Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 1. Introduction and metal analysis

Unlike the other series of blog entries here, this one will run consecutively as a convenience to students of the subject. Permission is given to use the information herein, provided that the source is cited.

The rarest of all of the styles of early Celtic art is Jacobsthal's  Plastic Style (the first link goes to the 1969 edition -- it was published previously in 1944; the second to an article on the style). Its range is from Bavaria to Bohemia with a few outliers. Until this object was found, no example of the style was reported from Britain or Ireland and the westernmost example was from the Department of Tarn in France.

The object is a small finial (height: 22 mm) of a cast copper alloy which was then finished by hand using (apparently) chasing, engraving and filing techniques. A test with a strong magnet has revealed the presence of iron at much higher levels of concentration than in the copper alloy which suggests to me that there is the remains of an iron tang or pin for attachment. Vincent Megaw (personal correspondence) has also allowed for the possibility that the finial actually has an iron core -- a feature known in other examples of the style.

It was found in Oxfordshire by a metal-detectorist but, so far, I have been unable to obtain a more specific find spot, or to obtain the name of the finder. As is typical for objects of this nature, it was almost certainly a stray find that lacked any archaeological context. As it clearly had become unattached from the larger object to which it belonged in antiquity, its loss was most likely accidental. Other, less likely, possibilities are that it was part of a founder's hoard or a votive offering. No other objects that might support these alternatives have been reported or shown up in the trade to the best of my knowledge.

The finder sold it to TimeLine Originals, and I saw it advertised for sale on their web site -- misidentified as:

"CO 010245
Celtic 'Triskelis' La Tene Pin Head
Copper alloy, 15.83 grams; 23.00 mm. Circa 1st Century B.C. -- 1st Century A.D. Masterfully crafted with a series of geometric shapes tessellating to create a patter with three protruding bosses around the sides with a triskelis on top with a central boss. Very Fine with remnants of the iron pin below."

I recognized it as Plastic Style, and as I could not afford to purchase it at that time, I advised my friend Robert Kokotailo of Calgary Coin to do so, telling him that obtaining an export permit for it would "have a snowball's chance in Hell".

The export permit was issued 03/09/2009. When it duly arrived in Calgary, I was able to inspect it more thoroughly and concluded that it was of British manufacture and was made in the late 3rd to early 2nd Century BC. by using comparative information in the time line published in E. M. Jope, Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Oxford, 2000.  To say that I was surprised by this would be an understatement. In fact, every international expert in early Celtic art who offered an opinion told me that I must be wrong, and that it had to be an import.

After I was able to study it "in the hand", I knew that I had to purchase it from Robert for my research collection. As my financial situation, was then, not much better than it was when I first saw it advertised, Robert agreed to a part trade, and along with the money, I parted company with another very important and unique object from my collection. This was not easy for me to do and one day I hope to be able to buy it back. In the interests of research, however, it had to be done.

I knew that the only way to prove my attribution was through a scientific analysis of the metal. This was kindly carried out by Dr. Robert A. Marr of The University of Calgary Laboratory for Electron Microprobe Analysis (UCLEMA) in the interests of international scientific inquiry. Dr. Marr's analysis follows:

No. As Cu Co Sn Fe Ag Zn Au Ni Sb Pb Total
1 0.224 88.684 0.316 10.593 0.411 0.013 0.145 - - - - 100.386
2 0.318 83.814 0.263 13.640 0.276 0.030 0.143 0.038 0.037 - 0.137 98.696
3 0.200 86.860 0.343 10.693 0.486 0.006 0.166 - 0.017 - - 98.771
4 0.241 86.922 0.292 12.743 0.359 - 0.129 - 0.012 - 0.070 100.768
5 0.295 85.751 0.300 12.781 0.405 0.031 0.180 - 0.012 - - 99.755


How these figures prove its British manufacture will be covered in the following post, but experts in the materials issues of the British Iron Age will certainly be able to spot the reason from these figures right now.

Finally, I show below, three of the photographs of the finial. Other photographs will appear in subsequent posts, together with additional information on what I have covered here in this introduction, and much more besides about its importance in the evolution of the British styles of early Celtic art.

