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Ancient Celts Decapitated Their Enemies and Saved Their Heads, Archaeologists Say

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(Credit: Stefano Venturi/Shutterstock)

(Inside Science) — In a finding that mirrors the fantasy of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” French researchers working at the site of a third-century B.C. settlement have discovered evidence that Celtic communities decapitated and preserved human heads.

A team of archaeologists unearthed fragments of human skulls that they believe confirm a practice of deliberate decapitation. They concluded that the skulls were either war trophies or the result of a still little understood ritual practice. In the first scenario, the victors — Iron Age Celtic warriors — may have taken the heads of their enemies, embalmed them, and prominently displayed the grisly objects within their settlements’ fortified walls and gates.

I’ll Have Your Head

However, there was little tangible evidence for deliberate decapitation, despite mention of it in several classical texts — until now. The researchers found the skull bones, along with animal bones and metal weapons, inside the settlement along the base of the fortified wall and near what has been interpreted as a gate. The skull fragments, including vertebrae, had distinctive cut marks that suggest the victims were deliberately decapitated.

“This is an important and useful piece of work,” said Ian Armit, a professor of archaeology at the University of Leicester. Although he was not involved in the project, he has written a lot about the subject in his own research. “It corroborates the classical sources.”

This settlement is located in southern France along the Mediterranean coast, about 80 miles west from modern-day Marseille. During the Iron Age, it was the site of a large Celtic settlement from the sixth century B.C. to the first century A.D. Since its discovery in 2000, the hilltop site has been the scene of extensive excavations.

During the third century B.C., Celtic-speaking peoples inhabited large swathes of Western Europe, including southern France. They practiced agriculture, were skilled in metalwork and had a society organized along hierarchical lines. They were also renowned as warriors. In fact, many classical sources focus on their combative history, including headhunting.

The first-century B.C Greek authors Strabo and Diodorus of Sicily both mention this practice. In his most famous work, Bibliotheca Historica, Diodorus wrote, “When their enemies fall they cut off their heads and fasten them about the necks of their horses. … The heads of their most distinguished enemies they embalm in cedar-oil and carefully preserve in a chest.”

But with little physical evidence for the practice, researchers had always approached the subject with a healthy dose of caution.

Headed for Glory

This new study, however, indicates the validity of deliberate decapitation and embalming. “It’s the first time that decapitated crania of Celtic peoples have been chemically analyzed,” said Peter Gosnell, an archaeologist from the University of d’Avignon who helped perform the chemical analysis.

Gosnell and his colleagues analyzed 11 human skull fragments — mostly mandibles and fragments of skull — from a much larger assemblage. After an analysis of cut marks found on the bones, the researchers analyzed them chemically. Six of 11 fragments of bone exhibited chemical traces of resin from trees belonging to the Pinaceae family, which includes the conifers.

The researchers found no traces of resin on the animal bones located alongside the human remains, strengthening the likelihood that the skull fragments were deliberately coated with resin in order to preserve them.

Gosnell said that the resin found on the skulls means that the Celtic people attempted to preserve the decapitated heads for posterity.

The question of why Celtic warriors took heads, of course, continues to be debated. Was it solely a practice associated with warfare, as the classical texts largely assert? Was it a ritual or even religious practice? Were the heads actually revered ancestors?

The researchers intend to use techniques such as isotopic analysis or pollen analysis to further interpret archaeological materials found near the site. The potential of such techniques to verify archaeological and historic evidence, Gosnell emphasized, is “absolutely huge for the field.”

The scientists detailed their findings in the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

 

[This article first appeared on Inside Science]

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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