Skip to comments.Archaeologists Find Celts in Unlikely Spot: Central Turkey (Ellas Go Bragh!?)
Posted on 12/25/2001 12:06:25 PM PST by Pericles
December 25, 2001
Archaeologists Find Celts in Unlikely Spot: Central Turkey
In the remains of Galatian Gordion in Turkey, archaeologists found a workshop, top, that probably was built in the early third century B.C. A crudely sculptured face, center, with stylistic similarities to heads from Europe attributed to the Celts, was discovered, as were clay loom weights used in weaving. The weights had fallen, along with a pot.
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
n storybook histories, the ancient city of Gordion is remembered only as the seat of King Midas, he of the golden touch, and the place where Alexander the Great struck a famous blow in legend and metaphor. Challenged to separate the strands of an impossible knot, the Gordion knot, the conqueror cut through the problem, in the manner of conquerors, with one authoritative swing of his sword.
After Midas and Alexander, Gordion languished on the fringes of history, and until recently archaeologists had taken little notice of its Celtic past. Yes, European Celts the Gauls of Roman times and the forerunners of Bretons, Welsh, Irish and highland Scots once migrated as far east as what is now central Turkey and settled in and around post-Alexander Gordion, beginning in the early third century B.C.
Archaeologists say they have now excavated artifacts and architectural remains dispelling any lingering doubt that the Celts were indeed there, as a few classical texts had recorded in passing. These people called themselves Galatai, a Celtic name for tribal warriors, and became known to the Romans as Galatians. Their Christianized descendants were advised by the apostle Paul, in the New Testament, that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
The remains of Galatian Gordion, archaeologists conclude, reveal that the Celts, although they came as mercenary soldiers, bringing along their wives and children, were looking beyond warfare and pillage. They put down deep roots, revived Gordion and created an ambitious, thriving society.
Above ruins of ordinary mud-brick houses, they erected a monumental public building of cut-stone blocks that was surrounded by a massive stone wall. Inside a workshop were clay loom weights used in weaving, a possible clue to Celtic influence. Not far away, excavators found a stone sculpture of a human with faces in two directions, which replicates double-faced or "Janus" figures from Celtic sites in central Europe.
But the most decisive discovery was a grisly one: clusters of broken- necked skeletons and decapitated heads of children and adults, some of them mixed with animal bones. Ancient Celts had a reputation for ritual human sacrifice, but not the contemporary Greeks and Romans or any of the indigenous people of Anatolia, the central plateau region of Turkey.
In the current issue of Archaeology, a magazine of the Archaeological Institute of America, Dr. Mary M. Voigt of the College of William and Mary, a leader of the excavations, and her colleagues wrote, "Such practices are well known from Celtic sites in Europe and are now documented for Anatolian Celts as well."
Dr. Ronald Hicks, an archaeologist and specialist in Celtic prehistory at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., agreed that this appeared to be the strongest evidence yet for a permanent Celtic presence in Gordion.
"That certainly has the Celtic look," said Dr. Hicks, who is not involved in the project. "One of the Roman complaints about the Celts was that they still practiced human sacrifice. They said the Gauls were known for lopping off heads of men in battle, tying them to their belts and bringing them back to display for all their friends at home."
Dr. Oscar White Muscarella, an archaeologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, called the discoveries "an extraordinary accomplishment." For the first time, he said, "we are able to see and hold in our hands what the Galatians did and can now talk about Galatians in Anatolia."
The excavations of Galatian Gordion are part of research at the site, 60 miles southwest of Ankara, being led by the University of Pennsylvania Museum in conjunction with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Dr. Voigt's co-authors of the magazine report are Jeremiah R. Dandoy, a retired businessman who has become a zooarchaeologist, and Page Selinsky, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gordion's Galatian period had been neglected, Dr. Voigt explained in an interview, because archaeologists had their eyes on bigger prizes. They dug through the layers of Galatian ruins to get to the city as it was in Alexander's time, 332 B.C., and the even earlier city of Midas, ruler of Phrygia, probably in the eighth century B.C.
