For Hamish Douglas Burgess' own traditional and modern Celtic artwork please visit our Gallery page.
May 2nd-31st - for the first time on Maui, The Celtic Art of Hamish Burgess will be on display for the whole month of May at Hawaiian Village Coffee in the Kahana Gateway Center (4405 Honoapiilani Hwy, #207) in West Maui. Opening hours 6am-6pm ! See our Hamish's Celtic art original paintings, giclees, and prints - all available for purchase. He lives around the corner, so if you want a chat with him about his art, please call 808-264-5190, and he'll pop round to the coffee shop to see you. Preview the artwork on our Gallery page.
There will be an artist's reception Saturday May 18th from 6-8pm with a Celtic Music Session.
Mahalo to David Maran, owner of Hawaiian Village Coffee, for supporting local artists.
Celtic artwork has been around since at least 700 B.C. in Central Europe, the earliest recorded settlements being at Halstatt in what is now Austria, and in the 5th century B.C. centred around Lake Neuchatel in what is now Switzerland, the home of the early La Tène (see below) style of Celtic art, with its curving lines and spirals, sometimes combined with cross-hatching, mainly produced on metalwork. The Celtic tribes gradually spread all over Europe, taking their art style with them.
As the Roman Empire expanded and absorbed the conquered Celtic Lands of Europe, continental tribes migrated to the isles of the Britons to join the residents of those relatively safe havens, and took their artwork skills to those islands. In these isolated isles of the ancient Britons and Irish, at the end of the known world of that time, Celtic artwork and culture survived better than on the continent.
The ancient Celts revered nature and the elements, and worshipped the sun, moon, the stars and the Earth Mother, with a wide range of goddesses and gods. They celebrated their deities, ancestors, life, the natural world and its creatures, and the changing of the seasons through their music, poetry, story telling and art. Their poets and musicians, the Bards, and their wise holy men, the Druids, were very high up in the social hierarchy of the tribe, training for many years in their orally learnt crafts, as nothing was written down. Their artisans were also well respected, and were stone carvers, wood and metal workers. They created fabulous works of art in the form of stone monuments, also metal jewellery, weapons and armour, often inlaid with bright enamels.
Their art normally had a purpose, often to impress neighbouring tribes. The stone carvings as monuments, memorial stones, or boundary markers, and the jewellery, weapons and armour to decorate the bodies and clothing of the Celts and their horses.
An often over looked art was that of tattooing, although we have no records of exact designs, we do have contemporary descriptions of tattooed Celtic warriors, written by Roman observers, who made a distinction between permanent tattoo symbols, and the also common use of blue woad as warpaint. Go to the bottom of the page for an article on ancient tattoo.
The number three was sacred to the ancient Celts, symbolic of life, death, and re-birth which was a matter of fact to them. They worshipped a triple-aspected goddess, the Morrigan, seen as Morrigan, Macha, and Badb. Many of the ancient burial mounds contain 3 chambers, and their art often used configurations of three, a common ancient symbol being the triscele. The triple aspect of the mind, body and spirit is still represented today in many religions.
From the 2nd century A.D., the new religion of Christianity appeared in the islands of Britain and Ireland, and over the next few centuries spread through the Celtic Lands, monks journeying across the islands to convert the people. Many years later, these men and women became the Christian Saints.
Interlaced knotwork art probably originated about 1500 years ago in the stonework of the Picts in what is now called Scotland. With the expansion of the Celtic Christian church, the Irish and Scots monks of early medieval times refined it in fabulous illuminated manuscripts, versions of the Gospels, and while converting the ancient people to their new religion, founded monasteries and spread their amazing artwork through the Celtic Lands of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany, and Galicia. These Celtic monks also built beautifully carved stone High Crosses, focal points of medieval communities, which can still be seen all over Ireland and Scotland.
These scribes used knotwork, spirals, diagonal key patterns, and stylised human and animal figures (also interlaced) to illustrate their manuscripts. They probably worked in harsh conditions, presumably for hours by candle light, using primitive materials. They painted on vellum (streched and scraped-smooth calf skin), using feather quills and coloured pigments and inks. The inks were made from local and exotic sources. From close to home:- black from lamp soot, brown from oak apples and iron sulphite, orange from red lead, yellow from orpement (sulphite), green from verdigree (copper), blue from indigo and woad, white from lead and vinegar, and purple from the folian plant. From further afield :- cobalt blue from lapis lazuli, ultramarine from the Himalayas, and red from kermes (insect eggs from the mediterranean) and vermillion (cinnibar - mercuric sulphide). Many of the above materials are considered dangerous to use today. Egg white, or albumen, and gum were used to hold the pigments together for better painting. The artwork was sometimes tiny, and the museums displaying these works today, often have magnifeid viewers. Some of the original artists, hundreds of years later, were destined to be made Saints by the Christian Church.
A few of the amazingly detailed volumes of illuminated manuscripts have survived to this day. The "Book of Kells" is one of the oldest books in the world, from around A.D. 800. It was probably made by Colm Cille (St.Columba) and his monks on the holy island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. Due to Viking raids the monks moved to Kells in Ireland with the book in the early 800s.
The "Book of Kells", the "Book of Durrow" (even earlier from 675 A.D.) and the "Book of Armagh" are on display in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Another ancient book, from 698 A.D., the "Lindisfarne Gospels" is on display at the British Library in London.
Many other Celtic treasures, including religious relics, ceremonial objects, jewellery, weapons and armour, can be seen in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, and the British Museum in London.
The Vikings arrival influenced Celtic artwork, by adding their flair to it, creating a hybrid style.
Celtic knotwork remains a special artform of those Lands, a link between widely spread descendants of Celtic people around the world. Tribes and languages have come and gone, but the artwork survives as a link to our ancestors, representing a continuous, unbroken circle of life.
For Hamish Burgess' own traditional and modern Celtic artwork please visit our Gallery page.
Tuesday July 3rd-17th 2012 - our Maui Celtic duo Hamish & Jennifer were in Switzerland, to find Jennifer's family on her dad's side, and to look at the ancient Celtic culture at La Tène in western Switzerland !
Hamish was excited to get to the Canton of Neuchâtel, driving along the shores of Lake Neuchâtel, below the ridges of the Jura Mountains, getting closer to one of his objectives, to find the origins of the Celts of La Tène. They arrived in the ancient town of Neuchâtel, and headed to the tourism office, where the staff were fantastic, and found our couple somewhere to stay at a busy time of year.
The area was pre-historically settled in 13,000 BC, a Neolithic village with stilt-houses in 3571 BC, followed by early iron-age Hallstatt evidence, then a hub of the later iron-age La Tène culture which flourished from 450 BC to Roman conquest in the 1st century AD. 7th century Merovingian treasures have been found locally, then in 1011, Burgundian King Rudolph III presented a new castle on the lake shore to his wife Irmengarde, giving the town the name of Neuchâtel, which in 1214 was officially named a city. The modern city is a university town, and owes it's wealth to watch-making and precision-engineering.
