Celts raise questions in Basel

Valuable vases from the Celtic period are on display at the Historical Musuem in Basel Keystone

An exhibition about the inhabitants of Basel over 2,000 years ago reveals details about their everyday life - but raises more questions than it gives answers.

This content was published on April 5, 2002 - 08:08

Celts are believed to have arrived in the area between 150 and 80 BC. It is not known where they came from, how many of them settled there and why they left.

However, various objects discovered during excavation work have provided archaeologists with information about the physical and social structure of the settlement as well as an insight into the day-to-day and economic life of the Celts.

The first traces of Celtic life in what is now Switzerland's third-biggest city were found during construction work in 1911. More discoveries were made in recent years after work began on the building of a motorway slip road.

Pottery, objects made of glass, iron, bronze and wood - and even bones - are among the items unearthed and now on display in Basel's Historical Museum.

"We have no idea how many lived here," says archaeologist Yolanda Hecht, adding that one estimate of about 5,000 was excessive. "But we have been able to deduce that their settlement covered an area of at least 15,000 square metres, and it was alongside the Rhine."

Skilled artisans

The exhibition shows that the Celts were skilled handicraft workers. The wealthier women wore glass or bronze rings around their arms and the settlement was split into different areas based on the social status of its inhabitants.

They used tableware and wine jugs brought from what is now Italy, and possessed amber beads and graphite-clay vessels from Eastern Europe.

It also describes their funeral and sacrificial cults, and their diet - lamb, beef, dog meat and wild plants.

In about 80 BC the Celts abandoned their Basel homes. Nobody knows why they left and where they went. "We can say it was not because of war or a catastrophic event," Hecht told swissinfo.

"Maybe the forest was too far away to provide them with wood, or maybe it was their way of life to leave a settlement after three or four generations. It's just another mystery."

by Richard Dawson

This article was automatically imported from our old content management system. If you see any display errors, please let us know:

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?