Warrior Burials Found in Gaul

While excavating for a new business park near Troyes, graves were found. French archaeologists have id’d the graves as including warriors of Gaul, dating back 2300 years.

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This picture ran with both the news sources mentioned here–it’s credited to Francios Nascimbeni /AFP.

The date is a little before Death Speaker‘s time–so these warriors would have been remembered by Emyn and her friends as we remember the heroes of the American Revolution, roughly.

Thirty graves date to between 260 and 325 BC, and fourteen have already been excavated. Of those, five graves held warriors. The men buried had weapons and shields “in hand,” according to this report from The Local.  (You may read more about the discovery in French here, or–better yet–at this site by INRAP–the archaeological agency overseeing the dig.)

Although the English description is not clear or detailed, the French sites  say that the warriors were buried holding swords and spears; one had a woman next to him. Other graves seem to be layered or stacked, so there was some reason to bury people very close together. The graves had flooring and blankets which have rotted away.

There is a lot more information, but my French isn’t good enough to interpret it, even with the help of Google. This is a large site, though, and the warriors of Gaul are apparently  just the showiest discoveries. No children, no dishes or household goods, no food.

This YouTube video shows that several women were buried with torques,  fibula (pins), and bronze bracelets. In the video, you can see the placement of the pins–both at a shoulder, and right below the throat.

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Two warrior were buried with a shield. One is shown above, in a picture from the INRAP site which is credited to Denis Gliksman. The metal rims of the shields are all that remain. One shield stretched more than 4 ft. tall.

Detailed pictures of the graves and the entire area are at the INRAP site. Here’s a direct link to the photos. The captions are in French. And if you’d like to see a moving panorama of the site, here you go!

Troyes

The 230-hectare site is near Buchères, and the office park–still to be built–will be called Aube Logistical Park. The National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) are in charge.  They speculate that this graveyard was chosen not because it’s near any old towns or settlements, but because there are much older gravesites in the area, dating back to the Bronze Age (800 BC and more). I hope they have enough time to excavate and learn as much as they can.  

HuffPo reported this and says “The Gauls were a Celtic tribe that once occupied a region of the same name.” Hmph. That’s about as accurate as saying that American Indians were a North American tribe–iow, completely inaccurate. But since HuffPo doesn’t bother to pay writers, should anyone expect accuracy?

That’s a vent, sorry–HuffPo did provide lots of links to better stories. But for the record, the Gauls were any number of tribes, mostly Celtic, that occupied not just France, Switzerland, Belgium, and the the Netherlands, but also larger swaths of Europe at varying times throughout history.

No one seems to be speculating on what particular tribe lived in this area 2300 years ago. I suspect that’s because most of what we know of tribal names and territories comes from Caesar’s reporting, around 55 BC.

ADDED 4/15/13: Two identical news stories seem to be translations of the French article:  one at Arab News, the other at The Raw Story. Enjoy!

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Home of the Veneti

CIMG006456 B.C. was the third year in  Julius Caesar’s war of conquest against the many tribes of Gaul. The contestants that season were the residents of Brittany.

The most powerful tribe in the area (per Caesar), the Veneti, lived around the Morbihan Bay and controlled the tin and metals trade and all the shipping with Britain. They were a wealthy people.

And I read that Veneti is not a Gaulish word, although everyone accepts that this was a Celtic tribe. Possibly the Celts, hundreds of years before, had intermarried with another tribe in the area and kept the name.  That’s the idea behind Gorio and his people in my novel Death Speaker,  anyway.

Caesar stormed several of their towns on a trumped-up excuse, but the Veneti always escaped. They just loaded up everything onto their huge ships, and sailed to an island in the vast bay, or a peninsula that they could defend.

The picture above is of one of those islands, the Iles aux Moines.

The city of Vannes sits on the Morbihan Bay and I believe its name is an homage to the Veneti. But this is not where the Veneti lived. No one has ever found the site of their city, which Caesar called Venetia.

VenetiCoin1

That the Veneti had a pretty large town or oppidum (a fort) is certain. So much commerce would have to be warehoused and distributed. They struck coins, indicating a pretty stable currency. They had hundreds of large ships. We know about them from The Gallic Wars, written by Caesar. He was pretty proud of the way fortune delivered the Veneti fleet to him, and how his men responded.