Side, slightly tilted forward



Saturday, 24 August 2013

The seal of Alexander the Great -- part five (final)

Writing more than four hundred years after Alexander, and using a source now lost to us, Plutarch tells the following story:

"Philip himself some time after his marriage dreamed that he set a seal upon his wife's body, on which was engraved the figure of a lion. When he consulted the soothsayers as to what this meant, most of them declared the meaning to be, that his wife required more careful watching; but Aristander of Telmessus declared that she must be pregnant, because men do not seal up what is empty, and that she would bear a son of a spirited and lion-like disposition."

There can be little doubt that the story is false: Aristander came from Telmessus in Caria, and there, the Asia Minor symbology of the lion was well understood.If Philip had related such a dream to Aristander, the interpretation would not have included "spirited and lion-like disposition" but instead would have made a reference to becoming a great king.

Coin of Hekatomnos of Caria. Image courtesy 
The coin on the right was issued by Hekatomnos, Satrap of Caria ca. 392/1 - 377/6 BC. It shows a "heraldic" version of a lion about to spring. This posture is misunderstood in numismatic descriptions of the type, and if it is described at all, the lion is said to be "at bay". The latter posture is shown here. The stance is virtually opposite, with the lion's hindquarters lowered. The symbology of the coin shows that Hekatomnos is ready to defend his territory, but is not about to conquer his neighbours -- something his Persian overlord would not encourage!

I think it most likely that the story was made up to appeal to the western Greeks and to not suggest a Persian-styled ruler who would sweep away democracy with no concern. Remember, Alexander's rule marked the start of the period of the Hellenistic rulers. Today, Alexander is considered a hero by the Greeks but we should also consider the political situation with the Republic of Macedonia that I spoke of in part one of this series. It was very different in the nineteenth century, when the Greeks considered Alexander (and Philip before him) to be the villain who put an end to democracy in Greece. Yannis Hamilakis, _The Nation and its Ruins_, Oxford 2007, p.112, quotes I. Rizos Neroulos: "...And a battle in Charoneia took place, in which Philip won, destroying the Hellenic freedom, But Philip committed something even more disastrous, he fathered Alexander!...". There had to be an interpretation put in place which would explain the imagery on Alexander's seal in the west. Alexander would have needed such imagery in the east as he would be replacing the Persian overlord, and like them, also put native satraps into positions of local government.

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of "repatriation" of cultural objects to their countries of origin. Mostly, these efforts have been aimed at the U.S. The reason given is that they are the heritage of the people in those countries. Sometimes, the objects in question have been spoils of war. It seems to me, though, that these actions are more symbolic of a "passive conquest" in the light of U.S. economic expansion -- a sort of political power play used to bolster public support for the current government of those countries. Sometimes, these objects are put on display to commemorate the action, much like  the processions held by the ancient Romans to show the captives and booty brought back by triumphant generals. The U.S. is allowed certain concessions for its generosity, but details of these are never released to the public in either country.

I find it rather amusing that such repatriation efforts could not be applied to the seal in my possession. Whether nationalistic ownership is determined by the country where the seal was found, or the country that includes the ancient state where it was made. No find spot has been recorded and every one of Alexander's officials would have sealed international correspondences with such a seal. Not only can we not know where such letters were sent -- just about all of the ancient world known to the Greeks could be candidates, but we have no idea where the seal was made, nor even from where the seal matrix was made. It's creator could well have been travelling with Alexander. Canadian law is very clear on the matter, if more than one country can have a claim on an object, possession must remain with its current legal owner.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

White Fang II

After Winston died, every dog owner that I knew told me to get another dog immediately. They were right. For many years, I had two dogs -- the other being Nakita, a female rescue Border Collie. When she died at the age of twelve, I missed her passing as well, although not as strongly as losing Winston. What I did not realize after Winston died, was that there were really two losses: Winston, himself, and the fact of living with a dog.

I was watching an episode of "All Creatures Great and Small" where a man had lost his only dog, and Siegfried, the older vet, had strongly advised him to get another one right away. So, when I got my new dog, who is part German Shepherd, I started to think about a German name for him. I didn't like the name "Siegfried" much as a dog's name, so I picked the name of Siegfried's young brother: Tristan. I had always like that name anyway -- even though it means "sorrow". Besides, the name evokes the Medieval Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult, and that story has elements of the Irish "The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne". I had written about Diarmuid (Diarmait),  in 1996, in "The Role of the Boar in Celtic Iconography and Myth"

I decided on another rescue dog, and I found a likely candidate on the website of the City of Calgary Animal Services. He had been found running loose a couple of weeks after the Calgary flood. and no one
reported him missing. I needed a couple of appointments in order to get him as he had some "issues" and they would only allow him to go with someone very experienced with dogs. That criterion gave me no problem at all, and they were very happy to release him into my care.

