Feb. 11, 2008 -- Historical records tell of a mystical, priestly and learned class of elite individuals called Druids among Celtic societies in Britain, but there has been no archaeological evidence of their existence. Until, perhaps, now.
series of graves found in a gravel quarry at Stanway near Colchester,
Essex, have been dated to 40-60 A.D. At least one of the burials, it
appears, may have been that of a Druid, according to a report published
in British Archaeology.
Mike Pitts is the journal's
editor and an archaeologist. He studied classical Greek and Roman texts
that mention the Druids in early France and Britain. The most detailed
description, Pitts found, dates to 55 B.C. and comes from Roman
military and political leader Julius Caesar.
"Druids, he says,
were prestigious ritual specialists who performed human sacrifices,
acted as judges in disputes, were excused action in battle and taught
the transmigration of souls -- when you die, your soul is passed on to
another living being," Pitts told Discovery News.
Other historians link the Druids to soothsaying and healing practices.
the wooden, chambered burial site, researchers have excavated a wine
warmer, cremated human remains, a cloak pinned with brooches, a jet
bead, divining rods (for fortune-telling), a series of
surgical instruments, a strainer bowl last used to brew
Artemisia-containing tea, a board game carefully laid out
with pieces in play, as well as other objects.
was clearly a specialist and also clearly wealthy and powerful, as
indicated by the special grave and its apparent location within the
compound of a 'chief.' That would all fit Caesar's Druid," he said,
adding that Caesar likely also visited Stanway during his lifetime.
surgical kit found in the grave includes iron and copper alloy
scalpels, a surgical saw, hooks, needles, forceps and probes. Pitts
said the collection mirrors basic medical tools from other parts of the
board game and its arranged pieces, however, are anything but common.
None other like it has ever been found at Roman-era sites in Great
Surviving metal corners and hinges from the board
allowed Pitts to reconstruct it as an 8-inch by 12-inch rectangle.
Raised sides suggest dice might have been used. The white and blue
glass counters were positioned with care. Some were straight across the
sides, another in a diagonal line and one white marker close to the
Pitts believes the game may have been another
"divination tool," along with the rods, jet bead and scent bottles also
excavated at Stanway.
Philip Crummy, director of the
Colchester Archaeological Trust, told Discovery News that the person in
the burial could very well have been a Druid "given the healing and
divination attributes -- assuming that Druids could be trained in these
Crummy agrees with Pitts that such individuals would have been "near the top of the social scale in Iron Age Britain."
is, however, not yet convinced the person was Celtic, since the medical
kit was "fairly Romanized" and the individual may have acted "like a
Roman surgeon/doctor would have done."
"Divination was widely practiced in the Roman world too," he added.
of site's age and location, Pitts is more inclined to believe the
person was indeed a Celtic Druid and could have been closely related to
Cunobelin, a chief or king of the Catuvellauni tribe.
Shakespeare immortalized Cunobelin as "Cymbeline" in a play of that
same name. Cunobelin's sons led a heroic, yet failed, resistance
against Roman Emperor Claudius' invasion of England in 43 A.D.