thinking about archaeology

Here come the Celts!

The cover of the new British Archaeology features a small part of one of the most extraordinary prehistoric treasures from Europe, still in the ground in Norfolk during excavation in the early 1990s. Inside, we hear about new forensic work conducted on the gold and silver jewellery from Snettisham, Norfolk. The Celtic theme looks forward to a major exhibition featuring Celtic arts opening in London in September and in Edinburgh next year.

The picture above (The Riders of the Sidhe) is by John Duncan (1866–1945), a populist Celtic Revival artist with echoes of Richard Dadd (apparently he could hearing fairy music when he painted). He was born in Dundee; the painting will be loaned to the exhibitions from Dundee’s Art Galleries and Museums.

Some archaeologists will no doubt carp about the use of the word “Celt” in the British Museum’s “Celts: art and identity”, which moves to the National Museum of Scotland next March under the simple title of “Celts”. I’m looking forward to seeing the show, and will write about my impressions here (it opens on September 25). In the meantime, the first of three features in the new magazine offers an early insight: four of the people behind the exhibitions introduce their controversial idea of what Celtic arts mean. I think we may be leaving behind the old debates about whether or not there ever were such people as Celts, and taking a wider, more interesting view of the world. A good thing too. Continuing the new Celts theme, a third feature considers fine metal artefacts that were taken home from the British Isles by Norwegian Vikings.

It’s not all Celts, of course. Among other things British Archaeology celebrates the 200th anniversary of a guidebook to one of the country’s best preserved Roman villas – Bignor – and an Anglo-Saxon village – West Stow – that has been brought back to life.

The CITiZAN project (they insisted I write it like that) hopes to save coastal heritage around England with a new form of rescue archaeology. In the south, the former English Heritage funded two projects that showed well preserved mesolithic sites are not as rare as archaeologists had assumed.

We hear about salmon fishing on the Dee – thousand of years ago, when the Cairngorms were covered in permanent snow fields. In Wiltshire archaeologists are back at the Marden henge, and an unusual Roman farmstead seems to have stopped a major commercial development – while Historic England excavates another Roman farmstead elsewhere in the county.

With the usual news, reviews and comment, and reports from the Council for British Archaeology – and an interview with artist Dexter Dalwood, currently showing in Tate Britain’s exhibition about history painting – this is an outstanding issue that reflects the variety of archaeology in modern Britain.

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