Friday, 29 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part ten (final)

Frustrated man at a desk
Photo: LaurMG Wikimedia Commons
This critique of Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' Art in Rethinking Celtic Art, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2008, at about ten thousand words, seems to be about the same length as the chapter, itself. Like most of my posts, It has been written "on the fly", one post each morning, and with minimal editing.

I can usually write a glowing review of an entire book in 500-1,000 words. My article on Celtic Coinage for John Koch, (ed) Celtic Culture : A Historical Encyclopedia (Five Volume Set) was 2,000 words. So why was this so long? If you are instructing someone on how to cross a farmer's field a sentence or two will suffice, but if it is also a mine-field then the directions will probably take several pages.

The book, itself, has a few excellent articles -- I really enjoyed those of the Megaws and the one by Fraser Hunter. Others, too, were quite good. Some had a flaw or two -- but doesn't everything? Others were of not so much interest to me, personally, but I'm sure would be valuable to those with strong interests in their subject matter. Some were not so good at all. I was not at all happy with the theme -- the idea that one approach to a subject should replace, and not just augment all of the others is, at the very least, misguided. It can also be sinister. The same could be said for the decision not to include articles presented at the original workshop that dealt with manufacturing methods -- actually I would likely have found those far more useful than what was included. The title was deliberately misleading as it suggests severe flaws in the established methods. I assume that it was a typical and crass advertising ploy and was not intended to be accurate. It worked, and it got my seventy bucks. All of this sort of thing is typical for books containing collections of papers. Sometimes, one very good paper can be worth the whole book and will serve as the standard text on a topic.

Whenever I see scare quotes being used in the title of an academic article my hackles rise, and the subsequent dismissal of the methods of the giants in the subject as "notions" is beyond The Pale. The chapter takes a theory and turns it into propaganda thus. I hope that what I have presented in this series is more like directions through a mine-field than just a tirade. For anyone familiar with the subjects the book could be useful, but for a beginner it would be poison.

I have no way of determining which of the statements in the chapter were unknowing memes; which of them were memes deliberately and knowingly selected; which were based on memes accidentally; and which were an academic version of what Phil Agre designated as The New Jargon. I have a few suspicions, though.

Some archaeologist think of themselves as scientists. In some cases, this can be true -- true specialists in archaeometallurgy, C14 testing etc. certainly are scientists. Coming down from those heights are the technicians who properly use the methods invented and/or refined by the scientists. Some field archaeologist might well fall into the latter category, but only within their excavating and plotting activities -- never in their creation of an extended history from archaeological remains -- that belongs more with art. The absolute scientific method is difficult to follow within archaeology as it requires experimentation, but a lot of quantum physics cannot do this either and has to rely on model building enhanced with mathematics. Quantum physics is still science, though. Archaeological interpretation can emulate hard science, to a degree, also by model building -- but it must clearly compare its new models with what have already been presented and demonstrate, with evidence, the flaws in the other models. This is what I have attempted to do in this series. The subject of my critique, however, did not do so at all.

I can give an example which does not occur in Rethinking Celtic Art. Only today I came across the following statement attributed to someone: "once antiquities are taken from the ground, they instantly lose 90 per cent of their scientific value" This, of course, is pure bunk. I have seen variations of the same statement for years -- sometimes the given percentage varies. These sort of statements fall into the same category of jargon that I mention above. Again, it is always difficult to disentangle memes from propaganda. The statement implies that scientific value is quantified in units and is not a subjective observation. There is never any attempt to justify this sort of statement, and no comparisons are made with the arguments of those who give different percentages. Ironically, opinionated would be a better term for such a statement than scientific.

On Monday I will be starting a new series about another important example of British early Celtic art. It is sitting on my desk as I write this. It is not as important as the first one I covered in this blog, nor is it as important as the seal of Alexander the Great. It is a strap junction -- the finest known of its type (which is extremely rare in any case) and exhibits details that are not visible in the only other example of the exact design -- a fragment from Camulodunum housed in what used to be called the Colchester and Essex Museum and published in Jope and more thoroughly in R. J. Taylor and J. W. Brailsford, British Iron Age Strap-Unions in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 51, 1985, p. 249, No 4, Fig 2.4. As there is much for me to do with this research, and as the nomenclature varies -- "strap-junctions"; "strap-unions" and even more within the PAS database (and other sources), which appears not to use standardized nomenclature at all and even has such things included as "harness mounts" -- finding as many examples similar (within the broader type) as possible and reconstructing the details which would have been visible on the object when it was new will take some time and it will thus be an intermittent series -- there might be a few consecutive posts, though.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part nine

EU Flags
Flags in one of the buildings of the European
Commission in Brussels
Photo: Anonymous
"... the cultural phenomenon of the Celts as a pan-European symbol, exemplified by the blockbuster museum exhibit "I Celti" in Venice in 1990 -- in tandem with the reinvention of Europe as a confederation of states. Not coincidentally, in the last decade significant amounts of EU money have been allocated to archaeological research on the Celts, at least partly because this emerging political entity is in need of its own prehistoric precedent."
Bettina Arnold, The Faustian Bargain of Archaeology Under Dictatorship in: Archaeology Under Dictatorship
Bettina Arnold's comment was no personal fancy, as is demonstrated by this web page of The European Institute of Cultural Routes, -- the celts -- founding europe which starts:
The Council for Cultural Co-operation retained this theme in 1990, in the context of a movement of interest for this subject as testified by the great exhibition at Palazzo Grassi in Venice and by the success of Celtic music festivals.
The idea soon ran into a roadblock:
The greatest difficulty encountered in the concretisation of this theme on European territories was represented by the impossibility of constituting a network of multidisciplinary experts and of overcoming the feuds among scientific schools. On the other hand, a study was undertaken in Ireland on the question of heritage, tourism and education, by researching an intersection with the topic of monastic influence (Irish monks of the High Middle Ages).
Celtosceptism was an English phenomenon manifested predominantly by John Collis and Simon James in the eighties but which has lost most of its momentum in recent years. One comment in the Simon James article is especially interesting within the context of this series:
 As the archaeologist J.D.Hill has pointed out, if we assume that the peoples of the Iron Age are our close cultural ancestors, we automatically prejudge what they were like. If we are Celts, and they were Celts, then it is all too easy to think that they must have fitted with our ideas of what Celts are, or recently were. They must fit into the Celtic 'cultural package'; yet that package is largely a modern construct, cobbled together from fragments from different times and places.
Yet, in Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' Art, in: Rethinking Celtic Art, p. 12, we read:
We have not entered the rather fraught debates over the Celts, as these arguments are now well-rehearsed.
That they are -- and in the Simon James article, he finishes with:
The roots of the new approach are to be found, I believe, in the post-colonial emphasis on multiculturalism, and the celebration of difference between cultures. This makes it possible to consider the Iron Age peoples of Britain, for instance, not as generic Celts, but as a mosaic of distinct societies, each with their own traditions and histories. 
If Simon James had been Canadian, he might have a better grasp on the concept of multiculturalism as defined in our Multiculturalism Act. Specifically, telling people that they are wrong in how they define themselves culturally such as that their identity is "is largely a modern construct, cobbled together from fragments from different times and places" would seem to be quite counter to Section 3 (1) of the Multiculturalism Act:
(h) foster the recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society and promote the reflection and the evolving expressions of those cultures
 I cannot leave out Chris Gosden, as he is joint author in this chapter and he has an interest (as the link reveals) in "issues of identity, especially what it means to be English" as this video also confirms.

