On TV: Druidic Human Sacrifice?

On the National Geographic Channel tonight  is a potentially interesting show about the Druids and evidence of human sacrifice by them in Roman times. They’ve got a video teaser of Caesar meeting the Druids… There’s also a lengthy text accompanying that (and another video) which starts with the evidence from Lindow Man and then goes on to:

Other grisly clues come from a cave in Alveston, England.

Skeletons belonging to as many as 150 people and dating back to about the time of the Roman conquest were discovered in 2000.

Druids may have killed the victims—who show evidence of skull-splitting blows—in a single event. It may have been the Roman invasion itself that escalated the Druids’ ritualized slaughter, researchers say.

Mark Horton, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, thinks the pile of bodies suggests savage resistance to the Romans, either on the battlefield or through deadly ritual.

“Maybe the whole thing is a gigantic sacrifice … an appeasement to the gods in order that they will get ultimate victory against the Romans,” Horton said.

The Alveston cave bones hint at something even more sinister—cannibalism.

A human thighbone in the cave had been broken open in exactly the same method people use to get at the nutritious bone marrow of nonhuman animals.

But if the bone is proof of Celtic cannibalism, the practice was probably extremely rare, Horton said. It may be evidence of increasing hunger and desperation as Roman invaders closed in, he added.

“Least Bad Evidence”

Researchers have struggled in the past to link any archaeological evidence to the Druids, let alone signs of human sacrifice or cannibalism, said archaeologist Simon James of the University of Leicester, U.K.

“There has always been a suspicion that what the Romans were saying was atrocity propaganda. But some recent finds like Lindow Man suggest that there were dark and bloody goings-on,” said James, who was not involved in the new documentary.

The mistletoe pollen from Lindow Man is the “least bad archaeological evidence we’ve got that fits in with these stories about the Druids,” he added.

“Maybe mistletoe plants had been dusted on his food ritually, a bit like spraying holy water around, or dunked in his drink,” James said.

If Lindow Man and others were in fact sacrificed in a bid to stop the Romans, their lives were lost in vain.

Alveston Cave was on TV back in 2001 as part of the Time Team series. There was also a nice feature on it in British Archaeology from around the same time. Back then, the claims of evidence of cannibalism were controversial and I suspect they remain so today.

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One thought on “On TV: Druidic Human Sacrifice?

  1. I think it is more likely a mass suicide like at massada. They probably didn’t want to have their families enslaved by the romans.

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