1,800 Year Old Celtic Mother, Daughter and Horse Discovered

The Roman-era skeletons were discovered in what is present-day Austria.

First discovered in 2004 in the eastern cemetery in the ancient Roman city of Ovilava, the burial site contained the remains of two humans, buried arm in arm, a horse, and two golden pendants in the shape of a wheel and a crescent moon.

Researchers initially believed the couple were “lovers” from medieval times, but a new analysis suggests they were both females who died 1,800 years ago, around 200 CE. DNA results also confirmed they were first degree relatives aged 20-25 and 40-60, leading scientists to believe they were a mother and daughter rather than sisters.

“It’s very unlikely that two sisters have an age difference of 20 years during those times. So we felt that it’s more likely that they are a mother-daughter pair,” study senior author Sylvia Kirchengast, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Vienna, told Live Science.

(A) An illustration of the double burial; (B) and (C) their location within the cemetery; (D) Two golden pendants, found as grave goods; (E) a photo of the two individuals; and (F) the remains of the horse. (Image credit: Map: Dominik Hagmann; Data: City of Wels, basemap.at, OpenStreetMap, Natural Earth; (CC-BY 4.0 Deed))

“It’s the first genetically proven mother-daughter burial in Austria in Roman times,” Kirchengast said.

In burial, the right arm of the younger is embracing the other.

The horse and gold pendants imply the women were non-Roman elites. Romans were not a “horse culture,” despite using horses extensively in war and, as a result, were not often buried with horses. The study’s lead author, Dominik Hagmann, believes the women were Celts, a culture rich with horse mythology, especially as it pertains to women.

“The older skeleton shows signs of frequent horse riding,” Kirchengast said. “Maybe both women were enthusiastic horse riders.”

A photo of the horse following the recovery of the human remains. (Image credit: City Museum Wels; (CC-BY 4.0 Deed))

Go riding.

Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian, and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @amanda_uechi_ronan.