Learning About La Tène
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Categories: Ancient

Learning About La Tène

a laminate bookshelf with an assortment of books on armour, fencing, ancient Greece and Rome, and tabletop roleplaying games
My copy of “Greece and Rome at War” gets to hang out with its friends in the spare bedroom

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).

Further Reading

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)

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4 thoughts on “Learning About La Tène

  1. dearieme says:

    Forgive an ignorant question. I’ve heard of the La Tene and Hallstatt cultures but I’ve never seen a discussion of the evidence that they spoke Celtic languages. Is there any doubt in the matter; is the evidence conclusive?

    1. Sean says:

      Sorting out “Celtic languages” v. “La Tène archaeological culture” v. “people Greeks and Romans called Celts” is a mess (see Simon James’ The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? for one discussion). I think the earliest and furthest eastern evidence is the Lepontic inscriptions from the Swiss-Italian border country which mostly seem to be in a Celtic language (a complete list here). For Gaul and Britain I think most of the evidence is place, personal, and divine names on coins and offerings. My understanding is that the vast majority of linguists agree that those names are in the same family as modern Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton but there are debates about the order in which they broke off from each other eg. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_from_the_West

      1. dearieme says:

        Many thanks.

  2. How Thick Were La Tène Shields? – Book and Sword says:

    […] 2023-05-14: P. Gassmann examined two fragments of the second shield, which he believed was made of two planks split from a […]

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