Intact Tomb of a Celtic Noblewoman Found in Heuneberg

image of a decorated, ornate gold ring from the Heuneberg excavation Photo by Patrick Seeger dpa/lsw

An intact aristocratic tomb of a Hallstatt-era woman was discovered in Heunenberg, Germany in December of 2010. Heuneberg (near Herbertingen in southern Germany) is a known center of Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, generally lumped together as “Celtic.” Excavations in and around the Heuneberg hillfort and the earlier middle Bronze-age (c. 15th to 12th century BCE) site began in the 1800s, and have resulted in a museum. The area is known for several cemetery mounds, many of which have revealed rich grave goods including imported Greek vessels, amber, gold, and a strikingly decorated local style of ornamented pottery, with scored lines and punching decorations carefully pigmented.

The December 2010 excavation discovered an intact four by five meters enclosed tomb, complete with intact oak floor timbers. After a preliminary excavation, the entire site 80-ton site, including surrounding soil, was extracted and moved to a laboratory in Ludwigsburg where microscopic examination of small pieces of organic matter and fragments of clothing could take place. The site has resulted in not only richly decorated jewelry in gold, amber and pearls, but textiles, pottery, and tools. The excavation is under the direction of Dirk Krausse. It is likely, given the care in excavating the site, that it will prove even more important than the Hochdorf prince’s grave.

The oak was preserved so well by the boggy soil that it has allowed the site to be dated to c. 7th century BCE, the height of the settlement’s activity, 2600 years ago. The trees used to make the floor were felled 2,620 years age.

The tomb contained the skeletal remains of a woman and a child. If we assume the trees were cut specifically for the tomb, the woman would have died in 609 BCE. She appears to have been between 30 and 40.

More on the Faddan More Psalter

Image of the psalter in its leather wrap after conservation.I’ve written before about an 8th century Irish psalter on vellum found in an Irish peat bog near Riverstown in north Co Tipperary, in July of 2006. The psalter, both damaged and preserved by the tannic stew of the bog, Conservators, principally John Gillis, on loan to Ireland’s National Museum from Trinity College Library, have been working diligently to discover the best methods of conserving, preserving, and documenting the psalter for the last four years. In 2011, the psalter will be placed on permanent display in the National Museum of Ireland. In the meantime, you can read the preliminary report here, and some background here. In the process of conserving the ms. pieces of papyrus with coptic lettering were discovered in the psalter’s binding, a revolutionary and historic piece of evidence in terms of the connections between the early Irish church, the Coptic church of the Middle East.

Iron Men, Natural History Magazine, and Simon James

Via the customary cursory glace at my referrals, I noticed that a new article on the Natural History magazine Web site links to me via the following:

At Lisa L. Spangenberg’s Digital Medievalist site you can find a good list of Celtic Web Resources (scroll down). At one of them, Simon James’s Ancient Celts Page, the author, who is an archaeologist at the University of Leicester in England, presents alternative views on this culture. After presenting the conventional wisdom, he gives an alternate history of “Celticness,” which examines the justification for unifying so many tribes under one banner—with particular attention to the British Isles.

I very much respect the work of Professor James. He’s an excellent archaeologist, and I do understand the problems of referring to a huge span of, what, three thousand years of history, and a geographical reach that covers most of Europe and a decent chunk of the Middle East as “Celtic.” The also fabulous Barry Cunliffe, another archaeologist, shares some of the same concerns.

But.

The Celtic languages are:

  1. Clearly related, with a single common ancestor.
  2. They share myths and laws and motifs not only with other Indo-European cultures, but with each others—right down to the names, never mind the stories.
  3. There are also shared myths, etymologies, laws, and practices, that are unique to Celtic languages, and shared among Celtic languages.

I note that Professor James largely ignores Celtic languages and linguistics; I really wish he wouldn’t. I realize the enormous cultural differences over time and geography—these are especially apparent in terms of archaeology and art—but given that the peoples who we associate with Celtic in terms of pre industrial history spoke a Celtic language, I assert that it is perfectly reasonable to refer to those peoples as Celts, however we decide to bento-box their artifacts.

Vindolanda Altar to Jupiter Dolichenus

Jupiter-Dolichenus-altar-Vindolanda_frontThis past July a Roman altar dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus was discovered in the excavations of the former Roman fort Vindolanda. Vindolanda is near modern Chesterholm, England, just south of Hadrian’s Wall. The altar, weighing roughly 1.5 tons, is carved stone. One side bears a relief image of a jar and a patera, a shallow dish frequently used in religious rituals involving sacrifice. The opposite side depects a male figure in Roman clothing standing on the back of a bull. He bears a thunderbolt in one hand, and a battle axe in the other. A third side bears an inscription in Latin. The text reads:

 

I.O.M.
Dolocheno
Sulpicius Pu
dens praef
coh IIII Gall
V. S. L. M.

Jupiter-Dolichenus-altar-VindolandaThe inscription uses standard abbreviations and dedicates the altar to “To Jupiter Best and Greatest of Doliche, Sulpicius Pudens, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls, fulfilled his vow gladly and deservedly.”

What’s particularly interesting about this altar is that it is inside the walls of the fort proper, in an area that might conceivably have been a shrine, rather than in or on the exterior walls, as is common all along the forts and guard posts associated with Hadrian’s Wall.After preliminary excavation, the bottom half of a second alter was discovered, suggesting that there may have been a more formal shrine. The second altar was dedicated to Dolichenus by a prefect of the Second Cohort of Nervians, a Vindolanda regiment that later moved to the fort at Whitley Castle in the third century. There were animal remains as well, which suggests that there may have formal sacrifices and feasts in the vicinity.

