A German bomb disposal squad called in archaeologists after they found a curious wooden structure buried beneath a Munich suburb. The 2,300-year-old Celtic grave was found to contain not only a ‘folded sword,’ but also a pair of “almost new” Celtic scissors.
A German explosive ordnance disposal team was looking for unexploded Second World War incendiary devices at a construction site in the Munich district of Sendling. This area of Munich is the home of several historic buildings and landmarks, including the Sendlinger Church and the 200-year-old Viktualienmarkt (market), which hosts a Maypole raising ceremony and the famous Oktoberfest celebrations.
The bomb squad identified what turned out to be a ‘ Celtic cremation tomb,’ which was later excavated by a team of archaeologists from the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments ( BLfD). The researchers found a host of ancient artifacts including “a folded sword, the remains of a shield and a lance tip, a razor, and a fibula.” But hidden among the well-preserved grave goods was a 2,300-years-old pair of scissors, which are so well preserved that they are described as looking “almost new, with a slight sheen”.
The pair of still shining Celtic scissors from 2,300 years old grave. ( BLfD)
Top End Celtic Craftsmanship
Prof. Mathias Pfeil from the BLfD said the Celtic tomb was located at the center of a square burial structure comprising four individual corner posts. The hoard of grave goods was positioned near the deceased man’s remains at the center of the tomb.
Dr. Pfeil said the well-preserved pair of scissors are more than 2,300 years old, and that their condition is so good that “they could still be used today.” Because of their exceptional state of preservation, Pfeil described the scissors as “very special,” and he said the primary reason the scissors “still shine” today is because of the “high-quality craftsmanship” that was applied when they were originally made, around 2,300-years-ago.
Celtic Scissors. Practical Or Spiritual Significance?
Regarding the scissors’ functionality, BLfD said they could have been used “to cut hair, textiles and to shear sheep.” And having several practical applications in this world, the archaeologists referred to them as “a multipurpose tool.”
While there is no definitive answer as to why scissors were added to Celtic graves , it is generally agreed that they may have held both practical and symbolic significance for the deceased.
Because scissors were important tools for the Celts, used for cutting hair, wool, and other materials, they may have been included in graves as an expression of the individual’s craft or trade. However, it must also be considered that in ancient mythology, especially in Celtic lore , scissors were often connected with goddesses associated with spinning and weaving, which were important activities in Celtic culture. Therefore, it might be the case that the scissors were intended to be used as a practical tool in the afterlife.
Folded Celtic sword found at the Sendling district of Munich. ( BLfD)
Unfolding The Bent Celtic Sword
Also buried in the Celtic cremation grave was a ‘folded’ sword. Prof. Mathias Pfeil said the sword had been deliberately heated, then folded, which effectively rendered the weapon unusable. One theory for why Celts folded swords for inclusion in burials, is that it was a way of symbolizing the end of a warrior’s life, and that the weapon was no longer needed, in this life. However, the archaeologist also said that folding weapons might have been a way of deterring, or preventing looting, or that it was a practical way to fit large metallic swords into smaller graves.
BLfD also said the process of sword bending might have served a spiritual function, “as a precaution, to calm the dead person’s potentially restless spirit.” In 2015, another 2,300-year-old Celtic grave was found in Lavau, in the Champagne of France, which contained the remains of a high-status individual buried with a chariot and a trove of precious artifacts, including a gold torc, bracelets, and a large bronze cauldron. All of these artifacts were considered as tools for the afterlife, which suggests the bent sword and scissors, which are contemporary, probably served a similar otherworldly purpose.
The Swords, And Scissors, Of Celtic Social Elites
In conclusion, BLfD said that from the 3rd to the 2nd century, Celtic tribes cremated their deceased and buried their ashes in pits. The remains were then surrounded by valuable grave goods that people could then use on the ‘other side,’ to assist their journeys into the afterlife.
This newly discovered burial, when interpreted in context with others found in the Sendling district, and across Europe, determines that the deceased in this burial ground enjoyed a high social status. On the other hand, common Celtic people were buried in rural areas, or on the outskirts of settlements, or along important trade routes. Most often these were communal graves in which the people were laid to rest without elaborate grave goods, and with only modest items such as pottery vessels, brooches, and beads.
Top image: Folded sword and Celtic scissors found in Munich, Germany. Source: Bayerisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege
By Ashley Cowie
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