Heads at St Michael, Kirklington

Church of St Michael The Archangel, Kirklington, North Yorkshire.

An analysis of head carvings in a local area

In many churches throughout England there are carvings of possible pagan origin, others, whilst appearing to have been carved in a clearly Christian time, seem to recall pagan themes. This initial research report looks at one particular set of carvings at the Church of St Michael, Kirklington, and attempts to form groupings with similar carvings both locally and on a wider context.

It is important that these carvings are investigated and analysed. If it is true that they were inspired or were a continuation of religious imagery dating to the Roman period and before then it may be possible to understand the local god structure, the spread of some god figures may indicate the spread of a particular tribe and certainly a better understanding of them may help prove if they can be a valuable indicator of a sites prehistoric past.

At this stage only a few local and more widespread examples have been found to provide good comparative evidence. It is hoped to establish a recogniseable typology of carved heads, which may help authenticate some of the large number of portable head carvings that have been found. These carvings, not attached to a building have proven very difficult to attach to any period.

Kirklington

The Domesday book does not mention a church at Kirklington, but the sculpted heads which litter both the interior and exterior certainly testify to a more prehistoric time of worship. If these examples do not pre-date the Norman period in their date of construction, they are certainly inspired by more ancient god systems than purely the Christian period. Similarities to carvings in churches with better defined ancient lineage and pagan origins, as well as the sites location, which is close to major Bronze, Iron and Roman period sites such as The Thornborough Henges and Dere Street give these carvings credence as a continuation of ancient god forms as focal points for worship.

The first identified God? – Ogmios

The first Kirklington Head to have a possible identification as a Celtic God is this triple headed sculpture with links between the centre heads mouth to the outers head’s ears. This imagry was apparently widespread thorughout the Celtic world, it shows a god of elloquence, whose joyous followers have a direct bond between his words and their ears. See the link below.

It appears that the Celts integrated the God Heracles as an aspect of their own God Ogmios.after their assimilation into the Roman Empire, the ear-tongue imagry, however, is of earlier Celtic origin.

“the Greek writer Lucian, who was born at Samosata on the Euphrates in the second century A.D., relates that as he was travelling through Gaul he came upon an old man, clad in a lion’s skin, leading a group of followers whose ears were attached to his own tongue by little gold and amber chains of great beauty and delicacy. The men were not forced along, but followed him eagerly and heaped praises on him, and it was clear thet they would regret their liberty. A Greek speaking Gaul who was standing near explained to him the the old man represtented Heracles, clad in his lion’s skin, because, said the Gaul, the Celts believed that eloquence was of greater power than physical strength, and also that eloquence reached its climax in old age.” Nora Chadwick, The Celts.

The “Fish”

The fish head carvings, the top carving is from Kirklington, the right from Well, a few miles to the north.

Horned Heads – Kernunnos?

Horned heads from the interior (top) and exterior of Kirklington

Horned head from Well church

Horned God Head, 3rd Century AD, Carvoran.(M. of Antiquities, Newcastle)

“Bandaged” Heads

Bandaged Heads for Kirklington

Tongue Twisters

Some carvings, like these from Kirklington, involve odd protrusions from the mouth.

Bearded Heads

Bearded head from Kirklington

Head from Lanchester (2nd C AD) (M. of Antiquities, Newcastle)

Heads from Churches at Kirby Wiske (Thirsk, top) and Burneston (Bedale).

Other heads at Kirklington

This mousetached head from Kirklington is similar to the 2nd C BC. bronze head found at Witham below (B.Museum).

Some heads appear feminine, with clearly defined hair styles.

These carvings show squirrel-like animals.