He sent Brutus (yup, the et-tu Brutus) up the Loire River to build dozens of Roman ships. Brutus delivered: little Roman carvels that couldn’t even ram the larger Veneti ships. But, on the day of battle, as Caesar watched from shore (tradition puts him at St. Gildas) . . .

Our men had made ready in advance. . . sharpened hooks fixed into long poles, not unlike the kind of hooks used for pulling down walls in seiges. Using these hooks, our men seized the ropes binding the enemy yardarms to the masts and drew them tight: then our ship quickly rowed away, and the ropes broke.

The Veneti ships depended entirely on their leather sails for mobility; they didn’t have rowers. The Roman carvels disabled a few ships in this manner, but the Veneti caught on and kept their distance. Then a miracle happened:

. . . suddenly a dead calm fell, and they were unable to sail away.

No wind, no movement. One by one the great ships were surrounded and boarded. The Veneti fought hard but were slaughtered piecemeal.

All their warriors had been on those ships; there was no one left to defend the towns. Caesar executed their surviving rulers and sold all of the people into slavery.

RomanWall,MoatThe Romans built a city they called Darioritum, and the name Vannes came along in the 5th century. It’s got an interesting history and a Roman wall, so there’s been lots of excavations there–but nothing predating the Romans has ever been found in Vannes.

Hoards of Veneti coins have been found buried all along roads and near the coast over the past two thousand years. Once Caesar destroyed the Veneti fleet, merchants and tradesmen fled with all their wealth, hoping to escape. The one place that these coins have NOT been found is Vannes.

Because of all this, it’s clear that the city of Vannes is proven to be the one place not populated by the Veneti. Maybe the oppidum will be found one day, maybe not.

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French Oppida Article

“When I began to visit these Iron Age ghost towns in 2008, I assumed the French were proud of their Gaulish ancestors. Amused disdain verging on total indifference would be closer to the mark.”
That’s a quote from Graham Robb, author and historian, in this Guardian article about touring ancient sites in Gaul . . . um, France.

DRyan-Oppidum

I’m sorry to hear that–the disdain verging on total indifference part. My experience was different, but I was with a tour group that had specifically signed up to see historical sites in Brittany, and we had terrific, enthusiastic guides and lecturers to answer our many questions. In fact, tour guides in France are trained and licensed in particular areas, so you get a lot of bang for your buck/franc/Euro.

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These first two pictures are of an oppidum (the plural is oppida)  near Huelgoat Forest called Camp D’Artus. (King Arthur and Merlin, in some legends, romped through this area.)

The next two photos are of Le Yaudet, another oppidum in the Cote D’Armor, with rivers on two sides emptying into the sea. Barry Cunliffe–whose photo-laden book The Ancient Celts is pretty well known–worked in the excavation of this site.

You can see from the photos that there really aren’t a lot of distinguishing features left. The last picture shows the excavation into the oppidum’s walls, now buried. The Celts chose areas that are now desolate for their sites, while the Romans put up cities that are–in large part–still occupied and connected to modern roads.

Graham Robb has written several books on French history, but none going back to the days of Gaul. His Victor Hugo: A Biography won several awards, as did The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography. That last book covers France from the time of the Revolution through today, so it is not one I ever used as research for my novel, Death Speaker.

LeYaudet3 But his article in The Guardian  is focused on sites where the ancient Celts lived over 2000 years ago–namely, their oppida, or hill forts. These were small (by our standards) towns and capitals that each tribe maintained, with shops and homes and trading centers. Usually they sat on hills that gave a view of the surrounding countryside, and usually they were well-fortified and defensible–but not always. War and attacks were not always concerns back in the days of the Celtic tribes; some periods were downright peaceful.

OppidumWalls

Robb mentions the oppidum Bibracte (also mentioned but not visited in Death Speaker)  and is puzzled by present-day Gaulish disdain. “Before Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, bringing slavery, genocide and underfloor heating, Celtic Gaul was one of the most highly developed parts of Europe, with long-distance roads and high-speed chariots.”

