Ancient Celtic Torcs

Ancient Celtic Torcs

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In ancient Celtic cultures, torcs were a common form of jewellery and were made from bronze, copper, silver, and gold. Torcs were not just exquisite works of Celtic art but also identified the wearer’s status and perhaps were believed to have spiritual properties. Depictions of gods and Celtic warriors in ancient art often show these figures wearing a torc around their necks. Many surviving torcs have been found in shallow pits, most likely put there for a ritual purpose as a votive offering or simply for safekeeping, and, with some weighing over a kilo (2.2 lbs) in gold, they were certainly a handy and sometimes highly decorative form of portable wealth.

Torc Designs

Torcs (sometimes spelt torques, from the Latin) were meant to be worn around the neck and wrist and have been found across Celtic Europe from Iberia to Bohemia. They were not, however, unique to Celtic cultures despite their strong association with this form of jewellery. Torcs were worn by men, women, and probably children, too.

Celtic torcs were made using metals such as gold, silver, copper, iron, and bronze. They are formed either with smooth, hollow, or twisted bands. Several bands could be twisted around themselves or spiralled around a core of iron or even wood. Some torcs have been given extra shine using the mercury gilding technique which leaves a pure gold surface after the mercury has been evaporated under heat.

Torcs likely had a spiritual symbolism, & it is perhaps for this reason depictions in art of Celtic gods often show them wearing torcs.

Many Celtic torcs have terminals which are fat rings but other types exist, such as in the form of serpent heads, an animal associated with strength and abundance. Examples from Spain and Portugal sometimes have a very thin band and heavy terminals shaped like an hourglass. In contrast, the gold torc from the 5th-century BCE Vix hoard in Burgundy, France, has spherical terminals and a small winged horse where the terminal and rope sections meet. The Niederzier hoard found near Düren in Germany (1st century BCE) has gold bracelets which appear to be torcs with prominent terminals but are complete rings. Then there is an unusual example of a torc with a twisted form like a corkscrew and with disc terminals, which was found in the Stirling Hoard from Stirlingshire, Scotland (300-100 BCE). Finally, in Roman Britain in the 1st and 2nd century CE a new form of torc was created which had a flat bar and a line of multiple beads at the terminals. A fine example of this type is the copper alloy Lochar Moss torc from Scotland, which now resides in the British Museum in London.

Ritual Offerings or Safe Deposits?

The Stirling hoard and many others like it consisted of several torcs buried together in shallow pits but whether this was as a votive offering or merely as a safe deposit is difficult to determine. The presence of coins with torcs might hint at the latter purpose but the sheer quantity of gold in some hoards would suggest they were too valuable to be owned by a single person or family and so perhaps these were ritual hotspots which generations of people dedicated valuables to over many years. This idea of a scared area is further supported by such hoards as the Snettisham hoard in England (see below) which consisted of 12 separate deposits. Quite why such a plain landscape without any geographical features of note was considered sacred remains a mystery. Another hint at a ritual burial is the fact that in some hoards where multiple torcs have been found each bracelet has been threaded through another to form a chain. Of course, too, the two ideas may run together: deposits were made for both ritual purposes and as a means of safekeeping these objects, protected as they were by the sacredness of the site. One thing which is more certain is that torcs are surprisingly rare in male burials and more common in the tombs of women and girls, where they are most often made of bronze.

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Gods & Torcs

Torcs likely had a spiritual symbolism, and it is perhaps for this reason depictions in art of Celtic gods often show them wearing or holding torcs. Perhaps the most famous examples can be seen in the Gundestrup Cauldron, a c. 100 BCE silver and partially gilded vessel with rich relief decoration. An interior panel of the cauldron shows a godlike figure with antlers sitting cross-legged and wearing a torc around his neck. The figure also holds a torc in his right hand. In addition, several of the godlike figures on the exterior of the cauldron are wearing torcs around their necks. In addition, the horned figure identified as Cernunnos on the 1st-century CE Gallo-Roman Nautae Parisiaci monument has a torc hanging from each of his horns. Another possible depiction of Cernunnos, this time in the form of a 1st-century BCE bronze figure found in Bouray near Paris, has him wearing a torc around his neck. Finally, another famous sculpture, the sandstone Mšecké Žehrovice head from the Czech Republic, which dates to around the 2nd century BCE, also wears a thick torc around the neck.

However, despite the numerous depictions in art across Celtic Europe, the precise symbolic significance of torcs to the ancient Celts is not known. As with other precious objects like Celtic bronze shields, torcs were given as votive offerings to gods. The historian Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, writing in the 1st century BCE, recorded that a gold torc was dedicated to the goddess Minerva in Massilia by Catamandus, a Gaul prince.

Warriors & Torcs

Celtic warriors of higher status frequently wore jewellery of gold, bronze, or iron around their necks and wrists as a mark of their rank in society. Many Celtic warriors wore a torc necklace, and depictions in art show this, the most famous example being the Dying Gaul statue of the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The marble figure dates to c. 230-220 BCE and was commissioned by Attalos of Pergamon (r. 241-197 BCE) in honour of his victory over the Galatians. The Greek historian Polybius (c. 208-125 BCE) noted that the Gauls who invaded Italy in 225 BCE wore gold necklaces and bracelets. When this Celtic army was defeated their torcs and battle standards were hung up for public display in the Capitol of Rome. The Roman writer Cassius Dio (c. 164 - c. 229/235 CE) describes Boudicca (d. 61 CE), chief of the Iceni, as wearing a twisted gold necklace in battle. Finally, Diodorus Siculus of Sicily, writing in the 1st century BCE, noted of Celtic warriors:

They amass a great quantity of gold which is used for ornament not only by the women but also by the men. They wear bracelets on their wrists and arms, and heavy necklaces of solid gold, rings of great value and even gold corselets.

(in Allen, 21)

Torcs perhaps were thought to in some way protect the wearer just as animal totems were carried on shields and swords. In that case, they were not always successful, and enemies of the Celts were certainly happy to collect torcs as war trophies. In 361 BCE, one Roman general, Titus Manlius, was even given the nickname Torquatus after he defeated and killed a warrior chief from Gaul in single combat and then took his torc as a victory prize. A much more spectacular haul was made in 191 BCE when a Roman army defeated a Celt army at Bologna and amassed a war booty of 1,500 gold torcs.

