Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Ancient Bog Oak and a Dark Guardian

My latest Guardian has been carved in lime wood and then inlaid into an ancient piece of bog oak retrieved from the Norfolk Fens. Wood from the same level has been radiocarbon dated at around 3300 BC.

(Please note, this piece has been sold)

Bog Wood

Bog wood comes from trees that fell hundreds or thousands of years ago, and were then buried in peat bogs. 

Bog Oak exposed in Allt a' Choire Bhuidhe. Image: Sarah McGuire Creative Commons
Bog Oak exposed in Allt a' Choire Bhuidhe. Image: Sarah McGuire (Creative Commons)

The acidic and anaerobic conditions of a peat bog meant that the wood was preserved, and bog woods represent the early stages in the fossilisation process. The process can apply to any wood species that naturally grow on or near areas which became peat bogland, but the most common species found are oak, yew and pine. The woods are usually stained dark brown through to black from the natural tannins and soluble irons present in the mineral subsoil, and may also contain small flakes of silica that have found their way into the densely saturated wood.

Bog wood colour based on age. Image: Abudimir85 Creative Commons
Bog wood colour based on age. Image: Abudimir85 (Creative Commons)

As these peat bogs have become more and more cultivated, the bog woods have come gradually to the surface, causing inconvenience to farmers and peat cutters, and leading to regular clearance with the trunks being piled up in clearance cairns.

Bog Oaks, Woodwalton Fens, Cambs.  Image: Rodney Burton (Creative Commons)
Bog Oaks, Woodwalton Fens, Cambs.  Image: Rodney Burton (Creative Commons)

Sometimes in the past the wood has been burnt, either en masse, or in domestic fires. There has always been a market in the better pieces of bog wood, to make jewellery or sculpture. More and more, however, the wood is being seen as a valuable and finite resource, and more steps have been taken to preserve it.

"There can be little doubt that Bog Oak is the nation's rarest and most precious timber."
Hamish Low of specialists Adamson & Low

There are several areas in the UK where bog oak is found, this includes the Norfolk fens, which is where the piece used in the Guardian came from, from specialist cabinet makers Adamson and Low.

Some of the trees that have been found are colossal, with a branchless length of a hundred feet. The wood is extremely fragile when exposed, and can decay rapidly. Adamson and Low have many years of experience perfecting and refining techniques of preserving and drying the bog wood, extracting massive amounts of water in the process, and creating flat, straight and split-free boards. They then use these to make exquisite furniture.

Bog oak has a density which is comparable to the world's most highly valued tropical hardwoods and is also a tone wood ideal as a component in stringed musical instruments.

Dark Guardian

I have always loved  what is often referred to as Celtic Artwork, but in fact covers a long period of historical artistic development, through several different cultures. I imagine the roots of the art form are in the spirals and cup and ring markings left behind on the rocks and monuments by our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors. Many speculations have been made as to their meanings, but we don't know. What is beyond dispute is their strange beauty.

Newgrange entrance kerbstone with intricate spirals
Newgrange entrance kerbstone with intricate spirals

The Iron Age Celts developed these spirals into an intricate art that expressed their wild and childlike souls, and covered their bodies and possessions, often in amazingly inticate and skilful detail.

Brentford: an example of early British Celtic Art
Brentford: an example of early British Celtic Art

This language of knot work and zoomorphic design saw further expression in Anglo-Saxon, Pictish and Norse/Viking artwork, so, even though remaining distinct, it is still possible to trace common roots back to an unremembered past. 

When Christianity was established in Britain, the Celtic Monks wove their own versions of these amazing art forms into their beautifully illuminated manuscripts.

Enter the Guardian.

The design is adapted from a detail in the Book of Kells, also known as the Book of Columba, which was created about 800 AD, the name was coined by us early on and seemed to stick.

Justbod's Guardian design: carved, hand burnt and sculpted
The many different guises of our Guardian

Since then, I have made several versions of Guardian: carved in lime, burnt in birch and sculpted in silver metal and copper.

This is the first time I've worked with bog oak. Beautiful wood, it is very hard and dense, producing a beautiful shine and, as previously mentioned, the bog oak used is over 5000 years old. Something I found quite moving, thought-provoking and poignant when I was working with it. According to current knowledge, when the oak was still growing, the Bronze Age was just beginning in the near East, Europe was still in the Neolithic age, and, around the same time, at approximately 3200 BC, the amazing monument of Newgrange, in the Boyne Valley, Ireland, was being constructed.

Hand carved lime and bog oak animal and knotwork celtic design

The whole piece has been finished in natural waxes, with no added colour, and measures approximately W29.5cm x H14.5cm x D2cm.

I hope you like the Dark Guardian

Please see our 'Collections' page for all my currently available work.

Thank you for reading!


Justbod Team

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~inspired by a love of history & nature~



  You might also be interested in:

  The Celtic Tree of Life - 'Crann Bethadh'

- bod's Tree of Life design and the history of this motif

 Behold the Specklebeast

   - bod's Anglo-Saxon design based on the Chelsea Ring

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