Ensérune is another oppidum Robb visits, and he lists some of the decidedly un-barbarian items in the local museum: “a hand-held sundial, counters used in a game, a child’s puppet, and a dish with a small ceramic frog grinning up from the base.”

I like the way he finishes his piece: “There is no cafe at Ensérune. Take your own (undiluted) wine, gaze at the murus gallicus and the beautiful view, and imagine how much more civilised and cheerful ancient Gaul might have been without the Romans.”

Indeed. Has anyone written a alt-history book in which the Romans don’t take over most of Europe? If such a book exists, I’d love to read it.

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Musings on History and Historical Fiction

Is history a cold collection of facts that only a historian could love–until a novelist or screenwriter comes along and picks up those facts, uses them for kindling,  and gets a good blaze going so that everyone else is drawn close?

I came across two pieces this week–one an interview with  Michael Hirst in Mediabistro, and the other blog post by Sheila Bali on the relationship between historical fiction and history

Both shed a light on how history comes to us and what we can do with it.

Michael Hirst first, and if you can’t get to the interview . . . sorry. Mediabistro is sometimes a bit unwelcoming, but I can’t do anything about that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter years in British academia, Hirst left and wrote the screenplay to Elizabeth (the film starring Cate Blanchett as the Virgin Queen). He is both writer and executive producer of the series The Tudors and the new series Vikings for the History Channel

He finds historical characters are interesting because they’re human beings. Passion and knowledge are important–very important–but ” it’s ultimately not the procedure that makes the show work — it’s the people. The more real they are, the better.”

Hirst read everything he could on the Vikings for his new project, which of course was necessary, but the best  anecdote he found was the very personal reaction of an Arab trader who encountered the Vikings and wrote about how they combed their hair, and how they shared one big bowl. Literally, shared the water in this big bowl: “they spit into it, they clear their throat into it.” That eye-witnessed event made it into Episode 2 of Vikings.

“There is great value . . . in all these little footnotes and anecdotes, little things, human details that often don’t interest historians but interest me.”

Sheila Bali is writing a book, Shattered Tears for My Homeland, about her family’s escape from Hungary during the 1956 revolution. In books, she loves the people, the characters too: “They tell us their story, and in this way they tell us about history.”

“If you gathered all the historians in the world and put them together in a hall, they would disagree on almost everything. History is generally scripted by the victors. Where go the spoils, so goes history.”

Agree 100%!  That’s why Death Speaker,  my novel of ancient Gaul during Caesar’s invasion, is written from the POV of the Gauls, not the Romans. (OK, I had to get a plug in there someplace, but it’s absolutely true. After a couple thousand years of history told from the winners’ perspective, let’s face it–we love hearing the alternate story. Or the subaltern story, if you like that sort of language.)

Bali says, “History scholars excavate facts from the past. They unearth precise dates, capture victories and losses in battles and wars, cite lives lost, redraw maps. They name rulers, despots, tyrants, heroes. . .

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“But . . .  the historical novelist might illuminate a broader truth, a universal truth, as it was lived at a certain time in the past. The novelist writes the bigger scene, the scene of ordinary people, how they survived with everything stacked against them, and in that way the novelist takes the reader to the doorstep of history.”

I love her point. And I’ll add a little more.

I saw Professor Richard White of Stanford, one of the big names in the history of the Western US, being interviewed a dozen years ago. He described talking to an elderly relative about her life and some of the things she’d seen. Being a brilliant scholar, he realized that some of her memories couldn’t possibly be accurate–that events hadn’t happened when she said, or how she said. And it gave him pause.

History3

He posed the question–sorry, I can’t quote it exactly because it was on BookTV, not in print–Who am I to tell this woman whether her memories are right or wrong? 

So when you get right down to it, yes, the facts are important. They frame the story, and the story wouldn’t exist outside of those facts.

But perception and memory vary with each of us. I think that gives a novelist incredible freedom to pull and play with events, to dig in and find the deeper meaning of our stories.

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Celtic Beer Brewery

A 2500-year-old beer brewery has been discovered in Germany, in an ancient Celtic site near Stuttgart. That would be over four centuries before the time of Death Speaker.

And yes, it has to be said: I’ll drink to that!