The celts themselves may well have considered torcs, if not as a currency per se, at least as a handy form of portable wealth, especially so when an army was on the move. Nevertheless, that this particular form of jewellery did have some significance other than the value of its material is evident in such instances as the gift the Gauls gave the Roman emperor Augustus (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE), a massive gold torc far too heavy to ever wear. The Roman appreciation of torcs certainly continued long after they had conquered Celtic tribes. Roman soldiers often wore miniature torcs on their chest armour, which had been given as a reward for valour. From these miniaturised torcs a popular form of jewellery then developed; the penannular brooch.

The Snettisham Great Torc

The Snettisham Great Torc was part of the Celtic Snettisham burial hoard found near the village of Snettsham in Norfolk, England. It was discovered by accident by a farmer ploughing his field in 1950 CE. Today it is on display in the British Museum. Made using a gold alloy (the other metals are silver and copper), it weighs a little over one kilo (2.2 lbs) and was meant to be worn around the neck. It measures 56 cm (22 in) in diameter and dates to 150-50 BCE. It was likely buried around 50 BCE, a date suggested by the lucky presence of a coin which was stuck in one of the terminals and radiocarbon data from wooden objects found near it. Other objects buried with the torc in a small pit were a sheet gold bracelet and several other gold torcs, including one which was broken. On top of the gold torcs was a layer of soil and then another group of silver torcs. Collectively, these objects are known as the Snettisham burial hoard.

The body of the Great Torc is composed of 64 strands which are twisted into eight ropes, each comprising eight strands. Each individual strand is 1.9 mm (0.07 in) thick. The two terminals are highly decorative. The terminals are hollow and were cast using moulds and welded to the ropes. The terminals mix embossed areas with chased 'basketwork', the craftworker using very fine tools to achieve this and to sharpen up the cast work and remove any imperfections.

The Belstead Brook Torc

The Belstead Brook torc was part of a hoard of five gold torcs found near Belstead Brook, Ipswich, England in 1968 CE. The torcs were found by accident by construction workers. An additional torc was later discovered nearby. The torcs were likely deposited all together c. 75 BCE, although the torcs themselves date to the period from the mid-2nd century BCE. The Belstead Brook Torc is now on display in the British Museum.

The loop terminals of the torc have designs in relief of bosses and scrolls, motifs typical of late Iron Age Britain. The terminals were then cast onto the two twisted solid bars using the lost wax technique. The two bars of the body are fluted. The torc measures 18.6 cm (7.3 in) in diameter and weighs 867 grammes (1.9 lbs).

The Trichtingen Torc

The Trichtingen torc was discovered near the town of that name in Germany. Perhaps dating to the 2nd century BCE, it is another miracle find, discovered by chance as workers cleared drainage channels. The torc is now on display in the Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart. It measures 29.5 cm (11.5 in) in diameter and weighs 6.7 kilos (14.8 lbs) and so was too heavy to be actually worn. It was, then, either made as a votive offering or once adorned a statue.

The torc is made of silver-plated iron and displays outstanding artistic skill both in its detail and plating technique. The terminals represent bovine heads facing each other, with each animal wearing a torc of its own. The torc is perhaps originally from Thrace or Persia or was made imitating the style of art prevalent in those locations where bovine heads were a popular motif. Decorative details and comparative finds, meanwhile, suggest it may have been made in Gaul. The torc may have travelled as a diplomatic gift or been an object of interregional trade. If anything, then, this object, like many others, illustrates the interconnected nature of Celtic Europe as ideas in art and techniques in crafts spread from one end of the continent to the other.

Celtic Neck Torcs

If you have questions, we have answers. Many people are interested in kilts, and all things Celtic, but are unsure of the history of this famous garment. Read on for some answers to our most commonly asked questions.

How do I put on a neck torc?

Torcs are made specifically for your neck measurement and aren't the sort of necklaces you can slip over your head. However, this stunning piece has a gap in the front where you can widen it to slip around your neck easily. Torcs are designed to hold their shape no matter how many times you widen the opening!

What do neck torcs symbolize?

Celts wore torcs to demonstrate that they were free-born. They were also thought to represent Celtic gods and ward off evil spirits. This piece of jewelry protected the neck during a sword fight while proving that they were someone of importance. Torcs were valuable heirlooms and passed down with pride.

How do I choose the right neck torc?

Measure your neck and allow for some movement when choosing the size. Even the heaviest of torcs are comfortable to wear, but the weight is up to personal preference. Whether you prefer a dramatic look or a daintier piece that is less distracting, a torc can be the perfect piece of jewelry for you!

Are neck torcs heavy?

Torcs can be heavy if you choose the heaviest weight. Lightweight torcs are barely noticeable and are simple for everyday wear.

Are neck torcs comfortable?

Choose a torc that is neither too tight nor too heavy, and you should find that your torc is comfortable enough for everyday wear. It's important to remember that torcs are crafted of rigid metal, so there isn't the usual "give" that you will find with traditional necklaces.

How are neck torcs made?

Torcs are made by twisting metal strands together. Lighter torcs are made with smaller gauges of metal twisted together, while heavier torcs are made of larger gauge strands of metal. Metals used included copper, bronze, silver, and gold. Sometimes the openings were decorated with animal shapes like rabbits, cats, boars, or bears.

What does the word "Torc" mean?

The word "torc" originates from the Latin word "torquis," meaning "to twist." A torc is simply a collar or necklace made from twisted metal.

What are the differences between light and heavy-weight neck torcs?

Copper, bronze, gold, and silver are used to make both light and heavy-weight neck torcs. However, thinner wires are used to the torcs lighter. Lightweight torcs also use fewer wires in the twisting, so overall, the torcs are more delicate and lighter to wear.


While the world 'Celtic' is associated with the cultures of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall, the name 'Celt' was coined in around 500 BC.

The ancient Greeks used it to refer to people living all across northern Europe whom they considered outsiders and barbarians.

The exhibition, called Celts: Art and Identity, will begin in London in September and continue in Edinburgh in March 2016. It will include a hoard of gold torcs, a rare gilded cross and Iron Age mirrors (shown left), among other highly decorative finds such as the brooch on the right, which was found in south west Scotland and is thought to have been made in around 800AD

While the world 'Celtic' is associated with the cultures of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Cornwall, the name Celts was coined in around 500 BC. The ancient Greeks used it to refer to people living all across northern Europe whom they considered outsiders and barbarians. This is despite the creation of beautiful objects such as the Gundestrup Cauldron from northern Denmark


The Iron Age horned helmet dates to between 150 and 50 BC.

It was dredged from the River Thames at Waterloo Bridge in the early 1860s.

It's the only Iron Age helmet to have ever been found in southern England and it is the only Iron Age helmet with horns ever to have been found anywhere in Europe.

