Iron Age Torcs

Torcs are a well-known, and easily recognised, form of Later Iron Age ornament. Traditionally assumed to be worn around the neck, smaller examples from, for example, Towton (Joy 2010), Leekfrith (Farley 2017) and Netherurd (Feacham 1958) may suggest that some were worn as bracelets/armrings. Some may have adorned statues.

They occur in a number of forms, including those with tubular or twisted bar/wire neck rings, and exhibit a range of terminal forms, including buffer, cage, ring (torus), loop and reel. Although found across continental Europe, they appear to have gained popularity in the British Isles where, of the two hundred and seventy six complete torcs identified by Hautenauve (2005) as having been found in Continental Europe, around a third originate from the British Isles.

Part of the Snettisham hoard (Image © The Trustees of the British Museum)

In addition to the site of Snettisham, other East Anglian torc finds include Sedgeford (Brailsford 1971, Hill 2004), North Creake (Clarke 1951), Ipswich (Brailsford and Stapley 1972, Owles 1969 and 1971), Bawsey (Maryon 1944), the ‘south-west Norfolk’ torc (Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery 2018) Middleton, Narford, Marham and East Winch (Hutcheson 2007).The biggest assemblage of torcs from Britain, some sixty complete examples and the remains of perhaps one hundred and fifty eight more (Joy 2018, 3), were found between 1948-1991 within the ‘Gold Fields’ of Snettisham in north-west Norfolk (Brailsford 1951; Joy 2016; Longworth 1992; Clarke 1954; Sealey 1979; Stead 1991).

The Clevedon Terminal (Image @The Trustees of the British Museum)

Beyond East Anglia torc finds are less frequent, although there are finds from as far afield as, for example, Clevedon in Somerset (Jope 2000, pl. 120); Hengistbury Head (Bushe Fox 1915) and Spettisbury (Hawkes 1940) in Dorset; Glascote (Painter 1971), Needwood Forest (Hawkes 1936) and Leekfrith (Farley 2017) in Staffordshire; Newark (Atherton 2016, Hill 2005) in the Midlands and Rawdon Billing (Whitaker 1816) and Towton (Joy 2010) in Yorkshire. In Scotland, the Netherurd (Feacham 1958) and Blair Drummond (Hunter 2010 and 2018) hoards and torc finds from Auldearn (Hunter 2014) and Deanburnhaugh (Hunter, pers. comm.) would suggest a nationwide distribution.

Detail of the Newark torc (Image © The National Civil War Museum)

The torcs we generally look at are torus torcs, most famously represented by the Snettisham Great Torc and the Grotesque, Newark and Sedgeford torcs and Netherurd terminal. Traditionally assumed to have been produced in the 2nd-1st centuries BC, recent work has suggested their origins may lie in the earlier 3rd century BC (Machling & Williamson 2019). The terminals of these torcs fall into three broad categories: 1) High craft quality gold alloy, sheet-worked torus torcs 2) slightly lower craft quality gold alloy torcs with terminals cast separately and then attached, and 3) poor craft quality torcs, in lower percentage gold, silver and bronze alloys with directly cast-on terminals.

The first, sheet-worked, category includes the Netherurd terminal (Feachem 1958), the Snettisham Grotesque torc, the Snettisham mini-Grotesque torc and the Snettisham (Hoard  L), L20 torc (Brailsford 1951; Clarke 1954; Joy and Farley forthcoming; Sealey 1979; Stead 1991; Longworth 1992; Joy 2016). The second category is represented by the Sedgeford (Brailsford 1971; Hill 2004) torc and – as has only recently been recognised – the Newark torc (Atherton 2016, Hill 2005) although this torc is more of a hybrid with a hammered/sheet core; the third category is represented by the Hengistbury Head (Bushe Fox 1915) and North Creake (Clarke 1951) terminals, the South West Norfolk torc (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 2018)  and any number of the Snettisham low-quality gold, silver and bronze alloy torus torc terminals (Brailsford 1951; Clarke 1954; Sealey 1979; Stead 1991; Longworth 1992; Joy 2016)  which were directly cast on to the wires.

The Snettisham Great torc (Image © The Trustees of the British Museum)

The aim of our research is to investigate the manufacturing techniques and metalworking technologies that created these torcs. This will achieve a more realistic picture of British gold-working and start the long journey to attempt to understand the craft of the Iron Age goldsmith. A full list of our publications and research can be found here and in the blog pages of this site.

 

References:

Atherton R 2016, ‘The Newark Iron Age torc’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire. 120, 43-53.

Brailsford J W 1951, ‘The Snettisham Treasure’, British Museum Quarterly 16(3), 79–80.

Brailsford J W 1971, ‘The Sedgeford Torc’, British Museum Quarterly 35(1), 16–19.

Brailsford J W and Stapley J E 1972, ‘The Ipswich Torcs’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 38, 219-234.

Bushe Fox J P  1915, Excavations at Hengistbury Head, Hampshire in 1911-12. (Oxford)

Clarke R R 1951, ,A Celtic torc terminal from North Creake, Norfolk’, Archaeological Journal 106, 59–61.

Clarke R R  1954, ‘The early Iron Age treasure from Snettisham, Norfolk’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 20, 27–86.

