ud – October 2014
A most mysterious phenomenon to be observed in Iron Age Europe is the almost complete absence of children’s burials. While we are informed that the Celts were a particularly prolific race (Just. 25:2, Livy 38:16), and infant mortality during this period was at a much higher rate than today, remarkably few children’s burials have ever been discovered.
At Celtic sites where detailed anthropological analysis has been conducted, such as Ludas in Hungary, Brežice and Dobova in Slovenia, or Gordion in Turkey, recent research has once again shown a remarkable lack of children among the dead (see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/celtic-death/).
So, where did all the children go?
Recent experiments carried out by the University of Copenhagen have suggested one possible explanation. Research involving the cremation of piglets of roughly the same mass and weight as human children has indicated that that the cremation process reduces the immature bone to powder of which little trace is left. This, along with subsequent environmental factors, may result in the ‘disappearance’ of the physical remains.
Metal ‘lump’ recently excavated at the Auersperg Palace in Ljubljana (Slovenia). Subsequent forensic examination of the material revealed that the ‘lump’ actually contained a ritually ‘killed’ middle La Tène sword and shield boss, a shaft-hole axe, as well as the remains of a ‘boy warrior’ (under 20 years of age) who had literally fused with his weapons.
However, these are a number of problems with the aforementioned Danish research, which suggest that this is not the whole picture. Firstly, children’s burials are also absent from sites, such as that recently discovered at Buchères in Gaul, where inhumation, and not cremation, was practiced.
One of the recently excavated Celtic burials from Buchères
Furthermore, the disintegration of children’s bones as a result of the cremation process and subsequent environmental factors would logically result in the complete absence of children’s remains at sites where cremation was practiced – which is not the case. For example, at the aforementioned Ludas site in Hungary 8 double cremation burials were recorded, of which two were adults (burials 711, 1009), five contained an adult and a child (burials 686, 699, 725, 1051, 1267), and in one case a newborn and a child (burial 1139) were placed in the grave together. At Gordion in Turkey 5% of the burials contained children (see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/celtic-death/).
Double female burial (# 711) from Ludas
It should also be noted that many of the children’s burials which have been recorded are often accompanied by seemingly bizarre rituals. How, for example, does one explain burial # 1139 at Ludas, where among the newborn remains only the skull of an older child was found; burial # 1267 where a child’s remains were found among the adults, but without the skull; or #1051 where the remains of a 1 year old child were found, but the skull of an adult?
Thus, while modern archaeological science endeavors to explain the mystery surrounding the general absence of such burials in Iron Age Europe, many questions still remain concerning the elusive children of the Celts…