Ultimate La Tne and the midfirst millennium background

Any attempt to trace influences in later Insular art styles from earlier La Tène traditions has invariably stumbled over the vexed problem of the hiatus between the end of Roman occupation in Britain and the appearance from the seventh century of metal-work, sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts of the Early Christian period. In Ireland, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that contact with the Roman world was limited. In Scotland, the earliest acceptable date for the appearance of Class I symbol stones has generally been the sixth century; in the absence of contextual associations to provide archaeological dates, dating has conventionally been on art-historical grounds, drawing comparisons between sculpture and manuscript art, which has tended to be a self-fulfilling circular argument in support of a late chronology.

A key artefact that spans this chronological hiatus is the zoomorphic penannular brooch, a type that is generally regarded as derivative from Romano-British penannular brooches, in which the terminals assume the form of a highly stylized, reversed animal's head (Figure 11.1). The type is distributed in Ireland in the central belt and north-east of the country, with evidence for at least one major production centre at Clogher in Co. Tyrone in the fifth and sixth centuries. According to Kilbride-Jones (1980), the successive variants of zoomorphic penannular brooches were being produced between the third and sixth centuries. Already by the fourth century, in his scheme, brooch terminals bore curvilinear designs against an enamelled background, including a kind of triskele or quadriskele, compressed to fit the sub-triangular terminal, in which the pseudo-spirals were almost interlocking yin-yangs. Furthermore, these pseudo-spirals were themselves commonly linked by a peltate loop, as on the two large brooches from Athlone (Figure 11.1, 1 and 2) creating the selfsame motif that in developed form characterizes later manuscript art and some of the later 'Pictish'

Clogher Zoomorphic
Figure 11.1 Irish zoomorphic penannular brooches. 1, 2, from River Shannon near Athlone, Co. Westmeath; 3, from Lough Neagh, Co. Antrim. Adapted from Kilbride-Jones (1980).

cross-slabs. Reminiscent of earlier La Tene styles are the S-chains or stacked lyres of the large brooch from Lough Neagh (Figure 11.1, 3). The later zoomorphic penannular brooches are technically still more advanced, employing millefiori as well as enamel insets, anticipating the greater technical accomplishments of the seventh century.

As evidence for the survival of Celtic motifs, archaeologists have pointed to hanging-bowl escutcheons of fifth to seventh century date (Figure 11.2), clearly reflecting Celtic craftsmanship and artistic traditions rather than Anglo-Saxon, despite their distribution, which is concentrated in eastern and south-eastern England, with relatively few outliers in the Celtic west. The paired 'spirals' linked by peltate loop, alternating

Hanging Bowl
Figure 11.2 Hanging-bowl escutcheons. 1, Baginton, Warwickshire; 2, Manton Common, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, escutcheon inside bowl; 3, Manton Common hook-escutcheon. Adapted from Bruce-Mitford (1987).

inwards and outwards, forming a double-four composition at Chesterton-on-Fosseway had been noted by Romilly Allen (1904), and the same components are closely replicated in a double-three grouping on the Winchester hanging-bowl mount. These are essentially the same elements that are found on the developed cross-slabs at Nigg and Shandwick, or indeed on a carpet page from the Book of Durrow. What makes the comparison more telling is that the motif is not really of paired spirals, since the points of junction of the paired peltae are really yin-yang couplings. Another variant on a long-standing La Tene motif is the S-chain scrolls of Manton Common (Figure 11.2, 2) and Baginton (Figure 11.2, 1), for example, which is almost exactly replicated on the infilling of the double-disc motifs of the Class I stone from Dunnichen.