Ironically, the term "Iron Age" is even more modern than ideas of being Celtic, dating only to the 19th century. Its application to matters of early Celtic art are even less specific as while Iron Age coinage is a popular euphemism for Celtic coinage, by strict definition it is a confusing term as it should also include the Greek.

While avoiding these issues head-on, re-integrating 'Celtic' Art fully integrates Celtosceptism not only in its use of scare quotes in its title but also in its content.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part eight

(click to enlarge)
The question mark returns in this episode because, while the sword serves as the example of the viewpoint for the chapter, and is dealt with at some length, certain comparisons appear to have been avoided. Most importantly, while the grave contained no vehicle -- a comparison with the chariot burials of the area (Arras culture) is made with respect to the way the body was treated yet the important question of whether these graves represent new arrivals in Britain from the continent is barely hinted at. An overview of such possible questions can be found here, and more critically, here. Yet the words "Arras culture" does not appear anywhere at all in the discussion of the swords -- not even 'so-called "Arras culture"'.  In the last episode, I presented a published statement and then gave a critique consisting of both evidence pertinent to the exact subject and more distant comparisons. This is the way most evidence is discussed and we commonly see things like "while Smith says... , Jones argues that... . with both cases giving examples for their views. Without such treatment, the difference between argument and propaganda becomes somewhat vague.

If the point of the chapter (and it seems to be so) is how comparisons of design details on different objects to determine influence or movements of people is a less useful path to understanding than and examination of the sociological impact of such items, then a better course would be to present the two views about the same object, side by side, as in my Smith/Jones example. Elsewhere in the book, the failure to do this sort of thing becomes a bit of a blot on an otherwise informative paper. An example is where Jody Joy  discusses the meaning of the mirror style. He makes some very good points about how mirroring in the design can relate to the nature of the object. Certainly, an abstracted face design on the reverse of the mirror matches the effect that one sees on the obverse, in use, where the viewers face is reflected back from the polished surface. However, mirroring, as a compositional element is also common on Celtic objects that are not mirrors. I even used mirroring in my nomenclature about Celtic coin designs although listing it as "opposes" and contrasting this to "echoes". Mirrored elements in Celtic designs appear to have their genesis in the classical split-palmette, and can be seen both in the early La Tène designs, and their Italian exemplars. The design moves, mainly, up into the Rhineland and is noticed far less in Champagne where the running scroll predominates. Mirroring and its great number of variations, such as fold-over symmetry competes with the running scroll as the the two greatest design foundations in early Celtic art.

While a great number of repairs, done over time, to this object are discussed, this fact is not compared to other objects which show change and/or repair over time. It is an unusual feature. That the Torr's pony cap from Scotland and the Witham shield both share such features could suggest that changing, rather than replacing, such warrior art was a more northern practice. Although difficult to say with any degree of certainty, this might suggest that the southern tribes who took part in foreign campaigns with their private armies were more interested in replacing older equipment to look more current to those who would hire them to fight. One would not want to show up looking like Don Quixote! I discussed this subject in an earlier post. Not thinking of this aspect of the nature of British finds, the significance of "watery deposits" might be somewhat overemphasized.

Although ideas about the reception of early Celtic art are important, these ideas will serve us better if used as an additional way in which to study the subject, for without the traditional art-historical methods, vague references to approximate features can lead us astray. The Megaws made this point, succinctly, in their chapter by saying that "Similar to" is not the same as "same as". Perhaps one should read their chapter before the rest!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Rethinking -- part seven

Paul Sandby, 1730 or 1731 - 1809
Red chalk on laid paper.
Yale Center for British Art

"...Some broad changes probably can be discerned, so that large impressive objects connected to the human body and display (such as shields, swords and helmets) may have been most prevalent before 100/50 BC, connected with various forms of personal presentation and fighting. There is a shift later on to smaller objects for the human body and horse gear..."
Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' Art, in: Rethinking Celtic Art, p. 10.
This view exhibits a certain passivity where changes are described without reference to their agency. Like weather, things seem to just happen. There is nothing wrong with the perception: if the description was of the contents of an archaeological site it would be adequate to simply describe the finds and their position and leave it for others to interpret (although most might hope for some sort of summary interpretation). But this is a book with a philosophy and we want explanation.

My own philosophy is different so I will describe the same happenings from that view:

After the large private Celtic armies returned from the Italian campaigns that eventually saw the Roman state taking control of Magna Graecia in about 200 BC, their martial life style shifted to internal conflict with chieftains fighting chieftains and it was not until Rome's eyes turned toward Gaul and Britain in the mid 1st cent BC that the Celts became more united against a common foe. In Britain, even before the Gallic wars, things were changing: through combinations of victories, defeats and alliances, the chieftains had started on the road to statehood. Authority had shifted first toward tribal centres, and then toward confederations.

When Caesar invaded Britain, Cassiuellaunos was the commander-in-chief of a number of tribes, both large and small, in southeast England. I am sure that the British defeat was more in the eyes of Caesar than Cassiuellaunos. The real British losers of that campaign had taken no active role in the fighting. They were the Durotriges, who lived in what is now Dorset. After enjoying the benefits of Roman trade, indirectly, from their port at Hengistbury with Armorican middlemen, Cassiuellaunos appears to have negotiated a trade deal with Caesar as part of the terms of his "surrender". Caesar knew that he could not stay in Britain any longer as the change in the season would have made a return to Gaul very risky, and Cassiuellaunos' forces could have easily starved him out by attacking Roman foraging parties in the valleys using chariots from their hilltop trackways. Just as the Menapii had done in Gaul (Caesar IV.38) , the Britons could have burned much of their grain storage and taken refuge in the woods and Caesar would have been unable to respond to this situation in the winter.

After the invasion, much Roman trade shifted to north of the Thames, and the amphorae evidence supports this view. The Durotriges started to enter a phase of monetary devaluation, and by about 10 AD their unit of currency had gradually fallen from its original gold stater of Caesar's time to a pathetic small cast bronze stater. No neighboring warriors could have been purchased  with this money. This was an old problem: Lesbos had been forced to debase its currency in 480 BC, and the Etruscans found it difficult to hire foreign troops after the Gauls had depleted their treasury -- their gold currency appears to have been reduced to half
its former weight by unit of account.