Château de Neuchâtel and old town statue
For over 1000 years the Château de Neuchâtel has been the seat of authority, and today still houses the cantonal government and law courts. Hamish and Jennifer explored the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, with it's yellow sandstone buildings, and many squares and fountains.
The tourist office sent them out to stay in the nearby village of Le Landeron, by the end of Lake Biel at a guest house in the Old Town run by Jean-Louis Quellet. Our travelers were not expecting to be knocking on the door of a house from the 1500s, in a town that could be a medieval movie-set !
Le Landeron, Switzerland
La Portette, the southern gate of old Le Landeron
The next morning was one Hamish had long been waiting for.....a visit to La Tène, one of the ancient sites of the early Celts.
Our Maui Celtic couple's first stop was to Hauterive, a suburb of Neuchâtel, to visit The Laténium archaeology museum and park, named after the second Iron Age Celtic culture of La Tène, which spread across Europe to Romania in the east and Ireland in the west. At the foot of the Jura Mountains, La Tène was a nearby lakeside settlement where many artifacts were found, dating from 500 BC to the 1st century AD.
Built in 2001, The Laténium is a museum and waterfront park, featuring re-constructions of a La Tène house, a Celtic bridge, a Gallo-Roman ship, and a pond raised to the level of the lake before the artifacts were discovered. Showcasing 500 centuries of history, the museum displays items from the Paleolithic era (including the remains of a Magdalenian hunting camp) through the Celtic La Tène era, the Roman empire, and into medieval times. The museum building also houses the canton's archaeological service and the University of Neuchâtel's Institute of Prehistory, with artifact storage, a library, laboratories, and a lecture hall and conference room.
Top - centre is Mont Vully, fortress of the Helvetii, and beyond are the Alps
Wooded area by spit left of Lake Neuchâtel is the ancient La Tène settlement
Foreground - The Laténium archaeology museum and park, Neuchâtel
photo © Laténium, Neuchâtel - Yves André.
After a coffee at the cafe, with it's terrace overlooking the park, they were shown around the 'Les Celtes de La Tène' gallery, the main Celtic floor of the museum by Curator Denis Ramseyer. He first took them to a large window overlooking the grounds and lake, and pointed out the site of the ancient La Tène settlement, where most of the artifacts were found, now behind a wooded point of land seen in the photo above (at left). He also explained that the large hill across the lake, Mont Vully, was the fortress of the powerful Helvetii tribe, active in the 1st century BC and inhabiting most of the Swiss Plateau at the time of Roman contact, and that local archaeologists had re-constructed a section of the fortress wall where it once stood. The tribal name Helvetii is associated with Helvetia, the female personification of Switzerland, seen on modern Swiss coins and stamps. The abbreviation for Switzerland, CH, comes from 'Confoederatio Helvetica', Latin for the country's full name the Swiss Confederation.
Hamish in 'Les Celtes de La Tène' gallery of the Laténium
Maui Celtic at La Tène, and a wooden shield with iron boss
Mons. Ramseyer graciously went to find some maps and info for them to take, then returned to show Hamish & Jennifer around the Celtic gallery, explaining some of the most important finds of La Tène artifacts, discovered under the silt in the shallows of Lake Neuchâtel. Many objects were well preserved in the oxygen-free mud, even though they were several hundreds of years earlier than La Tène treasures in the museums of Britain and Ireland. Most surprising were the intact wooden objects, such as an ancient shield, and a complete chariot wheel and carriage fittings.
Maui Celtic's Hamish amazed at a complete chariot wheel and carriage fittings
There were photo albums of the original archaeological digs at the site of the ancient lakeside settlement at La Tène, and archaic wickerwork baskets, clothing, fibulae or brooches, glass bracelets, ceramics and household objects, as well as ceremonial vessels and Celtic coins, and even parts of ancient Carnyx trumpets. There were cabinets of fantastically preserved Celtic weapons, including many spearheads, daggers, swords and scabbards.
La Tène era Celtic spearheads at the Laténium
The sword hilts were in fabulous condition, most with curling spirals forming the pommel, but one outstanding example of an anthromorphic figure, his legs forming the hand guard and raised arms forming the pommel. Several scabbards were inscribed with amazing early Celtic La Tène artwork, with swirling curvilinear shapes, an art form that spread all over Europe, becoming part of the ancient Irish and Britons' Celtic culture.
Anthromorphic sword hilt and scabbard with La Tène artwork
Fantastically stylized animals featured on many objects, especially coins, and sword scabbards. The horse was a common motif, with horsemen and chariots being an important part of Celtic society and warfare. The horse featured on many Celtic coins from all regions, a tribute to the horse-goddess Epona.
Scabbard with stylized animals, and Hamish checking out La Tène artwork
In the water-themed gallery is the Bevaix Boat, a Gallo-Roman ship found in the Bay of Bevaix, Lake Neuchâtel, in 1970. It was used for shipping limestone from the Jura to the Roman colony of Aventicum (now Avenches) for their monuments. It is nearly 20 metres/63.6 ft long and around 3 metres/9.5 ft wide, and built from large oak planks felled in 182 AD. The flat-bottomed vessel had no keel, with low sides almost a metre/3ft high at the centre of the boat. It was unusually caulked between the planks with string, moss, and wooden lath strips. The gallery also has two ancient dug-out canoes.
The Gallo-Roman 'Bevaix Boat' in the Laténium
Another gallery, of the Middle Ages, had a collection of buckles from a local 7th century cemetery of the Merovingian culture, with Celtic knotwork not unlike that seen at the same time in Pictish, Irish and Briton art. A princely collection of ten buckles shows the importance of this area, long after the La Tène era.
7th century belt buckle made of iron, with brass and silver Celtic decoration
Stepping back in time 'Les Lacustres' or 'Lake Dwellers' gallery is home to a fine Neolithic to Bronze Age collection, with ancient woven baskets, clothing, pottery, a solid wooden chariot wheel, and bronze casting moulds and artifacts.
It is also home to the enigmatic Bevaix Treytel Menhir, a carved standing stone nearly 11 feet/3.30m high and almost three tons, discovered in 1996 during motorway excavations in Treytel near Bevaix. It was part of a vast megalithic site with twelve standing stones in a long alignment, dating to the Middle Neolithic period, between 5th-4th millennia BC. Of the thousands of menhirs across Europe, it is unknown why this one has a carved face, and what appear to be hands and other markings.
Bevaix-Treytel Menhir, Latenium, Neuchatel
The galleries also have interesting reconstructed faces of local lakeside dwellers through the ages, and early artifacts including a Mesolithic 15th century BC flute made from mutton bone, and a Neolithic 3500 BC arrowhead made of clear rock crystal.
A new exhibition 'Chantier Autorisé' showed hands-on exhibits of the archaeological work and findings.
