Tag Archive: Celtic cremation


 

csepel-1

 

Fascinating study by Attila Horváth of the Budapest History Museum on the question of the transition period in Celtic burial rites, based on data from the complex at Csepel Island, Budapest:

 

https://www.academia.edu/30399043/HORV%C3%81TH_M._A._Problems_about_the_Change_of_Periods_and_Rites_in_the_La_T%C3%A8ne_Cemetery_on_Csepel_Island_Budapest_._In_S._Berecki_ed._Iron_Age_chronology_in_the_Carpathian_Basin._Proceedings_of_the_international_colloquium_from_T%C3%A2rgu_Mure%C5%9F_8-10._October_2015._Cluj-Napoca_2016_141-163

 

 

csepel-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UD: Jan. 2017

 

 

scab int

 

 

The nature of burial rituals practiced by the Iron Age European population makes the task of archaeologists an especially complex one. In particular, the Celtic burial process, which generally included the deliberate ‘killing’ of the artifacts, i.e. the bending, breaking or otherwise deformation of weapons and other objects before being placed on the funeral pyre, and subsequent cremation of the articles along with the body of the deceased, has meant that material from Celtic burials is often rendered unrecognizable to the naked eye.

zvonim-female-bur-lt-86

Bracelet of yellow glass from the burial of a woman (LT86) in the Celtic complex at Zvonimirovo, Croatia

(2 c. BC)

zvonim-female-bur-lt-25-temperatures-reached-during-the-burning-950-degrees-celsius-1742-f

Similar bracelet after the cremation process, from another female burial (LT25) at Zvonimirovo

Studies have shown that temperatures in Celtic cremations reached ca. 950 degrees Celsius (1742 F.)

 A good example of this phenomenon is the recently published middle La Têne warrior burial (LT C1/C2) from the Auersperg Palace in Ljubljana (Slovenia), which yielded the cremated bones of the individual along with a rich burial inventory. However, while initial excavation of the burial revealed only an unrecognizable melted conglomerate of iron, bone and ceramic material, subsequent analysis showed that the ‘lump’ actually contained, among other objects, a ritually ‘killed’ middle La Tène sword and shield boss, a shaft-hole axe, as well as human and animal bones.

 Particularly interesting is the fact that the human bones included a fragment of the cranial part of the skull with an unfused suture, which belonged to a person under 20 years of age. Thus, it appears that in death, due to nature of the burial rites observed, and subsequent environmental factors, this ‘boy warrior’ literally fused with his weapons.

Melted 1 - ir. l

Auersperg Palace. The conglomerate of the distorted weapons

(Illustrations after Štrajhar M., Gaspari A., Ostanki Dveh Srednjelatehskih Bojevniških Grobov Iz Turjaške Palače v Ljubljani, Pril. Inst. Arheol. Zagrebu, 30/2013, str. 27-43)

Melted 1 - scan

A scanned image of the conglomerate

Melted 1 - pot

Auersperg Palace. The upper half of a larger vessel from the layer

 

 

 A further fascinating find from the same deposit / layer, but originating from another (slightly earlier) grave unit, is a ritually ‘killed’ scabbard, typical for the Celtic LT C1b phase. The scabbard is decorated with a unique composite motif of a dragon pair and a snake, combined with vegetative ornamentation. A similar combination of ornaments is most often found on scabbards from the southern border area of the Pannonian Plain, which are discovered in burials from the later part of the LT C1 phase. The complexity of the decoration, which is typical for the latest phase of the Celtic ‘dragon pair’ depictions, thus dates the manufacture of the Auersperg Palace scabbard in the late 3rd century BC (Štrajhar, Gaspari, op cit).

scabb 1

Melted 1 - scabb

The Auersperg Palace scabbard and detail of decoration

On Early Celtic Warrior burials from Slovenia see also:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/a-celtic-warrior-burial-from-srednica-northeastern-slovenia/

 

Mac Congail

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UD: March 2017

 

 

 

 

bby good

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: Jan. 2017

 

W - Ercheu near A - 2-1 c. BC Détail de l’incinération. Plusieurs objets en fer sont à noter - une paire de forces, un rasoir, une pince à épiler et un anneau en bronze wide

 

“According to your [the druids’] authority, the shadows do not strive for the silent abodes of the underworld and for the pale realm of the deep sovereign of the dead: The same spirit directs the limbs in a different region (orbe alio). If you sing an approved truth, death is the centre of a long life”.

