HEUNEBURG (Allemagne) : Celtic noble's tomb discovery


Celtic noble's tomb discovery is a 'milestone of archaeology'

Christopher Szabo.


Scientists have discovered a 2,600 year-old aristocratic burial, likely of a Celtic noblewoman, at the hill fort site of Heuneburg in southern Germany. The discovery has been described as a “milestone” in the study of Celtic culture.

The dig leader and chief of the Baden-Württemberg State archaeology, Dirk Krausse, referred to the discovery as a “milestone of archaeology".

One reason for the claim is likely the manner of excavation, which is new. In the past, such burial chambers have been dug up piece by piece locally, but now the team lifted the entire burial chamber, measuring four by five square metres (12 by 15 square feet) as one block of earth and placed it on a special truck to be transported to the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Stuttgart.

The first results are only expected around June 2011.

The reason for this unusual type of excavation is that scientists want to preserve every scrap of material without exposing it to open air, which can destroy materials like cloth once it has been exposed.

The tomb likely dates from the late Halstatt Period of Celtic culture (640-475 B.C.) and has already been found to contain gold and amber jewellery which will make a very exact dating possible.


The type of settlement at Hueneburg is called a Hill Fort or sometimes a Celtic “Oppidum” (Roman Latin for “town”.) According to Wikipedia, the settlement is a Hill Fort occupied from early Bronze Age times down to the late Celtic Iron Age. (The Celto-Ligurian culture and Urnfield Celts are generally known from around 1,300 B.C. and the site was apparently destroyed then re-occupied around 500 B.C., which is equivalent to the Celtic Late Halstatt period.) The site then declined in importance.

In its heyday, it traded with Greek colonies and Pre-roman City states such as those of the Etruscans. It is possible that the “father of history”, the Greek Herodotus, mentions Heuneburg as “Pyrene”, saying in a comparison with the Nile that “…the Danube, which has its source among the Celts near Pyrene and flows right through the middle of Europe to reach the Black Sea at the Milesian (Greek) colony of Istria,” according to my Penguin Classics version of Herodotus “The Histories”.

If Heuneburg was indeed “Pyrene”, then it was a key trading site between the Celts and the Classical World.

The Hill Fort has been excavated for decades and has produced numerous important finds relating to Celtic culture. A well-known Chieftain’s burial was found nearby, at Hochdorf.

It remains to be seen whether the current discover will rival the magnificence of the Hochdorf Chieftain’s grave site.

Shoe decorations from the Hochdorf Chieftain's grave, found in the same area as the Heuneburg.