Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Second volume of The Gundestrup Cauldron: a new theory is now published

The second volume of The Gundestrup Cauldron: a new theory, series examines the context of the cauldron imagery within Celtic and Greek iconography and history and the nature of the classical influences that led to the emergence of early Celtic art. Fully illustrated and contains an appendix with photographs all of the Gundestrup cauldron plates shown in the previous volume.

It is available on Amazon for preview and purchase, or read free with Kindle Unlimited

The third volume: Symbols of Transformation, will be out soon.

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Gundestrup Cauldron: a new theory. Volume 1 now available

The first volume is  now available on Amazon Kindle. the remaining two volumes are still in the editing stages and will be available in the next month or so.

"This volume contains all the basic information for the dating of the original vessel; its place of manufacture, and the meaning of its imagery. Essentially, this is all that has been attempted in previous studies although such studies have also ignored many details and used only some of the imagery to support their theories. No motifs are ignored in this study, although a few are so ubiquitous as to have several interpretations and I do mention other alternatives for these. None of the interpretations of the motifs, however, are unconnected with the narrative themes of the whole."

John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Gundestrup Cauldron: a new theory

Covers for all three volumes

Most of the writing of all three volumes is complete. I only have a couple more introductions and the concluding chapters of all three volumes to write and perhaps a couple of editing runs. As the book was getting rather too large for a popular ebook, I divided it, quite naturally, into three separate stand-alone volumes. Once I have completed each volume it will be available on Amazon Kindle. I do not anticipate more than a month between each issue, and the price of each volume will be $9.99 US.

As a small preview, here is the Introduction for all three volumes:

Figure 1:  The Gundestrup Cauldron.
Photo: Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Gundestrup cauldron was found in 1891 by peat cutters at the Rævemose bog near the village of Gundestrup in Himmerland, Denmark.

The vessel is silver with some gilding and glass inlays (used in the eyes of some figures). It was found dismantled and appears to have been deposited before the bog had formed at that location. It is not complete: parts of the rim are missing as is one of the decorative plates, and it shows signs of having been repaired. Its reconstruction is largely hypothetical. The silver used in its construction comes from multiple batches of recycled metal as might be expected. The tin used to solder the plates and to attach the glass eyes was very pure and consistent with British (Cornish) tin. This suggests to me that the cauldron was constructed in its final form in northern Europe and most likely in Gaul, although its original construction would have been far distant. There are five rectangular interior plates, seven shorter rectangular exterior plates (originally eight) and a circular bottom plate which appear to be a recycled phalera.

The style of the decoration is native Thracian and the subjects of the decoration combine Celtic and Greek iconography, the latter with, sometimes, Thracian variation. Many of the repoussé decorative elements are connected by a background of chased or engraved decoration in the form of the Dionysian ivy scroll and there is also some (tonal) parallel hatching.

Over the years, there have been two main theories about its origin: that it was Gaulish made or that it was a Thracian product made for Celtic patrons. My study validates the latter although for the place of its manufacture and its date, I am in complete disagreement, and claim that the evidence presented here all indicates that its original form took place at a Thracian silversmith’s workshop situated in northern Italy most likely in the early second quarter of the 3rd century BC, but certainly sometime during the 84 years between 275 and 191 BC.

Only one previous study has presented a linked narrative for the meanings of the decorative plate iconography. This is Garrett S. Olmsted, The Gundestrup cauldron: its archaeological context, the style and iconography of its portrayed motifs and their narration of a Gaulish version of Táin Bó Cúailnge, Brussels, 1979. As the Irish epic refers to events of the 1st century AD and probably did not appear in a written form much before the 8th century AD we can safely believe that the story would have undergone several changes since even the later estimates of the cauldron’s manufacture and Olmsted’s title might be misunderstood as the story being a Gaulish interpretation of an earlier Irish epic rather than the Irish epic being a later, syncretized, telling of a Gaulish myth. In not paying due attention to the role of the bull in Thracian and Greek mythology and understanding that any syncretism includes both classical and Celtic components, Olmsted places the figures of the bull in the wrong context. However, this does not mean that other elements of the Irish epic might be tracked back through other imagery on the cauldron, even though tracing Medieval written accounts of Celtic subjects backwards to their pre-Roman period origins is a very risky business. It is far safer to project early myths forward to later usages, and this is what I do in this series (although not in this volume). Even so, the method must be used with extreme care because syncretism can take unexpected twists and turns.

In my interpretation of the linked narratives, I am not just using mythological elements but am also including mythological expressions of actual historical events experienced by the patrons of the Thracian silversmiths.
In matters of style and the forms of what is depicted on the plates, I am also including regional and time-sensitive data and identifying several local models that were used by the Thracian silversmiths for reference.

