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Here Comes the Sun – Solar Symbolism in Early Bronze Age Ireland

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Here Comes the Sun – Solar Symbolism in Early Bronze Age Ireland


Here Comes the Sun – Solar Imagery in Early Bronze Age Ireland

A lecture by Mary Cahill to the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society



The Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society lecture season for 2018 and 2019 continues on Friday 19th October with a lecture at 8 pm in the Parnell Room of the Granville Hotel, Waterford by Mary Cahill titled ‘Here Comes the Sun – Solar Imagery in Early Bronze Age Ireland’.

Ireland is renowned for the quantity and quality of the gold objects created in the Bronze Age. In this lecture Mary Cahill will present some ideas about the nature and function of the stunning gold objects created by some of the earliest metalworkers in Ireland four thousand years ago. These include gold sun-discs and crescentic gold collars called lunulae.



Mary will explore how our ancestors may have responded to natural phenomena especially how they sought to reproduce visually extraordinary solar events. This was not an innovation in terms of how the sun was perceived, all the evidence from the preceding Neolithic period suggests that the sun was the pre-eminent and dominating force that ruled the lives of people all over the ancient world. However, with the coming of metallurgy and the influx of new people and influences from the other parts of Atlantic Europe it seems that a new materialisation of solar imagery and presumably new forms of cult practice developed in Ireland.



There is a close concordance between gold discs and the ornamentation found on some forms of pottery placed with the dead in the Early Bronze Age. As these vessels, known as Bowls or Food Vessel Bowls, were in use between 2200-1800 BC it is likely that the popularity of this particular manifestation of the sun cult was strongest at this time, although its introduction was earlier with the earliest discs dated to c. 2400 BC. It also continued into the later stages of the Early Bronze Age as the solar images are also found on the bases of other types of pottery. The origin of these solar images is seen in the Bell Beaker pottery of the Iberian peninsula. Marys’ ground –breaking research has shown that lunulae can be re-interpreted as a form of wearable vessel or solar boat guiding and protecting the sun.



Although very little early goldwork is known from Co. Waterford itself, one very important and indeed unique object – a stone die for making gold foil discs – was found at Hacketstown, near Portlaw and it will be the focus of special attention in the lecture.

Mary Cahill is former Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Musuem of Ireland and is currently Adjunct Professor in the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway. Her special areas of interest are prehistoric goldwork, history of collections and antiquarianism. Much of her work has related to developing an understanding of how Bronze Age goldwork can be interpreted especially in terms of its function and symbolism. She tweets as @au_ireland.



This lecture will appeal to anyone interested in the archaeology, ritual and religion of pre-Christian Ireland and the history of art. Admission to the lecture is €5 (students €2.50), but is free for members of the Waterford Archaeological and Historical Society.



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Map Granville Hotel, Meagher's Quay, Waterford, Ireland, Waterford, Ireland
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