Monday, 30 September 2013

Salvador Dali Bicycle -- found art

The curves in the frame add to the composition
photo courtesy of  Robert Kokotailo
I saw this bicycle, some time ago, near a friend's shop. Forgetting my camera several times when visiting him, Robert finally sent me a photo.

Of course, the bicycle evokes Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory  which depicts melting pocket watches. Rather ironic that I kept forgetting my camera.

It seems fairly certain that this is a result of vandalism and not artistic expression but it is the sort of image one just has to share. Apparently, quite a number of people have thought the same about their discoveries of similar bicycles, but have not realized that they were not alone. What about the perpetrators of such events, though? How many of them  knew they were evoking Dali? Is it all happenstance or an underground art movement?

I also had to wonder if, by bringing attention to the other examples, I was risking the possibility of more  such events. Hopefully not -- I can't imagine that the readers of this blog would go for such a thing. Although very amusing for spectators who realize the connection, it would not be amusing to the owners of the bicycles -- even if they saw the connection.

Today's entry is short because it is my birthday -- the length of tomorrow's entry really depends on how today unfolds...

Friday, 27 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 5. Peirce's cable

Peirce in 1859

 Philosophy ought to imitate the successful sciences in its methods, so far as to proceed only from tangible premisses which can be subjected to careful scrutiny, and to trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibers may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected. 
Charles Sanders Peirce, 1868



Peirce's cable was expanded by Richard J Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis in 1983, to include even hunches, and both were applied to archaeological theory in Thinking from Things: Essays in the Philosophy of Archaeology by Alison Wylie in 2002.

Throughout this series, I have traced a number of fibers and could have included even more. For example, the gold boat in the Broighter hoard is believed to have been an offering to Manannán mac Lir who is cognate with the Welsh, Manawydan. We have seen a connection between Manannán mac Lir and the Menapii in Ireland, but the former also connects to Cormac, the great Irish king perhaps contemporaneous with Carausius -- certainly being of the 3rd or 4th century AD and along with the boat and the torc in the Broighter hoard, was a gold cup and this connects to an Irish story by Lady Gregory in 1904 in:  Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland (Forgotten Books) :

"And there was a gold cup put in the hand of the master of the house, and Cormac was wondering at it, for the number of the shapes on it, and for the strangeness of the work. "There is a stranger thing yet about it," the man said; "let three lying words be spoken under it, and it will break into three, and then let three true words be spoken under it, and it will be as good as before." So he said three lying words under it, and it broke in three pieces. "It is best to speak truth now under it," he said, "and to mend it." ...
"And I myself," he said, "am Manannan, son of Lir, King of the Land of Promise, and I brought you here by enchantments that you might be with me to-night in friendship." ...
"And on the morning of the morrow, when Cormac rose up, he found himself on the green of Teamhair, and his wife, and his son, and his daughter, along with him, and he having his branch and his cup. And it was given the name of Cormac's Cup, and it used to judge between truth and falsehood among the Gael. But it was not left in Ireland after the night of Cormac's death, as Manannan had foretold him." 
Could the offering of the boat to  Manannán mac Lir, which included the gold cup, be also connected to this tale -- albeit changed by the passage of time? It has been said that the Irish stories are a window on the Iron Age. If that is true, then the mirror is badly cracked. They are more likely a mirror on Ireland in the time of Carausius, at least, those of the Fenian cycle, where stories of Cormac reside. He, in turn, is given greater weight by being included in the Annals of the Four Masters

But the Fenian cycle also includes Diarmait, and I have traced his origins back to Ovid and earlier to Homer. Perhaps it goes even further, as far back as the Neolithic.

Then we have seen a connection between the Frome hoard and the early Irish laws, and these are connected by the Dobunni where members of that tribe went to Lambay Island by Dublin in about 75 AD

The Irish chariot of the early Medieval period as described by Raimund Karl in the same journal as my article reflects that while we find chariots in the stories of the Fenian cycle and elsewhere, they are almost absent from the Irish La Tène, yet a piece of wood found at Corlea bog and of fine workmanship and likely a chariot board had studs of maple -- a tree not native to Ireland, but maple studs were present in a chariot fragment from the Rhineland.

And of course, the Irish gold with its platinum inclusions undoubtedly came from the Rhine, the river that figured so much in the history of Carausius' ancestors -- and he finds allies among the descendants of the Dobunni, who, following Irish legal tradition had to bury the money he gave them to secure loans of cattle. Although he is in charge of  a Roman fleet, he cannot boast of his abilities in that sphere -- there are even suggestions that he helped the Saxon pirates that he was supposed to eliminate Yet he illustrates a galley and speaks of happiness -- perhaps he and other Celts had ideas about Ireland, we know so little of that time. His ancestors, too, had been there in their boats.

There are many fibers in this Peircean cable, more than I have mentioned here, and there is much that might be researched and tested, by anyone interested in taking it further. But the notion that the Frome hoard was an offering to the gods, and with no substance to back it up, is like chain reasoning. But it is broken at its first link and cannot, thus, be called a working hypothesis.

Next week, a trifle or two, then I think it is time to tackle transdisciplinarity with expert systems, Wolfgang Pauli and evolutionary cladistics.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 4. Messing about in boats

The Broighter gold boat  in the National Museum of Ireland
photo: 
Ardfern -- Wikimedia image

The Wikipedia account of the Broighter, Co. Derry, gold hoard gives little clues to the truly bizarre circumstances of the find and the events which followed, but read it anyway so that I do not have to repeat the basics. My source for the further information about the hoard comes mainly from Barry Raftery, La Tène in Ireland: Problems of Origin and Chronology Marburg, 1984 (an expensive book, and often difficult to obtain). I have added extra details.

