Iron Age graveyard in France adds to picture of long lost Gaul

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

In a muddy field between a motorway and a meander of the Seine southeast of Paris, French archaeologists have uncovered an Iron Age graveyard they believe will shed light on the great yet enigmatic civilisation of Gaul.

The site, earmarked for a warehouse project in outer Troyes, is yielding a stunning array of finds, including five Celtic warriors, whose weapons and adornments attest to membership of a powerful but long-lost elite.

Archaeologist Emilie Millet is at one of 14 burial sites that have been uncovered in recent weeks. At her feet are the remains of a tall warrior, with a 70cm iron sword still in its scabbard.

"I have never seen anything like it," said Millet, gazing at a metal-framed shield whose wood-and-leather core has long rotted away.

Buried next to the warriors are several women, whose jewellery - twisted-metal necklaces known as torcs, and large bronze brooches decorated with precious coral - also speak of high status.

In one grave, a woman was buried next to a man, separated by a layer of soil, speaking of a close but as yet unfathomable bond.

"This graveyard is exceptional in more ways than one," says the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, which excavates sites of potential interest before the bulldozers are allowed in.

The jewellery suggests the dead were buried between 325 and 260 BC, in a period known as La Tene. Another clue may come from analysis of the scabbards, whose decoration changed according to military fashion.

La Tene ran from about the 5th century BC to the first century AD, marking the glory years of the Celts.

In this time, they expanded from their core territory in central Europe to as far afield as northern Scotland and the Atlantic coast of Spain.

They clashed with the emerging Roman empire, whose writers recorded them as pale-skinned savages who cut off their enemies' heads, preserving those of high rank in cedar oil.

The barbarian image, though, has been dispelled in recent decades.

Research has laid bare a complex civilisation that had a mastery of metal and a wealth-generating trading system which spanned Europe.


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