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Remains of horses buried 2,000 years ago found in central France
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Remains of horses buried 2,000 years ago found in central France

French archaeologists have uncovered nine large graves containing the remains of horses from up to 2,000 years ago, in a find described as “extraordinary”.

The 28 stallions, all around six years old, had been buried shortly after they died, each placed in pits on their right side with their head facing south. Nearby a grave contained the remains of two dogs, heads facing west.

Experts from France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), say carbon dating places the remains to the time of the Gallic wars, around the end of the Roman conquest of what was then Gaul and the beginning of the empire of ancient Rome between 100BC and AD100.

They are examining the bones to try to establish whether the animals were buried after being killed in battle or as part of a complex ritual. An episode of animal disease has been deemed unlikely as only male adult horses were buried, but the remains are being examined for parasites.

The discovery came as archaeologists excavated a 5th- to 6th-century site at Villedieu-sur-Indre in central France where buildings, ditches and a medieval road have also been found. The first pit uncovered contained 10 complete horse skeletons. The animals, measuring only 1.2 metres, which is said to have been typical of Gallic horses at the time, had been carefully placed two deep in two rows.

Overhead view of people working on horse skeletonsView image in fullscreen

The staging of the burial is similar to earlier discoveries elsewhere in France. In Gondole in the Puy-de-Dôme in 2002, archaeologists uncovered a rectangular grave containing the bodies of eight iron age warriors and their horses in what appeared to be a Celtic burial. The men were all lying on their right side. Historians believe they could have been warrior companions of a Celtic king who killed themselves after he died violently.

Isabelle Pichon, the head of the archaeological operation for Inrap, said the latest find was “extraordinary … but a mystery.

“We think because of where they were buried that they were linked to the Gallic wars waged by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BC, but this is still just a theory,” she said. “We know there was an important battle and the Roman army passed not far from here but we have so little evidence and so far we have found nothing to indicate how they died. However, we can’t exclude that it was a ritual burial, even though there were no objects buried with the horses.”

Pichon said DNA samples had been taken from the bones and samples of sediment around them.

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“We know that the Gauls had small horses of this kind but we also know some of the Roman auxiliaries also had them, so hopefully some of the DNA samples we have taken will give some answers,” she said.

“It is an extraordinary discovery because of the rarity of such finds, but it is a mystery. What we do know is that these horses were buried with particular attention. They weren’t just thrown into the pit, so they were treated with care and respect.”

Source: theguardian.com