2,300-Year-Old Celtic Village Found in Northern Munich Suburb
While performing excavations in a suburban field north of Munich, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of an ancient Celtic village, along with artifacts linked to a later Roman settlement. This remarkable discovery took place during ongoing archaeological work at Lerchenauer Field, where many fascinating ruins from past historical eras have been excavated.
Archaeologists affiliated with the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation (BLFD), and sponsored by the German state of Bavaria, conducted these digs which have ended up unearthing a Celtic village. This excavation project kicked off with the aim of preventing treasures from being lost during an upcoming housing construction and urban development project.
Celtic Village Is First of Its Kind
The ancient Celtic village is the first of its kind to ever be discovered in Munich, or anywhere else in the state of Bavaria, which covers much of southeastern Germany. While traces of Celtic settlements have been found in the region in the past, this village was excavated largely intact, and that is what makes it such a rare and noteworthy find.
“Munich is and was big. People flocked here 2,000 years ago to settle in what was then a metropolitan region. So far, we have only been able to assume that there were large settlements everywhere in what is now Munich's urban area. However, the thorough investigation at Lerchenauer Field has now confirmed this and thus closed a research gap,” stated Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation Curator General Mathias Pfeil, in a BLFD press release announcing the exciting new discovery.
Pfeil’s reference to 2,000-year-old settlements in Munich is actually somewhat modest. The archaeologists estimate that the newly recovered Celtic village is approximately 2,300 years old, which makes it an even more impressive discovery.
Late antique jug and plate discovered within the Lerchenauer Feld excavation area, which has hit headlines due to the ancient Celtic village which has been found there. (Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation)
Over 1,000 Years of Occupation Revealed at Lerchenauer Field
The builders and occupants of ancient Celtic village came from the La Tène civilization, a Celtic culture that achieved its peak of their prosperity around 450 BC. The La Tène culture emerged from the earlier proto-Celtic Hallstatt culture of Bavaria and central Europe, but diversified from its ancient Celtic roots by adopting practices and beliefs from the Greeks, the Etruscans and other nearby Mediterranean cultures.
In a recent excavation at a previously unexplored section of Lerchenauer Field, the BLFD archaeologists uncovered an unusually large number of post holes that had once been used to support the walls and roofs of wooden structures. The post holes themselves had been filled in with dirt and gravel over the long passage of time, but they were still clearly visible as circular indentations of a size and arrangement that revealed what they were.
The archaeologists have identified the post holes as remains from a series of individual houses, once built as part of the Celtic village. There are enough of them to confirm that approximately 500 people had lived in what is now Munich’s Feldmoching district during the late Iron Age, creating a settlement that by the standards of that time would be considered a sprawling metropolis.
A sickle was found within a Roman-era grave. (Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation)
The Layout of the Ancient Celtic Village
In addition to the remains of the long-lost homes, the archaeologists also identified the post hole outline of a huge structure that would have functioned as a community gathering place. This square building would have measured 65 feet (20 meters) on each side, and would have been flanked by wooden arcades that provided extra shelter. The archaeologists believe this structure would have been the ancient equivalent of a town hall or municipal center, and that people may have flocked there to perform prayers.
As for the houses, they came in different sizes and had a variety of floor plans. Traces of clay were found at these sites, suggesting it had been used as a filling material in homes that were constructed partially but not completely from wood (thereby making them more durable and enduring).
The BLFD archaeologists were able to date the settlement in part through their discovery of two cemeteries, one that was in use from 450 to 15 BC (by the Celtic residents), and another dating back to the time of the Roman Empire, in the third or fourth century AD.
Inside one of the graves from the Roman period, the excavators unearthed several pieces of tableware, including a plate, the handle of a jug and a drinking cup made from soapstone. They also found a sickle, an agricultural tool that suggests this person was involved in the cultivation and harvesting of crops. In other burials they recovered an enamel brooch and several types of ceramics, and they also found a bronze belt buckle dropped down into what had once been a well.
The graves from the Roman period have been linked to a relatively small settlement, which was constructed in the same area where the original Celtic village had been built.
The Celtic people inhabited the Bavarian region for several hundred years, but the Romans eventually conquered them and absorbed them into their empire. At the height of their influence the La Tène people extended their reach over much of western and central Europe, settling in France, England, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium, in addition to their colonization of southern Germany.
Bronze belt buckle discovered at the site of the ancient Celtic village in Germany. (Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation)
Where Ancient Cultures Collided in the Fields of Southern Germany
The discovery of the two ancient settlements, including the Celtic village, revealed just how long this particular area on the outskirts of modern Munich was occupied before the modern era. “Romans and Celts settled here on the edge of the moss in Lerchenauer Field,” said Munich municipal officer Kristina Frank, noting the interaction of two cultures that clashed frequently in Europe during the period when the Romans were becoming the dominant power in the region.
“The twelve hectares examined so far are full of settlement history,” she continued. “Not just a rare, valuable find for archaeologists and us Munich residents, but groundbreaking for future urban development. The cooperation between the state capital of Munich and the property developer on the archaeological excavations is exemplary. We want to take this drive with us as we continue the development.”
Excavations at Lerchenauer Field will continue into 2024, as the BLFD archaeologists want to make sure the site is completely explored before the housing and development project commences.
Top image: Drone photograph of the Lerchenauer Feld excavation area where the Celtic village was discovered. Source: 3Archäologen / Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation
By Nathan Falde