Thursday, 12 March 2015

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

British Celtic miniature terret ring

A bit smaller than a quarter, this was the first Celtic antiquity
that I purchased. These miniature terrets are sometimes
called "votive" but I think that they are just simple strap ends.
The miniature terret ring illustrated here was the first Celtic object I bought that was not a coin. It was about thirty years ago, I didn't have much money to spend at a Calgary coin show I was attending, but there was a British dealer there who had brought a few metal-detector finds including a mixed lot of bronze harness rings of a wide date range. I saw a typically crude fifteenth century ring among the lot which seemed to be mostly Roman (although there is usually little hard evidence for the date of a plain harness ring). Happily, the dealer was not selling everything as "Celtic ring money" which commonly happens on Ebay. I saw the Celtic miniature terret and bought it at once. Like all of the rings, it was only three dollars.

What identified it to me as British Celtic was that it was in the form of a swelled ring (or a ring with an off-centre hole). Being now mostly interested in applied decoration, such items that were in my collection have all been sold off to buy more interesting (and often expensive) items. But I kept this one as it was the first of the collection.

That is the thing about collecting. I have noticed that some metal detectorists (when asked by an archaeologist) what interests them about their hobby, they will usually say "It's the history". That's the problem with "surveys", often, people will give the answer they think is expected or that will meet with some approval. While history is undoubtedly one of the interests of most metal detectorists, I think that it really is a constellation of interests that inspire detectorists. Besides the history of any area, there is the thrill of discovery; there can be friendly competition between detectorists; it can even be a joy just to get out in the country; any find will be a permanent reminder of the time of its discovery and thus also of associated events. The history is also personal: it is part of the discoverer's life and the significance of a discovery can be expressed in a multitude of ways. I have just mentioned a few of the commoner reasons.

Lower linchpin terminal, Dobunni,
1st cent. AD, Width: 24mm.
All of these experiences, together, can lead to certain themes. I found the linchpin terminal (mentioned also in an update to another item) on the left on an Ebay auction. Again, the swelled ring made an appearance. It was also shown (with a blurry small photograph that did not show most of the decoration) in a price guide of antiquities with an absurdly low price. I was battling it out with a bidder from the Netherlands and I won it at about $500. I was very pleased with the result and the only slight problem was that I could not afford to spend $500 at that time. Of course, I had many other things in my collection that I liked a lot less, and a friend is a dealer in such things. That was why I sold my British A gold stater. I can buy another British A pretty well any time the fancy and finances permit. I would like to buy the upper terminal for this linchpin but it probably has not been discovered yet.

The next, and final example of the swelled ring in my current collection is a fairly recent purchase (see here, here, and there. this type of strap junction is known only from an inferior and fragmentary example excavated at Camulodunum (Colchester) and first published in 1947.

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)"

So why this interest of mine in the swelled ring? That it is a design that appeared on my first Celtic antiquity certainly has something to do with it, but the other two items shown here also have other, applied, decorative elements and through the comparison of these we gain context for dating and otherwise attributing other objects. Context is not just about the relative positions of often disparate objects in an archaeological excavation, and while not even find spots are recorded for these things, the context that they provide is far more informative than if they had been discovered as parts of archaeological excavations. Most of this type of material is not found in stratified sites in Britain but as accidental losses and more rarer, votive offerings. The reason that the context of each design element is important is because it connects ideas and not just the happenstances of things being abandoned. I learned all that through my work on Coriosolite coins. Familiarity with artistic devices can lead to the identification of specific workshops and mints and while we cannot find their exact location, the distribution patterns will usually give a rough location. We can also track the development and influences of design.

However, had I not found a three dollar miniature terret at a coin show, I might not even have started collecting early Celtic art, and you would never get an opportunity to see the photographs and read the descriptions. Who knows?

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