June 21, 2024

French archaeologists have uncovered nine large graves containing the remains of horses from up to 2,000 years ago, in a find described as “extraordinary”.

The 28 stallions, all about six years old, were buried shortly after death, each placed in pits on their right side with their heads facing south. Nearby a grave contained the remains of two dogs, heads to the west.

Experts from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), say carbon dating places the remains after the time of the Gallic Wars, around the end of the Roman conquest of what was then Gaul and the beginning of the empire of ancient Rome between 100 BC and 100 AD.

They are examining the bones to try to determine whether the animals were buried after being killed in battle or as part of a complex ritual. An episode of animal disease was deemed unlikely as only adult male horses were buried, but the remains are being examined for parasites.

The discovery came when archaeologists excavated a 5th- to 6th-century site at Villedieu-sur-Indre in central. France where buildings, ditches and a medieval road have also been found. The first pit uncovered contained 10 complete horse skeletons. The animals, which were only 1.2 meters tall, said to be typical of Gallic horses at the time, were carefully placed two deep in two rows.

The animals were found to be placed on their right side with their head facing south. Photo: François Goulin/Inrap

The staging of the burial is similar to earlier discoveries elsewhere in France. In Gondole in the Puy-de-Dôme in 2002, archaeologists uncovered a rectangular tomb containing the bodies of eight Iron Age warriors and their horses in what appeared to be a Celtic burial. The men were all lying on their right sides. Historians believe they may have been warrior companions of a Celtic king who killed himself after he died violently.

Isabelle Pichon, the head of archaeological operations for Inrap, said the latest find was “extraordinary… but a mystery.

“We think because of where they’re buried that they’re linked to the Gallic wars that Julius Caesar fought in the 1st century BC, but that’s still just a theory,” she said. “We know there was an important battle and the Roman army passed not far from here, but we have so little evidence and so far we have found nothing to indicate how they died. However, we cannot rule out that it was a ritual burial, even if there were no objects buried with the horses.”

Pichon said DNA samples were taken from the bones and samples of sediment around them.

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“We know that the Gauls had small horses of this type, but we also know that some of the Roman auxiliaries had them too, so hopefully some of the DNA samples we’ve taken will provide some answers,” she said. said.

“This is an extraordinary discovery because of the rarity of such finds, but it is a mystery. What we do know is that these horses were buried with special care. They weren’t just thrown into the pit, so they were treated with care and respect.”

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