Where Did All The Children Go ?

UD: March 2017

 

 

 

 

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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*.

 

 

 

Situla von Kuffarn Niederösterreich in Österreich - early La Tene 6-5 c. BC - one of few depictions of child

Bronze situla with detail of narrative scene, from Kuffarn (Niederösterreich), Austria (Early La Tène; 6/5th c. BC). The depiction on the Kuffarn situla is one of the few representations of Iron Age Celtic children

 

 

 

 

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.

http://sciencenordic.com/archeologists-burn-pigs-investigate-historical-mystery#!

 

aus illust.

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.

(see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/melted-warriors-la-tene-burials-from-the-auersperg-palace-in-ljubljana/)

 

 

 

 

 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.

 

Bouc.

One of the recently excavated Celtic burials from Buchères

http://archaeology.org/issues/96-1307/trenches/970-france-latene-warrior-burial-torques#!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4EeaLIq2Ag&feature=youtu.be

 

 

 

 

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.* 

 

 

 

Lud 1 - 711

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?

 

 

Also noteworthy is the fact that the lack of burials relates to children less than 12-13, indicating that this is the phase in Celtic society where individuals were believed to have passed the threshold between childhood and maturity, i.e.  a person became eligible for independent burial only when they acquired the status of an equal member of the community, which, judging by the archaeological evidence, occurred around the age of 12-13, when boys reached the military age and girls came of age to marry.

 

 

 

 

THE BABIES BENEATH…

 

A partial explanation of the mystery as to what occurred with younger children has been suggested by recent research in central Europe. In the northeastern part of Austria excavations of Celtic settlements have uncovered the remains of infants deposited in the house foundations at sites such as Mitterretzbach (Bez. Hollabrunn), Franzhausen/ Wagram an der Traisen, Flur Kokoron and Inzersdorf-Walpersdorf (Bez. St. Pölten).

 

 Fig 1 chil

Infant burial in the foundations of a house (Grubenhaus) at Mitterrzbach (Early La Tène period)

(after Trebsche P. (2016) Latènezeitliche Leichen im Keller? Überlegungen zur Deutung von Siedlungsbestattungen im österreichischen Donauraum. In: Vorträge des 34. Niederbayerischen Archäologentages.  Rahden/Westf. 2016. pp. 79-118)

 

 

 

However, for the moment this has been recorded only over a small area of central Europe, and even if further research identifies it as a more widespread phenomenon these cases relate only to infants from 0-12 months old. Therefore, 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…

 

 

a - Representation in stone of a wrapped baby. (Sources-de-la-Seine - ex-voto sanctuary goddess Sequana

Statue of a Celtic baby, a votive offering at the Fontes Sequanae (“The Springs of Sequana”), France.  (late 1 c. BC) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/celtic-death/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS – Killing the Objects in Celtic Europe

UD: April 2019

 

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With its origins in the Bronze Age, one of the most mysterious phenomena in Celtic Europe is the practice of ‘Killing the Objects’ – the deliberate bending, breaking or otherwise deforming of weapons and other artifacts before depositing them in burials or as votive offerings at religious sanctuaries (on this practice see also Pleiner R., Scott, B. G. (1993); Kurz, G. (1995); Bradley R. (1998); Megaw J.V. (2003).

 

Glen Gorget

The Gleninsheen Gorget from the Burren (Clare), Ireland (800-700 BC)

Ridges on the right hand side of the dazzling gold collar show that it was roughly bent in two before it was thrust into a rock fissure. Most of the other eight surviving examples of such collars were “decommissioned” in a similar fashion before being deposited.

