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SIXTH SERIES.- VOL. XII, PART III
NOTES ON THE SPIRAL ORNAMENT
BY RUPERT H. MORRIS, F.S.A.
The alleged Eastern origin of Spiral Ornament has been ably discussed by Mr. George Coffey, M.R.I. A., in his series of articles on “ The Origins of Prehistoric Ornament in Ireland." The question much disputed has been whether this style of ornament is essentially of Eastern or of Western origin, and, if Eastern, whether Egyptian or Assyrian. It is commonly recognised that Greek Art was largely influenced by contact with Egypt. Are we to go further back than Egyptian civilization, and trace what is distinctly characteristic of Egypt to a still earlier period? Is the “Spiral” motive with which we are immediately concerned a modification of the lotus ornament, or was it developed independently?
Mr. W. H. Goodyear in "The Grammar of the Lotus” maintains that the Ionic capital is derived from the lotus, and he refers the rosette, which figures so frequently in Egyptian ornament, to the ovary of the lotus. À ceiling pattern from the tombs of the XVIII Dynasty, circ. 1600 B.C., as given in “ Histoire de l'Art Egyptien d'apres les Monuments,” illustrates the system of interlocking spirals with associated lotus forms.
1 Journal R.S.A., Ireland, 1894-5-6.
6TH BER., VOL. XII.
It is further suggested that “the familiar key or fret pattern, so generally regarded as distinctive of Grecian ornament, is in fact a squared four-fold spiral, and one of the many conventional forms of Egyptian spiral and lotus ornament. “ The spiral is in fact simplified to straight lines.” This is fully worked out with abundant illustrations in Mr. Coffey's article.
But we must leave this, and go on to ask how the spiral was brought into connection with Western civilization. This was through the intercourse, direct and indirect, established from very early times between Egypt, Asia Minor, and the Ægean. The date assigned to the commencement of this intercourse varies from B.C. 1800 to B.C. 1200. Professor Flinders Petrie in his “Notes on the Antiquities of Mycena” remarks, "Certainly to Egypt a great deal must be attributed, if not indeed all the elements of import
The main feature of decoration is the spiral pattern, often elaborately involved. And the
very elaborations that we find are exact copies of Egyptian decorations. ... On the Egyptian ceilings are also the rosettes and the key-fret which are so frequent in Greece; and the palmetto is almost identical with a wooden panel bearing a derived lotus pattern of about 1300 B.C. which I found at Gurob.” Mr. Coffey asserts, on the evidence of numerous finds of Mycenæan pottery in Egypt, and of Egyptian objects at Mycenæ and Ialysos (Rhodes), dated with names of the XVIII Dynasty (1587-1327 B.C.), and inscriptions of Thothmes III (1481-1449 B.c.), recounting among
( his tributaries the Kings of the Phænicians and the Isles of the Great Sea, that the fifteenth century B.C. was the period at which the spiral of the Mycenæan patterns entered Europe through the gate of the Ægean.
But we are taken back to a much earlier date than this, for Sir Arthur Evans has found in Crete scarabs of the XII Dynasty (circ. 2700-2500 B.c.) which show the spiral design.
So much for the dating of spiral ornaments. A difficulty has arisen as to the route which this form of decoration followed in reaching the northern parts of Europe.
There has been noted a tendency of the spiral to degrade to, and to be replaced by, concentric circles, so much so that Sir Arthur Evans has been led to maintain that “the Spiral is non-existent in BronzeAge remains in Northern Italy, Gaul, and Britain.”
Exception must be taken to this statement as far as Britain and Ireland are concerned.
And there was a reason why the true spiral failed
to make its direct way through Gaul to Britain. It took a roundabout course and reached the north-west of Europe by the Scandinavian route.
And the reason suggested is this, that as during the Roman occupation of Britain the Channel was infested by Saxon pirates from the coast-lands between the Elbe and the Rhine, the passage was no less effectively closed for trade in earlier days. Trading enterprise sought a safer route, that between Norway and the Orkneys and Scotland. “Single spirals have been found incised in stones in two localities in Orkney. In Scotland examples of double or of single spirals, associated with concentric circle, cup and ring, and cup markings, are found on rock surfaces and sepulchral stones in Argyllshire,
Ayrshire, and Peebles-shire. In England they are found in Cumberland, Lancashire, and Northumber
In Ireland there is at New Grange, co. Meath, a remarkable display of spiral ornament, single and double, returning and interlocking, associated with chevron, zig-zag, and triangle patterns.
Mr. Coffey, in the article already referred to, men
tions that “an isolated example of spiral ornament occurs in Merionethshire, Wales.” Of this stone, Mr. R. Jones Morris, local secretary for the county, kindly supplies a photograph. Ăn unsatisfactory illustration from a rubbing by Rev. R. Williams Mason is given in Arch. Camb., 1867, p. 155, in an article by Rev. E. L. Barnwell on Marked Stones in Wales.”
1 Mr. Coffey, "Origins of Prehistoric Ornament in Ireland," J.R.S. Antiquaries, Ireland, 1896
“ The other stone (Mr. Barnwell has been describing a marked stone at Clynnog, Carnarvonshire), now in Llanbedr parish (near Harlech), was found on the mountains above by Dr. Griffith Griffiths of Taltreuddyn, near Harlech, lying among the débris of the primitive buildings usually assigned to Irish builders." In that position it was in danger of being broken up and converted into material for the stone walls of the district. It was therefore judiciously removed from its original position, where it was more likely to be preserved, and certainly more easily visited. It has been placed between two pillar-stones, the apparently sole relics of a large circle.
“It is now lying on the ground but should be placed in an upright position, and if possible a small brass plate should be affixed at the back of the stone stating whence it came, otherwise at some future period its presence between its two companions may puzzle some future antiquary.
"The upper part of the stone is nearly occupied with the spiral curve. Perhaps some similarity of form may be traced between this figure and those to be found in Ireland. If so, it would seem to confirm the universal tradition that these very early walls and remains of houses are the work of the Irish antecedent to the occupation of the Kymry proper, whose descendants certainly do not claim them, in these days, as the work of their forefathers.”
Sir J. N. Simpson, M.D., in his monograph on “ Cup and Ring Sculptures” has the following description:
“Near the village of Llanbedr, in Merionethshire, are two tallish monoliths and one intermediate stone of much smaller size inscribed as Meini Hirion in the
The three are placed near each other and stand in a row. The two lateral monoliths are respectively about ? ft. and 10 ft. high. The short intermediate stone is only about 3 ft. in height and is
1 It is now in the churchyard, Llanbedr. 2 Proc. Soc. Ant., Scot., vol. vi.