Gundestrup cauldron

Gundestrup cauldron

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The Gundestrup cauldron is a richly-decorated silver vessel, thought to date to the 1st century BC, placing it into the late La Tène period
La Tène culture
The La Tène culture was a European Iron Age culture named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where a rich cache of artifacts was discovered by Hansli Kopp in 1857....

. It was found in 1891 in a peat bog near the hamlet of Gundestrup, in the Aars
Aars
Aars is a Danish town with a population of 8,010 in the Himmerland area on Jutland. Administratively, it is located in Region Nordjylland in the Vesthimmerland municipality...

 parish in Himmerland
Himmerland
Himmerland is a peninsula in northeastern Jutland, Denmark. It is delimited to the north and the west by the Limfjord, to the east by the Kattegat, and to the south by the Mariager Fjord. The largest city is Aalborg; smaller towns include Hobro, Aars, Løgstør, Støvring and Nibe...

, Denmark
Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 (56°49′N 9°33′E). It is now housed at the National Museum of Denmark
National Museum of Denmark
The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen is Denmark’s largest museum of cultural history, comprising the histories of Danish and foreign cultures, alike. The museum's main domicile is located a short distance from Strøget at the center of Copenhagen. It contains exhibits from around the world,...

 in Copenhagen
Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

 (with a replica in the National Museum of Ireland
National Museum of Ireland
The National Museum of Ireland is the national museum in Ireland. It has three branches in Dublin and one in County Mayo, with a strong emphasis on Irish art, culture and natural history.-Archaeology:...

 in Dublin.

The Gundestrup cauldron is the largest known example of European Iron Age silver work (diameter 69 cm, height 42 cm). The style and workmanship suggest Thracian origin, while the imagery seems Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic. This has opened room for conflicting theories of Thracian vs. Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

ish origin of the cauldron. Taylor (1991) has suggested Thracian origin with influence by Indian iconography
Hindu iconography
Over the millennia of its development Hinduism has adopted several iconic symbols, forming part of Hindu iconography, that are imbued with spiritual meaning based on either the scriptures or cultural traditions. The exact significance accorded to any of the icons varies with region, period and...

.

Discovery


The cauldron was discovered by peat cutters in a small peat-bog called Rævemose, at Gundestrup, on May 28, 1891. The Danish government paid a large reward to the finders, who subsequently quarreled bitterly amongst themselves over its division. The cauldron was found in a dismantled state, with five long rectangular plates, seven short ones, one round plate (normally termed the 'base plate') and two fragments of tubing stacked inside the curved base. Palaeobotanical investigation of the surrounding peat showed that the land had been dry when the cauldron was deposited, and the peat had since gradually grown over it. The manner of stacking suggests an attempt to make the cauldron inconspicuous and well-hidden.

Construction


The original ordering of the outer and inner rectangular plates is uncertain, although in two places a sharp object has apparently pierced through both an outer and an inner plate, which can thus be aligned with some certainty. The plates retain traces of solder, but since they seem to have been separated by 2 cm strips of metal (now missing), rather than soldered directly together, these traces do not help in matching adjacent plates. One of the eight original outer plates is missing. The circular 'base plate' originated as a phalera, or horse's bridle decoration, and it is commonly thought to have resided in the bottom of the bowl as a late addition, soldered in to repair a hole. By an alternative theory, this phalera was not initially part of the bowl, but instead formed part of the decorations of a wooden cover. The cauldron has been repaired, and possibly even dismantled and reassembled, multiple times, and the repair quality is inferior to the original craftmanship.

The silversmithing of the plates is very skilled. The bowl, 70 cm across, was beaten from a single ingot. For the relief work on the plates, the sheet-silver was annealed
Annealing (metallurgy)
Annealing, in metallurgy and materials science, is a heat treatment wherein a material is altered, causing changes in its properties such as strength and hardness. It is a process that produces conditions by heating to above the recrystallization temperature, maintaining a suitable temperature, and...

 to allow shapes to be beaten into high repoussé; these rough shapes were then filled with pitch from the back to make them firm enough for further detailing with punches and tracers. The pitch was then melted out. Areas of pattern were gilded
Gilding
The term gilding covers a number of decorative techniques for applying fine gold leaf or powder to solid surfaces such as wood, stone, or metal to give a thin coating of gold. A gilded object is described as "gilt"...

