Today I was doing my usual trawl through photos, looking to be inspired. It wasn’t long coming as I found three torcs with a very similar pattern: two from Snettisham, one from Glascote. But whether these three torcs are from the same hand will need to wait for another day because – as I was looking at the Ulceby torc for further comparison – I stumbled on some photos of the Ulceby horse-bit taken from Jope’s Early Celtic Art in the British Isles volume (Jope 2000, pl.275).
Sitting next to Ulceby on the page was the Ringstead horse-bit. Found as part of a hoard in Ringstead, Norfolk in 1950 (Rainbird Clarke 1951), the Ringstead horse-bit, and it’s associated finds are firmly of Iron Age date.
But the decoration on Ringstead rang a bell.
I knew I’d seen those seven dots somewhere before, but where? And then it dawned: The Nebra Sky Disc, star exhibit of the upcoming British Museum ‘World of Stonehenge‘ exhibition.
The Nebra Sky Disc, made of a copper alloy sheet, with applied sheet gold, was apparently found, as part of a hoard, in Nebra, Germany in 1999. However, the hoard was not immediately declared and the artefacts only came to light in Switzerland in 2002, when they were seized by the Swiss police. As such the precise provenance of the hoard is in doubt – and there is an ongoing academic debate about the origin and date of the artefacts, although a Bronze Age date is currently thought to be most likely.
[As an aside, the gold looks to come from Cornwall, which is a wonderful discovery and evidence of longstanding and far ranging contacts across Europe in prehistory].
I will at this point declare that, as an Iron Age researcher, I am not well enough versed in the various arguments surrounding this artefact to make further comment although a quick search of academic papers will allow the reader to see the complexity of the provenance and dating issues.
But, back to the Ringstead horse-bit. As you can see from the image below, if you put the Ringstead image alongside the Nebra Sky Disc, the similarity is immediately obvious:
But if you mirror the Ringstead image and then put it alongside the Nebra disc, the similarity becomes far more striking, with the position of the ‘sun’, ‘moon’ and seven ‘stars’ becoming the same:
So what does this mean? Does it mean anything? To be honest, I don’t know, but maybe others will.
It could be that similar cosmological events were being memorialised throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages (I believe I’m right in thinking that there are very few such representations on Iron Age artefacts, so this could be significant in that aspect alone, even if it proves to be a coincidence that it is similar to Nebra), it could have implications for dating…or it could just be a happy coincidence that two metalworkers, over 1500 years apart, decided they liked a similar artistic form.
Over to you…what do you think?
UPDATE: 4/9/2022 – Shortly after writing this blog, I came across better images of both Ringstead bits in Fox’s ‘Pattern and Purpose’ book. In Plate 28 (Fox 1958), the second Rinsgtead bit shows an exact match to the Nebra decoration layout, without need of mirroring:
Clarke, R.R., 1951. ‘A hoard of metalwork of the Early Iron Age from Ringstead, Norfolk’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 17, 214-25
Fox, C. 1958. Pattern and Purpose: A Survey of Early Celtic Art in Britain. Cardiff: The National Museum of Wales.
Jope, M. 2000. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles. Oxford: Oxford University Press