The British artists in fine metalwork also faced hardships in these gradual changes in the society: while, originally, continental artists had brought their skills to Britain in the service of wealthy warlords who had managed to return from foreign campaigns with great wealth, increasing consolidation had reduced the numbers of such patrons. The British Dobunni artists, having no conflicts with anyone outside of their territory, saw everyone as a potential customer and were able to maintain their skills for some time. Even after the Claudian conquest, the Dobunni managed to keep good relationships with the new Roman overlords although the artists had lost all of their military-minded customers. Perhaps some of them moved to Ireland, along with other British artists, because without Roman interference, the demand for fine weaponry in the Celtic styles continued there for a long time. The weapons of Cassieullaunos' forces had become less showy and more utilitarian, but far to the southwest, chariot fittings and the like continued to be highly decorated. The north, too, was unaffected by Caesar's arrival.

Eventually, though, the days of wealthy patrons was over everywhere and Celtic artist had no foreign markets to exploit either. A growing middle class, benefiting from a more economically-minded southeastern leadership among (especially) the Trinovantes, Cantii and Atrebates had started to embark on their process of Romanization even before the arrival of Claudius. Continental Roman gem engravers had moved to Britain and while most of their products have now vanished, their side-line of producing coin dies based on Roman designs have left plenty of evidence. Like any successful  artisans, they were able to convince the natives into putting some of their new wealth into personal finery and to "keep up with the Jones's", so their products changed to reflect the requirements of their later customers. The Iceni, maintained a warrior art for much longer and never became too happy about the Roman presence there -- especially retiring soldiers, as Boudicca's revolt so well demonstrates. Roman expansion into the north allowed for more trade in the form of Roman soldiers' "dress-accessories" and these, in turn, travelled far across the Roman world, as troops were reassigned here and there.

It had all been very different (Hooker, forthcoming) long before: When Syracuse in Sicily was at its height and it was essentially the capital of Greece, it attracted the best artists and philosophers. On its decline, some of the artists found patronage among the Thracians and the native art started to become unfashionable there among the elite. Some of the Thracian artists also moved, to take advantage of less classically-minded patrons -- the Celts, and these artists set up shop in the cosmopolitan Etruscan territory, close to the large Celtic bases of the Senones, Boii, and other tribes. The Gundestrup cauldron being the only survivor of this, so far found. The other silver vessels (in the Gallic style as Livy mistakenly described it) were captured by Roman forces from Gauls fleeing Italy. Thracian native art died out, but was revived -- in a weakened state and with Roman influence under Rhoemetalces I (11 BC- 12 AD) who was Augustus' eager puppet. The Stara Zagora phalera is a product of that time, and Augustan period Roman silver was in the same hoard. It can also be seen in the silver phalerae of the Sark hoard in the Channel Islands. Combining Roman and revived native Thracian styles, these objects differ greatly from the purely native Thracian style of the Gundestrup cauldron which is honest to its stylistic origins but combines Celtic and Greek Mysteries iconography along with Italianate subjects and models.

Ancient multiculturalism
Pyrrhus' elephants are drawn from description rather than live models on this Gundestrup Cauldron plate (made some time between 272 BC and 195 BC -- Hooker, forthcoming). A Celtic Persephone beats her chest in grief over the Pyrrhic victory -- the "rosettes" representing sarcophagus garlands. Below, a Cerberus welcomes the dead to the island of the underworld. They have been carried there, across the sea, by the Etruscan hippocamps. Dionysian ivy-scrolls represent "the winter of the dead" and Persephone will restore the dead to life in the spring -- (Celtic/Pythagorean metempsychosis)
From a reproduction of a 19th century printed photograph, digitally altered and enlarged.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part six

But is it art?
A collection of old estate agents for sale signs at
Venn Farm near Chideock, Dorset.
Photo: Nigel Mykura

The photo on the left poses the question, but also answers it. It is an example of photographic found art. Without any intention from whoever piled the signs, the word "art" (the letters of which are the end of the estate agent's name) is visible at a certain angle and the photographer has captured that experience. He has employed the knowledge of using his tools (the camera), and has made a decision about the composition of the photograph. His title for the piece imbues it with significance.

The last section of Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' art in Rethinking Celtic Art, neglects everything about the thought processes of the ancient Celtic artists, and instead, concentrates on how their work was received. Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong about asking questions about how the art was received. I ask such questions myself. But if such questions are not framed within the intentions of the artists; the tenets and cultural contexts of the art; and the skills of the artist exhibited in the work, then the result is in danger of being nothing more than academic navel-gazing. It can often generate the wrong answers because of its inability to see the larger picture. Back in the seventies, I was having coffee with some friends and in the course of a discussion, my date asked one of my friends, "Do you drink?" Now just about anyone would take that question to mean "Do you drink alcohol", but not so my friend, and he went into a long tirade about how everyone must consume fluids in order to stay alive. Her expression of disapproval required no words, and the cup in front of my friend rendered his statement moot.

The authors start by discussing the existence of the classification systems of Jacobsthal, Jope, the Megaws, and Ian Stead and then state that all of these "still survives in vestigial form in later schemes". I'm not sure what schemes are meant here, but without some sort of attempt to classify, the results will certainly be subjective to a very great degree. They attempt to exempt Fox merely on his statement that Celtic art is decorative and not "Fine Art", but Fox classifies as well, and all of the other authors would have no problems at all with his statement about that aspect of Celtic art. One infers that they think that these anonymous recent schemes are superior, in some way, and that they have attached themselves to them.

They go on to say:
"The Megaws, more courageous than most, go for 'beyond function'... . This implies a rather functionalist definition of function, containing the view that a swirling, vegetal decoration running down the blade of a sword does not give that sword a more effective cutting edge or make it easier to heft and wield. This might be our commonsense view of the matter, but does not necessarily accord with late prehistoric notions of efficacy or cause and effect. For people in the Iron Age, although we cannot know this, decoration might have been specifically functional. ... In making such a move we are following recent trends within anthropology  which focus not on what objects mean, but on what they do in shaping relationships between people... We see such a move as a positive shift away from an emphasis on meaning, which is in any case hard to know, to a stress of effect."
I am reminded of my friend in the coffee shop. It strikes me, that as they say that meaning is either difficult or impossible, that it should be replaced with social impact. However, if you do not understand the meanings of the designs, any ideas about their social impact can only be introspective and thus navel-gazing. After more of the same, they refer to the different styles in the classification systems and say that they "seem to accumulate, rather than simply replace each other."  When I noticed such interweaving in stylistic features in Coriosolite coins, it was a "eureka moment" for me, and I was able to go beyond subjective classification to the mechanics of their evolution. The authors only saw a reason to be dismissive. Years ago (1996), I constructed the following flow chart:

 In addition to this interweaving of elements within a single motif I had, much earlier than that (1985), realized that the changes in each of the motifs overlapped motif to motif, and this was my "Rosetta Stone" with which I could fine tune the chronology. But it did more than that, and I was able to discern the existence of three different mints for the first time. It was the earliest use of cladistics in archaeology. I eventually wrote up my method so that others could use it. One archaeologist thought that he might be able to adapt it to some problematical examples of Pre-Columbian art.