In Irish art in the early Christian period to A.D. 800 (1940), F. Henry says: "The so-called 'Broighter hoard', having been found inside an old umbrella lying in a ditch, is hardly likely to be a deposit of the Iron Age". The following year, calling it an "exploded myth", A. Mahr, Celtic art in ancient Ireland, said that everything but the collar was probably of Indian manufacture. He was coy about revealing the full facts. R. A. S. Macalister, Litt.D., LL.D., F.S.A. The Archaeology of Ireland, 2nd edition, 1949, p.239-41, had the following to say:

"That is all very well, but Science cannot tolerate such vague reticences about a story, whatever it may be, antiquated now by a generation and a half. The rumours that have come my way, filling in these bare outlines, for what they may be worth, are to the effect that the objects were the property of a local collector, gathered at various times and in various parts of the world; that his home was raided by burglars; and that the thieves for some reason, wrapped their loot in the cover of an old umbrella and buried it where the ploughmen happened to find it. The umbrella story is accepted by Mlle. Henry; but until convincing answers are given to the questions which arise automatically, I shall find a very serious difficulty in following her lead. Who was this mysterious collector in the background? Why did he not come forward to claim his property when the newspapers were full of the case?..."
He goes on to add seven other questions about the verity of the story and then analyzes the hoard itself, noting that it was divided into three alloy types: the boat and bowl of pale gold "much alloyed with silver"; the chains of "a somewhat dull hue; the collar and torques of bright pure metal."  He also adds information from the official report of the legal proceedings which revealed that two ploughs were involved: one made a 6-8 inch pass over the ground, and the other behind it ploughing to a depth of about 14½ inches. The earth was stiff and apparently undisturbed. It was being ploughed for the first time. There was no trace of any wood or cloth -- the umbrella story was a fiction. Macalister was also able to talk to a woman who had witnessed the proliferation of wild tales about the discovery at the time, and she also confirmed what the Court had discovered. Yet, misgivings about the official report continued for many years -- legend having greater currency than fact.

An analysis of the metal content of each item has finally put the matter to rest: they all contained platinum traces consistent with all Irish La Tène gold, and its route to Ireland could have been from nowhere but the River Rhine. British gold contains no such platinum traces, neither do continental Belgic Celtic coins, nor their Philip II prototypes. While the Rhine does contain placer gold with platinum traces, the gold staters of Alexander the Great are of the platinum inclusion type -- undoubtedly originating in Asia Minor, in the rivers of Lydia -- the Persians, too, took advantage of these deposits. There was a single exception in Celtic coins so analyzed: a coin of the Boii -- that well-traveled tribe who also had a large base in cosmopolitan northern Italy.

So let us now investigate the Menapii, the tribe to which Carausius belonged. First, we will look at the Irish branch. In an introduction to his book, The Menapia Quest: Two Thousand Years of the Menapii - Seafaring Gauls in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man, 216 BC-1990 AD Norman Mongan has the following to say:

"The Menapii are the only known Celtic tribe specifically named on Ptolemy’s 150 AD map of Ireland, where they located their first colony- Menapia – on the Leinster coast circa 216 BC. They later settled around Lough Erne, becoming known as the Fir Manach, and giving their name to Fermanagh and Monaghan. Mongan mac Fiachna, a 7th century King of Ulster, is the protagonist of several legends linking him with Manannan mac Lir. They spread across Ireland, evolving into historic Irish (also Scottish and Manx) clans whose descendants are found worldwide today."
You will recall, from the Wikipedia entry about the Broighter hoard, that "The boat suggests that the hoard was a votive deposit to the Celtic sea god Manannán mac Lir".

Now, we will turn to the Continental Belgic Menapii (Netherlands) -- Carausius' homeland. Caesar says in reference to the wanderings of the German tribes Usipetes and Tenctheri who had been driven from their homes by the Suebi:
"...After wandering for three years in many parts of Germany reached the Rhine in the territory of the Menapii, who had lands, farmhouses, and villages on both banks of the river. Terrified by the arrival of such a multitude, the Menapii abandoned their dwellings on the German bank and placed outposts on the Gallic bank to prevent the emigrants from crossing. The Germans tried every expedient; but not having boats with which to force a passage and being unable to cross by stealth because of the Menapian pickets, they pretended to return to their home country, and marched in that direction for three days. ..." IV, 4
Of course, they returned, and catching the Menapii unawares, they slaughtered them and took their boats. This was in 55 BC. We can imagine that the Menapii then increased their defenses on the Rhine, and they were the only tribe who never sent envoys to Caesar to sue for peace.

Two gold coins of the Menapii, BN. 8743 and 8744.
Both found in the Netherlands. ca. Gallic war period

Boats on Celtic coins are a rare occurrence, the only other examples being Scheers' Bateaux type and their British derivatives.

Galleys are fairly common on Roman coins, and the iconography they represent is, for the most part, well understood. An exception, however, is the following silver coin of Carausius:

 Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.

Allectus, who was Carausius' treasurer and another Menapian, assassinated him and then issued a half denomination (quinarius) which also showed a galley. Allectus' coin bore the legend VIRTVS AVG -- The Virtue of the Emperor -- not a difficult slogan to interpret, but the galley motif is unexplained by this. However, the legend on the Carausius denarius means The happiness of the Emperor. Was this a reference to his pride about being a Menapian, who seem to place great importance on boats in their iconography and had a certain amount of control of the Rhine at its mouth, or was Carausius, like the Water Rat in the Wind in the Willows, most happiest when messing about in boats?

Tomorrow, the final episode.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 3. Primitive economies

Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon Raised mound of Rathcroghan,
or Ráth Cruachain, royal seat of the kings of Connacht.
The epic tale 'The Cattle Raid of Cooley' begins here
So far, we have a huge pot of coins buried in the ground in an area that does not seem to have used money. We have eliminated the possibilities of the coins being buried because of the threat of invasion, and have also eliminated the possibility of any sort of votive offering. We have established that the most likely source of the money was payment to local people for supplies, labor, or both and that the most likely source was Carausius' army.

So why would people provide goods and services for money they had no use for, and then bury that money in the ground?

To answer that question, we first have to understand primitive economies. What does that phrase conjure up? Let us ask the man on the street -- or rather, the digital equivalent. Google the following question (without any quotation marks): What happened before money was invented? You will notice a lot about barter. You will also notice a lack of supporting evidence and perhaps a few things that you already know to be wrong. I picked the Irish photograph above for a very good reason: at the time the Frome hoard was buried, Ireland did not use money. From reading the caption, and after consulting "the man on the street" you might imagine that there were two ways to get a cow, you could trade something for it, or you could steal it.

Think again. If you have a bull and  few cows, what do you get? You get interest on your investment. Obviously, you must have some suitable land available for your cattle, but the rest is fairly simple, the cattle eat grass, drink water and make more cattle. Nowadays, we invest money and get interest from this investment -- at least, that's the theory. We cannot be sure about this though and money, left alone in a pot does not breed. We have to take a lot on faith and we realize that such investment seems to be creating inflation, and that today's money is not based on anything tangible. We print more money as we need it. Something must be wrong here. We go through cycles of economic downfalls, lose our shirts and start all over again. But we think that those Irish farmers were primitive.

They were indeed primitive, but primitive means primal. They had an economic system that worked very well. If you had a bit of land but no cattle, the local lord or king would loan you some cattle. You would have to pay interest on that loan in the form of some of the cattle's offspring, and that interest was spread out over three payments. If everything went well, you would gain the profit of then having cattle, and the king would get more cattle to loan out to others. Of course, you might suffer from a cattle raid, or you could neglect the needs of the cattle, some might get a disease and die, and so on. In such an environment, various solutions would evolve to handle these sort of events. The society was co-dependent and as soon as a situation arose, king and commoner, alike, would work out some system to overcome the difficulty. Thus the early Irish Laws came into being, From everything we know, though, these laws had been evolving for a very long time. Within a local area with little outside contact, the laws became more and more refined. They reflect the structure of the society. Someone steals some cattle, but he needs to pasture that cattle. If it is on his own land, then it is fairly obvious to everyone that he used to have twenty head of cattle and suddenly has fifty --meanwhile his neighbor is down thirty. He then has to give those cattle back and pay a fine on top of that. The amount of the fine is based on the status of the victim -- his honor price. Perhaps he steals the cattle and then drives them far away. The king then demands the fine from the thief's relatives. Perhaps he gets a friend to pasture the cattle -- the king then demands the fine from the friend.

But these are simple scenarios, it got far more complex than that: there were certain social obligations that were also covered by these laws and these varied depending on the status of the individual. The size of houses were determined by these laws; the obligations to visiting guests right down to whether one was entitled, or not, to have butter! You can read about all of this in this paper.

The cultural situation in rural areas during the time of Carausius  cannot possibly be equated to the cultural situation in a Roman town. For a start, the latter used money. As cultural areas expanded over time, the laws evolved in one place ran headlong into laws that had evolved in another. They had to become reconciled and that took the form of simplification. Today, laws have become very simple indeed. The speed at which these laws changed depended on the degree of necessary communication between increasingly remoter cultural groups.

While everyone involved in the Frome hoard situation was, technically, Roman -- the farmers of that area would have still been subject to modified laws and customs stretching far back into antiquity. I use the example of the Irish laws for a very good reason: to some degree, the laws in Ireland were also influenced by the same cultural group where Carausius, himself, originated. He was of the Celtic tribe the Menapii. and that tribe also had a branch in Ireland. Some believe that the two are unconnected and the names are mere coincidence, but in the next episode, I will provide some pretty strong evidence to show that they were, indeed, the same people.

But it goes even further than that: the farmers who provided services to his army were doing so, not just for profit, but because they also had social connections with him. You might say they were his allies.

So when they obtained the payment, it was buried as collateral for loans, and those loans would have been for livestock. The Irish laws allowed for the improvement of a person's status through profit -- remember, these laws evolved to be of benefit to all. As the profit increased, the various clans were represented by even more remote areas and the laws then had to be adjusted, or made simpler to accommodate the differences. Bit by bit, we evolved into the modern world that we now inhabit. The sudden arrival of viable cash in the rural area would have been a social disaster, It could not possibly be allowed, and everyone knew that.

Although  I have provided the explanation for the Frome hoard, it still  remains to support the evidence presented here, and that gets rather interesting, indeed -- but that will have to wait for tomorrow's episode: "Messing around in boats" -- see you then.      

Erratum (part two): I should never take given data on faith! The date range given in the Wikipedia article was wrong. The coins of Maximianus and Diocletian would, of course, have been pre-reform radiates and minted prior to to the death of Carausius. The date range is thus only 40 years instead of 52!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 2. The lands formerly Dobunnic

Gold coin of the Dobunni issued by "ANTED",
circa 10 BC - 10 AD. The king's name is actually
Antethirig, which is Celtic for "Fit to rule" 
The Dobunni occupied a large territory in western England. It had been free from conflict since Antethirig unified the northern and southern parts of the tribe's territory. Best known for their metalwork in the early Celtic art styles, they were close to sources of argentiferous copper, tin and lead and they attracted a number of Continental artists `who set up workshops there to supply more warlike neighbours with weaponry, and other equipment. One of the earliest arrivals was the artist who made the finial found in Oxfordshire. It seems fairly likely that he was a member of the Boii who gave their name to Bohemia. His arrival in the 3rd century BC strongly influenced the direction of early Celtic art in Britain.

Unlike other British tribes, the arrival of the Romans gave them little concern. In about 75 AD, a small group of them moved to Ireland -- presumably to follow a more warrior-like lifestyle as I explain here, but for the most part, they saw the Romans as a welcome source of income. A number of wealthy Romans built villas in their territory. Much of the land was very fertile and the weather was pleasant -- especially attractive for retiring Roman officers who had been serving on the northern frontiers.

In the vicinity of the Frome hoard, however, there was little Roman activity. It was farmland and it seems that, apart from the Frome hoard and another hoard of  Roman silver siliquae found not far away, stray coin finds of any sort were far from plentiful. Dave Crisp, the finder of the Frome hoard, explains the circumstances of the find in this video.