“In Britain (Richborough), we find the divine name Ogmia – that this
refers to a male figure is confirmed by the image of the god
accompanying the inscription. Perhaps Ogma(e) is the Irish reflex of
*Brittonic Ogmia, with the usually feminine -ia stem instead of
expected masculine -ios. At the time of the earliest Ogam (or Ogum)
inscriptions, learned Irishmen may have connected Ogma with this new
alphabet (the connection between Ogma and forms of magical writing or
tally-marking may have been somewhat ancient anyway). By the same
process whereby a root like Domun has a feminine i-stem suffixed form
Domnae, Ogum could receive an i-stem suffixed form Ogmae – whether or
not Ogum and Ogmios (or Ogmia) are connected linguistically, someone
at some time connected the names, helping to preserve a more archaic
form for Ogma.” Chris Gwinn

Timeline 60BC – 138AD

Roman/Celtic Time Line

The Celts were the dominant force in western Europe in the mid to late Iron Age, reaching a peak during the mid 1st millenium BC. In fact it was the sack of Rome by the Celts which stimulated the Romans to re-fortify and ultimately become the dominant military force in Europe for the first half of the 1st millenium AD.

This timeline is focussed on the British Celtic culture and those cultures which had influence on the British Celts. It is also more specifically focused on those activities which would have had effect on the Brigantes tribe of Britain during the late British iron age.

The reader should be warned that many specific times and in some cases locations are still disputed, in some cases an event may have occured within 10 years of the date shown. We have simply attempted to place the events in there most likely time, given the historical and archaeological information to hand.

