Rare Celtic treasures to go on display

The decorated silver Gundestrup cauldron from Denmark. Picture: Contributed
The decorated silver Gundestrup cauldron from Denmark. Picture: Contributed
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RARE objects from across the British Isles and Europe will be going on display in a major joint exhibition in England and Scotland exploring just who the Celts were.

Items ranging from four torcs made between 300 and 100 BC - discovered at Blair Drummond, Stirling, in 2009 by a metal detectorist on his first outing yards from his car and a horned helmet found in the Thames to the decorated silver Gundestrup cauldron from Denmark and a 1904 Liberty’s tea set will tell the story of different peoples who have been called Celts over time.

The Hunterston brooch, found in north Ayrshire. Picture: Contributed

The Hunterston brooch, found in north Ayrshire. Picture: Contributed

Experts from the National Museums Scotland and the British Museum said they would be challenging people’s ideas of Celts as a single people who invaded the British Isles and then remained in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man.

The exhibition, featuring items from 16 UK institutions and 10 international lenders, stretches from ancient Greece in around 500 BC, when the term “Celt” was used by the Greeks to describe people across a broad swathe of Europe north of the Alps.

It will examine how different people across Europe were linked through the stylised form of art they developed, with abstract animals, people and gods, that set them apart from the classical world. The exhibition will also trace the development of what we think of today as Celtic art and objects, with swirls, geometric designs and interlocking patterns, by communities in Ireland and western Britain during and after the Romans and the arrival of Christianity.

It will look at the rediscovery of the term “Celtic” in the early 1700s and how it acquired new significance as people of the Atlantic regions sought to define themselves as different from their English and French neighbours.

More modern exhibits will look at contemporary ideas about what the term Celtic means, including 19th century prints and how Celtic images and mythology have become international, finding their way into Marvel comics and Japanese Manga cards.

Alongside the joint exhibition, a spotlight tour featuring two Iron Age mirrors - one discovered in England and one in Scotland - will go on tour to museums across Britain.

Bruce Minto, chairman of trustees of National Museums Scotland, said: “The object of the exhibition is to lay before the public as much information as possible about the Celts and challenge preconceived notions about who the Celts were.

“Hopefully this exhibition will give people sufficient information to make up their own minds and perhaps change their minds.”

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said: “The word Celtic brings together a series of moments across the history of western Europe when particular communities made art and objects that reflect a different, non-Mediterranean, way of thinking about the world.

“New research is challenging our preconception of the Celts as a single people, revealing the complex story of how this name has been used and appropriated over the last 2,500 years.

“While the Celts are not a distinct race or genetic group that can be traced through time, the word ‘Celtic’ still resonates powerfully today, all the more so because it has been continually redefined to echo contemporary concerns over politics, religion and identity.”

• Celts: Art and Identity is on at the British Museum, London, from September 24 to January 31. Celts is on at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, March 10 to September 25 2016.