|KELTS, GNOMES AND KOBOLDS
|In Greek they were called Keltoi, in Latin Celtae, and they were also called Galatae. The civilization
of the Celts first appeared in the lands just North of the Alps in Greek texts during the Iron Age,
roughly the last 600 to 800 years B.C. From the 7th century B.C., one of the main regions of Celtic
occupation was in Austria centered around modern- day Hallstatt, a large prehistoric salt-mining area.
The Hallstatt Period, 750-c.450 BC, is named after this region. The word 'Hall' is found in German
place-names or geographical features and is derived from the ancient word for salt. The site at
Hallstatt, Austria was first uncovered by a local man, Georg Ramsauer, in 1846.
Thirty years later, a team of investigators from the Academy of Sciences in Vienna performed an
exhaustive investigation of the local salt mine and the approximately 2,500 grave sites there. Before
discoveries at Hallstatt, the European Iron Age map technically included only Rome and Greece as
"civilizations". The Hallstatt Culture reflects the Celts' development between the beginning of the
ninth century B.C. and the middle of the seventh century B.C.
Salt was necessary for preserving food and working leather, so the rock-salt deposits in various
regions of the Alps were highly prized. The most favored deposits were (later) known as Hallstatt,
Hallein-Dürrnberg and Reichensall. Dürrnberg was the home to a major Celtic site occupied from c.
500-300 B.C. The Celts in the fifth and sixth century BC already operated mines in Dürrnberg, and
from a depth of three hundred meters they mined the completely pure core salt and traded it in large
pieces. They did not process it with water as was done in the Middle Ages. Approximately two
hundred men were active in the shafts, working by the light of torches. The Dürrnberg salt provided
them with great wealth. The Celts lived in scattered housing estates mostly on long, terraced
mountain slopes, with individual farmsteads complete with their own grave fields. Top left: preserved
ancient miner, Dürrnberg mine
One winter month in the year of 1573, A terrible event came to pass
A man, nine spans tall, With flesh, bones, hair, clothes and all
Was found 6300 shoes deep, He was hacked out of his mountain keep
Cured in the salt, yellow and hard, Over a thousand years he had stood guard
Preserved like a stockfish, from decay protected, He has now been resurrected.
He lay in the church and was kept on display for several weeks, Then began to rot and reek
In vain, he waited all that time for the Bishop's gaze, And was finally buried in great haste.
From the Dückher Chronicle, 1666: of a corpse preserved in salt which was found in Dürrnberg on
November 30, 1573.
When miners once again started working the salt mines under the Salzburg Archbishops, they found
ancient Celts' bodies perfectly preserved in salt in the mines. Then, in 1932, the grave of a Celtic
chieftain was discovered there with, among other finds, a skeleton of an apparent Chief with a two-
wheeled chariot, various burial objects and an iron knife. It had long since been looted. During the
excavations of the graves, bones were often found of young deceased women, many presumably
having had died during childbirth. There were also many remains of children.
Over half of their population died before adulthood and those who survived lived until the age of 40
to 45.. if they were healthy and lucky. Having no modern concept of hell or heaven, the wealth that
these ancient miners accumulated bought them safe passage to the afterlife they believed in.
Elaborate timber-framed burial chambers were constructed with this in mind. They were buried
richly clothed and jeweled, with food for the journey to the next life, although at later dates they
were also buried with weapons of war. Excavations from this region show the well-established use of
bronze for weapons and jewelry. Although they did not mint or trade coins, they created beautiful
artifacts of gold and silver. The Hallstatt Celts also made pottery.