Lucanus (Bellum Civile 1.454–458)

 

 

 

After centuries of archaeological research, life and death among the Iron Age European population remains shrouded in mystery. However, recent anthropological analysis of burials sites in Eastern Europe is gradually shedding light on many aspects of everyday life, and the enigmatic death rituals of Europe’s ‘barbarian’ population. 

Although a significant number of inhumation burials have also been recorded at eastern Celtic burial complexes, dating to the initial phase of eastern expansion, the dominant burial rite from the 3rd century BC onwards, as in other parts of Europe during this period, was cremation.

 

 

csepel-illust

Inhumation and cremation burials from the Celtic complex at Csepel Island, Budapest

See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/12/14/the-transition-inhumation-to-cremation-and-the-case-of-the-celtic-complex-at-csepel-island-budapest/

 

 

Inhumation burials recorded in a Celtic context in the later phase are the exception that proves the rule, and may be explained by the burial of individuals from outside the local Celtic population living within the community, as is the case, for example, with the burial of a Thracian female at Remetea Mare in Romania.

 

Rm Thrac.

Female Inhumation Burial (#3) from the Celtic cemetery at Remetea Mare, Romania

Both the funerary rite (inhumation rather than cremation – unique at the cemetery) and inventory illustrate that the woman came from a community markedly different from the one in which she died, in this case probably from a Thracian group (Triballi?) south of the Danube, and reached the Celtic community at Remetea Mare following a matrimonial alliance established between the Celts and the (Free) Thracians, sometime in the first half of the 3rd century BC. 

( see: https://www.academia.edu/10087747/Bonds_of_Blood_-_On_Inter-Ethnic_Marriage_in_the_Iron_Age )

 

 

 

 

CREMATION

 

Recent anthropological analysis at various sites has allowed us to at least partly reconstruct the complex ritual associated with Celtic cremation burials during this period. According to the degree of burning at different anatomical elements it has been possible to conclude that the corpse was laid on the funeral pyre on their back (Hincak, Guštin 2011). Logically, cremations were usually of individuals although there are a number of cases of multiple cremation burials such as the double burial of a male and female (burial No. 5), or a triple burial of a man, woman and child (burial no. 10) at the Celtic burial complex at Dobova in Slovenia (loc cit)


 

SM burial

Reconstruction of a Celtic (Scordisci) Cremation Burial from Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)

 

 

W - Ercheu near A - 2-1 c. BC Détail de l’incinération. Plusieurs objets en fer sont à noter - une paire de forces, un rasoir, une pince à épiler et un anneau en bronze wide

Ercheu - 2-1 c. BC Détail de l’incinération. Plusieurs objets en fer sont à noter - une paire de forces, un rasoir, une pince à épiler et un anneau en bronze.

Celtic cremation burial from Ercheu (Somme), France. The burial goods included ceramic as well as personal items such as shears, tweezers and a razor.

(2/1 c. BC)

 

 

 

At Ludas in Hungary, 8 double burials have been recorded. In two cases the cremated remains of two adults (burials 711, 1009), in five cases 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. The case of burial 1139 at that site is a further example of the mysteries that continue to surround such Celtic burials, especially those of children. In this burial the remains of a new born child and those of an older child (Infans I) were found. The two children could have been cremated together, however, the missing skel­etal elements of the older child raises issues for which there are no satisfactory answers. Furthermore, in some child burials at this site the total absence of skull bones can be observed. In burial 1267, among the remains of an adult female, cremated skeletal bones of a child were detected, but the infant’s skull fragments were not pre­sent at all. From burial 1051, among skeletal bones of a child aged around 1 year old, skull fragments of an adult were documented. In this case the mixed remains of the two individuals imply cremation on the same pyre. There is no explanation so far why the skeletal elements of the adult and the skull bones of the child were missing from the grave (loc cit).

 

 

Lud 1

Position of cremated human remains in grave 711 at Ludas

(after Tankó & Tankó 2012 )

 

 

In burial 711, near to the cremated remains of an adult female aged around 24, bone fragments of another adult female were documented around bracelet no. 5. However, in this case the bone fragments of the two individuals show signs of exposure to different temperatures which implies that they were cremated on separate pyres.

