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The Reading List from 1989:
It ought to be easy to learn about the Celts – but it isn't. Although there are scores of books about Celtic Society, most miss the point.
Celtic society provided a good standard of living for large numbers of people, but no Celt wrote about that success. Instead, we have only the written accounts of their enemies, the Greeks and Romans – and enemies seldom have good things to say.
If you look for tales of Druid sacrifices, incessant warfare, drunken brawls and superstition, these you will find. But if you want to find out why Celtic society was so successful at providing a good life for so many people. you run into a dead end almost, except for the work of two men.
Peter J. Reynolds and Barry Cunliffe, using vastly different approaches, have arrived at a similar conclusion – Celtic society functioned to control the environment for the benefit of the people. Peter J. Reynolds is an experimental archaeologist. He heads the Butser Iron Age Farm experiment, which tries to recreate the way a Celtic farm operated. Barry Cunliffe's work stays closer to the Celtic remains, using excavation as the means to obtain raw data.
Peter J. Reynolds' book, Iron Age Farm is a landmark study in experimental archaeology. Written for the general reader, it gives a remarkable account of Celtic agriculture and animal husbandry. Iron Age Farm is out of print, so locating a copy may be difficult but the quest is worth it. Shire Archaeology has published a booklet (No. 50) entitled Ancient Farming which serves as a substitute.
Barry Cunliffe's Danebury: Anatomy of an Iron Age Hillfort gives the other side of the story – again written for the general reader. Based on fifteen years' excavations at Danebury, it shows how a hillfort worked: how the people lived, and how they organized their food supply, clothing and shelter. The degree of social organization attained, and the prosperity the people enjoyed as a result, are shown with great clarity.
The excellent Museum of the Iron Age at Andover is the place to start if you want to experience Celtic Society firsthand. The same clarity expressed in Danebury: Anatomy of an Iron Age Hillfort is shown in the displays and the Hillfort is only a short distance away. Butser Iron Age Farm, only 40 miles from Andover, just south of Petersfield, is open to the public, and it completes a fascinating one-day tour. The farm has live displays and re-enactments – and complements the Andover materiacomplements the Andover material perfectly.
Scholarly books abound. The standard work on Celtic Britain is Barry Cunliffe's Iron Age Communities in Britain.
Trade in the Celtic world is discussed in Macready and Thompson's Cross-Channel Trade Between Gaul and Britain in the Pre-Roman Iron Age, and Cunliffe's Greeks, Romans and Barbarians – Spheres of Interaction. The latter starts with a model of ancient trade, described with unusual clarity. It then discusses the ancient evidence, especially the Roman wine trade with Gaul, and finishes with a re-appraisal of the model.
Cunliffe and Miles' Aspects of the Iron Age in Central Southern Britain contains papers on a number of topics. including metallurgy and findspot analysis.
Tylecote's The Early History of Metallurgy in Europe, provides an overview of ancient metal-working, though its scope is much wider than the Iron Age.
Miranda Green's remarkable The Gods of the Celts seemingly draws blood from a stone. Evidence dating to the Pre-Roman Iron Age is rare, so most works on Celtic religion rely on artifacts from the Roman period or written accounts from the Anglo-Saxon. They sometimes fail to separate the later material out when they discuss the earlier period. But Dr. Green has separated the material carefully, drawn Iron Age inferences from Iron Age artifacts – and given us a work of great insight.
Barry Cunliffe's general work, The Celtic World provides an overview of Celtic Society throughout Europe.
Numismatic works abound, as well, but most are in the form of articles, rather than books.
Camden and Speed both used illustrations of Ancient British coins in their works. Paul Petavius published plates of Gallo-Belgic A, B and F types in 1610. But it was not until the eighteenth century that the first serious attempts to explain the Ancient coins were made.
Cunobeline's coinage received attention in Pegge (1766a). Pettingal (1763) argued the inscription TASCIA referred to the tax levied by Caesar on the British tribes. The tax idea was not new because others, including Horsely (Britannia Romana, 1732), had mentioned it before.
Borlase (1769) published an account of the Carn Brae hoard, a very early example of accurate recording, showing the way for future workers.
Stukeley attempted to create a general work on the British coinage, but this was never printed. However, the plates he prepared were published separately in 1776. It would be almost ninety years before the first general work on the coinage appeared.
