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Iron Age Celtic Woman Was Buried in a Hollowed-Out Tree Trunk (smithsonianmag.com)
99 points by diodorus 79 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Reminds me of a story from my home town about a woman found in the trunk of a wych elm tree in the 1940s:


> Given the fact that the pair were both buried around 200 B.C., the Office for Urban Development suggests it is “quite possible” they knew each other.

Certainly fascinating. But why - in the context of science - do they have to make unsubstantiated statements like this? It's unnecessary. It dilutes the standard expectation of what actually constitutes science. Is it any wonder the general public oscillates between no trust and confused?

Leave the TMZ'ing to TMZ. Leave the BuzzFeed'ing to BuzzFeed. Please.

I think that's a pretty reasonable shorthand for saying that two separate archeological sites overlapped in time, place, and culture, and which makes comparisons/differences between them more immediately interesting.

That's my point. It's adding a story arc where there is none.

Unless there is evidence the two grave sites overlapped (in time) then the "theory" proposed is bad science. Again, it sets an unreasonable expectation. Science has enough problems right now. Using faux storylines isn't going to help.

I don't think this is at all as serious as you think. I don't think this is the Zurich Office for Urban Development spinning a cute little narrative, I think it's more similar to the Corded Ware culture [0], where scientists identified a lot of clayware buried in corresponding times and places, and so theorized that the people that make them communicated and shared a culture. The timing, and the coordination, suggested that those people corresponded to the Indo-European spread from near the Black Sea into western Europe.

In taking two things (two pieces of clayware, or two people) uncovered with similar features, you are usually able to extrapolate more information than by holding each one in perfect isolation.

What's more, there's not a whole lot riding on this. The office said "Isn't this interesting, that two archaeological sites are so close in place and time". That usually doesn't happen, particularly that far back in time. If the Office had editorialized that they were lovers, or best friends, I would agree with you, but this is just saying "We can date them to a very similar time, and to a very similar place. They are intrinsically linked, and should be treated as being more close together than separate."


Agree, I think they feel they have to entice the readers that aren't into so much archeology stuff.

You see this all the time when doing guided tours, museums or otherwise.

TMZ is actually a very reliable source. They just happen to specialize in celebrity sleaze instead of serious issues.

Full disclosure: I don't disagree. In fact, the TV show is pretty funny.

That said, in the name of viewers and profits, they are drawn to the mundane and the minutia. Yes, the model works for them. But that doesn't mean every media source has to be so disposable in terms of actual quality/value of the message delivered.

Fascinating facts to learn of, but sites like this one and LiveScience tend to interject too much extra content that is unsubstantiated. Adding in the bit about Caesar coming in, when he wasn't on his high horse for 150 years after these people died. Just because some general time period was 2,200 years ago, doesn't mean there isn't a significant gap between the ages. 150 years can change a lot. It's the time between the age of slavery in the US to today.

Then the bisexual (/poly?) suggestion and hedonistic remark. Citations or substantiation? Very unprofessional but I suppose these are online authors from no specific literary tradition. It was a Roman source that recorded a consort to a Celtic king that supposedly told Emperor Augustus's wife, “we consort openly with the best of men. You allow yourselves to be debauched in secret by the vilest.” Which is the hedonist? I'm American, of now-distant European Celtic & Germanic tribal extraction and while a non-expert, am knowledgeable enough in the subject to see when someone is interjecting their personal nonsense into an article.

It seems some references for homosexual relationships among the celts come down from contemporary authors including Aristotle, however I can't find anything specific about La Téne.


I'm not saying there wasn't homosexuality.. that's what Saudi Arabia claims for their nation. Homosexuality has an evolutionary purpose, always existed everywhere and always will. Homosexuality is not a slur, weakness, or failure. It was the exaggerated nature of the characterization.

> "Homosexuality has an evolutionary purpose"

Could you elaborate on this? I'm genuinely interested to know, it could fundamentally change my view on homosexuality.

Must preface that I'm a non-expert, this isn't my area of expertise, I'm just a curious person that seeks truth, and works as a programmer. I could be wrong, but when I find convincing evidence or logic that I am, you'll see me singing a different tune. If there are any credentialed evolutionary biologists among us, please, correct or affirm the following.