 

 

 

BD pyre

Remains of the Funeral Pyre from the Central Celtic Burial (#10) at Karakochovata Tumulus (Bratya Daskalovi), south-central Bulgaria

(after Tonkova et al 2011; see: https://www.academia.edu/4107842/The_Celts_in_Central_Thrace)

 

 

srednica

Cremation burial of a Celtic warrior, containing ceramic vessels, a Middle La Téne iron fibula, socketed spearhead, knife and a Hatvan-Boldog/Münsingen type sword, at Srednica (Ptuj), Slovenia

(late 4th/early 3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

ANIMAL BONES

 

One of the features which marks late Iron Age cremation burials throughout Eastern Europe is the presence of animal bones, both burnt and unburnt, intermingled among the human remains. This phenomenon has been recorded throughout the area settled by the Eastern Celts, at sites such as Gordion in Galatia (Selinsky 2012), Kalnovo in Bulgaria (see: https://www.academia.edu/4096257/The_Celtic_Burials_From_Kalnovo_Eastern_Bulgaria_), Dubovo and Brežice in Slovenia (Hincak, Guštin 2011), Ludas in Hungary (Tankó & Tankó 2012 ), etc.

 

 

Brez 1

 

Brez 2

Brežice, Slovenia grave 56: Human and animal remains and bronze fibula and finger-ring decorated with the pseudo-filigree technique

(after Jovanović  A. 2011)

 

Grave 56 at Brežice was discovered at a depth of 0.95m. has a simple interred oval pit shape of 0.95 x 0.60 m in size and 0.15 m in depth. The grave is typical in terms of shape, size and spatial organization at the cemetery. The grave goods were found in the central part of the burial pit together with a small heap of burnt bones. At the bottom of the pit were a small spindle whorl, an iron ring, other iron items and an iron sickle, next to which lay the iron chain and pieces of bronze. The pieces of bronze belonged to a fragment of a bronze anklet and bracelet with a knobbed protrusion, while a hollow bracelet  and a buckle (dress pin) of the Brežice type  were identified among the group of iron objects besides the bronze anklet and bracelet. Fragments of a plaited belt chain  lay most likely in the group of iron objects with the sickle. Above this group was a larger concentration of bones, atop which was placed a bronze fibula with a bronze finger-ring, a fragment of iron, and a spindle whorl.

 Based on the results of anthropological analyses conducted, a female of approximately 35-40 years of age was buried in grave 56. Through the analysis of osteological remains bone and teeth remains of pig were determined, most probably wild boar (Sus scrofa ferus L.), a year and a half or 2 years old. The colour of all the fragments is grey to grey-white, suggesting that the bones were burnt at a high temperature and that the pig was brought to the pyre in the beginning or during the cremation of the body  (Jovanović op cit).

 

 

 

Animal Graph

Proportion of cremated animal remains from the Brežice site

 

(after Hincak, Guštin 2011)

 

 

 

 

BAGS OF BONES

 

Following cremation, the bones of the deceased were generally collected and placed in vessels which functioned as funerary jars. 

 

 

Br dask urn

Ceramic vessel of the ‘Zepino Type’ used as a funerary vessel at the Celtic female (No. 10) burial at Karakochovata Tumulus, Bratya Daskalovi, Bulgaria

(after Tonkova et al 2011; see: https://www.academia.edu/4107842/The_Celts_in_Central_Thrace)

 

 

However, recent evidence from both eastern and western Europe also indicates that the bones were frequently collected in containers of a perishable nature. An analysis of  the various forms of cremated bone depositions in the La Calotterie cemetery in Belgium dating to the middle La Téne period revealed that the remains deposited in circles were originally put into perishable containers, i.e.  pouches made of leather or textile (enveloppe souple by French terminology). There are also examples for rectangular and scattered deposition of ashes (Le Goff Et Al. 2009, 116–123). Analogues for perishable containers were documented in the cemetery of Ludas in Hungary as well. Examination of the material has shown that the positions of certain bones imply the use of rectangular containers in graves (Méniel 2006, 345–366; Tankó & Tankó 2012 with cited lit.).

At Ludas, ashes deposited in circular heaps were most possibly placed in circular containers – wooden buck­ets, wicker baskets, leather or textile pouches. In some cases, on top of the heaps of cremated remains, unburnt metal ornaments, chiefly fibulae were recorded (e.g. 962, 1050, 1057, 1157). Since no sign of heat exposure was detected on the fibulae, these objects were unlikely parts of the garment worn during the crema­tion process. This phenomenon raises the possibility that the remains were placed into textile pouches held together by fibulae. Rectangular depositions of ashes – similarly to the rectangular deposition of ani­mal bones – were presumably put in wooden containers, e.g. wooden tray, wicker basket, etc. (Tankó & Tankó 2012). A similar use of perishable (fabric/leather) containers has been recorded at the Dobova and Brežice sites in Slovenia (Hincak, Guštin 2011).

