Most people interested in ancient warfare know about the swords, spears, shields, and wheeled vehicles from La Tène in western Switzerland. Peter Connolly painted pictures of them which were printed in a number of his books. A chat with Prof. Dr. Marc-Antoine Kaeser of the Laténium in Switzerland pointed me to some articles where I learned more about these ancient wooden objects.
La Tène is the bank of a river which was drained in the 19th century, whereupon ancient timber and iron started to emerge from the mud. Wet muddy sites can protect objects from rotting, but as they dry they shrink or split. The excavators before and during the First World War tried various methods, and also made plaster casts of some of the objects. Most of their attempts to preserve these objects were unsuccessful, but the plaster casts, paintings, and drawing survive. The three famous shields in the museum on Lake Neuchâtel with iron remains are not the actual shields. They are moulds made from the plaster casts, while the wooden shields fell apart.
The original archaeological reports are quite good at describing objects, and specialists have re-examined the traces of the shields. So the crumbling of the shields is not a disaster. But its good to know that the situation is not quite the same as readers of Peter Connolly’s books might think (and to know where to find more detailed information than fit in his books which were mainly about Acheans, Greeks, and Romans not Helvetii or Britons).
Reginelli, Gianna. Le Mobilier en Bois du Site de La Tene. Mémoire de license, Université de Neuchâtel, Séminaire d’archéologie préhistorique, Octobre 1998.
Gassmann, P. (2007) “Nouvelle approche concernant les datations dendrochronologiques du site éponyme de La Tène (Marin-Epagnier, Suisse).” Jahrbuch Archäologie Schweiz 90 (2007) pp. 75-88 (read 14 May 2023)
Gianna Reginelli Servais et Christian Cevey, “Des moulages à valeur d’originaux : L’exemple de La tène,” In Marc-Antoine Kaeser (ed.), L’âge du Faux: L’authenticité en archéologie (Hauterive: Laténium, 2011) pp. 196-199
(scheduled 30 January 2023)