Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: part two

Charles Darwin in 1855, four years before the publication
of On the Origin of Species
Celtosceptism can be favourably compared to Creationism and Intelligent Design. This dawned on me yesterday while I was listening to Scientific American's podcast: Evolution Still on Trial 10 Years after Dover. The John Collis video seems to soften the more cultist opinions of Celtosceptism while maintaining the idea that there was no unified Celtic culture just as attempts to have Intelligent Design has avoided the terms Creationism and Intelligent Design in the wording of proposed bills to have the subject included in American school's science classes. The interview with Nicholas Matzke reveals how he applied the dna signal of common ancestry to the texts of these bills and found (appreciating its humorous aspect) that Creationism, itself, has evolved over time.

But the comparison does not end there: the idea that there was no unified Celtic culture when applied to both Celtic art and Celtic religion is the same as envisioning discrete creations of species unconnected through evolution. If that were the case, it would be the only example of its kind in all of human history.

In Christopher A. Snyder, The Britons, 2003, the author introduces Celtoscepticism saying:
"There is much that is sensible in these provocative critiques. But why have the Celts been chosen as the target? Are not such ‘mongrel nations’ as the Romans, the Germans, the English, the French – not to mention the Russians and the Americans – equally susceptible to such criticism? Each of these peoples has long possessed a diversity of languages, cultures, and races within the larger group. If we follow to the letter current anthropological theory on ethnic identity, can we make any generalization of peoples? If all identity is locally or even individually determined, can we write any group history?"
By applying evolutionary principles, the nature of this unification of Celtic culture can be easily determined providing that we have enough examples to work with. I was very fortunate to realize that the coins of the Coriosolite tribe issued during the Gallic War had enough variety in their design elements to suggest that an evolutionary process was taking place in the minds of their die-cutters. Eventually, I was able to chart their "genome" in my book Celtic Improvisations: An Art Historical Analysis of Coriosolite Coins , British Archaeological Reports(BAR) International Series 1092, 2002 which you can now download for free. It was the first application of evolutionary cladistics in archaeology. The project soon expanded in its scope to go beyond a fine-tuned chronology of ancient dies by their manufacture rather than by their use (which has never been done before or since) to an evolutionary study of ancient Celtic art and religion.

John Collis does not mention E. M. (Martyn) Jope in his video presentation and in the paper The Sheffield origins of Celtic Art upon which it is based. His posthumously finished (by Ian Stead) and published work Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Oxford, 2000 is the standard reference to British early Celtic art, replacing Sir Cyril Fox, Pattern and Purpose: A Survey of Early Celtic Art in Britain which is out of print but can be purchased, used, through the link I give. Martyn Jope was Paul Jacobsthal's assistant and the book was originally going to name both as co-authors. You can still find remnants of that within the work with the use of "we" in places. Yet Collis ends his history with Jacobsthal and jumps immediately to the modern Celtosceptic views. Perhaps this omission was based in part on what Jope says on page 1 of his work:
"Chapter 3 shows something of the genesis of insular Celtic art*. We give an extensive survey of early iron weapons (mainly daggers and swords, with their bronze fittings) and also of brooches, from the sixth century on into the first century B.C., less for their art (often stiff or halting) than for their clear demonstration of a steady continuity in distinctive insular workshop practice from the sixth century onwards, at least in southern Britain -- substantial craft traditions within which an insular Celtic art could be developed. The initiating stimuli for this rise evidently came from Europe, yet at the crucial time, the fourth-third centuries B.C.,  we can point to practically no imported pieces that might have served as potential exemplars; the new ideas and skills must have come largely in the minds and hands of men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers.

"* (actually footnote 2) It now seems possible, more than it did in 1944 (ECA, pp. xi 156-7), to show in a similar way how this genesis came about in Celtic Europe also, for we can see mid-fifth-century craftsmen in central and western Europe using primarily Greek or other southerly themes to fashion their own designs and details, or taking over the Etruscan bulging physiognomy to create their own counterpart (review of J. V. S. Megaw, Ulster J. Archaeol., 34 (1971), 116)."
 The above quote clearly describes the exact nature of the genesis of British Early Celtic art and Collis' presentation design (as so often happens with Celtic topics) rewrites history to favour the current clique members. Jope was made of different stuff. In the link I gave to his obituary it says:
"He was utterly opposed to any form of time- serving administration, pomposity or narrow-mindedness. A student with an idea was sure of the same welcome and courtesy as a fellow professor. Power and the outward trappings of fame left him cold, and he was ill- equipped for the empire-building of academic politics; it was very rare to hear him say anything malicious about anyone."
and in an autograph letter to me of 15th Januaury 1989 he finishes by saying "What a pleasure to find so deeply informed an interest in Celtic antiquities in far-off Calgary!"

I will continue with part two of this post on Monday 4th January as I thought that the winter solstice, today, would be a good time to start my annual winter break from blogging. In the second part I will demonstrate the evolutionary nature of British Celtic art through a further examination of the earliest example of the so-called "British trumpet" design which Collis mentions in a much later context in his talk. It appears on a finial (most likely a sword pommel) in my collection and is the only British-produced example of Jacobsthal's "plastic style". It was made by one of those "men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers" and his work, of which this is the only surviving example, changed the course of British Celtic art. Seasons greetings to all of my readers!

John's Coydog Community page

No comments:

Post a Comment