(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists have unearthed a Gallo-Roman cult site near the village of Saint-Ju-en-Chussée that sheds light on religious practices before and after the Roman conquest.
The sanctuary in northern France has been known since the end of the 19th century; its first excavations were carried out at the end of the last century.
To date, specialists from the French National Institute for Archaeological Research (Inrap) have explored two and a half hectares of this area, but, in their opinion, the work is still far from being completed.
Nevertheless, they summed up the preliminary results , which will be discussed at the upcoming conference.
The place for rituals is located on a hill, which provides an excellent overview of the area.
The entire perimeter has not yet been excavated, but it is already clear that it was surrounded by a moat no less than one and a half meters deep and no less than three meters wide.
The sanctuary is dated II-I centuries BC. That is, this is the Iron Age of the Gauls and the beginning of Roman expansion into their lands.
In France, archaeologists have already found a significant number of sanctuaries dating back to the Gallo-Roman period.
In almost all of them, a gradual transition from Gallic ritual activity to Roman is clearly visible. Here the matter is different.
The ditch along the perimeter, which was mentioned above, was filled with the remains of animals – pigs, horses, sheep, goats, cows. Obviously, these are sacrificial animals, but there is a big difference between them.
The skeletal remains of horses were placed in the ditch after their bodies began to decompose.
But the skulls of other species were first exposed to the elements for a long time, that is, they remained on the surface until the soft tissues completely disappeared.
Inrap employees offer such an explanation. Pigs, cows, goats and sheep were first cooked on fire by the Gauls, the meat was eaten at a ritual feast, and the bones were then left in sacred places on the surface of the earth, where they were affected by the sun, wind and precipitation.
On the territory of the sanctuary, several hearths were unearthed, around which there are flat areas suitable for a feast. Chemical analysis showed that they drank a lot of wine there, and roasted meat on the hearths.
But no one cooked or ate horses – they were taken from the battlefield. The fact is that not only the bones of animals were thrown into the ditch by the owners of the sanctuary. In one of its parts, archaeologists found many samples of armor.
These are the details of at least eight shields, one specially shaped Roman helmet that covers the ears (only ten are known today) and simply an unprecedented number of plate armor made of riveted sheet iron – 66 elements, including a segmented cuirass, bracers and shoulder protection.
The armor is in a state in which they could not come in battle. Most likely, they were collected after the victory and shattered into pieces in the process of some kind of ritual.
Then these details were scattered in different parts of the moat. Judging by the distribution of objects, archaeologists believe that elements that would have been used together in everyday life were deliberately separated from each other.
All these are half-decomposed horses, torn armor – links of one chain. Two types of human burials were found on the territory of the sanctuary.
The first is quite typical for the Gauls of that period: the dead were placed in more or less round pits, leaning against the wall and folding their arms and legs in a certain way.
One skeleton is missing a skull, but archaeologists believe that this is the result of late plowing, as the lower jaw remained in place. All the skeletons belonged to men of different ages.
But the second type of burial has not yet been encountered. In several pits and ditches, the researchers found 899 bone remains mixed with each other, and one relatively complete skeleton, though without a head. Scientists have determined that the mixed bones are the remains of 15 adult males.
On the bones from this burial, archaeologists found a lot of cuts, breaks, marks from blows with both a blade and something blunt.
Parts of limbs were cut off from people from this group. Some of the damage is in vivo, others are inflicted after death.
All the bodies to which these bones belong, like the bodies of horses, began to decompose on the surface and only then they were buried.
This is a completely atypical practice of sacrifice for the Gauls. Some elements are similar to what was previously known, but the whole complex of burials and votive offerings is unique.
There is a picture of a certain battle in which the Gauls won, buried their heroes, arranged a feast, and then sacrificed captured enemies.
Roman armor suggests that legionnaires were sacrificed. Although it is impossible to completely exclude the fact that these were other Gauls with captured Roman armor.
The Roman province of Gaul was formed after the conquests of Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, which coincides with the starting dates of the sanctuary.
But even before the large-scale Gallic Wars, there could have been border clashes between the Gauls and the Romans, which did not always end in the victory of the latter.
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