Celts Drank Fine Imported Wine – and Local Swill – From Greek Pottery

Handmade local large bottle-shaped vessel from the plateau Vix-Mont Lassois with pitting and corrosion observed on the internal wall, particularly in the upper part. (Rageot M, Mötsch A, Schorer B, Bardel D, Winkler A, Sacchetti F, et al.)

(CN) – Celts of the Iron Age imported oil and wine from Greece to their settlements in modern-day France, throwing lavish parties and eating and drinking the fine imported goods from equally fine Greek vessels. But archaeologists now know the Celts used the fine Greek vessels to drink their everyday local beer as well.

Previously, historians believed Celts imitated Mediterranean drinking customs some 2,500 years ago to liven up their feasts, particularly the elite members of Celtic society.

But it turns out spirits are the glue that brings people together and many different Celts drank out of Greek pottery, according to a study published Wednesday in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Researchers from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the University of Tübingen studied about 100 ceramic drinking vessels, storage and transport jars found in what is now Burgundy, France, at the hillfort site of Vix-Mont Lassois.

Through chemical analyses, researchers learned the early Iron Age Celts adopted Mediterranean drinking customs but also drank their own brews from the imported bowls. The classic Attic black- and red-figured pottery of Greece and other vessels had residue of olive oil and wine, but also beehive products, millet, barley seeds, milk and alcoholic beverages from the region.

Lower parts of society had access to wine and possibly used it for cooking, while the upper echelons of Celtic society drank their imported goods at feasts. Researchers found some elements of wine in Champ Fossé and Les Renards, the rampart areas of the region, though it’s not exactly clear if the wine was consumed heavily by the lower class or stored for the elite.

The researchers also found animal fats in other pottery which could have been used to serve meats, soups or sauces. The purpose of beeswax was more difficult for the researchers to nail down but could have been used for diet, body care or art. Honey could have been in the mix, which would suggest it was fermented to make mead, but researchers say there is no chemical evidence to back up this theory.

The consumption and preparation of fermented beverages played an important role in the Celtic society.

“In these contexts, alcoholic beverages had the potential to shape, enforce and transform identities within the society,” the study authors wrote.

In a statement announcing the findings, Cynthianne Spiteri from the University of Tübingen said, “We are delighted to have definitively solved the old problem of whether or not the early Celts north of the Alps adopted Mediterranean drinking customs. They did indeed, but they did so in a creative fashion!”

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