Our Maui Celtic couple headed outside to the park, which shows landscapes, sites, monuments and dwellings that succeeded one another at this place over 15,000 years. They saw a landscape from that long ago, represented by a moulding of a Cro-Magnon camp that was found nearby, with hearths, stone seats, bones and flint-working. They then saw posts marking the pilings of the original Neolithic village found in 1984, with six large houses, and many outbuildings dated around 3800 BC, three of which are re-constructed on site.
Bronze Age house, Latenium, Neuchâtel
Next they looked at a great re-construction of a late Bronze Age house with a raised floor to safeguard against flooding, frequent here 3000 years ago.
A platform allows a look at the interior of the house, with replica tools and household objects.
Bronze Age house interior at the Latenium, Neuchâtel
Nearby is a copy of a middle Bronze Age barrow mound, or burial chamber, dating from 1400 BC and found locally in 1937.
The large elevated fish farming pond is raised, to show the level of the lake before the La Tène artifacts (500 BC to 1st century AD) were discovered by Hans Kopp (looking for antiquities for Colonel Frederic Schwab) in 1857, when prolonged drought had lowered the waters of Lake Neuchâtel by about 6.5 feet/2m. Before water levels in the 3 lakes at the foot of the Jura Mountains (Lakes Neuchâtel, Bienne and Morat) were reduced between 1869 and 1891, they were as high as the artificial pond here, although 3000 years ago Lake Neuchâtel was even lower than it is today.
A boat slip houses the re-contrstruction of the Gallo-Roman lighter the Bevaix Boat, with a modern research vessel berthed there also, with the shore lined with Erratic boulders of Alpine or Jurassic rock, once carried long distances by glaciers.
There is a re-constructed Celtic bridge to cross, with the design taken from the remains of a much larger bridge in the area. The original was 90m/290 feet long, and spanned the Thielle River at Cornaux-Les Sauges. It stood from the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, connecting the Swiss Plateau with the Jura.
Finally there is a small Roman garden, representing a new era in the area, not to mention a kids' playground with mammoth-shaped slides and a Celtic house.
Hamish on the Celtic bridge, Latenium, Neuchâtel
The Laténium has an amazing collection of Celtic and pre-historic artifacts, and is a fantastic resource for adults and children. They regularly tour school parties, and the kids are taught the ancient and Celtic history of Switzerland. There is also a good shop, with the books mainly in French and German. Opening hours are 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. More info from www.latenium.ch.
Many thanks to the Latenium staff and Curator Denis Ramseyer for a great day and more leads !
All the above photos © Hamish Burgess and Jennifer Fahrni, except the top aerial shot credited.
Hamish & Jennifer took the advice of Mons. Ramseyer and headed to Marin/Epagnier to the nearby site of the original La Tène excavations, now a campsite by a serene bay on Lake Neuchâtel.
The bay behind the spit of land is La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel
The quiet Camping de La Tène holiday park is on the reed-lined bay where the treasures of the ancient Celtic culture were found, with a story-board display case on 'Les Celtes de La Tène', with photos and maps of the excavations, and some replicas of various La Tène artifacts found here.
La Tene, Lake Neuchâtel
With only a campsite shop and a restaurant, and grassy plots for trailer-homes, motor-homes and tents, the bayside area is fabulously unspoilt. If the ancient La Tène Celts were to see their old home today, from 2000, even nearly 3000 years later, they would thankfully recognize it !
After a walk along the bay-shore, Hamish felt moved enough to jump into the hazy blue waters of La Tène for an energizing swim to celebrate finding the roots of the ancient culture !
Hamish swimming at La Tene, Lake Neuchâtel
Then again following the museum curator's advice they drove around the end of the lake and to the top of Mont Vully, to find the old fortress of the powerful Helvetii Celtic tribe, who once inhabited most of the Swiss Plateau. They parked at a look-out spot with a great view of La Tène across Lake Neuchâtel. After walking through some fields they found the ancient embankments of the oppidum of the Helvetii dating to 200 BC. It was probably destroyed by fire in 58 BC when the tribe departured to Gaul. Local archaeologists have re-constructed a section of the fortress wall where it once stood. You can access the fortress by road after leaving the summit of Mont Vully.
Reconstructed section of the Helvetii fortress on Mont Vully overlooking Lake Morat
Hallein and Hallstatt
After an amazing time in beautiful Switzerland, our Maui Celtic duo Hamish & Jennifer drove through southern Germany and arrived in Austria, with a mission to find the very early Celtic culture of Hallein and Hallstatt.
Hamish was stoked to be driving through the scenic Tyrolean Mountains, which he had often thought of while playing the famous bagpipe tune 'The Green Hills of Tyrol' or the folk song of the same melody 'The Scottish Soldier'.
Coming from the north they arrived first at the ancient town of Hallein, which instantly impressed Hamish with the words Kelten Hallein on the roundabout, topped with a huge sculpture of an ancient Celtic artifact that was found locally (see below). The town was also home to the composer of the carol "Silent Night", Franz Xaver Gruber, and there is a Silent Night museum there.
Kelten Hallein roundabout, Hallein, Austria
The name Hallein is derived from the ancient Celtic word hal for salt. The area has been settled for at least 4000 years, with folks attracted by the salt deposits above the town on the Dürrnberg plateau. One of the main centres in Europe, a Celtic community thrived here from 600 BC until the Romans took over the kingdom of Noricum, a federation of twelve tribes, in 15 BC. The town prospered in medieval times with it's salt works, and the trade gave it's name to the city and state of Salzburg, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The mineral salt has had a huge influence in human history, and is vital to our bodily functions, although it is now thought that too much salt is bad for us. For thousands of years it has been a valuable food and preservative, at one time as valuable as gold. Now salt is important in the manufacture of glass, the chemical industry, and in medecine.
Salt Miner with saltblock and firebrand, Hallein
A helpful young lady in the Hallein tourist office, in full traditional dress, found our travellers a nice guest house Pension Sommerauer on the edge of town, but within walking distance of the old town center. They crossed the bridge over Salzach River and headed into town for a fish dinner at the open-air restaurant in the town square, surrounded by centuries old buildings.
The next day, after a great breakfast from pension hostess Christina, they drove up the mountain to Bad Dürrnberg on the plateau above Hallein, with the Salzach River valley down below, always in sight of the well-known landmark, the Barmsteine limestone rock pinnacles.
The Barmsteine from Bad Dürrnberg above Hallein
They were there to visit the Hallein Salt Mine, also known as Salzbergbau Dürrnberg. The earliest settlers gathered surface deposits of salt, but underground mining began around the 5th century BC. The Hallein salt industry reached it's height in the 15th century, out-matching all other salt producing areas for 100 years, due to the easy access of the Salzach River as a transportation and trade route. The salt works were monopolized by the Archbishops of Salzburg, virtual princes of the region, who became extremely wealthy, and even had Salt Wars with neighbouring regions.
