PREHISTORIC AND ROMANO-BRITISH ANTIQUITIES       Exhibit
The exhibits here fall into two sections - pre-urban, non- literate, prehistoric European societies, and the later period of Roman occupation in Britain. The latter is a time when British society comes more clearly into focus because of the vast increase in the archaeological and textual material.
The oldest object in the exhibition is the engraving of a female figure from the cave deposits at Courbet, in France, This is over 12,000 years old and provides an inkling of how our forebears saw themselves. Next in date, though already far from the Courbet figure is the terracotta figurine from the important Neolithic mound -site of Vinca in former Yugoslavia. The purpose of this figurine may have been like those found today in the Indian countryside which act as votive offerings. Bronze Age jewellery displays a desire to beautify the body, perhaps for ritual purposes, certainly to indicate status. The variety of Bronze Age techniques is indicated by metal which has been beaten, twisted, cast, and wrought; and subsequently incised and inlaid. From the later Iron Age come the gold torcs from Ipswich and Snettisham , worn round the neck. The small bronze human figure probably once acted as a terminal for another type of torc. Iron Age coins show how designs spread across Europe, with portrait head and horses from Macedonian originals rendered ever more abstract in the Celtic world.
The inclusion of much of Britain within the Roman Empire changed its material culture dramatically. The presence of the powerful Roman legions is marked in this exhibition by the bronze helmet dating from the early days of the pacification. Reflecting more settled times, an ivory hairpin includes, as a terminal, a woman with a hairstyle which uses just such hairpins. The official religions of Rome were also established in Britain , as the head of Mercury from the Roman temple at Uley testifies. Some indigenous ideas in both religion and art continued, as the bronze figures from Southbroom suggest, mixing Roman and Iron Age styles. The spectacular silverware of the later Roman Empire is represented by two superb dishes from the Mildenhall treasure . They are decorated with wonderfully assured figures of satyrs and meanads, dancing and playing the panpipes. Such treasures were buried for safekeeping at a time of upheaval, but never retrieved by their owners.