Tag Archives: Celtic

Ancient Celts had good taste in their drink, new study shows

A new archaeological analysis maps what the Celts were drinking, finding evidence of wine, as well as beer, milk, and olive oil.

Image credits: Luciana Braz.

In the first century BC, the political situation in Europe was pretty complex. Much of Greek learning was assimilated by the nascent Roman state, and towards the end of the century, the Romans grew to be the most powerful force on the continent, threatened only by Carthage, which was also defeated by the Romans. While they weren’t threatening Roman hegemony, the Celts were also a force to be reckoned with. Their culture is far less understood than that of the Romans, however.

Researchers in the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich and the University of Tübingen wanted to better understand the dietary habits of the Celts of the 1st century BC — particularly what they liked to drink. They analyzed 99 drinking vessels, storage and transport jars recovered during excavations at Mont Lassois in Burgundy — a fortified princely settlement.

Even before the results came in, it was clear that the Celts were involved in active trade with several peoples, especially the Greeks. Like much of Europe, they were enamored with some aspects of the Greek lifestyle and attempted to emulate it.

“This was a period of rapid change, during which vessels made in Greece and Italy reached the region north of the Alps in large numbers for the first time. It has generally been assumed that this indicates that the Celts began to imitate the Mediterranean lifestyle, and that only the elite were in a position to drink Mediterranean wine during their banquets,” says LMU archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer, who led the project.

This type of shard was analyzed in the study. Image credits: Victor S. Brigola.

Traces of liquids were absorbed by the ancient pots, where they were stored throughout the centuries. Researchers were particularly looking for traces of wine: a drink which wouldn’t have been traditional for the Celts, but was already a staple around the Mediterranean. Finding evidence of wine consumption would confirm that the Celts were, in fact, adopting the lifestyle from the Greeks.

This turned out to be the case. Cynthianne Spiteri adds:

“We are delighted to have definitively solved the old problem of whether or not the early Celts north of the Alps adopted Mediterranean drinking customs. – They did indeed, but they did so in a creative fashion!”

What Spiteri is referring to is the fact that Celts didn’t take things as they are from Greece. For instance, in addition to wine, they also drank local beer from Greek drinking bowls. Significantly, wine consumption wasn’t limited to the posh population of the Celts — the middle class also enjoyed a glass from time to time.

“In other words, the Celts did not simply adopt foreign traditions in their original form. Instead, they used the imported vessels and products in their own ways and for their own purposes. Moreover, the consumption of imported wine was apparently not confined to the upper echelons of society. Craftsmen too had access to wine, and the evidence suggests that they possibly used it for cooking, while the elites quaffed it in the course of their drinking parties. The study shows that intercultural contact is a dynamic process and demonstrates how easy it is for unfamiliar vessels to serve new functions and acquire new meanings.”

Researchers also found other types of drinks, confirming that most if not all layers of the Celt society were consuming a remarkable array of drinks — alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

“We identified characteristic components of olive oil and milk, imported wine and local alcoholic beverages, as well as traces of millet and beeswax,” says Maxime Rageot, who performed the chemical analyses in Tübingen.

Journal Reference: Rageot et al. New insights into Early Celtic consumption practices: Organic residue analyses of local and imported pottery from Vix-Mont Lassois. PLOS ONE, 2019; 14 (6): e0218001 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0218001


New archaeological findings show that Vikings “imported” from the Celts

Archaeologists were expecting to find beer or other brewing materials, but they found something more valuable.

The finding took archaeologists by surprise: Image credits: NTNU University Museum.

It was supposed to be a simple, routine expansion work at Byneset Cemetery, adjacent to the medieval Steine Church in Trondheim, Norway. As in several other European countries, Norwegian law mandates that such works have to be preceded by archaeological studies — and in this case, it paid off in spades.

Archaeologists have discovered a trove of Viking artifacts, including one which is of a foreign origin: they come from Ireland, researchers say. Jo Sindre Pålsson Eidshaug and Øyunn Wathne Sæther, both research assistants at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum, say that what really drew their attention was a small brooch — a Celtic, gold-plated silver fitting from a book.

“This is a decorative fitting,” Eidshaug said of his discovery. “It almost looks like it’s gilded. It’s a kind of decorative fitting, I would guess.”

A fitting, probably from a book. The style is typical of Celtic and Irish areas and dates from the 800s. Traces of gilding can be seen in the recesses. Photo: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum.

It might have been part of a bigger, religious ensemble, or a stand-alone book fitting. Right now, any such claims are little more than speculation. But what’s interesting is how it got there.

It’s no secret that Vikings roamed Europe’s seas, plundered the coast of England for centuries. Crossing over to Ireland, while not easy, was certainly possible for the skilled seamen. But even so, finding Celtic items in Viking sites is not common, with only a few similar sites previously discovered.

In archaeology, this is technically called an import. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it was bought or traded for, and again — taking into consideration the well-known habits of the Vikings.

“Someone very politely called this an Irish import, but that’s just a nice way of saying that someone was in Ireland and picked up an interesting item,” said museum director Reidar Andersen, who was also at the site.

Erecting tents at the excavation site with Steine Church behind. Photo: Raymond Sauvage, NTNU University Museum.

This isn’t to say that the item was definitely stolen. Whether or not the Vikings’ voyages to Ireland were peaceful or not is anyone’s guess right now.

“Yes, that’s right. We know that the Vikings went out on raids. They went to Ireland and brought things back. But how peacefully it all transpired, I won’t venture to say,” he said.

The site itself holds great promise for future. Archaeologists also came across a belt buckle, a key, and a knife blade, so they have high hopes for upcoming digs. The church itself dates from the 1140s and used to be connected to a large, old farm estate from the time of the Vikings, which will also be studied next year.