Early Iron Age Gael Picture

From Bronze to Iron

The above fella is a Early to middle Iron Age Gael or Irishman. There is a theory that the introduction of Iron into Ireland caused a social revolution, with the access to Copper and Tin to make bronze limited, perhaps the old powers relayed on the control of this as the source for their power. While Iron was much more widely available throughout Ireland, with various forms of Iron in different parts of the country. So the theory is that the wielders of the axe may have been the winners of the new technology and from the bottom up the transition took place. It was believed up to recently that Iron was introduced in the 3rd Century BC into Ireland, but with the recent dating of a spearhead to the 7th or 6th Century, which was thought to be of Early medieval date, the introductory date may change.

Clothing

Léine/Shirt: The Léine (still the irish word for shirt or top) is based on the early middle ages/dark ages, there is no finds of clothing other than cloaks and capes from the Iron age so guesswork is the best I can do. In the early middle ages they had just a long léine, sometimes going down to the ankles as clothing with a brat or cloak. The design on the Léine is from an Iron age woolen Brat found from Baronstown which had a Chevron Twill design.

Brat/Cloak: The cloak or Brat is based on a leather deerskin Cape dated to about 400-200 BC found on the Gallagh bog body and the Baronstown Leather Cloak dated to the early centuries AD. The overlapping edges protect the wearer from bad weather and its worn in a cone like shape. Other leather cloaks have been found on bog bodies in Europe but they are smaller, Roman poems of the time tell of leather cloaks being good for bad weather or rain, the roman version the Byrrus could have a Gallic origin.

Hair: Based on the hair of the Clonycavan man bog body from 200 BC, originally I read online that the hair was in a mohawk fashion but then after reading archaeological books they said it was a topknot, (lesson learned never get information from the internet!). Anyways the topknot was held in place with a gel from pine resin from a pine only found in northern spain or southern france. With luxuries such as gel being traded trade routes most have been well established.

Triubhas/Trousers: The trousers are again a bit of guesswork, some historians have speculated with the introduction of La Téne fibula into Ireland that the male fashion of wearing ankle length trousers of chequered patterns could also have been introduced. The chequered design is based on a 5th century BC bog body skirt found in Denmark.

Armlet: The armlet is from the Oldcroghan man bog body from around 200 BC. Made with intertwined leather with 4 metal strips with decoration on them, 2 have circles and another 2 have slashes or straight lines.

Weapons

Claíomh/Cloidhem/Sword: The swords found in Ireland are quite small, the largest being around 60 cm, considering the largest spearhead is 47 cm you get the idea that these were more like large knifes than swords, this contrasts sharply with british and continental swords at the time going up to 1 metre in size and even in ireland in the late bronze age where you had swords going up to 85 cm and the later in the early middle ages you get large swords again, and it was technologically feasible to produce larger swords so the size seems to have been dictated by Fashion. Because of the size the Irish swords were for hacking and stabbing in close hand to hand combat. Only around 30 swords have been found in Ireland from the Iron age, leading some to think that warfare wasnt that widespread during the period, but more ritualistic and probably rare with spears being used more for combat while swords for displays of prestige and power. The Irish swords are split into two types, type 1 are bell shaped hilt guards of metal and type 2 are with organic hilt guards. The above sword is type 1 from Lisnacrogher in Antrium, 50.4 cm in length, and probably the earliest Iron swords in Ireland from 3rd to 2nd Century BC.

Scabbard: The scabbard is based on a find from Lisnacrogher in Co. Antrium, also probably dated to around the same time as the above sword, so 3rd to 2nd Century BC. This is one of 8 Bronze scabbards from around that region, it has two perforations near the centre on both plates so probably a suspension loop used to attach the scabbard to the belt, like in some similar Yorkshire finds. It has close parrallels are from Northern england and scotland but the art on the decorated scabbards is far more elaborate, with slenderer chapes, and alot of minor filler motifs.

Sleagh/Spear: This spear is the one he has resting on his shoulders, the spearhead is one of two found in Lisnacrogher, is 41.5 cm long, again probably dating to around the same period as the sword and scabbard from the same region. There was numerous shafts found there too, some as large as 2.4m in length, though the spearshaft shown here is around 1.6m so one handed.

Sciath/ Shield: The above is the Clonoura shield from Littleton bog, it is made of alderwood, covered in a single piece of calf hide, leather stitched around the edges, with an alderwood boss which is covered with strips of leather stitched with a bar of oak as a handle at the back of the boss. Unusually for a shield find, this one was actually used, as it has various slashes and stabbing marks on its front, in some places you can clearly make out the shape of a spearhead. It is quite similar to the shields on the Gundestrop Cauldron so it could be dated to around the 1st Century BC, or like other parrallels in Northern Britain which would mean its from the early centuries AD.

Gae/Throwing spear: This is the smaller spear in his hand, its from Boho, Co. Fermanagh, which because of its shape could have been used as a Gae or throwing spear like the ones mentioned quite frequently in early Irish mythology.

Sources:

Kingship and sacrifice, E. p. Kelly, Archaeology Ireland heritage guide no. 35, 2006
Pagan Celtic Ireland, B. Raftery, Thames and Hudson, 1998
Catalogue of Irish Iron Age Antiquities, B. Raftery, 1983
The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, J. Waddell, wordwell, 2010
Kingship and sacrifice, Exhibtion, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin
The Roman Textile industry and its influence, Chapt 11: Beyond the Empire, E. W. Heckett, Oxbow Books, 2001
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