The ancient Celts were a unique and fierce people, and evidence of their extreme brutality has been revealed after the recent discovery in France of heads that were severed and embalmed 2,000 years ago and used to display the might of Celtic warriors after they had conquered their enemies.
As Live Science report, both Greek and Roman authors wrote about Celtic warfare when they described how Celts would chop off the heads of their enemies after they had successfully won their battles, tying them onto horses as souvenirs as they proudly marched back to their homes with the heads of their enemies in tow and on display for all to see.
It was also previously suggested that Celts practiced the art of embalming so they could preserve these heads and keep them chained up as ornaments that adorned their homes outside, using them “as trophies to increase their status and power, and to frighten their enemies,” as archaeologist Rejane Roure, one of the authors of the new study, noted.
Fresh new evidence suggests that these stories may have been more than just mere myths, designed to frighten the enemies of Celts, after archaeologists studied the remains of skulls that were unearthed at Le Cailar in southern France, an ancient Celtic site and Iron Age settlement that was first found in 2000.
Archaeologists have spent 10 years studying 50 skulls which were found shattered into an astonishing 2,500 pieces to discover whether there is any truth to the stories of the treachery of the Celts. Besides the remains of these skulls, weapons were also discovered, and the location where all of these were found is believed to be very close to the entrance gates of the Iron Age settlement, which certainly suggests that the heads were hung up and displayed as trophies exactly as ancient writers have described.
This French site would have been occupied by Celts starting from the 6th century BC and lasting until sometime after the 1st century AD, after which Romans finally managed to conquer Gaul. The severed and embalmed skulls were determined to date back to the 3rd century BC, which was a time that was particularly dangerous and violent, as fights raged across most of Western Europe.
After a close study of 11 of the skulls that were found at the settlement, archaeologists discovered traces of embalming on six of these after conifer resin was detected. While there has certainly been plenty of written evidence of the practice of embalming by Celts, this is the first time that a scientific study has concluded through chemical analysis that the Celts practiced this art during the Iron Age.
Archaeologists are keen to now learn whether this embalming practice was simply a short-lived effort or whether it was something that was relatively common among Celts during this time. As Roure stated, “There are many other severed heads in Iron Age Europe, and it would be very interesting to know if they were all embalmed.”
The new study which has determined that Celts embalmed the severed heads of their enemies has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.