Craftsmen and production

Despite the fact that archaeological classification for more than a century and a half has been based upon the Three Age technological model, actual metal-working sites or evidence for the role of craftsmen is remarkably sparse in the archaeological record. Settlement sites may yield what is uncritically described as 'slag' (begging the question which stage in the metal-working process it represents), but in minimal quantities compared to the actual by-product of bronze or iron-working on even a limited scale. Crucibles and fragments of moulds are found, but again it is not always taphonomi-cally clear that they represent in situ activity. Excavated evidence of metal-working was recovered from the late Hallstatt occupation at the Heuneburg in south-west Germany, where a 'workshop quarter' was identified on the basis of smelting furnaces and related structures. Graphic testimony of metal-working on site was provided by the casting mould for a 'Silenus mask' for the handle attachment of an Etruscan bronze flagon. In Britain and Ireland several hill-forts of later Bronze Age and Iron Age date have yielded evidence of bronze-working, notably Rathgall in Co. Wicklow (Raftery, 1976; 1994a), the Breiddin in North Wales (Musson, 1991) and South Cadbury in Somerset (Barrett et al., 2000), though the structures associated with this activity are rather ephemeral in each case. By the late La Tene period, iron production in quantity is attested by the profusion of iron implements from the oppidum at Manching in Bavaria, though the structural evidence here, and at Kelheim, where the volume of slag indicates very large-scale production of iron, amounts to broken debris from furnaces and hearths for smelting and smithing. The problem archaeologically in locating the actual production sites is hardly surprising. Because of noxious fumes and risks of fire, industrial processing was likely to be located away from the focus of settlement, and ethnographic evidence suggests that the mystique attached to the smiths' craft may equally have set them aside from the domestic community.

Professional metal-working, however, was not restricted to hill-forts or oppida. The scale of production at Gussage All Saints, Dorset, was sufficient to convince Spratling (1979, 141) that it was not simply a seasonal activity. Furthermore, it is clear that output was concentrated on the production of harness equipment and chariot fittings rather than everyday domestic goods. A similar pattern of specialization is reflected in the later Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland, as at Beirgh in west Lewis and Eilean Olabhat in North Uist. It is evident, therefore, that metal-working was conducted at a variety of levels, from the professional and specialist to the seasonal and domestic, and that the archaeological evidence for these activities, other than through the products themselves, might prove hard to recover.

Iron ore is widely available across Europe, and it is probable that local supplies were exploited without necessitating extensive mining operations. Copper and tin, on the other hand, did require deeper mining. Information regarding mining techniques, and more especially about the communities involved in mining, is less easily inferred. Modern research at the salt-mine settlement at Durrnberg-bei-Hallein (Stollner, 2003) paints a bleak picture of conditions underground, with miners suffering from parasite infestation and child labour making up a significant part of the workforce. It is hard to reconcile this with the relative wealth of graves from the early La Tene cemetery, probably not of the miners themselves, but of the wealthy elite that controlled the highly productive output of salt and salt-cured beef. Stylistic similarities between the flagon from grave 112 at the Durrnberg and that from the Glauberg in Hessen argue for long-distance networks among the master craftsmen and their patrons, but there is no reason to assume that the manual labourers of the mining community enjoyed the benefits of their wealth creation.

Indicative of the status of craftsmen in Celtic society are occasional examples of burials, such as graves 469 and 697 at Hallstatt, or in some of the Celtiberian warrior-graves, in which tools are included among grave-goods. On the basis of Urnfield and Hallstatt graves in Central Europe with metal-working accessories, Anthony Harding (2000, 239-40) has suggested that bronze-smiths may have been accorded special treatment in death as in life. Pauli raised the possibility that the early La Tene chariot-burial at the La Gorge-Meillet burial might have been that of a master craftsman on the basis of its possible association with hammer, punches and related tools (Pauli, 1978, 459). Whether we recognize the role of warrior-craftsman depends again upon whether we regard grave-goods as 'possessions' or symbols of office of the deceased, whether we view them as votive offerings, or whether they are indicative of those groups in society who contributed to the funerary rites. At any rate, it underscores the dangers of simplistic interpretation.

The relative absence of evidence for metal-working, more especially for permanent metal-working sites or workshops, encouraged Childe's (1930, 44ff) belief that bronze-workers were full-time craftsmen, but operating on a peripatetic basis from village to village, a model that has proved remarkably enduring. The Megaws endorsed this model for the early La Tene period (1995, 357), though recognizing the probability of some static workshops in princely patronage. Certainly the wide-ranging sources of supply and specialist skills implicit in prestige objects like the Basse-Yutz flagons implies mobility of materials, skills and ideas, but this need not mean an independent class of itinerant craftsmen. Craftsmen may indeed have been mobile, but more probably within the constraints of a hierarchically-controlled society. Recognizing the products of individual workshops or 'schools' on the basis of stylistic similarities, therefore, is a tenuous principle. Technical traits, like those displayed by the Rodenbach series of balluster rings or Haffner's (1979) Weiskirchen type of gold-leaf plaques, on the other hand, may be a more reliable indicator of the distribution area of a workshop or related 'guild' of craftsmen. In particular, the use of a specific formula in the compass-drawn designs of the latter might be evidence of the exclusive or 'secretive' nature of some groups of artists.

Ethnographic analogies (Rowlands, 1971) suggest a variety of models for the role of metal-workers in non-state societies, and it seems probable that in Iron Age Europe, given the range of craft skills involved and the great diversity of production, several different systems were in operation. Some undoubtedly involved long-distance sources of supply, of amber or coral, for instance; other more basic needs, such as supplies of iron ore, could have been met from local resources. It is inherently unlikely that the warrior elite would have relied upon itinerant tinkers for their weapons and defensive armour, and the employment of master-craftsmen under princely patronage seems probable too for the finer pieces of personal ornament, even if the individual specialists in sheet bronze-work, lost-wax casting, ornamental engraving, gem-setting, gold-working and the like were drawn from a wider pool through diplomatic liaisons.

An important and under-used source of potential light on the role of craftsmen in Celtic society is early Irish or Welsh literary sources (Gillies, 1979). Recognizing the pitfalls of treating these as a 'window on the Iron Age' (Jackson, 1964), they nevertheless articulate traditions that could well have had a greater antiquity. Gillies identified several recurrent themes that he believed might have a 'respectable antiquity' in Ireland and Wales. One of these was the belief in a triad of craft gods, Goibniu the smith, cognate to the Roman Vulcan, Luchta the wright and Creidne the bronze-smith, all linked by their role in providing spears used in battle by the ruling

Tuatha De Danann. Though there is no basis for assuming a pan-Celtic pantheon on the basis of insular evidence, it seems likely that smiths with particular attributions featured in the supernatural cosmology of the European Iron Age. A second recurrent theme from early Celtic literature, not just in reference to the supernatural or mythological world, but apparently in everyday life as well, is the high regard accorded to craftsmen. The smith 'from his role as armourer in a warlike society, and from his part in the creation of ornament and decoration for an intensely vain honour-culture' (Gillies, 1979, 75) was rewarded for providing through his craft endorsement of the social hierarchy that the poet provided in words. Master-craftsmen were thus ranked among freemen together with the physician, whose graves equally have been identified archaeologically by their associated assemblages. It seems possible that some of these specialized craft skills were hereditary, but the early Irish historical and genealogical texts also offer clues to the possible existence of 'occupational castes' or perhaps communities whose tribal deity was associated with particular occupational skills.

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