433px-Hordeum-barleyThe place is Eberdingen-Hochdorf,  and the discoverer is archaeobotanist Dr. Hans-Peter Stika. What he’s found, according to this 2011 article from Phys.org, a Wired.com piece,  and a 1996 journal article here, are six ditches with thousands of charred hulled barley grains. This, Dr. Stika says, are the logical remnants of making barley malt for beer. High quality barley malt!

Stika knows that because he’s reconstructed the way this Celtic beer would have been made, and experimented to determine how it would have tasted. Not like any beer we buy today.

The barley grains would have soaked in the ditches until they sprouted, and then fires were lit at both ends of each ditch to dry the grains slowly, producing a dark, smoky malt.  Fermentation could have come from adding fruit or honey, which would have contained wild yeast.

Henbane1Sitka also found seeds of stinking nightshade—henbane, which—if added—would’ve added quite a kick, and not to the taste. One thing not in the beer—or in any beer brewed before 800 AD—is hops.

So the result would be a slightly sour, yeasty, dark and cloudy brewski, probably consumed at room temperature. Whatever room temperatures was in a big long house in 500 BC.

Why was anyone poking around that place, anyway, you may wonder.  Well, the main archaeological find in the area—and probably the reason that Dr. Stika was there—is a Celtic chieftain’s barrow-style grave found nearby.

723px-Hochdorf_golden_shoes_ornamentsIf you’ve ever looked through a one of those full color coffee table book on Celts, you’ve probably seen pictures of some of the finds of the Hochdorf chieftain’s grave. It was found in the 1970s.

The man buried there  was presumed to be a chief because he was laid out with gold jewelry—a torque and armbands—as well as a dagger covered in gold foil. His shoes were decorated with embossed gold plates, though the leather had disintegrated. He reclined on a etched bronze couch  and was surrounded by rich grave goods, including drinking horns and bronze dishes, enough for a party of nine.

I wonder what all that implied. Nine? Not eight or six, but nine. Three threes.

If you want to learn more about the Hochdorf chieftain’s grave, About.com has a good overview.

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Death Speaker Free on Kindle for 2 Days

To celebrate the Celtic festival of Imbolc, since I don’t have any lambs, I will instead offer free downloads of Death Speaker for your Kindle (or other devices if you have a Kindle app):

January 31, 2013

February 1, 2013

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A Sick-to-my-stomach Apology

To say that I blew it sounds lighthearted. Without thinking, I did something a couple of days ago that has been thrown back at me. The thing I did was unethical and public, and I am very, very sorry.

What did I do? I posted a review of my own book. This (I did not realize it at the time) is against Amazon’s policy, and also deceptive, wrong, and dishonest.

Why did I do it? Not to be deceptive, wrong, or dishonest. I did it because a writing group–one of many that I check in with regularly in my attempts to learn about marketing my book–suggested that authors should certainly post their own reviews. And that we should go around and “like” each others’ reviews, deem them helpful, etc.

No alarms or red flags went off. Why not? I don’t know.

So I posted a review of Death Speaker, gave it 5 stars–and have now been chastised by a reviewer who lowered her ratings and reamed me on Amazon, and (I presume) other sites as well.

I doubt that anyone read my review, other than the reviewer. I’m guessing that more people will read her review.  And this is not anything I ever dreamed of happening.

Those of you who know me know (I hope) that I am not an unethical person. I made a mistake in judgment that I will never repeat, and I am truly sorry for my lapse.

Still to be determined: How did I not see this? To say I was tired, overwhelmed, blah, blah, blah is not helpful. Our moral core is something inside that doesn’t get tired. When I see something wrong, I know it is wrong.

But I didn’t see this; I posted the review and didn’t think about it again. Maybe the lesson (for me, anyway) is not to take anything for granted. Don’t assume that because I’m a good person I will not ever do anything shady, or that all I choose to do is above reproach.

Shame on me, and I hope I will never blindside myself like this again.

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The Next Big Thing

DebsBkI’ve been tagged in the Next Big Thing by fellow author Debra Ann Pawlak. Deb is the author of Bringing Up Oscar: The Men and Women Who Founded the Academy, which was named runner up in 2011’s Hollywood Book Festival, nonfiction category, AND was the winner in the History: Media/Entertainment category of the 2011 USA Book News competition.