Although commercial salt mining ended here in 1989, the mine is maintained for historical tours by Salzwelten Hallein, and has been open to visitors as long ago as the 17th century. Our duo went on a 90 minute guided tour which covered 1 km underground. First they put on white coveralls to protect their clothes inside the mine, and boarded an electric train for a 400m (1,300 ft) ride into the mine.
Salt Mine guide and film at the Saltzwelten Hallein, Austria
In various chambers, the knowledgeable guide covered historical points in German, Italian and English, before showing a film with actors portraying the characters of Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich (1559-1617) and his servant Jakobus. They told the story of the mine throughout history, and the rise and fall of the archbishop, shown in parts as they went around the mine.
At one point they crossed the Austrian/German border underground ! In 1829, a treaty was created between Austria and Bavaria because of that, stating that up to ninety Bavarian farmers were allowed to work in the mine.
There are two sets of 42m (138 ft) wooden slides, the traditional way of getting quickly from one level of the mine to a lower one. Visitors straddle two wooden rails and slide on the padded seat of their coveralls, and are told not to put their feet down to brake !
Jennifer & Hamish on the slide at the Saltzwelten Hallein
photo courtesy of Foto Sulzer at the Saltzwelten Hallein
There is a camera that takes your photo near the bottom of the slide, creating an often hilarious keepsake that you can buy at the exit. Hamish and Jennifer slid at nearly 16km an hour, but some kids were reaching the high 20s !
Along the tour route our duo saw mine tunnels from all ages, with various displays of period lights, tools, and mining contraptions, as well as life size models of miners showing their ways of extracting the salt. There is even a reconstruction of 'The Man in the Salt', one of two mummified Celtic miners found in 1573 and in 1616, who had been buried in the salt in a tunnel, with his shoes, clothing and wooden pick-axe intact. He was removed for a local burial, when of course his well-preserved body soon decayed in the air.
Medieval salt block casting at the Saltzwelten Hallein, Austria
Early mining was done by hand, with the Celtic era miners chipping salt rock crystal from the rock as a solid, which they carried out of the mine in backpacks. The earliest written record of the mine dates back to 1194. Medieval miners formed the salt into blocks by using wooden moulds, to be transported in carts out of the mine.
A later technique to improve efficiency was the use of leachcaves, the earliest known in 1268. Water was introduced to caverns, which absorbed salt from the walls for several weeks, creating brine water which was then extracted, and boiled in pans leaving the salt. In more recent times the brine was pumped out to a processing plant in Hallein. Hamish and Jennifer took the boat trip across one of these eerie, but beautiful, underground lakes on the tour.
Leachcave and brine lake at the Saltzwelten Hallein, Austria
Our duo thought it was a fascinating tour of an historic salt mine from ancient Celtic days, through it's medieval times, right up until the modern era. The final chamber contained memorials to saints and benefactors, and some paintings from the 1700s of the coat-of-arms of local nobles and princes.
Coat-of -arms paintings in the Saltzwelten Hallein
After emerging from the labyrinth of mine passages into the light, our Maui Celtic duo visited the nearby Celtic Village, with reconstructed buildings and objects found during excavations. The focus is not on the village at present, due to be rebuilt soon, as new evidence has been unearthed that the hut roofs were actually made of wooden shakes, a more advanced construction technique than the thatch that was first thought covered the buildings.
Reconstructed house in the Celtic Village at the Saltzwelten Hallein, soon to
be rebuilt with a roof of wooden shakes, after new evidence of that practise
The village used to be peopled with actors who would portray the ancient folk, each building showing a different aspect of the life of the Celts.
One building houses informative story-boards and great illustrations on the Celts of the Dürrnberg, who settled there and mined the mountain from around the 6th century BC until the 1st century AD. At the centre of the village, carved poles overlook the Dürrnberg plateau, with a great view of the unusual Barmsteine limestone rock pinnacles, the well-known landmark of Hallein.
Hamish in the Celtic Village by the Saltzwelten Hallein
Carved triscele and Celtic warrior poles in the Celtic Village Hallein
At one time the Celts only worked the mountain during the cold season, as the vital circulation of air only functioned well in the winter ! But they must have overcome that and worked the mines year round, as there is evidence of summertime activity found in debris buried in the salt.
They lived in log huts or cabins, and buried their dead under nearby burial mounds. A reconstructed mound houses a life size model of the chariot burial of a chief, richly furnished with grave objects, some of the originals now housed in the Keltenmuseum Hallein.
Chariot Burial model in the Celtic Village at the Saltzwelten Hallein
After a good look around the village, our Maui Celtic duo went to the offices of the Salzwelten Hallein and met the helpful Margarethe Brandner and Stv. Standortleitung (dpt. site manager) Manfred Mader to chat about the Salt Mine and Celtic Village. From behind the admisitrative building there was a great view of the Dürrnberg plateau and the Barmsteine pinnacles.
Many thanks to them for their hospitality, and help contacting folks for our couple's next visits to the Keltenmuseum Hallein, and the Saltzwelten Hallstatt.
Salzwelten Hallein opening hours are daily from 9am-5pm, guided tours start regularly - ticket includes entrance fee and English guided tour through the saltmine, free entrance to the Celtic Village onsite (get an audioguide in English), and to the Keltenmuseum in Hallein. More info at www.salzwelten.at
The Barmsteine from Bad Dürrnberg above Hallein
Back down the mountain, the next stop was the Keltenmuseum Hallein, established in 1970, and housed in Hallein's largest secular building known as the Pfleg, on the banks of the Salzach River. Built in 1654, the former Salina administration building also held the shipping, building and forestry offices, and salt-drying rooms, for over three centuries.
In over 30 rooms, the museum showcases the history of the Celts of 2500 years ago, with a fantastic collection of artifacts from the mines and burial grounds of the Dürrnberg, as well as historical objects and paintings of the salt mining industry of Hallein and the rise to wealth and power of the Prince Archbishops of Salzburg.
The Keltenmuseum Hallein, Austria
Hamish & Jennifer met Registrar Mag. Dr.Anna Holzner, and Leiter Mag. Florian Knopp who gave them a special guided tour of the entire museum. Dr.Holzner showed them around the Celtic galleries explaining the significance of some ancient artifacts, and an overview of the combined culture of the Celts of Hallein and Hallstatt and beyond, which became known as the Hallstatt culture. They were joined by Leiter Knopp between his meetings, who highlighted the treasures of the museum (see below).
From the riverside glass atrium with the fine museum shop, the first gallery they were shown to featured a life size model of a charging ancient Celtic War Chariot and horses. The chariot driver wore a helmet and armour, while the spear-throwing warrior had his hair spiked with lime paste, and was depicted skillfully riding the chariot yoke. All the weapons, armour, chariot and fittings, and clothing are based on actual archaeological finds or pictorial rederings from friezes, gravestones and other period objects.
