Saturday, 10 September 2011


I blame Aubrey Burl for my dislike of the Iron Age; his books give an impression of the Iron Age as a harder, more feudal time than the preceding Bronze Age.

Unfortunately archaeological findings do nothing to change my mind.

The (war temple?) sanctuary of Ribemont-sur-Ancre, dating from 300 BC contained many iron weapons: swords, scabbards, spears, shields mixed together with human bones: legs, arms, pelvises, hands, feet, etc belonging to about 1,000 men aged between 15 and 40 years old.

Around the outer walls eighty headless bodies of males had been displayed along with their weapons.

There were no skulls, these may have been given to the near by river, Samara..

A more recent excavation seems to reveal that the dead were treated in different ways there, some -the enemy? were used as building material, or hung on the walls.

About twenty individuals had been buried in one enclosure, whilst another grave held the remains of several dozen more.

Were these the protectors, the sleeping warriors, 'sleeping'  like Arthur and his knights, waiting until England needs them?

I don't know if they kept their heads or not, I can't find many details about these sites at all.

There was also a crematoria made of human bones on the site; was cremation an honorific treatment for the dead? were bodies given honour or dishonor in destruction by fire?

To be a part of the crematoria was that a good or bad burial, I wish I knew.

A similar site, Gournay-sur-Aronde has a similar Iron Age construction; it contained many, many bones and iron military artifacts but here, skulls were hung up with the armour.

As at Ribemont, the dead had been young men...possibly the conquered enemy.
Or were they the sons and fathers of the area?

The presence or absence of skulls is interesting.
Strabo -63 BC – ca. AD 24- a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher recorded:
"again, in addition to their witlessness, there is also that custom, barbarous and exotic, which attends most of the northern tribes — I mean the fact that when they depart from the battle they hang the heads of their enemies from the necks of their horses, and, when they have brought them home, nail the spectacle to the entrances of their homes. At any rate, Poseidonius says that he himself saw this spectacle in many places, and that, although at first he loathed it, afterwards, through his familiarity with it, he could bear it calmly. The heads of enemies of high repute, however, they used to embalm in cedar-oil and exhibit to strangers, and they would not deign to give them back even for a ransom of an equal weight of gold."

At Gourney-sur-Aronde there were two kinds of animal sacrifices: pigs and lambs -for the living. The pigs and lambs were slaughtered and eaten within the enclosure, but cattle were offered to the 'Lords of the Soil' the cthonic deities.

Bulls were killed and their bodies left to rot in a pit.

Celtic myth may not be the most authentic source, but certain themes in the tales seem verified by archaeological findings; the bog sacrifices especially.

The triple death inflicted on the people offered to the bog is strangulation, stabbing and being hit over the head to cause three deaths, one for each sacred realm of heaven, earth and hel. Rasputin likewise dies a triple death- poisoned, shot and finally drowning in the Neva river. It is also said that he suffered a fourth death, that of being stabbed and the severing of his penis. A final scene shows us Rasputin's body being taken to cremation in the woods. As his body was being burned, Rasputin appeared to sit up in the fire. His  attempts to move and get up thoroughly horrified bystanders...apparently one should cut the tendons of a corpse before cremation to prevent this.

Not that that has anything to do with the Iron Age, but goes to show the anxiety around murder, and the feeling that killing someone before his time has come, is heavy duty.

Iron came to Britain sometime around 750 BC and wasn't the single cause of the changes that were soon to take place. Bronze, glittering like gold in the sun, had given status to the warriors whose barrows cluster around Stonehenge. Elaborate trade routes followed rivers and crossed seas to Europe exchanging copper for tin and bringing in amber from the Baltic.

But something happened to change everything, the weather, wars and upheavals in distant lands, and it took another two hundred years before society reconfigured itself, assimilated change and found a new way to live.

 Sometime between 800 BC to 750 the Bronze Age in Britain came to an end; people buried hoards of bronze artifacts  -no one knows why-  I guess that burying it was a way to hide the family riches until better times, and that the symbolic value of the bronze was now either useless or a liability. If it was a liability, then  bronze had not lost its symbolic value at all; indeed it had become too precious. Perhaps it is more correct to say that The Bronze Age came to an end when the symbolic value of an item became less than its practical use, and bronze became useless.

At the moment the value of gold and silver is still climbing as people lose faith in money (a purely symbolic item) and buy gold, believing that gold will always be valuable. What is happening now in the world economy may be a crisis, but it is nothing like as catastrophic as what happened in the late Bronze Age.


 One of the earliest iron artifact in Britain so far, belonged to 750 BC and was a small sickle made in exactly the same shape and design as its bronze counterpart indicating that craftsmen had not yet worked extensively with iron and learnt how to exploit it.

The art of smelting iron is dated to around 1200 BC in the Mediterranean...some evidence points to the Hittites as the first Iron Age people, smelting iron as early as 1500 BC.

Two maps of the Hittite empire, neither say which year they represent!


Though their iron production was not large scale: Egyptian frescoes and Hittite art show Hittite warriors wearing bronze helmets and sometimes bronze scale armor, though I'm not sure how anyone can tell that unless the frescoes are in colour?

When the Hittites conquered Mesopotamia they adopted many aspects of Akkadian  culture including cuneiform and cosmology. And yet there is something else there, a battle between the older and younger gods that isn't emphasized as much in mythology derived from Sumerian ideas.

Hesiod's Theogeny seems to draw directly from the Hittite version of the Akkadian Enuma Elish.

How much mythology migrated with the secrets of iron smelting it is very difficult to know. Norse mythology in particular contains mythic elements from Greek myth that in turn echoes Marduck's battle with Tiamat via the Hittite version: Tarhunt's battle with Illuyanka.

The Akkadian queen of the Underworld, Ereshkigal becomes the Hittite Goddess Lelwani.

 I wish that I knew how much myth diffused into Britain along with the knowledge of Iron...

The Iron Age hill forts appear in Britain between 550 and 500 BC as a new social order is established. They have been interpreted as castles, or market places, or stores for near by villages. The Iron Age seems to be almost a  new Neolithic -as farming became the new technology of that time, so once again farming became the central preoccupation of people helped by a whole host of efficient farming techniques resulting from the use of iron ploughs and sickles.

The Iron age, following Hesiod's explanation, is a cruel time and we are still in it.