FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

Rethinking Earliest Celtic Gold - Economic, Social and Technological Perspectives in the West Hallstatt Culture. – WEST HALLSTATT GOLD

Gold of the early Celts - Economy, Society and Technology

The study of gold work and its production and consumption contexts during the early Iron Age in South-west Germany, central and eastern France and Switzerland

Study of the gold productions of the West Hallstatt culture (first Iron Age) through an interdisciplinary approach: archaeology, technology, archaeometry

The program was based on the constitution of an international database and examination of 520 gold and silver objects dispersed in numerous museums and archaeological institutions in Germany, France and Switzerland. The principal aim was the study of the gold productions of the first Iron Age / the Hallstatt culture through an interdisciplinary approach combining archaeology, technology, and archaeometry for understanding of the social, economic and technological development of the West Hallstatt (8th-5th cent. BC) through the study craft production in precious metals. This early Iron Age culture is situated in a geographic area cross bordering Southwest Germany, East and Central-East France and parts of Switzerland. It is characterized by fortified settlements and princely burials bearing rich prestige goods. Amongst the latter, gold items constitute a privileged matter of study. They come nearly exclusively from the richest burials, their context is convenient for functional, socio-economic and symbolic studies. Furthermore, the goldsmith's work is suited for emphasize traditions and local innovations, as well as foreign influences and exchange networks in arts and crafts. All information is integrated in a data base.

The results have been achieved thanks to the interdisciplinary methodology considering several aspects of gold work, combining material sciences and humanities. The function, use, exchange, socio-cultural context and the final deposition of these prestige objects have been studied through archaeological approaches. Methods from archaeometry allowed the physical and chemical analyses to obtain information on the elementary composition of the alloys. Observations by scanning electron microscopy offered insights to surface topographies. The gold working craft also can be scrutinized by the macro and microscopic study of the objects clarifying technological aspects of their fabrication. Experimental archaeology explores the reconstitution of ancient manufacturing processes. A detailed graphic documentation has also been constituted by photography, technical drawings, archival documents, maps and charts. Evolutions and changes in time and space have been highlighted in relation to morphology, decoration, technology and alloy composition. The study takes into account the local characteristics of precious metal production and the relationship between Mediterranean and Atlantic cultures.

he most significant result consists of a better multifocal understanding of the Iron Age gold work and the obtainment of an enriched and exhaustive corpus of archaeological gold items of a vast region. The interdisciplinary analyses of the latter allow a novel and different approach to the princely phenomenon of the Hallstatt period and to place emphasis on the regional traditions and innovations rather than exclusively on Mediterranean influences.
On the one hand the technological approach allowed investigating the craftwork. On the other hand, by the archaeometric point of view the alloy composition has been characterized. These results enabled to draw social and economic conclusions. This approach of crossing views is original in the study of gold work from the early Celts. Thanks to their interdisciplinary acquaintances, the complementary competences of the different team actors have certainly been crucial.

Publication of the conference proceedings; collective enrichment and exploitation of the database; elaboration of a new project in the logic continuity of the present one: the gold of the Celts in the second Iron Age (Latène Gold). Continuation of the collaboration in the international and interdisciplinary research network established during the project.

• 33 Publications (articles and chapters)
• 21 Contributions at international and national scientific events
• 1 Digital database
• Organization of an international congress
• Edition of the conference proceedings and the results of the research project

The aim of the project is to contribute to the understanding of the economic, social and technological development of the West Hallstatt Culture (8th -5th centuries BC) through the study of the production and consumption of gold objects. This culture of the Early Iron Age, cross-bordering mainly southwest Germany and eastern France, but also represented in Switzerland and Austria, is characterized by fortified settlements and rich elite burial mounds in which the gold items are deposited. We intend to study the social dynamics and hierarchies, combined with craft specialization during the Hallstatt period by mainly investigating prestige objects from burial sites. Fine metal work is especially suitable to reveal traditions and local innovations as well as foreign influences and exchange networks in arts and crafts. The strength of the project is in the international collaboration of German and French scientists and in their interdisciplinary excellence in archaeology, archaeometry, technology and experimental archaeology. It is also based on new laboratory equipment allowing innovative high precision observations. We intend for the first time to take in account all aspects of Early Iron Age gold: from the raw material, passing by the transformation into artefacts, their utilization and distribution, until to the final deposition and finally the archaeological discovery. The interdisciplinary methodology integrates the study of the cultural context, morphology and function. Several approaches will be combined, such as archaeometry for the characterisation of the materials, technology for the reconstruction of manufacturing processes and epistemology for the history of archaeological interpretation. These observations will be integrated into a wider socio-economic and technological context in order to enlight changes in stylistic traditions and technologies of luxury objects in relation to the socio-economic organization of the Hallstatt period.

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Universität tübingen

Help of the ANR 240,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2012 - 36 Months

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