The Hunters Quarry

The three sources of evidence alluded to above provide a wide variety of information as to the kinds of beasts which were hunted by the Celts. They included the larger, mainly herbivorous creatures such as the stag, boar and wild aurochs and the smaller, carnivorous fur-bearers, like the badger, fox and stoat. The hare was also surprisingly popular as prey.

Caesar refers to the hunting of the aurochs, a kind of large wild cattle (now extinct), among the Germans. He describes how keen the Germanic tribes were on hunting the creatures, catching them in pits. The horns were particularly prized and used as drinking-vessels. Caesar recounts how the hunters who killed the greatest number of aurochs brought the horns into a public place as evidence of their prowess, and won praise from their peers. Archaeological evidence for the aurochs is scarce, though it was certainly still in existence during the Iron Age in western Europe. One example from this period comes from a grave at Rouliers in the Ardennes, where the phalange of an aurochs was buried in the tomb of a man. The baseplate of the Gundestrup Cauldron bears a scene in repoussé of a huge dying bull (figure 5.1) being attacked by two huntsmen accompanied by hounds.4 It is most likely that an aurochs is depicted here.

Figure 3.1 Third century BC bronze deer, Rakos Csongrad, Hungary. Height: 3.7cm. Paul Jenkins.

Other creatures which were prolific during the Iron Age, but where there is little evidence that they were hunted, include the wolf and the bear. Wolf phalanges have been found at the Iron Age site of Villeneuve-Saint-Germain in northern France.5 Wolf teeth were perforated as ornaments at the Hallstatt Iron Age site of Choisy-au-Bac (Oise);6 and wolf was found at the sanctuary of Digeon (Somme), which n is distinctive in having a number of wild animal deposits. Wolves were important in coin symbolism (see chapter 6);8 and a terracotta trumpetmouth in the form of a snarling wolf's head comes from Numantia in Spain.9 Bears are very rare in the archaeological record. Bear teeth come from the cemetery of Mont-Trote in the Ardennes, where they were used as necklace-beads.10 Interestingly, a Romano-Celtic bear-goddess, Artio, is known from Muri near Berne in Switzerland (figure 8.13),11 on a bronze group where a goddess is accompanied by a large bear.

Two animals which stand out, at any rate in the iconography, are the boar and the stag. The boar has

often been seen as the Celtic hunted beast par excellence, but Patrice Meniel12 warns us that this image is a cliché (immortalized by Asterix's companion Obelix) which is based upon a muddled statement by

Strabo, who describes large fierce pigs which roamed free and which were extremely savage when approached. This, together with the known Celtic predilection for pork, has given rise to the concept of the Celts continually going off on wild-boar hunts, in order to provide meat for feasting. But the evidence of animal bones from archaeological sites suggests that hunting for food was not an important activity. Except in the case of very young animals, it is perfectly possible to distinguish pigs from boars in the bone assemblages of Iron Age sites: boars are much bigger and more robust than pigs. What is clear from a study of this material is that boars were not generally eaten: they were not a common source of food. If they were hunted, they were not brought back to settlements and consumed. Perhaps they were feasted on at hill sites in the forests. Evidence for domestic pigs is very abundant, but boar bones are rare.14 Where boars do occur on Iron Age sites, the lack of cut-marks on their bones implies that the carcases were not butchered.15 At the sanctuary of Digeon, where many wild species were present, boars formed part of the assemblage, probably as the result of some kind of ritual, perhaps involving sacrifice (see chapter 5) —

However, despite the dearth of evidence for boar-hunting from the faunal deposits on early Celtic sites, the image of the importance of the boar-hunt is by no means confined to Strabo and may be inferred also from the evidence of iconography and of other classical writers. Thus, on a bronze cult-wagon of perhaps second or first century BC date from Mérida in Spain, a boar is depicted being hunted

by a mounted sportsman. Again, a bronze group from Balzars, Liechtenstein, depicts soldiers with a

boar and stag: this was modelled between the third and first centuries BC. At Matzhausen in Bavaria (figure 3.3), a long-necked flagon dating to around 400-300 BC is decorated with an incised hunt scene which includes boars and stags pursued by a hunting-dog.19 Boars are important generally in Iron Age iconography: they appear on the Gundestrup Cauldron;20 and boar figurines are common, either as statuettes or as helmet crests (see chapters 4 and 6). The first-century BC bronze boar from Hounslow

near London (figure 5.12) almost certainly surmounted a helmet. By contrast, figurines from Lun9ani in Romania (figure 2.22) and Báta in Hungary may have been freestanding statuettes or they may have

decorated battle-standards. Boar images occur on coins (figure 3.4) and as sword-stamps, , reinforcing their imagery of ferocity and indomitability by means of their erect dorsal ridges. Among classical writers referring to the boar-hunt as an important sporting activity, Arrian alludes to boars as a favourite quarry, which required great skill from the huntsman and

courage from his horse and dogs. Martial refers to the existence of boar-traps to lessen the risk to the hunter.24

Sacred Stag Bronze Age

Figure 3.2 Bronze plaque of slain boar from the first-century AD shrine of Muntham Court, Sussex. By courtesy of Worthing Museum and Art Gallery.

