Grave of early Celtic woman found in Germany

The burial an early Celtic woman with rich grave goods was unearthed last August at Kirchheim unter Teck, 20 or so miles southeast of Stuttgart in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. State Conservation Office archaeologists had been excavating the site slated for development on the outskirts of city since July of 2014, a comprehensive and thorough salvage operation to recover any remains from a Neolithic settlement from the sixth millennium B.C. that was known to have been at that location. They were shocked to find a far more recent archaeological treasure.

No skeletal remains have survived due to the high levels of lime in the soil, but archaeologists were able to get some idea of the layout of the burial from the position of the artifacts. Immediately visible were three small gold rings which may have been earrings and/or hair jewels, so they marked where he head would have been. Underneath the presumed skull area were two round objects made of sheet gold. Archaeologists believe they were part of a headpiece or hood of some kind which has not survived. A pair of bronze anklets and a bracelet of jet beads were also found.

The style of the gold jewelry dates the grave to around 500 B.C., which puts it within a few decades of the fabulously rich chieftain’s grave mound discovered at Hochdorf, less than five miles north of Kirchheim unter Teck, in 1978. Very few graves of Celtic women from such an early date have been found, even fewer with such high quality goods. It’s possible she too may have had a burial mound marking her grave. It has eroded to nothingness, but there are discolorations in the soil which suggest the was once a burial mound surrounded by a rectangular enclosure. She may not have been alone either, as evidence of two more enclosures was found nearby, but there were no artifacts or remains of any kind within them.

To preserve whatever microscopic fragments of organic material might be present and make sure they covered as much ground as possible, the team excavated a big soil block weighing 500 kilos (1100 pounds) which encompassed the artifacts. The block was then moved to the State Conservation Office in Esslingen where archaeologists could excavate it punctiliously in laboratory conditions. Quite literally punctilious, in fact, since among the tools used to excavate the artifacts from the soil block were porcupine quills.

It took two months to dig through the thick soil block with quills and small spatulas. They unearthed a total of six ornate gold rings and five sheet gold spherical objects. The pressure of being underground for 2,500 years has deformed the sheet gold artifacts, but the gold rings are in very fine condition.

The excavation of the Neolithic settlement ended in September of last year and the development of the industrial park on the site went forward. The artifacts from the Celtic woman’s grave will likely go on display at a museum in Kirchheim near where they were found.

7 thoughts on “Grave of early Celtic woman found in Germany

  1. A bit disappointing is that out of the block of 1100 pounds, only those rings seem to have emerged. There are in fact much richer “Hallstatt Culture” graves (e.g. “Glauberg” or indeed “Hochdorf”, “Hallstatt” and others). Some Celts used Greek letters, but not much has survived in contrast to their artifacts.

    Herodotus (Histories II and IV, in 440 BC describing river Ister, i.e. the Danube):

    “The river Ister begins in the Land of the Celts and the city of Pyrene and so runs that it divides Europe in the midst. The Celts are outside the Pillars of Heracles and next to the Kynesians, who dwell furthest towards the sunset of all those who have their dwelling in Europe): and the Ister ends, having its course through the whole of Europe, by flowing into the Pontos Euxinos at the place where the Milesians have their settlement of Istria [Constanţa County, Romania].”

    “From the region which is above the Ombricans, the river Carpis and another river, the Alpis, flow also towards the North Wind and run into it; for the Ister flows in fact through the whole of Europe, beginning in the land of the Celts, who after the Kynesians dwell furthest towards the sun-setting of all the peoples of Europe; and thus flowing through all Europe it falls into the sea close to Scythia.”

  2. My understanding is that Herodotus was under the mistaken impression that the Danube rose in SW France. The stuff you’ve quoted seems to be consistent with that. In which case there may be little or no justification in identifying Halstatt or La Tene people as Celts at all.

    I know that there are historians who reject the idea of Celticity as a 19th century error, but I assume that Celtic as the name of a group of languages is still reasonable.

  3. Deareme, I cannot say which deeper insights Herodotus had in addition to the ones he was talking about, but what is your point ? What he definitely did not have was Google Earth, but he obviously had earlier sources, made trips and was talking to people that apparently did not speak Greek. He seems to have visited the Black Sea, but by himself indeed almost certainly not the Celts.

    Moreover, if his predecessors had not labeled these cultures “Celts”, there probably were no “Celts” in the first place. Cultural exchange was taking place already in the Bronze Age. The rivers Rhône (Ῥοδανός ) and the Danube (Ἴστρος) have a distance in between them of about rougly 160km (i.e. 46 34.32 N, 8 22.58 E and 48 05 44 N, 8 09 18 E).

    The Greeks (i.e. “some” Greeks) knew about Hallstatt peoples, as they obviously traded with them, as they did with the ones in France, seemingly way before anybody made surviving notes about it. They were informed about what today is France and the Ister. Mistakes were certainly made, but where is your theory about “SW France” coming from ?

  4. It’s not my theory, though I can’t remember where I read it. Cunliffe, perhaps.

    It seems to be reasonably consistent with what you’ve just told us Herodotus says: the Danube rises amongst the Celts, a people who lived in the far west beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. In which case the Celts might have little to do with the peoples of Central Europe.

  5. Probably a matter of perspective. You can reach “Central Europe” via Gibraltar, via the Rhône and via the Danube.

    He also writes, for instance, about “Hyperboreans” which translates as “people from the other side of the north wind”. Their description is a rather fuzzy one, and -once more- it seemingly went through many hands and opinions prior to Herodotus.

    The description of how to get there, however, reminds of the connection from the Black Sea to the Baltic Ocean, the “Baltic River System”, where “amber comes from”, which of course was traded along other, more western routes also.

    During the Middle Ages, maps were usually created by painting a circle, putting a spot in the middle of it, naming it “Jerusalem”, and then arranging everything else around it. 🙁

  6. Had they used hairs from the head of virgins they could have drug the excavation out for a year and assured continued employment for even more archaeologists.

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