Celtic Roots

Celtic Roots


The Glauberg: A Celtic Archaeological Sensation

by  Juergen and Angelika Gawend

The dominant view for many decades has been that the Celts lived only in the area of southern Germany and Switzerland. But, with the discovery of a monumental sacred site comparable with Brú na Bóinne at Hessen, it has now been established that even Frankfurt is at the centre of a Celtic homeland.
Up until five years ago German archaeologists assumed that findings north of the river Main in the area of Hessen had to be considered as being of mixed Celtic / Germanic origin. Fortresses on the heights of the Taunus were seen as defence boundaries of the Celtic Main territory to the south. Settlements in this area were seen as boundary towns, where resources such as rich iron ore beds were exploited and processed further in the Celtic Main territory.

Even though excavations in Hessen had brought exceptional findings to light, the full significance of these can now be seen through the excavations done at the Glauberg.

It seems that over the last couple of years German archaeologists have been increasingly discovering that there is more to history than the Romans or Greeks. At least this seems to be the case from an arhaeological point of view. Suddenly all over Germany communities are putting on exhibitions about the Celts, showing what has been excavated and discovering their Celtic heritage.

From a personal standpoint this is great and to us gives proof that we live right in the middle of a Celtic homeland. In the past only southern areas of Germany were considered to be inhabited by Celts, which is obviously not true.

Modem Celtic research in Germany has only been going on for about the last 50 years. What makes it difficult is that our Celtic ancestors had a mainly oral tradition and written evidence was only given by foreigners or even enemies of the Celts. The historical scripts reflect their opinions and doubtlessly shed a "Roman" or "Greek" light on history.

Let us give examples of some of the most important sites of Hessen:

The Duensberg
At this site archaeologists found remains of a big Celtic city extending over an area of approximately 90 hectares. The outer ramparts of the ground had fourteen gates. According to archaeologists this oppidum was one of the most important in the German highlands.

The Altkoenig and the Heidetraenk-Oppidum

The site around the Altkoenig dates back to the early La Tene period and can be seen as the most impressive fortress in the Taunus hills. A double wall made of wood and rock surrounded the hilltop.

An extension terrain towards the southwest of the rampart comprised an additional area of 11 hectares and contained a well. The wall had a height and width of 4 to 6 metres and the area inside extended to 15 hectares. At the front was a wooden defence wall.

The Heidetraenk Oppidum had its time of prosperity during the 3rd and 2nd century BC. The walls of the complete oppidum outlined an area of a total of 130 hectares. The city was of high importance for what is today known as the Rhine-Main area. The town was protected by a 10 km long circular rampart. Six gates enabled the passage into the town.

Through archaeological findings it is possible to distinguish between the living and working areas. According to the findings (i.e. from the raw material found at one spot to the ready made product at another place) a proportion of the manufacturing processes could be completed on site. The most important stock of Celtic tools of middle Europe originated from this oppidum. Additionally, coins were embossed here which also emphasizes the central importance of this settlement.

The Glauberg

The excavations made at the Glauberg have led to a new assessment of all Celtic excavations in Hessen - not only because of the findings that were made, but additionally through the way the excavations were performed.

A new technique was used, the excavation was not done on site and outside: instead, whole pieces of earth containing the different treasures were brought into the laboratories. X-ray and supersonic pictures were taken, showing the archaeologist where to remove earth carefully so as not to destroy remains of organic material such as cloth or leather.

For a long time the Glauberg was known as being one of the fortified summit settlements along the line of settlements in Germany running from West to East. It did not have any special qualities in comparison to other settlements in this area other than its central position and the fact that it had been used as a settlement since the Stone Age. An area of approximately 20 hectares is sourounded by a rampart construction. Within these grounds two basins can be found, which served as water supplies.