Horns were often a symbol of the gods in different parts of the ancient world.

This might suggest the person who wore this was a special person or that the helmet was made for a god to wear.

Experts are unsure whether the helmet was made for battle or more ceremonial purposes.

The helmet's made from sheet bronze pieces held together with rivets and is decorated in the style of La Tène art used in Britain between 250 and 50 BC.

It's thought it was also once decorated with studs of bright red glass.

While the disparate groups that made up the Celts left few written records in the early Bronze Age, pieces of stylised art are testament to their culture and marked from apart from the classical world.

The exhibition will include a horned helmet dating to between 150 and 50 BC, which was discovered in the Thames near Waterloo Bridge in the early 1860s.

It's the only Iron Age helmet to have ever been found in southern England, and indeed the only Iron Age helmet with horns ever to have been found anywhere in Europe.

Julia Farley, curator of European Iron Age collections at the British Museum told The Times that there is evidence on the Grundestrup collection that the Celts wore such helmets.

But there's none to support the popular view that the Vikings wore horned helmets in the 8th century.

'I think the Celts have got a pretty solid claim to the quintessential horned helmet'.

'This helmet is clearly something that's been used to intimidate,' she said, adding that it was probably worn by a warrior.

'I think this is a way for people to exaggerate their status in a context to do with war.'

Experts are divided about whether the helmet, which is made from sheet bronze pieces held together with rivets, would have been worn in battle, or was intended for ceremonial purposes.

They think it would have been shiny and was once decorated with studs of bright red glass.

A hoard of gold torcs found at Blair Drummond in Stirling in 2009 will also go on show. The stiff necklaces were found by a metal detectorist buried inside a timber building, which was probably a shrine.

The four torcs, made between 300 and 100 BC, show widespread connections across Iron Age Europe.

Six Celtic golden torcs have been found packed among 70,000 coins from a Jersey Island hoard

IT was an incredible find: 70,000 ancient Celtic coins unearthed on an island off the coast of Britain. But now the loot is revealing even greater treasures.

Mystical metal . A piece of a golden Celtic torc is shown among the coins from a hoard discovered on Jersey Island off the coast of Britain in 2012: Source: Jersey Heritage Source:Supplied

IT was an incredible find: 70,000 ancient Celtic coins unearthed on an island off the coast of Britain. But now the hoard is revealing even greater treasures.

The story of the Le Catillon II hoard is a classic treasure hunt: A mystical island, a long-forgotten sighting, a decades-long quest — and the ultimate discovery of a mound of ancient coins.

Since the find in 2012, archaeologists have been carefully picking away at the tightly packed mass of mud and metal to find out exactly what is within.

Now they’ve made a new discovery: Six incredibly rare, perfectly preserved mystical Celtic golden torcs.

And that’s likely to just be a start.

Exposed . Part of a golden torc emerging from a solid mass of coins, jewellery and bullion found on the island of Jersey. Source: Jersey Heritage Source:Supplied

Just how this treasure trove came to be buried on an island between France and England in the English Channel is a mystery.

The heavy metal neckbands are part of the iconic image of the mysterious culture of settlers which occupied Europe before being overwhelmed by the advance of the Roman Empire.

But very few have been found in good condition.

The exact significance of the distinctive golden collar-band torc had for the Celts is lost to history. They were very difficult to put on, and so seemed intended to be worn almost permanently. It may have been a badge of rank. They may have also carried religious significance.

They were often works of art.

The dying Gaul . This Roman marble statue was made to celebrate a victory over a Celtic tribe. It shows the distinctive torc worn by the Celts about their necks. Source: Supplied Source:Supplied

The first hint of gold was seen as early as 2012 when the surrounding pack of mud was washed away. A scattering of silver jewellery was also seen crammed among the coins.

It was too dense a mass of metal for X-rays to expose exactly what lay within. So some 2000 loose coins have been carefully detailed and removed before the block was prepared for analysis.

Only now has the full scale of the treasure been determined. With the position of each coin carefully scanned and recorded, work to carefully prise apart the block has begun.

The initial 30,000 to 50,000 coin estimate has been found to be far too low. Now archaeologists think the figure is closer to 70,000.

Puzzle . The tightly packed cluster of 70,000 coins and an unknown amount of jewellery is yet to reveal all its tresures. Source: Jersey Heritage Source:Supplied

“Then we made the discovery of the project so far,” the Jersey Heritage blog recording the analysis of the find reads. 𠇊t first it appeared to be a thick, tightly curved gold torc but when cleaned back a bit it was revealed as a pair of solid gold “wheels” at the end of a thick, curved, gold torc collar . The sheer size of this piece is amazing in comparison to everything else we’ve seen yet and the torc surface appears to be in good condition and of a very pure gold.”

The discoveries are yet to end.

King’s ransom? Archaeologists have little idea what caused the equivalent of a national treasury to be buried in a remote field on the island of Jersey. Source: Jersey Heritage Source:Supplied

“In the same way that we found the large torc while clearing around another one, we have continued to find more new pieces as we cleared around it,” A December 8 blog entry reads.” As such we just don’t know how far the rich area of jewellery extends throughout the hoard’s body, but it’s certainly further than we initially thought.”

As the block was dissected in recent months, six torcs — five of solid gold, one gold plated — were exposed.

The vast majority of the bronze, silver and gold coins have been identified as belonging to the Coriosolitae tribe.

It all started 30 years ago when a woman told two local men how her father had long before uprooted a tree on their farm, exposing a pot of rusted coins. Thinking it worthless, he filled in the root-hole — leaving the hoard where it was.

Richard Miles and Reg Mead, the hoard’s finders, pressed her further: She could remember roughly where on the farm it had been, but not exactly.

Thus began their three decade quest.

Tantalising traces . A piece of jewellery peeks between some of the 70,000 coins of the Jersey hoard. Source: Jersey Heritage Source:Supplied

They had been given the permission of the farm’s owner to use metal detection equipment on his land — but only during a narrow “window of opportunity” between each year’s harvests.

It took until February 2012 before their efforts were rewarded. At first it was a cluster of 60 coins which appeared to be Celtic. Then they dug deeper — and hit a solid mass.

But they did not indulge in a frenzy of ripping handfuls of coins out of the ground.

Treasure trove . The tightly packed coins and jewellery is carefull removed from a Jersey field. Source: Jersey Heretage Source:Supplied

Instead, they covered their find back up — and contacted the local heritage authority.

The hoard was carefully excavated and now sits in a hermetically sealed laboratory, set behind glass in a public chamber of the Jersey Museum.