, and the eyes of the larger figures were probably inset with glass. The plates were probably worked in the flat and then bent into curves to solder them together.

Using scanning electron microscopy Benner Larson has identified 15 different punches used on the plates, falling into three distinct groups. No individual plate has marks from more than one of these groups, and this fits with previous attempts at stylistic attribution, which identify at least three different silversmiths.

The plates show wear and buckling, mostly consistent with having been forcibly torn apart at the seams. Some of the wear may, however, hint at an even earlier arrangement of the plates and subsequent reconstruction.

Origins


For many years scholars have interpreted the cauldron's images in terms of the Celtic pantheon. The antlered figure in plate A has been commonly identified as Cernunnos
Cernunnos
Cernunnos is the conventional name given in Celtic studies to depictions of the horned god of Celtic polytheism. The name itself is only attested once, on the 1st-century Pillar of the Boatmen, but depictions of a horned or antlered figure, often seated in a "lotus position" and often associated...

, and the figure holding the broken wheel in plate C is more tentatively thought to be Taranis
Taranis
In Celtic mythology Taranis was the god of thunder worshipped essentially in Gaul, the British Isles, but also in the Rhineland and Danube regions amongst others, and mentioned, along with Esus and Toutatis as part of a sacred triad, by the Roman poet Lucan in his epic poem Pharsalia as a Celtic...

. There is no consensus regarding other figures. The elephants depicted on plate B have been explained by some Celticists as a reference to Hannibal's crossing of the Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

.

The silverworking techniques used in the cauldron are unknown from the Celtic world, but are consistent with the renowned Thracian sheet-silver tradition; the scenes depicted are not distinctively Thracian, but certain elements of composition, decorative motifs and illustrated items (such as the shoelaces on the "Cernunnos" figure) identify it as Thracian work. It has been suggested that the cauldron might have been produced by Thracian craftsmen in the kingdom of Tylis
Tylis
Tylis or Tyle was a capital of a short-lived Balkan state mentioned by Polybius that was founded by Celts led by Comontorios in the 3rd century BC, after their invasion of Thrace and Greece in 279 BC. It was located near the eastern edge of the Haemus Mountains in what is now eastern Bulgaria...

, today in Bulgaria
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

.

The silver in the cauldron cannot be tracked to an individual mine by lead isotope analysis, since the melted coins such artifacts are normally made of can originate in many mines. The variety of coin used has, however, been determined with some certainty, by careful analysis of weights: a total weight of 9445 grams was reconstructed for the entire cauldron, and 4255 grams for the bowl alone, and these were found to be nearly precise integer multiples of the weight of the Persian siglos, a coin weighing 5.67 grams. By this calculation 1,666 coins were used in total, 750 of them in the bowl. This supports an origin in Thrace, where Persian weights were in common use.
The phalera base plate, added to the cauldron at a later date, also originated in Thrace.

Base Plate


The circular base plate depicts a bull, above its back a female figure wielding a sword, and two dogs, one over the bull's head, and another under its hooves.

Exterior Plates


Each of the seven exterior plates centrally depicts a bust, probably of a deity. Plates a, b, c, and d show bearded male figures, while the remaining three are female.
  • On plate a, the bearded figure holds in each hand a much smaller figure by the arm. Each of those two reach upward toward a small boar. Under the feet of the figures (on the shoulders of the god) are a dog on the left side and a winged horse on the right side.

  • The god on plate b holds in each hand a sea-horse or dragon. In Celtic-origin theories, the image has been associated with the Irish sea-god Manannán.

  • On plate c, a male figure raises his empty fists. On his right shoulder is a man in a "boxing" position, and on his left shoulder a leaping figure with a small horseman underneath.

  • Plate d shows a bearded figure holding a stag by the hind quarters in each hand.

