Probably the most enigmatic and mysterious archaeological site in Europe, the Býči Skála/Bull Rock cave in the Křtiny Valley (Czech Republic), was first investigated in 1867 by a local doctor, Jindřich Wankel, who initially discovered traces of a Paleolithic settlement.
The Entrance to Bull Rock Cave
Two years later, interest in the site intensified when two young brothers discovered a bronze Celtic bull statue, dated to ca. 560 BC, in the entrance hall of the cave.
The Bronze Bull discovered in the entrance hall of Bull Rock Cave (ca. 560 BC)
Subsequent investigation has established that the cave was occupied, for short periods, during the Palaeolithic, Eneolithic, Hallstatt, La Têne, and Medieval periods. However, the most spectacular discoveries at the site, dating to the 6th c. BC, came during a 2-month amateur excavation in 1872.
During the course of this campaign, under a layer of stones and burned limestone, locals discovered a fireplace with pieces of pottery, tools, bronze and gold ornaments, jewelry, swords, armour and glass beads. A number of jars that still contained flour, millet and meat were also found; at the back of the entrance a Celtic Iron Age metal workshop and tools were discovered.
The “Chieftain’s Burial”
Most spectacular was the scene in the entrance hall where about 40 human bodies, some of them missing their head, hands and feet, were found; one of the skulls had been placed in a bucket. On a stone altar, adorned with stalks of grain, lay two arms with bracelets and gold rings, next to which was a skull that was spliced in half. Deeper in the cave, the remains of a chariot with bronze fittings and the skeleton of a man were discovered. Based on the artifacts, Dr. Wankel concluded that he had found the grave of a Celtic chieftain, buried with his jewelry, weapons, food, sacrificed horses and young maidens.
The stone altar on which was displayed severed arms with bronze bracelets and gold rings
Skull and decorated bronze headband/crown discovered in 1872 inside the Býčí Skála (Bull Rock) Cave
However, the local doctor’s rather ‘romantic’ view of the archaeological evidence has not borne up to scientific scrutiny. More recent investigation has illustrated that the funeral chariot in which the supposed chieftain lay buried was actually not one, but three different chariots. Furthermore, the human remains were not all female as initially thought, and subsequent analysis has indicated that most were men and women aged between 30 and 45 years old, while the remains of children were also identified.
Chariot and detail of decoration from Bull Rock Cave (Reconstruction by the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)
The nature of the ‘massacre’ in the cave has also remained unclear, with subsequent examination of the bones providing more questions than answers. For example, anthropologists have hitherto failed to establish whether the individuals were sacrificed or murdered, and while some of the wounds discovered appear to be fatal, inflicted upon living persons, others have proved to have been inflicted after death.
Archaeological research at the site has also been complicated by the fact that, although the skulls have been preserved, the rest of the human remains from the 19th century ‘excavations’ were buried in an unknown location, and have never been recovered. Furthermore, during World War II the German army planned to use Bull Rock cave as a weapons factory, and the entrance hall was paved, thereby burying all remaining evidence under a thick layer of concrete.
Thus, although many theories have been advanced as to the function of Bull Rock cave during this period, and the dramatic events that occurred in the mid 6th century BC, the full truth about this enigmatic site will probably never be known…
On ‘Human Sacrifice’among the Celts see also:
External links for further reading on Bull Rock Cave: