- Museum number
Three carinated amber beads of different sizes.
- Curator's comments
- Stead & Rigby 1999
Findspot: Somsois ‘Perriere-la-Guilliere’ (Marne)
For this, his first excavation, Morel published a detailed account and a plan of the cemetery. He read his report to the Société des Sciences et Arts de Vitry-le-François on 3 August 1865 and published it in the first volume of their transactions (Morel, L., 1867, Cimetière galuois de Somsois, ‘Bulletin de la société des sciences et arts de Vitry-le-François’ (1861-7), 169-86); the same paper was read at the annual meeting of the Sociétés Savantes des Départements at the Sorbonne on 4 April 1866, and then published in two different journals (Morel, L., 1866a, Cimetière gaulois de Somsois, RA, 14, 23-34 and Morel, L., 1866b, Cimetière gaulois de Somois, ‘Mémoires lus à la Sorbonne (Archéologie)’, 177-87). The contribution to Morel 1898 (83-93) was thus the fourth publication of this excavation report. Two versions (Morel 1866a and 1867) are identical, although the illustrations are taken from different blocks and vary slightly; there is one figure in the text and two plates (a plan of the cemetery and a selection of grave-goods). The final version (Morel 1898) is almost the same as Morel 1866b, which varies slightly from the 1866a and 1867 versions. Likewise, the plan, Morel 1898, pl. 28, is very similar to Morel 1866b, pl. vii, although it was not taken from the same drawing and has had lists of grave-goods added. The plan in the other two publications is different and much cruder. The orientation of burials and their overall positions relative to one another is identical on both versions, but the distances between burials varies considerably from one plan to the other: e.g. grave 16 and grave 19 seem to be about 5 m apart on the one plan (Morel 1866a and 1867) but only about 1 m apart on the other (Morel 1866b and 1898). Neither plan has a scale, and one version (Morel 1866b and 1898) lacks a north point. Smith, R.A., 1925, ‘A guide to the antiquities of the Early Iron Age’ (second edition), London, 72-3.
The cemetery was found when seven or eight graves were disturbed in the course of road-works. Morel started an excavation in September 1863 at the side of the road and into the adjoining field. The cemetery was on the slope of a hill and covered an area 21 by 12 m. Below 0.4 m of topsoil there was a compact layer of chalk, 0.6 m, before the 0.2-0.3 m of terre noire covering each skeleton. There was no consistent orientation of the graves, which were on average 2 m long, 0.85 m wide and 1.3 m deep, and no suggestion of coffins. All burials were extended inhumations: one (grave 25) had the hands crossed on the pelvis, two (graves 10 and l4) had the legs crossed, and the others were fully extended with the arms by the sides; one skeleton (grave 23) faced downwards. This cemetery was regarded as exceptional in that all the graves were intact (Morel 1898, 184).
Grave-goods found by the road-workers included: four bracelets (one of glass); four anklets; a torc; two belt chains; three brooches; a finger ring; and two amber beads.
Grave 18: The following objects were found in the grave: ML.1564, ML.1574, ML.1575, ML.1553, ML.1549, possibly ML.1939, ML.1567 (a pair of bronze anklets) and the remains of an iron brooch [unregistered].
Context: Beads and Amulets
There are beads in amber, coral, bone and glass in the Morel Collection, and where the details have been recorded, they are typically found in the graves of girls and women. They were found singly or in groups, separate - possibly because the original organic string had disintegrated - or strung onto bronze wire, fine strip, bangles or torcs. One bone amulet bears traces of having been threaded onto iron strip, a fairly common practice; there are several examples in other collections from La Tène cemeteries in Champagne, e.g. Beine ‘l’Argentelle’ grave 9 where they were used for pendants strung on a torc.
Due to the limitations on shape imposed by the techniques of working the different materials, the beads have first been divided by material before the shapes were classified.
Amber: Amber occurs in a range of permanent translucent yellow and orange shades which produce effects impossible to replicate with ancient technology, hence one reason for its continued popularity for decorative effects as inlays and beads. When rubbed with wool, amber becomes magnetic, and it is interesting to speculate to what use such a property was put in antiquity.
The Baltic coast is usually cited as the source for prehistoric amber; however, the erosion of areas of the north-west coast of Europe may have been a closer if more periodic source (Butler, J.J., Bronze Age metal and amber in the Netherlands (1), ‘Palaeohistoria’ 32 (1990), 51-4). There are 15 beads in amber, both single finds and strung with beads in other materials, mainly glass, as ring-pendants or necklaces.
Amber beads were worn in Champagne from Hallstatt D to La Tène II: they are frequently strung with glass beads. Four were found at Les Jogasses grave 188. A necklace comprising 13 amber and two glass beads occurs at Luyères 'les Vermillonnes' grave 17 dated as La Tène Ic (Charpy, J.-J., and Roualet, P., 1991, ‘Les Celtes en Champagne’ (exh. cat., Epernay, 23/6 - 3/11/1991), no. 238f) Two examples strung with glass beads on bronze ring-pendants found at Somme-Bionne probably belong to La Tène I. Finds from the La Tène II cemetery at Somsois show that amber beads were still being worn in the third and second centuries BC.
There are 15 amber beads in the Morel Collection, both single finds and strung in necklaces with glass. Morel lists more which were not acquired: from Bergères-les-Vertus b he lists a necklace of 45 amber and 48 glass beads, and there are also four ring beads from Marson, one illustrated and four with small blue glass beads from Courtisols b, grave 10 (Morel, L., 1898, ‘La Champagne souterraine’ Reims, pl. 3, fig. 28).
Bead shapes: Amber 6
One of the most common and characteristic types of amber bead. Three were found together in Somsois grave 3, a woman's grave, with La Tène II brooches and in grave 18 with wheel-thrown pots made between 250 and 150 BC.
Bibliography: Morel, L., 1898, ‘La Champagne souterraine’ Reims, pl. 16, fig. 5. No information given as to the circumstances of the find. The burial includes a pair of La Tène II brooches providing a date range of 250-150 BC.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1980, London, BM, Celtic Antiquities from Gaul
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number