Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Second British find of the early Celtic plastic style

Linchpin terminal of the Celtic plastic style,
Cambridgeshire, 3rd century BC
photo: Reused under UK Open Government License 
Yesterday, my friend Kyri emailed me to tell me that another example of the plastic style (scroll down on linked page) was discovered in Cambridgeshire about three months after I published the first example from my own collection and which was found in Oxfordshire. He was told about this by its former owner, Dr. Costas Paraskevaides of Art Ancient who had generously donated the object to the British Museum while it was still undergoing a review for an export permit. (Case 16).

It seems, from the mention of it being assigned two of the three Waverley criteria, that an export permit would not have been issued. This is hardly surprising: an assistant keeper and a retired keeper of the British Museum both expressed regret that the identification and significance of my own example had been missed and that it had been issued an export permit. Just about everyone core to the subject of early Celtic art had heard of my example after Vincent Megaw had spread the word about it. It was a very exciting discovery of art-historical and archaeological significance even as a stray find (which is most typical for this sort of material).

Correct identification is often a problem for such extremely rare examples of an art style not widely understood. The latest example has been described as 4th century BC but it is really of the 3rd century BC (or just afterward). My finial example was first described by a dealer as a "decorative pin", but I am almost certain that it is a sword pommel and it has iron within its ferrule. This latest example was first thought to be sword pommel, but now it is understood to be the top terminal of a linchpin.

The shape of the linchpin is typical for continental examples, but not for the British, and to the best of my knowledge, no such shape nor anything similar is recorded from Britain. This does not mean that it is not British however, after all, we have only two British finds of the style.

The first discovered example of the British plastic style:
MD find, Oxfordshire, 2009, published Nov. 2013 (my coll.)
Although it seems most likely that the two objects are from the same workshop, there is a possibility that the linchpin is from a continental workshop as it is more of a bas-relief style than the finial in which the triskele design is bent at 90 degrees and flows from the top of the finial to its sides. Both, however, display the trumpet shapes common in British early Celtic art, but formerly known from later examples.

Fortunately, there is a simple test to determine whether it is of British manufacture: if an XRF analysis reveals a high (up to about 0.3%) cobalt content paired with a very much smaller nickle content, then it is British. I would expect (or at least hope) that the British Museum will have such an analysis performed. Early Celtic art can be full of surprises so it is best not to assume anything until the results are in.

The Catch 22 in all of this is that by my publication of new Celtic finds, I am making it more possible for export permits to be refused which is going to reduce my own acquisitions. I have no intentions of donating my own example (other than perhaps leaving it to my family) but I might be convinced to sell it to the U.K. at a considerable reduction of any appraised value. Years of study of this material deserves some reward and, unlike academia, career advancement is only open to those with careers.

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