UD: November 2016
Extensive archaeological data clearly indicates that the wild boar had a special significance in Bronze and Iron Age European society, and the importance of the animal in Iron Age society and religion is well attested to by numerous depictions in Celtic works of art from across the continent.
60 worked bones and boar tusks from the garment of a shaman-chieftain, discovered in a burial at Upton Lovell (Wiltshire), England. Other grave goods included four axeheads and a prestigious battle-axe made of black dolerite.
(ca. 1800 BC)
Celtic bronze boar figurines from (left) the Gutenberg Votive Deposit, Lichtenstein (2-1 c. BC), and (right) Luncani (Cluj), Romania (1st c. BC)
Bronze boar figurine from the Celtic settlement at Altenburg-Rheinau, on the German/Swiss border
(2/1 c. BC)
Boars occur everywhere in Celtic Europe – as figurines, helmet crests, on war trumpets (carnyxs) and on coins, confirming their particular association with power and warfare.
Bronze boar attachments from Celtic helmets from Hounslow, England (left), and (right) warrrior helmet with boar attachment depicted on the Gundestrup cauldron (both late 2nd/early 1st c. BC).
Celtic helmet with boar attachment depicted on the obverse of a Celtic silver coin from Esztergom, Hungary (early 1st c. BC)
On that most distinctive of Celtic musical instruments, the Carnyx (war trumpet), it is once again the boar that is the most frequently portrayed animal (see ‘The Boar Headed Carnyx’ article). Also particularly impressive are a number of life-sized bronze statues of boars discovered in Celtic burial contexts and sanctuaries such as that from the Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Bulgaria, or those found in the sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias (Loiret) France.
Bronze boar statue from the Celtic sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias (1st c. BC)
Bronze boar statue from the Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)
While the pig is the most common animal placed in Iron Age burials as food for the afterlife, the remains of boars are rarely found in such contexts, indicating that the wild boar, as opposed to domestic pigs, was not viewed solely as a food source. The religious significance of the animal is confirmed by its portrayal on artifacts such as the Celtiberian cult-vehicle from Mérida (Spain), or the ‘Boar Warrior’ statue from Euffigneix, (Haute-Marne) France, the latter probably a representation of the Celtic boar god Moccos.
Limestone pillar statue from Euffigneix, (Haute-Marne) France (1st c. BC)
‘The Boar Hunt’ – Bronze Celtiberian cult-vehicle from Mérida (Spain) (1st c. BC)
The fact that the wild boar is, besides birds of prey, the most frequently depicted animal in Celtic art, logically indicates that it had a special significance in society. The available archaeological and numismatic evidence also strongly suggests that boar hunts may have played an important role in Iron Age warrior initiations, forming part of the ‘rite of passage’ rituals.