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.
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.
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.
The Lewis chess pieces were found by a farmer on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, in 1831. The Lewis chess pieces seem to have been buried in a sand dune, possibly in a stone cist, near Uig. We don’t even know exactly when they were found, just that it was before 11 April 1831, the date of the first published record. The find includes 93 chessmen from at least four different set, none of them complete, some pieces resembling checkers (possibly for use in Hnefatafl or one of the other similar medieval board games) and a carved ivory belt buckle.
Sir Frederic Madden, the first editor of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, initially published a description of the finds in 1832 (“Historical remarks on the introduction of the game of chess into Europe and on the ancient chessmen discovered in the Isle of Lewis.” Archaeologia XXIV (1832): Queen no. 2, p. 217). The British Museum very quickly purchased most of the pieces. In 1888 the National Museum of Scotland obtained the remaining 11 that had remained in private collections. Today we have 93 Isle of Lewis chess pieces, 11 of which belong to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The other 82 pieces are in the British Museum.
The Lewis chess pieces are strikingly detailed, carved from walrus ivory ranging from 1 5/8 inches to just over 4 inches tall. When they were found, at least some of the pieces were stained Lew red (the convention of black and white pieces is fairly modern, in terms of a game with a history that dates to ). Assuming the Game and Playe of the Chesse was fairly similar to today’s chess, a board big enough for the pieces to be arranged in initial formation would be about 82 cm/32 inches across. They were, based on the era and stylistic features shared with sculptures in Trondheim, most likely made in Norway, c. CE 1150–1200. That would be during the time when the Western Isles including the Hebrides were controlled by Norway. They would have been expensive, and regarded as luxury items.
The faces and expressions are very individualized, and realistic. There are interesting touches that provide characterization; one of the warders, or rooks, is biting the top edge of his shield in an echo of the Old Norse description of a berserk in Snorri Sturluson’s Ynglinga saga, part of Sturluson’s Heimskringla c. 1230. The Queen very much has a woe-is-me expression; the King while sitting, has his sword drawn and ready. The pawns are all either grave markers, or rune stones, depending on one’s cultural take.
Art historians and chess experts have hypothesized that the hoard might represent the remainders of four complete sets; the sets as hypothesized mean the current pieces lack a knight, 4 warders or rooks, and 45 pawns, in order to complete four sets.
I suspect the recent resurgence of interest in the Isle of Lewis pieces has something to do with the use of replica pieces in the “Wizard’s Chess” that Ron and Harry play in the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I tried rather hard to learn to play chess, thinking I’d purchase this resin replica set of pieces and board based on the Lewis pieces, but alas, I play so poorly that only my computer will attempt to teach me.
The Fermanagh torc was found in County Fermanagh, in Fermanagh bog, in 2009
The torc was found by metal detector Ronnie Johnston Corrard, near the Belle Isle estate in county in Fermanagh in 2009. He didn’t recognize it as a 3,000 year old gold ornament at first, and, thinking it was an old car spring, tucked it in the back of a drawer.
The Fermanagh torc is quite large, mostly gold, and dates from 1300-1100 B. C. E. The BBC article asserts that it “would probably have been worn around the waist.”
I confess to being puzzled by that assertion. Torcs are usually worn around the neck, with some possibly worn as bracelets, but not wound around the waist; it’s not practical. It’s far more likely that it was wound in a spiral fashion, or, quite possibly, never worn at all, but a status symbol that was ritually donated to the bog.
You can read about the Fernmanagh torc yourself here.
The December 2010 excavation discovered an intact four by five meters enclosed tomb, complete with intact oak floor timbers. After a preliminary excavation, the entire site 80-ton site, including surrounding soil, was extracted and moved to a laboratory in Ludwigsburg where microscopic examination of small pieces of organic matter and fragments of clothing could take place. The site has resulted in not only richly decorated jewelry in gold, amber and pearls, but textiles, pottery, and tools. The excavation is under the direction of Dirk Krausse. It is likely, given the care in excavating the site, that it will prove even more important than the Hochdorf prince’s grave.