The stag was hunted by the Celts but, once again, the evidence of the bones is at variance with other forms of data, notably the iconography. However, there is more faunal evidence for Iron Age stag-

hunting than for hunting boars. Large ungulates such as deer can cause grave damage to crops, and it is probable that this was the primary reason that they were hunted by farmers. The density of forest cover in Gaul and Britain during the pre-Roman periods was certainly significantly greater than now. Indeed, Caesar refers to the thick woods of north-east Gaul. But though deer are essentially woodland creatures, they can adapt to sparser forest cover, using what shelter there is by day and foraging by night. Stags were hunted in Compiegne26 and at other sites in the Oise region.27 At the Digeon shrine, ten stags were 28

slaughtered and their skull caps with antlers attached were utilized, probably for some ritual, perhaps

shamanistic purpose, as head-dresses. In Britain, there is some evidence for stag-hunting, sometimes apparently for ritual purposes:

deer bones and antlers occur in Iron Age ritual shafts.30 The first period at the Danebury hillfort in Hampshire (between about 1000 and 500 BC) is indicated by a series of pits which follow the line taken by the later defences. One of these contained an undoubtedly ritual assemblage of carefully selected

species, including red and roe deer. Antlers were found in a ritual pit at Newstead in southern Scotland. At Wasperton in Warwickshire, a Romano-Celtic ritual pit contained a deposit of two sets of antlers with parts of the skull caps attached, arranged to form a square. These had been placed beneath a

layer of burnt material; and in the centre of the square a fire had been lit.

Celtic Stag Skulls

Figure 3.3 Detail of incised decoration on a long-necked ceramic flagon, in the form of geese, boars, a dog, deer and a hare, fourth century BC, Matzhausen, Germany. Height of pot: 23.8cm. Miranda Green.

Iconography displays hunted stags (figure 3.5) or the stag-hunt itself; the seventh-century BC bronze cult wagon model from Strettweg in Austria depicts what is probably a ritual stag-hunt; two stags with enormous antlers are accompanied by foot-soldiers and horsemen; the central figure is a goddess who holds a vessel of liquid above her head, as if in benediction.34 On an early Iron Age pot at Sopron in Hungary, dating to the seventh or sixth century BC, a scene depicts mounted horsemen with spears

hunting a stag. Similarly, the Matzhausen pot (figure 3.3) shows deer, an antlered stag and other wild beasts chased by a hunting-dog.36 A figurine of a wounded stag, dating to the first century BC, comes from Saalfelden in Austria. A Romano-Celtic sculpture from the mountain shrine of Le Donon

(Vosges) portrays a stag in company with his hunter (see pp. 60, 64).

The most interesting illustration of stag-hunting occurs at Camonica Valley, where the rock art of the Bronze and Iron Ages abounds in stag symbolism. Camonica Valley is a natural corridor, rimmed by high mountains, which was habitually used by herds and was therefore potentially a rich kill-site. On the Naquane rock, a seventh-century BC stag-hunt scene consists of hunters, of whom one is ithyphallic,

surrounding a half-human, half-stag creature with huge antlers (figure 3.13). This is one of many Iron Age hunting scenes at Camonica, where stags are pursued by huntsmen, sometimes on horseback, and accompanied by hounds.40 Here the divine element in the stag-hunt is most prominent: the stag is quarry but also divinity. Some carvings show hunters in prayer grouped around a trapped stag.41 On a Naquane representation, a group of armed figures dances round a large stag which stands before a temple.42 Another scene depicts the worship of a stag with huge antlers, surrounded by people and other, smaller stags, as if the central animal is divine.43

Ancient Celtic Carving Stag

Figure 3.4 Celtic coin depicting stag and boar, Maidstone, Kent. By courtesy of the National Museum of Wales.

Figure 3.5 Detail of pot with incised and stamped decoration, in the form of a deer attacked by a dog or wolf, third to second century BC, Labatlan, Komaron, Hungary. Height of pot: 40.2cm. Miranda Green.