 

Swords bro

Ritually ‘killed’ swords recorded in the British Isles and Iberia from the late Atlantic Bronze Age

https://www.academia.edu/22189046/Beakers_into_Bronze_Tracing_connections_between_Iberia_and_the_British_Isles_2800-800_BC

 

ritually-killed-sword-iron-with-gold-inlay-from-an-early-iron-age-celtic-chieftains-burial-at-oss-in-the-southern-netherlands-ca-700-bc

Ritually killed sword (iron with gold inlay) from an early Iron Age Celtic chieftain’s burial at Oss in the southern Netherlands. (ca. 700 BC)

gaulk 2

Sacrificed Iron weapons from the sanctuary at Gournay-sur-Aronde (France)

(3rd c. BC)

Musée Antoine-Vivenel (Oise, France)

 

Ritually killed weapons (sword/scabbard and spearhead), razor and shears, from a Celtic warrior burial at St. Johann (Württemberg) in southern Germany (3-2 c. BC)

Folded iron sword Grave 59 at Gyöngyös

Ritually killed – bent / folded iron sword from Celtic warrior burial #59 at Gyöngyös in northeastern Hungary

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/expansion-and-symbiosis-a-major-celto-scythian-settlement-and-burial-complex-from-the-matra-mountains-in-north-eastern-hungary/

 

The ritual of Killing the Objects appears on the Balkans with the Celtic eastwards expansion of the late 4th – 3rd c. BC, with numerous examples recorded from Celtic burials stretching from the Adriatic Sea in the west to the Black Sea in the east. Examples have also been found north of the Carpathians at sites such as Korytnica in southeastern Poland and Mala Kopanya hillfort (7 ritually ‘killed’ late La Têne swords – Kazakevich 2012) in western Ukraine.

Ritually killed La Têne sword from Mala Kopanya in western Ukraine (1st c. BC/1 c. AD)

scor. sp

Ritually ‘Killed’ Spearhead from the Celtic (Scordisci) burial at Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia

see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/the-warrior-and-his-wife-a-scordisci-burial-from-serbia/

 

polsw

Ritually ‘Killed’ Sword from Korytnica, (Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship), south-central Poland (1st c. BC)

see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/the-celts-in-poland/

 

This practice was a common one in Thrace with examples of ‘killed’ weapons having been recorded in numerous Celtic warrior burials discovered on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, ranging from the 3rd c. BC onwards, such as those at Plovdiv (Bospacheva 1995), Kalnovo (Shumen region) (Ananasov 1992), Sofia (Kazarow 1926:41), or Kazanlak/Sevtopolis (Getov 1962). A particular high concentration of burials with ‘killed’ weapons comes from Scordisci territory in north-central and north-western Bulgaria (see: https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria ).

 

The latest recorded evidence of this practice comes from the Stara Planina (Balkan) mountains of central Bulgaria where the ritual is to be observed at sites such as Taja (Stara Zagora reg.), where ritually killed La Têne swords and other Celtic weapons have been found in burials dating to the 3rd/4th c. AD (Domaradski 1993), indicating that in certain parts of Thrace some Celtic groups retained their independence and identity into the late Roman period.

varwe.

Celtic burial goods including ritually ‘killed’ weapons from northeastern Bulgaria.

(Varna Archaeological Museum)

 Ritually 'killed' Celtiberian La Tène sword from the Celtiberian necropolis at Quintanas de Gormaz, Soria, Castile and León, Spain, 4th-3rd century BC

Ritually ‘killed’ Celtiberian La Tène sword from the Celtiberian necropolis at Quintanas de Gormaz, Soria, Castile and León, Spain (4/3 century BC)

 

kupinovo-syrmia-3-c-bc

Ritually killed iron sword from a Balkan Celtic warrior burial at Kupinovo (Syrmia), Serbia

(3rd c. BC)

 

CULT SITES

Besides weapons and other artifacts found in Celtic burials, the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ is also to be observed at Celtic cult sites across Europe.

G2 1G2 2

Sacrificed weapons and lead votive ‘Taranis Wheels’ (see Taranis article) from Nanteuil-Sur-Aisne in the territory of the Remi tribe in Gaul (2nd/1st c. BC)

http://www.gaulois.ardennes.culture.fr/accessible/en/uc/05_01_01-Nanteuil-sur-Aisne

In about 200 BC, damaged weapons, hammered and broken on purpose, were placed in a geometric pattern on the ground at the edges of the sacred site, and buried immediately. The large oval ditch surrounding the temple also contained the remains of weapons, belt buckles and tools, as well as human bones. In the early 1st century BC, such votive wheels, made of gold, silver, potin, bronze and especially lead, replaced the deposits of weapons.