This volume contains all the basic information for the dating of the original vessel; its place of manufacture, and the meaning of its imagery. Essentially, this is all that has been attempted in previous studies although such studies have also ignored many details and used only some of the imagery to support their theories. No motifs are ignored in this study, although a few are so ubiquitous as to have several interpretations and I do mention other alternatives for these. None of the motifs, however, are unconnected with the narrative themes of the whole.

The second volume: Context, places the subjects and mythological themes of the Gundestrup cauldron within the artistic, religious and historical aspects of the time and place of its manufacture and includes both Greek and Celtic elements. It also reveals what classical elements were adopted by the Celts in their La Tène art; why this was done, and how the art-style, itself, indicates important syncretistic changes in their society and religion.

The third volume: Symbols of Transformation takes the archetypal psychological factors and shows how these images evolved from the Palaeolithic to the themes expressed in the Gundestrup cauldron and beyond that right up to the present-day expressions of these same themes. Interdisciplinary, Jungian, and Postmodern, it also includes the psychology of the observer as an important factor in the way that the Gundestrup cauldron has been studied, and the importance (and unimportance) placed on its various aspects in these studies and the reasons for such.

Like the layers of an onion, each volume will present a deeper understanding, but any of them will serve as a stand-alone reference for anyone who has an interest in their contents.

John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 5 January 2017

New type: two plastic style ring-headed pins of the middle La Tène

Objects featured in this post
1: plastic style pin 11.4 cm
2: plastic style pin 4.1 cm
3: pseudo-filigree fibula

all central European, 3rd Cent. BC, pers. coll.
I purchased No 1. at a Timeline Auction last August. It had been previously offered but had failed to reach its reserve price. I knew at once that it was in the rare plastic style and was eager to add this to my single, and only British example of the style. The British Museum has only a single example of this style and it is also central European: a linchpin terminal (Bohemian workshop). from the auction photograph. I was puzzled by the "spike" issuing from the top of the pin, but when it arrived I noticed a very small indentation at the back of the head (situated in the middle of the small light green patina patch visible in the photograph below.

No. 1 back
(click to enlarge all photos)

I realized that the top had originally bent backwards to meet the head and that the indentation had been caused by the pressure of it pressing on the head.

I sent a set of photos to Vincent Megaw saying that I believed the pin to be from a Bohemian workshop. He replied saying that it might equally have come from France. He is currently finishing the text of a supplement to Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art and has access to previously unpublished examples of the plastic style. The type was new to him.

Following are other views:
1: side
1: top

1: front
1: 3/4 front

Several months later, I noticed another example of the type for sale on an Ebay auction from the U.K. It was part of a lot of three artifacts and so I bought that lot as well. Although the seller was in Britain, the items he had for sale were fairly consistent with objects I saw that were offered from Serbian sellers. The new pin (No. 2.) was much smaller and although most of the lower part of the pin was missing, it had a complete top ring. While No 1 had four curls or comma shapes each terminating in a round boss, No. 2 had only three and the back was plain. Otherwise, the design was very similar.  See below for different views of No. 2.

2: top
2: front
2: side

2: back
Another object in the Ebay lot provided a clue to the second pin's origins. I reasoned that the items in the lot most likely had all come from the same country, and while the second item in the lot was rare, the type had been well recorded with details of the locations of archaeological sites where they had been found. It was a pseudo-filigree fibula of the later 3rd cent. BC. See photos below:

3: front
3: back

3: side
The archaeological site finds (24) of the pseudo-filigree fibula are as follows: Hungary (29.17%), Slovenia (25%), Serbia (16.7%) , Slovakia (8.33%), Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Romania and Czech Republic (all 4.17%). Another clue (for what it is worth) is that the British seller had a Hungarian first name and a variation of a Slovak last name.

This broad region of central Europe was very active in the time of the plastic style and it was not just members of tribes from the style's homeland which runs from Bavaria to Bohemia who were present, but also Gauls from the Champagne area of France were there too. I once saw a complete grave set from Romania that had exact parallels with every object with items in the Morel collection (Champagne) in the British Museum.

There are no problems with the legalities of these items as although many of the source countries mentioned in the paper which discusses the pseudo-filigree type have export restrictions, Canada will only recognize claims for objects that have only a single country where they are found. With this lot, there are no records at all for the plastic style pins and the pseudo-filigree fibula is found in at least nine countries, and probably more. Some countries do not follow the letter of the law. For example, the U.S. has seized objects of types that are found in a number of modern countries deciding this on place of manufacture rather than where found. These extra-legal actions could be due to ignorance by archaeologists and/or customs officials and even perhaps even nefarious motives of politicians. Early Celtic art spans a great number of modern countries and finds can be scattered over vast distances from any known homeland of a style. In a number of cases, workshops, themselves, move locations. The first example of the plastic style in my collection (a sword pommel) is  a case in point: It was from the workshop of a probable Bohemian master who moved to Britain and succeeded in changing the evolution of British Celtic art.

There was a time that I believed I would never get an example of the plastic style for my collection. With three items now, I seem to specialize in it!

John's Coydog Community page