  • The female figure on plate e is flanked by two smaller male busts.

  • On plate f: the female figure holds a bird in her upraised right hand. Her left arm is horizontal, supporting a man and a dog lying on its back. She is flanked by two birds of prey on either side of her head. Her hair is being plaited by a small woman on the right.

  • On plate g, the female figure has her arms crossed. On her right shoulder, a scene of a man fighting a lion is shown. On her left shoulder is a leaping figure similar to the one on plate c.

Plate A: Antlered Figure



Plate A centrally shows a horned male figure in a seated position. In its right hand, the figure is holding a torc
Torc
A torc, also spelled torq or torque, is a large, usually rigid, neck ring typically made from strands of metal twisted together. The great majority are open-ended at the front, although many seem designed for near-permanent wear and would have been difficult to remove. Smaller torcs worn around...

, and with its left hand, it grips a horned serpent by the head. To the left is a stag with antlers very similar to the humanoid. Other animals surround the scene, canine, feline, bovine, and a human figure riding a fish or a dolphin. The scene has been compared to a similar seal found in the Indus Valley. In theories of Celtic origin, the figure is often identified as Cernunnos
Cernunnos
Cernunnos is the conventional name given in Celtic studies to depictions of the horned god of Celtic polytheism. The name itself is only attested once, on the 1st-century Pillar of the Boatmen, but depictions of a horned or antlered figure, often seated in a "lotus position" and often associated...

 and occasionally as Mercury
Mercury (mythology)
Mercury was a messenger who wore winged sandals, and a god of trade, the son of Maia Maiestas and Jupiter in Roman mythology. His name is related to the Latin word merx , mercari , and merces...

.

In his 1928 book Buddhism in Pre-Christian Britain, Donald Alexander Mackenzie
Donald Alexander Mackenzie
Donald Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish journalist and folklorist and prolific writer on religion, mythology and anthropology in the early 20th century.-Life & Career:...

 proposed the figure was related to depictions of the Buddha, and of the Western Buddha-god Virupaksha
Virupaksha
In India, Virupaksha may refer to:* Virupaksha Raya, emperor* Virupaksha Temple at Hampi, Karnataka* Virupaksha Temple at Pattadakal, Karnataka...

.Also known as shiva
Shiva
Shiva is a major Hindu deity, and is the destroyer god or transformer among the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. God Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power lives a life of a...

 by Hindus.

Plate B: Female figure with Wheels


Plate B shows the bust of a female, flanked by two six-spoked wheels and by mythical animals: two elephant-like creatures and two griffins. Under the bust is a large hound. [missing image of Plate B]

Plate C: Broken Wheel


Plate C shows the bust of a bearded figure holding on to a broken wheel. A smaller leaping figure with a horned helmet
Horned helmet
European Bronze Age and Iron Age helmets with horns are known from a few depictions, and even fewer actual finds. Such helmets mounted with animal horns or replicas of them were probably used for religious ceremonial or ritual purposes.-Prehistoric Europe:...

 also is holding the rim of the wheel. Under the leaping figure is a horned serpent. The group is surrounded by griffin
Griffin
The griffin, griffon, or gryphon is a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle...

s and other creatures, some similar to those on plate B. The wheel's spoke
Spoke
A spoke is one of some number of rods radiating from the center of a wheel , connecting the hub with the round traction surface....

s are rendered asymmetrical, but judging from the lower half, the wheel may have had twelve spokes, which has been compared with chariot burial
Chariot burial
Chariot burials are tombs in which the deceased was buried together with his chariot, usually including his horses and other possessions....

s excavated in East Yorkshire
East Yorkshire
East Yorkshire could be:*East Yorkshire Motor Services*An alternative name for the East Riding of Yorkshire*East Yorkshire , a former district of Humberside*East Yorkshire...

. In theories of Celtic origin the figure has been associated with the Irish Dagda
Dagda
The Dagda is an important god of Irish mythology.Dagda can also refer to:*Dagda, Latvia, a city in eastern Latvia*Dagda , an Irish New Age band...

.

