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Belted Ladies and Dagger Men: Technology Brings European Iron Age Back to Life

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

7:30 pm, Trinity Chapman Auditorium

arnoldimageLecture by Professor Bettina Arnold
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

It is a little known fact that archaeologists spend three to five years on analysis, conservation and write-up for every year of fieldwork. The public probably views this follow-up activity as less exciting than the fieldwork itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to new technology, many elements of dress and ornament can be reconstructed. The human body in many prehistoric societies was a kind of walking billboard. You could tell whether someone was male, female, a child, was married, occupied a certain role in society and much more from what they were wearing. Iron Age Celtic populations in central Europe are described by Greek and Roman authors as being especially fond of flashy ornament and brightly striped and checked fabrics. Until recently archaeological confirmation of this claim was hard to come by because the evidence consists mainly of perishable material like cloth or leather. New technology applied to finds from the “Landscape of Ancestors” excavation project in southwest Germany focused on mound burials of the early Iron Age (650-400 BC) has revealed the burials of six women wearing elaborate bronze decorated leather belts and head ornament and three men with daggers, swords and spears. Material that was too fragile to be excavated was removed encased in plaster and subjected to CT-scans, resulting in some of the first images ever seen of some astonishingly complex decorations on these belt ensembles. Since fieldwork ended in 2002, conservation of finds and costume reconstruction has been the main focus of the project. A major museum exhibit in Stuttgart in 2012 on the “Celts in Baden-Württemberg” featured one of our Iron Age belted ladies and one of our warriors in all their finery, a demonstration of how technology really can bring even the very ancient dead back to life.t17gr6belt

Biographical Note

Bettina Arnold obtained her BA in Archaeology from Yale University and her MA and PhD degrees in Anthropology from Harvard University. She is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she served as the Co-Director of the Center for Celtic Studies from 2000-2009. She is the Editor of the on-line peer-reviewed journal e-Keltoi. Her area of expertise is the pre-Roman European Iron Age, but she has participated in archaeological projects ranging from the Middle Bronze Age through the early medieval period in western Europe. Since 1999 she has co-directed a research project in southwest-Germany focused on the burial record of the early Iron Age Heuneburg hillfort and its environs; two burial mounds associated with this site were excavated by the Landscape of Ancestors project between 1999 and 2002. Finds from those excavations were featured in a major exhibition in Stuttgart in 2012-2013: http://www.kelten-stuttgart.de/en/. Her research has focused on the archaeological interpretation and analysis of complex societies; material culture as a symbolic system and a means of communicating social relationships; and the archaeological interpretation of prehistoric gender configurations in burial contexts.

Recent publications include: Bettina Arnold (2012) The Vix Princess redux: a retrospective on European Iron Age gender and mortuary studies, in Lourdes Prados Torreira (ed.) La Arqueología funeraria desde una perspectiva de género, pp. 215-232. Madrid: UA Ediciones; Derek B. Counts and Bettina Arnold (eds) (2010) The Master of Animals in Old World Iconography (Budapest: Archaeolingua).


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