Now, if this agricultural community with no Roman town or temple nearby managed to offer some 52,000 Roman coins "to the gods",  one might expect to find more than a few similar coins in the general vicinity. We must also ask ourselves what in earth were they doing with so many coins in the first place? In ancient times, of course, coins were not used as much as they are today. If you were to visit a modern farming community and were to ask the inhabitants to gather 52,000 coins... . Something is very wrong here. Another problem with this hoard is the time span of the coins within it: only 52 years. If a hoard consists of coins that were gathered together by the community for safekeeping because of the threat of some attack, one usually finds a far greater time span -- there are almost always at least a few really old worn coins that were in circulation, and the numbers of coins of each time period gradually increases with a large peak at the time of the deposit. With the Frome hoard we only have the peak, and nothing earlier. This tells us that the coins originated in some place that was actively using an enormous amount of money. The only explanation is that these coins were paid to people working for an army. In a military situation, you do not have the old worn out coins that you find around settlements. It is obvious to me that this was an army under the control of Carausius.

So now we have to ask ourselves why an agricultural community would be in possession of so much military pay. It is more than unlikely that the community had become Roman soldiers, but an army needs more than just fighting men -- an army marches on its stomach, as Napoleon later said. Also, a Roman army had to take care of its horses, build camps, construct defenses and so on.

The Frome hoard was coinage that had been paid to that farming community for the services that they could provide. This could have been directly paid for grain and livestock, or it could have been for the hire of non-military labor. Perhaps it was a combination of the two. But this presents another problem: we know that this local area did not use much, if any, money. There are no reported stray finds; Dave Crisp was not finding other Roman coins apart from the hoards; there were no shops to spend any money and the money was not being recycled for local metalworking. Why then, were the locals so eager to exchange their goods or labor for money that was of no use to them and was simply buried in a large pot? We have already eliminated the possibility of "an offering to the gods".

I do have a solution to this puzzle, but you will have to wait until tomorrow ...




Monday, 23 September 2013

Frome hoard -- a working hypothesis 1. Getting our feet wet


Rather than wasting time with another account of the hoard, and because there is a lot to cover here, I direct the reader to the Wikipedia entry for the background information.

As there has been no interdisciplinary hypothesis presented for this find, and because its nature really calls for one, I present this working hypothesis to rectify the situation. A working hypothesis is a "bare bones" preliminary to a scientific hypothesis that lacks further, targeted, investigation to pursue the matter. Being an interdisciplinary approach, I have to cover a number of topics that are not common knowledge, as well as providing considerable historical information so that the cultural environment might be better understood. My point of departure is the suggestion that the hoard is an "offering to the gods". This working hypothesis has two parts (in order): what the hoard is not, and what the hoard is.

First of all, it has not been established that this deposit is even a hoard, so we have to start from that point. I am retaining the word as it is now commonly used, but the correct term is deposit. It is self-evident that these coins were placed in the ground but a hoard is, by definition, something that is intended to be recovered later for some purpose. Over many decades, the hoard definition has been allowed to degenerate from its original definition as defined by the old Treasure Trove laws (Now replaced by the Treasure Act). However, this is not the place to discuss such a thing.

The commonest type of hoard is one that is deposited during some period of strife so that it might not be discovered and captured as a result of such strife. However, there are a number of other types of hoards -- a founders hoard, for example, is metal that is buried for safekeeping from theft and is intended to either be used by the person(s) who deposited it for safekeeping until some, or all, of the metal was used to make objects, or to recycle the metal for such use by others. The Jersey hoards of Celtic coins are essentially scrap metal buried some time after they were issued and were destined to be recycled by the Durotriges at Hengistbury in England as I describe in my book. Opinions of the date of these deposits vary: Colin Haselgrove places them sometime in the 3rd quarter of the 1st century BC, while I place them ca. 10-15 AD. We both have valid reasons for our dating which are focused on the Le Catillon hoard.

So let's get out feet wet right away and look at "an offering to the gods". I know of no such type of deposit in Britain or on the Continent: Roman religious offerings are always aimed at a specific deity, or set of deities, and are made, for the most part, at temples dedicated to such deities. In Britain, there is sometimes evidence (often very slight) of  previous offerings, perhaps at a Celtic shrine at the same site. The construction of the temple usually hindering any clear evidence for a prior shrine so that we might have a number of Celtic coins or other objects that seem focused to that exact location without the clear evidence of  the construction of a previous shrine. Wherever actually found, these shrines are usually rather small rectangular structures.

We also have to keep in mind that this is a Roman, and not a Celtic deposit. At this late date, there can be no doubt of that fact. Augustus set up a hierarchical system of deities and these were worshiped at temples dedicated to them. At the top of the list came Vesta, then below that the deities that were shared with the Greeks -- Apollo, for example. Finally, came the foreign cults that had smaller followings. The temple lands, defined by the augurs, were divided into two categories: land that was used for the temple and its priesthood, and land that was leased to farmers in order to provide income for "staff salaries" and the upkeep of the temple. Augustus  also added other "perks" to encourage more interest in the gods that he best approved of, and these could include regular tickets to the games etc.

In Britain and Europe, this had an immediate effect on the local priesthoods. It should be understood that these priests were not Celtic Druids, but part of indigenous and local priesthoods that had persisted in those areas at least since the Neolithic. The Druids acted in more "supervisory" capacity, and it might be seriously questioned if they had their own gods at all. Through syncretism, however, these local deities were all likely "Celticized" to some degree over time. For anyone with an interest in just how far back these local deities went you can see a brief discussion I had with Euan MacKie following one of his posts on the Britarch discussion list.

The local priests, as might be guessed, were very eager to associate their deity with the Roman gods that promised them the greatest rewards, so we have vast numbers of local deities that were then given Roman names with a Celtic appellation -- Apollo Belenus, for example. This practice was prevalent in the earlier Roman Empire, but over time, the Celtic appellations were dropped and such a temple would be dedicated only to "Apollo" as the priests, essentially, Romanized themselves and thus contributed to the Romanization of the local population. In  my opinion, Augustus was one of the cleverest leaders in antiquity!