The oak was preserved so well by the boggy soil that it has allowed the site to be dated to c. 7th century BCE, the height of the settlement’s activity, 2600 years ago. The trees used to make the floor were felled 2,620 years age.
I’ve written before about an 8th century Irish psalter on vellum found in an Irish peat bog near Riverstown in north Co Tipperary, in July of 2006. The psalter, both damaged and preserved by the tannic stew of the bog, Conservators, principally John Gillis, on loan to Ireland’s National Museum from Trinity College Library, have been working diligently to discover the best methods of conserving, preserving, and documenting the psalter for the last four years.
In 2011, the psalter will be placed on permanent display in the National Museum of Ireland. In the meantime, you can read the preliminary report here, and some background here. In the process of conserving the ms. pieces of papyrus with coptic lettering were discovered in the psalter’s binding, a revolutionary and historic piece of evidence in terms of the connections between the early Irish church, the Coptic church of the Middle East.
Via the customary cursory glace at my referrals, I noticed that a new article on the Natural History magazine Web site links to me via the following:
At Lisa L. Spangenberg’s Digital Medievalist site you can find a good list of Celtic Web Resources (scroll down). At one of them, Simon James’s Ancient Celts Page, the author, who is an archaeologist at the University of Leicester in England, presents alternative views on this culture. After presenting the conventional wisdom, he gives an alternate history of “Celticness,” which examines the justification for unifying so many tribes under one banner—with particular attention to the British Isles.
I very much respect the work of Professor James. He’s an excellent archaeologist, and I do understand the problems of referring to a huge span of, what, three thousand years of history, and a geographical reach that covers most of Europe and a decent chunk of the Middle East as “Celtic.” The also fabulous Barry Cunliffe, another archaeologist, shares some of the same concerns.
They share myths and laws and motifs not only with other Indo-European cultures, but with each others—right down to the names, never mind the stories.
There are also shared myths, etymologies, laws, and practices, that are unique to Celtic languages, and shared among Celtic languages.
I note that Professor James largely ignores Celtic languages and linguistics; I really wish he wouldn’t. I realize the enormous cultural differences over time and geography—these are especially apparent in terms of archaeology and art—but given that the peoples who we associate with Celtic in terms of pre industrial history spoke a Celtic language, I assert that it is perfectly reasonable to refer to those peoples as Celts, however we decide to bento-box their artifacts.
This past July a Roman altar dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus was discovered in the excavations of the former Roman fort Vindolanda. Vindolanda is near modern Chesterholm, England, just south of Hadrian’s Wall. The altar, weighing roughly 1.5 tons, is carved stone. One side bears a relief image of a jar and a patera, a shallow dish frequently used in religious rituals involving sacrifice. The opposite side depects a male figure in Roman clothing standing on the back of a bull. He bears a thunderbolt in one hand, and a battle axe in the other. A third side bears an inscription in Latin. The text reads:
coh IIII Gall
V. S. L. M.
The inscription uses standard abbreviations and dedicates the altar to “To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, Sulpicius Pudens, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, fulfilled his vow gladly and deservedly.”
What’s particularly interesting about this altar is that it is inside the walls of the fort proper, in an area that might conceivably have been a shrine, rather than in or on the exterior walls, as is common all along the forts and guard posts associated with Hadrian’s Wall.After preliminary excavation, the bottom half of a second alter was discovered, suggesting that there may have been a more formal shrine. The second altar was dedicated to Dolichenus by a prefect of the Second Cohort of Nervians, a Vindolanda regiment that later moved to the fort at Whitley Castle in the third century. There were animal remains as well, which suggests that there may have formal sacrifices and feasts in the vicinity.
We know from the Vindolanda tablets that Sulpicius Pudens was the commanding officer of the Roman regiment stationed in Vindolanda during the third century C.E. It would have been fairly typical for Sulpicius Pudens to have had the altar created and dedicated to the deity in fulfillment of an oath. It would also appear that this is the same Pudens who dedicated a smaller altar on another wall of the fort.
