Published: September 2007
Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.
The Gundestrup Cauldron
Much of what archaeologists know about rituals and daily life in the ancient cultures of northern Europe comes from analyzing images on artifacts. The Gundestrup cauldron, which dates back to the first century B.C., is an important transmitter of Celtic culture. Found disassembled in a peat bog near the Danish village of Gundestrup in 1891, the cauldron is made of pure silver and consists of a curved base, a round plate, five inner-side panels, and seven outer-side panels with an eighth panel missing. Each panel bears a variety of images, including bull sacrifices, goddesses having their hair braided, and soldiers standing rank-and-file. The soldiers, who appear to be marching in a circular parade, are thought to represent the Celtic belief in a cycle of rebirth after death.

In addition to clues about life in ancient Europe, the Gundestrup cauldron—probably created in northern Bulgaria—provides valuable insight into the cross-cultural connections that existed throughout Europe and Asia before the advance of the Roman Empire. Some of the panels depict scenes that are Asian in origin. One figure sits in a Buddha-like position wearing antlers on his head and laced shoes. This person has been identified variously as the Celtic god Cernunnos, another deity named the Horned god, a shape-shifting shaman, and an individual adherent attaining spiritual enlightenment.

After more than one hundred years of study, many questions remain unanswered. Why was the cauldron hidden among the peat, dismantled and forgotten? How did it get from Bulgaria to Denmark to begin with? And especially, who were the silversmiths who welded together not only the bowl, but also ancient cultures from eastern Asia to northern Europe?

—Emily Fekete