The temples, of course, would celebrate the feast days of the deity as well as having regular "services" for the population. Isolated elaborate, expensive, and often dramatic rites were held under the auspices of the Druids in Britain following, and as a reaction to, the Roman invasions and eventual conquest. These could even include human sacrifice if the situation seemed that desperate. They were restricted to other members of the Druid, and perhaps Knight classes, and were not part of regular, indigenous, religious practices.

From all of the above, it is clear that the Frome hoard was neither a Roman nor a native "offering to the gods" -- There was no likelihood of any emergency situation (as we will see in the next part), and there was no Roman temple at the site -- which is what you would expect, even long before the date of these coins.

Next episode: The lands formerly Dobunnic.


Friday, 20 September 2013

From Bizen to Calgary via Gloucestershire

John Chalke plate reflecting the Bizen tradition, circa 1978
The paintings had to go. Two of them were owned by my wife before we met, the rest had been joint purchases made almost until her death in 2003. After ten years, they had started to look like part of a previous life. We had known all of the artists. It was after the death of the last painter that the contemporary art collection became unbearable. My living room felt like a mausoleum.

Besides, I was having trouble with the word "contemporary". Even Giotto was contemporary once. Would the "contemporary art" label stick to these works? Would future collectors be buying 500 year old contemporary art? I wondered if the art should now be called modern, instead -- at least, for the time being. I was feeling bad enough, but now I was subjecting myself to semantic torture. I phoned the auction house.

When the director came by with his assistant, he did a tentative valuation. Some pieces were valued less than we paid, some more. But you just never know with auctions, like all of us, they can have bad days too. The subject of reserve prices came up, but I explained that the sale was not a business decision -- I did not need the money for anything. If something did not sell, I would not only get the albatross back, but I would have to pay for it too.

I was of two minds about the plate pictured above. For a start, the artist was alive. It was one of the pieces that Carrie had bought to the marriage; she had written a poem cycle about the potter: "Through shining glass" -- one of the poems was about an encounter between John Chalke and Claes Oldenburg in London. The title of the poem cycle came from the last three words of that poem (the final one):

Through Shining Glass:
5. Afterimage
-- but all this bores you
you prefer to float absurd and lyrical
in the redness of some sunlit tent, some
bizarre decade where time and space are mere
phenomena in which you have no interest...I succumb,
               and watch you stopping on a London street, ignoring
morning rain to watch a man arranging objects
all alone behind a window...then he beckons,
and together you put all things into place
by pantomime through shining glass --

It was not a painting, and I liked it. However, it was the only remaining piece from the collection, so I included it. I never felt comfortable about doing so, though, but I told myself that it might fetch a good price. Even the Victoria and Albert Museum in London had bought his work and this was an early piece that acknowledged the fact that he was considered a Master Potter by the Japanese -- the only Canadian to receive such distinction.

It was a bad day at the auction, but I did not lose too much. Fortunately, the Fates had decreed that the plate would be the only piece in the collection included in the "silent auction" part of the event, and no one had placed a bid on it, so I got it back and never had to pay any reserve fee. I imagined what might have been said as the people had viewed it: "It's got a crack in it, and the glaze is uneven!" or "It's brown and so seventies -- all it needs is a macramé holder to suspend it from the ceiling" -- philistines!

Despite losing a little, I was happy. Not only did I achieve my goal, but the Fates had made up for my indecision by supplying the best solution for the plate.

Here is Carrie's collection catalog entry:

"John Chalke; large stoneware plate; 7cm deep, 40 cm outer diameter, 24 cm inner diameter; signed "John Chalke" on back.

"According to the artist, this plate was thrown with stoneware clay, enriched with feldspar (and perhaps, other additives?) to mimic the mineral-rich clay found in Bizen, a Japanese potting locale. Bizen clay, nearly black, is so rich with minerals that it self glazes in the kiln. The glaze colours and ash-glazes were chosen to represent this effect; the green salt-glazing, an English invention, was added to marry a British potting tradition with a Japanese one.

"This style of pottery is from 11th century Bizen tradition. The plate was hand-thrown on a slow wheel with very soft clay, fired, then glazed. As ash-glazes and salt glazes both rely on accidental effects, many attempts are made before a successful plate is achieved. The artist will destroy many pots after first firing, or various glazes: he estimates approximately 45 plates would have been destroyed to produce this perfect piece.

"The central diagonal crack was induced, and later filled with gold-coloured "plastic steel": the signature on the back is in the plastic steel, and is quite unusual, as this artist is well known for not signing his work. His explanation, besides that he was very pleased with it and it was the first thing he had signed in three years (this said in 1978, when the plate was bought), was that the plastic steel on the back 'looked like it needed something.' This plate was likely finished in late 1977 or early 1978, as it was bought in the spring of 1978, and the artist spoke of it as a recent piece.

"John Chalke, born in 1940 in Gloucestershire, England, moved to Canada in 1968. He is the only Canadian potter recognized as a Master Potter in Japan."

Monday's edition? Don't worry, I will think of something!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Ninagawa Noritane, the kogo, and the end of the Samurai


Inscription, inset: Tetsu
Sometimes, a single piece of information can make all the difference. I was looking at a dealer's listing for a little kogo -- a small incense box used in the Japanese tea ceremony. It was black and gold lacquer, but the black had faded somewhat on the outside and was now a pleasant brown colour. On its base was a tiny three-line Japanese inscription cut into the lacquer. The dealer provided a translation:

Ninagawa Noritane / Tenth year of Meiji / philosophy (tetsu)

Now, to do justice to Ninagawa Noritane (1835-1882), would take more space than I have here. He was a distant relative of the Meiji Emperor and served in a number of positions in the government. To say that he knew a lot about traditional Japanese culture would be an understatement. Perhaps he knew more than anyone. He was sent by the Emperor, in 1871, to have the abandoned Edo Castle photographed. It was destroyed by fire the following year. He also recorded much of Japan's important cultural objects.

