1.1.7 Celts/Eurasians (1,200 BCE – )

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Beaker People
Inverted bell pottery

Hallstatt culture :
Ceremonial axe and container
Hallstaat Pottery
Vix Torc and Vix Krater
Strettweig Cult Wagon

La Tène:
Battersea Shield
Wandsworth Shield
Mšecké Žehrovice Head
Gundestrup Cauldron
British Isles (except where stated:
Snettisham Torque
Desborough Mirror
Tarasque de Noves
Staffordshire Moorlands pan

Bone slips
Tara Brooch
Moylough Belt Shrine
Book of Kells
Muiredach’s High Cross

The classification of Celtic is a difficult one. It has been applied to the Eurasians of Russian, Ukranian and Turkic origins. The term Celt has also been used to describe the ‘Beaker People’ (Europe: 2,600-2,100 BCE; UK until 1,800 BCE), a culture named after the inverted-bell beaker drinking vessel used at the very beginning of the European Bronze Age.

Archaeologists use Celtic to refer to the culture of the European Iron Age from around 1000 BCE onwards, until the Roman Empire. Whereas art historians define Celtic art starting from the ‘La Tène’ period (5th-1st centuries BCE) until 150 CE. It is perhaps the Book of Kells and other artworks of that period that the general public tend to talk of as Celtic art, but art historians used the term ‘insular art’ for this.

For ultcult‘s first forray into this sector we shall focus on three periods – Halstatt culture (800-450 BCE), La Tène (150-1 BCE), and Celts in the British Isles.


Beaker People: The people who were part of the Beaker culture can be identified as they were buried with distinctive artefacts including their pottery. The culture was widely dispersed throughout Western Europe, from Iberia to the Danubian plains, the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. This period was one of cultural contact in Europe following the Neolithic prolonged period of relative isolation. The Beaker people were not just about pottery, they worked copper and gold, practised archery, developed ornamentation, and it is assumed shared ideological, cultural and religious ideas.
Image source: nhm.ac.uk

Image size: Wikimedia commons

Hallstatt: This culture is named for the early investigations of graves by Johann Georg Ramsauer in Hallstatt Austria.

Bronze ceremonial axe (upper image), from a high status grave (#504) and dated to 800-700 BCE.

Decorated bronze container and stand (middle image), presumably hearth equipmentm from grave #507.

The bottom image is a watercolour commissioned by Ramsauer to record his grave finds at Hallstatt.
Hallstatt: Vessels found in the Celtic ‘Hohmichele’ burial mound at Altheim (near Riedlingen), SW Germany. On show at the Württembergisches Landesmuseum Stuttgart. Dated 800-450 BCE.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Hallstatt: The Vix Grave is a burial mound near the village of Vix in northern Burgundy. It is a Celtic complex from the Late Hallstatt period, with a fortified settlement and several burial mounds. In 2006, a large complex of two or three buildings was discovered, the main one measuring 35 x 21m, and 12m high: the dimensions of a modern church. Such a find is unprecedented in early Celtic Europe. It is suggested it was used domestically or for feasting. It is referenced as the ‘Palace of the Lady of Vix’.

The upper image is of the ‘Vix Krater’, or vase, from the ‘Lady of Vix’ grave. Her burial is dated to 500 BCE, thirty-five years old at death she is clearly high status by the large amounts of jewellery buried with her. The Krater overall weighs 208 kg, the vase is made from a single sheet of beaten bronze. The base has a diameter of 1.3m. It is decorated with classical motifs and stylised vegetation and features gorgons on the handles and its neck has a relief of soldiers and eight chariots seved by a hoplite on foot. The lid has an 18cm statuette of a woman at its centre.

The lower image, also from Vix, is a torc, a complicated piece of neck jewellery, found in the grave of a powerful woman, it has forty individual parts. The two spheres at the extremities are held by lion paws. The two small winged horses are reminiscent of Pegasus from Greek mythology and bear witness to contact with the Mediterranean world.

Hallstatt: The ‘Strettweg Cult Wagon’, a bronze cult wagon from c600 BCE, found near Judenburg, Austria in a princely grave. Other grave goods, like jewellery, bronze amphorae, iron weapons, tack and harness gear were also discovered here.

The female at the centre of the wagon is 32cm tall. The depicted scene is interpreted as a sacrifice. The wagon is thought to have served as a cult object for the consumption of a libation.

It is on display at the Archeological Museum in Graz.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

La Tène: The Battersea Shield is one of the most significant pieces of ancient Celtic art found in Britain. It is a bronze covering from a wooden shield (missing) and decorated in La Tène style.

The 77 x 36 cm shield is made of several different pieces, held by rivets concealed under the decorative elements. It has a repoussé decoration, engraving, and enamel. The decoration is La Tène style using circles and spirals. There are twenty-seven small round compartments in raised bronze with red cloisonné enamel. The bronze within the compartment forms a sort of swastika, believed to be associated with good luck and ‘solar energy’.