We know from the Vindolanda tablets that Sulpicius Pudens was the commanding officer of the Roman regiment stationed in Vindolanda during the third century C.E. It would have been fairly typical for Sulpicius Pudens to have had the altar created and dedicated to the deity in fulfillment of an oath. It would also appear that this is the same Pudens who dedicated a smaller altar on another wall of the fort.

The Romans enlisted soldiers from all over the empire and those men tended to bring their gods with them, and adapt the local deities as well. Jupiter Dolichenus was a deity that Romans in Anatolia adopted; there, he is associated with a hill outside the Turkish town of Dülük, (then known as Doliche). He began to be popular among Roman soldiers stationed nearby during the beginning of the second century C.E. From Duluk, the soldiers carried him all over the empire—leaving hundreds of inscriptions and altars dedicated to him. In Anatolia, Dolichenus was a deity associated with weather, known to the local Semitic speakers as Hadad, and to the Indo-European Hittites as Teshab. The sobriquet “Jupiter” was added by Roman worshipers who identified Dolichenus as an avatar of Jupiter.

You can find more here and here. There are several other altars, and stone building inscriptions at Vindolanda, but nothing as dramatic as this.

Celtic Wine

The drink of choice among the wealthy is wine brought from Italy or the region of Massalia. It is normally drunk unmixed with water, although sometimes water is added.

Athaneus (fl. c. C. E. 200) Deipnosophistae trans. Phillip Freeman. (John T. Koch and John Carey eds. The Celtic Heroic Age. Celtic Studies Publications:
Maldon, MA, 1995).

There are a number of similar references in Classical sources to the Celts’ fondness for wine. Most references emphasize that the wine was unwatered, and that drunkenness was common. Drunkenness is one of the most common slurs cast at any “barbarians, yet there does seem to be some corroborating evidence regarding Celtic fondness for wine. There are the many amphorae found pretty much everywhere the Celts were found, including Britain.

And now, thanks to Luca Sormani, from Como, and Fulvio Pescarolo, from Robbio near Milan, both part of Italy’s northern region, you can buy a replica clay wine flask containing 80 centilitres of Uinom Laevum made with ancient recipes from grapes grown on a farm using ancient Celtic agricultural methods, and ancient Celtic for 140-160 euros ($170-$195). You can read Reuters’ take on the story here.

The Celts in question are the Insubri, the Boii and the Senoni, who migrated to the northerm Italian area known as Liguria (as in the Continental Celtic langauge Ligurian) during Rome’s Tarquin era, around 500 B. C. E. The region is the same area where the real Lambrusco is made. The techniques used to make the wine are based on the “Arbustum Gallicum” described by Roman historian Columella, in De Re Rustica. The soil, deposited by river, is sandy, and swampy, creating very specific growing conditions. There’s a reasonable description of the horticultural methods, in particular the way the vines are deliberately kept low, and the use of wooden casks (a Celtic innovation) here, in Italian.

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National Gallery John Donne Portrait Appeal

Portrait of DonneThere aren’t that many portraits of John Donne, and one of the best, the one you see here, has been in various private collections and less than accessible. This portrait was painted in Donne’s twenties, around the 1590s, the period when Jonson said “Donne wrote wrote all his best poetry,” the era in which we think most of the love poetry was written. The portrait was almost certainly done with Donne’s supervision. It’s Donne done as a melancholy lover, complete with disheveled and pricey expensive lace collars undone, and a Latin epigram. Donne is wearing an exceedingly romantic black floppy hat, and there’s a certain earnest directness to his gaze that suggests the suffering lover. You can read about the portrait here, and you should because it’s interesting.

This is more than likely the portrait Donne described in his will and left to Robert Ker, later 1st Earl of Ancrum (1578–1654):

I give to my honourable and faithful friend Mr Robert Karr of his Majesties Bedchamber that Picture of myne wch is taken in Shaddowes and was made very many yeares before I was of this profession [i.e. a minister].

England’s National Portrait Gallery is trying to raise funds to buy the protrait for the Gallery’s collection. You can read about the appeal here, and donate, very easily even from North America. The National Portrait Gallery must raise £1,652,000 by the end of May.

While I’m on the topic of Donne, I want to point to this nifty .pdf chart you can download and print: John Donne on Maps and the Microcosm. There’s even intelligent commentary. It’s an effective and nicely done exploration of the two motifs, and quite useful in teaching. The broadsheet is a production of the University of Wisconsin’s The History of Cartography Project, which has a series of downloadable broadsheets on “Literary Selections on Cartography.”

Anglo-Saxon Painted Angel Gabriel

angelgabrielThe Guardian reported that builders, accompanied by guardian archaeologists, removed part of the floor in the nave of Lichfield Cathedral and discovered an exquisitely carved limestone angel. The angel was found in three pieces, and is missing part of his robe.

The discovery of this early ninth century sculpture is exciting, not only because it’s a lovely piece of sculpture, but because we don’t have much Anglo-Saxon era sculpture, and because this one retains a fair amount of the original paint, as you can see from the image to the right. There’s some speculation that the angel, identified as
Gabriel (I suspect because he seems to be carrying a staff, a mark of the messenger, one of Gabriel’s functions), is the left panel of an Annunciation scene, but no other sculptures have been found. I’m particularly delighted by this discovery because while I “knew” that medieval sculptures of this sort were usually painted, it’s quite lovely to actually be able to see the colors.

Update 2/27/2006: Even the Parthenon was painted, so why not an angel from the the tomb of St. Chad?

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