The biggest find at the site was a huge wine cauldron. Standing on the handles of the cauldron, is the Greek god Acheloos. The river deity is shown with horns, a beard, the ears of a bull and a tripleDenis Gilksman/INRAP

Archaeologists have discovered the grave of an Iron-Age Celtic prince outside a small town in France that they believe dates to the 5th century B.C.

The grave was discovered on the outskirts of Lavau in France's Champagne region. The Celtic prince is buried with his chariot as well as Greek and possibly Etruscan artifacts. The prince and chariot are placed at the center of a huge mound which measures 130 feet in length and has been left unopened.

The Celts are thought to have first arrived in Ireland in 500 B.C., around the same date as this burial mound, and became one of the major cultural influences on the country replacing the bronze age culture across the island completely withing a few hundred years. They were a massive influence on Ireland's history, culture and language. Today Ireland is known as one of the six Celtic nations along with Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany and Cornwall. 

An Iron Age Celtic prince lay buried with his chariot at the center of this huge mound in the Champagne region of France. Photo by Denis Gilksman/INRAP

An Iron Age Celtic prince lay buried with his chariot at the center of this huge mound in the Champagne region of France. Photo by Denis Gilksman/INRAP

A team of archaeologists from Inrap, the French National Archaeological Research Institute, began work on the site in October 2014 with excavation of the site due to end at the end of this month.

The team established that the grave dates from near the end of the Iron Age (Hallstatt period) – which means the grave is 2,500 years old – a time that is generally characterized by the widespread use of metal. Researchers believe it to be one of the largest of record for this period of time. The center of the burial mound includes a 150-square foot unopened burial chamber containing the prince. Archaeologists believe the grave to be that of a prince due to high number of valuable grave goods contained within which would generally be associated with a high status within Hallstattian elites.

The uncovered grave may tell us more about trading patterns during the late Iron Age. The largest discovery contained within the grave was a large bronze-decorated cauldron which would have been used to hold watered down wine. The cauldron, 3.3 feet in diameter, appears to have been made by Etruscan craftsmen who were based in the part of Europe which is now known as Italy.

This particular four-handled cauldron is decorated with eight lioness heads around its edge, a depiction of a river deity with horns, a beard, the ears of a bull and a triple mustache and with heads that depict the Greek god Acheloos.

Other finds included a silver spoon that may have been used to filter the wine and a decorated ceramic wine pitcher, made by the Greeks and decorated with a depiction of the god Dionysus lying under a vine and facing a woman. The portrayal of a banquet scene is a recurring theme in Greek iconography. The lip and foot of the pitcher are set with gold making the pitcher the most northern find of this style to date.

Photo by Denis Gilksman/INRAP

Photo by Denis Gilksman/INRAP

All of these pieces are important in showing that there was exchange between the Celts and the Mediterranean. The time is characterized by the rise of Etruscan and Greek City States such as Marseilles in southern France. As a result, trading routes were opened between the Mediterranean and the Celts, as merchants in the Mediterranean searched for slaves, metals and other goods. In return, the Celts received valuable Etruscan and Greek objects. Evidence of these trading routes has also been found in Germany – in sites at Heuneburg and Hochdorf – in places that would have controlled the natural communication routes along the Loire-Seine-Saône-Rhine-Danube inter-fluvial zone, benefitting from their proximity to the rivers.

The burial mound will also contribute to archaeologists’ understanding of the princely burial practices in Western Europe in the Early Iron Age as this new site in Lavau is better preserved than previous discoveries of the Vix Chariot Graves (Côte-d’Or) and the Hochdorf Grave in Bade-Wurtemberg (Germany).