THE BATTERSEA SHIELD
This beautiful Iron Age shield was dredged up from the Thames shortly before 1857, when it entered The British Museum collection. Several ancient weapons and human skulls were also found, but the location was jealously guarded by workmen and antiquities dealers..
The picture shows the ornate metal facing from an Iron Age wooden shield, probably made in eastern England c 350-50 BC. It is an exceptional piece, made from sections of bronze sheet hammered out to less than 1mm thick. When new, it would have been a dazzling golden colour, with details on its round bosses picked out with red glass. The swirling designs suggest the faces of birds and beasts, which resolve into different creatures, some strange and menacing, depending on the angle from which the shield is viewed. The handle was adorned with an elaborate bronze mount that is now so fragile that it has to be kept in storage.
Many of the most important surviving pieces of Iron Age metal-work have been preserved by the curious ancient practice of casting them into rivers and lakes. In England this was largely restricted to a handful of east-flowing waters, such as the Thames. Yet the practice was shared by many communities across Europe. Perhaps the most famous is the Swiss lake site of La T’ene, which has produced so many decorated objects that the swirling designs of the later European Iron Age are often known as La T’ene art The widespread nature of watery deposition and its long history suggest that water was important in ancient religious beliefs, and that the tools, armour and weapons left there were offerings to the gods. Scientific analyses of ancient teeth and absence of fish bones at settlements also imply that protection in battle, but reconstructions have been used successfully in fights by re-enactors. Richly decorated Iron Age armour and weaponry invites us to reconsider what warfare was like 2,000 years ago. Battles and skirmishes probably involved intimidating the enemy with impressive visual displays as well as acts of physical violence. Ranks of elaborately equipped warriors would have created a frightening spectacle.
Iron Age Warrior.
The intricate designs on the Battersea Shield extend even to the handle, which would have been hidden, suggesting the art on this object was more than just for show. Perhaps the design signified magical properties or religious meanings, offering the user power and protection. If so, then facing the owner of this extraordinary shield in battle would surely have been a daunting prospect.