Time Line

BC 60 Gaul Aedui appeal to Rome for help against Teutons; Rome refuses
BC 58 Gaul Helvetii try to leave Switzerland and move into southern Gaul; start of Gallic Wars.
BC 56 Britain Cassivellaunus conquers the Trinovantes, Prince Mandubracius flees to Rome for help.
BC55 Britain Late in the season ( late Aug) Julius Caesar tries to land 12,000 men (10th and 7th legions) in Britain and is pinned down on the south coast at his landing point between Deal and Warmer Castle for a couple of hours until his troops can land in sufficient quantities to form a beachhead. Having secured the surrender of the local tribes and with the approaching Autumn gales he withdraws from Britain (prior to the Autumn equinox – 21st September). Commius, Caesars appointed King of the Gallic Atrebates is left behind to secure further alliances in Britain.
BC54 Gaul During Caesar’s preparations for a second landing in Britain he attempts to take with him hostages from the major Gallic tribes, Dumnorix the Aeduan refuses and the Romans kill him. As he dies he cries “I am a freeman in a free state”
BC54 Britain Caesar lands on the South coast between Sandwich and Deal with 30,000 men (five legions) and 2,000 Gallic Cavalry, he lands without resistance. First battle is twelve miles inland, firstly at a river then at an established hill-fort nearby, 7th legion captures the fort forcing the Britons to flee. The Romans are forced to return to the shore for ten days on news of the fleet being seriously damaged by a storm.
BC 54 Britain Caesar returns to the march inland and engages an enlarged multi-tribe British force led by Cassivellaunus (from a north of Thames based tribe, Catevaulauni?) A cavalry battles occurs whilst Caesar is still on the march near Canterbury, by the river Stour, the British forces are repelled. Further skirmishes and battles are fought whilst Caesar builds a camp, eventually a major battle takes place between three legions during a foraging expadition. Cassivellaunus is completely routed and is forced to disband the allied forces and each retreated to their own territories.
BC 54 Britain Caesar follows Cassivellaunus across the Thames (via the only fording point), a running battle of cavalry and chariot skirmishes ensues.
BC 54 Britain Caesar reinstates Mandubracius to the throne of the Trinovantes. Seeing this, other tribes come over to the Roman standard – Caesar mentions the Cenimagni, Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci and Cassi as surrendering during his advance into Essex
BC 54 Britain Possibly at Wheathamstead, Caesar defeats Cassivellaunus in his own stronghold (not his capital), Cassivellaunus escapes.
BC 54 Britain At Cassivellaunus’ bidding, the Kings of four Kent based tribes – Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segovax attack Caesars coastal base and are easily routed. Cassivellaunus surrenders using Commius as messenger. Caesar then returns to Gaul.
BC54 Gaul During late Autumn, at the bidding of Indutiomrus of the Treveri, Ambiorix of the Eburones leads an attack against the Roman legion garrisoned locally and massacres them. Ambiorix is joined by the Aduatuci and Nervii and attacks the legion garrisoned at Namur. The seige would have been successful if not for Caesar leading a timely rescue mission.
BC 53 Gaul The tribes of Gaul unite is open revolt under the leadership of Indutiomarus of the Treveri. The Celtic army consisted of the Treveri, Senones, Carnutes, Nervii, Aduatuci and Eburones. Indutiomarus attacks Caesar’s headquarters at Mouzon and lays seige. After a great fight, the Romans kill Indutiomarus. The revolt continues throughout Gaul causing Caesar to travel from tribe to tribe, re-conquering Gaul. Ambiorix disappeared into the Ardennes forest.
BC 52 Gaul A crisis in Rome (the assassination of Publius Clodius) gave the still rebellious factions in Gaul hope that they could take the advantage, Vercingetorix was hailed leader of the Celtic army which includes the Carnutes, Arvernians, Senones, Parisii, Cardurci, Turoni, Aulerci, Lemovices, Andes, Pictones and the west coast tribes, later the Biteriges and Ruteni, even the Aedui eventually joined in what was to be the final reckoning of Gaul. A running battle ensued, Vercingetorix had fifteen thousand cavalry (lost in south east Lingone) and 60-100,000 foot soldiers before the re-inforcement at Alisia, The final battle was at Alisia in Mandubia, and Ceasar laid siege for three months with a giant two faced siege wall (10 miles circumference), the Romans defended both the interior and exterior, since Vercingetorix was re-enforced by 35,000 Averni and Aedui, 12,000 Sequani, Senones, Bituriges, Santoni, Ruteni and Carnutes, 10,000 and Lemovices, 8,000 Pictones, Turoni, Parisii, and Helvetii, 5,000 each of Suessiones, Ambiani, Mediomatrici, Petrocorli, Nervii, Morini, Nitiobroges, and Aulerci Cenomani, 4,000 Atrebates, 3,000 Veliocasses and Aulerci Eburovices,2,000 from the Bellovaci 1,000 from the Rauraci and Boli, a further 20,000 from all the maritime tribes in all some 8,000 cavalry and 250,000 infantry were rallied in Aedui. It is here that Commius intervenes on behalf of the rebellion and takes over the command of the relief army. Still Caesar availed and in the end Vercingetorix surrendered.
BC 49 Rome Julius Caeser becomes Emperor
BC 45 Rome Julius Caesar orders for Vercingetorix to be sent to Rome, to be paraded through the streets and executed.
BC 44 Rome Julius Caesar assassinated.
BC 31 Rome Augustus becomes Emperor, having previously ruled jointly with Mark Antony and Aemilius Lepidus.
0 Jerusalem Birth of Christ. (Acording to the church of Rome under Constantine)
AD 1 possible date of “Tain Bo Cualnge”
AD 5 Britain Cunobelinus (Cymbeline) recognized by Rome as King of Britain