Celtic Chariot and Warriors at the Keltenmuseum Hallein
The gallery showed the history of the Celts and their migration throughout Europe, and their confrontation with the Romans. A nearby gallery held stone and marble replicas of Celtic and Roman statues, friezes, and gravestones from around ancient Europe, including a copies of the Celtic Prince statue 'The Keltenfürst of Glauberg' of Hessen in Germany, and the famous Roman 'Dying Gaul' and the 'Ludovisi Gaul' statues.
There was a collection of pre-historic and Celtic era salt-mining tools and surprisingly intact leather clothing, such as shoes and hats that had been well preserved in the salt, and a reconstructed section of a period mine. There were surviving fragments of striped and trartan cloth, and a full size replica of an ancient loom. An extensive collection of Celtic belts and buckles, weapons, armour and fittings, helmets and a very unusual shield.
Cloth fragments and sheild at the Keltenmuseum Hallein
There were cases of wood, bronze and ceramic household items, some with detailed artwork of period scenes, or with abstract shaped patterns. There were hair-cutting shears and shaving blades, and even surgical tools. There were many items of personal jewelry - glass and metal bracelets, armbands, necklaces and torcs, and also jewelry for clothing. An unparalleled collection of various sized fibulae or brooches, ranging from plain pins to realistic and fantastic renditions of animals, with fish, birds, boars and strange double-headed beasts. The most unusual were tiny shoes brooches, and a miniature man in ancient clothing, which had to be viewed with a magnifying glass to see the detail.
Actual size replicas of some of the brooches are available in the museum shop - Hamish couldn't resist the 'Widder', or double-headed beast, shown below.
Fibulae or brooches at the Keltenmuseum Hallein
Fibulae or brooch pins, and glass beads at the Keltenmuseum Hallein
The Celts buried their male or female chiefs or royalty in chambers richly furnished with grave objects, ceremonial vessels, weapons, jewelry and even chariots. Archaeological digs last century, at burial mounds on the Dürrnberg plateau above Hallein, revealed many treasures, some now housed in the Keltenmuseum Hallein.
One display case held a paticularly fine hoard from a 25-30 year old prince's chariot grave on the Moserstein, including a sword, spears, arrows, a conical helmet, and an unusual round bronze flagon on legs. It is 52cm/1.7ft high and holds about 18 litres/4.74 gallons and contained residue of a spicy southern European wine. Wine was quite rare and the Celts are said to have exchanged a slave for a barrel, making the volume of this vessel correspod to 'half a human life' on that scale !
Celtic Treasures of the Keltenmuseum Hallein
The hoard also contained the metal decorations of another beaked flagon, a wooden vessel long since gone, but with the small but famous image of a bearded man, the 'Celtic Mask' which has become the symbol of the 'Salt-City Hallein'.
Celtic Mask at the Keltenmuseum Hallein
By good fortune they saw a visiting exhibit, normally kept in the Salzburg Museum, although it was found here in a Dürrnberg burial. One of the masterpieces of Celtic art from the second half of the 5th century BC - the famous bronze beaked flagon known as the 'Schnabelkanne' or the 'Flagon of Dürrnberg'. The 46cm/1.5ft high vessel was found buried and almost intact in 1932, by Salzburg archaeologist Olivier Klose and his colleague Nora Watteck, in a grave that had been robbed in antiquity. The strange beast on the handle of the jug is said to represent Taranis, one of the gods of Celtic mythology, and appears to have a human head, or is holding one in it's mouth. It was Celtic made, but likely influenced by the style of more southern Etruscan art.
Schnabelkanne, Keltenmuseum & Salzburg Museum
Schnabelkanne photos courtesy of Salzburg Museum via Keltenmuseum Hallein.
Schnabelkanne handle animals, and rear face and palmette design
The obviously wealthy grave burials lasted about three generations here on the Dürrnberg, from 450-350 BC, then the sites are more difficult to recognize as a 'princely' burial site. One later exception contained a very small model of a ship with oars, made of gold sheet, about 6.6cm/3 inches long.
Gold model boat at the Keltenmuseum Hallein
The second floor had galleries concerning Hallein's more recent town life and salt mining history, in the building from 1654 onwards, with 73 paintings by Benedict Werkstötter commisssioned in 1757, adorning the walls of the Green, Yellow, and Red Staterooms, where the visiting Prince-Archbishops would have held local court. The paintings cover every aspect of the Austrian salt mining industry.
Hamish thought this was a truly remarkable collection of Celtic artifacts from the Celts of the Dürrnberg, and the salt mining industry of Hallein. Thanks again to Keltenmuseum Hallein Registrar Mag. Dr.Anna Holzner, and Leiter Mag. Florian Knopp for their hospitality and time showing our duo the museum. Opening hours are daily from 9am-5pm, with more info at www.keltenmuseum.at
All above photos © Hamish Burgess, except Saltzwelten slide and Schnabelkanne shots credited.
Hamish & Jennifer headed east 50km on a winding road through the mountainous Tennengau region until they reached Lake Hallstatt or Hallstätter See in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. Their destination was the remote ancient town of Hallstatt, which gave it's name to the very earliest of Celtic cultures, the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture.
At the foot of the Plassen Mountain, part of the larger Dachstein, Hallstatt is a remote ancient lakeside settlement that prospered due to the world's earliest known salt mine. Surprisingly, the first road to the village was only built in 1890, it previously being accessible only by track or boat. Now the road runs through tunnels in the cliffside above the village, coming down to the lake level on the other side - there are even parking spots in the tunnel that look down on the medieval buildings.
Hallstatt village, Salzkammergut, Austria
Like Hallein, the name Hallstatt is derived from the ancient Celtic word hal for salt. The area has been settled for over 7000 years, since the begiining of the Neolithic period, with folks attracted by the salt deposits in the hanging valley above the village. Underground salt mining can be traced back to the 16th-15th centuries BC. Another early centre in Europe, a proto-Celtic community thrived here from 800-450 BC, with their wealth from the salt, and buried their dead with lavish grave goods in a huge cemetary in the high valley by the mines. The town prospered in late medieval times and by 1595 brine from it's salt works was being transported 40km via a pipeline to Ebensee, and salt is still extracted today in an unbroken tradition.
Hallstatt is an important archaeological site, and the village and region were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The village is a picturesque cluster of lake and cliff-side medieval buildings, and has been used for several movies.
The village square - Hallstatt, Austria
Our Maui Celtic duo arrived in Hallstatt late in the day, and managed to drive into the normally car-free village centre to look for a hotel. It may have been cheaper to stay outside the village, but they found a great guesthouse just off the village square - the 15th century Gasthof Simony, and were made very welcome by friendly host Valentin Eybl, whose grandmother Susanna Scheutz is the owner. On his suggestion they headed to the welcoming door of the Brauhaus restaurant for dinner, and were to look out for his uncle Arnold, a local woodworker he thought they might like to meet. He wasn't around, but they had a great dinner under the dragon-headed chandeliers !
