Hallstatt Elite Burials

Friday, November 6, 2009


The Hochdorf burial is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the Century for Celtic studies. Like the Egyptian tombs, most Celtic tombs were pillaged by grave robbers and disturbed by careless amateur archeologists of the modern period. Although farmers had been tilling the ground for centuries, the tomb was only discovered in the 1970s. Archeologists have placed the large, mound burial to about 550 BCE which means it was untouched for 2,500 years. The first investigations of the mound took place in 1978-79 by Jörg Biel. The burial gives us an unprecedented insight into the burial practices of the elite in 6th-century.

The Hochdorf burial confirms and summarizes other, less complete burials. This rare archeological find also confirms the legends of the prosperous Celtic past. The large, isolated burial gives extraordinary information on tomb construction. The mound measures 60 meters across. The tomb proper was constructed of a masonry perimeter reinforced with timber. The entrance ramp is on the north face of the mound. The tomb proper (where the body was placed) measures 11 meters square, by 2 meters deep, and is constructed of two walls filled with rubble. The rubble between the two walls--designed to withstand robbers is a feature not found in other tumuli, perhaps indicating the importance of the tomb and its occupant.

Inside, the chamber was found lined with textiles that adorned the walls. Although bacteria-killing oxides from the metal artifacts preserved the fabric, the fabric disintegrated when it was exposed to air. The remains of the deceased indicated the occupant was a 45-year-old man who measured 6' in height. He was placed on cloths of wool and badger skin. Since there are no traces of human hair it is assumed that the body was preserved in a vat of salt. Salt mining, of course, was one of the major industries during the Hallstatt period. The flowers in the tomb were the local blooms of late summer and early autumn.

In addition to items of personal adornment, the tomb included objects for personal hygiene, a razor and nail scissors. The three fishhooks and a quiver with arrows, though no bow, probably indicate his elite status as hunter/warrior as opposed to a worker. A large drinking service comprised of nine drinking horns and a large cauldron decorated with bronze lions and a dinner set with accessories indicate the Celtic elite's enjoyment of hospitality. The cauldron held 104 gallons of liquid: probably mead, a honeyed wine drink of the elite class. The cauldron was a luxury import item, probably made in a Greek colony in the south of Italy.



  • Biel, J., Der Keltenfurst von Hochdorf. Stuttgart: K. Theiss, 1985.
  • Hochdorf. Stuttgart: K. Theiss, 1985.
  • Der Keltenfurst von Hochdorf: Methoden und Ergebnisse der Landesarchaologie in Baden-Wurttemberg : Katalog zur Ausstellung in der Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle. Koln vom 31. Januar bis 31.Marz 1986. Stuttgart: K. Theiss, 1985.
  • Moscati, S.,ed., The Celts Milano: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Bompiani, 1991.


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