The Celtic Burial Complex at Zvonimirovo (Croatia)

UD: April 2019

 

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The late Iron Age burial complex at Zvonimirovo-Veliko Polje (central Podravina province) in Croatia is rapidly developing into one of the most significant archaeological sites of its kind, with each excavation season uncovering new material which increases our understanding of the Celtic population who inhabited this region of Europe.

 

Map z

Location of the Zvonimirovo-Veliko Polje site

 

The site was discovered in 1992, when artifacts of the early medieval Bijelo Brdo culture were found during ploughing. However, rescue excavations at the Medieval cemetery in 1993 produced a surprise when a Celtic cremation burial was also discovered. During 1994, two more Celtic burials were found, one of which was a warrior burial. Based on the typological characteristics of the finds from three graves dated to the second century BC, the La Tène cemetery at Veliko Polje in Zvonimirovo has been ascribed to the territory of the Balkan Celtic Taurisci tribe.

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Shield boss94

(Illustrations after Dizdar 2013)

 

So far the Celtic cremation burials discovered at Zvonimirovo date from the early 3rd – late 2nd c. BC. These include a number of multiple burials, and several individual finds from destroyed graves have been documented, indicating that the number of graves was considerably greater.

Zn g 11

Burial LT 11 from Zvonimirovo which contained the remains of a man and a young girl

Zvon. gbead

(After Dizdar 2004; on multiple burials from the site see also:

https://www.academia.edu/5275216/Multiple_Burials_And_The_Question_of_Celtic_Suttee)

(Burnt) bronze belt from burial LT 29 Zvonimirovo

 

A further 6 cremation burials (LT 94-LT 99) were excavated during the 2012 season at Zvonimirovo. The most interesting of discoveries from these excavations included warrior burials with weapons – ritually bent swords in scabbards (associated with belt sets and long spears), a long tanged iron knife, and shield bosses.

The toiletry items in the burials consist of scissors and razors, while the costume is represented by iron fibulae of Middle La Tène type. A female burial contained costume and jewellery items, while ceramic vessels and animal bones were found as goods in graves of both sexes. Based on the weapons and costume items, the latest burials have been dated to the Mokronog IIb/La  Tène C2 phase.

pot 96

The pot from grave LT 96 is decorated with stamped concentric circles, connected with garlands executed by a series of tiny impressions.

b97

 

 

Updates: 

Further rescue excavations at the Zvonimirovo-Veliko polje site in 2014 uncovered 6 more La Têne cremation burials (LT 102- 107). Apart from warrior burials, most interesting was a double female burial (LT 103).


a - a - a - Kantharos LT104 Zvonimirovo

Kantharos discovered in a Celtic burial (LT 104) during the 2014 excavations at Zvonimirovo (3rd c. BC)

(After Dizdar 2015)

 

 

Excavations during the 2015 season revealed 6 further Celtic cremation burials (LT 108 – LT 113). Noteworthy were the deep, larger pits of female graves LT 109 and LT 110; in the LT 110 grave, a bowl was placed on the bottom of the pit, with the burnt remains of the deceased placed on top of it with a bronze fibula and probably a burnt bracelet.

lt-110

Detail of burial LT 110 with the burnt remains of the deceased laid above the pot

 

Next to a warrior burial (LT 112), which included weapons and toiletries, graves were found which, based on the clothing and jewellery features, belonged to female burials. Grave goods consisted of ceramic vessels (pots and bowls), and the burials dated to the LT C2, i.e. Mokronog IIb phase.

 

lt-112

Warrior burial LT 112 at Zvonimirovo

(after Dizdar 2016)

 

A further recently discovered phenomenon at the complex was identified in female burial LT29, where a wooden burial chamber was constructed. Wooden “coffins” like that from the Zvonimirovo cemetery have recently been documented at many eastern Celtic burial complexes, notably in Hungary and Slovakia.

 

lt-29

Zvonimirovo-Veliko polje: Reconstruction of female grave LT 29 with wooden burial chamber (3/2 c. BC)

After Dizdar M.(2016) Late Iron Age Funerary Practice in Southern Pannonia. In:Proceedings of the 14th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology in Čačak, Serbia 24th – 27th September 2015. Beograd – Čačak, 2016. pp. 293-312

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a full report on the 2012 excavations (in Croatian) see:

https://www.academia.edu/5747104/Rezultati_zastitnih_istrazivanja_groblja_latenske_kulture_Zvonimirovo_-_Veliko_polje_u_2012._godini_The_Results_of_the_2012_Rescue_Excavations_of_the_La_Tene_Culture_Cemetery_in_Zvonimirovo_-_Veliko_polje

2014 Report:

https://www.academia.edu/19608223/Research_results_from_the_La_T%C3%A8ne_cemetery_at_Zvonimirovo-Veliko_polje_in_2014

Report on the 2015 Campaign:

https://www.academia.edu/29047308/Research_results_of_the_La_T%C3%A8ne_culture_cemetery_at_Zvonimirovo_Veliko_polje_in_2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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