Heavenly maps, henges and hats

Whenever I hear news of artefacts being returned home, I immediately assume they’re leaving these shores, not coming back.

British Museum hails ‘homecoming’ of world’s oldest map of the starsEvening Standard
The British Museum has welcomed the “homecoming” of the Nebra Sky Disc which features Cornish gold to their Stonehenge exhibition. The piece is 3,600 years old and is said to be the world’s oldest surviving map of the stars. The 30cm bronze disc with a blue-green patina is decorated with inlaid gold symbols thought to represent the sun, moon, stars, the solstices and the Pleiades constellation.

That ‘homecoming’ word is doing a lot of work in this case, as it’s just the gold that is thought to come from Britain, not the disc itself. Still, it’s a beautiful Bronze Age (Iron Age?) map (clock?) and part of what looks to be a fascinating exhibition.

The World of Stonehenge slated for exhibition in 2022Fine Books & Collections
The world of Stonehenge (17 February – 17 July 2022) is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the story of Stonehenge. Key loans coming to the British Museum and announced for the first time today include: Britain’s most spectacular grave goods which were unearthed in the shadow of Stonehenge; elaborate ancient gold hats depicting the cosmos; and the astonishing wooden monument – dubbed Seahenge – that recently emerged after millennia from the sands of a Norfolk beach.

Seahenge? What’s that?

SeahengeExplore Norfolk
Seahenge was so called by the media as it resembled Stonehenge in Wiltshire. It’s a huge tree stump that was buried upside down with its roots upper most, and surrounding this tree stump were 55 timber posts, which had been cut from smaller oaks in the surrounding area. It must be remembered, of course, that 4000 years ago Holme beach was a salt marsh, not a sandy beach. Some say the upturned tree stump was put there so dead bodies could be laid on top and birds and animals could then pick away at the flesh and bones. Gradually, over 3000-4000 years (!) the sea has encroached the land and covered the peat beds which were naturally preserving the timbers. The exact purpose of the timber circle has never quite been determined.

There are some clearer images of it from within Assassin’s Creed, bizarrely.

But going back to that article from Fine Books & Collections, what was it saying about those gold hats?

Newly revealed today as going on show in the exhibition are two rare and remarkable gold cone-shaped hats – the Schifferstadt gold hat from Germany and the Avanton gold cone from France. This is the very first time either will have been seen in Britain. These are decorated with elaborate solar motifs that reflect the religious importance of the sun during this era. Only two other examples of these hats are known to have survived. Serving as headgear during ceremonies or rituals, they perhaps imbued the wearer with divine or otherworldly status. Carefully buried alone or accompanied by axes, rather than interred with the deceased, it seems they were held in trust for the community. Similar motifs are to be found on a belt plate on loan from the National Museum of Denmark. This example, and others like it, was found on the stomach of a woman buried in Scandinavia. It’s conical central point might represent the same concept as the sun hat, but in miniature form.

Author: Terry Madeley

Works with student data and enjoys reading about art, data, education and technology.

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