Dorset Archaeological Masterpieces … Iron Age Sculpture

Iron Age Carved Stone Heads at the Dorset County Museum

Iron Age Carved Stone Heads at the Dorset County Museum

These mysterious stone faces, larger than a human head, were carved some time before 43 CE by members of the Durotriges tribe. The Durotriges were an Iron Age tribal confederation; their territory spanned across the southern English counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon.

It is not known why or for what purpose these heads were made. They could have been ritual objects or just decorative. They are simply carved from local limestone and have peacefully expressionless faces.

It is a commonly held belief that pre-Roman British society was primitive and isolated. At school we were told that the Romans revolutionised Iron Age Britain, bringing indoor heating, straight roads and civilisation to her wind-swept shores. However, the archaeological evidence suggests the people of pre-Roman Britain were not as unsophisticated as has been purported.

Before Commander Vespasian swept through this rainy island in 43 CE, bringing hillforts crashing down and dispensing knowledge and enlightenment to the defeated tribes, the Durotriges had coinage, industry and international trade. The immense earthworks at sites such as Maiden Castle suggest an organised society that was able to command a huge labour force.

Being illiterate, little is known about the Durotriges other than what can be gleaned from what the Romans wrote about them or what they left behind in the archaeological record. What is known is that the Durotriges had a booming pottery industry, with production centred around modern day Poole harbour. The close proximity of France, situated just across the English Channel, provided opportunities for trade with the Roman world. They had their own religious beliefs, buried their dead in a ritual way and created art objects, such as these head sculptures.

The Roman invasion brought a great deal to Britain, but they did not bring everything. It is important to remember that the people of pre-Roman Britain were not ignorant savages; they had a functioning rural society, contacts with the outside world and a distinct culture. Although they left no written record, the beautiful objects they left behind tell us something about their forgotten past.

Iron Age carved stone heads on display at the Dorset County Museum

(Photograph my own)

This entry was posted in Art, Art History, Dorset Archaeology, History, Museums, Out and About. Bookmark the permalink.

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