Proto-Celts and the Hallstatt Culture

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4m May 29, 2021

The Hallstatt culture is named after the site of that name in Austria and it flourished in central Europe from the 8th to 6th century BCE. The full period of its presence extends from c. 1200 to c. 450 BCE - from the Late Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age.

Due to cultural similarities with later Iron Age peoples in Europe, the Hallstatt culture is often called a proto-Celtic culture. The Hallstatt culture went into decline from around 500 BCE as local natural resources, in particular, salt, ran out and rival trading centers appeared elsewhere. The Hallstatt culture was replaced in terms of regional dominance by peoples living to the north, west, and east, known collectively as the La Tène culture (c. 450 - c. 50 BCE), when cross-European trade routes shifted from the Hallstatt area.

The Hallstatt culture derives its name from the site on the west bank of Lake Hallstatt in Upper Austria where the first artefacts were discovered in 1846 CE. Traditionally, the culture was divided into two approximate periods spanning from 750-600 BCE and from 650 to 450 BCE. More recently, archaeological finds have demonstrated the culture began earlier than first thought and so the full span of the Hallstatt culture is now divided into four periods (A, B, C, and D), beginning around 1200 BCE and ending around 450 BCE. However, these dates are the broadest possible range and are not agreed upon by all scholars, neither can they be applied to all areas where the culture was present.

What is more certain is that, eventually, the culture spanned out from Hallstatt to the east and west, covering territory in what is today western Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and eastern France on the one side, and eastern Austria, Bohemia, and parts of the Balkans on the other. It was the western side of this area that would eventually develop into what we might today call the ancient Celts. Just how the Hallstatt culture spread is another point of uncertainty. Migration was traditionally suggested as the answer but more modern historians prefer a nuanced explanation that includes such activities as trade, tribal alliances, intermarriages, imitation, and so on, all of which can be difficult to trace in the archaeological record.

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