The Gcinbest Rup Cauldnon

In 1891 a large deeorated Celtic cauldron was discovered in the Raevemosen Bog at Gundestrup in Jutland, a province in northern Denmark. It was clearly a ceremonial vessel, and it had been dismantled into its component parts before being deposited in the bog. It is almost certain that it was placed there as a religious votive offering. Beyond that, historians have debated the significance and origin of the cauldron ever since.

Below: The

Gundestrup cauldron was deliberately dismantled, then placed in a Danish peatbog as a votive offering. The joints holding the seven panels to the lower bowl can be clearly seen.

I he Gundestrup cauldron was made from [gilded silv er, and consists ot 13 separate plates sitting around a rounded lower bowl. Each of the plates carries a bas-relief (repousse) portrayal of a religious scene. The iconography of the plates and the inner bowl is remarkable, and suggests a variety ol influences, although the majority of the images have Celtic associations.

Current research suggests that the cauldron was produced outside the Celtic world, possibly in Thrace, although this supposition is still hotly contested. Part of the confusion lies in the generic Indo-European nature of some of the iconography used to decorate the object. Jutland was also a Germanic area rather than a Celtic one, and it has been suggested that the piece was originally plundered from the Celts by the Germanic Cimbri people, who subsequently offered the cauldron up as a votive gift. What is most remarkable is the detail it provides about early Celtic society and belief, bringing together strands of Celtic mythology and religious practice that supports archaeological information gathered from throughout the Celtic world.

The cauldron was almost certainly a prized

Celtic Cauldron GoldCeltic Cauldron Gundestrup Faces

Left: Detail of one of the Gundestrup cauldron panels, showing the head of a Celtic deity holding two figures. Much of the complex iconography found on the cauldron is not fully understood.

religious object, and was probably used by the Celts for ritual purposes, such as the holding of sacrificial blood or even a small offering. The cauldron measures approximately 30 inches in diameter, and it is constructed using partially gilded silver. It has been dated to the first century BC, before the conquest of Gaul by the Romans and the collapse of the La Tene period culture.

Uncertain meanings

The outer surface of the plates surrounding the lower dished bowl carry the images of w-hat could be deities or mythical animals. The inside of the cauldron depicts a religious scene, possibly representing some sacrificial ritual. It shows a long procession of priests, nobles, and other people, accompanied by musicians, while a figure is lowered into a cauldron by a god or priest figure.

The inner base of the bowl is decorated with a scene showing a man brandishing a sword, standing over a sacrificed bull. A dog, a lizard, and other animals complete the scene. Even more enigmatic are the side pieces, produced by a different artist than the base. A seated god (probably Cernunnos, known as "the horned one"), a boy on a dolphin, a bearded god holding a wheel, and a series of mythical animals augment the faces of other deities.

The god Cernunnos surveys the proceedings, depicted sitting cross-legged with a ram-headed snake in one hand as a svmbol of worldly prosperity and power, and a Celtic neck ring (tore) in his other hand. The god is also shown wearing a similar tore around his neck. Tores of gold, silver, or bronze were common items of jewelry in the Celtic world, and usually seem to have been worn by people of high social status. Many depictions of Celtic deities include tores, and in almost every representation of Cernunnos the god is shown wearing one. The god is also shown wearing an antler head-dress, similar to one found at Hooks Cross in Hertfordshire in England, among fourth century ai) Romano-British artifacts. It is considered likely that Celtic priests wore these forms of headgear as part of a ritual that helped "unite" them with the natural world.

Mythical and exotic animals include elephants, a cat, deer, griffins, and a tiger. These differ from many-other mythical animals represented in Celtic art, and may indicate an eastern influence, although Celtic coins found elsewhere have carried images of elephants, and griffins have also been depicted in Celtic metalwork. Cattle were ritually slaughtered on a regular basis in the Celtic world. The sacrifice of bulls is depicted in two places on the cauldron, including the base. Whatever its function and its origin, the Gundestrup cauldron remains one of the most beautiful artifacts connected with the Celtic-world.

Celtics Migration Map
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