Watch this Curator Explain How Iron Age Celtic Torcs Were Made and Worn

Historians and archaeologists often do not know how some ancient things are made. Nobody left any tutorials or plans!  So what experimental archaeologists do is try and replicate objects themselves and in doing so, they learn how things might have been made.

Watch Julia Farley, the Iron Age curator at the British Museum explain how Iron Age Celtic torcs (twisted wire necklaces) were made. The finds held at the British Museum date back more than 2000 years.

They were highly skilled metal smiths far ahead of many cultures of the time. It took many people to make one of these. Skilled jobs would have also included charcoal makers - back then only charcoal fires could produce the high temperatures required to melt and form metal.

It also took a lot of brute force to forge wire from a metal bar.  Once they got a thin bar of metal, a great deal of hammering was required to make it a uniform wire. So much to her chagrin, the curator resorted to using a modern day rolling mill!

The British Museum has the Snettisham Great Torc (shown above) in its collection. The master craftsmen of the Celtic Iceni tribe made it from just over 1 kg of electrum which is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver.  Each of the 64 wires was 1.9 mm in diameter. Groups of 8 wires were twisted together to form 8 ropes of metal. These were then twisted again for the final torc.

These were clearly worn by high status individuals -  they were the equivalent of crowns. But as Dr Farley says, we can't be sure if they were worn everyday or only on special occasions.  As they were so heavy, I can't imagine them worn on a daily basis!

She does say in her British Museum blog post that many were put on by bending the torc slightly to open up the narrow gap. But that kind of action work hardens metal and makes it brittle over time.  Indeed there are specimens in the British Museum like this one below which show ancient repair jobs! The break in this case is at the back where the twisted wires had snapped and the repair was been covered by thin metal foil.

Some ancient designs from Continental Europe were cleverly hinged to make wearing easier.  But others could not be opened. They were not meant to be worn but held aloft as a symbol of power, as in - "I am the big boss around here."

Many of the other Snettisham torcs were found as fragments - these were not worn out or accidentally damaged by farmers' ploughs - but thought to have been deliberately broken up and placed into the ground as an offering.

Watch another archaeologist work with a metal conservation specialist as they demonstrate the creation of a torc ( from 12:40 to 21:00 min) in this wonderful BBC Time Team Special on Boudica's Lost Tribe. Boudica was the Celtic warrior queen who lead the last rebellion against the invading Romans in Britain around 60 A.D.

Artisans still make this challenging and historical style today.  One example is the forged steel torc by Wulflund Jewelry. The terminals are much further apart which makes putting it on easier.

You can also see bracelet versions like this marvelous wolfhead torc by simplegeometrygem.

Before You Go:

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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