By Dr Neil Faulkner
Last updated 2011-02-17
Iron Age jewellery
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.
Discover more amazing finds at the Portable Antiquities Scheme database.
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