Thursday, 16 January 2014

The British involute brooch

British La Tène 2 Involute Brooch
Portable Antiquities Scheme record
SWYOR 399938
As rare as hen's teeth, they are a type of La Tène 2 brooch unique to Britain. Martyn Jope, (2000), Map 4b, records 34 find spots of these brooches in iron and bronze (17 in each metal). He notes, however, that more than sixty involutes have been found in Yorkshire. He does not mention the total number of involutes, but the type does seem to be much more plentiful there than in the other regions. We might be looking at about a hundred in total. He says:
Involute brooches were a current fashion in parts of Britain for something like two centuries; they were to be seen (in bronze or iron) from the south-west Cornwall, somerset, and Wiltshire, the Middle Thames lands, in Herefordshire, and away to the north in Yorkshire (map on p. 42). By their changing construction and ornament these and other brooches will give some details of their time setting...
The general type is dated from the last few years of the 3rd century BC to the 1st Century BC but the earliest, which have a much shallower profile than SWYOR 399938, are of the first half of the 2nd century BC on his chronological chart at the start of Volume 1. The brooch illustrated above is deeply profiled and thus dates from the mid 2nd century to the early 1st century BC despite the record's date given as "between 300-100 BC"

British La Tène 2 Involute Brooch
Portable Antiquities Scheme record
The incomplete example on the left is correctly dated in its record to "2nd or 1st century BC." and references H. E. M. Cool, The small finds from Somerford Keynes:

"The earliest brooch found was the involute brooch 321. Brooches such as this are an Iron Age form in use during the 2nd and 1st century BC and were probably in existence by the end of the 3rd century BC (Harding 1974, 188-9). They had a variety of hinge mechanisms (see Hattatt 1985, 16-7)"

The most famous (or should it be infamous?) example was found on the skeleton in the Ferry Fryston Iron Age Chariot Burial (formerly Ferrybridge), which in this article is dated far too early (beginning of the 4th century BC). The earliest reports of this site have it dated even earlier than that and with a very fanciful interpretation! Oxford Archaeology has yet to correct its errors in their article, and there is no mention of the brooch whatsoever.

My own investigations have revealed that the animal bones in the burial (but not those deposited around it) exhibited triple peaks and thus appear to have been moved from another site. When the excavators showed the involute brooch to the British Museum, Ian Stead informed them of their guff -- but because of the rush to promote the find, everything has been "swept under the carpet" and most images of that particular brooch all seem to have vanished. It can be seen in this article  in a small photograph, but clearly enough.  Very deeply profiled and quite elaborate, it might well be one of the last versions of the type. Perhaps it was even modified later with its coral stud being added, but it would need a good set of photographs to be sure, at the very least. It's difficult to make it out from this small illustration of the grave finds as found. The British Museum site's article on their involute brooch does mention it, however.

I think it most likely that the burial dates to the same time as the bones from the feast held outside (2nd half of the 1st century AD or very slightly later). The other reasons being that the chariot was made from "spare parts" and included facsimiles in foil-covered forge scale of missing chariot parts. The Romans, of course, did not allow war chariots to exist after the Claudian conquest. I also suspect that the skeleton was a sacrificed captive most likely from Scotland. The entire burial and its feast was a response to Roman encroachment into the area and there is a general rule with Iron Age sacrifices that the more desperate the situation, the more dramatic the sacrifice -- human sacrifices appear to be a response to the direst of situations.

It is too bad that the site investigation did not go further and previous mistakes were not confessed -- it might be the most interesting Celtic sacrifice ever found in Britain. It is also too bad that the involute brooch is not better (and more widely) known.



    "Hooker again mentions his stock argument "the dreadfully wrong dating for the Ferrybridge chariot burial" (adding now "apparently, bringing in a finds specialist was either never considered or was rejected"). From what is this apparent? Certainly not from the report of the site which has now been out many years which Hooker quite plainly has not read, basing his imaginary case instead on internet journalism."

  2. Don't believe everything you read just because it is an academic paper, Paul. I always look a bit deeper than that. The information came from the horse's mouth -- one of the excavators and through personal correspondence. You will forgive me if I do not mention the name. Perhaps, if you can learn to ask nicely for things and not leap to subjective conclusions, I might share such things. Regarding Ian Stead, the exact words were "He wanted no part of it and that his name should not be mentioned in the paper" Ask him yourself.

