Württemberg and the Landesmuseum Wuerttemberg in cooperation with the State Conservation Office in Stuttgart Regional Council and the Historical Museum in Bern.
The Baden-Württemberg State Museum of Archaeology “Centers of Power” exhibit themes is the evolution of Celtic civilization in Central and Western Europe between the 7th and 1st centuries BC, or from the start of the Iron Age to the arrival of the Romans.