The designation of the Glauberg as a residence of a noble is not from the findings at the hilltop, but from the excavations of the noble burial chamber at the bottom of the hill. Verification through additional findings or excavations on the plateau of the hill is unlikely because this summit settlement was extended and reconstructed throughout the centuries and served as a medieval residence. This continuous use has most likely
destroyed all Celtic traces on the plateau.

We can see that the noble burial chambers were by all accounts the richest found north of the river Main simply by looking at the generous burial offerings. They mark the height of a period of burial customs, which started about 600 BC with very little offerings in cremation chambers. Cremation customs changed some time in the 6th century BC to burials, and turned back towards cremation again during the 4th century BC. The dating of the findings proves that the cairns have heen used for longer periods, some of them for centuries.

Pottery indicating food offerings can be found in nearly every cairn. In burial chambers dating from the 6th century BC excavations regularly revealed iron spear heads buried alongside males and sets of bronze rings buried alongside females. At the end of the 6th century BC a change in burial methods is indicated by an emphasis on the native elite and contact with cultures from Southern Europe. The first occurrences
of magnificent burial chambers with chariot decorations, metal dishes of foreign origin and golden objects are dated to 500 B.C. and were found around the area of the middle Rhine (the Glauberg is part of that area).

The empasis placed on these resplendence types of burial chambers is demonstrated by the following facts:
1) The distance from the regular burial places, i.e. the burial site for the nobles was not placed among the "ordinary cemetery".
2) An exceptionally shaped burial site, i.e. through high mounds or big wooden chambers.
3) The chamhers are equipped with a chariot.
4) The presence of grave goods of foreign origin (imports), usually metal dishes from the Etruscian region of central Italy .
5) Exceptionally high quality crafted objects made using exotic and precious materials.

The noble burial chamber at the Glauberg was a part of a monument that extended several hundred metres, dominating the area.

The mound had a 350 metre long access path (procession path). This path was about 10.2 metres wide and accompanied by additional ditches which led into the circular ditch of the mound itself. The mound had a diameter of 48 metres. The main burial pit (of burial site no.1) was 4 metres by 2.9 metres containing the burial chamber made of oak. So far all the burial chambers, including the plain ones found at the Glauberg, have been made of oak.

The floor site no.1 was covered with leather, all burial objects were individually wrapped and a bigger cloth placed on top of everything.

Examination of the human remains revealed a male who died at an age of 28 to 32 years. Beside the weapons a tin beaker containing the remains of mead was found.

lt can also be assumed that further goods were supplied, because remains of animal bones have been found, too.

As for weapons, a sword made of iron was supplied, placed on the right side of the body. According to the excavation technique used, the sheath of the sword made of iron and bronze could be reconstructed, including the very rich ornamentation.

To the left of the body three spears were found, their points made of iron too. Likewise, to the left a bow in a leather case was found along with three arrows in a leather quiver. The shafts of the arrows and spears were made of ash.

What is outstanding is the fact that each of the three points of both the arrows and the spears had different shapes. Perhaps this represented one arrow and one spear for each level - physical, mental and spiritual.

A wooden shield covered with leather and iron fittings covered the body. The body was also buried dressed in clothing, but only the remains of a leather belt with bronze ornaments or cloth were found. Striking jewellery was also discovered: two earrings, a richly ornamented torque, a finger ring and a bangle. Additional offerings like bangles or clasps were made of bronze.

Remains of six sticks or rods including ornamented bronze spouts are assumed to be poles of a tent, since similar pieces have also been found within archaeological excavations of the Scythian people.

In the North end of the mound archaeologists found an interestingly well preserved statue and remains of three additional statues. All were made of sandstone (red, white and brown). The way in which the ditches have been arranged, with findings of postholes, the four statues and a Viereckschanze (i.e. a holy place in the form of a square) close together gave evidence of a holy area.

The statue is 1.86 metres in height , and portrays a warrior. The statue mimics a warrior dressed in a composit armour made of linen and leather. The armour at the back has leaf-like ornamentation. In the left hand the statue holds an oval shield in front of its body and on the right side it carries a sword.

