Drawing on History

Celtic Style

During the Iron Age (600BC - 50AD) Britain was populated by many different tribes. The term Celt would not have been a recognisable word; they did not consider themselves a nation. War between tribes was commonplace, a part of everyday life.


The Celtic style first seems to have originated from central Europe, migrating throughout the region through possible exchange of gifts, trade and movement of peoples - the probable original design influences coming from Greek and Etruscan art.


By the late Iron Age the level of skill of individual craftsmen was extremely high, their choice of decoration and methods of making extended to objects that were important to their beliefs and traditions, from weapons, horse trappings, vessels to jewellery. The materials used by craftsmen ranged from gold, bronze, bone, chalk and amber.


It is unclear whether or not there was an intended narrative in Celtic art, their use of motifs to decorate an object was stylised but intricate. The continuous and intertwining line, alternating in an under and over pattern with no beginning or end, perhaps relates to the changing beliefs of the Celts.


The use of human and animal motifs was an integral part of their designs, both in 3d and motifs designed in relief. The head was considered by the Celts to be the source of human power; they regularly cut the heads off their opponents believing that the opponent’s spirit would be transferred.

The Grimston Sword - is it a representation of its owner or simply a reference to its gruesome use?

The Sutton Scabbard was found in the River Trent at Sutton in Lincolnshire - water probably had a particular significance to the Celts as many objects have been found in rivers and stretches of water.


The Celts did not have a written language; any references to their way of life come from Roman sources and hence from a Roman perspective.  Archaeology gives us the opportunity to try and understand the Iron Age through original evidence provided by found objects.

  • To what extent do you think decoration can represent order in society?
  • Research Celtic Art - focus on decorative motifs.
  • Some of the most spectacular finds are mirrors - using Celtic motifs design a mirror, use an animal motif for the handle.






















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