The painstaking work to gently prise apart the coins, ingots and jewellery is expected to take several years to complete.

Recent finds from Ancient Ireland

So much of the jewellery we design is inspired by ancient Ireland, when the Celts ruled supreme and the island was full of forests, lakes and family tribes. The Celts lived off the land, first as hunter gatherers and later as farmers. They created their tools, homes and clothing from natural materials like wood and clay, stone, and the skin and bones of animals. For obvious reasons none of these objects have survived, and archaeologists have pieced together what these ancient people’s lives were like from changes in soil and other circumstantial evidence. As the Celts’ skills and lifestyle progressed over the centuries however, they discovered where to find metal ores and how to work them into more durable and efficient tools. They also began to use metal to make personal decorative objects and adornments, as symbols of wealth, power and nobility.

Image Source: National Museums Northern Ireland

Naturally, metal is much less susceptible to decay than organic materials. Vast numbers of artefacts from the Celtic period and beyond have survived to the present day, hidden under layers of soil or in rock crevices. You’d be forgiven for thinking that by now, thousands of years later, most of the artefacts had been discovered – but you’d be wrong! Beautiful ancient objects are still being found from prehistoric ages regularly, including in Ireland. Here are a few rare finds that have all been discovered since the beginning of the 21st century.

The discovery of the Wicklow Pipes in 2003 was extremely significant. Although not much to look at, this small set of pipes is officially the world’s oldest surviving wooden musical instrument. Dating from between 2000 – 2200 BC, the fact that they have survived that long in the earth is something special. The pipes were found in Greystones during an archaeological dig of an early Bronze Age burnt mound, lying in a waterlogged trough. Crafted from yew wood, the pipes were laid out in descending order, ranging in length from 57cm to 29cm. While there was no evidence for finger holes, the end of some of the pipes had been tapered, which suggests that they may have been placed into another organic fitting to be played. Historians suggest that they may have been used as a primitive bagpipe type of instrument, or some sort of complex panpipe device. Studies of the pipes are still being undertaken, and experts are constructing exact replica sets of the pipes in order to examine fully how they may have been used and played.So far, there is much debate over how the pipes were crafted there is no evidence of the wood having been split or burnt in order to be hollowed out, so creating such even diameters in each pipe without using either of those techniques would have taken considerable skill for people without developed tools. So in short, there’s more to this set of pipes than meets the eye.

In 2009 an amateur treasure hunter by the name of Ronnie Johnston dug up what he initially thought was a spring from a car engine in a field in county Fermanagh. It appeared to be just a thick piece of coiled metal, but assuming it was of at least some value, Johnston took it home. Two years later he realised it was in fact a highly significant find when he spotted similar looking objects in a treasure hunter’s magazine. As it turns out, he had found a 3,000 year old golden torc, one of only nine examples found in Ireland. While the owner of the torc and the story of how it came to be buried in the ground is a mystery, one element of the torc’s history can be generally accepted. Torcs would normally have been in the form of a large circular loop with two connections at either end to fasten and unfasten it. They were worn by only the most powerful members of Celtic society as a symbol of wealth, nobility and prowess. Valuable items such as this were usually passed down through generations of families, but if there were no worthy successors, the torc would be coiled up so that nobody else could wear it when the last owner died. Once the true identity of the obscure metal object Johnston had found was revealed, it was purchased by the State, restored to its former glory, and is now housed in the Ulster Museum’s Bronze Age Collection.

The Burren Viking Necklace

Back in 2010 archaeologists came across an extremely puzzling find when excavating a section of Glencurran cave in the Burren, county Clare a Viking necklace dating from 1,150 years ago. It’s common knowledge that Vikings settled in Ireland during the Middle Ages, eventually living peacefully with the natives and trading skills and goods with them. However, the Vikings only settled in a few specific areas – Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Limerick. The closest settlement to where the necklace was found is Limerick at around 50km away. When the Vikings first set up their enclaves, they were met with much reluctance and often hostility with the native Irish, who ferociously defended their territory. Therefore, historians are adamant that Vikings never touched the Burren, so how one of their necklaces ended up there is a mystery. Adding even more mystery to the circumstances was the fact that this necklace was clearly much more valuable and significant than all other examples found in Ireland, being 12 times longer and with much more elaborate decoration (including 71 glass beads covered in gold foil). Historians speculate that the necklace was traded between Vikings from Limerick and Celts from the Burren, and placed in the cave which seemed to have significance for the ancient peoples also found in the area was the skeletal remains of seven adults, two children and one baby dating from the Bronze Age, plus part of a bear’s skeleton which turned out to be 10,000 years old!

In 2013 two men, Brian Clancy and his uncle Joe, were cutting peat in the marshy boglands outside Tullamore, county Offaly. Irish boglands are often the setting for ancient Irish finds, since the conditions are good for preserving all kinds of artefacts. What the men discovered however was not your usual remnant of Celtic times however – seven feet down into the ground they unearthed a keg shaped container of some sort. Splitting it open with a spade, they discovered it was full of… prehistoric butter! The find weighed 100 lbs and was reported to still have a ‘dairy’ smell, despite being a whopping 5,000 years old. The keg was likely buried deep into the earth as a form of refrigeration, since boglands are naturally cool and moist. Deposits of ancient ‘bog butter’ are often found in bogland areas, but this one smashed the record for the biggest container of the stuff – usual finds are merely a few pounds in weight! Unfortunately nobody was brave enough to taste, so it remains unclear exactly what the substance is (although all evidence points to dairy produce). In 2014 another large deposit was found in a bog in Fermanagh, again by two men cutting peat. Initially thinking nothing of it, their dog showed particular interest in the giant ball of butter, so they brought it home to investigate. When they realised what they had on their hands (and that the dog probably shouldn’t eat it), they donated it to the Fermanagh County Museum.

The Faddan Mor Psalter

2006 marked one of the most important Irish archaeological discoveries ever, when an ancient Latin psalter (book of psalms) was discovered in Faddan Mor, county Tipperary. Bulldozer driver Eddie Fogarty was digging up – you guessed it – peat in a bog when the book fell out on top of a dump of earth, springing open. Fogarty immediately knew what the best course of action was, and covered the book in peat to prevent exposure to oxygen damaging it. Unfortunately however the book was already in very poor condition and required years and years of painstaking restoration work before experts could even begin to analyse it properly. The book contained the Latin text of the Psalms on 60 sheets of vellum, with some of the opening words decorated with coloured ink. Also found less than 100 metres away on a separate occasion was a leather binding which most likely held the Psalter, although was not attached to it (formed a wallet or folder type of protective covering). The inside of the leather cover is lined with Papyrus, providing proof that the Celtic Christian church and the Egyptian Coptic Church had established links with one another. It is one of a very small number of surviving Western books from that period (9th century), and is the first ancient manuscript to be discovered in Ireland for over 200 years. Although restoration work is still ongoing, the Psalter is usually on display in the National Museum in Kildare Street.

