Monday, 2 December 2013

British Celtic strap-junction

British Celtic strap-junction, circa 20-40 AD
Bronze, with six glass inlaid discs.
H. 4.4 cm W. 4.8 cm Taylor and Brailsford
type 1 Figure of eight form (flanked at each side by
a vertical bar attached at each end), No. 4 (variety).

Dealer states "ex Ringrose coll. (Essex)"
(click to enlarge photo)
This British Celtic strap-junction is the latest addition to my collection, arriving from the UK last week complete with export permit. It is the second recorded example of the type (R. J. Taylor and J. W. Brailsford, British Iron Age Strap Unions, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 51, 1985, pp. 247 - 272. Type 1, No. 4.

The form is a flat-backed bas-relief cast with chased modification on the front and consists of three elements: an extremely swelled ring; finely tapered trumpet; and a slightly oval bar.

Its design is of two opposed rings, swelling at the top and bottom, each bezel-set set with discs of glass. Between them, extends two opposed sets of finely tapered trumpets conjoined at the narrow ends with a joining bar set at the outer half of the trumpets' mouths. Each trumpet is set with similar glass discs between the outer curve and the mouth. It appears that the edges of each drilled hole were raised slightly and then bent inward to form a very thin bezel. Subsequently, a "faux bezel" was indicated with the use of a chased line circling the inset. All of the glass inlay is eroded and was probably red in colour, originally. Further chased linear decoration surrounds each of the glass inlays.

The condition is as follows: it is slightly bent vertically at the centre of each ring which as resulted in a crack in the top face of the metal which extends through the glass inlay at the top ring and the whole strap junction has a slight diagonal twist. These all appear to have occurred during use. It has a fairly smooth green patina only slightly bumpy. The glass is eroded and its colour degraded with a small piece missing from the lower ring.

Simplified version of the type
illustration (op. cit.) H. 5.5 cm
W. 5.1 cm
The current example is a very slightly smaller version of the type  illustration but of far finer workmanship and essentially complete. The  lines are more sinuous and the ring swelling more pronounced.

The type example appears to have been damaged through use in exactly the same way but more extremely so which resulted in the loss of about 40%. The conjoined trumpets are less tapered and also flatter between the rings; the rings are not as extremely swelled; and the bars are not off-set at the trumpet mouth. There can be only two explanations for the differences in design between the two: the type example is an earlier attempt which was improved upon in the current example, or the type example was a crude copy of the current form. I am inclined to favor the first explanation as the current example appears to be an evolved version: the clumsy flattening of the narrow ends of the trumpets being also hesitant in execution and poorly opposed above and below could well have served as impetus for the elegant tapering of the current example -- something which would have at least been attempted to emulate if the type example was a copy of the current example. However, if the type example was copied only from memory, that would explain the uncertainty -- it seems unlikely, though, that a model would not be available to copy as surviving examples of early Celtic art are only a tiny fraction of what must have existed. the find spot of the current example was not recorded and while it is tempting to state that it must be from the same general region, higher status objects did often travel some distance: The design of opposed swollen rings have a very slightly earlier version in the strap-junction from Sudeley, Glos. (Jope, 2000, Plate 270 a-f) and the type example is illustrated with a reconstruction from the type illustration on Plate 271(b) following. These and other widespread examples form the two plates that Jope entitles "Pressure tectonics" In his introduction to the subject (p. 300), he says:

Grouped together here are items in which strong structural pressures are implied by the shaping of the solid metal. In some examples these are associated with the tensions in flexible straps (270, 271 a. b), in others not so (271 c. i).
Polden Hill harness-hook
(click  to enlarge)
© Trustees of the British Museum
Commenting on the type example, he says: "...with reminiscence of the pressure-tectonic design of a [harness-hook from Polden Hill] but its implied forces much weaker."

The Polden Hill example, however, is very close in effect to the current example -- perhaps even slightly less demonstrative of such forces, so it just goes to show how variations of the same sort of design can affect opinions attributed to their type, alone. I also think that the "implied forces" are not so much a feature of the straps than the power that is exerted upon them by the ponies in battle -- a metaphor. One is reminded of Shakespeare's Henry V pre-battle speech:
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.
Dobunnic lower linchpin terminal
early 1st cent AD (or perhaps very slightly earlier)
Matching the Sudeley strap-junction, and likely from the same rig, is a  lower linchpin terminal in my own collection which also has the same swelled ring (two are opposed on the Sudeley strap-junction). If made for local use, about the only regional conflict was (perhaps) between Corio and Bodvoc - estimates of the dates of these two vary and such things are highly uncertain to date exactly within such a short span of years.

Reconstruction of the line decoration of the strap-junction will be in a later post (not necessarily tomorrow!)

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