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Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany


The Heuneburg is a prehistoric hillfort by the river Danube in Hundersingen near Herbertingen, between Ulm and Sigmaringen, Baden-Wurttemberg, in the south of Germany, close to the modern borders with Switzerland and Austria.


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
The burial chamber can be seen within the bright gravel ring. The burial chamber is filled with humus.
 The light gravel ring comes from lower altitudes and was excavated by the early Celtic builders
when the grave shaft was created [Credit: State Office for Monument Preservation
 in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Michael Lingnau]



Since 2019, the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments (LAD) in the Stuttgart Regional Council has been investigating an early Celtic large burial mound in the Bettelbuhl area in the Danube plain below Heuneburg.


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Probe section within the burial chamber. The standing pieces of wood, some of which could
belong to a cart, are striking [Credit: State Office for Monument Preservation
in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Michael Lingnau]

Because it is not possible to uncover the burial on site in a professional manner, the entire burial chamber was recovered en bloc. 


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Archaeologists working at the excavation site [Credit: State Office for Monument Preservation
in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Michael Lingnau]

The block has a weight of about 80 tons and measures about 8x6 m. It was lifted by two heavy-duty cranes and then transported to the LAD laboratories for further examination. 


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Initial excavation work in the field with the use of fine tools to determine the situation regarding
the preservation of the burial [Credit: State Office for Monument Preservation
in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Michael Lingnau]



The burial will be investigated in the next few years by archaeologists, restorers and natural scientists of the LAD under the direction of Prof. Dr. Dirk Krausse using the most modern scientific methods and promises to provide a wide range of new insights into the history and culture of the early Celts from the 7th to 5th century BC. 


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Bronze object in situ. First impressions suggest the component of a cart [Credit: State Office for
Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Michael Lingnau]

The work is being carried out as part of a project funded by the German Research Foundation, which is dedicated to the archaeological investigation of the surroundings of the Heuneburg.


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Amber brooch in situ. A similar piece was discovered in 2010 only 100 metres away from the current excavation site.
Until then amber brooches were unknown north of the Alps [Credit: State Office for Monument Preservation
in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Felix Pilz]

A sounding excavation in the hill area had revealed that the wooden chamber tomb and also grave goods made of organic materials are still partially preserved, which is extremely rare in an archaeological context. 


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
First recovered bronze object from the burial chamber belongs to a cart [Credit: State Office for
Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart Regional Council/Felix Pilz]



At the same time, investigations carried out as part of the preservation program have shown that these scientifically exceptionally valuable objects have already been damaged by the extreme drought of recent years and are acutely endangered, even against the background of progressive climatic changes.


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Three ribbed tubular gold beads. Objects of identical shape were recovered from the neighbouring
grave in 2010 [Credit: State Office for Monument Preservation in the Stuttgart
Regional Council/Felix Pilz]

Initial finds, including burial objects made of gold and amber, also fuel hope that a complete investigation of the tomb could provide significant new insights into crucial, previously unsolved research questions. 


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Block recovery of the early Celtic ceremonial grave near the Heuneburg
[Credit: Christoph Steffen/Markus Steffen]

In 2005 and 2010, the graves of a noble Celtic lady and a three-year-old girl were uncovered only 100 meters from the current excavation site. They were buried with exceptionally rich grave goods, including unique objects made of gold, amber and bronze. 


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Block recovery of the early Celtic ceremonial grave near the Heuneburg
[Credit: Christoph Steffen/Markus Steffen]


The dendrochronological dating of the oak and fir woods of the burial chamber revealed beyond doubt that the noble lady, who in the meantime has become known in both the scientific community and the public as "Princess of Bettelbuhl", had been buried in the winter between 583/582 BC.


Block excavation of early Celtic tomb near the Heuneburg in southern Germany
Block recovery of the early Celtic ceremonial grave near the Heuneburg
[Credit: Andreas Dubslaff; Felix Pilz]

This gives rise to many questions for archaeologists, which are to be answered in the coming years. "We want to find out who these magnificently buried persons are and what their relationship was to each other. We assume that they are closely related members of the politically leading families who were in charge of the Heuneburg around 600 BC", says project leader and state archaeologist Prof. Dr. Krausse.


Source: Baden-Wurttemberg Ministry of Economics, Labour and Housing [trsl. TANN/November 22, 2020]



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