The Brauhuas Restaurant and Gasthof Simony, Hallstatt, Austria
The next morning was rainy, so after breakfast it seemed a good time to make a two minute walk to the Museum Hallstatt, a privately run museum where they met Elisabeth Schwarz who arranged with Director Rudolf Gamsjäger for our duo to explore the building and photograph the artifacts. The museum houses objects from the Stone Age to the present day, from the oldest salt mine in the world, and the world famous Hallstatt cemetery that gave it's name to an entire early culture period from 850-500 BC - the Hallstatt Culture. It tells the sory of the native people, possibly Illyric tribes, then the Celts, Romans, the Middle Ages, and into the modern period.
Mueum Hallstatt, Austria
The first gallery displayed ancient mining tools, firebrand torches, fragments of clothing, kneepads and leather salt-mining backpacks, hats and shoes, in amazingly good condition, from between 14th-8th centuries BC. A Hallstatt culture era family were portrayed in clothes based on a period frieze.
Ancient leather Salt Backpack and 8th-4th century BC cloth, Museum Hallstatt
A Hallstatt culture era family, Museum Hallstatt
Audio visual presentations told the story of the Iron Age culture now called Hallstatt. Many artifacts were unearthed in the large prehistoric necropolis in the valley high above the village, used from 800-500 BC, and discovered at the foot of the salt mine.
There were cases of well preserved ceremonial axeheads, daggers, spearheads and swords. There were buckles, fibulae or brooches, bracelets and armbands, and bronze, gold and glass jewelry.
Swords in the Museum Hallstatt
The incised patterns of Hallstatt era art are geometric, with ocasional stylized amimals, and much different to the curvilnear style of the later La Tene art. Pendants in particular were intricate, but almost mechanical looking, with wheels and chains. Whether the style was native to the pre-Celtic folk of the region (possibly Illyric tribesmen), or acquired by trading the riches of salt, and adopted by the locals, is open to speculation.
Treasures of the Museum Hallstatt
The richest grave burial from the necropolis contained massive bronze situla, or urns, bronze buckets, vases, and bowls, also animal models, a ceremonial axehead, helmet, swords and knives, and needles, pendants, and medals.
Treasures of the Museum Hallstatt
Further galleries dealt with the Roman history of Hallstatt, the first contact being in the 2nd century BC, with their arrival to settle when they took over the kingdom of Noricum in 15 BC. They built luxurious villas with underfloor heating and glass windows, but preferred to like down on the lakeside. Also covered was Medieval local history, the fortunes of the salt mine, the Salt Wars, and the Hallstatt fire of 1750 when 35 houses in the village were destroyed.
After picking up both the books in English at the good museum shop, it was time to head outside. Thanks to Elisabeth Schwarz and Director Rudolf Gamsjäger for their hospitality at the Museum Hallstatt. Opening hours summer 10am-6pm, winter 11am-3pm (closed Mon/Tues). More details at www.museum-hallstatt.at
Hallstatt village, Salzkammergut, Austria
Hamish walked Jennifer to the guesthouse, and decided it may be his only chance to see the famous pre-historic necropolis of Hallstatt, so picked up an umbrella and headed up the mountain in the rain.
On the edge of town is the base of the funicular railway which takes only 3 minutes to reach the Hallstatt upper valley, 838m/2750ft above the village. Even in the rain there were many tourists, with little Japanese ladies pushing and jumping ahead of folks in line. Thanks to the folks of Salzwelten Hallein who had called ahead and arranged for Hamish's visit to Saltzwelten Hallstatt, who run the funicular and the salt mine tours. The views from the top were great, even in overcast weather. The valley mouth is dominated by the historic Rudolfsturm Tower, now a restaurant, previously serving as home of the director of the mines, but once a fortification during the Salt Wars. It also houses an exhibition on the work of Johann Georg Ramsauer.
Rudolfsturm Tower, Hallstatt upper valley, Austria
The crowds had raced off to the salt mine, leaving Hamish a quiet walk in the serene valley that is home to the burial grounds.
Info-boards along the path tell the story of the early Iron Age cemetary, used from 800-400BC, and 'discovered' in 1846 by Johann Georg Ramsauer (1795–1874). The presence of antiquities was known before, with mine workers finding ancient objects as early as around 1600 AD, and artifacts ending up in private collections and museums for the next 200 years. One bronze hoard from the 13th century BC was discovered in 1830 and sold for scrap and melted down ! However Ramsauer was the first careful and methodical excavator, and between 1848 and 1863 he uncovered 980 burials, and measured and drew each excavation, with a detailed watercolour sketch, before removing any objects, leaving a fascinating archaeological record. Scholars wrote papers on the subject, and in 1874 Swedish archaeologist Hans Hildebrand introduced the term Hallstatt Culture to describe the period from the 8th-5th century BC.
The number of excavated graves reached 1500 by 2007, and there are estimated to be some 5000 people buried there, almost half of them cremated. Those inhumed were lying on their backs with a view of the valley's exit.
There are no visible graves to see in the valley now, just a beautiful quiet place befitting one of the Old World's largest burial sites. A small building along the path houses a reconstruction of a princely burial, with replica rich grave goods. The very first grave excavated is the only one marked with a memorial and a water fountain, alongside the pathway.
The first excavated grave memorial, Hallstatt upper valley, Austria
Further up the valley is a reconstructed hut with a sunken pit, which shows how the ancient folk ran a pre-historic meat industry. Eight of these buildings are known of, dating from the Bronze Age around the 13th-12th century BC. They are believed to be curing or salting tubs for pork, due to the many pig bones found around each structure. Large quantities of pork was salted, with possibly 150-200 pigs being cured in the tubs during a single process.
Pork Curing building, Hallstatt upper valley, Austria
Around 330 BC a disastrous rock fall and massive mud-slide buried the eastern working mine and high-lying settlement, sparing only the valley necropolis, after which a newer mine and settlement was started further west.
There is an archaeology building up near the salt mine, housing a research and educational facility, open from July to September.
"Mankind can do without gold, but not without salt"
Cassiodorus, Roman scholar and statesman, 6th century AD.
It was time for Hamish to tour the Saltzwelten Hallstatt, with it's thousands of years of continuous salt-mining tradition, quite a bit more crowded than the counterpart in Hallein. The tour group donned blue coveralls, and waited quite a while for a private group to get ahead of them into the mine. The group walked into the mine, and the guide covered very basic points in 3 languages, but mainly let the high-tech audio-visual displays tell the history of the mine.
Saltzwelten Hallstatt video screen, upper valley Hallstatt, Austria
There were many more technical shows in the mine here, than were in Hallein, with almost every chamber having an innovative shaped screen showing a film. As in the other Saltzwelten, there are two wooden slides, the traditional way of getting quickly from one level of the mine to a lower one. This one was quite long at 64m/209ft - visitors straddled two wooden rails and slid down on the padded seat of their coveralls - Hamish reached 25.3km/hour, and some kids were in the high 30s !
