Links through the ages – Iron Age technology hard at work in the twenty first century

When RPMT opened our new archaeology gallery in 2019, we borrowed an Iron Age gang chain from the National Museum of Wales.

It is one of their most requested loan objects and sadly we had to send it back, so it could become part of the Nero the man behind the myth exhibition currently on show at the British Museum.

However, we were lucky enough to be able to commission Sussex based blacksmith Thomas Gontar to create an accurate replica for us to display instead. Thomas explains how he went about recreating an Iron Age chain in the twenty first century.

Thomas Gontar

My name is Thomas Gontar and I’m the blacksmith and proprietor of Glynde forge in East Sussex.

© Thomas Gontar
© Thomas Gontar

Just before Easter I was asked by the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust to remake an iron age gang chain that is around 2,000 years old.

The original was found in a lake called Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey, an island off the north-west Wales coast which was famed for its druids and their sacred groves. Some archaeologists believe that it was probably made in south-east England.

My forge is very close to an iron age hillfort called Mount Caburn. I was asked to remake the chain at Easter, a time in the iron age calendar that celebrated rebirth and rejuvenation. Everything seemed in alignment for me to accept the commission.

It has been a wonderful opportunity to create such an intricate and detailed piece using nothing but traditional forging techniques. My team and I really had to study the piece from corner to corner. We were armed with notes and documents, some dating back to WW2 when the chain was originally discovered, so that we had the best understanding of how the chain was made 2,000 years ago.

The process of ‘making’ was a very interesting and emotional journey. As the chain started to take shape it sunk in about what it was actually used for. We felt transported back in time as if we were the smiths pulling it out of the fire 2000 years ago. It was mind boggling to know that the techniques and tools we used hadn’t changed since that time.

Chain on Display
Chain on Display

I’m incredibly happy with how the chain turned out. There were a few test pieces and trial and error attempts, but overall, I think we delivered a very accurate piece.

Thomas Gontar, artist blacksmith, Glynde Forge, Glynde, East Sussex

You can see Thomas’ chain on display in the Archaeology Gallery at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, which reopens on 20 July 2021 following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

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