Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thinking aloud - Hochdorf Burial

There is a new series on BBC4 - The Celts (Blood, Iron and Sacrifice), the two presenters, Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver are the 'face' of a lot of archaeology on television, and they did their stuff winding their way through the complex history of these Celtic people.

There was an over emphasis on the written record of the somewhat biased Romans, the Celts did not write, or to be more precise, there is no evidence as yet to prove that they did.  The title says it all, battles, bloodshed and butchering a somewhat male interpretation of a people.  Ask questions as to how their day to day life went on, and we only got the salt mines of Hallstatt, fascinating as they were, and a brief description of almost 5000 burials here, presumably most with grave goods.

All this of course needs, the daily wherewithal of food, clothes (yes I know they fought naked) and the acquisition of exquisite jewellery and trappings, not only for themselves but for their horses as well, life was not only ever to be found at the point of a sword, there must have been weavers, potters, blacksmiths and farmers, and of course women played an equal role in society.

During the programme they mentioned the Hochdorf burial in Germany, something we had seen on our visit there to deliver some scrolls.  The museum had a very elegant reconstruction of the burial of the chief/prince, also of the excavations that had taken place, so for once not the vision of men slaughtering each other, this by the way, if you look at our own medieval history, is still a common thread of many a historic tale, but a few photos of the settlement and the inside of the museum.  

It had taken years by many experts, to produce the burial scene, everything is a replica, the dedication that had gone into the museum and the reconstructed barrow was there to inform in a manner that educates as to the whole picture and not just scrappy interpretations of Celtic warriors battling and savagely sticking victims heads on spike, (we haven't  come to that bit yet}, but can't you remember from school history the savagery of being hung, drawn and quartered and the head of the poor victim speared on the outside of the city walls for a long time in our own history?

There were farm steads excavated, and the museum has a small area of Celtic buildings


Not sure

stand up loom

The burial reconstruct

loom weights

the great gold cauldron for feasting

The rebuilt barrow amongst the snow - it was very cold!

Outside the museum, the curving pipe is the height of the barrow

Isn't he pretty ;)

This 'sofa' was crushed into a thousand pieces when excavated from under the barrow, though of course it is not the original one, which we saw at the Stuttgart museum Celtic Exhibition

So I shall await the next two episodes, with a somewhat critical air maybe, but the ability of television to whip you to Hallstatt in a blink, and show you a landscape that is both beautiful and difficult, does bring these mysterious people closer, and those salt mines did open my eyes to actual commerce that took place in times long gone, and the visit to Hochdorf Museum etched out a more docile people, or at least people who had an everyday life far removed from battle.....


  1. Beautiful stuff Thelma. Interesting those loom weights - we often find whorl weights on our land - they are still used in some countries, I have seen them high in the Taurus Mountains in Turkey when we met a nomad family. For cigarettes he allowed us to look round his yourt - it was sumptious and there was a plentiful supply of whorl weights for his wife to use. (we slipped her some money when he wasn't looking!)

    1. Sounds an interesting visit the Taurus Mountains one Pat, and loom whorls are often found from the I/A. Went to Wharram Percy today to see the Deserted Medieval Village, gorgeous day and a nice long walk in the sun, will put up photos tomorrow.

  2. A curiously Roman-centric view of the Celts taking Rome. Mainly using the account of Livy, yet leaving out his claim that the Celts were defeated there by Camillus (which Danial Vitali identifiers as "pure fiction"). The account by Trogus is the only really accurate one: The ransom for Rome was paid by the Massalians (Marseilles). There is a hoard of their later coins in Calgary and an elecron microprobe analysis by Colin Orton at the the Nickle Arts Museum (unpublished) revealed it be of Roman silver and presumably a payment on the debt.

    Another very bad flaw was that The Celts claimed land from the Romans in north Italy for their bases. This is not true at all and I imagine that part was cut from the interview with the person in Italy discussing the event. The Celts obtained the land from the Etruscans. Rome at that time was but a minor tribe.

    The identification of a Celtic homeland in Iberia is also badly flawed: those inscriptions are indiginous. (Euan McKie identified "Celtic" festival dates at Maes Howe in the Orkneys in 5,000 BC). The Celts, themselves, had no gods (no real tribal society does) -- this was a modern translation of the quality that the Polynesians called "mana" -- an "eeriness" that could be applied to people, events, and objects.

    The subterfuge in the show was clearly deliberate. The '"why?" is what puzzles me

    1. An elegant reply John, and I must admit to knowing little about the Celts in Europe, should read Barry Cunliffe on that. The problem was of course reading the history of the Celts through the eyes of Romans, and of course the stories being transcribed over time .

      "The subterfuge in the show was clearly deliberate. The '"why?" is what puzzles me" not sure what you are saying there, is there a conspiracy theory on all things Celtic? Or is it so complicated as the story changes over time and the interpretation lies with one side on another?

    2. edit; with one side or another?

    3. It's just that theories and mythologies about the Celts are one in the same and people selectively draw from the myths and theories to fit with their belief. For example, Simon James picked only three views to claim that the Britons were not Celts:

      1. They had round houses instead of rectangular (but these styles go back to the Neolithic in Britain and on the continent)

      2. Some difference in farming practices (indigenous, not elite, and regional, climactic variations anyway)

      3. No pre-seventeenth century mention of Celts in Britain. (Really an absurd absence of evidence fallacy, but what makes pre-seventeenth century knowledge better than modern?)

      Thankfully, this is the most extreme example of what I'm talking about.