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Kemmelberg

First Elite Part 2: Identity

by J L Putman & M Soenen

Earthenware: Aisne-Marne models

See more: Photo Focus: Celtic Pottery.

Those earthenware items that have been found here consist to a considerable degree of three basic kinked shapes which are common to the Aisne-Marne region: situlae (bucket shape), cups, and bowls. Within these three groups is a wide variety of dimensions, finishings, decorations and, therefore, perhaps also usage requirements.

Undecorated beakers, Kemmelberg
Photo © H Hameeuw, RAMS

Undecorated beakers, Kemmelberg.

Burned, heated, vitrified

In certain excavated historic refuse zones there are a good many burned potsherds. These deformed potsherds have been heated to such an extent that they are (partially) vitrified and may have been part of an oven wall.

Burned material, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Burned material, Kemmelberg.

Pots which have been exposed to intense fire have also been found, including one hollow base cup and one biconic pot with an Andrew's cross decoration and red paint marks. These are either the result of misfires or secondary combustion/heating.

Burned pots and pot fragments, Kemmelberg
Photo © T Nevejans

Burned pots and pot fragments, Kemmelberg.

Sling bullets

Weapons have not been found on the Kemmelberg, not withstanding the presence of forty sling bullets. Half of these were discovered along with the secondary burned potsherds. In the photo below of the bullets a one eurocent coin has been added to provide scale.

Sling bullets, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Sling bullets, Kemmelberg.

Except for one stone specimen, all of the bullets were produced from earthen material which had hardly been baked (at 300°C).

Experiments with homemade earthen sling bullets show that the impact force and accuracy of a projectile bullet are especially pronounced within the first 30-40 metres. With a throwing speed of more than thirty metres a second, it can be said that an object or person would expect to be hit within one second of the throw. The kinetic energy (of ten Joules) which would be inherent in such an impact does not appear to be enough to prove fatal, but it could cause some serious injuries.

It is not known whether the oval balls were used for hunting or against human enemies. What is known for certain is that Roman texts mention this - often used - Celtic weapon. The precision and impact of the sling bullets should not be underestimated. The well-known biblical story in which David felled the giant Goliath with the help of a sling is not unrealistic.

From the finds on the Kemmelberg it is not possible to draw any conclusions about the use of such weapons. During the Iron Age occupation of the Kemmelberg, and more generally also in Flanders, there are no convincing observations which indicate a great deal of (war-related) violence.

Sling bullets have been found here and there in the vicinity of farms. It therefore seems plausible that the earthen sling bullets were used as a form of defence against vermin or as a hunting weapon to hit birds or small mammals.

It seems logical that the sling bullets have been found on the edge of the plateau or the associated landfill layers. From such a position it would have been easy to 'fire' downwards.

Since sling bullets are sometimes found in warrior graves, such as in the Eiffel area (Grüfflingen in Belgium, and Trier in Germany), the hypothesis cannot be ruled out that they were used as a weapon of war.

In that case, they would have served as a deterrent rather than a lethal weapon.

Other hypotheses involve their use as firebombs or as a means of testing the temperature of pottery kilns. The latter theory seems unlikely because most Kemmelberg sling bullets appear to have gone through a similar baking production process.

One of the sling bullets which had been laid at the edge of a fire, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

One of the sling bullets which had been laid at the edge of a fire, Kemmelberg.

Slinging is completely intertwined with daily life in Peru and Bolivia. It has even become part of traditional costume and folk dances, in which the use of the sling is depicted.

Slinging Peruvian woman
Photo © J L Putman

Slinging Peruvian woman.

Women's labour?

Other excavated pottery fragments on the Kemmelberg indicate daily activities such as the use of a colander or the spinning of wool.

A colander, in combination with a sieve cloth, may have served to filter milk or water, or to sieve flour, or simply as a cheese mould.

Fragment of an earthen colander, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Fragment of an earthen colander, Kemmelberg.

Spinning is the twisting of wool fibres to get a strong thread which can be used to weave. In Peru, here and there, it is still spun with a spinning stick or spindle. The spindle (spinning disc) is at the bottom of the stick (below).

Spinning stick and spindle from Peru
Photo © J L Putman

Spinning stick and spindle from Peru.

Fragments of the - more flat - spinning discs and of the more conical whorls which are used during spinning have been excavated on the Kemmelberg.

Fragments of spinning material, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Fragments of spinning material, Kemmelberg.

Kemmelware

Among the many thousands of potsherds, there are a number which have striking characteristics, known as 'Kemmelware'. They belong to large pots of which we do not yet have a complete profile, unfortunately. Nevertheless, a number of characteristics are known. The shape of the pots resembles that of the kinked cups, but much larger.

Kemmelware earthenware is often between 50cm and 100cm high, and the diameter of the rim is about three quarters of the height of the pot. This results in pot volumes of more than 100 litres of useful content, grains, or liquid. When empty, these jars have a mass of 20-30kg.