 

 

lud 2

Unburned bronze fibula on cremated human remains in grave 962 at Ludas

(after Tankó & Tankó 2012)

 

 

lud 3 dep

Examples of deposition of cremated human remains and its hypothetical interpretations.

(after Tankó & Tankó 2012)

 

 

 

 

BURIAL GOODS

 

The grave inventory of Celtic burials varies greatly depending on regional factors, and are covered in separate articles, as is the pan-European practice of ‘Killing the Objects’. The question of why only certain objects in burials were ritually deformed remains one of the great mysteries associated with Celtic ritual and religion.

 

 

Szabadadi - Grave 11

Recently discovered burial goods from Grave 11 at Szabadi (Hungary) containing both killed and intact items.

(After Tušek, Kavur 2011)

 

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/killing-the-objects-3/

 

 

 

 

LIFE EXPECTANCY

 

Anthropological data indicates that life in Celtic society varied greatly from that in the Graeco-Roman world. For example, at the Celtic (Galatian) settlement at Gordion (see ‘Galatia’ article), the first comprehensive bioarchaeological approach to these population groups from central Turkey, data drawn from 47 individuals excavated from the Lower Town area of the site: 21 Later Hellenistic/Celtic (late 3rd to 2nd centuries BC) and 26 Roman (1st to 2nd centuries AD), showed that the two sub-samples have markedly different paleodemographic profiles. The composition of the Celtic group is unusual, with very few infants (5%) and primarily young or middle aged adults (52%), whereas the Roman sample has many infant burials (27%) and less than half young or middle aged adults (35%) (Selinsky 2012).

 A similar demographic picture as to be observed from anthropological analysis of Celtic graves from the burial complexes at Brežice and Dobova in Slovenia. At Brežice the curve for female and male samples shows a high probability of death in adultus 1 (20 – 29 years) and adultus 2 groups (30-39 years). A similar picture is to be observed at the Dobova site.

 

 

brez grph.

The distribution of population according to age and sex at Brežice

 

 

Dobova

 

brezice age

Distribution of dead by age category at Brežice

 

 

LE 2

Distribution of the population according to age and sex at the Brežice site

(Graphs after Hincak, Guštin 2011)

 

 

 

 

The mortality rate for women is highest in the juvenilis phase (15-19) (12%), and Adultus 1 phase (20-30) (18%). This statistic is much higher than for males in the same group and indicates a high mortality rate in childbirth. Average life expectancy for males was higher than for females in all groups. Thus, females in the juvenilis group (14 – 19 years) were expected to live, on average, for only 16 years, while a male lived for a further 21.5 years.

  Most striking is the fact that only 6 individuals were recorded from the Maturus stage (over 40 years of age) – 5 from the Maturus 1 phase (40 – 49 years) and only one male individual over the age of 50.  No individuals over the age of 60 were found. Based on the above statistics, the average life expectancy at the Celtic settlements did not exceed 40 years of age, which undoubtedly had a significant impact on their perception of life and death – a perception which varied greatly from that of modern society.

 

 

 

Extensive anthropological research at other Celtic sites across Europe is required to further elucidate our understanding of Iron Age European society. However, the studies outlined above allow a glimpse into the lives and deaths of a people that lived not only in a different time from us but, in many respects, in a different reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITERATURE CITED

 

Hincak Z., Guštin M. (2011) Anthropological analysis of Celtic graves from Brežice and Dobova (Slovenia) In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities Between The Alps and the Black Sea. Koper-Beograd 2011. p. 241-254

Jovanović  A. (2011)  Middle La Tène Female Grave 56 from Brežice, Slovenia. In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities between the Alps and the Black Sea. Koper–Beograd 2011. p. 51 – 64

Selinsky, P. (2012), Celtic Ritual Activity at Gordion, Turkey: Evidence from Mortuary Contexts and Skeletal Analysis. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol.. doi: 10.1002/oa.2279

Tankó É., Tankó K. (2012) Cremation and Deposition in the Late Iron Age Cemetery at Ludas. In: Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Proceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureș, 7-9 October 2011. Târgu Mureș 2012. P. 249 – 259.

Tapavički-Ilić M., Filipović V. (2011) A Late Iron Age Grave Find from Syrmia. In:  Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Proceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureş, 7–9 October 2011. 453-559

Tušek M., Kavur B. (2011) Celtic warriors from Szabadi (Somogy County, Hungary). In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities Between The Alps and the Black Sea.Koper-Beograd 2011. p. 20 – 30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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