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Art in Pre Christian Ireland during the bronze age.
john lyonson 23 October 2013
Transcript of Art in Pre Christian Ireland during the bronze age.
Bell Beaker People
Beaker Pottery, early bronze age.
The Beaker people get their name from the shape of the pottery that they made. The pots are usually V shaped in section like an upside down bell. Narrow at the bottom and opening out toward the top. Usually 10cm to 20cm tall.
The whole outer surface usually covered with ornate decoration, made by a toothed comb or wheel which produced dotted lines often running parallel to each other. Motifs include herringbone, chevrons and lozenges; bases are sometimes decorated with a cross. The pots usually have raised bands in high relief – a light/shadow effect created by the use of chip carving
The pots were used as funerary vessels. The ashes of the dead may heve been placed in them or the pots may have been placed beside the dead containing food as sustenence for their journey to another world.
The pots would have been made using a clay coiling technique. Long sausages of clay would be rolled out and then coiled around slowly building upward. The surface would then be smoothed and rendered with clay working tools.
The first metal that mankind widely used was bronze - an alloy of copper and tin
Ireland was blessed with relatively rich copper deposits, allowing large quantities of bronze to be produced on the island.
Evidence from inside the mines indicates that the copper ore was probably extracted by lighting fires inside the mine and then, when the mine walls had become hot, water was splashed onto them, thus shattering the ore which could then be removed. Counties Cork and Kerry, on the south-west tip of the island, produced the bulk of Ireland's copper and it has been estimated
Ireland exported a lot of copper during the Bronze Age
Most of the tin that was needed to make the bronze seems to have been imported from what is now England
The technology for moulding the bronze improved through the Bronze Age. Initially, items were cast by pouring the bronze into a hollowed out stone. When removed, this axe head would have been attached to a wooden handle at its narrow end, while the wide, curved end would have become the blade.
By the middle Bronze Age, people had invented two-part moulds, where two hollowed stones were put together and metal poured into a gap at the top. This allowed more complex items, such as daggers, to be produced.
By the end of the Bronze Age, people were making wax or fat models of what they wanted to cast, putting clay round them and then heating the clay to melt the wax. They then poured in the metal and chipped away the clay once it had set.
The Bronze Age also saw the first use of gold and there are a number of beautiful examples of gold jewellery and other objects. As gold was useless for any practical purpose, and also because of its beautiful colour and rarity, it quickly became a highly desirable ornamental material. It is for this reason that the period is sometimes called Ireland's first "golden age"
Repoussé- Design beaten up from behind.
Incised- Design cut into.
Twisting- Metal twisted.
Three main metalworking techniques of the Bronze Age
Early Bronze Age
Flat thin sheet of gold, circular in shape. 11.6cm in diameter.
Geometric designs consisting of two rings of chevrons, surrouinded by multiple rings of indentations. In the middle of the disc there is a cross with a star like feature at the centre.
It was worn as a representation of wealth or status. The two holes in the middle show that it was possible sewn onto clothing. Often found in pairs. Possibly worn on the chest.
Gold was hammered until very thin and cut into a circular shape. It was then decorated using the repousse technique.
Gold Sun Disc from Tedavnet
Period : Early Bronze Age
Form : Flat, thin gold sheet, cresent moon shape with clasps at the end for fastening around the neck.
Decoration : Geometrical patterns consisting of chevrons, zig zags. Toward the narrow ends there are four bands of lozenges and zigzags. The outer edge of the whole piece is decorated with lines and lozenges.
Function : Jewellery, worn as a sign of wealth and status around the neck.
Technique : Gold would be hammered till very thin and then cut into the cresent shape. Decoration would be applied using the incision technique.
Gold Lunula, Co.Kerry.
Period : Late Bronze Age
Cylindrical bands of gold which are not completly closed.
Thin ridges of geometrical patterns flowing around the band. The outer edge of the piece has a raised lip.
Jewellery worn to show wealth and status. These would be worn on the wrist. The design could possible have originated from protective armour worn by warriors.
Gold would be hammered until very thin and then cut into a rectangular shape. Then decoration would be applied using the repousse technique. The gold sheet would then be bent around a cylindrical form.
Gold Armlets from Derrinaboy, Co Offaly.