In graves in the Champagne region one can sometimes find similar shapes of pot, but they are a lot smaller, such as the almost-intact pot which was found in a grave near Reims in France, but at half the size of a Kemmelware jar. Reims is 190km away from the Kemmelberg.

Similar jar from grave nearby Reims in France
Photo © J L Putman

Similar jar from grave nearby Reims in France.

The pots are mainly decorated above the shoulder with grooves which consist of horizontal lines and geometric patterns. On the surface or in the bands within this groove decoration, a red painting has been applied, often deep red, called a 'Lie de vin' tint (the colour of a red wine residue). The outer wall is usually very neat and often brown-beige coloured.

Decorated and painted Kemmelware potsherd, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Decorated and painted Kemmelware potsherd, Kemmelberg.

Something which further characterises these pots is the presence of a lid gully (an internal ledged rim).

Edge with lid gully, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Edge with lid gully, Kemmelberg.

Recent chemical analyses have shown that sherds from similar pots were found in at least three habitation sites of a special character, with distances from the Kemmelberg of 30km, 40km, and more than 100km as the crow flies.

Lid gully fragments with a burned copy at the bottom, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Lid gully fragments with a burned copy at the bottom, Kemmelberg.

Perhaps these very large pots - or their cargo - had a connecting function, and their transfer, delivery, and perhaps also production on the Kemmelberg, involved the necessary rituals. These jars may have been local variations of Greek or Etruscan (wine) craters. The high number of misfires of so-called Kemmelware is remarkable.

Drinking ritual

Banquets and drinking parties (symposiums) were important social events for wealthy Greeks and Etruscans, including the funeral of a leader. People allowed themselves to be served in a special drinking set, with mixing vessels, jugs, and drinking bowls.

See more: Photo Focus: Celtic Drinking Equipment.

The aristocratic Celts were also aware of how to organise celebrations. In addition to wine, 'mead' - a kind of honey wine - was also served. Wine was popular with the Celtic elite, perhaps because of its blood colour and also because it had a longer shelf life than beer, a higher alcohol content, and a distant, mystical origin.

In the dwelling places of wealthy Celtic princes and princesses, or in their graves, pieces of luxurious drinking equipment have often been found, whether or not homemade or imported from Greece or Italy. Among other things, discoveries have included wine pitchers (oinochoë) and wine mixing vessels (craters), with the latter being used to dilute the viscous wine with water.

In the burial chamber of the 'princess' of Vix in France, next to the disassembled ceremonial chariot in which the deceased lay, a huge Greek mixing vessel or crater was found which had a capacity of 1,100 litres, along with other parts of a drinking set.

Greek crater from the burial chamber of the Celtic princess from Vix in France
Photo © J L Putman

Greek crater from the burial chamber of the Celtic princess from Vix in France.

The bronze situla of Kuffarn in Austria, from the early La Tène period (sixth to fifth centuries BC) depicts such a Celtic drinking ritual: a headdressed aristocrat is served by a subordinate, and an aristocratic child also observes the scene, along with there being drinking cups, mixing vessels, and pouring utensils.

Bronze situla from Kuffarn, Lower Austria
Photo © Alkan Celts (Wordpress)

Bronze situla from Kuffarn, Lower Austria.

In the burial chamber of the 'princess' of Reinheim in Germany finds include a bronze jug with handle and spout, bronze bowls, and drinking horns with gold fittings. Similar items have been found on the Kemmelberg.

Finds from the burial chamber of the princess of Reinheim in Germany
Photo © W Reinhard

Finds from the burial chamber of the princess of Reinheim in Germany.

The swastika symbol

It is striking that the use of the swastika symbol by the Celts - in this phase of the Iron Age – occurs mainly on these elite altitude sites and their sometimes monumental 'princely' graves.

Perhaps the symbolism should be sought in terms of their position and influence in society - including religious – as well as in the privileged status of those in power.

Two potsherds have been found on the Kemmelberg which had been decorated with swastikas. In either case, the four arms of the swastika each consist of five segments, perhaps not coincidentally.

The first fragment has a groove decoration with red paint on the surfaces between the decoration which forms the swastika.

Swastika on a Kemmelware fragment, Kemmelberg
Photo © L Verhetsel, VISO

Swastika on a Kemmelware fragment, Kemmelberg.

The second fragment consists of a sherd on which a completely flaked-off pale paste has been imposed on the smooth dark background with the swastika.

Fragment of a swastika on beautifully-finished pottery, Kemmelberg
Photo © H Maertens

Fragment of a swastika on beautifully-finished pottery, Kemmelberg.

Potsherds with similar swastika motifs have also been found on other Celtic altitude settlements, such as the one at Mont Lassois in France.

Sherd from the princely altitude settlement of Mont Lassois in France
Photo © J L Putman

Sherd from the princely altitude settlement of Mont Lassois in France.

See more: Photo Focus: Celtic Pottery and Photo Focus: Celtic Drinking Equipment

This would be the ideal time to view the related feature links, below, before continuing with the main text.

Continued in Part 3.

 

 

Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.