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12.12.2020

The Gundestrup Cauldron, Himmerland

The Gundestrup Cauldron is an ornate silver vessel thought to date from between 200 BC and 300 AD, or more narrowly between 150 BC and 1 AD. This attributes it to the late La Tene period or early Roman Iron Age . The cauldron is the largest known example of European Iron Age silver work (diameter: 69 cm (27 in); height: 42 cm (17 in)). It was found disassembled and other parts were stacked inside the base in 1891 in a peat bog near the village of Gundestrup in the parish of Aars in Himmerland , Denmark. It is now usually on display at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen , with copies in other museums; in 2015-16 it was in the UK in the traveling exhibition Celtic .

The cauldron is not complete, and now consists of a rounded bowl-shaped bottom constituting the bottom of the cauldron, generally , called the base plate, above which are five inner plates and seven outer plates of them; the missing eighth outer plate would be needed to surround the cauldron, and only two parts of the rounded edge on top of the cauldron would remain. The base is mostly smooth and unadorned inside and out, with the exception of an ornate round medallion in the center of the interior. All other plates are heavily decorated with repousse , forging from below to push out the silver. Other methods were used to add detail, as well as extensive gilding and inlaying. No other pieces of armature were found. The total weight is just under 9 kilograms.

Although the vessel was found in Denmark, probably not there or nearby; it includes elements of Gallic and Thracian origin in craftsmanship, metallurgy and images. The technique and style elements of the panels are closely related to other Thracian silver, while much of the imagery, particularly the human figures, is of Celtic origin , although attempts to link the scenes closely to Celtic mythology remain controversial. Other aspects of the iconography derive from the Near East . 

Extensive hospitality was probably the duty of the Celtic elite, and while cauldrons were therefore an important item of prestigious metalwork, they are usually much simpler and smaller than this. It is an exceptionally large and complex object with no close analogues, with the exception of a large fragment from a bronze cauldron also found in Rinkeby, Denmark ; but the exceptional deposition of wetlands in Scandinavia has produced a number of objects of types which were probably once common, but where other specimens have not survived. It has been widely discussed by scholars, and is a complex fascinating demonstration of the many cross-currents in European art, as well as an unusual degree of narrative for Celtic art, although we are unlikely ever to fully understand its original meaning.

The Gundestrup Cauldron was discovered by peat carvers in a small peat bog called Ruwemose (not far from the larger Borremose bog ) on May 28, 1891. The Danish government paid a large reward to the prospectors, who later quarreled bitterly among themselves over its division. Paleobotanical studies of the peat bog at the time of the discovery showed that the ground was dry when the cauldron was deposited, and the peat gradually grew on top of it. The method of stacking suggested an attempt to make the cauldron inconspicuous and well concealed. Another study of Revemose was done in 2002, and it was concluded that the peat bog may have existed when the cauldron was buried.

The boiler was found disassembled with five long rectangular plates, seven short plates, one round plate ( generally referred to as the "base plate"), and two fragments of pump and compressor pipes stacked inside a curved base. In addition, there is a piece of iron from the ring, originally placed inside the silver tubes at the edge of the boiler. It is assumed that the eighth plate is missing because the circumference of the seven outer plates is smaller than the circumference of the five inner plates.

A set of careful full-size replicas has been produced. One is in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, and some in France, including the Gallo-Romain - de - Fourvière Museum in Lyon and the Musée d'Archeologie Nationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Since the cauldron was found in pieces, it had to be reconstructed. The traditional order of the plates was determined by Sofus Müller, the first of many to analyze the cauldron. His logic uses the position of the trace of solder on the edge of the bowl. In two cases, the puncture mark penetrating the inner and outer plates also helps to bring order. In their final form, the plates are arranged in an alternation of female and male images, suggesting that the missing eighth plate belongs to a woman. However, not all analysts agree with Mueller's order. Taylor has pointed out that, with the exception of two puncture cases, the order cannot be determined by the alignment of the solder. His argument is that the plates are not adjacent to each other, but separated by a gap of 2 cm; thus, the plates in this order cannot be considered with certainty as a true narrative, if they exist. However, as Larsen points out , his study not only confirmed the order of the inner plates as established by Müller, Klindt-Jensen, and Olmsted, but the order of the outer plates is also determined by the rivet holes, solder alignment, and scratches.

The Gundestrup cauldron consists almost entirely of silver, but there is also a significant amount of gold for gilding, tin for solder, and glass for the eyes of the figures. According to experimental data, the materials for the vessel were not added at the same time, so the cauldron can be seen as the work of artisans over several hundred years. In terms of quality, the repair of the cauldron, of which there are many, is inferior to the original craftsmanship.

Silver was not a common material in Celtic art, and certainly not on this scale. Except for the occasional small piece of jewelry, gold or bronze was more common for prestige metalwork. At the time of the Gundestrup cauldron, silver was obtained by the smoking of lead-silver ores. When comparing lead isotope concentrations with other silver ware cultures, it has been suggested that the silver came from several ore deposits, mostly from Celtic northern France and West Germany in the pre-Roman period. Lead isotope studies also show that the silver for the plates was prepared by repeated melting of ingots and/or scrap silver. Three to six different batches of recycled silver may have been used in the making of the vessel. In particular, the circular "support plate" may have originated as a falera , and it is generally believed that it was placed at the bottom of the bowl as a late addition soldered to repair the hole. An alternative theory is that this falera was not originally part of the bowl, but instead was part of the decoration of the wooden covering.

Gold can be divided into two groups in terms of purity and concentration of silver and copper. The less pure gilding , which is thicker, may be considered a later repair, as the finer and cleaner inlay holds up better to the silver. The adhesion of the common gold is quite poor. The absence of mercury in the gold analysis suggests that the Gundestrup cauldron did not use a fire-resistant gilding technique. The gilding appears to have been done mechanically, which explains the function of the closely spaced stamped marks on the gilded areas.

A lead isotope study similar to the one used for silver was performed for tin. All tin solder samples correspond in isotopic composition to lead ingots from Cornwall in western Britain . The tin used to join the plates and bowl and glass eyelets is very uniform in its high purity.

Finally, X-ray fluorescence was used to determine , that the glass inserts of the Gundestrup boiler were of the natron-lime type composition. The glass contained elements that can be attributed to lime sand and mineral soda typical of the eastern Mediterranean coast. The analysis also narrowed the time of glass production to a period between the second century BC and the first century AD.

 

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