At the end of my article, I wrote:
As each die engraver is different, I cannot tell you how to interpret any flow chart for its artistic content, that is something that will have to be newly discovered for each series. Celtic die engravers had special training, and a set of aesthetic rules that were tied into their religious beliefs so thoroughly, that it is often impossible to separate the two, but the most neglected fact in Celtic numismatics is that the dies were cut by real people, like you and me, and that each of these people had their own personalities, weaknesses and strengths

What is completely neglected in  Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' art , and in more than one other chapter of the book, is that real people made these things, and their study is not just how things were received, or objects reflecting fashions and communicating with each other as if they were actually alive and had volition. This error was to their peril, and I will illustrate that, tomorrow, with examples.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part five

Lower linchpin terminal from British
chariot showing typical wear at head.
Jope's "vase-type" (i) Plate 301 b-d,
page 314. (d is from Wigginton Common,
near Grime's Ditch Iron Age earthworks).
1st cent. BC.
(Calgary Coin current stock)

To continue with my critique of  Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' art, in: Rethinking Celtic Art. On p. 6, the authors say:
Caesar estimates that Cassivellaunus mustered some 4,000 chariots against him in south-east England in 54 BC (none of these are evidenced in the archaeological record -- all twenty known British chariot burials either come from Yorkshire or Newbridge near Edinburgh). Due to the imperfections of his knowledge and the need to provide impressive war propaganda, it is likely that Caesar exaggerated.
The propaganda, here, lies not with Caesar, but with the authors who appear to have caught a common meme one encounters in archaeological writings about Caesar's commentaries. Whether it is far commoner in British publications, I cannot say, because these form the bulk of my reading. The actual form of the meme is unknown, but it certainly has to do with minimizing the Celtic presence in Britain, and then being accusative of ancient sources which do not reflect the meme. The fact of it being a meme is evidenced to me by the authors' opening to the paragraph: "The following figures are obviously an exercise in speculation, but they do suggest how little evidence we have compared to that which once existed." and again at the end of the paragraph: "Whatever the validity of this exercise, one conclusion seems inescapable: we have archaeological evidence of only a tiny fraction of the Celtic art that would originally have been in circulation." The exercise in question is providing numbers of chariot terret rings known and comparing these with the authors' estimates of the numbers of chariots that existed. You should be able to see from this that, while the meme was being further proliferated, the author's own reasoning had taken over to a great degree and the result was thus confused in its argument.

Although linchpins are mentioned, the numbers of surviving specimens are given only for terrets, and these are referenced to archaeological sites where their deposition was deliberate. Caesar's estimate of 4,000 chariots is halved in their calculations, but they offer no reason for their use of this particular percentage. Within the blockquote above, two glaring problems should be visible to anyone who has not been infected by the meme. I will deal with these in turn.

In preparation for his second visit to Britain (Book 5.1ff), Caesar commissioned the building of six hundred transports and twenty-eight warships. When he sailed, he took with him five legions and two thousand cavalry. A legion could have as many as six thousand men, but was frequently "understaffed". So the maximum number of foot soldiers would have been thirty thousand but could have been less. Sixty ships had blown off course when mustering and had missed the campaign completely;  Caesar became becalmed at one point on the voyage and was taken far off course by the currents -- having to row back to the planned landing. We do not know if Cassivellaunus had received any intelligence about Caesars' itinerary, but we do know that a large number of British troops were waiting for him at the landing site. After seeing the vast number of his ships, they had sought cover and were not visible to the Romans when they disembarked. Caesar only learned of this afterward from prisoners. He left ten cohorts (ca. 6,000 men) and three hundred cavalry to guard the ships. So he could have marched with as many as twenty four thousand foot soldiers and seventeen hundred cavalry. It is always wisest to take such numbers at face value and not to make subjective estimates as, with a sequence of subjective guesses, the likelihood of errors in the conclusion becomes far too great. Only when reaching a conclusion, will the possibility of errors become apparent. This is apart from any possible data-infection through memes. Even if we assume that Caesars' itinerary was known to Cassivellaunus' forces, four thousand chariots seems to me to be a reasonable response -- depending on their importance to the British forces strategy. At this point, it is also important to remember that Caesar was already behind schedule after being becalmed.

Comparing the number of chariot burials with the given number of chariots under the command of Cassivellaunus is simply wrong as chariot burials were not a custom among the tribes he commanded. Very few Celtic burials are known in south-east England, and most of these were later, anyway. The dead of the area in about 50 BC have largely vanished without trace (as have all domestic dwellings in La Tène Ireland). The term archaeological record is an oxymoron for this material and is another meme too often used inappropriately, by accident, in archaeological applications, but deliberately in political applications.

Caesar's "imperfections of his knowledge", throughout his commentaries, are to be found, mainly, in what he was told of ethnological matters, and not so much in military matters. When some Gaulish wag told him that the elk had no joints in their legs and had to sleep leaning against trees, and that they could be caught by partly sawing through such leaning trees, the man must have managed to keep a straight face and Caesar, not planning any elk hunting expeditions, found no need to interrogate prisoners or use spies to confirm this information. It was a very different matter with military affairs -- Caesar was a good general. Like archaeological record, "Caesar exaggerated" is another common meme and its application and functions are the same. That Caesar's military accounts were "war propaganda" aimed at his funders is a common excuse where needed by some people, and it is refuted by just as many. The flaw is that the events were just too big and the witnesses too many. While he erred, sometimes, by putting too much faith in those close to him, and then becoming very upset when his mistake was realized, he was not a mentally deficient man on the whole.

The use of terrets by the authors in their calculations seems misguided. I think it better to use a chariot part more frequently lost through use. As a terret is attached to horse collar, and has a rein running through its ring, accidental loss would be difficult. It would be better to use estimates of linchpin fragments in the trade. You can buy such objects anytime. Common to these, and mentioned by Jope, is varying degrees of wear. They are also prone to accidental loss away from any archaeological site as their shaft is made of iron. Celtic iron was wrought and was of varying quality. Fox noted that its best quality examples seemed to be used for edge weapons and these sometimes approached the quality of modern steel. We might debate whether the higher carbon content was deliberate or was due to the vagaries of the manufacturing process and that the quality of some of it was merely noticed after the fact, or was noticed in the work of certain smiths and exploited thus. I am no metallurgist and can offer little in that respect. We do know for sure that iron blades could be bent. If the bending of iron is too frequent, it can eventually snap and a lower linchpin terminal, catching on a rock or something else in battle might be easily lost. Let's see what Caesar said about the British chariots -- in reference to his first invasion of Britain, he said (Book IV.33):
In chariot fighting the Britons begin by driving all over the field hurling javelins,, and generally the terror inspired by the horses and the noise of the wheels are sufficient to throw their opponents' ranks into disorder.
He is obviously talking about the effect on his own troops: he mentions "ranks" and the whole scene would be of little surprise to anyone if both sides were Celtic. In the second invasion, his men know what to expect and do not seem alarmed by it. But you really have to wonder how much a Roman soldier would be terrorized by the sound of horses and wheels. Such sounds would be fairly commonplace -- even on the streets of Rome. I think that one of the things that the Celtic chariot drivers did was to bend the lower linchpin on the fixed axle to rub against the chariot wheel hub. This would produce a screaming noise which would be raised or lowered in tone depending on the speed. When I was a boy, it was common  to attach a card to bicycle wheels to make a similar noise as it rubbed against the wire spokes. The sound of metal against metal would be much more extreme. Many of the linchpin terminals I have seen have considerable wear, sometimes half the terminal is worn away. It would require that the iron shaft would need to be bent back often to keep in contact with the hub, and this is why so many were lost. I see no reason, whatsoever, to doubt Caesar's claim of four thousand chariots.

