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!

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