In Ireland we split the Bronze Age into three distinct periods
Early Bronze Age - 2000bc to 1500bc
Middle Bronze Age - 1500bc to 1200bc
Late Bronze Age - 1200bc to 500bc
2000bc to 500bc
Early Bronze Age
Middle Bronze Age
Late Bronze Age
2000bc - 1500bc
1500bc - 1200bc
The Beaker people were late Neolithic–Early Bronze Age people living about 4,500 years ago in the temperate zones of Europe
Their extensive search for copper (and gold), in fact, greatly accelerated the spread of bronze metallurgy in Europe.
Probably originally from Spain, the Beaker folk soon spread into central and western Europe in their search for metals.
The Beaker People received their name from the distinctive bell-shaped beakers that they made.
In the west of Ireland, a new kind of tomb appeared known as Wedge tombs
Wedge Tombs consist of a narrowing stone chamber covered by a mound of earth. The single entrance almost invariably faces south-west.
They are found in western Ulster, Connaught and Munster
These tombs were unadorned
It seems that the Bronze Age Irish lived in houses that were similar to those of the Neolithic; that is, rectangular or circular houses constructed from timber beams with wattle-and-daub walls and thatched roofs made from reeds. The circular houses would have been from 4 to 7 metres in diameter and supported by a central post. Some other houses may have been constructed from sods of earth placed within a wooden frame. Many houses would have had a circular wooden fence making an enclosure in front of the house. There was sometimes a circular ditch around the whole property which was both defensive and kept animals in.
Agriculture continued much as it did in the Neolithic, on a larger scale. More lowland forests were cleared to make farmland which was used for grazing or for growing cereal crops.
Bronze Age cooking place or fulacht fia was horse-shoe shaped. A wood-lined trough was dug in the ground and filled with water. Beside the trough, a fire was lit and stones heated in the fire. These stones were then thrown into the water. Once it was hot enough, meat could be boiled in the water. The broken, used stones were hurled off to one side and formed, over the course of some years, the distinctive horseshow mound. Fulacht fia are very common in Ireland, particularly in the south-west.
1200bc - 500bc
Bar torc gold earrings
Period : Middle Bronze Age
Form : twisted gold flanged torc, small in size with fastening clasps made from gold wire.
Function : worn as jewellery to show status and wealth.
Decoration : The decoration of the earrings is attained through the twisting of the flanged gold bar.
Technique : Firstly a square sectioned piece of gold bar would be hammered out. Then the flat faces of the bar would be hammered to emphasise the corners creating flanges. The bar was then twisted to create the design. The clasps were made from gold wire.
Period : Middle bronze age
Form : Long twisted gold flanged torc with elaborate hook like clasps.
Function : Worn as jewellery around the waist perhaps used to fasten clothing. Worn as sign of status and wealth.
Decoration : The decoration is attained through the twisting of the flanged gold bar.
Technique : Firstly a square sectioned piece of gold bar would be hammered out. Then the flat faces of the bar would be hammered to emphasise the corners creating flanges. The bar was then twisted to create the design.The hook clasps were rounded and bent into shape of the design.
Long gold bar torcs
Period : Middle bronze age
Form : Twisted flat gold bar with hook clasps to fasten the piece.
Function : Worn as jewellery around the neck as a sign of status and wealth.
Decoration : Decoration is attained through the uniform twisting of the flat gold bar.
Technique : Firstly a piece of gold would be hammered into a flat thin rectangular strip. The strip would then be twisted uniformly to create the ribbon effect. The ends of the strip would be hammered into rounded hooks for fastening.
Ribbon torc from Belfast
1400bc - 1200bc is known as the Bishopslands Phase.
It gets it's name from a great hord of bronze artefacts dating from around 1400bc - 1200bc found in Bishopsland in Co Kildare. At around this time much of the sheet gold work of the early bronze age was replaced by torcs, ornaments and jewelery made from twisting bars of gold.
Period : Late Bronze Age
Form : Two disc or cup like shapes joined together with a gold bow or handle made from approx 1kg of gold.
Function : It is most likely worn as a dress fastener. Due to the weight of this fibula it was not practical for everyday wear and was probably reserved for ritual.
