Celtic Fortresses: the Hallstatt culture, c.800-450 BC

Aug 2018
A thread about settlements, tombs, and related things from the celtic Hallstatt culture. I have collected quite a few pictures on the subject which I'll post here as a resource for anyone who's interested. Please post anything related to the topic.

First of all, a brief introduction:

"During the eighth century BC, new elements in material culture began to manifest themselves in central Europe. New metal types associated with horse-gear and riding are indicative of the presence of warrior-horsemen, who might be regarded as the antecedents of the Celtic ‘equites’, the horse-owning knights alluded to by Caesar in his Gallic War. These early iron age cavalrymen used long slashing swords, sometimes made of bronze, sometimes of iron. This new material culture has been called ‘Hallstatt’, after the so-called type-site, a great cemetery at Hallstatt in Austria, which housed the bodies of local people involved in salt-mining, trading and the control of the Salzkammergut’ (salt-route) of the region around modern Hallein. this cemetery was first used during the later Bronze Age, but also produced large quantities of rich metalwork belonging to the earliest Iron Age. The same distinctive artefact-types found at Hallstatt have been recognised over wide areas of Euopre. The bronze age material from the site has been designated Ha A and B and that of the Early Iron Age, Ha C and D. It is the material culture of the later Hallstatt, Iron Age, phases which is often considered to be the earliest evidence of the European Celts. This Hallstatt tradition is distinctive in the archaeological record for its wealth and its clear evidence for close trading links with the classical world. The upper echelons of society in the seventh and sixth centuries BC are represented by rich inhumation burials, like those of Hohmichele and Hochdorf in Germany and Vix in Burgundy, the dead often being interred in wooden mortuary houses, accompanied by four-wheeled wagons, weapons and luxury goods, including jewellery and feasting equipment, some of which came from the Mediterranean world.Little is known of the smaller settlements inhabited by these early iron age communities, but large fortified centres, like the Heuneburg near the Hohmichele grave and Mont Lassois near Vix, are presumed to have been the dwelling-places, and perhaps the power bases, of the high-ranking individuals buried nearby."

(Green, M. ’The Celtic World’. Routledge, 1995. p.5-7.)

A map of Hallstatt culture settlements:

Aug 2018
The Heuneburg

The Heuneburg is considered to be one of the most important early Celtic centres in Central Europe. Apart from the fortified citadel, there are extensive remains of settlements and burial areas spanning several centuries.

The first settlement on the site dates to the Middle Bronze Age (15th to 12th century BC). At this time, the main plateau was fortified with a massive ditch-and-bank enclosure, including a wooden wall. The settlement was abandoned at the beginning of the Urnfield period.*

The citadel was reoccupied and refortified around 700 BC; adjacent areas were occupied at the same time, including Alte Burg and Grosse Heuneburg. The Heuneburg complex developed briskly, and by 600 BC, it was one of the key centres of power and trade in Celtic/Halstatt Southern Germany.

The main 2-hectare plateau on the mountain spur, 40m above the Danube and naturally defensible, was the centre of high-status occupation and of fortification in Celtic period. From circa 700 BC onwards, it was the centre of a large settlement.[7]

The citadel contained a regular system of streets and houses. It appears that the settlement underwent a major reorganisation after 600 BC, after which the dwellings were much more densely and regularly spaced than before.[12] At all times, the Heuneburg houses are of remarkably large size and elaboration compared to contemporary settlements. The uniform buildings probably served as dwellings and workshops. There is evidence for an active metal industry, including a bronze workshop in the southeast corner of the citadel.[13] After the 530 BC destruction of the mudbrick wall, the internal arrangements underwent some changes. The workshops were moved to the north. A very large house (14 by 30 m) was built in the southeast corner. This is sometimes interpreted as a Herrenhaus, i.e. the dwelling of a local ruler.[13]

The Heuneburg yielded many finds marking it as a rich site, operating both as a local centre of production and as a hub for long-distance trade. These included a full bronze workshop, a high proportion of Greek vases (in fact, the fragments make up about a dozen Greek pots, indicating a larger amount than contemporary sites but also a very limited elite access to such material), and other imported raw materials like tin and amber.

Recent work in and around the Heuneburg has produced groundbreaking information regarding the full extent of the settlement. It now appears that the citadel was only a small, if focal, part of the overall complex at most times.

The Aussensiedlung (German: exterior settlement) was located downslope, immediately to the west and northwest of the citadel. It was probably occupied from the 7th century (Hallstatt period) to the 5th century BC. It appears to have existed as a separate fortified settlement. The Aussensiedlung covered up to 100 hectares, many times the area of the citadel proper. It appears to have consisted of separate fenced or palisaded lots, each containing a main dwelling, storage areas and much terrain for fields. It is suggested that each of the lots functioned as a separate farmstead, supporting an extended family. A population of 5,000 to 10,000 individuals is estimated just for the Aussensiedlung. It should be noted that the area enclosed could never have sufficed to produce the amounts of food necessary to feed such a population.

The Südsiedlung ("south settlement") further south appears to have been similar to the Aussensiedlung in character and chronology and may indeed have been contiguous with it.

Vorwerke (lower fortifications): The huge fortifications recognised in the 19th century, but then misinterpreted as medieval, are also part of the Celtic complex. They have been partially obliterated by erosion and ploughing. A triple system of several hundred metres of banks and ditches enclosed and subdivided the lower terrain just west of the Heuneburg proper.

Recent excavations have revealed a monumental gate in the westernmost wall [of the Heuneburg]. Measuring 8 by 12 m, it was a massive construction. Its walls had a core of limestone set in a fine clay mortar, and were faced on each side with fine limestone ashlar masonry.

Several burial areas surround the Heuneburg. They consist of clusters of earthen tumuli or burial mounds. More than 50 such monuments are known in the area.

The Hohmichele Mound: With a diameter of 85m and a height of over 13 m, the Hohmichele is one of the largest Celtic tumuli in Europe. Excavation has mainly concentrated on its central and eastern portions. The mound was used from the late 7th to the late 6th century BC. 13 burials were located within the mound, several of them accompanied by grave offerings. The mound was restored to its original dimensions in 1960.*

There can be no doubt that the Heuneburg and its associated monuments are one of the most important centres of the early Celtic Iron Age in Central Europe. It is also clear that the site should be seen in a context with other prominent centres of its time, the so-called Fürstensitze (German: "princely seats")."


Video: Digital reconstructions of the Heuneburg:


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Aug 2018
The Grosse Heuneburg

Near to the Heuneburg is the remains of another large fortified settlement, known as the Grosse Heuneburg (Large Heuneburg), which is currently being excavated.

The following is translated from a report on the excavations published in the Reutlinger General-Anzeiger newspaper (2016):

"archaeologists have found in excavations in the five-hectare Grosse Heuneburg south of Upflamör the remains of a huge stone wall. The mound of the Great Heuneburg near Upflamör turned out to be the stump of an imposing, approximately 3.6-meter-wide outer wall, which must have been several meters high. This recent discovery of a monumental building in the vicinity of the well-known Heuneburg near Herbertingen-Hundersingen led to the conclusion that the structure must have been part of a huge settlement system in the early Celtic period says Professor Dirk Krausse of the Stuttgart regional council.

He is head of a long-term project team funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), which carries out excavations in the vicinity of the early Celtic princely seat, the ancient city of »Pyrene«. The scientists were able to prove that in the 6th century BC there was a center comparable to a Greek city state (Polis), such as Athens: the northernmost city of antiquity and thus also the oldest written place of today's Germany, in the area inhabited by several thousand people.

On the neighboring Alte Burg near Langenenslingen, which was laid out in a visual axis, the archaeologists came across a completely artificial mountain spur in the previous year. The obviously planed cult place served as assembly or play place. A 13 meter wide and four, once even ten meters high wall impressed not only the excavation team. The bright, limestone-white monumental building may have already shown visitors the way in far Upper Swabia.

After almost 100 years of research interruption, the archaeologists managed to expose part of the impressive fortification wall of the Grosse Heuneburg and the remains of a large building.

The today densely wooded site is divided into dike-like ramparts surrounding more than five acres of the main castle, and an annex of 1.5 hectares attached to the north side, a kind of hill. The findings of the first excavations of 1921 had not been pursued.

Since May until the winter break, under the direction of dr. Leif Hansen and dr. Roberto Tarpon researchers excavated the fortifications in the northwest of the main castle and in the northern annex. From the approximately one kilometer long rampart they selected a four meter wide section. The semicircular wall turned out in the core as a double-shelled drywall of limestone. "We came across an impressive 3.6-meter-wide wall that was up to 1.6 meters high," says Hansen. "The characteristic curvature of the Wall comes in turn from the collapse of the upper layers of the wall on both sides; The walling once must have been much higher and also visible from afar through the bright limestone.

Tarpini and his people believe that they have located the spilled access gate of the facility not far from the test section in a depression. Accordingly, a path led from the slope up into the main site. In the interior, settlement layers were cut. They contained numerous early Celtic finds, including ceramics from workshops of the neighboring Heuneburg.

There were also pieces from the Bronze Age. A proof that the castle was already inhabited hundreds of years before the Celts. There are traces of different construction phases on the site. In the east of the annex, a mound with stone front was uncovered. "There are still many questions left."

As early as 2015, large-scale geomagnetic prospections were carried out on the Grosse Heuneburg. This showed a 16 by 9 meter large house plan in the north of the main castle. Now, six mighty, up to 0.75 meter deep pillar pits in the southwestern area of ​​this unusually large building could be exposed. The hitherto recovered find material from the post pits and the immediate environment also dates back to the 7th and 6th century BC.

"The Grosse Heuneburg very probably formed with the Heuneburg and the Alte Burg as well as numerous unpaved farmsteads, hamlets and villages in the surrounding area a complex system of fortifications and settlements," says Krausse.

The "holy mountain" of Upper Swabia was evidently also part of the Celtic center. "But we still have to do our homework," Krausse says promisingly, and he is already looking at perhaps the next sensation: "We suspect that the large Althayingen fort also somehow belongs to the chain of this system and was perhaps connected by roads."

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Aug 2018
Alte Burg

Alte Burg is a large Celtic hilltop fortification, or hillfort, that may have been used as a cult or assembly site for the regional population. It is located 9 kilometers from the Heuneburg.

Digital reconstruction/ interpretation:

The Alte Burg lies on a long spur of the hill Burgberg, at an elevation of around 695 m above NN, at the southern edge of the Swabian Jura. It is located almost 3 kilometers north west of Langenenslingen. The Heuneburg, a major settlement of the Hallstatt period overlooking the Danube, is about 9 kilometers to the south east. Another hillfort, Große Heuneburg, lies to the north east.

The tongue-shaped plateau of around 2 hectares is closed off towards the north east by two exterior ramparts, a deep moat and a large main rampart. Even today, the top of the main rampart is up to 12 meters above the bottom of the moat. Towards the valley the plateau is flanked by two terraces, 15 (north west) and 20 meters (south east) below the top. At the bottom of the slope another rampart and moat surround the hill. The entry to the fort was likely to the north east.[2]

The plateau had been increased in size by the construction of dry stone walls that were then filled with rubble (stone and clay). Small stone walls on top of the plateau were built, with one cutting across the plateau in the centre, thus dividing the level area in two halves.[2]

The main wall to the northeast was 13 meters thick and at least 10 meters high. It consisted of an external and internal dry stone wall with rubble filling in between. This wall was linked to another of around 40 meters length and around 5.8 meters thickness that radiated away towards the north east. It is likely that there was a gate at that point controlling access to the plateau.[2]

The main wall has been dated to the 7th to 5th century BC. It is the largest known construction of this type from the period in question north of the Alps.[3]

The outer rampart (of rubble and clay) was up to 2 meters high and around 18 meters thick and had no moat. The middle rampart, located on the exterior side of the moat, was at least 1.8 meters high and was built mainly from limestone.[2]

Findings mostly date from the Hallstatt period. Some metal items from the pit area are early La Tène. Later deposits include Medieval pottery. A single Urnfield culture, i.e. pre-Celtic, pin has been found.[2] The plateau and the ramparts are now partially covered by trees.

There is no evidence of houses. Another large settlement so close to Heuneburg is also deemed unlikely and the pit points to some form of cult activity. Thus the Alte Burg is thought to have probably served as a cult site to the sizeable Hallstadt period population of the area, possibly also as a place where assemblies and/or games and contests too place.[2]


Video: Digital reconstruction of the Alte Burg

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Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
This is the Salzberg, the mountain behind Halstatt where the various minining areas and settlements were. The down by the lake is roman and the two light blue one at the top are La Tene. The others are bronze age and iron age mining, pig curing and the iron age graveyards.

Mining has been going on for 7000 years. Periods of activity come to a halt usually because of land slips which fill the mines. The subsequent phase can be few hundred years after in a different part of the mountain. This make it difficult to determine if there was any continuity. Are the iron age miners descended from the bronze age miners? Are the la Tene miners descended from the early iron age miners?

A lot of graves show that some of the people were very wealthy, but there are no princely graves. They traded salt and salt cured ham for things like amber and iron goods.

The museum at Hallstatt is very good but many of the best finds are in Vienna. There is an excellent video from the exhibition Place of Salt, 7000 years on Halstatt. Despite the titles, the narrative is in english.

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