Finely worked gold and amber jewelry, including the pieces seen above, are among scores of Celtic treasures from a tomb recently unearthed in southern Germany.
Discovered beside the River Danube in Heuneburg, the tomb—all 80 tons of it—was lifted whole by heavy cranes in December 2010 and transported to a tented laboratory outside of Stuttgart (map), where archaeologists with the Stuttgart Regional Council are now analyzing the contents.
The large wooden burial chamber contains the 2,600-year-old skeleton of an ancient Celtic noblewoman. Aged between 30 and 40 when she died, the high-born lady was buried with a cache of ornate treasures, such as gold necklaces set with pearls, and she was found wearing crafted amber around her waist.
The lavish grave confirms Heuneburg as one of the earliest centers of Celtic art and culture, according to excavation leaders.
The woman's tomb was found not far from the similarly aged grave of a girl, previously unearthed in 2005, whose body was adorned almost identically, said project co-leader Nicole Ebinger-Rist, an archaeologist with Stuttgart Regional Council.
"What's amazing is that the jewelry from the girl—two broaches and two earrings—have exactly the same type of ornamentation," she said. "These must be two related people."
The study team hopes DNA analysis will reveal whether the pair belonged to the same family—or were even mother and daughter.
Photograph courtesy Stuttgart Regional Council
Starting the Dig
Undetected for more than two millennia, the ancient Celtic burial chamber begins to reveal its secrets in a picture taken at the dig site in August 2010.
"Normally these graves are robbed over the centuries, so it's amazing to have one in such a good condition," Ebinger-Rist said.
Treasures inside the tomb include engraved copper-alloy plates and gold-encrusted animal teeth, which the Celts used for adorning their horses, she added.
Archaeologists examine the wooden floor of the Heuneburg tomb in November 2010, a month before digging it up wholesale and taking it to a tented facility near Stuttgart.
The unusual preservation of the oak floor—caused by waterlogging of the 8-meter-long (26-foot-long) burial chamber—was key to providing an accurate date for the site, Ebinger-Rist said. Analysis of the wood indicates that oak trees used for the chamber's construction were felled 2,620 years ago, making this royal Celtic grave one of the earliest known.
Two heavy cranes lift the 80-ton tomb from the frozen earth last December in preparation for transport to an archaeological facility near Stuttgart.
Supported by 14 large steel pipes and a surrounding steel frame, the burial chamber was moved so that researchers could sift through the find in microscopic detail under laboratory conditions. Already the lab team has recovered minute fragments of leather and clothing and traces of corroded copper alloy plates covered in engravings, according to Ebinger-Rist.
"This is amazing—out in the field we have no chance of detecting such objects," she said.
Workers at the lab site near Stuttgart prepare to erect a tent around the disinterred Celtic tomb in January 2011, which has enabled researchers to carry out in-depth analysis of the massive archaeological haul.
Looking for traces of organic matter, including fragments of textiles worn by the Iron Age noblewoman, the team "works in millimeters, like a dentist would," Ebinger-Rist said.
"By next year we have the possibility to put all the fragments together to learn more about the clothes and build up a picture of the grave chamber and the person," she added.