Discovered in a peat bog near the village of Gundestrup in Denmark in 1891, the Gundestrup Cauldron is the largest and finest example of Iron Age European silverwork (diameter: 69 cm (27 in); height: 42 cm (17 in.). Despite being discovered in Denmark, the workmanship and iconography on the cauldron indicate that it originated on the Balkans, either among the Thraco-Celtic (Scordisci) or possibly Celto-Scythian (Bastarnae) tribes, although the exact date and location of production is still uncertain.
The Gundestrup Cauldron
Antlered deity on Plate A of the Gundestrup cauldron, identified with the Celtic God Cernunnos, holding a ram-horned serpent and torc.
Celtic carnyx players depicted on Plate E of the Cauldron
X-radiograph of inner plate C 6575 showing details of traces from working tools.
The ‘Gundestrup Ghosts’
While extensive academic attention has been paid to the cauldron’s iconography and origin over the past century, one fascinating element has been completely overlooked until recently. Scientific research on the back of the cauldron’s silver plate, using a ﬁbre illumination unit, as well as silicone rubber moulds, epoxy resin replicas and macro photography, have revealed ‘Ghost Images’ unseen to the human eye for over 2,000 years.
The images, drawn lightly into the backs of the silver plates with a scriber and which are almost invisible to the naked eye, include a male figure 4.4 cm. discovered in the lower right corner on the back of inner plate C6572. The man is depicted in proﬁle and blowing a horn instrument. It is worth noting that this instrument looks quite different from the relatively much longer instruments played by the three carnyx players depicted on the front of inner plate C6574.
The Trumpet Player on Plate C6572
On the back of inner plate C6573 three drawings have been recorded, including a male head in proﬁle near the right side at the middle, much like the horn player mentioned and believed to be the work of the same artist. Further images include the heads of two cats, likewise in proﬁle, one of which was found over the male head near the upper corner. Corrections in the drawings of the latter creatures suggest that they may have been the theme of a discussion on the anatomy of cats. Also noteworthy is the fact that the cats are depicted in a way which could be characterized as ‘naturalistic’, i.e. not executed in the style generally associated with the imagery of the Gundestrup cauldron.
Images of a male head and cat discovered on Plate C6573
While the exact purpose of the hidden images on the cauldron may forever remain unknown, the ‘ghosts’ may not be as mysterious as one may imagine. At present the most likely theory is that the back of the silver sheet served as a sort of artists ‘sketchpad’ two thousand years ago, before subsequently being used to produce the magnificent work of art as we know it today.