I'll be back with more on Monday.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part four

Worn Gallo-Belgic A gold stater typical of British finds
Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
Yesterday, I quoted a passage from the introductory chapter of Rethinking Celtic Art which included:
For other periods of the Iron Age, such as its very beginning, it has been realized that artifact types once thought to have continental derivation, such as Gündlingen swords, may in fact have a derivation either within the Thames region or within Britain and Europe jointly (O'Connor 2007). Hill (2007): 25) has hinted that a similar situation may pertain for so-called Gallo-Belgic coins; the name hinting at external origins when a shared genesis may be more likely.
Considering that one of the authors of this chapter is J. D. Hill, I have to wonder why he says that he hinted at something in another work, and yet is not more explicit about it in this one. Following the vague reference to some sort of joint derivation within Britain and the Continent (which should mean that the idea sprang into existence at the same time in two places as an amazing coincidence) comes yet another hint -- that the origin of Gallo-Belgic coins more likely includes Britain. The name "Gallo-Belgic" is best understood as from France and Belgium. The first words out of Caesar's mouth in his Commentaries are, "Gaul comprises three areas, inhabited respectively by the Belgae, the Aquitani, and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls." (DBG, I.1.1.) The ancient regions of the Gallo-Belgic coinage include Belgica and Celtica, but most of the coins are attributed to the Belgic tribes. The earliest of the these coins are Gallo-Belgic A (illustrated above). We know that they are the earliest because (a) they have a greater gold content than the others, and (b) because the types (generally) become gradually more abstracted over time and this is combined with a lowering of the gold content and the weight of the coins. You can see all of the types listed on Robert Van Arsdell's Celtic Coinage of Britain -- the link goes to the first of three plates which illustrate the entire Gallo-Beligic series. Move your mouse cursor over each coin to get an enlargement and further details such as tribal attribution and weight etc.

Over time, tribal attributions change. Currently, they are given on the basis of concentrations in the distribution maps. Gallo-Belgic A is given to the Ambiani, one of the Belgic tribes. Long ago, it was attributed to the Bellovaci, whom Caesar named as the most warlike of the Belgic tribes. problems can occur when a coinage is determined to have been made for the hire of troops as they tend to end up where the troops came from rather than where they were issued. If you want to look at a very thorough treatment of the Belgic coinage then obtain Simone Scheers, Traité de numismatique celtique II: la Gaule belgique, Paris, 1977. You can read the start of Colin Haselgrove's Britannia review here. The book is the very model of good organization with classifications, die links (where known), distribution maps, find spot listings current whereabouts of the specimens and so on. Its 1977 publication date is useful in the fact that metal-detector use has not skewed the differences between continental and British finds. Not only is there no evidence that any of the Gallo-Belgic coins were issued in Britain, but there is clear and plentiful evidence that they were not.

Gallo-Belgic E coin attributed to the Ambiani,
but also commonly found in Britain
Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
It has long been a feature of much British archaeological writing to de-emphasize the importance of the continent on the development of British Celtic artifacts, and coins are no exception. For example, in my Penguin edition of Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul (DBG), Caesar writes: "Caesar made active preparations for an expedition to Britain, because he knew that in almost all the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons." (IV. 3.20). Attached to this statement is an editorial footnote which includes "Such assistance could hardly have been of much importance". Of course, no evidence is given for this editorial statement.

There is only one possible source for such evidence, and that is the British distribution of Gallo-Belgic E coins compared to the continental distribution of the same. These coins were minted to pay for the hire of troops. Of course (in Scheers), there are more of this type found on the continent than in South-east England. The relative size of the distribution areas being a major factor. Yet, there are a substantial percentage which are British finds. The exact numbers are difficult to estimate as some finds are only recorded as "a few" and the like. The big hoards are all continental, and the British finds are often just single coins or a few together. The actual numbers of finds are about the same in England as they are on the continent. If you were a Gaul fighting Caesar's forces, you would be more than likely to meet quite a number of Britons during the battles. Besides, Caesar is recognized as the most reliable ancient source for what was happening there and no one has ever caught him in a lie about anything. His commentaries even include mention of his errors. In this case, the evidence supports his statement, clearly and dramatically.

Much earlier evidence for British involvement in continental campaigns comes from British finds of the early copies of the gold stater of Philip II of Macedon. These were issued to purchase troops in the Italian campaigns until the fall of Taras to the Romans in 272 BC. and John Sills illustrates the six known examples in Imitation Philippi from Britain, in Chris Rudd, List 69, May, 2003. He does say, however, that these are not necessarily mercenary payments, but might have arrived through migrations from the continent.

Lest anyone doubt the association of gold coins with military payments, John Melville-Jones, Ancient Greek gold coinage up to the time of Philip of Macedon in Travaux de Numismatique Grecque Offerts à Georges Le Rider, Spink , London, 1999 says:
It should also be noted that when Philip’s gold coinage was being issued, or soon after, many other coinages in gold were issued in the Greek world which can be shown to have been struck for distribution to mercenary or to peregrine soldiers. In addition to the gold coins which were struck in Egypt, gold was struck in the 340s and later at Syracuse for Timoleon, at Taras in Calabria, and at Heracleia and Metapontum in Lucania. In every case it is assumed that the reason for striking coins in this metal was that easily portable wealth was required to pay foreign soldiers.
The earliest coinage of the Ambiani listed in Scheer are good copies of  a specific type from Taras that could only have been issued for payment of the defence of that city by Pyrrhus, starting in 280 BC., but are commonly dated earlier, inexplicably, sometimes circa 314 BC, (after the Italian campaigns of campaigns of Alexander the Molossian in 334-330 BC). These are struck in highly refined Mediterranean gold (about 95% fine). We can be sure that members of the Ambiani were among his Celtic troops. I first wrote about this connection shortly after the above was published, and John Melville-Jones told me that if he had known of it sooner he would have included it in his paper. The Ambiani large flan staters (Gallo-Belgic A) run about 67 - 86% fine; Ambiani Gallic War type (Gallo-Belgic E) 49 - 63% fine, and the earliest British types average a bit lower than this, but generally in the same range. These figures come from Peter Northover, Materials Issues in the Celtic Coinage, in Celtic Coinage: Britain and Beyond (bar).

Of course, how you evaluate what I have given here with the unspecified hints alluded to in the introductory chapter of Rethinking Celtic Art is entirely up to you.

