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How can Iron Age bronze objects inform us on the Irish Iron Age? Discuss.

How can Iron Age bronze objects inform us on the Irish Iron Age? Discuss.

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A discussion of the Irish Iron Age. The relevance of La Tene artefacts and metalworking within this period. The lack of material artefacts makes it difficult to construct a full picture.
A discussion of the Irish Iron Age. The relevance of La Tene artefacts and metalworking within this period. The lack of material artefacts makes it difficult to construct a full picture.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
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How can Iron Age bronze objects inform us on the Irish Iron Age?Discuss, using examples.
The Irish Iron Age differs from that on the Continent and Britain, there is no clear chronological progression between the Bronze Age and Iron Age due to the sparseamount of material evidence. Also there is limited evidence of Hallstatt influence, theLa Tene phase being predominant in the Irish Iron Age. The La Tene phase in Irelandis mostly represented through small artefacts and an art style, ‘the princely tombs, thegreat cemeteries, the “chariot-graves” and the distinctive pottery of Continental LaTene and its British counterparts are lacking’(O’Kelly 1989, 258). The La Teneartwork is characterised by a stylised curvilinear art primarily based on classicalmotifs such as ’leafy palmette forms, vines, tendrils and lotus flowers together withspirals, S-scrolls, lyre and trumpet shapes’ (Kelly 2002, 126). The lack of culturalevidence makes an accurate depiction of the lives of the Irish Iron Age peoplesdifficult, resulting in what has been referred to by some as a Dark Age in Irisharchaeology. Although there is evidence that iron was being used in Ireland, or atleast experimented with, ’bronzes, however, predominate. In casting and in sheetmetal-working, the Irish bronze smiths were the equal of any in Europe. They wereadept at using the lost wax process to create fine, three-dimensional casings, such asthe splendidly naturalistic bird’s head cup-handle from Keshcarrigan, County Leitrim’(Raftery 1991, 109). The reason for the deficiency of Irish Iron Age artefacts made of iron may largely be due to the perishable nature of iron rather than a lack of technological progression. In fact, the decreasing supply of bronze around this periodmade the transition to iron working imperative.
 
The Iron Age bronze objects found in Ireland are predominantly of a high-status,decorative nature. ‘La Tene art was given its greatest expression on the personalornaments and weapons of a warrior aristocracy’ (Kelly 2002, 126). This allows for interpretation of the lifestyles of the more elite members of society who had access tohighly-skilled craftspeople, whereas the lack of artefacts relating to those in a lower level of society makes analysis complicated. ‘In the archaeological record themajority population of Iron Age Ireland is largely underrepresented. These peopleexisted but we cannot see them‘ (Raftery 1994, 112). The important issue is to notcreate bias towards one stratum of Irish Iron Age society while disregarding the other due to lack of evidence.Although outside influences are present, it has been suggested the continuing demandfor high prestige items indicates that the Celtic influence was more benign than had been previously thought, ’it may well be that the organisation of society andsettlement in the Iron Age was along lines that had already become established in theLate Bronze Age. The appearance of high-quality La Tene metalwork which is such avisible aspect of the surviving evidence could have fulfilled a renewed demand for  prestige items’ (Cooney & Grogan 1999, 186). However, the lack of evidence for this period could indicate some type of social upheaval, possibly due to invasion, war, or even famine. One suggestion is that the Roman expansion in Britain caused an influxof British refugees in Ireland resulting in a direct influence on Irish technology andartistic style. The finds from a late 1
st
century cemetery on Lambray Island, CoDublin, seem to support this theory. There were a number of inhumation burialswhich contained skeletons, at least one of which was a warrior buried along with his
 
sword, shield and other types of ornaments. Apart from the style of burial being particularly Roman, the type of sword differs from the Irish style. The sword fromLambray had a long, heavy, parallel-sided blade, whereas the Irish style of sword hada shorter blade. The find at Lambray also contained five Roman brooches, two bracelets of jet and bronze and a bronze collar ornamented with bronze beads. ’Thecollar is of north British type dating to around the middle of the 1
st
century AD and it provides an important clue as to the origins of the persons interred on Lambray Island[…]. It is possible that the Lambray burials are those of refugees who fled to Irelandto escape the vengeance of their Roman conquerors’ (Kelly 2002, 130).Another aspect to consider is that the La Tene objects which dominate thearchaeological record of the Irish Iron Age were not found in all areas of Ireland. TheLa Tene artefacts were predominantly found in eastern Ulster and in a broad bandfrom Meath to Galway. Which limits interpretation of, and fails to give acomprehensive overview of the Irish Iron Age. Due to the proximity of theselocations to the coast, it is possible that the La Tene artefacts were imports rather thanmade locally. One example is a bronze sword hilt found in the seabed of Ballyshannon Bay in Co. Donegal. The bronze hilt contains a stylised human form,similar types of hilts were present in Britain and the on the Continent ’and theBallyshannon find has been considered an import representing direct contact betweenthe west of Ireland and France […] it certainly implies coastal traffic of somedescription in or around the 1
st
century BC’ (Waddell 1998, 302).However while the artistic style of Irish Iron Age artefacts is clearly influenced by theContinental and British La Tene, there are variations of style which are particularly

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