Postgraduate Research Archaeology Symposium

Helen Chittock (2016)

Keywords: Celtic Art, object biographies.


Iron Age East Yorkshire is famous for its iconic Celtic Art objects. Weapons, chariot fittings and personal ornament, some intricately decorated with swirling La Tène style patterns, have been found in the region and its bordering counties, often as part of the unusual ‘Arras culture’ burial rite. The functions of most of these objects seem fairly straightforward, but what was the purpose of the decoration itself?

This paper invokes a phrase used by Cyril Fox in the title of his 1958 publication on Celtic Art; ‘Pattern and Purpose’, to think through this question. It will summarise the conclusion of a PhD project aimed at pursuing the reintegration of metalwork from Iron Age East Yorkshire with the wider archaeological record, in order to answer questions about the functions of decorated objects. A holistic study on the decoration (and plainness) of all types of objects from a sample of 30 sites has been used to produce statistics on exactly how many objects are patterned and on the relationship between pattern and purpose.

New data on the biographies, or itineraries, of selected objects will be used to explore this relationship in detail through examining the multiple, changing and intertwining functions of patterned and plain objects at different stages in their use-lives. The paper will conclude by offering an answer to the question: what did pattern do?