Thursday, 24 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 12: Elusive images

One of the sources of Coriosolite coin
motifs is Weisskirchen, Saarland,
Germany (click to enlarge)
Interpreting and tracking artistic and iconographic motifs is often a demanding task. It is not enough to look at a motif and say "It looks like... so that must be it". The collage illustrated to the right incorporates three figures from my book and shows the origin of some of the designs found on Coriosolite coins from Brittany. These source images are about three hundred years earlier than the coins, yet there are no other motifs in early Celtic art that can be offered which are closer in design to the later adaptations on the coins and to find three at a single Celtic site is virtually a luxury. Another feature of Coriosolite coins from one mint, and of Armorican coins in general, is the human headed horse. It first appears on coins in what has been called The early coins of the Treveri (Allen, D. F. in: Germania Jahrgang 49, 1971), and is then transported, through migration, to the coins of the Aulerci Cenomani (Aulerci meaning "far from their tracks"). It is also known from a sculpture found at Trier, Rhineland-Palatinate ― the city derives its name from "Treveri" and borders on to Saarland. This gives extra weight to the identification. Even more evidence is the fact that Weisskirchen has also yielded Etruscan imports and Jacobsthal identifies the original source of the human-headed horse as Val Camonica in northern Italy. Of the commonest prototypical classical motifs, the palmette-derived elements are mostly found in Celtic art of the Rhineland, while France makes greater use of the ivy scroll. That Armorican coins also incorporate far more palmette-derived elements than other Celtic coins suggests, too, that many of those people had originated in the Rhineland. As I said earlier, cultures in "back woods" areas progress far slower than in more cosmopolitan areas, so such a time lag is not really surprising at all. By the time that these designs first appeared on Armorican coins, their homeland had long abandoned them in their primal forms. So this is how we do what we do. In "Random Coincidences Or: the return of the Celtic to Iron Age Britain" in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008, pp. 69-78, Raimund Karl explains:
"A single similarity between any two separate things is normally a random coincidence, and need not concern us a lot. If, however, similarities mount up, and we find several, perhaps even many, similarities between two separate things, matters start to change.We will start to wonder whether the two things might not actually somehow be related. Such a relationship might be functional, as in the case of axes or hammers, which are similar all over the world because they need to be in order to work properly. Or it might be structural, as in the case of crystals, which will always grow to very similar shapes because of the properties of the substance they are made of. Or, it might be genetic, like in the case of art styles, each of which produces similar things because the artists use
certain techniques or motives that are inspired by similar earlier examples of that same style. In fact, this seems to be a general property of the universe we live in: if two separate things share many similarities, there usually is some kind of reason for why they do. And thus, tending to generalise this empirical observation as we do, if we find two separate things sharing many, or regular, or particularly striking similarities, we suspect that these are not the result of mere random coincidence, but due to some reason."
Yet, there are still scholars less skillful than Ray who publish things based on a single similarity, or who refuse to utilize this Peirce/Bernstein/Wylie (the latter name bringing the philosophical concept to archaeology) "cable" method of building a strong case for their theories and cling to the pedestrian and highly impractical "chain" type of reasoning where each link must be proven before going on the next. Such people are often stopped in their research, or find that everything they look at has already been discovered by someone else. The chain reasoning persists because the cable reasoning is not to everyone's tastes or abilities. It has been a part of Celtic studies, however, since before Peirce first defined it, and I was using it in archaeology and numismatics about four years before Alison Wylie's first publication of Archaeological Cables and Tacking: The Implications of Practice for Bernstein's ‘Options Beyond Objectivism and Relativism’ At that time, I had never even heard of Peirce and Bernstein, it was just the only way open to me.

When I fist noticed Megalithic symbology in Coriosolite coin designs, I knew that I had a much harder task ahead of me than with the Weisskirchen imagery. The latter had only involved looking at a few hundred photographs and diagrams. Explaining a lag of  about three hundred years is one thing, but explaining one of three thousand years is something else! Fortunately I found a few intermediary clues: In Brittany, by Pierre-Roland Giot, Jean L'Helgouach, Jacques Briard and F.A. Praeger, 1960, the authors had reasoned, through skeletal evidence, that the inhabitants of Brittany just before the Roman conquest consisted of about a 50/50 mix of recent Celtic arrivals and descendents of the Megalithic indigenous populations. This made sense to me because I knew that the coinage that Allen was writing about had experienced a dramatic debasement after the emigration of a section of that tribe (I also believe that they were not the Treveri per se, but members of other tribes who were vanquished, or came under the control of the Treveri later. It is tempting to associate the Aulerci Eburovices with the Eburones who lived on the Rhine. The different ending of the former meaning "villages". There is a potential confusion with the first part of the name because of the Germanic Ebor = yew and the Celtic Ebur = boar. However, these tribes were also Belgae who claimed to have crossed the Rhine much earlier. Either could be true: Celtic chariots used yew wood, and the boar is an important Celtic icon. In fact, a coin of the Aulerci Eburovices which carries their tribal name (rare on Celtic coins), actually has a boar as a main, and not subsidiary, device. Celtic linguists, to whom I have spoken, agree that the matter of some linguistic crossover is possible, but far from certain.

As one of the Megalithic monuments where I have seen two potential prototypes of Coriosolite motifs is Newgrange in Ireland, and that includes the very specific and highly important triple spiral, I was pleased to find that Diodorus, quoting the sixth century BC historian, Hecataeus, had said:
"Opposite to the coast of Celtic Gaul there is an island in the ocean, not smaller than Sicily, lying to the north, which is inhabited by Hyperboreans… Apollo visits the island once in the course of nineteen years in which period the stars complete their revolutions"
The nineteen years, of course, refers to what is now known as the Metonic cycle, but which is earlier than Meton of Athens. I do have some evidence, from Newgrange petroglyphs, that it is far earlier than its Babylonian usage. I will be discussing this in the next episode.

One of the most convincing connections to me comes from Strabo, and others reporting on the travels of Posidonius in the first century B.C., who tell of an island off the Armorican coast peopled by priestesses that worshipped a god at a temple that was roofed. It was their custom to unroof it once a year, insisting that it be roofed again before sunset. The most prevalent of all complex Armorican coin motifs is paralleled in Newgrange petroglyphs focused on the roof-box there that allows the sun's first rays at the dawn of the winter solstice to penetrate the inner chamber and light up the triple spiral there. Again, this will be discussed tomorrow, together with other strong mythological links.

Then, there were the messages between Euan MacKie and myself about the alignments at Maes Howe. I was not only able to confirm his connections, but to say that his observation was the only possible solution, based on mythological grounds, to the problem of vast numbers of Celtic deity names in a period way too short to encompass them all.

There will be detractors who are too lazy to do the research, or who have some personal grudge about my other activities ― aficionados of the yellow journalism which has crawled out of the woodwork and onto the Internet in recent years, and who use such unethical methods to influence even dimmer politicians, for reasons best known to themselves or perhaps their therapists ― but we will leave them to chew their cud, and I will be back tomorrow to give examples of  Megalithic petroglyphs and how they tie into later mythologies.

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