Communing With The Ancestors

Photo by Rosemania via Wikipedia.

Yesterday I was in London. The main reason for that was to interview Stuart Milk from the Harvey Milk Foundation. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that in the coming weeks. However, as I was there I took the opportunity to visit the Celts exhibition at the British Museum.

Of course the BM has a lot of great Celtic artifacts in their normal collection. The big question for this exhibition is what it could bring that you can’t see for free. As it turned out, the Museum had brought in items from all over the UK and other parts of Europe. I think it did rather well.

The highlight is undoubtedly the Gundestrup cauldron, an item that I have seen pictures of many times but have never viewed in person. Interestingly, despite the obvious Celtic imagery, it is believed to have been made in Thrace, silverwork of that type being unknown in the Celtic world.

The largest item on display is a reconstruction of a Brigante chariot, which I suspect would be even more impressive in motion than it is just sat there. The Snettisham Hoard certainly wins for bling but it is a BM regular so doesn’t count. In any case my favorite torc was this beautiful silver one on loan from a museum in Stuttgart. It is rare to see a torc with such naturalistic end pieces.

Other items of interest were two musical instruments, a gorgeous Irish harp and the Deskford Carnyx. There were also many items from the Christian era, and I discovered that the tradition of the distinctive Celtic ringed cross started because stonemasons were unable to prevent the arms of big crosses from falling off without the additional support.

The exhibition was at pains to point out (presumably primarily for American visitors) that the term “Celtic” has only recently been applied to native British peoples (and by “British” I mean “not English”). Greek and Roman writers never used the word to refer to the inhabitants of these islands. However, there is a distinct cultural connection between the British tribes and those continental peoples who were described as Celtic. It also demonstrated how Celtic artistic styles influenced Romano-British culture, and the art of Anglo-Saxon and Viking arrivals to the islands.

The so-called Celtic Revival was also part of the exhibition. I was particularly impressed by the Book of the White Earl, a collection of early Irish literature put together by an Irish earl in the early 15th Century. There was some fairly impressive Welsh cosplay nonsense too. We do seem to have a talent for inventing this stuff.

Druids dress and regalia © Medievalhistories

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