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Newsletter Blast from the Past: Hochdorf Chieftain

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Originally Published January 2011

An amateur archeologist noticed a low earthen mound in 1977 located east of Hochdorf in the Baden-Wurtemberg area of German. When professionals examined the location they found evidence of a circle of stone surrounding the mound, and excavations began in 1978. A wooden chamber was discovered crushed beneath a mass of boulders, and it was discovered that the tomb had not been looted.

The builders of the tomb had sunk the wooden chamber 2.4 meters deep in the ground and then encased it with 50 tons of timber and stone blocks, and covered it with a earth mound 6 meters in height and 60 meters in diameter. It also contained several lesser burials and evidence that many of the items in the principal grave may have been manufactured at the site.

Reconstruction of the Celtic Grave
Reconstruction of the Grave

The body was that of a strongly built and tall man of about 40 years and 1.87 meters (6′-2″) in height laid out on a bronze couch. He wore a gold belt plate and dagger encased in gold, as well as a wide bracelet and a torc of thin gold plate. Gold plates that once decorated ankle-length boots lay at his feet, and Amber beads along with gold and bronze broaches were found nearby that may have fallen from the body.

The couch one which the body lay was a rather unique find. It measured 3 meters in length and was decorated with designs depicting wagons, and fighters or dancers and was supported by eight legs in the form of female figures.

One side of the chamber was dominated by a four wheeled wagon which was filled with a wooden yoke, a leather horse harness and nine bronze dishes. A set of nine large drinking horns also hung from hooks on one wall. Nine was the ideal number for the Greek “symposium”, or drinking party, and a large Italian-styled cauldron sat at the man’s feet confirming some classical connection in the local culture, so scholars speculate that these item may represent part of a final ritual feast.

A quiver of arrows and a small pouch of fish hooks suggest not a warrior’s burial but that of an aristocrat of more peaceful pursuits, hunting and feasting rather than warfare.

The age of the burial has lead to some debate, but the design of the cauldron is similar to others that would place it no later than 500 B.C.
The Hochdorf burial mound was undisturbed for around 2500 years and remains one of the most unique and important finds in Celtic archeology. Pictures of several of the artifacts can be seen on this German website


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