Decoration : The surface is finely polished. There are four rows of concentric circles on three quarters of the cup surfaces containing a single punch mark at each centre. The surface of the cups underneath the bow is undecorated but polished. The perimeter of the cups are decorated with rings in a step like fashion. where the bow joins the cups there are chevrons and parallel lines encircling it. The bow itself is finely polished without design.
Technique : The piece was cast using the lost wax method. In bronze age times animal fat may have been used instead of wax. After casting the piece would have been polished before the designs were made using the incision technique.
Period : Late Bronze Age
Form : Cresent shaped gold sheet with two attached concave gold discs.
Function : Jewellery worn around the neck as a sign of wealth and status.
Decoration : The cresent shaped part is highly decorated with six repousse ridges of rope with with rows of beads on either side. The edges are folded backwards to give a clean edge. The outer edge of the the concave discs are decorated with repouse beading. There is a row of incised concentric
circles with dot marks at the centre. At the centre of the disc is a large repousse point surrounded by dozens of incised concentric circles followed by a row repousse beads.
Technique : Firstly gold was hammered in a thin sheet and then cut into the cresent and disc shapes. The discs were hammered into a concave shape.The decoration was added using both the incision and repousse technique before joining the pieces together using a type of biscuit joint and securing with gold wire.
Late Bronze Age
Solid Lead, covered with sheet gold
Small rounded, heart shaped 6.4cm long.
Worn as an amulet (an object which can ward off evil sprits or ensure fertility), possibly around the neck. Derived from roman culture where young boys would were this around their neck until they become grown men. Girls did not wear such amulets.
Two sides contrast greatly. One side looks almost like a warriors helmet with a nose gaurd. There are concentric circles, chevrons and lines of dots around the perimeter and nose guard shape. Along the top are chevrons filled with alternating angled hatched lines. The other side is even more geometric. Similarly the perimeter is decorated with chevrons filled with angled hatched lines. The centre of this face is split into six horizontal sections filled with alternating patterns ranging from chevrons, horizontal lines, vetical lines. There are some horizontal spaces that are merely polished.
Conclusive information on the construction of this piece was not available. This is my own suposition as to how it was made. The lead form may have been cast or hammered into the heart shape form. Gold may have been hammered into a sheet and then decorated with the repousse technique before been carefully wrapped around the lead form. It is not clear how the gold was fixed to the lead.
Period : Late Bronze Age
Material : Gold
Each lock ring consists of two cone shapes of thin gold wire fixed together at the wide end with a pinched narrow bronze sheet creating a ridge. A slit is cut into the form from edge to centre. At the centre is a cylindrical piece of sheet gold that can rotate freely.
These were probably worn as hair ornaments by a wealthy or powerful member of society. A lock of hair could be pushed through the slit of the cone and the alligned cylinder. The lock of hair could be fixed in place by rotating the clyinder out of alingment.
Decoration of the piece is achieved in the very thin and delicate spiral created by the this gold wire as it spirals from the centre of the cones outward.The edges of the pieces are polished.
The cones were made by coiling thin gold wire over a cone form. The wire was soldered together to create a rigid cone structure. Each cone was then cut to allow for the slit. The cones were joined together with a band of sheet gold pinch around the edges. A cylindrical tube also with a slit was placed at the centre and can move freely. The band and the cylinder were made from gold which was hammered into a sheet and cut to size.
Late Bronze Age
Large round cooking pot with large rim and loop handles, 40cm high by 60cm wide.
Used for cooking large quantities of food. A pole may have been put through the handles to suspend the pot over flame and to assist in carrying of the full pot.
The structural rivets in the pot are the only decoration on the vessel.
The pot is made from sheet bronze. Many separate sheets are riveted together. Riveting is done by putting a pin through a hole in both sheets and hammering the rivet from both sides until flattened and rounded, holding both sheets securely.
Fibula from Clones, Co Monaghan
Gleninsheen Gold Gorget
Gorteenreagh Lock rings
Front and back of the gold plated Bulla from the Bog of Allen
Large Bronze Cauldron from Ballyscullion
The Dowris phase 900bc - 500bc
This phase got it's name from the hoard of objects dating from this time found at Dowris in Co Offaly. The hoard consisted of roughly 200 items ranging from axe heads and swords to horns and a cauldron.