Thursday, 12 December 2013

Online research of early Celtic art in Britain -- part 2

One of the Celtic boar figurines from Hounslow
© Trustees of the British Museum
The British Museum Collection online is the most useful site for obtaining photographs and information on British early Celtic art. The BM has fully embraced the concept of Open Access and gives clear instruction on how the site can be used. Whenever I use any of their images I link to the main catalogue page for the object and to their terms of use for the copyright notice.

Over the years I have written a few articles on the use of the boar as a Celtic icon so if I wanted to do another one for this blog then picking one of the Hounslow boars as an illustration would be the obvious choice as they are the most famous figurines of the animal. But I might also refer to a comparison that Joseph Campbell made between the Irish Megalithic and a boar cult practiced on the Island of Malekula. A search for "Malekula" did not provide the photo on the left, but searching for "boar ivory" did -- such is the nature of database searches. The British Museum database is usually easy to use and the waiting time is rarely very long, but it is always best to try different search terms. For example, a strap junction is sometimes called a strap union. A search for iron age strap junction gives these ten results, most of which are photos of strap junctions, but a search for iron age strap union gave a few more -- the trouble being that none in the first search were also found in the second.  More results came from a search for iron age strap fittings
Boar tusk currency from Malekula
© Trustees of the British Museum
 but these were different results from a search on iron age harness fittings, so try different terms and look at the listings in the first search results for ideas about the catalogue terminology for other search term ideas. When old catalogues are converted to databases standardizing all the nomenclature is often neglected. Once, when testing such a database, I discovered that a Coriosolite billon stater could be listed as a Curiosolite billon stater; Coriosolitae base silver stater; Armorican silver stater; Coriosolite copper alloy stater and several other variations.  I see more databases with faults than without them, but the British Museum Collection online database has less problems than most and the listings soon reveal the better search terms. To look for a specific object, the place of discovery is always a good search term and, sometimes, you might find other useful objects from the same find to illustrate.

It is a shame that more museums do not follow the British Museum's lead. Too often, I cannot illustrate something because the museum holding the object has no pictures of it on their site or prevents use by charging for the privilege. Often, the amount that you must pay is not clearly explained and you have to get an estimate. This sort of thing does not match the workflow of a blog very well at all!

There is more than the Collection online hosted by the British Museum -- there is also the Celtic art database and the Portable Antiquities Scheme so we will continue with these tomorrow.

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