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The master of animals

In 1916, Félix Mouret's team of excavators unearthed an exceptionally furnished tomb, numbered IB-71! Attributed to a Celtic warrior, it contains a bronze belt buckle with strange figurative symbols...

The master of animals

A Celtic warrior of "European" culture

Discovered in the necropolis to the west of the Oppidum on May 8, 1916, the grave numbered IB-71 is a circular pit 25 cm deep and 60 cm in diameter.

In the center of the pit, Félix Mouret noted the presence of a stela, a flat, barely squared-off stone whose base is set in the earth fill. The tomb contains a wide variety of objects dating from the 5th century BC:

  • jug used as a cinerary urn (preserving the burnt remains of the deceased),
  • attic bowl attributed to the workshop of the Jena painter, as well as a mixed warrior outfit including a cardiophylax
  • a javelin
  • a discoidal pendant from the Iberian culture group,
  • a sword
  • a scabbard
  • a belt clip belonging to Celtic standards.

A mix that raises many questions.
Was this warrior Celtic, Iberian or both?
Does the presence of this Attic cup indicate his participation in the Median Wars, or is it evidence of a taste for fine tableware ?

While we can't answer all these questions, the mixed nature of these objects nonetheless testifies to the interactivity of Mediterranean and European trade at Ensérune. Beyond their function, these objects offer us a glimpse into the culture and imagination of the Oppidum's occupants.

Symbolic adornment

Initially geometric, Celtic art was transformed by contact with Etruscan, Greek, Phoenician, Egyptian and, more broadly, Oriental civilizations. It was certainly during their expansion into Europe, particularly on the shores of the Mediterranean, and probably during the Medieval wars in which they took part, that the Celtic populations appropriated certain oriental myths; fabulous characters such as the sphinx, the griffin and the chimera thus appear in the Celtic repertoire.

The belt clasp found in tomb IB-71 (approx. 10cm x 10cm) is decorated with intertwined motifs presenting several levels of interpretation:

  1. a pair of birds facing each other (in red),
  2. two animals facing each other (in yellow),
  3. a stylized human figure, perhaps with antlers on its head (in black). It seems to be grabbing the necks of the confronting animals (yellow),
  4. two fantastic animals (blue),
  5. the entire central section also features a tree motif (green).
Plaque-boucle celte de la tombe IB-71
Plaque-boucle celte de la tombe IB-71

© Sophie Izac - CMN

Over the course of time, representations of the tree of life change into human silhouettes, and even cross or merge, as seen on this belt.

The figure holds the two wild or mythical animals around him in his hands, seemingly in control. It is this dominant posture that has earned him the name " master or mistress of the animals ".

Is this a symbol of a divinity mastering the forces of nature, or a totemic representation of an individual seizing control of animal faculties? The meaning of this iconography, like the Celtic thought and ideology associated with these representations, remains opaque to this day.

However, the presence of this unique, high-quality object of adornment and the material present in the tomb attest both to its owner's social standing and to the attention paid to his burial.

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