As with a lot of human traits that sprung from evolution, today it's not as clear as it would've been. In tribal structure, we needed more caregivers to children. Having a few homosexuals uninterested in breeding assisted with survival of the group. Everyone around the world needs additional caregivers, members of the tribe died early often. Someone had to raise the next generation, and the risks of dying were plentiful. Beyond famines and death from conflicts, shamanistic medicine only, no scientific medical care and definitely no vaccinations or antibiotics. Basically, people dropping like flies. The unpredictable death rate required a proportionally larger quantity of caregivers than breeders.

Further, any trait that exists in ~5%+ of the population over time is regarded as having an evolutionary purpose. Which homosexuality meets the definition of. For example, I'm color-blind, while no longer very useful (other than map spotting, which the US military does use color-blind folks for), it was an advantage for hunting in a snowcovered environment by removing unnecessary data for the brain to process, resulting in spotting prey faster and increasing reaction times. It's difficult to provide hard evidence for evolutionary traits, folks that want to dismiss it due to discomfort always will, but this trait was shown to appear in Ice Age Spain and spread from there. Caregiving for the tribe goes much further back in time, hence homosexuality being far wider reaching. Neither gay folks or color-blind folks are deserving of disdain though, simply because we're the products of hundreds of thousands of year of human survival and those traits are not as relevant today. All humans have traits that aren't perfectly suited for sitting behind a computer all day, or the modern age. It's a shame we haven't evolved to consume glyphosate, or breathing the air we're polluting without dying of cancer.

An addendum that I feel is necessary. You could seek out a scientist who has dedicated their entire life to studying this topic to confirm/deny my claims, or a professor at a local university who has essentially done the same and dedicated their professional lives to this topic to learn more. That's what I would do if genuinely curious and wanted to know more, not hit up DuckDuckGo. The ability of those folks to cut through the noise in their field is something a search engine doesn't offer. No different from an experienced programmer searching on software. There's an alarming trend of people today dismissing expertise and credibility as traits without merit. Experts on topics like this are still the go-to source. I'm just a layman in comparison. While I did not and will not spend more time digging up citations for my claims here, it is logical and based on prior readings. Neither is it my prerogative to convince every homophobe among us that being homosexual is more than OK, I do hope everyone who reads this chooses to embrace our gay brothers and sisters. It's illogical not to.

I'd love to be disposed of in a cool and eco-friendly way. Give the nutrients back to nature so to speak. I'd be fine with just being tossed in a bog etc and letting things eat away. But rules and all...even the most basic no frills cremation is something like 1500usd which is obscene in my view. I find the 5 figure events with ornate sealed caskets to be ridiculous.

No less expensive, but composting seems to be a "cool and eco-friendly" way to bow out.

"...turn the bodies into about two wheelbarrows of soil within a month. Loved ones and families can keep the new material to spread or even use it to plant vegetables or a tree."


You could have a tibetan sky burial and be cut into pieces of meat to feed the vultures. It’s probably pretty cheap too.

Old people suffer muscular and joint pain. They are prescribed drugs like Voltaren. Voltaren is diclofenac.


This was a big issue in India I remember but "cattles" instead of "human" bodies.

Yes. I think the drug was being used in animal feed

I think you have the wrong thread buddy.

He's replying to a comment suggesting that dead people be fed to vultures with the observation that elderly people are a population with a propensity for being treated with diclofenac and a link indicating that the presence of this drug in carcasses is threatening vulture populations.


I have heard of boat burials, where the body is placed in a boat, thogh not necessarily set adrift, just placed within. The obvious (possibly too obvious) interpretation is that it's the vehicle to take the person to the next world. Based on nothing at all I wonder if this is a symbolic form of a boat burial.

https://www.sparknotes.com/nofear/lit/beowulf/prelude/ for one of the more famous depictions in literature.

I wasn't thinking of ship burials (though thanks for the beowulf pointer, I didn't know that, and in returns here's an allegedly eyewitness account of one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_funeral#Ibn_Fadlan%27s_...), but something much smaller and older.

There was a report of a discovered boat burial on doggerland, on land (before doggerland flooded. That would have been at the end of the last ice age). I can't find it now.

Possibly Sutton Hoo? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Hoo

I know about the neolithic villages currently under silt in the english channel, but that's about it.

Sutton hoo is saxon IIRC. No, the villages/communities you mentioned are the ones that were drowned when the ice melted - before that the UK was much larger and joined to the continent https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doggerland. That was the boat burial area I meant. I did dig but can't find it, sorry.