AD 10 Britain Catuvellauni conquer Trinovantes, the capital city for the two kingdoms moves from Verulamium to Camulodunum.
AD 14 Rome Augustus dies, Tiberius now Emperor.
AD 35 Britain Joseph of Arimathea and the Rich Fisher brings the Holy Grail to Britain; Chapel of St. Joseph established at Glastonbury.
AD 37 Rome Gaius (Caligula) now emperor.
AD 38 Rome Caligula parades Celtic captives through Rome.
AD 39 Britain The Catevaulauni under the Kingship of Cunobelinus and his sons Caratacus and Togidubnus, expand into and take over the Trinovantes (Suffolk) Cunobelinus’ eldest son, Adminius is given the Trinovantes thrown. Conobelinus retains friendly links with Rome.
AD 40 Britain King Cunobelinus dies? Togidubnus inherits the throne to the Cartevaulauni and, Caratacus to act as military General. Their brother Adminius inherits the Trinovantes territory, north east of Kent and an important Roman port. Togidubnus and Caratacus immediately begin raising anti Roman forces.
AD 40 Britain Adminius flees his anti Roman brothers in the hope that Gaius would defeat them and put him on the throne. Gaius delays any action.
AD 41 Rome Gaius is assassinated, with Rome on the verge of civil war Claudius becomes emperor
AD 41 Britain Togidubnus and Caratacus invade and hold the land of the Atrebates (Hampshire) Caratacus becomes king and issues his own coins.
AD 41 Rome Verica of the Atrebates (Hampshire) petitions Claudius to come to Britain to help against the Catevaulauni.
AD 43 (September?) Britain Claudian invasion, led by Aulus Plaitius Silvanus with four legions.
AD 43 Britain Northern Dubonni pledge allegence to Rome and ask for protection.
AD 43 Britain Defeat of Caratacus in the battle of the Medway. Romans set up camp in Londinium to wait for Claudius and receive deputations from the tribes.
AD 43 Britain After escaping with Caratacus across the Thames at Tillbury, Togidubnus dies.
AD 43 Britain Caractacus escapes firstly to Camulodonum (Colchester, capital of the Trinovantes, who he was now King) then to the Welsh borders and prepares to fight the Romans using guerilla tactics.
AD 43 Britain Vespasian, then General of Legio II Augusta, travels by ship to Bosham Harbour (Chichester) and King Cogidubnus. From here he leads an assault on the neighbouring aggressive tribes. Later as Emperor he builds a Palace here.
AD 43 Britain Vespasian conquers the Durotriges and Northern Dubunni, fighting thirty battles, including Maiden Castle and Hod Hill, capturing 30 oppida.?? Webster places this here, but surely the Legio fortress would be closer to the enemy? How was Caratacus able to secure the support of these tribes later if they were already subdued? Also the Romans were unlikely to give Vespasian a free hand with the other Legions so far away?
AD 43 (November?) Britain Claudius comes to Britain in person to claim it for Rome. He rides an elephant into the new town of Londinium. After a mock? battle Camulodunum is captured.
AD 43 Britain Claudius receives deputations from 11 Kings, including Cogidubnus (Regni), Cartimandua (Brigantii) and Antedios (Iceni) and made terms for peace. It is likely that large loans helped path the way, since sudden demands for their repayment helped cause the Boudican rebelion.
AD 43 Britain Aulus Plaitius Silvanus becomes Governer of Brittania.
AD 43 (December?) Britain Claudius leaves for Rome, having spent 16 days in Britain.
AD 43-47 Britain Romans drive into the midlands (XX Valeria Victrix and XIV Gemina) and in the east (IX Hispana). Legionary forts established at Camulodunum, Noviomagus Regnorum (Chichester) and Longthorpe (Peterborough).
AD 44 Britain Ratae (Coritani) captured. Garrison fort of Legio IX at Ratae. Ermine St begun. Newark captured. Some displaced Coritani migrate northwards to Brigantia.
AD 45 Britain New governor, Ostorius Scapula, governor, frontier now from the Trent to the Severn – west of the Fosse Way.
AD 46 Britain Scapula begins his policy of disarming the Client tribes, leading to civil unrest.
AD 47 Britain Icenian revolt, quashed by Auxilia, Prasutagus pronounced King of Iceni.
AD 47 Britain Campaigns in the west (Legio II Augusta under Vespasian). Caratacus invades the northern Dubonni?, helped by the southern Dubonni and the Durotriges possibly including the Silures.
AD 47 Britain Decongli (Flintshire) fall to the Empire, the romans get within reach of Anglesey and cut off Wales.
AD 47 Britain Brigantian revolt (led by Venutius?) diverts the southern Wales campaign into south west Brigantia (north west Cheshire?).
AD 49 Britiain Veteran Colonia of Camulodonum (Colchester) founded, to free up the XX to move to Gloucester towards Caratcus and the Silures.
AD 49 Britiain Caratacus is forced to retreat into the territory of the Ordivices (North Wales), to mount a last defence of Anglesey?
AD 49- 50 Britiain Legionary fortresses at Glevum (Gloucester) and Lindum (Lincoln).
AD 51 Britain Caratacus, finally defeated in North Wales, flees to Cartamandua, queen of the Brigantes, and is surrendered to the Romans. It is probably at this time that Venutius and Cartimandua of the Brigantes see there marriage break up, Venutius deciding to take the throne from Cartimadua begins planning a revolt.
AD 51 Britain Scapula dies.
AD 52 Britain New Governor of Britain, Aulus Didius Gallus.
AD 52 Britain The marriage of Venutius and Cartimandua, rulers of the Brigantes breaks down and civil war breaks out, It is probably at this time that the huge fortification of Stanwick is began. Ownership of Stanwick is still open to conjecture, but it would make sense to imply Venutius the builder, since it occupied a controlling point for the trade routes to the non Romanised zones.
AD 53 Britain During this period Gallus moves the Roman occupation zone forward into southern Brigantia, probably establishing the forts at Templeborough (Rotherham), Brough on Noe and Rossington Bridge (Doncaster), this would have been as a direct response to the need to protect Cartimandua, as documented by Tacitus.