Dr. Voigt said archaeologists were also put off by the seeming impossibility of finding anything distinctive to confirm the Galatian presence in the city. How do you establish the ethnicity of an ancient population, especially if the people were warriors who traveled light, carrying with them little of their own material culture, and lived off the land?
"Historically, we knew they were at Gordion," Dr. Voigt said, "but we didn't know anything definitive about their way of life."
In one of the few sketchy accounts, the Roman historian Livy noted that a king in Anatolia hired Celts as mercenaries to re-enforce his own army. They arrived in 278 B.C., 20,000 of them, including provisioners and merchants as well as their families, in a caravan of 2,000 baggage wagons. But by this time the Celts had become somewhat Hellenized.
For an unknown number of years since leaving their homeland, somewhere in central Europe near the headwaters of the Danube, the Celts had passed through the Balkans and paused in Greece to sack Delphi. In battle, they stood naked before the foe. Along the way, they learned Greek and inscribed some of their possessions in that language. Their ceramics and other household wares were in the Greek style.
"It used to be hard to detect the Galatians at Gordion," said Dr. Keith DeVries, a University of Pennsylvania archaeologist and former director of the Gordion excavations. "There was not a single artifact that was absolutely demonstrable as Celtic. Some began to think the literary sources must be misleading us."
Livy described Galatian Gordion as a trading center and a fortified settlement in the early second century B.C., a judgment now supported by archaeologists. Artifacts like a small bone lion, probably used as inlay, suggested the Galatians enjoyed some affluence. Traces of a few substantial buildings with tile roofs, many rooms, paved floors, stone benches and generous courtyards seemed to attest to a city with a social and political hierarchy. This was more than a simple crossroads farming settlement, as some scholars once suspected.
A Roman army destroyed much of the city in 189 B.C., but excavations showed that it was soon rebuilt and eventually became part of the Roman province of Galatia, though with a continuing Celtic imprint.
In more than a decade of meticulous excavations, archaeologists were struck by the juxtaposition of Greek and Celtic customs in Gordion. Ruins of a workshop yielded figurines of Greek deities presumably used in household rituals. Nearby, in the lower town, five skeletons were strewn across the ground of what had been an outdoor area, and another four had been thrown into a deep pit.
Even though the date of the buried skeletons is in some doubt, Dr. Voigt's team said, "their treatment is undoubtedly linked to ritual practices that began in third-century Gordion and would represent continuity of Celtic traditions" after the town became part of a Roman province.
Nearly all these people appeared to have met violent ends, with strangulation by hanging or garroting the most usual cause. Several had broken necks and spines. A woman, probably 30 to 45 years old, had a fractured skull, and was also strangled. Below her lay the bones of a younger woman, who seems to have been done in by the two heavy grinding stones weighing down her upper body. In the same pit, the bones of two young children were mixed in an apparently deliberate way. Among other switches, the jaw of an older child was placed with the cranium of the younger one.
Archaeologists concluded that all of these people were presumably "sacrificed." They might have been war captives. Traces of wood in the base of a skull suggested that a person's severed head had been mounted on a pole for display. Some victims might have been killed as part of Celtic divination rituals. Texts recount that Celtic religious leaders, the druids, were prophets who killed humans in order to discern the future as revealed by the dying victims' movements.
In another part of the lower town, archaeologists came upon the largest bone deposit, holding more than 2,000 animal bones and those of a few dismembered humans. Three individuals a man of about 40, a woman of 35 and a child under 8 might have been a family. This might have been the scene of a feast associated with the Celtic celebration of Samhain, around Nov. 1. Based on their age at death, the animals were probably slaughtered in the fall, the time for culling herds before winter. Some humans could also have been cooked for the feast.
"It may not be too far a stretch to associate Bone Cluster 3 with this Celtic festival, which we still celebrate as Halloween," Dr. Voigt and her colleagues wrote.
The discoveries at Gordion have already contributed to changes in views of Galatian culture in Asia Minor. The Celts as politically and socially primitive barbarians who lived on raids and plundering had considerable basis in fact, which had been stressed in Greek and Roman texts. But at least in Anatolia, the new excavations suggest, the Celts succeeded in settling down, marshaling resources and labor for building and operating a prospering city not the behavior of primitives.
In an article last year in the British journal Anatolian Studies, English and Turkish scholars said the Galatian communities established in the third century B.C. constituted "a new, significant and increasingly important geopolitical entity within Asia Minor" and this "can hardly be attributed to a marginal, and politically, socially and economically unsophisticated people." On the contrary, they wrote: "The fact that their polities survived to be incorporated into the Roman empire would indicate the existence of highly developed social structures bound together by shared value systems. The European Galatians successfully adapted to their new environment, changing it and being changed by it."
The authors of the article are Dr. Gareth Darbyshire of the Oriental Institute in Oxford, England; Dr. Stephen Mitchell of the University of Wales in Swansea, and Dr. Levent Vardar of the Turkish Department of Monuments and Museums in Ankara.
But they and other researchers, including Dr. Voigt and her colleagues at Gordion, concede that the Galatians and their culture remain poorly understood. And no one can be sure what happened to those European settlers in the city of Midas and Alexander.
Through intermarriage with indigenous people, the originally tall and blond Galatians probably blended in with others around them. "I don't know how Celtic they would have looked, even in the time of Paul," said Dr. Hicks, the Celtic specialist.
But the Galatians were still speaking a form of the Celtic language for several centuries after Paul. In the fourth century, St. Jerome observed that the Galatians used a dialect similar to one spoken in the Gallic town of Trier, back in the Europe they had left in the third century B.C.
Interesting notion. I've never heard it before. What is your source for this assertion?
My understanding is that Esau was the ancestor of the Edomites (later Idumeans), who lived south and east of the Israelites/Jews and were eventually forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmoneans. Herod the Great was half Edomite by ancestry.
Primary source: Cambridge encyclopaedia of language.
The Celtic languages are divided into two classes: Insular and Continental
Continental Celtic languages are no longer spoken, but consisted of:
Gaulish (Swiss/Northern Italian variant known as Lepontic)
and Galatian in Turkey(!).
Galatian was spoken until about the 5th century.
Lepontic turns out to be P-Celtic.
Celtiberian turns out to be Q-Celtic, the split occuring prior to the 7th Century BC.
...The early Irish historians further deduced their origins lay with the Phoenician colonists who had also previously settled that Spanish Peninsula, later to migrate to Ireland. In this context it is of additional interest to note that the ancient Greeks once held the Phoenician nation to have been founded by Phoenix, whose brother Cadmus had invented the alphabet. Likewise, the Irish also recalled the time when they lived under a king named "Phenius, who devoted himself especially to the study of languages, and composed an alphabet and the elements of grammar." It is agreed among scholars the system of alphabetic writing originated among the Phoenicians, and this is deduced from hard and independent archaeological evidence, not Irish myths. So it is clear at the very least, the early Irish chroniclers were passing on an account, albeit garbled in places, of authentic historical events, and of the equally historic descent of their own race from Phoenician and/or Scythian stock (see Table 1)....
Presumably, they were not unaware they had originated in the general area where this archeology places them. The Scythians were apparently from the area around the northern and western areas of the Black Sea.
Alexander the Great was dealing with troublesome Celts in the Balkans; they later invaded Greece, plundered the riches at Delphi, and eventually settled down in central Anatolia where they became known as Galatians (Gauls = Gaels = Galatians). Ancient France was called Gaul; the Irish and highland Scots spoke Gaelic and were known as Gaels, and I think there is still a northwest corner of Spain known as Galicia. Galatians in Anatolia were still a distinct group with their own language and culture as late as the New Testament era, if you will recall from reading Galatians.
Trying to connect ancient Celts with stories for the Old Testament is just bizarre, though, and displays an ignorance of history and a weird tendency to try to tie everything into the Bible. Believe it or not, there was a lot of stuff going on in ancient times that was totally unconnected to the stories in the Bible.
This info courtesy of a son that has studied the history of the Celts because of our Irish ancestory .
As I read this to him he shrugged unsurprised..the Celts were all over the place...
My grandma had red hair and green eyes.. my husbands Irish family have very dark eyes and hair..different branches of the sods family tree