As jewellery and insignia of power the statue shows a torque with three acorns, a bangle at the right arm wrist, a ring on the right ring finger and three bangles on the left upper arm.

The image of the statue is surprisingly similar to what was found inside the first burial chamber. The face shows stylistic large eyes, a moustache and a goatee. The crown of leaves is counted as being one of the insignia. With imagination only, the story of the statues may be told.

Some additional facts: the whole statue, when found, looked like it had been deliberately laid down on the ground and left uncovered. It was placed towards the West with the head facing the Northwest in the ditch surrounding the central mound. The missing feet have not yet been found.

Probably the statue was placed on the ground when the exodus of the Celts started and the missing feet may indicate that what was left at the site should not or could not follow the Celts.

Looking at the old legends of the coming of the Tuatha De Danann, the carefully placed statue with the head facing the Northwest probably marks not only a direction but also a point in time. Some insight into Celtic beliefs presumably explains the placing of the inner chamber right in the centre of the mound. This chamber was empty, but had a rhombic shape with the tips of the rombus facing the four directions.

Throughout the last couple of years an additional noble burial chamber has been found and surely more secrets lie still undiscovered. Judging by the type of findings and how the whole area was built, it can be assumed that a sacred place of the Celts has been found for the first time for this area in Hessen which was used over a long period.

The Celtic nobles of the Glauberg have given us a deeper insight into ancient Celtic life around 500 BC - not only through the unique findings around the sacred area but also through their stony reproductions of nobles. The basis of the wealth and power of the nobles probably came through the extraction of salt from saline springs.

In 2001 salt extraction sites which also date back to 500 BC were uncovered by accident in an area of some several hundred metres long. Of particular interest is the serial order of the saltworks, including a couple of workplaces. Again we find proportionated working processes, but earlier ones than those concluded from the Heidetraenk Oppidum.

Here we have examples of preindustrial sites from 500 BC that truly shed a different light on a race of people which have been called Barbarians just because they were neither Greek nor Roman.

Analysis of the pollen found in the mead in the tin beaker showed that the noble's territory was far bigger than had previously been believed (assuming that the honey was collected within the provinces of the noble's territory, since no honey found in the mead originated from imports). According to the analysis the area would have been bigger than Hessen and had an exposion of 80 to 100 kilometres around the Glauberg. The honey onginated from 11 different places within this area. Noble burial chambers have been found in all places, but none of the others reached the magnificence of the Glauberg mound.

For the first time the findings at the Glauberg allow us to make comparisons with the structures of Celtic Ireland. Like an Irish province the Glauberg area could have in a similar way been the seat of a High King, sourrounded by tribal areas ruled by nobles. Probably this monumental sacred site can be compared with Brú Na Bóinne.

Unfortunately we discover in Germany the same strict separation between scientific archaeology and the legends of Celtic mythology like in other Celtic countries. However, if someone tries to look through the eyes of our ancestors and has read some of the Irish stories, he or she may be able to see history unfolding its picture.

Hopefully in the future people connecting science and mythology will not be brushed aside as if they were telling nonsense simply because what they say has not been scientifically proven. A reply given by an anthropologist to the statement that the Celts died out was that the Celts have not died out - we are simply their successors, and therefore we are ourselves Celts.

Author: Juergen and Angelika Gawend

Source: Dalriada, Volume 17, Lughnassadh 2002, Issue No. 3

*Glaube - Mythos - Wirklichkeit- Das Raetsel der Kelten vom Glauberg; Konrad Theiss Verlag GmbH Stuttgart, 2002:ISBN 3-8062-1592-8
*The interested reader might have a look at the internet pages: or These pages are only available in German.
*The archaeological sites mentioned in this article are located to the Northeast of Frankfurt and can be reached within one hour's drive from the city, either by car or public transport.
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