AD 53 Britain Venutius attacks Cartimandua,placing her under seige. Gallus comes to Cartimanua’s aid and sends some cohorts who break the siege. It is likely that Cartimandua was forced to abandon the position.
AD 54 Rome Nero becomes Emperor.
AD 55 Britain Cartimandua raids Venutius’ territory and holds his Brother and some relatives hostage.
AD 56 Britain Venutius attacks Cartimandua, this time the ninth legion are required to save her. The most likely position of this battle is the region of Barwick in Elmet, which is surrounded by several defensive dykes which may have been built at this time.
AD 57 Britain New Governor, Q. Veranius
AD 58 Britain New Governor, Suetonius Paulinus, attack on N. Wales.
AD 59-60 Britain Suetonius clears Britain totally of the Druids, with a final stand on Anglesey.
AD 60 Britain Pratagustus of the Iceni dies, and the Romans ignore his will and take his lands away from Boudica and the Iceni ruling classes, at the same time Seneca recalls for immediate payment loans given to the tribes after the invasion twenty years ago.
AD 60 Britain Boudica of the Iceni is elected war leader and leads a revolt against the Romans, Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium are sacked and 70,000 killed.
AD 60 Britain Paulinus diverts his forces away from Anglesey to put down the Boudican revolt.
AD 63 Britain New Governor, T. Maximus.
AD 65 Britain Roman preparations for campaigns in Wales.
AD 66 Britain One legion (XIV Gemina) withdrawn from Britain.
AD 67 Britain Cartimandua marries Velocatus
AD 67 Britain This is the most likely period for the building of Roman Rig defensive dyke between Sheffield and Doncaster if it is an Iron Age structure. The building of this structure at this time indicates this was Venutius’ south eastern border.
AD 68 Britain Emperor Nero dies without a successor, Rome is thrown into a civil war as four rival factions vie for overall control. Firstly Galba seizes control, The British Army refuses to join the governor, Trebellius Maximus, in revolt against Galba. Galba is overthrown by Otho, who in turn is ousted by Vitellius, whose short reign was ended by Vespasian.
AD 69 Rome Vespasian is emperor.
AD 69 Britian Venutius obtains additional forces from Cervetii, Novantae and Selgovae tribes.
AD 69 Britain Venutius attacks Cartimandua with his much expanded army, again Cartimandua has to be saved, this time she has to be re-located away from Brigantia. All of Brigantia is now held by Venutius.
AD 69 Rome New Governor for Britain appointed, V. Bolanus, who sets out to quell Wales and the Brigantes, Bolanus dies of natural causes within a year.
AD 70 Britain Petilius Cerialis appointed as governor of Britain, he brings with him a new legion Legio II Adiutrix and leaves them at Lincoln. Legio IX will move to York.
AD 70 Britain Petilius Cerialis Leads the IX Legion northwards into Brigantia via Hull, at the same time Legio XX advances North on the west side via Chester.
AD 73 Britain Petilius Cerealis, governor, with a new legion (II Adiutrix) subdues the Brigantes, the survivors are presumably pushed north west into Caledonia. The Legionary fortress of Eburacum (York) is set up.
AD 74-78 Britain Sextus Julius Frontinus, governor, subdues Wales and plants garrisons there. Legionary fortresses at Isca and Deva.
AD 78 Britain Julius Agricola, governor, completes the conquest of North Wales and Anglesey.
AD 79 Britain Consolidation of Brigantian conquest.
AD 79 Rome Titus becomes Emperor.
AD 79 Britain The Romans reach the River Tyne on the northern fringe of the Brigantes’ land. Beyond the Tyne the major tribe are the Votadini who are based in the Bamburgh area of Northumberland with their territory extending north to Edinburgh. The people of Caledonia are now under threat from the Romans.
AD 80 Britain Julius Agricola commences his military campaign in Caledonia from his supply base at Corbridge. The Stanegate Roman road is built through the Tyne Gap from Corbridge-on-Tyne to Carlisle. Dere Street, a main route running from York to Caledonia in the north, is also constructed. These roads are complete by 85AD.
AD 81 Britain Julius Agricola carries out improvements to the defences at the York legionary fortress.
AD 81 Rome Domitian becomes Emperor
AD 83 Britain Julius Agricola’s army had been campaigning on the western coast of Caledonia. Agricola’s campaign culminated in the heavy defeat of the Highland tribes called the Caledonii (Picts) led by Calgacus at the battle of Mons Grapius somewhere in the Caledonian mountains. The Roman subjugation of Britain is now complete. A fortress is built at Inchtuthill in Tayside which will be the headquarters of the Roman 20th Legion.
AD 90 Britain Difficult terrain and unpredictable tribes in Caledonia made Roman administration of the land beyond the Rivers Forth and Clyde impossible. All Roman positions in Caledonia are abandoned.
AD 96 Rome Nerva becomes Emperor.
AD 98 Trajan becomes Emperor.
AD 105 Britain Permanent forts in southern Caledonia are abandoned and the Roman frontier moves south once again. Roman forts at Newstead, High Rochester and Glenlochar are destroyed by the native Britons.
AD 115 Britain The Ninth Legion is annihilated in an ambush by Caledonian tribesman along the River Tay
AD 117 Rome Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) becomes the new Emperor of Rome. His appointment coincides with a major revolt against the Romans by the Brigantes but Falco, the new governor of Britain, successfully subdues them.
AD 117 Britain Roman frontier in Britain established along the line of Hadrian’s Wall; end of the Roman conquests of Celtic peoples
AD 122 Britain Construction of Hadrian’s Wall begins
AD 138 Rome Hadrian dies. 

