Celts buried animal hybrids beneath their homes as offerings to the gods

Celts buried animal hybrids beneath their homes as offerings to the gods

Celts buried animal hybrids beneath their homes as offerings to the gods

Ancient culture in the Mediterranean thought nothing of splicing different animals together to form into amazing mythological beasts, like half-lion, half-goat chimera or half-lion half-eagle griffin.

Sheep skeleton with two heads – its own very fragmentary one and a bull’s one

But until now, such imagination hasn’t been credited to Ancient Britons. This is about to change following a series of animal skeletons situated close to Winterborne Kingston in Dorset, raising the possibility of the hybrid-animal monster myths similar to those of the ancient Greeks, Mesopotamians and Egyptians in the ancient Celtics population of Britain.

The bones, which archaeologists have found in Dorset, seem to have been deliberately reorganized by Iron Age Britons to create hybrid beasts, half a one and half a another.

The Dorset ‘hybrids’ all discovered by archaeologists from Bournemouth University, include:

• A cow which, after probable sacrificial death, had had its own legs removed and deliberately replaced by four horse’s legs.

Pig burials being excavated

• A horse with a cow’s horn protruding from its forehead – with the horn pointing inwards.

• A cow’s upper leg bone with a horse’s hoof

• A sacrificed sheep with two heads – its own somewhat fragmentary one and, protruding from its hind end, that of a bull.

Aerial view of some of the Iron Age roundhouses (where some of the animal sacrifices were found) under excavation

As well as these potential hybrid-style skeletal re-arrangement, the archaeologists – led by Bournemouth University prehistorians Miles Russell and Paul Cheetham – have discovered a series of ‘mix and match’ pairings of different animals and animal parts.

They have so far found two examples in which a jawless cow skull had been deliberately paired with a horse’s lower jaw. Another find was a complete dog with three cow lower jaws radiating from it.

Key. 40 Chimera of Arezzo, Etruscan, c. 400 BCE Bronze, 78.5 x 129 cm Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana

One particularly bizarre arrangement of animal bones also involved a human skeleton. A young woman appears to have been sacrificed (there was an indication that her throat had probably been slit) – and was then buried on a ‘bed’ of specially arranged cattle, sheep, dog and horse bones. Significantly these animal bones had been deliberately sorted to mirror the bones of the dead woman. The animals’ skull fragments formed the surface her head rested on, while the animals’ leg bones formed the surface her legs rested on.

Archaeologists are now planning to analyse evidence from other sites in Britain and Western Europe and from Celtic mythology to try to understand what all the discoveries at the Dorset site might reveal about British Iron Age belief systems.

Other ritual burials of animals discovered at the site include five additional horse heads, 15 more cow heads, three complete pigs and three more complete dogs.

Most of the ‘hybrid-style’, ‘mix-and-match’ and other sacrificed animals at the site were found in disused storage pits under the entranceways to Iron Age houses on the site. It’s likely that all the sacrifices were made in the late first century BC when the settlement was being gradually abandoned. They appear to have been part of decommissioning rituals, probably carried out at the moment a house ceased to be lived in.

By excavating part of the site and by carrying out a geophysical survey (equivalent to ‘x-raying’ the ground), the archaeologists have concluded that the settlement consisted of 150-200 houses and that it flourished from around 100 BC to approximately 10 BC . The inhabitants were probably members of an early version of ancient Dorset’s Durotriges tribe.

As well as the sacrificed animals and the settlements’ many round houses, the archaeologists have also discovered evidence of Iron Age industrial activity – metal working (including iron, lead and copper smelting), pottery making and textile manufacturing.

“The discoveries are helping to transform our understanding of key aspects of Late Iron Age Britain – the type of society that existed just a couple of generations before the Roman conquest,” said Dr. Miles Russell, the Bournemouth University archaeologist who has been co-directing the excavation.

“Our investigations at the site suggest that life there was peaceful and prosperous. Although the settlement was relatively large, there appears to have been no defensive palisade or ramparts.

“The sacrifice of so many animals and the unusual treatment of their bones is likely to shed totally new light on Iron Age belief systems – and may suggest that the Ancient Britons had beliefs or mythologies which involved hybredized animals, just as the ancient Greeks had”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *