The PrcotoCeLts

During the first millennium BC the "Urnfield" culture emerged us the dominant society of central Europe. These people were seen as the predecessors of the Celts, and their society- has therefore heen described as "proto-Celtic." The only difference between these people and the Celts of the Hallstatt era is that the latter developed the ability to produce iron. This technological achievement ushered in hoth the Iron Age and the dawn of the Celtic world.

Below: The reconstructed interior of a Celtic dwelling, showing a central hearth and domestic ware.

he Urnfield culture emerged about 850 BC, and its similarities to the "Celtic" culture of two centuries later are striking. Place-names suggest a linguistic connection between the two cultures, and it appears that the two societies were based on the same social, military, and political structures. The Urnfield people differed from the Tumulus society that preceded them by their burial methods. Their dead were cremated, then placed in urns and buried in designated areas; level sites that lacked the mound that gave the Tumulus people their name. It has been suggested that this new form of burial was introduced into the European continent by an influx of people from the east, but it now appears more likely that the development was a result of internal change, probably the result of a shift in religious belief. Although the society was identified by its burial methods, its principal characteristic was expansion through military conquest.

The Urnfield people produced a battle-winning weapon; a long, heavy, straight-bladed sword designed for cutting or slashing. Together with the armor, helmets, and other pieces of military equipment that have survived, the)' point toward an increased emphasis on warfare. Settlements became more heavily fortified, and the first evidence of hilltop fortifications using ditches, palisades, and timber and stone walls can bc traced to this time.

Celtic Culture

This increase in military activity was partly a result of an increased level of bronze production in central Europe, a result of improved mining and metalworking techniques. Archaeologists have been able to determine where objects were produced, and to identify the differences between local centers of production. There is also some evidence of specialization, with some areas becoming known for the production of weapons, some for bronze sheets or domestic ware, and others for decorative objects. Agricultural implements such as sickles and plows also suggest an improvement in agricultural production. If agricultural techniques improved, and this was combined with the introduction of methods such as crop rotation and animal husbandry, then living standards would improve and population would increase.

The crucial step forward

The development of iron-working technology t(X)k place about 700 BC, marking the transition between the Urnfield culture and the civilization known as the Hallstatt culture. While the former

Images Iron Working HallistatTene Sword

has been identified as "proto-Celtic," the latter was truly Celtic in nature. Together with its successor, the La Tene culture, the two periods mark the span of the Celtic age, a time that almost exactly mirrored the era known as the Iron Age.

There is a danger in making too great a distinction between peoples of the late Bronze Age and those of the early Iron age. Both peoples occupied the same geographical area in central Europe, and exhibited the same patterns of society, culture, and political structure. The only essential difference was that the Hallstatt culture Celts used tools, weapons, domestic items, and equipment made of iron. In the past historians tended to overlook the evident transition from one culture to the other. Certainly, the advent of iron-working technology was a significant technological milestone. It allowed for the production of more reliable tools and weapons, it made these items more widely available and less expensive, and it revolutionized warfare and agricultural production.

Because iron was a far harder metal than bronze, both swords and plows became more efficient. The economic and military implications were that the people who controlled metal production or produced the best quality iron objects possessed a significant technological and military advantage over their rivals.

Above: This prestigious bronze funerary urn dating from the 8th to 7th centuries bc, was recovered from an Urnfield burial mound in France.


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