The Warrior of Lattes: An Iron Age Statue Discovered in Mediterranean France

Article excerpt

A distinctive series of human sculptural representations found at Iron Age sites in Mediterranean France over the past century has occupied an important place in broader discussions of "Celtic" art, religion, and colonial encounters and cultural entanglements in Western Europe (cf. Py 1990, 1993; Arcelin et al. 1992; Dietler 1997; Megaw & Megaw 2001). Moreover, images of these statues appear in virtually every popular book or general scholarly synthesis on "the Celts". This is both because these statues constitute the richest source of indigenous self-representation found in any Celtic-speaking region of Europe prior to the Roman conquest, and because they appear to offer many tantalising clues toward understanding regional subtleties in various cultural practices, self-image and identity, status iconography, and cross-cultural consumption. However, very few of these works have actually been recovered from secure, precisely dated archaeological contexts using modern excavation techniques.

This article provides a preliminary consideration of a very recent addition to this group of sculptures: a life-size stone statue of a warrior discovered during the excavation of the ancient town of Lattara (modern Lattes) on the Mediterranean coast of France, about 8km south of Montpellier, in the Herault Department of Languedoc (Figure 1). Although the excavation of the zone from which the statue was recovered is still in its early stages, it was thought useful to present immediately a description of this Iron Age sculpture because of the interest of the piece itself, its archaeological context, and the questions it raises in several domains. Equally relevant is the fact that the group of statues from Languedoc is, curiously, far less well known in the non-Francophone literature than is the somewhat different Provenqal group from the other side of the Rh6ne River, which is often treated as typical for southern France as a whole. It should be emphasised that the statue itself has not yet been subjected to the full range of technical analyses that will be undertaken to complement the contextual and descriptive information offered here. Hence, this brief note should be considered as a preliminary set of observations.


Circumstances and context of discovery

The statue was discovered as a reused architectural element in an Iron Age domestic structure of which the surface outline had been identified during the 2001 campaign of a long-term program of urban landscape topography at the site of Lattes. The excavation of the structure began in July 2002.

This house, constituting Zone 52 of the site (Figure 1), is one of the largest buildings yet identified in the pre-Roman town. It is situated between the internal facade of the southern rampart and, on the north, street 116, one of the major axes of circulation, which runs parallel to the rampart. It covers a surface of about 640 [m.sup.2] and has a large internal courtyard (Sector 11). Access to the central courtyard of the structure was through a wide passageway (Sector 10) paved with pebbles and having an axial stone-lined gutter designed to drain rainwater accumulating in the courtyard into a collection basin under street 116 (Figure 2). Surrounding the courtyard were various living and storage rooms with walls of stone topped by mud-brick, the common construction technique at Lattes. Unfortunately, part of the southern wing of the house was destroyed by modern agricultural activities, and only the east, north, and west wings, and the courtyard have synchronous levels preserved.


The sculpture was discovered during the concurrent excavation of Room 5 (forming the northern facade of the house bordering Street 116) and the central courtyard (Sector 11) immediately to the south. A wide door connected the courtyard to Room 5. The reused statue served as a doorjamb along the base of the eastern side of this door, and has been reworked for this purpose (Figure 3). …