He was the foremost expert on Japanese pottery, publishing the standard work on the subject: Kwan-Ko-Dzu-Setsu (French Edition)  in 1876. He both collected and dealt in such material. Although he never left Japan, he heard that the British Museum was starting to collect fine examples of Japanese porcelain, so he wrote to Augustus Wollaston Franks, sending him a couple of pieces of pottery as a gift, and explaining that, while Japanese porcelain was popular in the west, the Japanese had imported the ideas from China, and porcelain was something that they made for export. The Japanese much preferred pottery, and much of this looked rather "rustic" and "amateur" to western eyes. The sort of thing that might have been made by a child on the first day of a pottery class. It was, however, masterfully made -- the best potters working to get it just right with
donated to the British Museum by Augustus
Wollaston Franks
the absolute minimum of the motion of their hands on the potter's wheel. So he explained that if the British Museum wanted to represent Japanese culture, then they had better display the pottery, not the porcelain export products. They listened, and he helped them to build their collection from his stock. He did something similar with the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

He started three museums, himself, one of them eventually becoming the Tokyo National Museum. 



Ninagawa Noritane
Photo: Public domain
Yet, there was also something innocent and charming about him. I think it was an American visitor who dragged him off to a photographer to have his portrait done. Although they had other business to take care of afterward, Ninagawa Noritane insisted that they should visit his mother's house to show her the picture. It was the only time he was ever photographed.

He retired in 1877 -- the tenth year of Meiji, and history records that this was due to ill health. The dealer from whom I obtained the kogo reasoned, thus, that the kogo was likely a retirement gift, as it was dated to that very year. He also thought that the cryptic word philosophy in the inscription, was in the literal sense "a lover of wisdom", and it spoke of Ninagawa's vast knowledge of the subjects that he loved. Apparently, the word "philosophy" was a relatively new word to the Japanese language, and they likely had their own spin on it. The dealer's explanation made sense, but there were a couple of things that got me thinking, and I knew that I had to buy the kogo at once -- even though it was far from inexpensive.

As some of you might have guessed from the title, 1877 was the year of the Satsuma Rebellion, and this was the end of the Samurai. Perhaps you have seen the movie, The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. If not, here is an official trailer:


A thoroughly enjoyable movie but not, ahem, totally accurate.You see a nineteenth century army going against a feudal Japanese Samurai warrior and his people. The Samurai looking more like something out of Shogun than a 19th century rebel.

1877 French magazine illustration showing the Last Samurai
Note the French uniform

Public domain

Of course, I save the best for last! Here is the kogo. The dealer was unaware of what the subject matter meant. If you saw the Tom Cruise movie, you will remember that as the last samuarai was dying on the field, the wind was blowing all of the blossoms from a nearby cherry tree. A cherry tree blooms for only a very short while, and then the blossoms fall.

Fallen cherry blossoms -- the subject of the kogo decoration, is the symbol of the Samurai: lives that were glorious but often somewhat short. The symbolism was used again during the Second World War, but then for the kamikaze pilots--young men who turned their aircraft into missiles.

It would seem, from all of this, that Ninegawa Noritane did not retire "for health reasons". In fact, he did quite a lot of things after 1877, and when he died in 1882, it was not due to a long illness at all. He fell victim to an outbreak of cholera -- a common occurrence in that day.

The Meiji Emperor wanted to bring his country out of its feudal past and into the modern world. He succeeded and he opened up his country to the west. An earlier Emperor, sensing that a member of his government was sympathetic to his enemies -- even if a relative, would not have allowed him to retire. He might have been executed or made to commit Seppuku if he were a Samurai. No one could deny that Ninegawa Noritane was a traditionalist, and the Samurai were steeped in such tradition. The evidence of the kogo rewrites history in a far more believable fashion.

Next time, another piece of Bizen ware -- with a twist.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 14. The way forward

I first set about studying early Celtic art about thirty years ago as part of my research on Coriosolite coins. My studies in Celtic numismatics goes back much further and I was still in school when I bought my first Celtic coin. To this day, it is common to see "devolved" or "crude" applied to the art on Celtic coinage and it surprised me, when I first obtained a copy of Jacobsthal, to see such amazing design and skill applied to just about everything that was not a coin. Later, I came to understand that the Celts were trying to maintain the appearance of the money that was paid to them for their military services to the Greeks, and were thus struggling with an alien art-form. It was more than just gold that the Celts were getting from the Greeks -- it was also status. By the time that the first gold coins were struck in Gaul, the Mediterranean campaigns were over and Rome had started to put an end to the independent Greek states and cities. What remained, in the Celtic mind, were memories of previous days of glory and wealth accumulation.

The very first gold coin struck in Gaul was a small coin of the Ambiani, and its design copied an issue of Taras (Taranto). Members of the Ambiani tribe were obviously among those Celtic troops hired by Pyrrhos to defend the city. Perhaps an Ambiani warrior had accomplished some heroic feat in that time, and the later kings of the tribe were trying to associate themselves with that same spirit. It is something that we will probably never know for sure. The issue in question evidently lasted for a while as it saw some debasement over time. The first issue, though, was made from highly refined Mediterranean gold -- 95-98% fine -- something that the Celts were unable to produce, themselves. I wish that I could show you a picture of one, but I cannot find an on-line image -- only a few coins are known. You can see them in Simone Scheers, Traité de numismatique celtique, II, La Gaule Belgique , Plate I, 1-11. I can however, show you the Greek prototype -- itself, extremely rare. The first Ambiani copies are in surprisingly good style -- far better than the usual Philippi copies.

