Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Gundestrup Cauldron: Nuragic influence?

Mark Cartwright of the Ancient History Encyclopedia just published and excellent article on the Gundestrup Cauldron and I wish to share it with you.  But first some of my personal musings about the object.

The Gundestrup Cauldron, dated to the 1st century BCE, was discovered by workers cutting peat blocks in a bog near Gundestrup, North Jutland, Denmark on 28 May 1891 CE. The details of the decorative reliefs on the cauldron show a clear Celtic influence but some motifs, particularly the exotic animals (lions or leopards, elephants, and griffins), suggest, too, a Near Eastern influence so that scholars generally attribute its manufacture to peoples living in the Lower Danube region, specifically Dacia or Thrace (which is today’s Romania and Bulgaria). The use of silver is another link with the Lower Danube region as it is rare in Celtic art but not so in Thracian art. 

When I first encountered Nuragic art from Sardinia, I wondered if those people may have had an influence on the creators of the Gundestrup Cauldron as well, since there seemed to me to be a stylistic similarity. I was especially struck by the appearance of what looked to me like horned appendages on the heads of Nuragic warriors depicted as bronze figurines.

One of the roundels on the Gundestrup Cauldron depicts the hunting or sacrifice of a bull. Bulls or half-man, half-bull figures appear to have had religious significance to the Nuragic people as well and were frequently depicted on ships and bronze vases, and used in religious rites. A figure riding a dolphin is also depicted in the decorative panel. Dolphin iconography is common in the art of island peoples.

Nuragic artists themselves were probably influenced by the Phoenicians who began visiting Sardinia around 900 BCE and may account for the "Near Eastern influence" described by some art historians.  Nuragic statues and figurines have been found wearing what appears to be eastern dress. But these are just my own speculations though.

The roundel of the Gundestrup Cauldron. The scene shows the hunting or sacrifice of a bull. Above the bull is a human figure and there are two hunting dogs and possibly a lizard.  Image courtesy of Claude Valette (CC BY SA)


A panel from the Gundestrup Cauldron showing a seated god with stag’s antlers, often identified as Cernunnos, an ancient Celtic god who represented nature, flora and fauna, and fertility. There is also a stag and deer on the left side and on the right five strange animals and a small figure riding what may be a dolphin. Image courtesy of Malene Thyssen (CC BY SA)


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