FANTASTIC BEASTS – The Sphinx and other Hybrid Creatures in Iron Age European Art

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?”.

(Golding; Lord of the Flies)

 

 

Iron Age European Art is populated by a multitude of impossible creatures, ranging from the Ram Headed Serpent associated with the God Cernunnos, to fantastic hybrid serpentine and human headed beasts depicted on artifacts throughout the La Tène period.

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Hybrid creatures with the body of a horse, neck of a giraffe (!) and bird heads; executed in ceramic and discovered at Römerstein (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

(8/7 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/detail-of-the-ram-horned-serpent-on-the-cheek-piece-of-the-agris-helmetated-from-the-4th-century-bc-which-was-found-in-1981-during-archaeological-excavations-in-perrats-cave.jpg?w=820

The Ram Headed Serpent depicted on a a Celtic helmet from Agris, France (4 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

 

From the early La Tène period (i.e. 5th century BC) onwards,  a particularly interesting development is the appearance of the Sphinx, and variants thereof, in European art. Such representations can be roughly divided into 2 main categories, the first of which is a group which is obviously derived from examples to be found in the Ancient Greek and Etruscan spheres. 

 

Sphinxes depicted on a gold applique from a drinking horn, discovered in the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Weiskirchen, Germany (late 6 – early 5th c. BC)

 

Bone sphinx with amber face discovered in the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Asperg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany. Two sphinxes, of bone and ivory, both with amber faces, were discovered in the burial.

(ca. 500 BC)

 

Such representations continue throughout the Iron Age, and are to be found on Celtic jewelry and other artifacts across Europe. Depictions of sphinxes are particularly common on late Iron Age Celtic coinage.

 

Reverse of a Celtiberian bronze issue from Castro (Andalusia), Spain (2-1 c. BC)

Sphinx springing right – reverse of a silver issue of Cunobelinus, chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe in southern England (Early 1 c. AD)

 

A second group of hybrid creatures represented in Iron Age European art is perhaps even more interesting. These take a wide variety of forms, combining anthropomorphic and zoomorphic features in a multitude of combinations, resulting in fantastic creatures drawing from elements of both real and imaginary beings.

 

Sphinx-like creatures depicted on a bronze flagon, from a Celtic burial at Glauberg (Hesse) Germany (ca. 420 BC)

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Humanoid and sphinx-like creatures on a Celtic bronze brooch (maskenfibel / 5 c. BC) from Parsberg in Bavaria.

 

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Fantastic sphinx-like creatures on a Celtic bronze belt plate with coral inlay, from Weiskirchen (Saarland), Germany.

(ca. 400 BC)

Hybrid creature depicted on a Celtic bronze flagon from Dürnberg, Austria

(5 c. BC)

Fantastic creature from the Dürrnberg Flagon

 

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Bronze hybrid/sphinx creature, from the Celtic settlement at Horné Orešany, western Slovakia. The creature was most likely mounted on a large ceremonial vessel.

(5/4 c. BC)

 

 

Thus, while the first category of creatures is clearly influenced by / drawn from prototypes borrowed from other ancient cultures, the latter group is born of the experimentation and surrealistic fantasy typical of Iron Age Celtic art, a phenomenon which is continued and expanded upon, culminating in images to be observed in later Insular Ultimate La Tène art. 

 

Winged Ox depicted on Folio 27 V (detail), one of a large number of fantastic / hybrid creatures represented in the Book of Kells (ca. 800 AD)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE GLORY OF CELTIC EUROPE – The Case of the Rich Burial of a Celtic Princess with Horse Armour at Bettelbühl (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

 

The first decades of the 21st century in European archaeology have been marked by a massive amount of new discoveries relating to the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, significantly altering our perception of the Celtic peoples who populated Iron Age Europe. One of the most spectacular discoveries in this context was unearthed at the Bettelbühl necropolis, situated just over two kilometres from the well known Celtic settlement on the Heuneburg in the Sigmaringen area of BadenWürttemberg in southern Germany.