Read Deb’s Next Big Thing post here:  DebraAnnPawlak.com

My Next Big Thing is my historical novel, Death Speaker.

Why is it a Next Big Thing? Well, for one reason Death Speaker was just added to the Amazon Kindle Select program. That means, if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, you can borrow it.

cover-blog sizeWhere did the idea come from for Death Speaker?

From a fascination for two things: the ancient Celts, and Brittany, a wild and beautiful area of France which has always been a little different—the Bretons speak their own languages and have a very unique history.

Brittany is where my heroine, Emyn, ends up. In fact, I open the book with the first scene I imagined: a nearly-broken woman walking along a beach while the tide washes up debris from a great battle.

What genre does Death Speaker fall under?

It’s Historical Fiction, with elements of romance, the supernatural, and magical realism.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

If we casted them three years ago, I’d say Amanda Seyfried and Gaspard Ulliel. But my characters are very young, so I’d rather go looking for unknown actors in their early 20s.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Emyn, a Celtic peasant,  holds on to love and hope in spite of the ghosts she hears–ghosts who warn against destruction, invasion, and the end of time for her people.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published. I’m an Indie author.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Also, Morgan Llewellyn’s books. All are about an ancient people who lived by different rules, but who were full of faith and wild imagination.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Can I be inspired retroactively? I just discovered a quote from Isabel Allende: “Write what should not be forgotten.”

That sums it up beautifully. Civilizations can be lost. The memory of an entire people and everything they believed in can be lost. If we forget that they existed, we cheat ourselves of what we could learn from them. We’re not indestructible ourselves–I think it’s so important that we remember that.

We don’t know for sure what the ancient Celts believed or exactly how they lived; we can only guess. But what if they had not be conquered by Rome? What if Europe evolved from a Celtic system rather than a Roman one? How different would we be?

I don’t rewrite history in Death Speaker, but I do try to show how rich the Celtic culture was.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Emyn lives in a world where the dead speak and the gods intervene. Death Speaker is full of passion and heartache, tragedy, danger and kidnappings. For all its other-worldliness, though, Death Speaker tells a story we can all understand—how we fight to hold on to what we love and believe in.

And you can take the book for a test drive! Just go to DeathSpeaker.com and click on Free Preview–the first five chapters are there for you.

Here are five authors I’ve tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing:

Vic Warren, who writes thrilling mysteries like Stairway of the Gods and Hong Kong Blues: http://www.vicwarren.com/finding-adventure

Marvin Wolf, author of the Rabbi Ben mysteries and books on Los Angeles crime and mystery:  http://rabbibenmysteries.blogspot.com/

Beth Whittenbury, author of Investigating the Workplace Harassment Complaint, and a forthcoming novel: http://bethwhittenbury.wordpress.com/

Libby Grandy, author of Desert Soliloquy and the upcoming Promises to Keep (spring 2013): http://www.libbygrandy.com/blog/

Laura L. Hoopes, whose biography Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling tells of her struggle as a DNA scientist in what was once a man’s world:  http://www.lauralmayshoopes.com/blogs-2/literary-blog/

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Spinning Thread

You’ve heard the Carl Sagan quote: “In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

Well. In the days before the Renaissance, say, 1400 A.D. and previous, in order to have a warm, soft dress to wear, you must first domesticate sheep.

Then shear them, clean and prepare the wool, and spin it into thread. Then gather a lot of thread together, fasten some of it to a loom, and weave the rest crosswise through it, until you had a length of cloth. Then and only then, could you think about fitting that cloth onto your body for warmth and modesty and decoration.

The first picture above shows a Greek woman spinning thread, and it sits outside a display showing a dozen weights that fit onto the spindle. Those weights held the spindle down. (The spinning wheel didn’t come along until the 14th century or so.) The long wooden stick with fuzzy wool is called a distaff. A woman tucked the distaff into her belt or someplace handy, and plucked clumps of fiber from it, twisting them in her fingers to make thread.

spinningThis second picture is from a brochure for cruises in Russia. The young lady is probably paid to re-enact spinning for the toursits. Her technique isn’t all that different from the Greek lady.

When something works, you stick with it.

In Death Speaker, Emyn learns to spin and it relaxes her. Spinning keeps her focused on what is real, rather than the wild things the ghosts tell her. I actually had a bit more about spinning in the book, but edited it out–still, it’s always there, in the background.

For thousands of years, women spun thread All Day Long. Every day. They spun thread while they watched the babies, talked with their friends, walked around, looked for food. They stopped spinning long enough to stir the stew or skin the rabbit for dinner, and maybe they stopped while they slept (but they still dreamt about spinning, I bet).

It must have been as natural as breathing, for thousands of years. If you didn’t spin, you had no clothes. Simple as that.

This picture  is from the Renaissance Faire near Irwindale, CA. The lady–she seems too demure to be called a wench–is holding a spindle in her right hand.

In the first picture, she’s wrapping the spun thread around it. She’ll give it a flick and let it go (next picture, below), like you would a toy top. As it spins, it pulls on the new thread that the woman twists. The weight keeps the spindle from swinging erratically, and when the spindle touches the ground–when a few feet of thread is created, iow–the new thread gets wrapped around the spindle and then the spindle is flicked again.

Fingers get very clever, and the process goes quickly–especially if you have to do it day and night. Just keep grabbing and twisting those fibers together into thread, and the spindle with its weight will keep twirling and stretching the thread out just so.

Here you can also see the distaff tucked in her belt–or maybe pocket. This stick holds the prepared wool. In the 21st century renaissance, the wool is all even, sparkly white, and lovely. In Ye Real Olde Days, the clumps of wool were not so nice looking.

This is what women did in Gaul and in almost all European lands. Spindle weights are found all over Europe, as are weaving looms or the remnants of looms. And where there’s looms, there’s got to be thread, which implies spinning. Some of the looms are over 5,000 years old. The stone weights are a little harder to date, I think, because stones can only be dated in context with other goods found near them–they’re not organic, so no radio-carbon dating.

If you’re writing about a woman in Gaul, or in any pre-Renaissance setting, she probably spent her day spinning. Even the wealthy.

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Iron Age Helmet Found in Britain

Using a metal detector, someone turned up an Iron Age helmet on a farm in Canterbury, Kent, where the Cantiaci tribe once lived. The bronze helmet dates to around 55 BC, and experts speculate that it was made on the continent and brought to Britain.

IronAgeHelmet2Wow! What does the helmet look like? If you’re like me, the only Celtic or Gaulish Iron Age helmets you’ve seen are probably the ceremonial ones that were never worn in battle. Beautiful works of art in the shape of a helmet, in other words, made to be offered directly to the gods. Like the one at right, which is on display in the British Museum.  It was found in the River Thames.

(The picture was on a blog, but I suspect it’s from the Museum itself. I found a much nicer photo Flicker–here’s the link.)

But that’s for fancy. Warriors would no more wear that into battle then today’s soldiers would wear a tuxedo. (I think.) (Seriously, how would I know?) So here’s the real deal, a photo found in the Daily Mail and other sites: Iron-AgeHelmet

If you go to this BBC story, a short video shows the helmet being lifted and turned, so you can see the underside as well.

The brooch was found near the helmet, along with a burnt bone fragment.  So the speculation is that the brooch fastened a bag of cremated bones and remains, deliberately buried in the helmet.  According to experts, putting such remains in a bag fastened with a brooch was not unusual then–but the only other instance of putting the bag in a helmet was found in Belgium.

Helmets of that period are rare finds, so  laser-scanning is being done to pull every possible detail out of the helmet.

The finder wants to remain anonymous, but he’s apparently someone knowledgeable  though an amateur. In fact, after carefully removing the helmet from the ground, he put a bag of lead fishing weights in the hold so no one could lose the site!

There’s lots of details about the finding and reporting here, at Heritage Daily. Exactly how the site was excavated, and how the helmet was buried, is described in detail. The dent is the helmet–in the lower left of the picture–was probably caused by a plough.

Thank goodness for metal “detectorists” as the media likes to call them. The stuff they’ve found just in the last year is amazing–Viking gold, a boar emblem and the possible grave of Richard III, and now this.

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