Although not the first, the Cashel Man is the most recent bog body to be found in Ireland. Unearthed in 2011 in the Cul na Mona bog in county Laois, it was unfortunately discovered because a milling machine hit it, damaging the head and left arm. Analysts were still able to piece together a lot of information about the body however. It was male, aged between 20-25, and dates from around 2000BC, making it the oldest example in Europe. The area in which he was found was once a thriving settlement, and all evidence points to him being the victim of a ritual sacrifice. Before death his arm was broken by a strike from a sharp object, and a wound in his back was also present. After death, his back was broken in two places, although this could have occurred from natural compression or the milling machine. He was placed on the surface of the bog on what would have been the border of two territories, with his knees tightly flexed. A number of other bodies from Celtic regions have been found this way, and it is thought that the sacrifices were closely related to kingship and god worship. Apart from the damage caused by the milling machine, the body was perfectly intact, with even the man’s close cut hair still visible. If you can overcome the squeamish factor, the Cashel Man and other bog bodies are on display the National Museum of Ireland.

Timeless Torcs: Beauty Across the Ages

This entry was posted on September 8, 2017 by Peter Konieczny .

By Sandra Alvarez

After two millennia, torcs have endured as timeless fashion statement. How were these simple, yet elegant, pieces worn, and what was their initial purpose?

The name Torc was derived from the Latin word torquis, which meant “to twist”, because many torcs were made of two entwined pieces of metal or wire. Torcs ranged in style and materials, and were decorated in ways that expressed the identity, and culture, of a particular region. Some torcs had terminals (end pieces) lavishly decorated with animal designs, or finished with stunning pointed tips, or elaborate swirls.

Torc with elaborate zoomorphic terminals. The British Museum. (Photo: Sandra Alvarez)

While they have often been associated with Celtic culture, torcs have been found in hoards all over Europe. They have been discovered in France, Switzerland, Spain, Scotland, and England, and were present in Scythian, Illyrian, Germanic and Scandinavian cultures. Torcs were popular from the eighth century BC to the third century AD, disappearing during the migration period and then reappearing during the Viking period. Iron Age torcs were usually bronze or gold, or a combination of the two, while Viking Age torcs were often made of silver.

Another style of torc: a single spiral piece of gold with blunt terminals. The British Museum. (Photo: Sandra Alvarez)

The Torc Travels.

How did this style become so prevalent across the continent? One idea put forward is that when metalsmiths travelled to sell their wares, they came across new designs. Inspired by these different styles, they then incorporated them into their pieces fusing regional techniques with a foreign aesthetic. Another suggestion is that many torcs were purchased as gifts, and were traded over long distances. These two reasons could account for the vast number of differing torc types that were found far from their traditional region.

2300 year old gold torc and bracelet found in south-western Germany in the grave of a powerful woman. Waldalgesheim, Germany (340-300 BC). The British Museum (Photo: Sandra Alvarez)

Who Wore Them?

In Celtic culture, torcs were worn by important individuals to denote their high status. During the Iron Age, gold torcs were highly prized and were often worn by men, although Celtic torcs were initially thought to be jewellery reserved for women because they were often found in female burials. One such discovery was a 2300 year old grave in Waldalgesheim, Germany. A high status woman was buried with various grave goods ranging from a Greek wine bucket, a wooden chariot, bracelets and a stunning gold torc.

Archaeologists also attributed torcs to male warriors, but recent evidence found that torcs were worn by both men and women since the early Iron Age, not were not an exclusive object of any particular gender. Torcs were also adopted into Roman culture, imbuing them with their own unique style. They were worn by Roman warriors during the Republican period.

Lastly, torcs were not only decorative pieces of jewellery, but they were also used in sacred rituals, to decorate statues of deities, or for burials with high status individuals, as some were clearly weighed too much to be worn for extended periods of time.

Bronze torc that would have been too heavy to wear and was most likely used for religious ceremony or for a burial. The British Museum. (Photo: Sandra Alvarez)

Objects Specialty Group Postprints

Kilian Anheuser and Peter Northover


In 43 AD a large part of the British mainland formally entered the Roman world after a century of economic and political contact following the incursions of Gaius Julius Caesar in 55/54 BC. The Roman army, bureaucracy and traders brought with them enhances access to the metallurgical skills and practices of classical Mediterranean civilisations. They were entering, though, a realm with its own metallurgical tradition and one which, in that same century, had produced some supreme works. The first part of thus paper will explore in tum this Celtic achievement and the impact and assimilation of Roman ideas, and then look at the work of the Anglo-Saxon settlers in the twilight of the Roman occupation, perhaps the first really large-scale users of gilding in Britain. The second part will describe a research programme on mercury amalgam gilding, a technique used in all three of these archaeological periods. It will provide the first fully quantitative data on process variables available to archaeometallurgists and conservators, and show what was required to achieve the different effects observed on archaeological metalwork.

The history of decorating metals with other metals in Britain goes back to the Early bronze Age at the end of the 3rd Millennium BC. The metals of choice were always gold and tin, never silver. Throughout the Bronze Age gold was always applied as foil, as far as can be seen either mechanically or with an adhesive and examples will be shown. Gold was used generally to ornament and highlight parts of an object rather than a whole one, while tin was used to cover a whole axe and thermally bonded either via wipe tinning or cementation. Contrasting colours of gold could also be used on the same object.

At the end of the Bronze Age, c. 700 BC gold disappears from the archaeological record save in Ireland and remote parts of Scotland It does not reappear until the 2nd century BC in the form of imported gold coins. Then, suddenly, perhaps around 80-70 BC, the Iceni, the ‘Celtic’ tribe settled in Norfolk, perhaps inspired by imported gold torcs, established a workshop to convert imported bullion into a long series of elaborate torcs, with analogues in silver, bronze and iron. During the 50s BC there was a massive influx of gold used by the Gauls to buy military assistance against Caesar, but with the Roman occupation of Gaul this ceased. For a period, there was a rapid debasement of both coinage and torcs. With the latter the object seems always to have been to make the torcs as golden as possible. To this end, mercury amalgam gilding on bronze as well, perhaps, as depletion gilding similarly silver was plated onto copper. From about the 40s BC, though, the manufacture of torcs ceased and bullion became almost exclusively used for coinage, although there is a small number of silver and white gold ornaments and brooches, and some of these were gilded. However, whether officially or unofficially, plated coins were circulated and gold plated examples will be shown.