So Tristan came home with me and I started on his training right away. I was amazed at the speed that he learned things, and he already has a good grasp on the basics -- he is even doing fairly well on not pulling on the leash (unless he spots a squirrel or a jackrabbit!). He was listed as a German Shepherd / Border Collie cross, but I could not see the Border Collie part at all. When I asked about that, Animal Services told me they were not sure either. That night I spent a few hours searching for his features on the web and was not entirely surprised to discover that he is part Coyote. I had already noticed that his tail was very much like that of a Coyote, but the clincher was the "M" shape on his forehead which appears on some "Coydogs" as they are called.

As part of his rehabilitation yesterday, I took him on a bus and through downtown at lunchtime to get him used to crowds and noise. We were walking along the 8th Avenue Mall, when I saw a booth run by the Calgary Parks Service about wildlife in the parks. Coyotes were mentioned. I couldn't resist stopping. The
You can see the Shepherd and the Coyote in this shot
women running the booth thought that Tristan was a very attractive dog and one of them said "So he's a German Shepherd cross -- what else is in him?" I replied, "Look at his tail". "Coyote!" she exclaimed, and spent the next ten minutes dragging various people over to take a look.

Finally, as one of my favorite stories when I was seven years old was Jack London's "White Fang", about a dog/wolf hybrid, I called this post "White Fang II". Of course, Tristan is part Coyote and their behavior is very different from that of wolves so the connection is slightly tenuous.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The seal of Alexander the Great -- part four

Coin from Myriandros in Cilicia. Image courtesy
of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
All over Asia Minor, the image of a walking lion serves as the icon for kingship. Examples can be found from many times and places but I will start with the time just before and after Alexander. The first example is this small silver coin (obol) from Myriandros in Cilicia. It was struck by Mazaios who was satrap of Cilicia (361/0 – 334 BC). Although the end of this range of dates overlaps the reign of Alexander by a couple of years, it was struck at least three years before Alexander adopted the walking lion motif.

Coin of a satrap of BabylonImage courtesy
of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
After Alexander took Babylon, he continued the tradition for the local coinage and the satraps were allowed to issue their own coins. The next coin illustrated was struck circa 328 – 311 BC, and thus might have been issued during his lifetime. It was minted at Babylon, which he had entered in 331 BC.

Coin of SeleukosImage courtesy of Classical
 Numismatic Group Inc.
The type with Baal seated on the obverse and the walking lion on the reverse was continued by Seleukos, one of Alexander's officers who became satrap of Babylon upon the death of Alexander. The Seleucid Dynasty ruled Syria until it was captured by the Romans and Seleukos was the first king in that line. Unlike Seleukos' coins issued for Syria, the Babylonian coins did not bear his name but the identification is certain as they also bear the image of an anchor, which was Seleukos' own badge.

The knowledge of the design of Alexander's seal was likely very widespread, but for some reason, it did not last beyond the Roman Empire. Perhaps the knowledge died out because whenever it had been used, it was not identified as the seal design. Perhaps the knowledge of its use was so common that no one felt the need to label it as such. It is ironic that “common knowledge” can die out so easily – but it is, after all, only the relatively obscure facts that have to be recorded!

Image courtesy of Richard Plant
The walking lion motif with the name of Alexander as is depicted on the seal, also appears on an apparently unique small silver coin in the collection of Richard Plant and is illustrated as a line drawing in his book: Greek Coin Types and their Identification, Seaby, London, 1979, No 1332, which he gives as a 3rd century BC commemorative issue. Although the coin is in rather poor condition, the styles of the lion and the epigraphy certainly seem to support this dating.

Roman "Koinon" issue in gold. Image courtesy of
Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
A Roman period “Koinon” issue in the name of Alexander continues the type. These “Koinon” issues do not identify the ruler or place of issue and are mostly attributed on stylistic grounds. This apparently unique gold example is dated thus to either Caracalla, 198-217, or Severus Alexander, 222-235 AD. The latter seems most likely to me, only on account of the name.

