ETERNAL FUSION – La Têne warrior cremations from the Auersperg Palace in Ljubljana

UD: Jan. 2019

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.


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

(2 c. BC)


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 young man – 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:

Mac Congail


THE KAMULA SCABBARD – A Celto-Scythian Openwork Scabbard from Western Ukraine

UD: December 2018

GRyniv A

From the vicinity of the Kamula mountain in western Ukraine comes one of the most fascinating Celtic artifacts from Eastern Europe – the late La Têne scabbard from Gryniv.

Celtic groups settled in this part of the Upper Dniester river during the last decades of the 1st c. BC, mixing with the local Przerorsk culture. Traces of a Celtic speaking population on the upper Dniester are to be found in several place- and ethnic names, among them Καρρόδουνον, Мαιτώνιον, and Ήρακτον (Claud. Ptol. III.5.15; Sims-Williams 2006: 218-19, Falileyev 2005, 2007:4-9), and the name of the Kamula mountain itself (Tischenko 2006:220, Kazakevich 2010: 172), in the vicinity of which the Gryniv burial complex is situated.


The Gryniv scabbard was discovered in burial # 3 at the cemetery and dated to between the second and fourth decades of the 1st c. AD. The burial contained an iron fibula, sword/scabbard, spearhead, 3 knives, a spur, shield umbo, pottery of local and Balkan origin and shears (Kazakevich op cit.). The presence of shears in Celtic burials is well documented among the Celts of central and eastern Europe (loc cit.), and many of the objects in the burial, including the shears and weapons had been ritually killed – i.e. broken, bent or otherwise deformed, according to the well known Celtic custom.

The most notable artifact was the scabbard from which two bronze plates have been preserved. One of them is decorated with cut-out anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures in the open work (opus interasile) style. The scabbards with open work decoration originated from the La Têne zone of central Europe where a strong tradition of richly decorated scabbards existed (Szabó 1996). Although most of the open work scabbards contained a comparatively simple geometric ornamentation, the Gryniv bronze plate is decorated in a much more sophisticated manner.


The decoration consists of 5 scenes:

Section A – A beast of prey catching a long necked bird;

Section B – An eagle headed griffin:

Gryniv Ad

Section C – An Embracing couple:

GRyniv C d.

Section D – A horse (pony?) encircled by two plants or leaves:

Gryniv d. d.

Section E – A horseman with spear and round shield:

Gryniv E


Particularly noteworthy in the depiction of the horseman in section E is the circular shield carried by the warrior. Such shields are not typical of the Celts, but of the Germani, and the portrayal is a good example of the ethnically diverse nature of the population which developed in this area during the period in question.

From an artistic perspective, parallels to the scabbards decoration may be found in many Celtic artifacts. For example, the closest analogue of the eagle-headed griffin in section B is to be found on the Celto-Thracian Gundestrup Cauldron, while the floral elements (triangular leaves on long stalks), as well as the features and proportions of the human figures, are also very similar to examples from Gundestrup and other Celto-Thracian artifacts of this period (op cit.).

The fact that the male and female figures form the center of the composition, and this section is disproportionally larger than the other scenes, logically indicates that this is the central theme, which has led to the conclusion that the whole composition depicts a scene of ‘sacred marriage’ symbolizing a form of cosmological structure (Kozak 2008:157-159).







On Celtic Ukraine see –

“Migration and Ethnogenesis – Celto-Scythians and Celticization in Ukraine and the North Pontic Region”:


Literature Cited


Falileyev A. (2005) Celtic Presence in Dobrudja: Onomastic Evidence. In: Cojocaru V. ed., Ethnic Contacts and Cultural Exchanges North and West of the Black Sea from Greek Colonization to Ottoman Conquest. Iasi. P. 291-303.

Kazakevich G. (2010) The Late La Têne Scabbard from the Upper Dniester Area: A Far Relative of the Gundestrup Cauldron? In: Studia Celto-Slavica 5. Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Literature and Culture. Proceedings of the Fourth Internationl Colloquium of Societas Celto-Slavica. University of Lódź, Poland, 13-15 Septemer 2009. Part 2. P. 171- 179.

Kozak D. N. (2008) Venedy. Kyiv: Instytut Arheologii

Sims-Williams P. (2006) Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europa and Asia Minor. Oxford.

Szabó M (1996) L’expansion Celte et l’armament décoré. MEFRA 108, 522-553.

Tyschenko K. M. (2006) Movni kontakty: svidky formuvannia ukraintsiv (Linguistic Contacts: Witnesses of the Formation of the Ukrainians). Kyiv.

Mac Congail