Monday, 16 March 2015

The Newark torc is going home

Newark torc
photo: Newark_and_Sedgeford_torcs_at_the_British_Museum
derivative work by BabelStone
A Celtic gold torc in the Snettisham (Norfolk) style will be going back to Newark, Nottinghamshire (the area of its discovery) in May. It is currently housed at the British Museum where it was originally being studied. Its new home will be the Newark Millgate Museum.

The Newark torc is variously described as being made of gold or electrum. Electrum is a natural or artificial alloy of gold and silver while the torc (like all British Celtic gold coins) is made from a three-part alloy of gold, silver and copper (with various impurities in small proportions). The British "Norfolk wolf stater" starts out in a yellow gold alloy and then later becomes more debased through the addition of mainly silver but also copper until it appears first silvery and then coppery. The latter appearance coins are usually described as copper cores and assumed to be plated forgeries of the same period. It is possible, I think, that some of these "cores" are "official" coins that are at the end of a long period of debasement. Some of the Snettisham torcs are also very base. The same situation happened with the coins of the Durotriges. One type started in so-called "white-gold" (modern white gold usually is of a gold nickel alloy that is rhodium plated, and not the heavy silver gold alloy of the coins) and eventually became bronze.

How the torc came to be found in Corieltauvi, instead of Iceni territory is unknown. There were certainly many connections between the two neighbouring tribes and I would think that it was a high status gift or political tribute, although a captured piece cannot be ruled out. We cannot be sure, however, that either the torcs or the wolf staters are actually products of the Iceni or are from an unknown tribe that maintained a separate identity within the larger tribe's territory. Little is known about the geographical foci of the various Iceni types, and why different types in different alloys exist within the territory. Iceni coin hoards seem to be later hoards of earlier coins and original distribution patterns have yet to be discovered. I have an idea, though, on how this might be done.

I am always pleased when the museum that gets to display such pieces is close to the find spot.

For another example of the Snettisham style from my own collection see:

British Celtic Snettisham-style strap junction which I purchased from a shop in York.

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