Two things in particular stand out from viewing the entirety of the archaeological record from the La Tène period in Europe, the broad cultural similarity that can be seen over vast tracts of country and the dazzling inventiveness of what can broadly be called La Tène (or Celtic) art. We must be careful here to distinguish the technology of construction and manipulation of materials from the love of pure decoration. The two are strictly separate but they may come together to enhance each other and create a greater whole. Take, for example, the simple functional firedog--a piece of wrought-iron furniture for the hearth. It was essentially a framework for controlling roasting spits, but its projecting ends were frequently decorated with enormous skill to create the spirited essence of horned bulls' heads. In another medium, the large pottery jar from Saint- Pol-de-Lèon in Finistère is an elegant and functional vessel, but it has been transformed into an object of beauty by a series of flowing scrolls and arabesques lightly incised on the body before firing.
The fire-dog and the pot are both visually highly satisfying to the modern eye--there is something about Celtic art with which we can easily empathize--but this should not persuade us into the facile belief that simply by describing and classifying we can understand. The quintessential bovine head on the fire-dog is a symbol, but of what? The sanctity of the hearth? The spirit of the beasts being roasted? The power of fire and of the smith's magic? We can never know. So it is with the decorated pot. To the archaeologist it is an item first to admire and enjoy and then to analyse stylistically, but the response of the original owner would have been totally different. One has only to consider decorated pots from Africa, whose meanings have been transmitted to us in language by their makers or users, to understand that form and decoration can have an immense subtlety of significance in their contemporary society, symbolizing func-