The Romans enlisted soldiers from all over the empire and those men tended to bring their gods with them, and adapt the local deities as well. Jupiter Dolichenus was a deity that Romans in Anatolia adopted; there, he is associated with a hill outside the Turkish town of Dülük, (then known as Doliche). He began to be popular among Roman soldiers stationed nearby during the beginning of the second century C.E. From Duluk, the soldiers carried him all over the empire—leaving hundreds of inscriptions and altars dedicated to him. In Anatolia, Dolichenus was a deity associated with weather, known to the local Semitic speakers as Hadad, and to the Indo-European Hittites as Teshab. The sobriquet “Jupiter” was added by Roman worshipers who identified Dolichenus as an avatar of Jupiter.
The drink of choice among the wealthy is wine brought from Italy or the region of Massalia. It is normally drunk unmixed with water, although sometimes water is added.
Athaneus (fl. c. C. E. 200) Deipnosophistae trans. Phillip Freeman. (John T. Koch and John Carey eds. The Celtic Heroic Age. Celtic Studies Publications: Maldon, MA, 1995).
There are a number of similar references in Classical sources to the Celts’ fondness for wine. Most references emphasize that the wine was unwatered, and that drunkenness was common. Drunkenness is one of the most common slurs cast at any “barbarians, yet there does seem to be some corroborating evidence regarding Celtic fondness for wine. There are the many amphorae found pretty much everywhere the Celts were found, including Britain.
And now, thanks to Luca Sormani, from Como, and Fulvio Pescarolo, from Robbio near Milan, both part of Italy’s northern region, you can buy a replica clay wine flask containing 80 centilitres of Uinom Laevum made with ancient recipes from grapes grown on a farm using ancient Celtic agricultural methods, and ancient Celtic for 140-160 euros ($170-$195). You can read Reuters’ take on the story here.
The Celts in question are the Insubri, the Boii and the Senoni, who migrated to the northerm Italian area known as Liguria (as in the Continental Celtic langauge Ligurian) during Rome’s Tarquin era, around 500 B. C. E. The region is the same area where the real Lambrusco is made. The techniques used to make the wine are based on the “Arbustum Gallicum” described by Roman historian Columella, in De Re Rustica. The soil, deposited by river, is sandy, and swampy, creating very specific growing conditions. There’s a reasonable description of the horticultural methods, in particular the way the vines are deliberately kept low, and the use of wooden casks (a Celtic innovation) here, in Italian.
The BBC Web site is reporting the discovery of a 2000 year old carving of the British warrior-god Cocidius on Hadrian’s Wall, in Northumberland near Chester’s Fort. The language of the article, and of articles on the Web, implies that this “northern god,” as the BBC puts it, was Germanic. The carving, as you can sort of tell from the image, shows a figure with a shield in his outstretched left hand, and a sword or spear in his right; the sort of deity you’d expect Romans stationed in the cold hinterlands of Northumbria to favor.
Cocidius is quite Celtic, and is in fact, British or Brythonic. His name contains the word coch, still the word for red in Welsh today. This isn’t the only image of Cocidius; he was quite popular, especially with Romans. In the East, around Hadrian’s wall, he was associated with forests, and hunting. There’s an inscription to him at the old Roman fort in Ebchester (known to the Romans as Vindomara) that refers to him as Cocidius VERNOSTONUS, or “alder tree.” An altar in Risingham shows Cocidius hunting against a backdrop of trees.1)Green, Miranda. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Thames and Hudson, 1992. 62).
In North and West Cumbria Cocidius was closely associated with the Roman god Mars. There are dedications to Cocidius at the old Roman fort of Birdoswald. At Bewcastle two silver repousse placques, complete with inscription, show Cocidius with spear and shield. There’s a reference in the Ravenna Cosmography to a fanum Cocidi that’s almost certainly Cocidius (Green, 62).
It’s quite possible that many of the unnamed deities along Hadrian’s Wall featuring hunting scenes, sometimes with horns, or the warrior with spear or sword, and shield are images of Cocidius.