Next, we must turn our attention to some related iconography which appears on the bronze coins of Kassander. The history of the period is far too complex to deal with in this article, but it would help the general reader to understand that upon the death of Alexander, two seats were made vacant: the kingship of Macedon and the leadership of the Alexandrine Empire. Kassander seemed mostly interested in the latter – but contemporary explanations differ, one even suggesting that he left Macedon with the intention of poisoning Alexander. He arrived in Babylon the very year that Alexander died.

By most modern standards, Kassander was a villain – he ordered the execution of Alexander's wife Roxana, and their thirteen year old child Alexander (IV), as well as arranging the murder of Herakles of Macedon whom he had been told was Alexander the Great's illegitimate son. Of course, in that time, all of this was the usual sort of “dynastic business”.

Kassander's reclining lionImage courtesy of
Ancient bronze coins often give us a window into the “PR” of the time – their types are often aimed at the general population, just like modern advertising campaigns, in the hope of influencing the people in certain ways. When Kassander was regent in Macedon (317-305 BC), he issued this coin showing a reclining lion – the rule was not yet established, so the lion was not walking. Perhaps it also signified that Alexander was “at rest” – it is difficult to assess the exact meaning that an ordinary person of the time might have have inferred from the motif. One thing is certain, and that is that it had a specific meaning, and this fact is established by the change in motif after Kassander styled himself “king” on his coins.

The lion breaks the the spearImage courtesy of
Kassander issued another bronze coin type after he became king, and this shows the walking lion motif, but with a difference. This time, the head is facing the observer and his right claws are grasping a spear or javelin which he appears to be breaking with his jaws.

Next episode: the making of a myth (any more information would give it away!) Special thanks goes to Mark Fox of Michigan for his valuable input and for arranging the communication with Richard Plant, and to Richard Plant for his help and discussion.

Monday, 12 August 2013

How to milk an auroch -- part two

Sadly, the closest modern cattle to the auroch is likely now extinct. The species is the S.E. Asian Kouprey (Bos sueveli). The last specimen was sighted in 1983. It shares many features with the Auroch, such as sexual dimorphism and very similar horns.

The following video was taken from a film of 1951 and is the only film record of the species. The horns of the adult bulls show a strong resemblance to the animal depicted on the Celtic bucket mount.

It is believed by many to be descended from the Auroch, but the species appears to have separated from the auroch many thousands of years before the accounts of Herodotus and Caesar. Not long ago, it was commonly believed to have been a hybrid, but this paper from the Royal Society effectively dismisses the idea.

Although the Kouprey might be gone forever, efforts are underway, through the Tauros programme, to breed back the original auroch from primitive types of cattle, some of which might have strong genetic links to the original species. Among British cattle, the Highland Cattle is one of the species considered, and certainly, its horns are very similar to those on the bucket mount.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The seal of Alexander the Great -- part three

The most puzzling part of the research into the seal of Alexander the Great was the epigraphy. In particular, the Greek letter xi (Ξ ). The form I give here is the one most familiar to collectors of the coins of Alexander.

But there is another, archaic, form of xi shown in the illustration to the left. It is mostly encountered in the coins of Egypt down to about 305 BC in Alexander's name before Ptolemy became king of Egypt. The difference being that the archaic form has a vertical line in the middle of the three horizontal lines that form the letter.

On the seal, the middle horizontal line is absent
and this makes it look like a form of the Greek

letter zeta often seen on provincial coins of Severus Alexander, as on the coin from Ephesus illustrated on the right. This would appear to be an eastern dialect where “Alexander” would be pronounced “Alezander”.

I was confident that the unusual letter form on the seal was due to the small size of the inscription.

If the central horizontal line was included, the letter could appear smudged if it filled with superfluous molten lead. But confidence is not proof, and it took me quite a long time to find an image of a coin of Alexander the Great which had an identical letter form. That coin is illustrated below. Again, we must assume that the die engraver was concerned about legibility in the small coin.

Small coin (hemidrachm) struck in Babylon during Alexander's lifetime. Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
A special “thank you” goes to Kyriacos Kyriacos of London for his valuable help with the epigraphical features of the seal.

