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9 February 2017
Unique Iron Age burial excavated in Germany

An undisturbed Iron Age tomb containing gold, bronze, and amber was recently uncovered by the Danube River in southern Germany, just north of the Alps. The treasure adorned and surrounded the skeleton of a woman who likely died between the ages of 30 and 40, and suggest she was an elite member of the Celtic society at a hill fort called Heuneburg in 583 BCE. Hers is the first richly-furnished central grave from that period which had not been looted in antiquity. Multiple graves around the woman's burial chamber had been looted.
     A Celtic city-state likely founded in the sixth century BCE, the hill fort has been known for centuries. The. It is thought that the Greek philosopher Herodotus, who lived from around 484 to 425 BCE, mentioned it in writings about the history of the river.
     Modern excavations of the site began in 1950. In 2005, archaeologist Siegfried Kurz found a golden brooch in a plowed field, leading to a small-scale excavation of a grave containing a young child, next to a larger grave with a chamber made of timber. Concerned that agricultural activity would harm the larger grave, researchers excavated the entire 80 tonne section in 2010.
     The large grave held myriad treasures: intricate jewellery made of amber, gold and bronze; heaps of furs and textiles; an ornament made out of boars' tusks and bronze bells that would have adorned a horse's chest; carved boxwood objects; bracelets carved from black stone; and a belt made of bronze and leather. The remains of a second individual, likely also a woman, was found on the opposite side of the chamber, with just a few pieces of bronze jewellery. At her feet was a 40 centimetre long bronze sheet decorated with circles, which may have been a covering for a horse's forehead. If so, it's the first one found in Heuneburg and only the second known from this period north of the Alps.
     The floor of the chamber was lined with planks of oak and silver fir from trees felled in the fall of 583 BCE, placing the grave with the Hallstatt culture. Routine flood waters from the Danube preserved the timbers and most of the grave's organic contents.
     The elite woman's jewellery is similar to that worn by a young girl whose remains were discovered just 2 metres away in 2005, suggesting that she and the woman were buried during the same time period. The style of the elite woman's grave goods matches that seen in cultures south of the Alps, including Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Sicily. Other excavations suggest the gold filigree was made at Heuneburg, showing that artisans there were influenced by styles in cultures south of the Alps.

Edited from LiveScience (26 January 2017), ScienceNews (2 February 2017)

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