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The La Tène culture was an Iron Age culture named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland, where a rich trove of artifacts was discovered by Hansli Kopp in 1857.

La Tène existed during the late Iron Age (from 450 BC to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC) in eastern France, Switzerland, Austria, southwest Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. It developed out of the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture under considerable Mediterranean (Greek, and later Etruscan) influence. A shift of settlement centres took place at this time as well.

Some societies with La Tène-type material culture were identified by classical authors as "Keltoi". Whether this means that the whole of La Tène culture can be attributed to a single Celtic people is difficult to conclude; it is probably best to keep language, material culture, and political affiliation separate.


La Tène site

La Tène is a village near the Neuenburger See, also called Lac du Neuchâtel, a lake in Switzerland. It is both an archaeological site and the eponymous site for the late Iron Age La Tène culture, also spelt "Latène" or "La-Tène".

In 1857, prolonged drought lowered the waters of the Neuenburger See by about 2 m. On the northernmost tip of the lake, between the river Zihl and a point south of the village of Marin-Epagnier, H. Kopp, looking for antiquities for Colonel F. Schwab, discovered several rows of wooden piles that still reached about 50 cm into the water. From among these, Kopp collected about forty iron swords.

The Swiss archaeologist Ferdinand Keller published his findings in 1868 in his influential first report on the Swiss pile dwellings (Pfahlbaubericht). In 1863 he interpreted the remains as a celtic village built on piles. Eduard Desor, a geologist from Neuchâtel, started excavations on the lakeshore soon afterwards. He interpreted the site as an armory, erected on piles over the lake and later destroyed by enemy action.

With the first systematic lowering of the Swiss lakes from 1868 to 1883, the site fell completely dry. In 1880, E. Vouga, a teacher from Marin-Epagnier, uncovered the wooden remains of two bridges (Pont Desor and Pont Vouga) originally over 100 m long and the remains of five houses on the shore. After Vouga had finished, F. Borel, curator of the Marin museus, began to excavate as well. In 1885 the canton asked the Société d`Histoire of Neuchâtel to continue the excavations, the results of which were published by Vouga in the same year.

All in all, over 2500 objects, mainly made from metal, have been excavated in La Tène. Weapons predominate, there being 166 swords (most without traces of wear), 270 lanceheads, and 22 shieldbosses, along with 385 brooches, tools, and parts of chariots. Numerous human and animal bones were found as well.

Interpretations of the site vary. Some scholars believe the bridge was destroyed by high water, while others see it as a place of sacrifice after a successful battle (there are almost no female ornaments). The original homeland of La Tène society is also debated: it lay somewhere in the area north of the Alps from the Marne in eastern France to the upper Danube.

La Tène culture

As with many archaeological periods, La Tène history was originally divided into "early" (6th century BC), "middle" (ca 450100 BC), and "late" (1st century BC) stages, with the Roman occupation effectively driving the culture underground and ending its development.

La Tène metalwork is characterized by intricate spirals and interlace, on fine bronze vessels, helmets and shields, horse trappings and elite jewelry, especially the neck bracelets called "torcs" and elaborate clasps called "fibulae". It is characterized by elegant, stylized curvilinear animal and vegetable forms, with elements akin to Scythian animal designs from the area of Ukraine, allied with the Hallstatt traditions of geometric patterning. La Tène cultural material appeared over a larger area, including parts of Ireland and Britain (the lake dwellings at Glastonbury, England, are a well known example of La Tène culture), northern Spain, Burgundy, and Austria. Elaborate burials also reveal a wide network of trade. In Vix, France, an elite woman of the 6th century BC was buried with a bronze cauldron made in Greece.

Famous La Tène works

  • "Strettweg Cart" (7th Century BC), found in southeast Austria, a four-wheeled cart with a goddess, riders with axes and shields, attendants and stags. (Landesmuseum Johanneum, Graz, Austria)
  • A princess in Vix (Burgundy) buried with a 1100 litre (290 gallon) bronze Greek vase, the largest ever found.

La Tène peoples also dug ritual shafts, in which votive offerings and even human sacrifices were cast. Severed heads appear to have held great power and were often represented in carvings.

Further reading

  • Collis, John. The Celts: Origins, Myths, Invention. London: Tempus, 2003.
  • James, Simon. The Atlantic Celts. London: British Museum Press, 1999.
  • James, Simon, and Valerie Rig. Britain and the Celtic Iron Age. London: British Museum Press, 1997.

External links

de:La-Tène-Zeit fr:La Tène sv:La Tène-kulturen


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