Tomorrow, yet more weak arguments against Caesar's commentaries.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part three

Narcissus. Follower of Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1490
National Gallery, London
One of the first things I noticed when reading the introductory chapter of Rethinking Celtic Art, was how the authors found evidence to support their theories while apparently not noticing that which did not. This is a common problem in theory-laden archaeology -- the evidence seems to reflect the idea. I read, once, that archaeologists always find what they are looking for, but I don't recall who said it. Over the years, I have had the greatest success by keeping my expectations to a minimum.

When I started my research into Coriosolite coinage, my premise was that, because of the large number of varieties in their design, there might be some sort of evolution in their creation which could "fine-tune" the chronology. The evidence that I discovered soon expanded the work into quite a number of different topics and the subsequent publisher's blurb said:
This study is based around a hoard of more than 11,000 coins found at La Marquanderie on Jersey, but it is also broader in its discussion of the Coriosolite and their coinage. More than a mere catalogue of coins, Hooker's study looks at the design, symbolism, imagery and aesthetics of the coins and the social, cultural and religious traditions that influenced designs.
Actually, I had set out only to write "a mere catalogue of coins"! when I realized that its scope would have to be greatly expanded, I told my wife what I wanted to do with the project. Her eyes widened with incredulity, and she exclaimed, "Oh! You want it to be interesting?" I teased her about that for years.

When researching anything, the best results will be had by constantly alternating between three methods: inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning (in that order), and intuition and apply these methods to the primary material. The absolutely worst way to go is to first read everything that others had written about the subject. I call that the academic method  and you should do it only after the design of the study has been thoroughly mapped out. If you can follow these methods, you will not only produce a valuable study of a subject, but the number of discoveries you make will proliferate. You will never become a "one-trick pony". Remember this advice and read all of the links I give here -- they have been specially selected.

So, let's get back to the subject at hand. In reading the introductory chapter, I lit (pun intended) upon the following:
The term 'Celtic' helps imply that this material has a link to, or possible origin in, the European continent.While links there certainly are, there is no reason to believe, on the basis of present evidence, that Celtic art was introduced to Britain from the outside. Had this been the case we might have expected to see a horizon of imports into Britain followed by by obvious British imitations, although we have to admit that the lack of imports might be partly due to the overall rarity of deposition of fine metalwork. ... For other periods of the Iron Age, such as its very beginning, it has been realized that artifact types once thought to have continental derivation, such as Gündlingen swords, may in fact have a derivation either within the Thames region or within Britain and Europe jointly (O'Connor 2007). Hill (2007): 25) has hinted that a similar situation may pertain for so-called Gallo-Belgic coins; the name hinting at external origins when a shared genesis may be more likely.
With regard to the first part, what is not mentioned is that in the current standard work on British Early Celtic art, and on page one, no less, Martyn Jope says:
Chapter 3 shows something of the genesis of insular Celtic art*. We give an extensive survey of early iron weapons (mainly daggers and swords, with their bronze fittings) and also of brooches, from the sixth century on into the first century B.C., less for their art (often stiff or halting) than for their clear demonstration of a steady continuity in distinctive insular workshop practice from the sixth century onwards, at least in southern Britain -- substantial craft traditions within which an insular Celtic art could be developed. The initiating stimuli for this rise evidently came from Europe, yet at the crucial time, the fourth-third centuries B.C.,  we can point to practically no imported pieces that might have served as potential exemplars; the new ideas and skills must have come largely in the minds and hands of men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers.
* (actually footnote 2) It now seems possible, more than it did in 1944 (ECA, pp. xi 156-7), to show in a similar way how this genesis came about in Celtic Europe also, for we can see mid-fifth-century craftsmen in central and western Europe using primarily Greek or other southerly themes to fashion their own designs and details, or taking over the Etruscan bulging physiognomy to create their own counterpart (review of J. V. S. Megaw, Ulster J. Archaeol., 34 (1971), 116).
You will notice that "we" instead of "I" is being used in the above passage. This is because the work started out as a collaboration between Martyn Jope and Paul Jacobsthal (the latter died in 1957). Martyn Jope, himself, died in 1996 only weeks after finishing the writing, but not subsequent editing of the work, and the task of bringing it to a publishable state was carried out by I. M. Stead  who describes the situation in great detail in his Preface. It seems to me, from all of this, that the source of Jope's use of "we" was not entirely an example of joint authorship of the final MS, but had been copied from their notes by Jope alone. Jope, as Stead reveals, wanted Jacobsthal listed as joint author, but Stead had decided to publish the book under Jope's name alone as no MS of the work was in existence before the death of Jacobsthal.

Because of both the importance and relevance of Jope's statement on page one of his work to the quoted passage in the introductory chapter in Rethinking, I find the fact that there is no reference to it more than an oversight. It also seems to me to be disrespectful of these two giants in the subject. I was happy, and proud, to give further weight to what Martyn Jope writes in my discovery and analysis of an important example of British early Celtic art that was undoubtedly made by one of those "men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers"

Another chapter  to the saga was written (pers. comm.) by Raimund Karl, who suggested to me the possibility that metalsmiths might have apprenticed in distant workshops under the attested Celtic practice of fosterage. I replied stating that I thought the idea was brilliant! Of course, and applied in this case, it still firmly gives credit to the continental origins for the art as the piece in question is the only British example of Jacobsthal's Plastic Style and is of developed style. Its British elements, in turn, could have been either an evolved development there, or from the influence of another craftsman who, in turn, might also have apprenticed on the continent. As the British element is not attested prior to that piece, I cannot define it any further than that. As the piece also appears to have influenced slightly later British work, we can also give good reason for an ultimate continental influence for the styles of those pieces, as well. Joint development of British and continental early Celtic art cannot be supported (and is not, in the text) by any actual demonstrable mechanism and is, at the very least, a confusing and misleading statement.

As the second part of my critique of the quoted passage in Rethinking will require considerable space, I will continue with it tomorrow.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part two

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes 1746-1828
Que pico de Oro! (What a golden beak!)
Aquatint. Plate 53 of Los Caprichos,  1799
This looks a bit like an academic meeting. Perhaps the parrot is speaking about medicine? However, don’t believe a word he says. There is many a doctor who has a ‘golden beak’ when he is talking, but when he comes to prescriptions, he’s a Herod; he can ramble on about pains, but can’t cure them: he makes fools of sick people and fills the cemeteries with skulls.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes
Research and writing are mostly solitary activities, ideally suited to the introvert. But unless serving only as a mental exercise, their product must be shared. With academic subjects, books, articles and journal papers are the preferred mediums. Second to those are the presentation of papers at academic conferences, and these papers can then be gathered together and published in book form. Most often, the cart is put before the horse and after a conference is planned there is a "call for papers" along the conference theme. A very common theme is to honour one of the giants of the subject upon whose shoulders, as the saying goes, we all stand. I have a number of such books on my shelves. Sometimes, the conference stage is omitted and authors are invited to contribute papers or essays for a planned book. Other times, papers are presented at conferences, but only the audience gets to experience them as no subsequent publication ensues. It is all part of the academic culture,  its social and political structures and its business models.

