Iron Men

An Internet guide to the Iron Age Centic culture

At Lisa L. Spangenberg’s Digital Medievalist site you can find a good list of Celtic Web Resources (scroll down). At one of them, Simon James’s Ancient Celts Page, the author, who is an archaeologist at the University of Leicester in England, presents alternative views on this culture. After presenting the conventional wisdom, he gives an alternate history of “Celticness,” which examines the justification for unifying so many tribes under one banner—with particular attention to the British Isles.

Via the Internet, you can explore the remains of the Celtic world at archaeological sites across Europe. The artifacts unearthed are often quite beautiful. To get a quick overview of the evolving styles of the objects, go to Celtic Art & Cultures, a Website maintained by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Start by looking at the timeline, then click on “Images” to see the many treasures, from ornate bowls to statues and jewelry. They are conveniently organized by period, type of object, material, and country.

In the British Isles, archaeological sites with pages on the Internet have the advantage of being written in English. At Gallica, a site already mentioned you’ll find an extensive list of links to Celtic Archaeology sites scattered around the British Isles.

One of the archaeological sites that attracted my attention was Butser Ancient Farm. Located near Portsmouth, this Iron Age farm is a wonderful example of experimental archaeology, where the buildings and farming techniques are re-created to get a better understanding of how the people lived. Go to the menu on the right to see what crops and animals the Celts of England valued most. For more in the same vein as experimental ancient farming, go here to see two Italian researchers try their hand at making iron the old-fashioned Celtic way.

Castell Henllys is an Iron-Age fort in Wales, where some of the ancient structures have been rebuilt on the actual archaeological site—a rare occurrence owing to rules governing such digs. Maiden Castle in Dorset, not far from the English Channel, was one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hillforts in Europe. At this English Heritage Web site, you can find an artist’s reconstruction of this impressive fort during several stages of its evolution, as well as an audio tour.

The BBC has a Web site on British prehistory that is organized into four sections: a map of the tribes (as recorded by the Romans), death and burial practices, sites and artifacts, and—my favorite—“Living in the Iron Age,” which includes an animation showing how to build a Celtic roundhouse.

The Celts were in Spain and Portugal too. At the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s E-Keltoi, A Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies, you can find a number of scholarly articles on the tribes that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula as well as other parts of Europe. I was impressed by the beauty of the ruins documented in their article “Oppida and Celtic Society in Western Spain,” which examines the remains of large fortified settlements called Oppida that were central to the culture in these regions.

For a look at the Celts in Germany, go to the Kelten Museum in Hochdorf, which has some of its content in English. The museum was built to house the finds from the grave of a Celtic chieftain.

In France (where the cartoon character Asterix battled the Romans) there is a good Web site in English on the archaeology of Bibracte, an ancient Gaulish capital in Burgundy. The museum there promotes ongoing excavations of this important area and serves as a center for interpreting Gaulish culture. The same region is the focus of another site that examines how remote-sensing technology is used by archaeologists to help uncover the secrets of the prehistoric Celts.

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