Reasons For Hunting

Why were wild animals hunted in the Celtic Iron Age? The faunal evidence from bone assemblages indicates that wild species formed an extremely small part of the diet of these communities, so food was not a primary reason (chapter 2). There is some evidence for butchery, so at least some of the herbivores were eaten. Other reasons for hunting included the desire for fur, the need to protect farmland from the destructive activities of such animals as deer, and finally - and this is likely to have been the primary reason - for sport.

The hunting of the larger animals - like stags and boars - may well have been a sporting pastime for the aristocratic élite, who would have seen hunting as a simulation of and practice for warfare. This may partly account for the small number of such beasts represented in the faunal assemblages of Iron Age settlement sites and the absence of butchery marks on boar bones.67 Barry Cunliffe says that if hunting took place at all at Danebury, it must have been merely for sport, since wild-animal bones are so rare.68 Arrian, writing in the second century AD, speaks of hunting as a sport for the wealthy69 and refers to hunting among the Celts as a noble pleasure rather than a livelihood, though he says that for the Celts hunting was not just a noble pastime but a daily exercise of

skill and courage, involving several levels of society. The idea of hunting as an activity of the élite would fit in well with the hunting methods employed by the Celts, which involved horses (expensive creatures to maintain) and specialized hunting-dogs. Weapons of war could indeed be used with equal effect in hunting: Strabo remarks that the Celts used a spear-like stick both for hunting birds and in 71


Celtic Bronze Crow

Figure 3.7 Bronze figurine of crow or raven from the Romano-Celtic sanctuary of Woodeaton, Oxfordshire. Betty Naggar.

There is evidence both from classical writers and from archaeology that wild animals were hunted for

their skins (see also chapter 2). Diodorus Siculus speaks of the use of wild beasts' pelts by the Celts for bedding and of wolfskins for covering house floors. The young late Iron Age chieftain whose no remains were interred in a rich grave at Welwyn (Herts.) was laid on a bearskin. The earlier Iron Age Hallstatt prince buried in the fantastically rich barrow at Hochdorf in Germany was laid to rest on a

bronze couch covered in a badgerskin. Wild animals are poorly represented in the skinning debris (tail and paw bones) of Gaulish sites, but there is some evidence for wolf, badger, fox, polecat and stoat. Though bears were plentiful during this period, their skeletons are not generally found in the faunal assemblages: their skins must therefore have been removed away from the settlements, if they

were used at all — We have seen (pp. 44-5) that occasionally the teeth of bear and wolf were used as ornaments and it is possible that such creatures were hunted specifically to provide decoration for the dead. Foxes may have been hunted for their pelts, as is shown by Lindow Man's fox-fur bracelet. But the

fox remains at the sanctuaries of Mirebeau and Ribemont indicate from butchery marks on the bones76 that foxes were sometimes consumed. The strange deposit of red deer and twelve foxes in a pit at nn

Winklebury in Hampshire must surely indicate the hunting of these creatures for a primarily ritual purpose (see chapter 5). At Danebury, there is evidence that both badgers and foxes were trapped for

their fur. Interestingly, at the settlement of Villeneuve-Saint-Germain, the tail and paw bones of animals (indicative of skinning) were found on a part of the site which was kept separate from the areas of food preparation.79 The small numbers of fur-bearing animals represented on Celtic sites probably does not reflect reality. Wolves, bears, badgers, foxes must all have been hunted with some frequency, but the skeletal evidence is rare, implying that there must have been many instances where skinning took place away from the settlements themselves, presumably at the kill-sites.

Figure 3.8 Stone image of a man (rear view shown) possibly wearing an animal pelt, Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Betty Naggar.

Wild and hunted food animals are relatively rare on Iron Age sites, such species being often represented by less than 5 per cent of all animal bones. We have seen that boars are not commonly found in the faunal material and that, if they do occur, the lack of cut-marks suggests they were not butchered and consumed on settlement sites. Of all the hunted animals, the hare seems to have been most popular, even though Caesar says that hares were not eaten in Britain. At Epiais-Rhus (Val d'Oise), the animals hunted for food were mainly hare, followed by roebuck, red deer, stag and boar. In the villages of

Compiegne and in the settlements of the Somme region, again the hare was the wild animal most

frequently consumed. Patrice Meniel makes the point that, although wild animals are few on northern Gaulish sites, they are none the less consistently present in small quantities on all the sites investigated.

In Britain, at the Meare lake village (Som.), a wide range of wild resources was utilized, including boar and deer, marsh-birds and such fish as pike and eel. Wild game birds, like geese, swans and ducks,

were also snared at Danebury. Generally speaking, there is little evidence that fish were commonly eaten in the Iron Age, though the rock art of Camonica Valley depicts the occasional fish being netted or harpooned.84 However, fish bones are fragile and are not readily preserved on archaeological sites. The unequivocal message conveyed by the archaeological evidence is that hunting was peripheral to the Iron Age economy and, in terms of food, served only to supplement and add variety to a meat diet whose requirements were generally met by farming.85 Interestingly, whilst there is a great deal of evidence of culinary sacrifices and ritual feasting which involved meat, evidence from many of the Celtic shrines -such as Gournay, Hayling Island and many others - suggests that wild beasts were not used at all.86

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