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22 April 2013
Iron Age graveyard discovered in France

In a muddy field between a motorway and a meander of the river 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 find raises several questions, for there has never been any trace of major Celtic settlement in this neighbourhood. The site is yielding a stunning array of finds, including five Celtic warriors, whose weapons and adornments attest to membership of a powerful elite.
     At one of 14 burial sites uncovered in recent weeks are the remains of a tall warrior, complete with a 70-centimetre iron sword still in its scabbard. "I have never seen anything like it," said archaeologist Emilie Millet, gazing at a metal-framed shield whose wood-and-leather core has long rotted away.
     Buried next to the warriors are several high status women, with twisted-metal necklaces known as torcs, and large bronze brooches decorated with precious coral. In one grave, a woman was buried next to a man, separated by a layer of soil.
     The jewellery suggests that the dead were buried between 325 and 260 BCE, in a period known as La Tene. Another clue may come from analysis of the scabbards, which in this period typically had two open-mouthed dragons facing each other, with their bodies curled.
     La Tene, whose name comes from an archaeological site in Switzerland, ran from about the 5th century BCE to the 1st century CE. During this time, the Celts expanded from their core territory in central Europe as far as northern Scotland, and the Atlantic coast of Spain. They had a complex civilisation, a mastery of metal, and a trading system which spanned Europe and generated great wealth.
     Just as intriguing, the excavation has yet to find any pottery or evidence of food, which were often added to Iron Age burials to sustain the dead in the spirit world.
     No remains of children have been found, although this absence is common to Celtic necropolises - something that anthropologists are at a loss to explain.

Edited from AFP (15 April 2013)

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