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Ritually ‘killed’iron sword from the  Gaulish sanctuary at Gournay-sur-Aronde, France (2 c. BC)

 

In Thrace the custom of ‘Killing the Objects’ is to be observed particularly at cult sites in the Rhodope and Stara Planina (Balkan) mountains of central and southern Bulgaria. Recent publications of excavations from the Rhodope mountains provide conclusive proof that this Celtic practice was common among the local population there in the 3rd – 1st c. BC. Votive offerings (Torcs, ceramic vessels, fibulae, daggers etc.) at cult sites such as Tsruncha (Smolyan region), Koprivlen and Babyak (both Blagoevgrad region) (Christov 1999; Kisyov 1990;Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008) etc. show clear evidence of having been ‘killed’ in the typical Celtic fashion.

 

babfp

Reconstruction of a ritually killed Celtic ‘cult’ fire-pot found at Babyak, Rhodope mountains (Southwestern Bulgaria)

(see: https://www.academia.edu/5046182/Zoomorphic_Cult_Firepots  )

 

Thousands of examples of this practice have been recorded across Europe, indicating that it was a ritual common to all the pan-Celtic tribes. However, although many theories have been postulated, for now the exact significance of this mysterious custom remains unclear. 

 

R. Dagger

Ritually ‘killed’ iron Celtic dagger recently discovered by treasure hunters at Bulbuc (Alba County), Transylvania (late 2nd/early 1st c. BC)

(see : https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/curved-sacrificial-daggers/ )

 

a - late 1 c. BC - River Lea at Waltham Abbey, Essex - rit. killed - anvil, tongs, sledge hammer, chisel and poker

Ritually ‘killed’ blacksmiths tools (anvil, tongs, sledge hammer, chisel and poker) found deposited in the River Lea at Waltham Abbey (Essex), England (1st century BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources Cited

 

Atanassov 1992 = Атанасов Г., Съорьжени от III– II в. Пр. н.е. от околностите на с. Кълново, Шуменско – ИИМШ,VII, 1992, с. 5-44

Bospacheva 1995 = Боспачиева М. Погилно погребение от елинистическия некропол на филипопол – Исвестия на музеите в Южна България 21, 43-61

Bradley R. (1998): The passage of arms. An archaeological analysis of prehistoric hoard and votive deposits. (2ed.) Oxford

Christov Iv., Rock Sanctuaries of MountainThrace. V. Tarnovo. 1999

Domaradski 1993 = Домарадски М., Могилен Некропол В М. Атанасца При С. Тъжа. In: Първи Международен Симпозиум “Севтополис”, Надгробните Могили в Югоизточна Европа. Казанлък, 4-8 юни 1993 г., Pp. 267 – 306.

Getov 1962 = Гетов Л., Нови данни за въорежението у нас през латенската епоха – Археология, IV, 1962, 3, c. 41-43, обр. 1-3.

Kazakevich G. (2012) Celtic Military Equipment from the Territory of Ukraine: Towards a new Warrior Identity in the pre-Roman Eastern Europe. In: Transforming Traditions: Studies in Archaeology, Comparative Linguistics and Narrative. Studia Celto-Slavica 6. p. 177- 212. Lódź.

Kazarow 1926 = Кацаров Г., България в древността. Историко-археологически очерк. Популярна археологическа библиотека, No. 1. София 1926

Kisyov 1990 = Кисьов К., Скални светилища в Родопите и Горнотракийската низина, представени с археологически материали и обкети от Смолянско и Пловдивско – Тракийската култура в Родопите е горните течения на реките Марица, Места и Струма. Смолян, 1990, 64-74

Kurz G. (1995) Keltische Hort- und Gwässerfunde in Mitteleuropa. Deponierungen der Latènezeit. Material hefte zur Archäologie in Baden-Würrtemberg 33. Stuttgart

Megaw J.V. Celtic Foot(less) Soldiers? An icongraphic note, Gladius XXIII, 2003, pp. 61-70

Pleiner R., Scott, B. G. (1993): The Celtic sword. Oxford.

Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008 = Тонкова, М. и Ал. Гоцев (eds.) Тракийското светилище при Бабяк и неговата археологическа среда. София 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mac Congail