Celtic Heads

Celtic Head from Witham, 2nd c B.C. (British Museum)

Celtic Head from Witham, 2nd c B.C. (British Museum)

“Celtic” carved heads are found throughout the areas of Europe once dominated by those peoples Caesar called Celts, in the area dominated by the Iron Age Brigantes tribe (United Kingdom) more than 2000 carved heads have been identified which are thought to be of ancient origin, although the portability of many head carvings means that dating is almost impossible and it is also safe to assume that the carving of heads was not limited to the Iron Age period but was a ritual/religious form of expression which continued from at least the Iron Age to modern times, the practice continuing, though almost certainly the reasons and motives behind the act will have changed.

Some Celtic heads certainly have a provable ancient origin, and their location establishes a close relationship between religious practice and the carving of of heads.

St Michaels Church, Brough in Westmorland has a good example of a head carving with potential ancient origins. This head was built into the lower stage of the Norman tower of the Church, no doubt rebuilt several times over the years however the head is certainly out of character for the design of the modern church, and given the church was built over the site of a Roman temple or shrine within a Roman fort it is safe to assume that this location was a centre of religious devotion for at least 2000 years. The Romans tended to build their temples over or alongside the temples of the indiginous peoples so it is a reasonably safe assumption that this site was a Celtic place of ritual and that this carving was inspired by local Iron Age beliefs if not actually of Iron Age origin.

Carved head from St. Michaels Church, Brough.

Relief of Celtic God from Roman York, The head of the god has large eyes, a drooping moustache and hair which flairs from the face.

Head from Bradwell Church, Derbyshire. This ghostly head come from a region where the last of the “original” British Celts claim to survive.

Head from Hope Church in Derbyshire It is difficult to say the date for this head, although again it is built into the lowest section of the Norman tower, so certainly has ancient origins. Hope church is dominated by heads of later origins and surely was a centre for the continuity of the head “cult”.