The shield is on display in the British Museum, and a replica is housed in the Museum of London. The Museum dates it as 350-50 BCE.
La Tène: The Iron Age Wandsworth Shield, The roundel-shaped boss is in La Tène style with stylised bird-heads. It has a diametr of 33cm.

It was found in the Thames near Wandsworth, is dated to the 350-150 BCE and is on show at the British Museum.

Image source: britishmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

La Tène: this male sculpted head from c150-50 BCE was found at the Viereckschanze site in Mšecké Žehrovice Bohemia, about 65 km northwest of Prague, Czechia. The marlstone head with its iconic moustache, owl-like eyes, torc ornament and unique hairstyle, became an international symbol for ‘barbarian’ Europe.

A similar torc can be seen on the 2ndy BCE sculpture of a Dying Gaul from Pergamon.
La Tène: This cauldron is made from thirteen silver plates. The hammered and gilded plates weighing 9 kg in total. It was found in Gundestrup in the Aars parish of Himmerland, Denmark.
On the outside, large deities are accompanied by small humans, animals and mythical creatures in pairs. The interior shows scenes populated with many figures, human and animals. One of them shows a parade of warriors carrying a carnyx, a Celtic trumpet. Dated betwwen 150 and 0 BCE, it is on show at the Historic Museum of Bern.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Great Torc from Snettisham is a large (one kilo and 20 cm in diameter), Iron Age electrum torc or neck-ring, the most spectacular object in the Snettisham Hoard of torcs and other metalwork found near the village of Snettisham in Norfolk, East Anglia.

The torc is one of the most elaborate golden objects from the ancient world, outstanding for its high craftsmanship and superb artistry. It was made from complex threads of metal, grouped into ropes and twisted around each other. The ends of the torc were cast in moulds and welded onto the metal ropes. Soon after its discovery it was acquired by the British Museum and is dated to 100-75 BCE.
A bronze mirror has a reflecting surface with green patination. The back of the mirror is highly decorated. The mirror is made from three pieces – a cast handle, the main mirror plate and a tubular binding strip around the edge. The pattern is very complex. It has a symetrical outline in the form of a lyre with flanking coils. 35 x 7 cms and weighing 0.6 kgs, it is dated 50 BCE to 50 CE and on show at the Brisitsh Museum.
Image source: britishmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

France: Gaulish 118 cm limestone statue of anthropophagic beast (known as the Tarasque) from Noves, south France, near Avignon).

It is usually interpreted as a lion, others suggest a wolf or hound. A dismembered limb hangs from its snarling mouth, and clutched in each front claw is a severed human skull.

It is on show at the Calvet Museum.
The Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, is a 2nd c CE enamelled bronze trulla, or pan, with an inscription relating to the forts of Hadrian’s Wall. The inscription round the rim is engraved and filled with enamel, it names forts along the wall

It was found in Staffordshire, by metal-detectorists, and bought jointly by the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent and London’s British Museum. It is a find of great national and international significance. The pan rotates between a number of locations, including the joint owning museums and a Hadrian’s Wall museum.

The upper image is the pan, the lower shows the rim detail

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: irishpost.com

Ireland: this Celtic decorated bone slip was found on the megalithic site at Cairn H, Lough Crew, Co Meath Ireland. The decorations must have used compasses, the discovery site – a megalithic site and holy place – their finish and shape, suggest they were supernatural offerings.
Ireland: the Celtic Tara Brooch, on show at the National Museum of Ireland.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: irisharchaeology.ie

Ireland: Dating from the 8th c CE, the Moylough belt shrine is one of the great treasures of early Ireland. Fashioned out of bronze and silve. The belt consists of four bonze segments, each of which enclose a strip of plain leather. The bronze sections are richly decorated and are also hinged together, so that the components are flexible. Each of the bronze segments contain a centrally placed medallion featuring a ‘Celtic cross’. The belt is on show at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

The lower image shows a detailed shot of one of the Celtic cross designs.
Ireland: The Book of Kells (sometimes known as the Book of Columba) is an illuminated manuscript Gospel Book in Latin. It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament, drawn from the Vulgate, together with various prefatory texts and tables.

It was created in a Columban monastery in either Scotland, England, or Ireland or as likely has contributions from each of these areas. It is believed to have been created c800 CE.

The middle image is folio 34r and shows the Chi Ro monogram, Chi and Ro being the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek.

The lower image is folio 7v and shows an image of the Virgin and Child, the oldest extant image of the Virgin Mary in a Western manuscript.

It is on show at the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Image source: irishcentral.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Ireland: Muiredach’s High Cross is a high cross 9th-10th c, located at the ruined monastic site of Monasterboice, in County Louth, Ireland. Muiredach’s cross is the most impressive surviving example of early medieval Irish stonework, and it and two other crosses at the location have been said to be Ireland’s greatest contribution to European sculpture.

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