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Bodies of Celts found in Switzerland may have been tsunami victims

Artistic reconstruction of the Cornaux/Les Sauges bridge by P. Roeschli. A wooden bridge built on posts in the water.
The collapsed wooden bridge and skeletons of 20 people were found on the Zihl Canal in Cornaux in canton Neuchâtel in 1965. Laténium – Archaeological Park and Museum, Neuchâtel

A new study of 2,000-year-old skeletons found in western Switzerland has concluded that their cause of death may have been a tsunami. But Swiss researchers do not rule out that the Celts discovered around 60 years ago were ritually executed.

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By investigating the cause of death of the twenty people, researchers hope to gain new insights into Celtic culture in Switzerland and northern Italy, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) said on Monday.

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Most of the written sources about the Celts come from Julius Caesar. “They are the stories of a military adversary, so they are not necessarily objective and complete,” explained Zita Laffranch from the University of Bern. She is the lead author of a study published on Monday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Tsunami or sacrificial ritual?

Since the discovery of a collapsed wooden bridge and 20 skeletons on the Zihl Canal in Cornaux, canton Neuchâtel in 1965, there has been controversy among experts as to how these people died. There are two theories: one is that an sudden flood or tsunami led to the collapse of the bridge; another is that the skeletons were ritually sacrificed.

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The fact that the victims were mainly young men suggests that they could have been a group of sacrificed prisoners or slaves, say the researchers. But the well preserved state of the remains suggests that the bodies were quickly buried under sediment after they died. This is what would have happened in a tsunami. The way the bones and pieces of wood were distributed also suggests this theory.

According to the researchers, it is also possible that not all the deaths happened at the same time. Therefore, both theories could also be true.

Adapted from German by DeepL/dkk/sb

This news story has been written and carefully fact-checked by an external editorial team. At SWI we select the most relevant news for an international audience and use automatic translation tools such as DeepL to translate it into English. Providing you with automatically translated news gives us the time to write more in-depth articles.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR