THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF THE CELTIBERIANS

Sunday, December 21, 2008


The oppidum of Los Cogotas, Avila, Spain, is one of the better-known defended settlements of the Celtiberian region of Spain. It has been extensively excavated as the result of which the arrangement of the interior buildings has been identified in outline allowing this artist's reconstruction to be offered.


The defences of Los Cogotas enclose in total some 14.5 hectares but only the upper enclosure was intensively occupied. Though large, it is by no means the largest of the oppida in the Ambles Valley as the lower plans will demonstrate.


The homeland of the Celtiberians lay in the north-eastern part of Iberia stretching from the southern flank of the Ebro Valley to the Eastern Meseta. To the north lay the territory of the Urnfield culture, to the west the loosely linked communities of the Atlantic Bronze Age, while to the east and south, along the Mediterranean fringe, the distinctive Iberian culture was soon to emerge as contacts with the east Mediterranean states intensified. The Celtiberian zone therefore lay on three peripheries and inevitably benefited by absorbing cultural elements from all three.


The harshness of parts of the territory, particularly the plains of the Meseta, desiccated during the summer months, necessitated a degree of transhumance in the pastoral economy. The flocks and herds were taken to upland mountain pastures before the heat came and were brought down again in autumn. Such conditions allowed a gradual increase in population and led to the emergence of an elite reflected in a series of rich graves furnished with short swords, spears, and round shields, redolent of the warrior-based nature of society.


The principal burial rite was urned cremation, adopted from the Urnfield cultural zone to the north-east, but other elements came from the south and east, including geometric painted pottery, fibulae with two-part springs, and belt hooks, all characteristic of Tartessian culture. The short antennae-hilted iron sword was, however, a development specific to the north, extending, with regional variations' over the Celtiberian area and the Ebro Valley, and across the Pyrenees into Languedoc and Aquitania.


From the sixth century Bc the influence of stimuli from the cultures of the Mediterranean littoral and the developing Iberian hinterland intensified. By the fourth century the Celtiberians were using rotary querns and the potter's wheel. Celtiberian script, derived from Iberian, was in use by the third century, and large oppida-like settlements-again probably an Iberian inspiration-began to develop at about the same time or a little later.


To what extent Celtiberian culture received significant influences from the La Tene cultural zone it is difficult to say. A scatter of La Tene artefacts have been found in Iberia, most notably the collection of third-century weapons from the burial at Quintana de Gormaz, which included a scabbard decorated with dragonpairs. This array of material shows that contacts existed with communities north of the Pyrenees, but it need not imply anything more than processes of gift exchange. Nor does the adoption of the tore as an item of prestige display mean more than a sharing of belief or value systems. The silver torcs of the Meseta and the gold torcs of the north-west are distinctively Celtiberian in style, as are the widely distributed horse-and-rider fibulae.


The possibility that groups of La Tene Celts may have moved south into Celtiberian lands, as raiders, settlers, or mercenaries, cannot, however, be ruled out. Celtic war bands may have attached themselves to the incursion of the Cimbri in 104 BC and Caesar specifically mentions the arrival in Lerida, in 49 BC, of 6,000 Gauls, including Gallic cavalry, Ruthenian archers, and their families. The contribution of these and other possible intruders to Celtiberian culture seems to have been minimal.

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