The nineteenth century saw an increase in publishing activity. Ruding illustrated many new types in his Annals of the Coinage (1840). Coloured illustrations, using the chromolithographic process, appeared in Humphrey's The Coinage of the British Empire (1855). Scholars soon began to unravel the complexities of the coinage, using new analytical techniques.
By 1849, Akerman placed the study on a sounder footing by publishing the first distribution map of coin findspots. He demonstrated some types must be British, because they were found in Britain. This study was to be the forerunner of modern trend surface analysis.
1849 also saw a paper by Evans, arguing chronology and typology. Evans was to go on to become the leading man in the field of Ancient British coins by the 1860's. His book The Coins of the Ancient Britons (1864, Supplement 1890), the first general work on the coinage, was to stand for ninety years. In many ways, it has never been replaced, and is still an essential reference for anyone studying the coinage.
The brilliance of Evans' work was in the integrated approach he took to analyze the coins. He demonstrated the proper way to study Celtic coins was to analyze them from different viewpoints and synthesize the results. Evans argued using typology, metrology, findspot distribution analysis and the accounts of the ancient authors – in unison. He even made an attempt to bring metallurgical studies into the picture, but the technology of the day did not provide the means to do this with precision.
A contemporary of Evans', Beale Poste, wrote a series of books about the coinage, but these have been largely forgotten. Poste and Evans disagreed on their interpretations, and the disagreements often spilled into print. Poste's views eventually lost out – but his books contain a wealth of information about findspots and new discoveries.
After Evans' death, the study of the Ancient British coins languished for a time. Hill published an important paper on the Clacton hoard in 1919, and Brooke published two papers in 1933, analyzing the imported coins. But no major work was done until Derek Allen appeared on the scene.
Brooke had died before he had a chance to analyze the dynastic coins, and this work was left for Allen to complete. Allen's landmark 'The Belgic Dynasties of Britain and their Coins', appeared in 1944, establishing him as the expert in the field. Allen, using typological studies and findspot distributions, was able to revise Evans' work and reorganize the coinage. His work enabled Mack to produce the first catalogue of the coins in 1953.
By 1958, Allen had gathered and organized the findspot data from all the diverse sources, and reinterpreted the introduction of coinage in Britain. The work was published in 1960 as 'The Origins of Coinage in Britain: A Reappraisal', his second landmark paper. One of his most significant studies appeared in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1958. It was concerned with the artistic inspiration of the coins, and its reflection of the daily life of the Celts. Scheers, 1969, and Henig, 1972 continued the work on the artistic inspiration – most of the comments about type-derivations come from these two important articles.
Allen went on to study the coinage of the different tribes, one by one. He wrote on the Dobunni (1961), the Corieltauvi (1963), the Durotriges (1968) and the Iceni (1970). He then studied several inscribed coinages in detail, publishing a major article on Cunobeline's gold in 1975. An article on Verica's gold appeared posthumously in 1979, completed by Colin Haselgrove. Haselgrove continued Allen's publication of coin findspots, publishing Gazetteers in 1978 and 1984, and a collation of finds from archaeological excavations in 1988.
Allen also wrote on the cast bronzes of Kent in 1971, using typology as a major approach to interpretation. J. P. Wild had suggested papyrus was used to make the moulds for some of these coins, and Allen's article published experiments which seemed to support the idea. This was to excite the imagination of many who saw contacts between Britain and Egypt in the evidence.
Mack, however, had been assembling a series of cast bronzes starting in the late 1950's. By 1970 he knew most of the major varieties, and could have written a reinterpretation of these coins. Although the way he assembled his collection shows he had new insights, he never published anything to question the papyrus idea.
Even before 1970, some of Allen's work began to be questioned, because the archaeological record no longer provided support. A series of invasions could not be the mechanism by which coins were introduced in Britain because evidence for invasions (at the time the coins were imported) could not be found. Even the existence of tribes with groups on both sides of the Channel was not proof of invasion – these could be the result of treaties, marriages or peaceful immigration.
Rodwell published his iconoclastic 'Coinage, Oppida and the Rise of Belgic Power in Southeast Britain' in 1976. He raised many important objections to the traditional interpretation, and offered some alternatives. Other workers, Collis in 1971 and 1974, and Kent in 1976, suggested new approaches to analyzing the coins.
Initially, it appeared models could be constructed and tested to offer a new explanation of the coinage. Although this approach suggested some interesting new directions, the scientific data were not available for the tests. It was not until metallurgical, metrological and trend-surface analyses were completed in the mid-1980's that a new synthesis could be offered.