Chinese seals found in Ireland

A while ago I published an article called “The story of the Chinese seals found in Ireland” (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 2008, 18: 465-479) about a group of Chinese porcelain seals discovered in different locations throughout Ireland during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Since at the time there was no easily available information on the date and origin of these objects, they went down in history as one of the great mysteries. After learning from an expert that the inscriptions on them were written in the “seal script” which was in use in China at the time of Confucius, everyone assumed that the seals themselves were three thousand years old, which, of course, made their appearance in Ireland even more enigmatic. The discovery of these artefacts coincided with the period of Irish nationalism which sought to separate themselves from England as much as possible, and part of this trend was the increased belief in the Oriental origin of the Irish people. The “ancient” Chinese seals came to signify a long-lost connection between Ireland and the East.

The reality was of course much simpler, yet not less interesting. The seals were fairly new and came to Ireland shortly before their discovery. That the inscriptions on them were in the seal script had ne bearing on their age, since most seals in China use the same archaicized seal script, even today. But the story of the mystery is intriguing because it sheds light on nationalistically driven attitudes during the 19th century and an overzealous eagerness to use the seals to support contemporary theories.

This is the story in a nutshell. In any case, I am posting this here because there were a few inscriptions (out of the total sixty-one) that I was not able to read. Perhaps the images will trigger someone else’s memory and we can finally have all of them deciphered. You will see that there is some overlap between them, some characters appear in more than one inscription, and the first three inscriptions are the same. Yet I can only read part of them — the undeciphered characters are marked with a square box.


This entry was posted in 19th century, archaeology, Chinese writing, History of scholarship, Palaeography, Seals and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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