Archaeologists from the Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL), together with the town of Schmallenberg (Hochsauerlandkreis), presented a remarkable discovery on the Wilzenberg mountain: Over the past three years, a unique hoard of Weαpσns from the Iron Age has been excavated here.
“The Weαpσn hoard find is the largest in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) and also links the Sauerland region with complex processes in Iron Age Europe,” says LWL archaeologist Prof. Dr. Michael Baales, head of the Olpe field office, about the find.
The finds are of great importance for archaeology in the region and shed light on the ritual activities of Iron Age warriors after a military confrontation had been won.
The Wilzenberg, known today as an excursion and pilgrimage destination, was already visited by people in the Iron Age, roughly between 300 BC and the birth of Christ, on special occasions.
On the top of the mountain there are several walls still visible, which experts have recognised as ruins of a fortification made of wood, rocks and earth (so-called Wallburg or ‘hill-fort’).
Between 2018 and 2020, local historian Matthias Dickhaus conducted walk-throughs with the metal detector on behalf of and in close coordination with the LWL Archaeology for Westphalia. Thanks to his “exemplary documentation”, around 100 finds from the time of the Celts were recovered.
“According to current research, it is conceivable that a battle took place in the area around Wilzenberg and that the victors completed their triumph by bringing the captured Weαpσns, belts and horse harnesses to the Wallburg,” explains LWL archaeologist Dr. Manuel Zeiler.
The victors apparently willfully damaged many of the pieces before they were then put on display on the Wilzenberg and simply left there.
These assumptions are based on the results of French research, which show that such ritual acts took place in Iron Age Europe, especially in Celtic culture and on its periphery. Weαpσns of inferior opponents were ritually destroyed, and these acts were usually preceded by a battle.
In 1950, two spear and lance points wrapped with two swords were accidentally excavated at Wilzenberg. Not only were the swords bent, but the tips had also been deliberately deformed.
The approximately 40 tips of spears and lances, fragments of shield bosses and harness parts as well as tools now complete the picture.
Such Weαpσn deposits were repeatedly made in the area between France in the west and Slovakia in the east, especially in the last centuries BC. Now the hoard find from Wilzenberg in the Sauerland region can possibly bridge research gaps.
Among the finds, one in particular stands out: part of a very rare type of horse snaffle. The grip sections for guiding the horses that were found suggest that this type of bridle was used on horses that pulled a chariot.
The bit allowed the horse to be steered very precisely and directly – vital for a warrior on a chariot in the bustle of battle.
All the finds discovered by the local historian Dickhaus were quite close to the ground surface. Excavations in 2020 made it possible to reconstruct how the pieces, which were not deliberately buried, got into the ground.
The victors blunted or bent the edges of lance and spear points, broke iron shield bosses and simply left them lying there. Over the centuries, the remains simply settled into the soil.
“The damage clearly did not occur during a battle, and the Wilzenberg is therefore not a battlefield,” Zeiler emphasises.
“These events took place in the Late Iron Age. Since the Weαpσns cannot be dated closely, it is not clear whether Weαpσns were damaged and laid down here over centuries or whether this took place in the context of a single event.”