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Late Iron Age/Early Roman decorated metalwork

Staff: Mary Davis
The Late Iron Age harness piece from Alltwen
The Late Iron Age harness piece from Alltwen

This project is examining metal artefacts dating from the period immediately preceding and following the Roman occupation of Britain (approx. BC50 -150AD); in particular it looks at decorated metalwork and the development of the use of glass and enamel in later prehistoric artefacts, examining the interaction of Roman and native material culture through material analysis. .. In addition to the examination of artefacts which have been in museum collections for some time, there is an increasing amount of material coming to light through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. This is broadening the range of material available for study from both Wales and England geographically and typologically. This study incorporates the analyses of newly discovered objects from Wales, and results will be put within a wider national context, feeding into studies of similar material as well as complementing other research on this period. The input of elemental analysis will help enlighten some of the issues traditionally studied in an art historical context, especially by looking at the use of materials, their colour and appearance for both the substrate and for decoration, assessing their occurrence, development and geographical patterning.

The increase in material from this period coming to light through the Portable Antiquities Scheme both in Wales and England has led to questions relating to the definition of Treasure under the 2002 amendment to the Treasure Act (1996) in which prehistoric base metal hoards are now deemed to be 'Treasure'. Real difficulties occur in defining what is prehistoric at this period; stylistically, objects can appear to contain elements of both native La Tène style and show Roman influences (e.g. the newly excavated collar and bracelets from Boverton). It is therefore difficult to say whether an artefact was manufactured when developing new styles and ideas were entering Britain from the Roman world before the date of occupation, or after occupation had occurred - in the latter case the object would not legally been defined as 'Treasure'. Material analysis might help in clarifying these definitions.