Text #9359"La Tène culture", in .
The La Tène culture (French pronunciation: [la tɛn]) was a European Iron Age culture named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where a rich cache of artifacts was discovered by Hansli Kopp in 1857.
La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age (from 450 BCE to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BCE) in Belgium, eastern France, Switzerland, Austria, Southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania. To the north extended the contemporary Jastorf culture of Northern Germany.
La Tène culture developed out of the early Iron Age Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under the impetus of considerable Mediterranean influence from the Culture of Golasecca, the Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul and the Etruscans. Barry Cunliffe notes localization of La Tène culture during the 5th century when there arose “two zones of power and innovation: a Marne – Moselle zone in the west with trading links to the Po Valley via the central Alpine passes and the Golasecca culture, and a Bohemian zone in the east with separate links to the Adriatic via the eastern Alpine routes and the Venetic culture”. A shift of settlement centres took place in the 4th century.
La Tène cultural material appeared over a large area, including parts of Ireland and Great Britain, northern Spain, northern-central Italy, Burgundy, and Austria. Elaborate burials also reveal a wide network of trade. In Vix, France, an elite woman of the 6th century BCE was buried with a very large bronze cauldron made in Greece. Exports from La Tène cultural areas to the Mediterranean cultures were based on salt, tin and copper, amber, wool and leather, furs and gold.
Though there is no agreement on the precise region in which La Tène culture first developed, there is a broad consensus that the center of the culture lay on the northwest edges of Hallstatt culture, north of the Alps, within the region between the valleys of the Marne and Moselle in the west and modern Bavaria and Austria in the east. In 1994 a prototypical ensemble of elite grave sites of the early 5th century BCE was excavated at Glauberg in Hesse, northeast of Frankfurt-am-Main, in a region that had formerly been considered peripheral to the La Tène sphere.
From their homeland, La Tène groups expanded in the 4th century to Hispania, Italy, the Balkans, and even as far as Asia Minor, in the course of several major migrations. In the 4th century BCE, a Gallic army led by Brennus reached Rome and took the city. In the 3rd century BCE, Gallic bands entered Greece and threatened the oracle of Delphi, while another band settled Galatia in Asia Minor.
Extensive contacts through trade are recognized in foreign objects deposited in elite burials; stylistic influences on La Tène material culture can be recognized in Etruscan, Italic, Greek, Dacian and Scythian sources. Dateable Greek pottery at La Tène sites analyzed employing dendrochronology and thermoluminescence help provide date ranges in an absolute chronology at some La Tène sites.
As with many archaeological periods, La Tène history was originally divided into “early” (6th century BCE), “middle” (c. 450–100 BCE), and “late” (1st century BCE) stages, with the Roman occupation effectively driving the culture underground and ending its development. A broad cultural unity was not paralleled by overarching social-political unifying structures, and the extent to which the material culture can be linguistically linked is debated.
Our knowledge of this cultural area derives from three sources: from archaeological evidence, from Greek and Latin literary evidence, and more controversially, from ethnographical evidence suggesting some La Tène artistic and cultural survivals in traditionally Celtic regions of far western Europe. Some of the societies that are archaeologically identified with La Tène material culture were identified by Greek and Roman authors from the 5th century onwards as Keltoi (“Celts”) and Galli (“Gauls”). Herodotus (iv.49) correctly placed Keltoi at the source of the Ister/Danube, in the heartland of La Tène material culture: “The Ister flows right across Europe, rising in the country of the Celts”, whom however, apparently misunderstanding his source, he places “farthest to the west of any people of Europe”
Whether the usage of classical sources means that the whole of La Tène culture can be attributed to a unified Celtic people is difficult to assess; archaeologists have repeatedly concluded that language, material culture, and political affiliation do not necessarily run parallel. Frey notes (Frey 2004) that in the 5th century, “burial customs in the Celtic world were not uniform; rather, localised groups had their own beliefs, which, in consequence, also gave rise to distinct artistic expressions”.
La Tène metalwork in bronze, iron and gold, developing technologically out of Hallstatt culture, is stylistically characterized by inscribed and inlaid intricate spirals and interlace, on fine bronze vessels, helmets and shields, horse trappings and elite jewelry, especially the neck rings called torcs and elaborate clasps called fibulae. It is characterized by elegant, stylized curvilinear animal and vegetal forms, allied with the Hallstatt traditions of geometric patterning. The Early Style of La Tène art and culture mainly featured static, geometric decoration, while the transition to the Developed Style constituted a shift to movement-based forms, such as triskeles. Some subsets within the Developed Style contain more specific design trends, such as the recurrent serpentine scroll of the Waldalgesheim Style.
Initially La Tène folk lived in open settlements that were dominated by the chieftains’ towering hill forts. The development of towns—oppida—appears in mid-La Tène culture. La Tène dwellings were carpenter-built rather than of masonry. La Tène peoples also dug ritual shafts, in which votive offerings and even human sacrifices were cast. Severed heads appear to have held great power and were often represented in carvings. Burial sites included weapons, carts, and both elite and household goods, evoking a strong continuity with an afterlife.
Some sites are:
- La Tène, Marin-Epagnier
- Bern, Engehalbinsel: oppidum
- Manching: oppidum
- Münsingen, burial field
- Basel oppidum
- Bibracte, oppidum of the Aedui at Mont Beuvray in Burgundy
- Erstfeld hoard
- Hochdorf Chieftain’s Grave
- Bopfingen: Viereckschanze, a characteristic rectangular enclosure
- Fellbach-Schmiden, near Stuttgart: Viereckschanze; ritual objects recovered from a well
- Kleinaspergle: elite graves of La Tène I
- Waldalgesheim chariot burial: an elite chariot burial, 4th century
- Glauberg, oppidum and elite graves
- Dürrnberg near Hallein: Burial field and earthworks of late Hallstatt–early La Tène
- Donnersberg: oppidum
- Vill near Innsbruck: remains of dwellings
- Sandberg Celtic city near Platt and Roseldorf in Lower Austria
- Vix/Mont Lassois: oppidum and elaborate graves
- Titelberg: oppidum in Luxembourg
- Reinheim: Tomb of a princess/priestess with burial gifts
Some outstanding La Tène artifacts are:
- The Strettweg Cart (7th century BCE), found in southeast Austria, a four-wheeled cart with a goddess, riders with axes and shields, attendants and stags. (Landesmuseum Johanneum, Graz, Austria)
- A woman in Vix (Châtillon-sur-Seine, Burgundy) buried with an 1100-litre (290 gallon) bronze krater, the largest ever found.
- The silver “Gundestrup cauldron” (3rd or 2nd century BCE), found ritually broken in a peat bog near Gundestrup, Denmark, but probably made near the Black Sea, perhaps in Thrace. (National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen)
- “Battersea Shield” (350–50 BCE), found in the Thames, made of bronze with red enamel. (British Museum, London)
- “Witham Shield” (4th century BCE). (British Museum, London)
- “Chertsey Shield (400–200 BCE). (British Museum, London)
- “Turoe stone” in Galway, Ireland
- Chariot burial found at Waldalgesheim, Bad Kreuznach, Germany, late 4th century BCE. (Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn)
- Chariot burial found at La Gorge Meillet (St-Germain-en-Laye: Musée des Antiquités Nationales).
- A life-sized sculpture of a warrior that accompanied the Glauberg burials.
- A gold-and-bronze model of an oak tree (3rd century BCE) found at the Oppidum of Manching.
- Noric steel