  3. I also should have added, in the above reply, that if you had thought that I obtained this information from the web, then the proper thing to do would be to confirm such. You cannot, of course, because all mentions of it bear only my name. Fact-checking might be tedious, but it would avert embarrassment later. My sources for the dating of the involute brooch are all cited in the blog post -- did you not notice? Primary among them was Jope -- the standard text on British Early Celtic Art. I would wager that you do not own a copy.

    As to my own credentials, I have just been nominated for an FSA. (Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London):

    Vincent Megaw nominated me, and he tells me that it already has the required number of signatures. You could vote against me if you were a Fellow yourself, of course. Perhaps you might try to get someone to do it for you. Do you know any of them? Unfortunately, you cannot ask Fellows to get you in -- that, of course, is considered very bad form. Nominations cannot be solicited.

  4. Well, I do not know what you are talking about, but I am specifically addressing the question of the brooch from the Ferrybridge chariot burial. You have been yammering on in various internet discussion lists for years about how only YOU know the true identity and date of this brooch and the 'incompetent' archaeologists have (present tense) no idea. If however you had checked (I did) for most of the time you'd been repeating this, the report had been published and the brooch dated differently from the version you were going on about which you got from an interim report. It is you who were casting aspersions without checking the facts.

    Congratulations on the FSA.

    1. I have certainly never said that I was the only person who knew the date range of the involute brooch. How could such a thing be even possible? Where could I have received such knowledge but from the literature? They have been known to be La Tène 2 long before Martyn Jope's book came out. I bought his book, anyway, the year it was published. He first told me of its impending existence in a letter of 15 Jan 1989

      I kept checking with OUP year after year. Eventually, poor Jope died before it was completed and the work was taken over by Ian Stead and it was published in 2000, three years before the, then, "Ferrybridge" chariot burial was excavated. I read the literature and used my eyes.

      I knew that the dates were being "revised" over that time, several times, actually. Stead told them otherwise but they still altered the dates a bit at a time. The earliest date given was 5th cent BC -- now how could anyone suggest that a British Celtic La Tène 2 brooch could be dated earlier than any insular La Tène 1 object? I mean, really, dating a La Tène 2 brooch more than a hundred years before the Wisbech sheath (ca 300 BC)!

      The last dates that they came up with were averaged from the triple peaks on the latest dates given by the C14 tests. Is that something you think it is OK -- averaging a selected result from a series of contaminated C14 test? I have 14 samples that I had submitted for XRF analysis. One of the elements I was looking for was not recorded, and another element was given in its place. The percentages all added up though. The replaced element could not have existed in the objects from which I prepared the samples in anything other than a trace, but some of these these results were in alloying quantities and quite impossible (considering that element was platinum). The samples were from coins, brooches, an ingot and a casting pellet -- all IA to Roman period. I could assume that the two elements were switched, and the numbers would make some sense if I did, but I would consider that bad science. Everything must be reanalyzed --and from a different lab at that.

      They should not have fudged contaminated C14 tests but thrown them out -- just have I have done with my XRF samples -- they presumably were not using their own money as I was.

      Perhaps, one of them might have even suggested that the interpretation of honoring a long dead leader's grave was somewhat reminiscent of Arthurian and Carolingian legends and was simply a meme, in this case -- something not-quite remembered from school, once.

      The brooch cannot possibly be earlier than ca. 210 BC, but if you accept Jope's typology division as well-founded, then it cannot be before ca. 150 BC. Jope was thorough, as was Jacobsthal who collaborated in the research. Jacobsthal died in 1957 so Martyn Jope was working on that book for more than 40 years -- it was the crowning achievement of his life and he wanted Jacobsthal listed as co-author. As Jacobsthal had not produced any of the draft pages, Ian Stead decided to publish it in only Jope's name. It was his decision -- not one I would have made, but I respect it and it is certainly justifiable. There has to be some sort of definable criterion. Personally, I think that Ian Stead should have taken greater credit, from what Vincent Megaw has told me it was barely a MS when Stead got his hands on it. Jacobsthal's contributions existed as notes which Jope referenced in the work when he speaks of "we".

      I check a lot more facts than I mention (I prefer to give a few hints so that the parties might think of revising their opinions before they dig themselves in too deep) and your aspersions of me are all of a personal nature. You cannot successfully argue my position on a point by point basis as proper scholarship demands, so you attack me. Do you plan, also, to attack Jacobsthal and Jope's knowledge in a similar manner? They might be ideal opponents for you. They are both, after all, dead.