THE WITHAM SHIELD
Lincolnshire, bronze, third/second century bc
In 1826, this spectacular item was dredged up from the river Witham in Lincolnshire. It had probably been placed in the water intentionally, either to propitiate the local river spirits or else in appreciation for a safe crossing.
The elegant design was hamered out in repousse (beaten out from behind) and decorated with insets of red enamel. Stylized versions of two, long-snouted animal heads, perhaps horses, can be seen at either end of the central spine, the other roundels feature delicately engraved wing and fan patterns. These, elements, however, were not part of the original design. Tiny rivet holes demonstrate that there used to be a cut-out of a boar attached to the front of the shield. As the illustration shows, the animal was highly stylized and had long, tapering legs. Among the Celts, the boar was a very conventional war symbol. They used to carry boar-headed trumpets into battle, terrifying their enemies with the raucous calls that emanated from the animals' jaws. On a practical note, it is possible that the hollow boss was added in the centre to allow room for a hand-grip at the back of the shield.