The amateur has a tougher time of it -- he or she cannot work fully apart from others with similar interests and when I was researching and writing my book on the coinage of the Celtic Coriosolite tribe in those dark days before the Internet, I wrote letters to specialists in my general subject area -- mostly academics, and mostly the giants whose names were blazoned on the books in my shelves. Some of these were imposters, but I do not use that word in a derogatory way. Instead, they were true amateurs in heart and mind but existed, sometimes precariously, within the walls of academia. I can think of no better representative of them than Martyn Jope, as this obituary clearly reveals. The following excerpt says it all:
This account of his academic achievements would be one-sided without an appreciation of Martyn Jope the man. He had far more charm than can normally be accommodated in a personality. He was utterly opposed to any form of time-serving administration, pomposity or narrow-mindedness. A student with an idea was sure of the same welcome and courtesy as a fellow professor. Power and the outward trappings of fame left him cold, and he was ill- equipped for the empire-building of academic politics; it was very rare to hear him say anything malicious about anyone.
The "Glastonbury"
spindle whorl
But even this glowing account does not acknowledge that his generosity of spirit extended far past the university and its students. In a 1989 autograph letter to me about unique decorated spindle whorl in my collection he included "Yr. spindle whorl seems an excellent piece. I know of no elaborately decorated lead spindle whorl of this type, though plain ones of this type were in use at Glastonbury, as you have probably already noted..." He finished the body of the letter (there was a PS and 2 PPS's) with "What a pleasure to find so deeply informed an interest in Celtic antiquities in far off-Calgary!" My letter and package (photographs, drawings and a plaster-cast) had originally been sent to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford where Andrew Sherratt had handed it over to Professor Jope. I had also sent the same package to another museum in England and had received back a tiny piece of paper with a pompous and dismissive typewritten message dismissing it as "Roman" and "commonplace". I found the contrast most interesting: the depth of knowledge being matched, perfectly, with the spirit of companionship. It foreshadowed my experiences with the academic world after the arrival of the Internet. Both sides were still there, and while Martyn Jope has gone, Vincent Megaw continues Jope's tradition. As for the the other side, they are still there too, as they were in Goya's time.

Tomorrow, something less subtextual.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Rethinking? -- part one

The Thinker at the Musée Rodin, Paris
Having been interested in the ancient Celts for about half a century and researching their art for more than half of that time, the publication of a book entitled Rethinking Celtic Art gave me cause for alarm. Had I been following the wrong tracks for all of that time or was the title just hype? One thing was certain -- it was going to cost me seventy bucks to find out.

The blurb on the back cover allayed most of my fears and annoyed me at the same time. It included:
The term 'Celtic' has been much discussed, with the notion of 'art' relatively ignored.
My mind went back to the mid-nineties, when I first encountered scare quotes being used for both Celtic and art. It was true that its application to the word art was less prolific than its use in Celtic. but this was due to the cult-like phenomenon of the second. The implication, in the blurb, was that defining art was something new instead of just another kick at the cat (to use the Canadian idiom). Referring to art as a "notion" revealed to me that the blurb was written by an archaeologist and did not come from the publisher's PR staff: archaeologist personifies materialism. The profession of archaeology contains an inordinate supply of Jungian extraverts, who like King George II of Britain, hate painting and poetry. This is no exaggeration -- imagine that a lost Da Vinci has been discovered in an attic. For a contextual archaeologist the only important thing to be studied is where, exactly, the painting was lying relative to the box of old Christmas decorations; the hideous vase from aunt Maude given as a wedding present; and some lumber scraps from a home renovation project that might come in useful one day. I once tried, unsuccessfully, to tell a field archaeologist that the design elements on a Celtic coin were just the same as objects found at an archaeological site and should be viewed just as contextually.

Reading the first chapter, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' Art by Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, my mood darkened yet more when I saw:
The forms and decoration of the British objects are often linked to continental types and seen by many to have continental origins ultimately (a notion we question below). British Early Celtic art is distinctively different from that found in other parts of Europe, a feature widely recognized by the use of the term 'insular', and there are very few objects imported into Britain from elsewhere.
Essentially, the above quote is meaningless and I began to feel very sorry for those, who the back cover blurb are indicated by: "It will be key reading for all interested in the late Iron Age and Romano-British periods, as well the roles of fine items of material culture in social and cultural forms."

It would be equally valid to replace "British Early Celtic art is distinctively different from that found in other parts of Europe" with any of the following (and much more):

Champagne Early Celtic art is distinctively different from that found in other parts of Europe

Rhineland Early Celtic art is distinctively different from that found in other parts of Europe

West-country Early Celtic art is distinctively different from that found in other parts of England (reflecting the work of Sir Cyril Fox)


Irish Early Celtic Art is distinctively different from other forms of insular Early Celtic Art.

About the only useful piece of information there was the inclusion of the word notion, which narrowed down the authorship of the back-cover blurb.

But there is also an opposite corollary: In The earliest gold coinages of the Corieltauvi? in:
Celtic Coinage: Britain and Beyond (bar) Jeffrey May (p. 119) says:
Many of these minor elements of design occur elsewhere on Iron Age coins, both in Britain and on the continent, although they have never been studied systematically. An admittedly cursory look at the continental coinages reveals regions where none, or some, or many of these symbols were used. It would appear that one limited area of northern Gaul (the tribal territories of the Ambiani, the Veliocasses, and the Senones) has at least six of the minor symbols, and only one area, that of the Meldi, has all seven. One should hesitate to imply specific connexions between Lincolnshire and particular areas of the Continent. But supposing that these symbols meant something to the moneyers or die cutters who chose to use them, and were not random decoration, we might see here a hint at least of traditions that these regions held in common.
I had communicated with Jeffrey May many years ago and found him to be a delightful man, a father figure to some of his archaeology students, he was also collaborating in a major work on the coins of the Corieltauvi with the farmer/scholar Henry Mossop. Some years ago, I was saddened to hear that he had died, and as Henry Mossop is also no longer with us, their Corieltauvi coin work seems to have been completely forgotten and will likely never be completed and published.

With bitter irony, May's statement is paralleled with what Ian Leins (in Chapter 6) has to say about boar imagery on the coins of the Corieltauvi and Iceni in looking for social connections between the two regions. Liens does not, however, either include continental examples of boars or even examples found on other British tribes' coins. In fact, the only British coinages that do not include boar motifs at all are the Dobunni and the Durotriges. That exception would be of far more interest as boars are fairly ubiquitous. Liens has also apparently not studied the meaning of the boar imagery, something that I have written about both on the web and in print.

More importantly, the comparisons limited to between Britain and the Continent, and within Britain, in Rethinking... makes a lie of "The forms and decoration of the British objects are often linked to continental types and seen by many to have continental origins ultimately (a notion we question below)". The same method is being used, but its application appears to be deliberately restricted.

