A rich Celtic Iron Age tomb discovered with stunning artifacts
In 2015, archaeologists in France excavated the huge funerary chamber of what they believe was a rich 5th century BC Celtic Prince. The burial held his chariot, a decorated bronze cauldron, a vase depicting the ancient Greek god of wine and ecstasy Dionysus, a giant knife, and other important artifacts.
The treasures of the tomb in the Champagne region are “fitting for one of the highest elite of the end of the first Iron Age,” the French archaeological agency INRAP told The Connexion , a French English-language newspaper. The agency said it is one of the most remarkable finds of the Celtic Hallstatt period of 800 to 450 BC.
“Archaeologists from French national agency INRAP made the find under a 40m (131 feet) tumulus on the edge of a business park at Lavau. Covering nearly 7,000 m2 (7,655 square yards) and surrounded by a palisade and ditch, the tomb is larger than the cathedral in nearby Troyes,” the article said. A tumulus is a burial mound or barrow.
INRAP’s Facebook page says the center of the 40-meter (43.8-yard) diameter tumulus includes his chariot “at the heart of a vast funeral chamber” of 14 meters squared (15.3 yards squared).
The huge burial mound of the prince and other personages ( INRAP photo )
Archaeologists have found only parts of a skeleton and have not yet identified the princes’ remains. They’ve identified other graves and funeral urns, including the body of a woman whom they suspect may have been a relative of the prince. They have dated some of the ashes in the urns to 1400 BC.
They were exploring the site in preparation for construction of a new commercial center when they found the tomb. INRAP President Dominique Garcia said they thought the tomb was a prince’s because they found a giant knife in it. However, there was a question for a time if the remains were actually of a Celtic princess instead, due to the large quantity of rich golden jewelry also unearthed in the tomb. In 2017, an analysis on the shape of the pelvic bones finally led expert’s to call the burial ‘Lavau prince’s’ tomb.’
Like any good Celt, the prince seems to have enjoyed his drink: Buried with him was a wine jug with a drawing of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy. ( INRAP photo )
Archaeologists consider the biggest find to be the 1 meter-diameter (1 yard) bronze cauldron. It has four handles decorated with the head of Achelous, a horned river god of the ancient Greeks. The cauldron also has eight heads of lionesses. INRAP analysis of the bronze cauldron has shown researchers that its creator(s) had mastered smelting and advanced engraving techniques. In the cauldron was a ceramic oinochoe wine jug with a drawing of Dionysus under a grapevine. They said the wine set may have been a centerpiece of an aristocratic Celtic banquet. INRAP says it’s a Greco-Latin wine set and confirms exchanges between the Celts and people of the Mediterranean region.
The Celts in Europe: Yellow area is the Hallstatt territory by 6 th century BC; light green is maximum Celtic expansion by 275 BC; dark green shows areas where Celtic languages are still spoken (Zorion upload/ Wikimedia Commons )
“At the time [of the burial] Mediterranean traders were extending their economic range, seeking slaves and precious metals and jewels. The Celts, who controlled the main communication routes along the Seine, Rhône, Saône, Rhine and Danube, benefited from the exchanges to get prestigious objects,” said the Connexion article.
Today Celtic peoples are in Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Ireland.
“At one time, however, the Celts were spread over a large part of the [European] continent, and in 278 BC one roving band even penetrated as far east as Asia Minor, where they gave their name to Galatia,” says The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology. “Until the rise of the Roman power, the Celts were a force to be reckoned with. Rome itself had been sacked by them in 385 BC, a historical fact not forgotten by the legionnaires who gave Julius Caesar victory between 59 and 49 BC over the Celtic tribes living in Gaul, present-day France. Although largely incorporated into the Roman Empire, the Celts continued to worship their own gods and goddesses right up to the time of the official adoption by the Romans of the Christian faith.”
One of the most important Celtic heroes was Cuchulainn of Ireland, whose death at an early age was prophesied to him if he went to battle on a certain day but did so anyway and was slain in a heroic defense of Ulster.
The chief Celtic god of the Irish, Dagda, which means “the good god,” was wise, knowledgeable and a great magician. He could slay his enemies with one end of his club and heal and resurrect his allies with the other. His magical cauldron could serve up an inexhaustible bounty.
The Dagda visited the camp of the enemy Fomorii during a truce before the second battle of Magh Tuireadh. The Fomorii required him to eat a porridge of flour, fat, milk, pigs and goats that could have fed 50 men or they’d kill him.
This test turned Dagda temporarily into a gross old man, but it did not prevent him from making love to a Fomorii girl, who promised to use her magic on behalf of the Tuatha De Danann. The story may recall, in a distorted form, a holy marriage between a chieftain and a maiden at the beginning of each year; similar to the sacred rite that was performed by a Sumerian ruler and a priestess in Mesopotamia. This union was meant to ensure prosperity, strength and peace.
Featured image: The handles of a large cauldron in the tomb are decorated with the Greek river God Achelous (INRAP photo)
By Mark Miller