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Early Celts imported wine from Greece to mimic Greeks’ drinking culture

The early Celts had their very own twist on getting drunk but they loved to import wine from Greece which they drank out of Greek fancy ceramics to mimic the drinking culture of the folks in the Mediterranean Sea.

This is the result of chemical analysis of fragments from Bronze Age drinking vessels found in what is now France.

Key points:

  • The early Celts were previously thought to have mimicked Greek drinking culture
  • Scientists analysed residues on ceramic vessels left by the early Celts in what is now France
  • This showed they had their own customs when it came to drinking wine and beer

The findings, published  in the journal PLOS ONE, shed light on how the drinking customs of these people varied depending on social class and occasion.

It suggests they used both imported and locally made drinking vessels to drink Greek wine and local beer — and while beer was drunk by everyone, warriors drank millet beer while the elites drank ale made from barley or wheat.

The elites tended to be the main ones drinking wine, but evidence suggests craftspeople used wine for cooking, said lead author Philipp Stockhammer of the Max Plank Institute for the Science of Human History.

Archaeologists have long assumed that early Celts, who lived in Europe more than 2,000 years ago, imported Mediterranean wine and ceramics to imitate the Greeks.

But the early Celts had their own drinking customs, Professor Stockhammer said.

The Greeks, who thought beer was really low brow, would have been aghast to discover, as this research has, that the early Celts drank beer out fancy ceramic vessels from Greece.

And while the Greek tradition of wine-sodden feasting was very blokey, previous research has found early Celtic women had social power and drank in the open with men.

But how do scientists figure out if the early Celts were crudely copying Greek customs or using Greek wine and ceramics for their own specific Celtic cultural practices?

Elites, craftspeople or warriors — who drank what where?

Researchers chemically analysed the organic residues left on 99 ceramic fragments dating to about 500BC, collected at the ancient Vix-Mont Lassois fortified settlement — or hillfort — in Burgundy.

They analysed fragments of pottery vessels from four locations at the site.

By matching residue analyses with the type of vessel and where it was found, researchers can start to understand the social meaning given to alcohol in different parts of Celtic society, said Rachel Popelka-Filcoff, an archaeochemist at Flinders University, who was not involved in the study.

“This type of analysis allows you to start inferring cultural context — say ceremonial [drinking] versus sitting at home drinking a beer,” Dr Popelka-Filcoff said.

Fancy imported Greek pottery drinking vessels were concentrated on the plateau of the hillfort where the elites lived. These foreign wares were found to have held wine, but also beer spiced with resins.

Local pottery was also used by the elites, but found to only ever contain beer residue, likely from barley or wheat beer.

Craftspeople, who likely lived in the lower settlement, seemed to store wine only in cooking vessels.

Did modern science inherit ancient Greek snobbery?

It was previously thought the early Celts were not actively involved in choosing what they brought into their culture from the Mediterranean world, said Bettina Arnold of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Celtic expert who was not involved in the study.

“[This comes from a] Mediterranean-centric way of viewing things, that barbarians [early Celts] essentially had a more primitive way of engaging in activities that the Greeks saw as central to their civilisation,” Professor Arnold said.

Who were the early Celts?

  • Early Celts lived in what is now Germany, France and Switzerland around 500 BC.
  • Women held more political power than they did in many other Bronze Age European societies, such as the Greeks.
  • The early Celts were pre-literate, so they relied on an oral tradition to pass on information.

Although the early Celts had a very complex society, they were not yet literate. This has resulted in modern scientists privileging the views and observations of other Bronze Age literate societies, such as the Greeks, she said. [full story here]


I suppose late Celts kept importing Greek wine which they named it Druid’s Magic Potion 😛

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