The Roman conquest paradoxically may initially have decreased the availability of gold as the Celtic coinage was called in, melted down and refined. The picture of gilding that we have in Roman Britain is surprisingly limited. The techniques were much the same as those available to the Celts and it is hard to say what influence there was in either direction. Evidence from other materials suggests that in occupied Britain Celtic technology was effectively submerged by 100 AD. Thereafter the application of gilding reflected Roman practice from small ornaments to large statues, with mercury gilding becoming the norm.

Towards the end of the Roman occupation Germanic settlers were invited to help stem incursions from their more violent neighbours to the north and west. These settlers brought their own thriving metallurgical tradition, and early Saxon cemeteries are characterised by a rich variety of brooches, very many of them thickly mercury gilded Tentative results suggest that they might have developed their own tradition whether originally influenced by Rome or not. Gilding is often thick and can be heavily burnished. Mercury contents are high and suggestive of low temperature or short firing times: low temperatures also characterise contemporary tin-plating. As a tailpiece we can see actual workshop remains of the amalgam gilding process from a Middle Saxon context in Southampton.

We have seen in this paper the early history of amalgam gilding in the west by the 2nd or 3rd century AD it became the standard technique that it remained until the introduction of electroplating in the 19th century. Existing analyses showed that the gold amalgam paste, after firing, had a residual mercury content of 5-20% and either a porous or a solid microstructure. The presence of mercury has been taken as an indicator of amalgam gilding, its absence to signify leaf gilding. This paper reports results from fire-gilding experiments on copper and silver executed under controlled conditions of temperature and technique. It has been possible to reproduce both the structure and surface appearance of ancient gildings and these can be related to temperature, duration, and thickness of the gilding layer. Variations in the pre-treatment of the surface and the application of gold as leaf or foil on an amalgamated surface are explored. For examination of experimental products we have used optical and scanning electron microscopy, electron probe microanalysis and X-ray diffraction.

Hidden Treasure Fact Files

The Winchester Treasure - Archaeologists have found many examples of elaborate personal ornaments worn by the Late Iron Age elite (100 BC-AD 50). But few finds can compare with two sets of gold jewellery recovered by metal-detectorist Kevan Halls in a field near Winchester in Hampshire.

Each comprised a bracelet, a necklace torc (or neck-ring), and two brooches linked by a chain (though only one chain was actually recovered). The objects were found in ploughsoil and, since archaeologists failed to find any other evidence, how they got there remains a mystery. Were they buried for safety, as an offering to the gods, or to accompany the dead on their journey to the underworld?

Masterpieces of gold - There were many fine goldsmiths in Late Iron Age Britain. Among dozens of gold, electrum, silver and bronze torcs found in ritual pits at Snettisham, in Norfolk, are some of astonishing craftsmanship.

The 'Great Torc' is made of eight ropes of wire twisted together, each rope formed of eight wires similarly twisted, and the massive hollow terminal rings are decorated with a complex pattern of flowing tendrils and cross-hatching.

But the Winchester artefacts are better still. The gold was exceptionally pure, at above 90%. The necklace torcs had clasps of a type unknown to Celtic craftsmen. The decoration of gold globules ('granulation') and gold wire ('filigree') had been fixed with an invisible bond by a technique known as 'diffusion soldering'. And whereas most torcs were rigid, these were thick but flexible chains of interwoven rings.

Who made the Winchester torcs? - Torcs were symbols of wealth, power and courage across barbarian Europe. The type and decoration of the objects are certainly Celtic. The brooches are of a 'safety-pin' form commonly found in pairs, because they were used to attach the cloaks worn by Iron Age people.

But the techniques of manufacture are Roman. Was the master-craftsman who made them an immigrant in service to a great British lord? Or were the treasures a diplomatic gift, deliberately crafted in Celtic style to appeal to 'barbarian' taste, perhaps even a present from Caesar to a client-king?

'Friends of the Roman People' - The Romans did not rule by force alone. They cultivated pro-Roman kings on their borders, sending presents, subsidies, military 'advisors', and offers of armed support to crush internal opposition. Fishbourne Palace, near Chichester, was probably built for a client-king shortly after the Roman Conquest. Perhaps, some decades earlier, the owners of the Winchester treasures had also been 'Friends of the Roman People' - puppet rulers beholden to the superpower of their age.

Found near Winchester, Hampshire, by Kevan Halls while searching with a metal detector.

Cernunnos: The Horned Pan of the Celts

The ancient Celts and Druids in the West had worshiped a horned God who went by the names of Cernunnos (KER-noo-nos) by the Gauls, and in Old Irish literature as Uindos, Herne (Hermes), Hu Gadarn, and Hesus (Jesus). He was known as the most ancient and powerful Celtic deity who was called the “lord of wild and all things.” His sons were said to be Teutates, Esus, Taranis or Taranus who are sometimes referred to as his doubles.

The meaning of Cernunnos in Gaelic and Old English and Irish is the “horned one or he who has horns.” This God was usually depicted in artwork wearing stag antlers and was normally accompanied by his symbols of the stag, ram, bull and holding a horned and spotted serpent or worm.

The earliest known depictions of Cernunnos were found at Val Camonica, in northern Italy, which was under Celtic occupation from about 400 BC. The most famous was also portrayed on the Gundestrup Caldron (pictured above), which is a silver ritual vessel found at Gundestrup in Jutland, Denmark and dating to about the 1st century BC. The name “Jutland” would correspond with the Tribe of Judah who are also known as the Phoenicians and Greek Hellenes from Crete who I have written about extensively in articles such as The First Jews of Crete, and The Masonic Archons of the Tribe of Judah.

Horned Gods, Goddesses, kings and emperors is a common theme you will find all through the history of the world. The horns signify what is known as our ammon’s horn and or hippocampus which is our brain’s memory processing unit. These horns I have written about extensively before detailing that they are ancient symbols of their religion of Gnosis and memory. If you would like to read more about these horned and this ancient science, you can read my previous articles such as Amon – King of Gods and Lord of Thrones , Ammon’s Horn, The Third Eye, and The Science of the Brain’s Third Eye Computer Chip of Enlightenment.


