Skip to comments.Senua, Britain's Unknown Goddess Unearthed
Posted on 09/01/2003 11:00:49 AM PDT by blam
Senua, Britain's unknown goddess unearthed
Clues to catastrophe after rare Roman temple treasure found
Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
Monday September 1, 2003
The Guardian (UK)
Sensua - probably an older Celtic goddess, who was then adopted and Romanised. Photo: British Museum
She is faceless and armless, but she has a name: Senua. A previously unknown Romano-British goddess has been resurrected at the British Museum, patiently prised from soil-encrusted clumps of gold and corroded silver which have buried her identity for more than 1,600 years. Her name is published for the first time today. The 26 pieces of gold and silver, found in a Hertfordshire field last year, are believed to be the treasures of a shrine in her honour, carefully hidden as some disaster loomed in the late 3rd century. The fact that they were never recovered suggests the protection of the goddess did nothing to save her conscientious devotee.
"This is a hugely significant find, of national and international importance," Ralph Jackson, Roman curator at the British Museum, said. "Personal hoards, hidden in some crisis, are reasonably common. To find a hoard of a temple treasure, such as this one, is incredibly rare, not just in Britain but anywhere. To give Britain a new goddess is extraordinary."
He believes Senua was probably an older Celtic goddess, worshipped at a spring on the site, who was then adopted and Romanised - twinned with their goddess Minerva - by the invaders. There is a direct parallel at Bath, where the Romans seamlessly absorbed the Celtic god Sulis, and a much older shrine, into their religion.
Senua's shrine may have been a ritual spring, into which offerings were thrown, surrounded by a complex of buildings including workshops and accommodation for pilgrims.
It was certainly no humble crossroads shrine. The offerings include silver plaques with gold highlights, seven gold plaques and a superb set of jewellery, including a brooch and cloak clasps. The plaques still have the metal tabs which allowed them to be set upright, and are so thin that they would then have shivered and glittered in any draught.
Mr Jackson spent months poring over the faint inscriptions on the votive plaques, some incised, some punched out in tiny holes. He could make out some of the names of the donors, including Cariata, Celsus, Firmanus and Lucilia, and one complete inscription recording that Servandus from Spain was well pleased with the favours the goddess had done him, and was paying her back: "Servandus Hispani willingly fulfilled his vow to the goddess".
The jewellery incorporated older gems and glass beads, including a superb carved cameo of a lion trampling an ox skull - a classical allegory of all conquering death - which was already old and worn before it was set into the brooch. All of the jewellery shared intricate decoration in minutely coiled wire, and the set may have been specially made as an offering.
But who was the obliging goddess? Several of the plaques showed a classic image of Minerva, with spear, shield and owl but Dr Jackson could not make the letters spell her name. Only when the plaques were x-rayed did he realise that he was looking at the name of a wholly unknown goddess.
"It was an extraordinary moment," he said, "Like seeing her reborn before my eyes."
The hoard comes from a unique find a year ago by an amateur using a metal detector, in a field near Baldock in Hertfordshire. Though other scraps of ancient metal had been found, there was nothing to suggest the site was of major significance. It was immediately recognised as legally treasure, which must be reported. Local and British Museum archaeologists joined the search. The finder and the landowner shared the £35,000 reward, which the British Museum paid with grants from their friends group and the Art Fund charity.
When the field was excavated the broken-off base of the small silver statuette was found, and it identified the figure as Senua. She remains teasingly elusive. Only the back view, of a graceful woman with hair coiled in a bun, remains intact. The breast, arms and face of the goddess rotted away in the soil centuries ago. Much work remains to be done on the finds and at the site. A bundle of gold plaques remains clumped together with mud, like trampled autumn leaves.
The field may still hold bronze plaques, not considered valuable enough to hide, and it may even eventually yield some clue as to the catastrophe which overwhelmed Senua's shrine, and the faithful guardian of her treasures.
· The Baldock find is included in Hidden Treasures, a documentary series on the British Museum and recent treasure finds, which begins tomorrow night at 8.30pm on BBC2.
The finds will be on display at the British Museum later this month, and will also be in a major exhibition, Buried Treasure, which opens at the Museum in November.
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Disasters are always looming. Most likely it was a raid or invasion of some kind. Mankind's history is a long series of disasters from the four horsemen: Famine, Pestilence, War, and Plague.
In "Lessons from Jupiter" (Southern Sky magazine, January/February 1995), Clube and David Asher wrote :
"Calculations based on an orbit related to that of P/Encke reveal intersections with the Earth's orbit around AD 600 and before that AD 400, so that a swarm would have been near the Earth's orbit for a duration of a few centuries around that epoch, the time of the European Dark Age. This then is a critical extended period when we might well expect several multi megaton [explosive] events, indeed a great many if we consider the globe as a whole. The perspective is evidently one in which we expect the Roman Empire to have gone into decline owing to multiple-Tunguska bombardment causing great tracts of land to be deserted and whole communities or nations to be suddenly dislocated. Of necessity, the period becomes one of barbaric movements." Chinese historical records of AD 540 say : "Dragons fought in the pond of the K'uh o. They went westward....In the places they passed, all the trees were broken. " The calculations for the Taurids suggest that we pass through the core of the meteor stream approximately every 2,500 years - today, we are passing through the outer edges. The last two occasions when we passed through the core were in 2200 - 2000 BC and in AD 400 - 600. The epoch around AD 3000 looks like being a fun time too - the Y2K doomsayers can always say they just got the millennium wrong. In 1983, the orbiting IRAS infra-red satellite discovered cometary "trails" (not tails), representing debris along the path of various short-period comets. These trails consist of debris, most of which would be microscopic in size, but how many large objects are there in the trails? If there are many large objects in these trails, then Duncan Steel notes in his above-mentioned book :"
To a pagan? The slowly growing power of Christianity in the Roman world.
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