The next episode will be about the iconography– stay tuned!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Getting back to nature

This is where we entered the bush. It looks innocent
enough doesn't it? What looks like a meadow
a small lake is no place for a family picnic.
It is actually 
dangerous marsh, and within this area
are black bears, 
grizzly bears and moose.
It was more of an expedition than a vacation. My friend, Monte, had purchased a quarter section (160 acres) near Aleza Lake, northeast of Prince George, British Columbia. He had yet to visit the land and was eager to see it, so we set off for the land last Monday. It was about a ten hour drive. The price was was very reasonable – in the general area, about an acre of farmland with all services would cost about the same. We knew that it was rough country, but from Google Earth, it looked like we could find an easy way into it. This was not to be the case: the aerial photographs seemed to be a few years old, and land that was cleared was now overgrown, at least one bridge was out and even old roads had grown over with dense underbrush. We heard from some of the locals that a female black bear with a cub had been sighted in the area and also an old male black bear had been showing up a lot. Black bears do not worry me a lot, and we had a whistle to warn the wildlife of our presence.

It was very difficult to find the access road we had been looking for, but we eventually got to it, and set off into the bush. We had to cross some marsh before getting to the remains of the road, but as the ground got higher, the road was easier to to travel on. After a while, the road entered dense brush that could only be crossed by foot or an all-terrain vehicle. We saw tracks and droppings of a bear and moose, Monte heard a growl from the bushes nearby and blew his whistle. It was probably a black bear. It let us carry on with no problems.

Eventually, the track we were following ended at a clearing and we saw a few other tracks leading in different directions. None of them seemed much more than animal trails and the low lying land was getting even marshier. Some of the grass was six feet high, and there were stinging nettles up to chest height. A bear, or even a moose, could hide in there very easily. The undergrowth masked some very wet areas and twice, I stepped into the mud and water. It was no fun. We soon realized that another route would have to be found and we turned back. We had traveled two kilometers and it had taken us four hours. If you walk fast enough, the mosquitoes do not bother you much, but when you slow down or stop for a rest in such country, then they become very annoying.

Eaglet lake, just after sunrise
That night, we camped at Eaglet Lake, a few kilometers away, and after dawn, I saw a bald eagle catch a fish and then stop on the shore further up the road to enjoy its breakfast. Monte wanted to go back into the same area but take a turn in the road to the west, rather than the east as we had done the previous day. From the map, it looked like that route might eventually get us to where we were going, but it was quite a
few kilometers and I was far from keen on going back. We were both exhausted from the previous day. Monte said he would be prepared to go back in alone, but I said I would go back with him as it was not safe to go back in there alone. It turned out that this was an understatement, but we did not find that out until we visited the general store in Shelley and spoke to the woman who ran it.

She told us that some time ago, two men got their truck stuck in the mud near where we were and one of them set out on foot to get help. He was never seen again, but parts of him were found – he had been eaten by a grizzly bear. The woman had warned the two men. She told us that it would be crazy to go in that country without a gun, and that if our vehicle got stuck, we should wait for someone to come along. I did not mention that we went in on foot, and where we were, no vehicle could get to us at all.

She was quite the character – very experienced in traveling in the bush. She said that she had come close to a grizzly herself. She had not seen it but had caught its smell and moved away very quickly.
She said a black bear smells like an old rotting stump in the forest, but a grizzly smells like a dead body. She was still upset that the two men had ignored her warnings.

Abandoned gas station at Willow River, the expedition
vehicle in the background. No cheap gas here -- the sign
dates back to the start of the Gulf War.
Outside, we spoke to a man who had seen a grizzly on the road a few days earlier. It was standing on its
Click on the photo to read the sign clearly
hind legs in an aggressive stance. He said there were some really huge grizzlies in that area. When we asked about access to the land, he suggested a farmer who lived on adjacent lot who had allowed his cattle to graze on Monte's land in the past. We happened to come across him about an hour later. He told Monte that on the next trip, he would take him in there. After we got back to Calgary, I found a better route, but it would take a boat to get close to the land. We were also told that it is better to     go in with a couple more people. The grizzlies would not attack four people, rarely attack three    – two people could be attacked easily, and one would be like wearing a target! Incidentally, Monte's land is known to the locals as “the land that it is impossible to get to”!

Any volunteers for the next expedition?