These same elements are found in simpler designs on hand-pins of the fourth to seventh centuries. Stevenson (1955) saw the hand-pin as a development out of ring-headed pins in which the ring-head was embellished with beading, or more specifically from a variant in which the beading was restricted to the upper part of the ring, which he termed a proto-hand-pin. These were assigned at Traprain Law to the late third or early fourth centuries ad, and the hand-pin was thus seen as extending from that date until the seventh or eighth centuries. A silver proto-hand-pin with pelta-based design from Oldcroft, Gloucestershire, is dated by association to the late Roman period, and a similar example from Castletown, Kilpatrick, Co. Meath, is not typologically much later. The silver-plated hand-pin from the latter site with yin-yang loops raises problems if there really was a lapse of a couple of centuries between proto-hand-pins and true hand-pins. O Floinn (2001), in consequence, has argued that hand-pins should probably begin rather earlier than the conventional late sixth- or seventh-century date. Moulds for hand-pins from Beirgh, Riof, in the west of Lewis (Harding and Gilmour, 2000) came from contexts radiocarbon dated to a span between the third and fifth centuries, and the moulds from Loch Olabhat, North Uist, would endorse this earlier dating. Several of the Irish hand-pins included enamelling, and one even includes elements of millefiori glass. These are all probably of late sixth- or seventh-century date. Possibly from the sixth century are two silver disc-headed pins (Figure 11.3), unprov-enanced and not certainly of Irish rather than Northern British manufacture, which not only bear sub-peltate curvilinear designs on the disc, but have panels of ornament on the upper section of their shafts, as if they could have been products of the same workshop. That from the Londesborough collection includes on its shaft S-chain and pelta-scroll with swelling leaf designs that genuinely hark back to earlier La Tène fashions.

In Scotland too, the silver hand-pins like those from Gaulcross and Norrie's Law (Figure 11.4) are conventionally regarded as seventh-century products, though the silver pin from Oldcroft might suggest that they were earlier derivatives of southern models. The Norrie's Law pin with symbol on the reverse incised before the addition of the pin shank perhaps suggests that the pin had originally been attached slightly lower to the head, being modified over a long period of use. The silver plaque with its repoussé trumpet spirals really should belong to an earlier horizon. Its similarity in motif and execution to the ornament of the Deskford carnyx, and to the series of Irish repoussé-ornamented discs of the Monasterevin series, suggests a probable date in the second quarter of the first millennium ad rather than much later. While the Norrie's Law hoard was doubtless not deposited until the seventh century, as conventional wisdom insists, it is extraordinary that commentators who acknowledge the indisputably Roman contents of the hoard as late survivals refuse to admit the possibility of 'native' survivals from a similar period.

The dating dilemma hinges upon the conflict between art-historical and archaeological approaches. Stevenson insisted (1993) upon tying all the archaeological evidence to the horizon of the illuminated manuscripts, and in a derivative relationship to them; hence the seventh century was a terminus post quem for the appearance of animal or abstract designs on sculpture and metal-work alike. Archaeologically, the evidence of radiocarbon dates and associated artefacts like E-ware at Dunadd certainly argues for the production of prestige metal-work like Type G penannular brooches and Type H large annular brooches of the Hunterston class in the seventh century, and very

1st Century Pictish Celtic Art
Figure 11.3 Irish hand-pins. A: unprovenanced from Londesborough collection © Copyright the Trustees of The British Museum; B: unprovenanced from Ireland. Photo National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

probably nearer 600 than much later (Campbell and Lane, 1993; Lane and Campbell, 2000). In fact, it is now clear that Dunadd played a pivotal role in the integration of Celtic and Germanic styles in Dal Riata in the seventh century that resulted in the Hiberno-Saxon style of the illuminated manuscripts. The relationship between the secular capital at Dunadd and the monastic centre at Iona, and indeed the relationship between secular and religious authorities in Northern Britain and Ireland generally, is crucial to an understanding of the political, social and economic environment that generated the material expression of later Celtic art.

Radiocarbon dates and E-ware pottery were indicative of sixth- or early seventh-century activity at the now destroyed hill-fort of Clatchard Craig in Fife (Close-Brooks,

Norries Law Hoard
Figure 11.4 The Norrie's Law, Fife, silver hoard. 1, spiral-bossed plaque; 2 and 3, hand-pins; 4 and 5, oval plaques. Adapted from MacGregor (1976).

1986), though mould fragments for a large, Clunie type of penannular brooch may indicate a longer span of occupation on the site. Among the metal-work assemblage, a small copper alloy disc was ornamented with triple paired-spirals linked with peltate loops in the hanging-bowl style. Furthermore, a bronze open-work mount with trumpet mouldings, which in Roman military contexts would be assigned to the second or third century, together with a bead and glass fragment that should date from the fifth century, could indicate earlier beginnings. While such objects could evidently be survivals, it seems perverse to insist upon a seventh-century and later horizon, when probability suggests that some major centres in Northern Britain were active from an earlier post-Roman date.

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