The slide at the Saltzwelten Hallstatt
As in Hallein, early mining was done by hand, with the Hallstatt then Celtic era miners chipping salt rock crystal from the rock as a solid, which they carried out of the mine in backpacks. Medieval miners formed the salt into blocks by using wooden moulds, to be transported in carts out of the mine.
This mine also had a 'The Man in the Salt', a mummified Celtic miner found in 1734, dating to around 1000 BC, who had been buried and preserved in the salt in a tunnel.
A later technique to improve efficiency was leaching, first mentioned in historical documents in 1311 AD. Water was introduced to caverns, which absorbed salt from the walls for several weeks, creating brine water which was then extracted, and boiled in pans leaving the salt. By 1595 brine from the mine here was being transported 40km via an early pipeline to Ebensee, and salt is still extracted today in an unbroken tradition.
There was a very good laser sound and light show in one of the leachcaves, illustrating the miners struggle since ancient times. The final leg was an electric train ride through quite a narrow tunnel, before bursting out from underground into the sunlight - it had stopped raining.
Both the Salzwelten Hallstatt and Hallein had good tours, but our historian Hamish actually preferred the less touristy, less high-tech experience, and more knowledgeable guide of the Hallein Saltzwelten. All the details at www.salzwelten.at
With most of the tourists gone now this late in the day, Hamish enjoyed the quiet pathway through the Halstatt burial grounds once more, this time without the umbrella.
Hamish at the Hallstatt pre-historic burial grounds, Austria
With the sun now out for the late afternoon, the views from the Hallstatt upper valley, 2750ft/ 838m down to Lake Hallstatt and the medieval village were truly spectacular. There was now a clear view of the surrounding mountains, and the village of Obertraun across the lake.
Hamish with a view of Obertraun from Hallstatt upper valley
Hallstatt and the Hallstätter See
Hamish hiked down the switchback path from the mountain, which turned out to be a lot longer than it looked on the wee map ! A local pastime seemed to be racing off-road dirtbikes up the steep gravel pathways...
On the way down he took a breather at a lookout by the Mühlbachschlucht, the Mühlbach Gorge Falls, the waterfall directly above Hallstatt village, once used to power mills, which runs through the town and into Lake Hallstatt.
The Mühlbachschlucht, Hallstatt
There was a local brass band in the village square that night, which brought out a lot of locals and tourists, then our Maui Celtic duo had a nice dinner at Gasthof Zauner, seen in the back corner of the photo below, before a walk through town.
Hallstatt band in the village square
They went by the Brauhaus, and heard the sound of bagpipes coming out of the upstairs window ! Intrigued, they popped in and asked for their host Valentin's uncle Arnold, the local woodworker he thought they might like to meet. Arnold Lobisser was not only a woodworker, but a musical instrument maker and teacher of that art, and the bagpiper they had heard, with many sets of his own making. He invited them into his workshop, an amazing place steeped with years of tradition, and he and his friend shared the evening and some nice local wine with Hamish and Jennifer. He brought out many dudelsack, or bagpipes, of his own creation, German, Bohemian, Italian and more, and Hamish tried a few tunes on these unusual pipes.
Hamish and Arnold Lobisser with dudelsack, Hallstatt, Austria
Arnold Lobisser's workshop in the Brauhaus, Hallstatt
The craic was mighty in the Brauhaus, Hallstatt ! Back at Gasthof Simony, the brass band from earlier in the evening was playing in the hotel basement, much to Hamish's amusement, as he was slightly the worse for wear with the wine......
After breakfast the next morning, with no rain our duo explored the medieval village and did a bit of shopping. They saw both churches, the more modrern Protestant Evangelical one by the lake, and the imposing Catholic Church of Maria Himmelfahrt (Mary Ascension), also known as 'Maria am Berg' (Mary at the mountain, sitting up on a hill. The gothic built church from 1505 has a neatly kept graveyard overlooking the lake.
Catholic Churchyard overlooking the Hallstätter See
Due to the cemetery's small size there was not enough room for all Hallstatt residents to be buried there. In older times the graves were opened up after ten to twenty years, and skulls and other bones removed, and transferred to the Charnel House, or Beinhaus (Bone house), located in the 12th century chapel St. Michaelskapelle. The skulls were cleaned and bleached in the sun, and from 1720 AD it became a tradition to paint them with the name of the person, the year of death, and other decorations such as flowers and crosses. There are over 1200 skulls in the Charnel House, with 610 of them painted and arranged according to family names. The last skull put in the Beinhaus was in 1995 the last request of a lady who died 1983.
The Charnel House or Beinhaus, Hallstatt
As the rain came down again, our Maui Celtic duo were sorry to leave the incredible village of Hallstatt. The ancient working salt mine, archaeologically unparalleled burial grounds, museum and medieval village, not to mention outstanding natural beauty, make it clear to see why the region was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
MAUI CELTIC ART
MAUI CELTIC's own Hamish (Jim) Douglas Burgess continues the tradition with his own Celtic art, in various mediums, recent works including book illustrations, commissioned celtic art, commissioned original celtic tattoos, and even an entire car!
ORIGINAL CELTIC ART BY HAMISH BURGESS
'LINDISFARNE SPIRALS' © Hamish Burgess 2009
Traditional Celtic art by Hamish Burgess, hand painted with acrylics on ragpaper. This is a reproduction from the Lindisfarne Gospels and mixes spirals and shapes after the early Celtic La Tène style, and zoomorphic birds. MORE INFO & ART ON OUR GALLERY PAGE.
'ROSS-SHIRE ROSE' Hilton of Cadboll Stone © Hamish Burgess 2009
Ancient style Celtic art by Hamish Burgess, hand painted with acrylics on canvas. Created for an Upcountry Maui art show with a red theme, every color used in 'Ross-shire Rose' is a shade of red, running from the lightest pink, which looks white, to the black outline, actually with a slight red tint when used very thinly.MORE INFO & ART ON OUR GALLERY PAGE.
'THE CELTIC CHARIOT'
HIS 'CELTIC CHARIOT' FEATURES ORIGINAL CELTIC DRAGONS ON THE SIDES, AND A KNOTWORK PANEL ON THE TAILGATE. Hand painted in enamels on metal, the original Celtic Dragon mixes several styles of Celtic art, the zoomorphic creature emanating from a tradtional knot (originally found on carved stones in Scotland). The wings are decorated after the early Celtic La Tène style, featuring curvilinear shapes on a background of cross-hatching. The body has scales.
The tailgate features Hamish's company website in a Celtic font between two trisceles. It is surrounded by a Celtic knotwork border in a traditional style. All artwork © Hamish Burgess 2008
'CELTIC TREE OF LIFE' © Hamish Burgess 2003
This original Watercolour piece by Hamish Burgess is a Celtic Tree of Life coming out of a traditional cauldron, with the seven creations of the ancient Celtic world - plants, humans, animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects.