Old Irish stories describe Cernunnos under the name of Uindos and as the son of the High King of Ireland named Lugh. As the son of Lugh the High King of Ireland, Cernunnos is no stranger to the battlefield and can protect his forest from ever being enchanted by deities for their evil purposes. He is called a wild hunter, a warrior, and a poet and was considered the God of nature who is the protector of trees, plants and animals.

Here is an image to the left of the God of Etang-sur-Arroux with an obvious depiction of Cernunnos. But more of a Druidic modern Irish version and also sitting in a buddah type style. He wears a torc at the neck and on the chest with two snakes (worms) with ram heads encircle him.

In the Irish legends of Cernunnos is more than ready to take on whoever wishes to challenge him in battle. He battles his foes using the plants, roots and trees which he controls. Though almost sounding like Cernunnos doesn’t show any mercy, Cernunnos is actually a very gentle creature and even shows respect to his enemies by playing music when they die by his hands.

Cernunnos shows the same exact traits and symbols in common with the patron God of physicians, healers and magicians known as Hermes or Hermes Psychopomp (conductor of souls), the very same title given to the Lord of Death (whom the Celts recognized as Cernunnos) in his union with the Lady of Life. His other name of Herne or Cerne is very close to Hermes.

A similar name to Cain in Irish mythology interconnects to who is known as Tain Bo Cuailnge–Cuchulainn (hound of Cullen), is son of the god of light Lugh, and defender of Ulster, which has come under siege because of the Brown Bull. Cuculainn’s enemies include Morrigan and her sisters, who can change into birds. The death of the white bull (which is actually killed by the Brown Bull) brings about the end of the war. This is an interesting story that appears to be similar to to that of the biblical Cain and Able and the old true story of the Western Phoenicians and Greeks being the white bull under Rome and the possibly their ancient foes who are actually their cousins being that of the Persians and Arabs.


The horned God can be found in the ancient City of Parisii that we know of today as the French capital of Paris. Around 250 BC, the Celts settled on the site which was to become the ancient city of Lutetia (Lutetia Parisiorum, “Lutetia of the Parisii”). It was at Notre- Dame de Paris, site of ancient Lutetia, that was also the civitas capital of the Celtic Parisii under Roman rule.’ I had written extensively on the Parisii in my article, The Parisii of Isis.

The horned god if found on the famous Pillar of the Boatmen (French Pilier des nautes) is a square-section stone bas-relief with depictions of several deities, both Gaulish and Roman. Dating to the first quarter of the 1st century AD, it originally stood in a temple in the Gallo-Roman civitas of Lutetia (modern Paris, France).

These deities on the pillar such as the horned God could be Pan, and there is also the God of Fire, Vulcan, and sacrificial bull we can easily compare with the Minos (Jupiter) bull of Crete. All these same deities can be found at least 500-1000 years before they are found and dated in the West.

On this pillar, Cernonnus is depicted as a man with horns.

The above image almost looks exactly like that of the more modern Knights Templar horned God known as Baphomet.

This image also would be very similar to the more ancient Gods in the East known as Pan in Phoenicia and Greece and as Amon Ra in Egypt. All are found to be horned Gods that are characterized as men with Horns that are the Gods of All Things, and all could be called Sons of Jupiter in which on this same pillar there is a dedication to Jupiter in the form of Iovis Optimus Maximus (“Jove Best and Greatest”). These connections prove they are one in the same deities but with different names and images depending on the country and language who created them.

The name Pillar of the Boatmen is an obvious reference to their race being that of whom the Egyptians called Sea Peoples and the Greeks called them Phoenicians. The first masters of the sea, navigation and world travel. In each place they would land, colonize and live, they would honor their heritage by keeping the same ancient customs and religions and normally only changing their language since they were the exiled children of Babylon. The Parii would be the Western French Branch of their Eastern cousins being that of the Phoenicians and Greeks.

The Parisians (Pariasians) were the followers of Goddess Religion whom they depicted under the name of Isis which is how they get their name of the Parisii. Let me also mention they were the Priesthood of Crete who were placed in charge of protecting the God Zeus who is also known as Jove and Jupiter. Other names they had went by in the East were the Curetes, Corybnates, Telchines, Priesthood of Jupiter Ammon, Pan and Cybele. In the West they were known as Druids and Celts.

They are first mentioned in the Commentaries of Julius Caesar who dwelt in a district on the Seine in the town called Lutetia. The Greek geographer Strabo had written during the reign of Augustus Caesar that the Parisii live round about the Seine, having a city, called Lucotocia (Λουκοτοκία), on an island in the river”. It was here where the Parisii settled, and with them they brought their religion and secret rites of the Goddess from the East, and where they had built a temple of Isis in which you could still find a statue of Isis.


There is even in Britain he is associated with place names with the prefix of Cern from Cerunnos. The similarity between this name and Herne the hunter is unlikely to be coincidence.


As you can see in the image to the above right, he wore and sometimes also held what is called a torque, the sacred necklace and bracelet of the Celtic gods and heroes. They were often made of bronze, silver and gold. One of the most famous statues in Rome was the dying Gaul whose naked chiseled physique had only one item adorning it, and that was the torc necklace show in image number 8 below. When the Emperor Augustus had made an alliance with the Celtic Gauls of France, he was presented by the Gauls with a gold torc weighing 100 pounds.

This sacred jewelry was more than just a decoration, it was an ancient healing device that also revealed the secret religious rites of the Celts that we can easily trace to the East. Many ancient statues and hieroglyphs that predate all these found in the West show various God and Kings wearing these necklaces, bracelets and were often accompanied by a rod.

In the Ancient East we can find many examples of the Torc being worn such as the Ancient Assyrian God Ninurta in the 9th and 8th centuries BC. Here he is an image below of the Assyrian God wearing various Torcs around all his extremities such as his neck, arms, wrists, ears and even a headband.

Here is another image not only showing the Torc worn by Ancient Assyrian Gods, but also one of the most famous crosses in all of Europe known as the Knights Templar Cross Pattee.

All these images from the East predate all the various depictions found with the exact same symbology in the West. Further proof that the Western World and culture had come from the East. I will write more about these sacred human healing devices known as the torc that are found all over the world in a future article.


For example, the name Cernunnos is actually a Greek word and I have found that this God is simply the Western adaptation of the more ancient well-known Eastern Horned Gods such as Pan, Hermes and Amon Ra. The name Pan means “all” and he was the God of “all things,” just like Cernunnos was as well.

Many of these Celtic deities, their mythology, the artwork and dating of them can easily be connected to the East with the people known as the ancient Phoenicians, Greek Ionians and Hellenes who had almost the same exact religion and pantheon of God and Goddesses.

The earliest depictions of this horned God named Pan can be found all over the East in stories and artwork left by the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks which predates the dating of these finds in the West. He was venerated in ancient Crete, Ionia, Greece and in Egypt. One of Pan’s earliest appearance in literature was in the 6th century BC in the ancient poet Pindar‘s Pythian Ode iii. 78, Pan is associated with a mother goddess, perhaps Rhea or Cybele Pindar refers to virgins worshipping Cybele and Pan near the poet’s house in Boeotia.

This history along with the many horned Gods of the East mentioned above and below prove without a shadow of a doubt that Cernunnos was imported by the very same people who had venerated these Gods and their symbols in the East. After all, this was their ancient secret religion of Gnosis that first originated with the Egyptians, then with the Phoenicians, the Greeks, Irish, English, Romans, French, Germans and the Romans that became we know of today as Judaism and Christianity.


The early Christian Church under the Catholic Brotherhood of various royal families and empires had made a decision long ago to make war on all Gnostic and pagan Gods of the past simply to maintain control and order over the world’s religions. Part of this process involved various propaganda techniques that the church had mastered such as the demonization and evil connotations of all the ancient Gods and Goddesses of the past. They would adopt a zero tolerance policy to any worship or adoration of these deities whom they always strongly opposed.

Just like Pan in the East became associated with the devil to be forever used as a symbol of the Antichrist and figured in Christian iconography, the Western Pan, Cernunnos would also naturally meet the same fate.

All my sources are listed above and or linked to in yellow. They can also be easily be found through Google and the Google book archives.

The Celts: not quite the barbarians history would have us believe

A farmer, ploughing a field near Snettisham in Norfolk in 1948, turned up what he thought was a bit of an old brass bedstead. But it was gold, not brass, which he’d discovered and this was just the first piece of the richest iron age hoard ever discovered in Europe, including more than 200 torcs and fragments of torcs: neck rings made of gold, silver and bronze. Today, the collection is in the British Museum, and earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get a close look at some of these beautiful treasures.

I met European iron age collections curator Julia Farley in the bowels of the museum, otherwise known as the Sturge Basement. She had liberated some of the Snettisham artefacts from their glass cases up in the gallery, bringing them down to the basement stores, and now she carefully lifted each of the glittering objects out of its tray and laid it on the sheet of dark grey foam that covered the table.

There were five almost complete torcs and several fragments, including some bits of scrap metal that had been assembled on a loop of gold, looking for all the world like an iron age bunch of keys (the keys to Boudicca’s chariot, we joked). The colour of the torcs varied quite widely – from a bright, brassy gold to reddish gold to silver. All of them were made of alloys of gold, silver and copper, in various proportions. These alloys had been deliberately created, Julia told me, perhaps to achieve a certain colour or to make the metal easier to work.

The selection ranged from some simple gold torcs to the magnificently ornateGreat Torc. The simpler torcs were made from twisting just two or three metal rods together, with loops forming the ends, or terminals. But the Great Torc is a breathtaking example of iron age craftsmanship. Here, eight ropes of gold are twisted together to form the neck ring and its terminals have been cast on to it, using a lost-wax technique. The decoration on each terminal is wonderfully intricate: raised arcs of gold sweep across their surfaces, with a line of stamped dots framing each embossed arc. At the facing ends of the terminals, some areas enclosed by the arcs are filled with an incised hatched texture, but there are also areas where the goldsmith resisted the urge to decorate every inch of surface. This type of design, with flowing curves, and a careful balance between dense decoration and empty space, epitomises the British La Tène style of Celtic art.

The metalsmiths who created these works of art took inspiration from continental European designs, but added a local twist. These objects amply demonstrate the artistic flair and impressive technical abilities of those iron age artisans. But recent research on the Snettisham treasures has revealed another level of sophistication. Down in the smart new science labs of the British Museum, I met metallurgist Nigel Meeks. He had been using cutting-edge scientific techniques to reveal the secrets of these iron age masterpieces.

A modestly sized scanning electron microscope, no larger than a small fridge, sat next to an array of screens in the lab. Nigel placed a small fragment of a relatively simple bronze torc in the electron microscope and fired up the machine. The pictures came through in no time, filling the first screen with a hugely magnified view of this twisted piece of torc, in black and white. There were patches of lighter and darker areas on the surface of the metal.

This microscope could do more than just allowing us to visualise the surface of this object it had an inbuilt spectrometer so it was possible to analyse the elements present on that surface. I selected an area of interest on the dark grey that seemed to represent the background material and the results appeared on a second screen. There was a high peak of copper and another of tin: this torc was indeed made of bronze. Then I chose a portion of the pale area and a totally different series of peaks appeared. There was one very tall spike corresponding with gold another spike indicated mercury.

“Is that just an impurity in the gold?” I asked Nigel.

“No. You don’t naturally get mercury impurities in gold. The two metals have been deliberately mixed together – this is mercury gilding.”

This technique would have involved mixing grains of gold into mercury and applying the resulting silvery slurry to the bronze. Then, by heating the metal – to over 357C – the mercury would have been driven off, vaporising and leaving the rod coated in a skin of gold. It was iron age alchemy – turning base metal into gold, or at least, into what looked like solid gold. This process never eliminates all the mercury from the surface of the gilt bronze, which is why there was enough left behind in the gold for Nigel’s analysis to pick it up.

This is an extremely early example of fire gilding – for Britain. The technique seems to have been invented around the middle of the first millennium BC, becoming relatively common in the Mediterranean by the 3d century BC. But this 1st century BC torc didn’t look like an exotic import – it was characteristically British. There’s no source of mercury in Britain, so both this metal, and presumably the knowledge of this technique must have come from elsewhere. Archaeologists have discovered late iron age Spanish torcs that, though very different in style from the British one we were looking at, are gilded in the same way. There were also sources of cinnabar, the bright red mercury ore, in Iberia. So it’s possible that the ore, and the idea of fire gilding, arrived in iron age Britain from Spain, along well-used Atlantic seaways.

When we read Greek and Roman accounts of the Celts, we come away with a caricature of uncouth barbarians who wear trousers and drink undiluted wine, who go naked into battle and who are terrified by an eclipse. But archaeology reveals a different story and we glimpse the Celts’ love of art and design, where exquisite jewellery symbolised power and where horse-riding warriors carried beautifully decorated swords and scabbards. We also discover how the Celtic-speaking tribes inhabiting the islands in the far north-west corner of Europe were culturally and technologically linked to their neighbours on the continent: iron age Britain was far from being a backwater.



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