Farley J 2017, Portable Antiquities Scheme, record number: WMID-FD08D9. Available at: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/820219 [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Feachem R W 1958, ‘The ‘Cairnmuir’ hoard from Netherurd, Peebleshire’, Proceedings of the Antiquaries of Scotland 91, 112–16.

Haselgrove C & Moore T (eds) 2007, The Later Iron Age in Britain and Beyond (Oxford).

Hautenauve H 1999, ‘Les torques tubulaires de Snettisham. Importation continentale ou production insulaire?’, Lunala, Archaeologia Protohistorica 7, 89–100.

Hautenauve H 2005, Les Torcs D’Or du Second Âge du Fer en Europe: techniques, typologie et symbolique (Rennes)

Hawkes C F C 1936, ‘The Needwood Forest Torc’, The British Museum Quarterly 11(1), 3-4.

Hawkes C F C 1940, ‘An Iron Age Torc from Spettisbury Rings, Dorset’, The Archaeological Journal 97, 112-114.

Hill J D 2004, Portable Antiquities Scheme, record number: PAS-F070D5. Available at: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/508203 [Accessed: 9 May 2017]

Hill J D 2005, Portable Antiquities Scheme, record number: DENO-4B33B7. Available at: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/751306 [Accessed: 9 May 2017]

Hunter F 2010, ‘A unique Iron Age gold hoard found near Stirling’, PAST: The Newsletter of the Prehistoric Society 65 (July 2010), 3–5,

Hunter F 2014, ‘Auldearn’, Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 15, 97.

Hunter F 2018, ‘The Blair Drummond (UK) hoard: Regional styles and international connections in the later Iron Age’, in R Schwab; P-Y Milcent; B Armbruster & E Pernicka (eds), Early Iron Age Gold in Celtic Europe: Science, technology and Archaeometry. Proceedings of the International Congress held in Toulouse, France, 11-14 March 2015, 431-440. (Rahden)

Hutcheson N 2007, ‘An archaeological investigation of Later Iron Age Norfolk: Analysing hoarding patterns across the landscape’, in C Haselgrove and T Moore (eds), The Later Iron Age in Britain and beyond (Oxford), 358-370

Jope M 2000, Early Celtic Art in the British Isles (Oxford)

Joy J 2010, Portable Antiquities Scheme, record number: SWYOR-CFE7F7. Available at: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/392736 [Accessed 1st September 2019]

Joy J 2016, ’Hoards as collections: Re-examining the Snettisham Iron Age Hoards from the perspective of collecting practice’, World Archaeology 82(2), 239–53.

Joy J 2017, Great torc image. Twitter, 25th July 2017. Available at: https://images.app.goo.gl/Tk3ZHsAd7bQcv3w36 [Accessed 1 September 2019]

Joy J 2018, ‘Snettisham: Shining new light on old treasure’, Jewellery History Today 31, 3-5.

Joy J and Farley J (eds) Forthcoming, The Snettisham Treasure. (London: British Museum Research Publication 225).

Longworth I 1992, ‘Snettisham revisited’, International Journal of Cultural Property 1(2), 333–42.

Machling T & Williamson R 2016, ‘The Netherurd torc terminal – insights into torc technology’, PAST: The Newsletter of the Prehistoric Society 84 (Autumn 2016), 3–5.

Machling T & Williamson R 2018, ‘”Up Close and Personal”’: The later Iron Age Torcs from Newark, Nottinghamshire and Netherurd, Peeblesshire’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 84, 387-405.

Machling T & Williamson R 2019, ‘”Cut and shuts”: The reworking of Iron Age gold torus torcs’, Later Prehistoric Finds Group Newsletter 13 (Summer 2019), 4-7.

Machling T & Williamson R forthcoming, ‘”Damn clever metal bashers”’: The thoughts and insights of 21st century goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers regarding Iron Age gold torus torcs’ in C. Gosden, H. Chittock, C. Nimura & P. Hommel (eds), Art in the Eurasian Iron Age: Context, connections, and scale. (Oxford)

Maryon H 1944, ‘The Bawsey Torc’, The Antiquaries Journal, 24, 149-151.

Meeks N, Mongiatti A & Joy J 2014, ‘Precious metal torcs from the Iron Age Snettisham treasure: Metallurgy and analysis’ in E. Pernicka & R. Schwab (eds), Under the Volcano: Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Metallurgy of the European Iron Age, (Rahden) 135–56.

Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery 2018. The south-west Norfolk torc. Available at: http://www.rnrm.org.uk/saga_bu/ncm_budica/so_/so_swnt_det.html [Accessed 26 February 2018]

Owles E 1969, ‘The Ipswich gold torcs’, Antiquity, 43, 208-212.

Owles E 1971, ‘The sixth Ipswich torc’ Antiquity. 45, 180.

Painter K S 1971, ‘An Iron Age gold-alloy torc from Glascote, Tamworth, Staffs’, Transactions of the South Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society 11, 1969-70, 1-6.

Sealey P R 1979, ‘The later history of Icenian electrum torcs’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 49, 165–78.

Stead I M 1991, ‘The Snettisham treasure: Excavations in 1990’, Antiquity 65, 447–64.

Warner R 1982, ‘The Broighter hoard: a reappraisal and the iconography of the collar’, in

Whitaker T D 1816, Leodis and Elmete.