European Celtic Art in Context (ECAIC) is an archaeological research project led by Prof. Chris Gosden (School of Archaeology, University of Oxford) and funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project sets out to explore the dynamic traditions of art that emerged in central and northern Europe around 500 BC. Commonly referred to as 'Celtic Art', these traditions of representation are dominated by complex sinuous decoration, spiral and s-shaped ornaments, and animal forms, often intentionally abstracted or disguised. Though in some respects related, these traditions contrast with the more realistic and narrative styles of art, which emerged in the southern, Mediterranean world at around the same time.
If changes in artistic preference can be seen as a proxy for broader changes in society, in philosophy, cosmology, and self-perception, then an exploration of the differences between these two streams of art is potentially productive. Taking a broader view, it is also interesting to consider the wider continental context of Celtic Art, which could be seen as the western-most expression of dynamic, shape-shifting traditions of art found right across the forests, grasslands, and deserts of Eurasia, from the Danube to the borders of China.
In this project we set out not only to characterize and contextualize Celtic Art across Europe, but also look seriously at the nature of these eastern connections. We will address questions at various scales, engaging simultaneously with broad theoretical debates about the nature of art, reflected cosmologies, and the significance of regional variability at a European scale.
The team have built a database in Filemaker Pro which aims to combine information on the form and style of objects on the one hand, with information about their context on the other. The database design is now complete and it currently has over 5000 objects entered into it. A verbal description of the data and metadata employed in the database has been written so that it is clear what choices we have made in entering the data, allowing them to be evaluated and also for others to add further data after the end of our project, should they wish.
Initially, this database was built around two flat databases. The two databases that provided initial data were the ‘Technologies of Enchantment’ (TofE) database of British metalwork from England, Scotland and Wales, developed by Duncan Garrow, and the ‘Early Celtic Art Supplement’ (ECAS) of European Celtic art originally compiled by Vincent and Ruth Megaw. We are indebted to Vincent and Duncan for their contributions. Within our new database framework we have now begun the process of collecting supplementary data from other museums and publications and the team is still in the process of data collection.
We have given considerable thought to the areas from which data will be gathered, so that countries from Ireland to Poland will form the main areas of interest. We will also include material from the Iberian peninsula and the Balkans, though it is expected that the quantity of relevant material in these areas will be more limited. Looking still further to the east, we will assemble comparative datasets from sites in Belarus and Ukraine, as well as areas to the north of the Caucasus and along the Volga. Less structured collections of material will also be made from sites in Siberia, Kazakhstan, and Central Asia.
The team are very keen to hear from you if you have to data to offer, so please do get in touch if you are interested.
The ECAIC team will be advised and assisted by an academic board of leading experts in Iron Age Art from across Europe.