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3D Reconstruction of the Celtic settlement on the Heuneburg

 

In the central tumulus at the Bettelbühl site an incredibly rich burial of a Celtic lady and a child was discovered; revealing some of the most spectacular burial goods yet unearthed from this period in European history. The woman, who died aged 30-40, in ca. 583 BC, was accompanied in her journey into the afterlife by a wealth of  wonderfully crafted jewelry of gold, bronze, amber, glass and other materials. 

goldene Fibeln,Perlen, ein Nadelkopf,ein Ohrring und Bettelbühl 583 BC

Gold jewelry from the Bettelbühl burial

Bernsteinanhänger, needle heads - beads Bettelbühl

Amber jewelry from the burial

 

Besides the aforementioned material, perhaps the most fascinating discovery in the burial was an excellently preserved example of horse armour, in the form of a lavishly decorated bronze mask. The tremendous wealth and workmanship to be observed in this and other early Celtic aristocratic burials of the period have provided a valuable insight into the high level of material and cultural sophistication which had developed among the European population by the early stages of the Iron Age.

Horse mask 1

Horse mask 2 - Beautiful bronze horse mask discovered in 2010 in the burial of a Celtic lady at the Heuneburg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

Bronze horse mask from the Bettelbühl burial, and reconstruction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mac Congail

 

CATUBODUA – Metempsychosis and the Queen of Death

 

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/galiche-2-1-c-bc-thracian-silver-gilt-horse-harness-appliquc3a9-2nd-1st-century-bce-found-in-galiche.jpg?w=820

“At one moment she was a broad-eyed, most beautiful queen,

And another time a beaked, white-grey badb”.

(Harleian manuscript 4.22)

 

The central tenet of Celtic religion was metempsychosis – the transmigration of the soul and its reincarnation after death (Caesar J. De Bello Gallica, Book VI, XIV). This belief is probably best summed up by the Roman poet Lucanus (1st c. AD):

While you, ye Druids, when the war was done,
To mysteries strange and hateful rites returned…

 

Read Full Article: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/catubodua-queen-of-death/

 

 

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BALKAN CELTIC SERPENT-HEADED BROOCHES

 

Some of the most exquisite European Iron Age jewelry pieces were produced by the “barbarian” tribes on the Balkan peninsula between the 4th and 1st century BC. During this period Celtic craftsmen, working in a variety of mediums, drew heavily on both Scythian and Hellenistic art; a process which culminated in a distinctive Balkan Celtic style.

Although multiple mediums were used, the genius of Celtic craftsmen of this period is to be most clearly observed in silver treasures produced by the Scordisci tribes, such as those from Hrtkovci, Židovar, Čurug etc...

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/35771383/BALKAN_CELTIC_HINGED_SERPENT-HEAD_BROOCHES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gruesome Secrets of Bull Rock Cave

 

Probably the most enigmatic and mysterious archaeological site in Europe, the Býči Skála/Bull Rock cave in the Křtiny Valley (Czech Republic), was first investigated in 1867 by a local doctor, Jindřich Wankel, who initially discovered traces of a Paleolithic settlement.

 

FULL ARTICLE:

 

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/the-secrets-of-bull-rock-cave/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LESSONS FROM THE REICH: Race and the Evolution of Pseudo-Archaeology In Nazi Germany

 

 

Fascinating article by Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee on the manipulation of science and the development of pseudo-archaeology in Nazi Germany:

 

https://www.academia.edu/358444/Arierd%C3%A4mmerung_Race_and_Archaeology_In_Nazi_Germany

 

 

BURNING MEN – The Myth of the “Wicker Man” in Celtic Europe

UD: October 2018

The most horrific ritual associated with the ancient Celts is undoubtedly the Wicker Man, and the mass burning of human and animal sacrifices inside this sinister structure. Our knowledge of this phenomenon among the Iron Age European population comes largely from two main sources

 

Full Article:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/the-wicker-man/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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