So, when I announced this series, on Friday, I had intended it to be merely a point to point critique of this chapter, but after spending some of the weekend looking at it from my usual postmodern perspective have decided that it will also be the study of a text as all is text. The artificial groupings found in the chapter are little more than an extension of the mid-nineties Celtoskepticism cult. and their focus says something about motives and perhaps memes. The claim that there was no unified Celtic culture can be answered better, not by showing examples to the contrary, but by quoting Siân Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present in her conclusions (p. 140 -- also demonstrated by herself and other authors in the text:
There is no single, unambiguous ethnic association, because no such single social reality has ever existed.
This is also echoed in the cultural frames theory within anthropology that I have spoken of previously in this blog.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Cultural frames and cultural property -- part seven

Raven is dominant in this Haida carving of
walrus ivory and inlaid shell. Mid-19th cent.
Dallas Museum of Art. Wikimedia public
domain image
Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of more than 150 islands off the NW coast of British Columbia, Canada. The name means "islands of the people".  Of the population of 4,761 (2008), more than a third are native (Haida). At the time of the first colonial contact, the population was more than 10,000. Devastated by smallpox, by 1900 only 350 people remained.

Reminiscent of the ancient Celts, the Haida "have a complex class and rank system consisting of two main clans: Eagles and Ravens" Also reminiscent of the ancient Celts as well as the Orphic Greeks, and Buddhists the Haida believe in metempsychosis (the transmigration of souls), which is (erroneously) associated with reincarnation. In the popular modern idea of reincarnation, the entire personality occupies subsequent bodies. The Dalai Lama clearly explains the difference in The Buddha Nature: Death and Eternal Soul in Buddhism. As individuals, we are a product of our genetics, education and experiences. What remains is what the Dalai Lama refers to as the clear light. This concept does not violate anything in most forms of quantum physics, including those of David Bohm and Wolfgang Pauli. Common to both Tibetan and Haida belief is that it is sometimes (but rarely) possible to pick one's next parents before death under some circumstances. Also, in both, the previous identity of a person's soul, or clear light can often be detected. A new Dalai Lama is identified by such a process. It is important, to both Tibetans and Haida, that the remains of a person should revert back to nature so that the soul can freely move on. In the damp climate of  the British Columbia coast this present no problem whatsoever, but in Tibet the climate is not so accommodating and bodies may be subjected to "sky burial". After being hacked to pieces and fed to vultures, there remains no trace.

In the nineteenth century, some archaeologists looted Haida graves at Haida Gwaii and  the remains ended up in The Field Museum, ChicagoIn 2003, these remains were returned to the Haida for reburial:
It would have been easy dwell on the insensitivities of archaeologists and anthropologists who looted the graves in 1897, 1901 and 1903 for "scientific purposes." Instead, Chief of the Haida's Tanu Raven Wolf clan, CheeXial Taaiixou, holds the Field Museum in high regard.
"We can't blame the museums of today for the wrongs that have been done in the past," the chief said, noting how important the afterlife is for his people. "We can thank them for insuring that our ancestors' remains have been guarded for the last century."
That the article used the word "looted" is especially interesting to me as I have observed that this word is commonly used used by some archaeologists to condemn the actions of detectorists, collectors and museums, often on behalf of the modern nations who allow them into their countries to loot graves and display the remains in their own museums. In fact, one prominent blog is titled Looting MattersWe are supposed to believe that this sort of looting is fine as it is for science and not for profit. Yet these same archaeologists receive salaries for this work, or obtain grants for their studies, and most museums obtain income from admissions, and the sale of image rights from the very people they claim to be the real owners of this heritage. While archaeologically excavated objects sent to museums receive no criticism, objects that are purchased are subjected to all sorts of virtually religious vitriol. These same archaeologists often demand collecting histories for everything, knowing full well (I hope!) that such histories are actually quite rare and are mostly encountered with famous pieces recognized as masterpieces -- one of my greatest faults is my inability to easily differentiate between hypocrisy and ignorance.

Moving from matters of the obviously sacred, let us now look at another cultural group: artists. I have never heard of a professional artist who did not wish their work to become international. Yet, quantities of their work are being "repatriated" to countries now occupying regions where ancient professional artists worked or sold their work, even though these same artists most often were selling their work to individuals and not even ancient states. Implicit in these actions is the belief that the ownership of great works of art, after the death of the artist and regardless of the wishes of the artists or their heirs should revert to the nation. My wife was a Canadian poet and often used to say, in reference to Canadian writers, "Canada devours its children and then worships their bones". Many artists are no strangers to poverty -- Vincent Van Gogh only ever sold one of his paintings and that was for 400 francs not long before his death. His work was mainly supported by his brother, Theo.

There are many archaeologists who do not make their work freely available to the public and yet attribute financial greed to dealers and never cite any exception. My friend, Robert Kokotailo who owns Calgary Coin Gallery used to be an oilfield geologist -- which was a very lucrative profession. Yet he left that to suffer a severe drop of income by becoming a full-time coin dealer. While he is doing much better these days, he says that he has less income, now, that he would have had he remained a geologist. He certainly never expected better. He is very knowledgeable about ancient to modern coins and freely shares that knowledge, both to visitors to his shop and through his online reference guides. His guide to Chinese coins is especially notable and contains much original research. You will notice that valuations are also included and this is something that you never see being provided to the public by museum workers -- snootily, giving the impression that such things are below them -- but it's probably just as well, not only do they have no idea about such things, but often are not very good at attributions and matters of authenticity. I once saw a web site of  a Japanese museum of Chinese porcelain where everything illustrated was a modern fake. Unlike specialist dealers, most museums never see enough of any category to be that knowledgeable.

The money is evil meme is also passed on to many metal-detectorists, who take pride in never selling anything, yet it is specialists (like myself) who gain much knowledge from those detectorists who do sell. An ideal situation would be for a detectorist to specialize and also purchase objects within that specialty from the proceeds of other sorts of finds. They then could create web sites to share their specialized knowledge. They are often highly knowledgeable about the past of their local area, while even local archaeologist are often only knowledgeable about the few sites that they have excavated. Sometimes, this detectorist knowledge is passed on to dealers to whom they sell finds and one of these dealers showed me a Celtic settlement which struck its own coins and specialized in leather work. A Roman road passed through the middle of the settlement. None of this was known to archaeologist and the land owner was fearful that, if came to their attention, his farming work would be hampered by all sorts of regulations.

All of the above groups of people represent different cultural frames and can thus be viewed as cultures in their own right. The lack of proper respect and communication between them does little to advance knowledge, neither does efforts to restrict such knowledge to "official" or "nationalist" bodies. Any culture is preserved through individual interest and the combinations of cultural frames produce so many different perspectives. Not only that, but the sum of the parts is always greater than the whole in these cases. This is how cultures are created and spread in the first place, and the study of cultures should follow those same paths. Perhaps common sense is not that common after all.

On Monday, part one of a critique of the introduction to Rethinking Celtic Art.