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The Capel Garmon Firedog becomes a permanent museum treasure


One of Wales’s most prized ancient masterpieces is secured by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales



An elaborately decorated Iron Age firedog in the form of an iconic double-crested mythical beast, and nearly 2,000 years old, has found a permanent home within Wales’s national archaeological collections.

In recognition of its uniqueness as one of the finest surviving prehistoric iron artefacts in Europe, it has been accepted by the Welsh Ministers in lieu of inheritance tax from the previous owners. Formerly on loan to the National Museum, this treasure is now secured for present and future generations - and represents a significant addition to the nation’s collections of Early Celtic Art.

The firedog - part ox and part horse in its attributes - is a masterpiece of early blacksmithing. Originally one of a pair, it once defined the hearth at the centre of an Iron Age chieftain’s roundhouse. Seen in flickering firelight, during feasting events, political gatherings and story-telling, it would have been viewed as a powerful symbol of authority.

It was discovered in May 1852 by a man cutting a ditch through a peat bog on farm land near Llanrwst, Conwy. Accounts suggest that it had been carefully buried, on its side at great depth with large stones placed at each foot – perhaps at the end of its life, or that of its owner.

Conservation X-raying of the object, twinned with an experiment attempting to replicate the making of the piece, has demonstrated the sheer skill of the master blacksmith. It comprises 85 separately shaped elements, and originally weighed around 38 kilos. To make such an elaborate set would have required a significant investment of time, perhaps as much as three years, signifying iron was then a material of great value.

The Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme enables taxpayers to transfer works of art and important heritage objects, such as the Capel Garmon firedog, into public ownership in full or part payment of their inheritance tax. In Wales, these items must be approved by the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and?Heritage, who is advised by the Acceptance in Lieu UK Panel. The panel consists of independent experts, who seek specialist advice on the object offered. The panel operates on behalf of the Welsh Government and co-ordinates with CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales, in appropriate cases.

Huw Lewis, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Housing, Regeneration and?Heritage said:

"The Capel Garmon Firedog is an excellent example of early Celtic art and I’m pleased that the artefact has been acquired for the national collection, enabling the public to access and appreciate the craftsmanship of this fascinating object."

The firedog is currently one of the most popular objects in the Origins: In Search of Early Wales gallery, National Museum Cardiff. David Anderson, Amgueddfa Cymru’s Director General explains more about its importance:

"It is a privilege for Amgueddfa Cymru to care for the Capel Garmon Firedog on behalf of the people of Wales. The AIL scheme, approved by our Minister, is an important way of ensuring an institution like the Museum can acquire and care for important objects such as these.

"The firedog will be shared with the thousands of visitors who come to the Museum each year and play a key role in communicating the history of Wales."

In future, the Capel Garmon Firedog will be displayed in new galleries being planned at St Fagans: National History Museum as part of the Creu Hanes - Making History project. The aspiration is to bring archaeology and history?together to tell even more stories of the people of Wales in innovative?and?challenging ways.

A new Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales publication ‘Discovered in Time: Treasures from Early Wales’ profiles seventy archaeological treasures from the national collections, including the Capel Garmon Firedog.

Date: 19 December 2011
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