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The idea of a shared Celtic heritage across ancient Europe retains a powerful hold over the popular imagination. But many common ideas about the people known as ‘Celts’ are in fact more recent re-imaginings, revived and reinvented over the centuries.
Exhibition information


10 March - 25 September 2016


National Museum of Scotland, Exhibition Gallery 1, Level 3


This major exhibition, organised in partnership with the British Museum, unravelled the complex story of the different groups who have used or been given the name ‘Celts’ through the extraordinary art objects they made and used.

Spanning more than 2,500 years, the exhibition explored history through these powerful decorated objects and examined how art styles have changed considerably over time, often flourishing during periods when different cultures came into contact.

  • Gold Torc

    Iron Age gold torc, found in Blair Drummond as part of a hoard comprising four torcs.

  • Bronze armlet

    Massive armlet of bronze from Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire, 200-300 AD.

  • brigantia

    Sculpture of the goddess Brigantia depicting a native goddess from northern Britain in the guise of Minerva, from Birrens, Dumfriesshire.

  • Comb

    Comb made of bone, probably used to comb a beard or moustache, from Langbank Crannog, Renfrewshire, AD 1-200.

  • Rousay Brooch Pin

    8th century brooch-pin from Westness, Rousay, Orkney.

  • Reconstruction of the Deskford carnyx

    Reconstruction of the Deskford carnyx (80 - 200 AD), in bronze and brass, made by Dr John Purser and John Creed.

  • Bronze mask or chamfrain

    Bronze pony cap found in a moss at Torrs, Kelton, Kirkcudbrightshire, 300–100 BC.

  • Celtic Cross

    Slab of grey sandstone with a cross on one side. From Monifieth, Angus, Scotland, c. AD 700–800.

  • holzgerlingen-statue-c-landesmuseum-wurtemburg.jpg

    Double-faced horned Iron Age statue, perhaps representing a god. Holzgerlingen, Germany, 4th–2nd century BC. © P Frankenstein/H Zwietasch, Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart.

  • Battersea Shield

    The Battersea shield. Iron Age, c. 350–50 BC. Found in the River Thames, London, England. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

  • Gundestrupkedlen.jpg

    The Gundestrup cauldron. Iron Age, c. 100 BC–AD 1. Found in Gundestrup, northern Jutland, Denmark. © The National Museum of Denmark.

  • bull-torc-c-landesmuseum-wurttemburg.jpg

    Bull-headed torc from southern Germany. © P. Frankenstein / H. Zwietasch; Landesmuseum Württemberg, Stuttgart

  • brining-in-the-mistletoe-c-CSG-CIC-GlasgowMuseumsCollection.jpg

    The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe (1890) by George Henry and Edward Atkinson Hornel. © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection.

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The exhibition displayed magnificent Iron Age treasures adorned with intricate patterns and fantastic animals, rich with hidden meanings, which were used for feasting, religious ceremonies, adornment and warfare. It also explored how these distinctive art styles were transformed and took on new influences in response to the expanding Roman world and the spread of Christianity, and examined how the decorative arts of the late 19th century were inspired by different ideas about Europe’s past, and played a key role in defining what it meant to be Irish, Welsh, Scottish and British.

Featuring more than 300 treasured objects from across the UK and Europe, assembled together in Scotland for the first time, the exhibition provided a unique opportunity to explore the idea of ‘Celts’ as one of the fundamental building blocks of European history.

To complement the exhibition the British Museum and National Museums Scotland are lending two unique Iron Age mirrors to five partner museums across the UK in 2015-16.

Find out more about the Reflections on Celts tour

Behind the scenes at the exhibition

Ever wondered what an ancient Celtic war horn sounds like? Or how to wear an Iron Age torc that weighs over 1kg? Exhibition curators Julia Farley and Fraser Hunter introduce some key objects from the exhibition in this Periscope film.

Celts Family Trail
PDF (745.6 KB)
Celts Schools Trail
PDF (745.6 KB)
Na Ceiltich Pannalan sa Gàidhlig
PDF (111.8 KB)
Na Ceiltich Dha teaghlaichean
PDF (48.3 KB)

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