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



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