Plate D: Bull Hunting


Plate D shows a scene of bull-slaying. Three bulls are depicted in a row, facing right. Each bull is attacked by a man with a sword. Under the hooves of each bull is a dog running to the right, and over the back of each bull is a cat, also running to the right.

Plate E: Warriors and Cauldron



In the lower half, a line of warrior
Warrior
A warrior is a person skilled in combat or warfare, especially within the context of a tribal or clan-based society that recognizes a separate warrior class.-Warrior classes in tribal culture:...

s bearing spears and shields, accompanied by carnyx
Carnyx
The carnyx was a wind instrument of the Iron Age Celts, used between c. 300 BC to 200 AD. It was a type of bronze trumpet, held vertically, the mouth styled in the shape of a boar's, or other animal's, head. It was used in warfare, probably to incite troops to battle and intimidate opponents...

 players march to the left. On the left side, a large figure is immersing a man in a cauldron. In the upper half, facing away from the cauldron are warriors on horseback. This has been interpreted as an initiation scene.

Interpretation


The Gundestrup cauldron is the largest known example of European Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 silver work.

Despite the absence of any known tradition of sheet silver repoussé in Celtic Gaul or north-western Europe, the decorations on the walls of the cauldron have been widely identified with Celtic deities and rituals. The appearance of torques around the necks of some of the figures on the cauldron also suggest a connection with Celtic culture. Because of these, and because of the size of the vessel (diameter 69 cm, height 42 cm), it is said to have been used for initiatory or sacrificial purposes in Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism
Celtic polytheism, commonly known as Celtic paganism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices adhered to by the Iron Age peoples of Western Europe now known as the Celts, roughly between 500 BCE and 500 CE, spanning the La Tène period and the Roman era, and in the case of the Insular Celts...

.
Bergquist and Taylor propose manufacture by a Thracian craftsman, possibly commissioned by the Celtic Scordisci
Scordisci
The Scordisci were an Iron Age tribe centered in the territory of present-day Serbia, at the confluence of the Savus , Dravus and Danube rivers. They were historically notable from the beginning of the third century BC until the turn of the common era...

 and fallen into the hands of the Cimbri
Cimbri
The Cimbri were a tribe from Northern Europe, who, together with the Teutones and the Ambrones threatened the Roman Republic in the late 2nd century BC. The Cimbri were probably Germanic, though some believe them to be of Celtic origin...

 who invaded the Middle lower Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 in 120 BC. Olmsted interprets the iconography as a prototype of the Irish
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 myth of the Táin Bó Cuailnge
Táin Bó Cúailnge
is a legendary tale from early Irish literature, often considered an epic, although it is written primarily in prose rather than verse. It tells of a war against Ulster by the Connacht queen Medb and her husband Ailill, who intend to steal the stud bull Donn Cuailnge, opposed only by the teenage...

, associating the horned figure with Cú Chulainn
Cú Chulainn
Cú Chulainn or Cúchulainn , and sometimes known in English as Cuhullin , is an Irish mythological hero who appears in the stories of the Ulster Cycle, as well as in Scottish and Manx folklore...

 rather than with Cernunnos.

Timothy Taylor theorises that Thracian silverworkers were an itinerant class (who he compares to present-day Romani people) who were valued for magical and ritual services as well as for their metalworking (itself an important ritual occupation), and who, though living in southeastern Europe, would not have considered themselves Thracian. He suggests they may have been a feminised caste of men fulfilling functions of priesthood and seership, like the Enarees of Scythia and similar groups attested across Eurasia in the Iron Age. The figure on the cauldron typically identified with Cernunnos is unbearded, in contrast with all the other male figures, and the similar Mohenjo-Daro figure, though having male genitalia, is dressed in female clothes, his posture resembling a yogic posture for channeling sexual energy still used by a caste of Indian sorcerers. Taylor speculates that the "Cernunnos" figure, of ambiguous gender, may have been a deity of particular importance to the Thracian silverworking caste, part of a magical tradition common across Eurasia and still surviving in tantric yoga and Siberian shamanism.

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