Iron Age Britain

Celtic Art

Late Iron Age, Deal, Kent | Snailwell, Cambridgeshire.

Snakes with their tails in each other's mouths, stylised into an interconnected spiral motif.

Miranda could see Quintin squinting at his artwork and knew that he was about to say something that would probably be ridiculous. 'What is it,' she asked, reluctantly.

'You know about Minoan double axes?'

'Oh no,' she sighed.

'What?' asked Quintin.

'This design was found on a sword scabbard from an Iron Age grave in Kent,' replied Miranda. 'It has been dated to about 300 BC. Slap bang in the middle of the British Iron Age. What could be Minoan about it?'

iron age sword scabbard design

Image redrawn from: Stead, Ian, 1985 reprinted 1996. Celtic Art: In Britain before the Roman Conquest, The British Museum Press. Page 64; Bronze panel with repoussé ornament, from the mouth of a scabbard in a grave at Deal [Kent], lemgth 95 mm.

‘Well, nothing really, I suppose. Except, well, if you look at the circular designs as stylised serpents biting each others’ tails, then you have this interconnected spiral motif partly made up of these snakes with their tails in each other's mouths, and in the centre of each circle, the ones defined by the two snakes, is a shape that looks, well, just a little bit like some distant recollection of a double axe, don’t you think?’

Miranda had a good look at the computer's interpretation of Quintin’s line drawing. ‘Interesting, although I prefer to see them as snakes biting each other's tails myself, but have a look at this,’ she said, and passed Quintin an artistic representation she had made of a bracelet found in a late Iron Age grave at Snailwell in Cambridgeshire. ‘This was buried a decade or so before the Roman Invasion of Britain,’ she said. ‘Others like it have been found from the first and second centuries AD in Scotland and Wales. Definitely a snake bracelet.’

snake bracelet

Image redrawn from: Stead, Ian, 1985 reprinted 1996. Celtic Art: In Britain before the Roman Conquest. The British Museum Press. Page 43, a bronze bracelet from Snailwell, Cambridgeshire, diameter 105 mm.

See for yourself

La T̬ne culture РWikipedia

British Iron Age – Wikipedia

Serpent (symbolism) – Wikipedia

Celtic Art – British Museum Publication by Ian Stead, beautifully illustrated, unfortunately not now available from the British Museum website but well worth obtaining if you can

Snakes and dragons

Jubilee Line

styalised snake's head from Iron Age Celtic metalwork design
statue of Asclepius

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