Head on sale in an antique shop in Hawes for £140.00. Heads such as these have no provenance and whilst this one exhibits many features that would indicate that it is a “Celtic Head” it’s lack of provenance would make one hesitate to purchase it. Stone can be sculpted and made to look old quite easily.

Heads from All Saints church, Birchover.

Heads from Egglestone Abbey, Durham. These heads, like many others are undoubtedly later, but were they inspired by the local tradition?

This Head from the church at High Bradfield, Derbyshire has a moustache and may also have been of Celtic inspiration.

Pagan gargoyle from the church at Hope, Derbyshire, a mixing of Celtic heads with water?

Celtic head intalled under a water gully in a modern bridge in Derbyshire. Continuation of a Celtic fascination?

Celtic Heads and Water

The evidence of ritual deposits in watery locations has shown that throughout the Iron Age and before, man attached a ritual significance with water, it is highly probable that the Celts believed many of there gods existed in water and could be comunicated with by the placing of a ritual sacrifice.

There is some evidence, of both modern and ancient origin to suggest that there was also a significance to the placing of heads in the proximity of water.

Often it appears that a head should be placed so water should flow over it, which is possibly the inspiration for later gargoyles so common throughout Europe.

Guy Ragland-Phillips identified this association in his book – Brigantia:

“Giggleswick, near Settle, has a number of wells which not long ago were regarded as healing. … Giggleswick Church stands in the middle of the group of wells. Inside the church, as a corbel to an arch, is a carved stone Celtic head far older than the church itself. Built into the wall on the outside is another, probably about 1,700 years old or more. The church’s dedication of “St Alkeld” is the Saxon for “Holy Well”.”

“Over the hill in Kirkby Malham, the church has two well known Celtic stone heads built into one wall in the nave. There is a third in the porch this is reminiscent of a crude stone carving found at Carraburgh. Two hundred yards away up the dell is a “spa well” reputed to be sulphorous and healing.”

“The St. Helens wells between Skipton and Bolton Priory are rarely visited. The one on the lower wharfe, just beside a ford which the Romans used, is now abandoned on the edge of a sewage farm. Only the one at Eshton still seems safe….Bend double beside the pool, and feel the big stones that stand just under the water at the junctions of the kerbstones, and you will find that they are carved stone heads.”

Head from Bedale church, North Yorkshire. This head is found in the interior of the church, and is in particularly good condition.

Horned Head from Well, North Yorkshire. Horned heads are also a common feature of the Celtic heads that are found. This is part of a cluster, others occuring in Catterick, Aldborough (both in Roman Context) and Kirklington.

“[The Gauls] cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and carry off as booty, while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory, and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses just as those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that, for this head, one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold…” Diodorus Siculus.

This carved stone pillar dating to the second century BC shows that head carving was certainly a feature of Iron Age western Europe.

The “Blackamoors Head” from Rivington, submitted by Martin Davies has a drooping mustache typical of some Celtic heads, however, it’s general makeup would indicate a date of possible Medieval origin.

“There is also that custom, barbarous and exotic, which attends most of the northern tribes…when they depart from the battle they hang the heads of their enemies from the necks or their horses, and when they have brought them home, nail the spectacle to the entrance of their houses. At any rate Posidonius says that himself saw this spectacle in many places, and that, although he first loathed it, afterwards through his familiarity with it, he could bear it calmly.” Strabo IV, 4,5. Speaking of the Gauls.

Horned Head from Carvoran, Northumberland. 3rd Century AD.

“What strikes me as above all significant is not so much whether this head or that is genuinely Celtic or not, but the extraordinary continuity of culture shown by this collection, Presumably without knowing it, there are local craftsmen of this very century in these Yorkshire industrial valleys, carving heads with specific characteristics such as the “Celtic eye”. I had always imagined the West Riding to be an industrial hotchpotch in which all traces of past cultures would have been obliterated. I had failed to realise that each mill-town and village was, almost to this day, largely cut off from the others and isolated. It is a treasure house of continuity” Anne Ross, speaking about Sidney Jacksons collection of “Celtic” heads from West Yorkshire

Head from Castleton, South Yorkshire (Sheffield Museum).

One of Sidney Jackson’s Celtic heads.

 

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