They enjoyed an aristocratic society with chiefs and royal families, as proven by the discovery of
high-status burials containing gold, amber, and other precious materials. The Chief was supported by
warrior nobility, with bards and druids being recruited out of this social class, and there are
indications that some slaves were kept. The Hallstatt Celts established trade links with Bohemia,
possibly the Baltic Sea, and to Mediterranean regions such as Massalia, an ancient Greek colony
located in the area of present-day Marseilles. They actively engaged in barter trade of salt for luxury
items: wine, furniture and fabrics. At home, they were traditionally farmers focused on growing
cereals and raising stock such as sheep, goats, cattle, pigs, horses and chickens. They were not
The ritualistic and religious Celtic tribes were united by common speech and practises. They
regarded the Earth as the property of divine forces. The Druids acted as intermediaries between the
gods and Celtic society. They were men recruited from the nobility, and they interpreted the will of
the gods, supervised sacrifices, observed nature and created unique calendars. Since their deities
were tribal, each clan had its own names for particular gods and goddesses, accounting for the over
300 different names recorded in Celtic mythology.
At the height of their influence, Celtic tribes covered lands extending from what is now Spain to the
shores of the Black Sea. When the Romans penetrated into the northern alpine region, Roman rule
slowly purged the Celtic culture, and the Celtic mining industry disappeared. After the decline of this
late Celtic civilization, mining was suspended in this area for about a thousand years.
Celtic art known to archaeologists as 'La Tène' style denotes a period which took over from Hallstatt
Culture and is divided into three periods: Early La Tene, 600-500 B.C., Middle La Tene, 300-100 B.
C. and Late La Tene which leads into the end of Celtic dominance in central Europe as the Roman
Empire expanded north into the Celts' territories. This period is characterised by, among other things,
warrior graves and a new kind of art.
In 1858, at Neuchatel, Switzerland, more Celtic objects were uncovered and excavations indicated
that "busy and continuous life" had existed by the lake at Neuchatel for hundreds of centuries.
La Tène 'culture' indicates the physical remains of groups who, around 400B.C., suddenly appeared
in Italy and began to settle the Po Valley.
Around 390 B.C., the Gallic Senones had actually sacked Rome, but were driven back and largely
contained in the Po Valley which became Gallia Cisalpina, 'Gaul this side of the Alps'. Migrating
Celtic groups also invaded the Balkans and, in 279B.C., attacked Delphi in Greece. Defeated with
terrible losses, some crossed into Anatolia and were known as 'Gauls' or 'Galatae' (the Galatians of
the New Testament). The Celts were gradually integrated into other tribal groups and ethnicities.
Scientists recently found a 2,600-year-old aristocratic burial site at the Celtic hill fort at Heuneburg,
Baden-Württemberg, a noblewoman's tomb dating from early Celtic times. It measures four by five
meters and contains gold and amber jewellery that makes the precise dating of an early Celtic grave
possible for the first time. The site is possibly the oldest settlement north of the Alps.
It was occupied from early Bronze Age times down to the late Celtic Iron Age, from about 700 BC,
and it became one of the key centers of power and trade in southern Germany. In its heyday, it
traded with Greek colonies and Pre-roman City states. Greek historian Herodotus possibly refers to
Heuneburg as “Pyrene”, saying in a comparison with the Nile that: "the Danube, which has its source
among the Celts near Pyrene and flows right through the middle of Europe to reach the Black Sea at
the Milesian (Greek) colony of Istria.” (“The Histories”). If Heuneburg was indeed “Pyrene”, then it
was a key trading site between the Celts and the Classical World.The site was first noted in the
1820s. In 1882, Eduard Paulus recognised its importance and correctly identified it as a prehistoric
fortification and some of the nearby burial mounds were opened in the 19th century.
|Of Kobolds and Gnomes and Short-leggety Beasties of the Mines
|In Dürrnberg near Hallein, diminutive "mountain-men" supposedly once lived in an old Celtic place
of worship place called the "Witches Wall". These beneficial dwarves, also known as gnomes or
kobolds, made friends with these miners in pre-Christian days. The industrious little creatures worked
at night in the pits, helping the miners recover the treasures of the underworld. When Christianity
came around, a small chapel for the miners at Dürrnberg was built over the "Witches Wall" and its
bell was said to have frightened off the dwarves who were terrified of strange sounds. The longer the
bell clanged from the tower of the little church, the more anxiously they scurried back and forth.