In describing Celtic coins as "crude", numismatists often do not notice some added decoration on some coins, most notably Coriosolite, but also on some other Armorican and a few other issues, which are found on fine examples of early Celtic art. The nexus of this decoration seen on Coriosolite coins is at Weiskirchen, Saarland, but much earlier. The Armorican tribes appeared to have originated in the vicinity of the Rhine, and their first coins are staters of the Aulerci Cenomani (eastern Armorica). "Aulerci"  can be translated as "those far from their tracks", and the Aulerci Cenomani coins derive, very closely indeed, from the earliest issues of what Derek F. Allen titles "The early coins of the Treveri" in Germania, 49, 1971, p. 91-110. I wish that I could show you one of those also, but they are almost identical to the Aulerci Cenomani issues. I do not believe them to be an issue of the Treveri, rather, an issue of a tribe that occupied lands later taken by the Treveri. Scheers, lists them too, and although lacking enough numbers to be sure, her distribution maps seem to me to indicate that the earliest issues started to the western part of that (later) tribal territory. Supporting this idea of a Rhine origin, another aulerci tribe are the Aulerci Eburovices and we might wonder if the name derives from the Germanic word for "boar" or the Celtic word for "yew" (the Eburo part -- "vices" meaning "villages"). It is tempting to see a Germanic loan word here, because one of the tribes along the Rhine was the Eburones. If Germanic, the name should really read "Eborones" Ebor = "boar", and this finds some support from the fact that a boar is not only a frequent reverse type for the base coins of the Aulerci Eburivices (boars are ubiquitous on Celtic coins), but this example is one of the rare instances of a tribal name appearing on a Celtic coin. Note, however, that it has the Celtic spelling for "yew". As the Wikipedia entry for Eburones details, it is uncertain whether the Eburones were Germans or Celts. The Belgae, themselves, traced their origins to tribes on the other side of the Rhine. (Caesar, II, 4)

By now, you must be wondering what all of this has to do with the finial. The answer is that many people who study early Celtic art in Britain, do not also extend that study to continental early Celtic art. This is certainly not true for the Megaws, Jope, et al. but is true for some scholars. Perhaps the latter are more in the camp of believing that there was no "unified Celtic culture". A few even claim that the Celts did not call themselves such -- a statement at odds with the quote in Lucian (Herakles): "We Celts do not believe the power of speech to be Hermes as you Greeks do, but we represent it with Heracles as he is much stronger than Hermes..." . There is no error in translation: the original Greek gives "Κελτοί".

It seems to me that "no unified Celtic culture" is a bit of semantic game playing. We would be hard pressed to find any culture at all that is "unified". I could take a large culture like the U.S. and then compare customs, patterns of speech, music, local cuisine and  a multitude of other features between a small town in Maine with New Orleans, or I could cite the more than 500 languages spoken in New Guinea, including Timor and neighboring islands.

So perhaps this is why the importance of the finial was missed in the export permit process. Who, in the know, would have given such an export permit to the only example of the Plastic Style found  in Britain that was not a copy? It should be apparent, by now, that I am all for an interdisciplinary approach to Celtic studies, but to separate British and Continental variations of early Celtic art would not even qualify as "monodisciplinary". I am reminded of the joke about specialization: One doctor tells another that he is a nose specialist. The other asks, "Really? -- which nostril?"

I am of two minds when it comes to the ultimate fate of the finial. I wanted to present a detailed study of it and to include the electron microprobe analysis as I feared that if it had entered a public collection in the U.K. such an analysis would never be undertaken. I sent a multitude of pictures of it to Vincent Megaw to share with other authorities on early Celtic art because I wanted, as much as possible, to give him the effect of having it in the hand. He commented that he had never seen so many pictures of the same object. I could have just sent him the finial, but if it were to have been lost in transit, no amount of insurance money could replace the lost knowledge. I even took it, in person, to the lab.

So what would happen to it in a museum? It seems far too small to make a good display piece. It was meant to be handled, to be seen at different angles. No front, top and side view can do it justice. Perhaps, in the future, 3D mesh models will be made of such things as a matter of course so that in a virtual reality environment, visitors could "handle" it for themselves. Right now, sadly, even the chances of routine XRF analysis of such things seems unlikely.

Unlike the public use policies of the British Museum, many museums charge dearly for the use of their images. In my forthcoming work on the Gundestrup cauldron, I have to use the original photographs because the better ones taken by the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen would charge me as much for the loan of the photographic plates as it would cost me to go there and photograph them, myself. This would not include the royalties for publication and there are also heavy penalties if the plates were damaged in transit. Evidently, digital images are unheard of there!

My purpose, in these blog entries, is to bring as much information as I can to the international community as is possible. It saddens me that apart from those enlightened organizations and people who have allowed me carte blanche in the use of their images in this medium, I can only show you all so much. The source books, themselves, are often very expensive --especially Jacobsthal and Jope, and even many libraries cannot afford to purchase them. When I produce my e-book on the Gundestrup cauldron, it will be sold at a price that I think almost everyone can afford -- something less than the cost of a burger and fries with a drink at your local fast food outlet. If, however, you live in a country where even a burger and fries would be a luxury that you cannot afford, then I will give you a copy at no charge.

This offer is not a case of altruism, rather it is with the knowledge that people from widely different cultural backgrounds can all offer a unique perspective -- something that is very different, say, than is encountered in even international academia. With such a variety of cultural backgrounds, the chances of new discoveries increases exponentially. Such a thing is needed because, even then, new ideas are not that common. For those of you who would wish to investigate these ideas further, you could do not better than to read Aaron Lynch, Units, events, and dynamics in the evolutionary epidemiology of ideas Although much of it is too technical for most (myself included). Lynch presents enough for the average reader to grasp its essentials. The pertinent part being:

"Practical implications may follow from the above model of population creativity for ideas. For example, proposals to make education highly uniform and enforced by nationwide testing may tend to limit creativity by reducing the variability of combinations of important ideas. Creativity in an organization or a society might alternatively be enhanced by encouraging the acquisition of highly unusual combinations of ideas and fields of learning. Cultural, educational, and experiential diversity might turn out to increase population creativity by increasing the occurrence rates for extremely rare combinations of ideas that could lead to the formation of new ideas. In particular, this might result in higher creative output for universities, research institutions, and other organizations that deliberately strive for a culturally diverse mix of people. Yet even a 1000-fold increase for an idea combination that exists at a prevalence of 10-9 only involves one person in a million, representing only a tiny dent in the prevalence for extremely common combinations of ideas that would form the mainstream of a society or a subculture. Factors such as that might even be investigated as sources of different creativity rates in different countries. Such practical implications also warrant separate papers in their own right. The focus here is on the role of quantitative processes in a population affecting population creativity, and thus the evolution of ideas."