Classical writers make some allusions to stags and stag-hunting. Arrian mentions the use of horses for wearing down stags until they become exhausted.44 This observation is borne out by some of the iconography, where the hunters are mounted. Julius Caesar45 shows an amazing credulity in his description of elks in Germany which, he says, have no joints to their legs but sleep leaning against trees and, if they fall over, cannot get up and are thus easy prey for hunters.

Curiously enough, the hare appears to have been the animal most commonly hunted for food, according to the faunal evidence. This is despite Caesar's assertion that the Britons regarded hares as taboo for food.46 Touget (Gers) has produced a stone statue of a hunter-god bearing a large hare in his

arms (figure 3.11). Arrian refers to hunting hares, using dogs both to flush out the quarry and to bring

it down into the trap or snare. Hares like open spaces, fields and pastures, where they can see a long way and can rely on speed to carry them away from danger. They feed at night, generally lying under cover during the day. In those Iron Age sites of northern Gaul which have been the subject of recent study by Patrice Meniel,49 the hare is especially important among wild species represented in faunal assemblages. This is particularly marked since the bones of hare are more fragile and easily destroyed than those of more robust creatures like deer but, even so, they are represented in greater numbers than the bigger animals. In an early La Tène site in Compiègne, hare formed 7 per cent of the bone material, compared to red deer 2 per cent and roe deer 1 per cent. At Tartigny a grave produced the remains of a dog, a horse and a hare in association, as if a hunter's burial were represented.50 In a Gaulish Compiègne village the proportions of dog, hare and horse are again high.51 All species of what might be termed game are comparatively rare on Celtic sites, whether settlements, graves or shrines. Animals other than the stag and hare appear in extremely small numbers in real terms. Their presence may be attributed either to their value as fur-bearers or to their involvement in ritual. The settlement at Villeneuve-Saint-Germain contained what is considered to be a rich deposit of bones representing fur-bearing animals: out of 70 bones of wild species, 60 were of fox or badger. Wolf and stoat were present in only very small

numbers and, clearly, had been less systematically hunted. The ritual element in the use of fur-bearing wild animals is especially interesting: a deposit of five weasels' heads comes from what must have been

a sacred deposit at Bordeaux. An odd assemblage comes from an Iron Age ritual pit at Winklebury (Hants), consisting of a red deer and twelve foxes. Special pit-deposits like this were generally placed at the bottom of storage pits before they were finally filled with rubbish and loose soil (see chapter 5) — Some of the Gaulish sanctuaries, such as Digeon, Mirebeau and Ribemont, were found to contain remains of foxes, but these are very rare.55 Fox-hunting is depicted at Camonica Valley.56 The Iron Age Cheshire bog-body Lindow Man was ritually murdered some time in the late first millennium BC, and

placed in a marshy pool wearing nothing but an armlet made of fox-fur. This suggestion of a ritual association with foxes is perhaps borne out by the presence of Celtic personal names linked with the word for fox. The name Louernius means 'Son of the Fox', and belonged to an Arvernian chief:

Athenaeus comments upon his immense wealth and his practice of holding great festive gatherings

Figure 3.6 Potsherd decorated with a frieze of stamped hares, fourth century BC, LibkovicDe, Czechoslovakia. Length of hares: c.2cm. Miranda Green.

in a huge enclosure at which he liberally distributed largesse in the form of treasure to his people. The name Louernius crops up again, on a set of third-century AD pewter tableware at Appleford (Berks.) and on an altar at the Cotswold shrine of Uley, in the fourth century AD. Anne Ross59 is of the view that the Celts revered the fox for his fiery coat and cunning nature.

Other species occur only very occasionally in the archaeological record: wild cat is represented at Camonica Valley60 but is very uncommon in faunal remains. Beaver teeth appear at the Rouliers Iron

Age cemetery;61 frog or toad bones have been found in grave contexts, as at 'La Croisette', Acy.62 Sometimes a wild and presumably hunted species - the bear for instance - will appear only in sepulchral or sacred contexts and never on a settlement site.

There is some evidence for the hunting of wild birds: wild duck was found at the Gournay (Oise) sanctuary; thrush and blackbird at the Ribemont shrine.63 There were partridge bones at the 'La Noue Mouroy' cemetery at Acy-Romance.64 Of particular interest is the raven, which is heavily overrepresented at some sites, for instance at Winklebury and Danebury, both Hampshire hillforts. The body of a raven with wings outspread was buried at the bottom of a pit, which also contained a pig, at Winklebury.65 Ravens were buried in pits at Danebury, their numbers being far in excess of their normal representation in proportion to other wild birds.66 Crows and ravens could have been hunted because they were a threat to crops, but there is more likely to have been a ritual element in these deposits (see chapter 5).

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