When the bell finally stopped, one of the dwarves entered and announced: "We now have to retire
from our old familiar home, for we can not honor your Christ." These were his last words before he
disappeared with the entire band of dwarfs and none of them was ever to be seen again. Another
version lays it not at the feet of a noisy bell, but upon the lack of clocks in the miners' homes.
The Archbishop decreed that the Dürrnberg miners must leave for work after the fifth stroke of the
clock tower, the noise of which drove off the friendly dwarfs. The irony of this fable is its relativity
to the later exile of hundreds of Dürrnberg Protestant miners who, listening to the mighty Catholic
church bells chime, were forced to leave for their unwillingness to honor those beliefs...and were, like
the kobolds, never to be seen again.
The belief in gnomes and "kobolds" extends to well before their emergence in Renaissance alchemy
and magic. The belief in kobolds are evidence of the survival of pagan customs even after the
Christianization of Germany. A kobold, named from the ancient German word "Kuba-Walda", is a
sprite of German folklore. Although usually invisible, a kobold can materialise in the form of an
animal, human, fire or an object. In legend, there are three major types of kobolds: the house spirits
(who can be both good and bad depending on how they are treated), the "Klabautermann" (who lives
aboard ships and helps sailors) and last, the kobold who haunts underground places, such as mines.
The most common depictions of house kobolds show them as human-like figures the size of small
children. Even in the 13th century, German peasants carved one to two feet high kobold effigies for
their homes from boxwood and wax or from Mandrake root and stored them in glass and wooden
containers. They had colorful clothing and big mouths. Such pagan practices may have derived from
native German beliefs in a similar house spirits called kofewalt. Jacob Grimm traced the custom to
Roman times and argued that religious authorities tolerated it for a time even after the Germans had
The word "gnome" was coined by Swiss alchemist Paracelsus from Renaissance Latin, and he
included gnomes in his list of elementals as 'earth elementals'. He describes them as "two spans high
and very taciturn". He categorized these beings according Aristotle's four elements: Sylphs were
know as sylvestres ("forest people" or "wind people"); the pygmies as "mountain people" (gnomes);
Nymphs as legendary undines, and salamanders, who also may be called vulcani. Paracelsus thought
God created such beings purposely so that would be guardians of their respective elements, the
treasures of the world, so that man would not plunder them all at once.
Mine kobolds were described as being two feet tall old men dressed like miners or, alternately, as
short, bent creatures with ugly features and, in some cases, with black skin. Medieval European
miners believed in these underground spirits. Superstitious miners thought the creatures could be
heard constantly drilling, hammering, and shoveling in tandem with their own labor. Some legends
depict underground kobolds as evil and those miners blamed them for accidents, cave-ins and rock
slides. They prayed to them for protection. Others viewed the Kobolds as tricksters, one of their
favoured pranks being to fool miners into taking worthless ore from what appeared to be a rich vein
of copper or silver. When smelted, it proved to be a pollutant or even poisonous and some of these
deceptive ores caused a burning sensation to those who handled them. Miners tried to appease the
kobolds with offerings of gold and silver, but not all kobolds could be bought off and instead returned
such favors with even more poisonous ores which the miners called "kobaldt".
In 1735, Swedish chemist Georg Brandt isolated a substance from such poison ores and named it
cobalt rex. In 1780, scientists showed that this was in fact a new element, which they named cobalt.
However, tales from other regions of Germany portray mine kobolds as beneficial...at least if treated
well. These miners regarded the sounds and "knocking" heard in the mines as either warnings from
the kobolds to not go in that direction or an indication of where veins of metal could be found, with
the richer veins following the more abundant knocking. It is not surprising that Austria, a land rich in
mines, is today blessed with one of the highest concentrations of garden gnomes in the world, still
clad in the clothing of ancient miners.