Other aspects of "the way forward" are to do with the circumstances of finding such things -- either originally (in the ground), or as a collector might in a dealer's catalogue. The U.K's Portable Antiquity Scheme is most carefully voluntary. Those who would condemn people for not reporting things there, or for reporting them elsewhere are  doing considerable harm and working against the aims of the scheme. It has been noticed in the past, that in areas where metal detecting is highly criticized by local archaeologists, less gets reported. Similarly, efforts to stop detectorists from selling their finds to dealers prevents knowledge from reaching specialists in those types of things. Other such databases, have different approaches to the subject, and as Aaron Lynch reveals, it is from variety that new discoveries emerge.

Finally, it is my intention to return the finial to the U.K. so the error in issuing an export permit might then be corrected. I have no intentions of donating it, however, because promises for remuneration for our work in constructing the Celtic Coin Index on line have not been honored and I am already about $100,000 out of pocket. Besides, I have done pretty well all of the work on the finial at no charge. Others might apply for grants for such things. Also, hard experience in business has taught me to trust no organization that I cannot afford to successfully sue. I might be willing to part with it at a sum far less than I might receive in an auction so it can go to perhaps to either the British Museum or the Ashmolean Museum (the latter because it is an Oxfordshire find), or I might just put it up for sale in a British auction so that a collector's heirs can decide its ultimate fate. Either way, it would remain (hopefully!) in its country of origin. If there is no interest from any of these, then the problem is moot and it can eventually go to wherever it might be appreciated best regardless of which country that might be. Meanwhile, it is a most welcome guest in my own collection!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 13. Conclusions

In part two, I quoted Martyn Jope's conclusion that imports could not explain the appearance of early Celtic art in Britain -- that the concepts and know-how arrived with people trained in the continental workshops. The finial proves this point as the metal is distinctly British, and although the exact locations of the Plastic Style workshops are unknown, it is understood that the style mostly appears from Bavaria to Bohemia. More importantly, the main centres of Celtic art in Germany and Champagne did not show the strong influences of the style that are exhibited in Britain. Furthermore, the part of the Plastic Style spectrum that is marked by complicated casts fully "in the round" appears to have been some sort of "trade secret" as might be expected and it died out as quickly as it had appeared.

I would go even further and say that the finial, with its complex shape and small size, was a particularly advanced form of the type. We might wonder if some early form of centrifugal or pressure casting was developed by someone and shared with only a few. Unfortunately, but likely necessary, the original cast surfaces were subsequently worked through filing and either chasing or engraving into the surface, and the piece does not exhibit the soapy feel of poor quality casts that is caused by minute raised bubbling of the surface. In  a modern pressure cast, these tiny bubbles are only found within very small raised divisions of the surface design. For example, in modern pressure cast forgeries of ancient coins, they are found within some of the letters of only the very small legends.

When I first looked at the finial, I saw that it contained some design and compositional elements that defined it to me as British work. Now, of course, I realize that these elements are actually prototypical of the British forms. We saw in the "exploded" design I constructed of the three dimensional surface by translating it to a two dimensional schematic in part three, that the simple triskele motif in the Tarn armring had additional elements between the terminal bosses -- most importantly, the trumpet -- which is a very common later element in British early Celtic art and which lasted well into the Roman period.

As to what made a continental workshop move to Britain, nothing can be said with much certainty. Perhaps the style had started to fall out of fashion, and the craftsmen decided to seek a remote market less susceptible to fashion whims. This was certainly the case with the Thracian craftsmen who made the Gundestrup cauldron, as many of the motifs were copied from Italian models that do not show up at all in native Thracian art (Hooker forthcoming). However, there is another possibility that was presented to me by Raimund Karl and, in my opinion, has great merit: the known Celtic custom of fosterage might well have included apprenticeships in continental workshops. The original contacts could well have been made between British and Boii warriors serving in northern Italy in the 4th century BC. This connection  finds some evidence, in Britain, with finds of early copies of the gold stater of Philip II. These coins were paid to troops serving in the Italian campaigns. In any case, the philippus had served as a prototype for all of the earlier British gold staters, and this appears to have started prior to Caesar's visits to Britain -- even though perhaps by only a few years. The designs held special significance and were not just "mindless copying" as I explain here.

The pattern of influence of the Plastic Style on British early Celtic art seems clear to me now: the forms, such as the mask on the long Wandsworth shield boss shown in part five did not have the impact that the linear decoration within the repoussé cells of the round Wandsworth boss (part six) had to later art in Britain. This decoration first emulated three dimensional subjects in two dimensions.

The next stage for the linear decoration was that only the outlines of these three dimensional objects were retained. sometimes, the interior was taken up with two dimensional fill patterns. The final stage was where the shapes of the spaces between the elements became elements in their own right, giving an "M.C. Escher effect" as can be seen in the British Mirror Style (part nine).

Meanwhile, other artists had not engaged in this linear decoration but, instead, had emulated the complex casting of the finial sort with the extreme and very skillful use of repoussé as a means to this end.

Because of the lack of surviving examples, the cause of which is also explained in part nine, and because of the abysmal lack of metallurgical analyses of the few surviving examples, we cannot localize the production of these objects as high status warrior objects are often found far from their point of origin. Hopefully, museums will now follow my lead and get these things properly analysed down to the smallest elements. The cobalt to nickel ratios being especially important.

Finally, and importantly, we must not restrict ourselves to "frontal" views of these things as their hidden designs can only be seen from the eccentric viewpoint (part ten).

I had said that I would include "the way forward" in this part  (in more detail and covering more topics than I have done in the previous two paragraphs), but as there is a lot to cover that does not directly impact the study of the finial, these topics will be covered in the final installment (part 14). Consider it an appendix.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Important new example of British early Celtic art. 12. Monsters in the finial

This episode is  a photo gallery of the finial -- a number of eccentric shots. Click on the images for enlargements. How many different monster heads (and other hidden Celtic shapes) can you spot? A reminder -- all of my own images are free for you to use without credit, and for any reason.










Next time, Conclusions and the way forward