for National Geographic News
ON TV Secrets of the Druids airs Saturday, March 28, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. Details >>
Recent evidence that Druids possibly committed cannibalism and ritual human sacrifice—perhaps on a massive scale—add weight to ancient Roman accounts of Druidic savagery, archaeologists say.
After a first century B.C. visit to Britain, the Romans came back with horrific stories about these high-ranking priests of the Celts, who had spread throughout much of Europe over a roughly 2,000-year period.
Julius Caesar, who led the first Roman landing in 55 B.C., said the native Celts "believe that the gods delight in the slaughter of prisoners and criminals, and when the supply of captives runs short, they sacrifice even the innocent."
First-century historian Pliny the Elder went further, suggesting the Celts practiced ritual cannibalism, eating their enemies' flesh as a source of spiritual and physical strength.
But with only the Romans' word to go on—the ancient Celts left no written record of their own—it's been easy for historians to dismiss such tales as wartime propaganda.
Until now, that is.
Gruesome Druid Discoveries
Recent gruesome finds appear to confirm the Romans' accounts, according to Secrets of the Druids, a new documentary airing Saturday on the U.S. National Geographic Channel.
VIDEO: Caesar Meets the Druids (Dramatization)
Perhaps the most incriminating evidence is the 2,000-year-old, bog-mummified body of Lindow Man, discovered in England in the 1980s. Lindow Man's manicured fingernails and finely trimmed hair and beard suggest that he may have been of high status—possibly even a Druid himself.