I. Mortuary analysis -- why?
II. Areas of interpretation, basic facts and underlying assumptions
III. Problems specific to the interpretation of objects in "Celtic" burials
The vast bulk of material remains from Early Iron Age Europe was found in tombs. Exceptions include objects from unclear find contexts, those from hoards or river deposits, sparse finds from the few excavated settlements, later La Tène period finds from fortified oppida or from Viereckschanzen, and the enigmatic contexts of the finds from La Tène itself. This study examines goods from both Hallstatt and La Tène A period "Princely" tombs. In sections dealing with individual burials or objects, specific interpretive theories are presented and discussed; thus, I will not repeat the examinations of those tomb contexts here. Instead, this section ("Mortuary Analysis") offers a brief outline of my general approach to the interpretation of "Celtic" funerary assemblages; it complements the individual interpretations and explains their theoretical underpinnings. First, a short outline of the different aspects of "Celtic" life whose interpretation relies on the evidence of tomb objects and contexts demonstrates the importance of the funerary assemblages and a methodological approach to them. Then these areas are reviewed again to identify problems specific to the interpretation of objects in "Celtic" burials.
a. Individual identification. Early "Celtic" burials are generally inhumations, but some include cremations; multiple burials are not uncommon. The size, age, constitution, and sex of the deceased can be determined by osteological analysis. Age and sex are particularly important elements in interpretations based on archaeological or ethnographic parallels, since they "are recognized as primary axes of mortuary differentiation" (O'Shea 1984, 42).
b. Ethnic and cultural identity. I speak of "Celtic" burials; the identification of a burial as "Celtic" depends on geographic location, tomb architecture, and certain types, combinations and styles of funerary goods (summarized in Wait 1995, 500-505). Further interpretation relies on the accuracy of that initial identification, which in turn presupposes that ethnic and/or cultural identity can be determined on the basis of the material mortuary evidence. In this as in the following categories, a very basic assumption is that the archaeological record preserves enough material information for us to make these determinations today.
c. Class and wealth. A Fürstengrab, or "Princely tomb," is by archaeological convention a wood-clad chamber tomb under a tumulus, including a wheeled vehicle, imports, and a rich assemblage of banqueting vessels. The type of burial, its architecture and the opulence of the goods directly contribute to any determination of the wealth and/or economic status of the deceased (and/or burying group). The assumption here is that the level of opulence of goods allocated to a particular burial reproduces that available to the deceased while in life.
d. Social role and social structure. In the words of O'Shea's Corollary 3b, "The specific treatment accorded an individual in death will be consistent with that individual's social position in life" (1984, 36). Looking beyond the personal level of the individual burial, determination of one person's social role simultaneously arises out of and contributes to our conception of the social context in which the individual functioned, and its structure. The interpretations discussed under Hellenization model are based almost exclusively on evidence from funerary contexts; thus, the reconstruction of a prestige-goods economy involving the control and distribution of luxury imports among a paramount chief and vassal chiefs ( Frankenstein & Rowlands 1978) is based on observation of the presence or absence of specific goods in specific tombs.
e. Interaction. The presence and distribution of luxury imports in tombs are used in reconstructions of local and regional interaction. The central tenet of the Hellenization model involves the interaction between Iron Age Europe and the Mediterranean lands of origin of those imports. It is assumed that tomb assemblages incorporating local and imported goods demonstrate wide-ranging interactions, both in terms of trade and of interregional politics, in life.
f. Habits and practices. Drinking horns, vessels for food and drink, a couch, wagons, weapons, etc., are all used in some manner in life, as well as being deposited in tombs. There is a tendency to assume that a specific burial context reflects, and thus can be used to reconstruct, the life context (drinking, reclining, use of wagons).
g. Beliefs. It is assumed that, to some extent, what is in a burial has to do with death and the afterlife. Thus, examination of a funerary assemblage contributes to the reconstruction of the religious world of the culture of the deceased, particularly its rituals and beliefs in the afterlife. This assumption is potentially at odds with (f) above, in that each asserts its own claims to the symbolic reference of burial goods.
h. Chronology and style. Objects found in closed tomb contexts are assumed to be "contemporary in the living society at the time of interment" (O'Shea's Principle 4, 1984, 37). Laboratory methods can provide approximate absolute dates. The art historian, through stylistic comparison of objects, develops a relative chronology. Allowing the time required for an import to make its way into a "Celtic" tomb, these two methods are combined to establish and refine the chronology of Hallstatt and early La Tène style.
The difficulties addressed here can be attributed in part to the lack of consensus on a methodological approach to mortuary analysis among archaeologists. In fact, as Härke wrote in 1989,
One of the most crass examples of the lack of communication between German prehistorians and their Anglo-American colleagues withinin the past twenty years is found in the area of mortuary analysis. Since the sixties, two completely separate theoretical discussions on the subject of the analysis and sociological interpretation of graves and necropoleis have been going on. (note 1; 185)