Christian iconography is not so plentiful in the post-Roman states of Britain that we can afford to ignore a varied and interesting range of crosses and other motifs from a period when we are otherwise heavily dependent on epigraphic evidence, a tradition that was largely peculiar to the far west and north. The problem is the source: like Dean Swift's island of Laputa, a substantial body of hanging-bowls floats above the cultural landscape of seventh-century Britain. Often labelled ‘Anglo-Saxon’ from their usual find-places in furnished burials in eastern England, considerable ingenuity has been expended in the past in arguing for a Germanic context for the manufacture of these distinctive vessels, despite their late Celtic decoration. Most hanging-bowls are demonstrably not made for or by Germanic owners and in their ornament they bear unique witness to the pretensions, changing tastes and religion of the Celtic patrons for whom most of these luxury items were originally manufactured. The tally of early bowls is now well over 150 and steadily rising through metal-detecting and controlled excavations, but is certainly an underestimate because the parts that survive best are the applied mounts, comprising suspension hooks with a decorated plate, separate appliqués or basal plates attached to the inside or outside of the vessel. Otherwise unrecorded bowl-mounts pass through coin fairs and appear on Internet sale sites.
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