Review – A Celtic Feast: the Iron Age cauldrons from Chiseldon, Wiltshire

2 mins read
Alexandra Baldwin and Jody Joy
The British Museum Press, £40
ISBN 978-0861592036
Review Rachel Wilkinson

The Chiseldon hoard contained 17 Iron Age cauldrons and numerous fragments – but this was not your average picnic. Found in 2004 and excavated in 2005, it is the largest deposit of cauldrons from prehistoric Europe. This find – and the very recently unearthed Leekfrith gold torc hoard from north Staffordshire – have led to a re-evaluation of our understanding of the Middle Iron Age. A Celtic Feast thoroughly investigates every aspect of the Chiseldon hoard through CT scans, metallurgy testing, and residue analysis of the contents and associated organic material. Combined with reports on the excavation of the site, it demonstrates how the findings shape our perceptions of this period. The diversity of approaches, content, and analysis in the chapters illustrates the range of expertise and skills required to preserve and investigate this hoard.

The investigations highlight several important points. First, CT scans revealed that several of the cauldrons were decorated. Dateable Celtic art is rare, and the discovery of the bovine-themed decoration on the cauldrons, usually dated to the 1st century BC and AD, suggests either that this decoration was an early forerunner of later designs or that it was inspired by Continental influence.

Second, residue analysis demonstrates that different types of meat and vegetable stews were cooked in the cauldrons, giving an insight into the food served at these communal events. Interestingly, the analysis also suggests that the cauldrons were filled to the brim, and calculations demonstrate that if all 17 cauldrons were used at once, they may have held enough for hundreds or thousands of people. Other aspects of interest, such as potential sources of metal for the manufacture of the cauldrons also receive attention in the text.

The book’s interpretation of Chiseldon places it within the context of Iron Age society and feasting, hoarding practices, and its landscape setting, with a thorough and careful discussion of the period and relevant academic debates. It sets the bar high for future research publications on hoards and adds significantly to our understanding of the Middle Iron Age.

This review appeared in CA 329.

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