Celts in the Hernád Valley

 La Tène Period cemetery section at the foot of the Cserehát

In April 2019, the Archaeological Heritage Protection Directorate of the Hungarian National Museum excavated fifteen Late Iron Age burials near the village of Novajidrány. These burials presumably belonged to the same cemetery which was partially excavated by the Herman Ottó Museum of Miskolc in the 1990s, under the lead of Magdolna B. Hellebrandt. The significance of the cemetery does not only come from its rich assemblage, but also its location. Since the number of known Iron Age sites in the region is sparse, the graves at Novajidrány were an important addition to gain a better understanding of the microregion’s history during this period.

Although the processing and restoration of the finds is still in progress, a few conclusions can already be made. The cemetery was biritual, which means that both scattered cremations and skeleton burials were documented during the excavation. The latter burial type occurred only once in the cemetery segment excavated in 2019. In the case of scattered cremation burials, the body was cremated on a funeral pyre, after which the bones were collected from the ashes and deposited into the burial pit. This process was never fully successful due to the small size, large number and spread of the bones, which were heavily fractured due to the pyre’s heat. Remains of the pyre and other burnt objects were often also deposited with the ashes, further showcasing the hasty nature of the collection process. Small burnt bronze objects came to light from the burials at Novajidrány, which suggest that the deceased were clothed in various decorative garments before cremation.

Other deposited grave goods highlight additional interesting phenomena. The presence of weapons (swords, spear tips, shield boss), which were often bent multiple times, imply the presence of a warrior class at the settlement. The pottery assemblage includes typological characteristics related to the previous Scythian inhabitants of the area. The few assemblages and written sources which were previously available suggested an aggressive invasion in the area, however this hypothesis has since become much more nuanced. Sites from the Late Iron Age generally lack any layers which such a destruction would have left, which means that a peaceful coexistence between communities was more likely. However, the relations between different groups and settlements were complex and could have shifted over time, therefore a more precise answer can only be attained through the analysis of additional settlements.

Based on recently processed finds, the cemetery at Novajidrány was in use between the late 4th century and the first half of 3rd century BC, which fits in the existing timeframe of the Celts arriving to the region of the present-day Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county at the second half of 4th century BC.

Franciska Zsófia Sörös, Bíborka Nóra Vass

Novajidrány–Sárvár erdészház (excavation lead: Zsiga-Csoltkó Emese)

Archaeologist’s Diary

Fibulae from the Late Iron Age cemetery of Novajidrány

Brooches (fibulae) are ideal finds for a precise archaeological dating, since the form of these objects changed over time along with actual clothing traditions. During the Late Iron Age, fibulae were made of bronze, iron or precious metals (silver and gold). Additionally, both cast and wire-made versions of these items are known. The fibulae depicted here came to light as grave goods from the excavation carried out as part of an archeological watching brief near the village of Novajidrány during April 2019. Given the small size of the objects, they were presumably used to fasten some kind of a finer cloth or for decorative purposes. Parallels of the fibulae from Novajidrány are known from Late Iron Age cemeteries of the Great Hungarian Plain in the late 4th century – early 3rd century BC Late Iron Age Late Iron Age, which make these the only known evidence of long-term Celtic settlement in the north-eastern region of Hungary.

Franciska Zsófia Sörös, Bíborka Nóra Vass

Weapon bending in the Late Iron Age

The Late Iron Age tradition of depositing bent weapons in cremation burials was also observed in the cemetery section excavated at Novajidrány. Swords and spearheads were usually bent two or three times, however, on some rare occasions, for example in the case of Novajidrány, the sword was bent around a vessel. Currently there is no clear consensus in archaeological research as to why weapons were damaged this way. Although there may also be practical reasons of such an act, for example the size of the burial pit or protection from grave robbers, it is more likely that the ‘killing’ of the weapon had a ritual function, since its death also finalized the departure of its wielder from the community of the living. This latter hypothesis is further supported by the fact that aside from armatures (swords, spear tips, shield bosses) and, in a few cases, other objects such as scissors and cart pieces, no intentional damaging was observed on any other grave goods. Of course, the aforementioned explanations are not mutually exclusive, despite the fact that grave robbery was not common in the Late Iron Age.

Franciska Zsófia Sörös, Bíborka Nóra Vass

Analysis of the cremated bones

During the 2019 excavation, archaeologists of the Archaeological Heritage Protection Directorate of the Hungarian National Museum gathered over fifty soil samples in airtight bags, with the aim and hope of finding additional bone and organic remains (such as seeds) via filtering. This method is extremely practical in the case of cremation burials. The ashes were either deposited in an urn or simply scattered inside the burial pit. In the case of the burials at Novajidrány, the latter practice was used. The samples were labelled and, for the sake of better identification, highlighted on a drawing. Afterwards, each sample was put through sieves of various sizes, in order to separate various remains which were later categorized into smaller groups based on size and material, then packed after drying. With hard work and a little luck, the thorough processing of the anthropological materials will allow the identification of the deceased’s age and gender and even possible diseases which they suffered from.

Franciska Zsófia Sörös, Bíborka Nóra Vass, Orsolya Mateovics-László (PhD)

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