This Original, and limited edition art prints of it, are available on our GALLERY page
'KEOKEA TREE OF LIFE' © Hamish Burgess 2003
This original piece by Hamish Burgess was a commission for an Irish-Scots friend, customized to feature him and his wife, his dog and creatures seen in his garden in Keokea, Upcountry Maui. Watercolour. It is a Celtic Tree of Life coming out of a traditional cauldron, with the seven creations of the ancient Celtic world - plants, humans, animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects. In this case the tree, the couple, their dog, a pheasant, koi fish (with water), a skink, and a dragonfly.
Original commissioned works like this are available, customized to feature stylized likenesses of you and your loved ones, and pets or favorite animals. Limited edition art prints of the above are available on our GALLERY page
'SEA, LAND & AIR' © Hamish Burgess 2003
This piece was first an original tattoo design, drawn by Hamish Burgess and applied on a friend who appreciates Celtic art, who then commissioned the above painting. Acrylics on a watercolour background. Featuring zoomorphic Celtic designs, with an original Dolphin, and a traditional Dog and Bird. In the tattoo (around his leg) the birds foot entwined with the dolphin's tail creating a continuous circle of life.
Limited edition art prints of the above are available on our GALLERY page
The following extract was written as a forward for renowned celtic artist Courtney Davis' latest 'Celtic Tattoo Workbook' Vol 2.
BY HAMISH (JIM) DOUGLAS BURGESS
Following the ancient patterns of Celtic beliefs, tattooing in the Celtic Lands has gone through a long cycle of life, death, and rebirth. This continuous circle of life is represented by the unbroken interlacing knotwork designs of the early Celts, whose art had rested unnoticed for many years. Only comparatively recently, in the last century, has their art seen a revival by several artists around the world, foremost amongst whom is Courtney Davis, whose latest book we have the pleasure of introducing.
Many people mistake the origin of tattooing as being in Polynesia, the Pacific Islands. In fact, all over the world, since stone age times, many ancient cultures were practicing the art of tattoo. In the early 1990's the discovery of ancient frozen mummies (the 5000 year old tattooed "Iceman" in the Tyrolean Alps, and then the 2400 year old elaborately tattooed Pazyryk "Ice Maiden" and "Warrior" in Siberia) show the antiquity of the art. It is well documented that the Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Thracians, Scythians, Siberians, Arabs, Incas, Indians, Asians, North and South American Natives, Japanese, and Pacific Islanders were tattooed.
Our focus here though, is on the Ancient Celts. The Celts themselves had an oral tradition, and therefore no written historical records (although they did have an early system of marks known as Ogham), so the earliest observations of tattooed Celts were noted by their adversaries, the invadingRomans. Many Roman (and Greek) accounts were written of the 'painted barbarians', naming the Britons, Iberians, Gauls, Goths, Teutons, Picts and Scots (the 'Scotii' came from Ireland) as being tattooed, the Latin word for 'tattoo' being 'stigma'.
"The Britons incise on their bodies coloured pictures of animals, of which they are very proud" ( Herod of Antioch, 3rd century AD).
The Romans even named the fierce far northern tribes "Pictii", 'the painted ones', although those ancient warriors known as the Picts had their own name, the Cruithne, 'people of the shapes'. The Roman historian Claudian, noted that these warriors were tattooed:
"...the legion which had been left to guard far-distant Britain, which had kept the fierce Scots in check and gazed at the strange shapes tattooed on the faces of the dying Picts." (Claudian,416-18AD).
He distinguished the difference between the use of an iron needle ("ferro picta, ferro notatas", literally translated as 'iron-marked'), as opposed to body-painting with woad (blue dye), also an ancient practice. A later scribe uses more detail:
"The race of the Picts has a name derived from the appearance of their bodies. These are played upon by a needle working with small pricks and by the squeezed-out sap of a native plant, so that they bear the resultant marks according to the personal rank of the individual, their painted limbs being tattooed to show their high birth." (Isidore of Seville, 7th century AD).
The tattooed Celt seems to have disappeared with the successive waves of continental invaders, absorbing the ancient Britons, and occupying the remaining Celtic Lands of Ireland, Scotland, Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Galacia. Medieval Irish manuscripts, the "Lebor Gabala Erenn" (The Book of the Taking of Ireland) mention tattooing using the word 'rind'(tattoo) and 'rintaib'(tattoo-marks). Very little literature of the 1000 years from the Saxons arrival onwards, mentions the art. Perhaps surprisingly, there are references to Christian devotees bearing marks of their worship, such ideas traditionally frowned upon by the church, with tattooing being totally forbidden by Pope Hadrian 1st in 787 AD, no doubt contributing to the demise of tattoo in Europe.
Meanwhile, Celtic art continued to be carved on large memorial stones across the Celtic Lands, becoming increasingly more detailed and intricate over the centuries, culminating in the fabulous metalwork treasures and incredible illuminated manuscripts of the Celtic monks, which can be seen in the national museums.
A few early Celts had left the homelands adventuring, but with the great age of sea voyaging and exploring of the 16th to 18th centuries, with ships visiting the Americas and later the Pacific, sailors (many Celtic) brought back tales of tattooed 'savages', examples of Polynesian tattoos on themselves (beginning the tradition of the tattooed sailor), and even a tattooed Tahitian man, named Omai, who became quite a celebrity in London society in 1774. The word 'tattoo' comes from the Tahitian word 'Tatau', stemming from 'ta', meaning to hit or strike, referring to the ancient style of tattooing by tapping sharpened bone combs with mallets.
During this time of renewed interest in tattooing again in Britain (after a long period of inactivity), Celtic people were leaving their homes by the thousands to the Americas and beyond, some seeking adventure and opportunity, many in search of a better life, and some driven out by religious persecution. Millions of Irish left their homeland for America due to poverty and starvation of 'The Great Potato Famine' of the 1840s. Scots left by the tens of thousands for America and Canada reaching a peak during 'The Highland Clearances' of the 1760s. Welsh and Cornish miners seeking work left when the mining industries declined. All these Celts took with them around the world their art, languages and music. In most countries in the world you can now find emigrant Celts.
The revival of Tattoo also seems to have gone full circle from the Polynesians, back to the Celts, then with the continuing migration of Celtic people, returning to the Americas and the Pacific.
We are brothers Dudley and Jim (Hamish) Burgess, of Scottish origin, who adopted Cornwall as home over 20 years ago. We were first inspired by Courtney Davis' artwork in his first book, and have both been studying Celtic art since then. Our story also seems to have followed the ancient patterns, starting with Courtney's art, following our own Celtic art paths, and now returns full circle to this forward for Courtney's latest book.
We hope you will also be inspired by Courtney's art, and encourage you to tap into your heritage with a Celtic tattoo, and walk the path with your ancestors... May the road rise to meet you.
Hamish (Jim) Burgess,