I was thinking it sounded like the way a witch might have been carelessly disposed of. Fortunately the illustration cleared that up. This does not look like anything just thrown together.

Far too high status for anything careless.

It's more or less anachronistic to talk about 'witches' in the Iron Age, certainly in the modern sense that connotes "naughty bad not-christian women spellcasters".

Evil spellcasters are a familiar concept in every known culture, present or attested.

I don't really think it's a stretch to use the modern word "witch" to refer to this universal concept.

i’d say “shaman” might be preferred? Again, it’s the connotations not the word. You can fairly talk about “the cultic practices of such and such religion” but it’s gonna tweak noses even if you mean the more technical sense of the word.

we don’t know anything about this grave find except that the deceased was high status, of course, so this could just as well be nothing to do with such things.

Witch can be an appropriate word, here, to denote a person of exceptionally low status. "John was a victim of witch-hunting for his political views" is a modern, ordinary usage of the word.

We tend to use more precise words in these cases, such as doxxing or cyber-bullying, or gang-stalking, etc.

The modern word "witch-hunt" is used in reference to the way people were treated during the witch trials, rather than a direct reference to the word "witch" itself. I have never heard of anybody using the word "witch" to describe the subject of a witch-hunt. In fact, the entire point of the word is to express doubt that the subject being 'hunted' is actually guilty of whatever they were accused.

I've heard it used colloquilly. "I was just like a witch back in high school, I was bullied so bad," I remember someone saying.

witch != shaman. Both are complicated concepts with culturally-specific meanings. Overlap is limited, and they're certainly not synonyms.

Yes, I agree completely.

La Tiene celts were ~animist in 200BC, so shaman seemed a reasonable modern word here. I suppose "druid" would also be OK, but I don't think scholarship has much to say about continental druidism, and what the consensus is generally is "they were probably called that and beyond that we really have no idea". (because we've long since lost anything close to a primary source, among other things)

agree. both have various definitions in different cultures to be honest, but generally they refer to the same differences between the two.

i can imagine though, that a shaman in old times Europe, could have been identified by the church as a witch. (as confused we are about the definitions today, they probably were even more so back then.)

Right, except this woman died about two centuries before the birth of jesus, so there was no Church.

Magic is a rather culturally specific idea.

Africa and Europe had a lot of cultural exchange, but Australian Aborigines and Native Americans had wildly different views. That’s not to say similarities did not exist, but the more universal the idea the more vague it must be.

Aka, Evil people with power is more universal than the ability to cast a persistent curse.

Some Native Americans absolutely have a (pre-Columbian) concept of witchcraft.

Source: my godmother is a Maya shaman.

Well, that's not something I read every day.

Could you liberally expand on this if possible? Stuff like, what does she do, what is notable about her worldview, what's her view of other worlds (in christian terms, hell/heaven, in norse terms valhalla and the world tree etc), what can we on HN learn from her. Anything else you'd wish to add.

(I've got the popol vuh, just wish I could find time to read it).

Major TIA.

The specific implementation, so to say, yes. But the general idea is always, that the mind and will of the spellcaster can alter reality.

Unless you're a very ancient greek, of course, in which case you're just a husk for the gods to work through and you have no will to speak of anyway.

IDK, the Hittites - the neighbours and contemporary of the Mycenaean Greeks that you referred to (Bicameralism theory, right?) certainly had their own (women-exclusive) spellcasters being different to godstalker/priests...

>modern sense that connotes "naughty bad not-christian women spellcasters"

Probably more Christian-age Germanic (?) rather than modern. Witches weren't/aren't necessarily female in most cultures, nor they are naughty/bad in many.

Reminds me Xinjiang xiaohe cemetery in China,


They seem to also use tree trunk


Yes, Celtic. The Celts were mostly on mainland Europe at that time. You can find more details in that most scholarly work, Asterix the Gaul

Also in Caesar's book about his campaigns in Gaul (oddly enough there is no account of a tribe with a magic potion):


If you consider there was a rather short chronological and linguistic difference between Celtic languages proper and the Italo-Celtic family which included both Celtic and Italic languages (and languages that were inbetween like Liguarian) ... most of Europe is _still_ Italo-Celtic.

The Italic language Vulgar Latin displaced Celtic languages everywhere except the British Isles and Brittany. But it may not have been a hard language for the native Gauls to learn.

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