7th December 1849. Celtic Art.
The Wandsworth Shield, a circular bronze, iron age shield boss or mount, was found in the Thames at Wandsworth c 1849. The shield, along with an incomplete bronze, shield mount and sword, were found during the dredging of the river.
The finds were presented by William English to the Royal Archaeological Institute, and recorded in the Proceedings of the Institute’s Journal today in 1849.(1)
The shield depicts two birds with outstretched wings and trailing feathers in repousse work.(2)
The find appears to be ‘similar in character to the remarkable British Shield found in the River Witham, near Washingborough, Linconshire, in 1826 and confirmed that the ‘Celts’ had a highly developed culture with exquisite examples of metalwork.(3)
The discoveries also might confirm religious practices based on earth and water spirits, needing to be placated by the casting of swords and other offerings into water, rituals to merge, but never lost, in early Christianity after the conversion of Constantine, in the 4th century CE.(4)
Celtic, military artefacts found in rivers, as with the Westminster Helmet, were ex voto offerings to the gods, and many accompanied later inhumations (burial), along with grave goods, such as carts and other relics, as found in East Yorkshire, and with later Saxon prestige burials, as with Radwald at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.(5)
The earliest use of ‘Keltoi’ (Celt), was by ancient Greek writers Hecetaeus and Herodotus in the late 6th or early 5thc BCE, in reference to one of the recognized groups of barbarian neighbours of the Greeks. The word Celt was used by the Greek historian Herodotus in c450 BCE, when he described the people of the head-waters of the Danube north of the Alps.
The Roman name for these people was Galli (‘chicken-people’), in distinction to the inhabitants of the British Isles described as ‘Britanni’. The Venerable Bede in the 8th century described the Celts as Irish, Pictish and Scottish.
The Battersea Shield was found in excavations for the new Chelsea Bridge, amongst many Roman and Celtic weapons and skeletons, and as with other relics, would have been for prestige and display, as opposed to usage in battle, by an elite, probably in institutionalised warfare.(6)
If nothing else it debunks the myth of the Celts as uncivilized, for if we judge a culture on its artefacts it compares favourably with today.
(1) ‘Mr English presented to the Institute a very valuable collection of ancient arms and a relics discovered in the Thames…’
Recorded in Archaeological Journal Volume 6 P.411 (7 Dec 1849). Edward Hawkins Treasurer was in the Chair. The Shield was presented to B.M. in 1858.
Mr English was a millwright employed in steam-dredging the Thames between 1808-1850.
(2) Repousse was hammered from the reverse, leaving a fine etched relief on the front.
(3) Archaeology of Celtic Art, D.W. Harding, 2007.
(4) Megaw Ruth and Vinvent 2005, Early Celtic Art in Britain and Ireland, Osprey P.26-8.
(5) The metal, in many cases, it appears was too thin for any practical use in battle.
(6) Battersea shield c350-50.
All artefacts have been dated c350-50 BCE. All finds are now in the British Museum.
Ref: Battersea Shield, Stead,Ian 1985, BM Publication P.26.
Ref: The Ven Bede, ‘John Foxe and the Creation of English Identity’.Susan H Royd.
Ref; British archaeology.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/highlights/maiden-castle.
Ref; The Romanisation of Britain: An essay in archaeological interpretation Martin Millett CUP 2003 P.36.