A Celtic Encyclopedia


Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to appropriate section of the dictionary.
If the dictionary entry is underlined there is a whole page on the subject.

- A -


Some of the Celts could read and write. See WRITING


A mineral salt used as a mordant (chemical key) in the dyeing of cloth. See DYES


Fossilised resin of the pine tree. Can have insects trapped in it. Can be cut and polished. Only uses in pre-history in jewellery.

ANTLERA bony out-growth on the head of deer, shed every year at the end of the rutting season.
Tines - clothes fasteners, digging implements
Flats - weaving tablets, shovels, needles
ANVILA heavy object that is used as a surface to rest metal on while the metal is hit or forged into another shape.
ARCHERYThe use of a piece of wood held into a bent shape with a string (bow), to propel a long thin stick with a sharp point on the front end (arrow). Used in hunting and warfare.
ARDAn early plough used to break the ground up prior to planting crops.


A strong covering worn to protect the body from injury. See CHAIN MAIL


ARTThe use of decoration on objects.
ARTIFACTSThis is the name given to the objects that are found in archaeology, and are the items left behind by people in the past.


A sharp tool comprising of the axehead with the cutting edge, and a handle to hold on to. Used to chop trees down and cut other hard materials apart.

- B -

BARRELA container made of pieces of wood held together with hoops or bands of metal.


A form of transport for travelling on water (they float!). Can be as small as a coracle, or as large enough to cross seas.
BOUDICAQueen of the Iceni, wife to Prasatugus. Revolted against Roman atrocities in 60AD.
BONEBones from a wide variety of animals were used. It can be cut, carved and decorated easily
Whole - tools, handles, flutes
Ground - grog for pottery
Roast - source of potash
BRONZEA metal alloy of copper with less than 10% tin added. It is easily worked by casting or hammering.

Personal - jewellery, razors, mirrors, coins
Weapons - cast handles on swords shield decorations
Domestic - cauldrons


2500-1000BC (Britain) Use of bronze for tools and weapons. SeeTIMELINE
BURIALSThe disposal of dead bodies.

- C -

CALENDARThe year was divided and calculated using the moons phases.
CASTINGThe method of producing metal objects by pouring into a mould
CELTSAn Indo-European people that spread across Europe. They had a common base to their languages and cultures, but had diversity between the tribes. See there position in the TIME-LINE
CHAINMAILBody armour made of interlinked rings of metal.
CHARCOALWood burnt in reduced oxygen to drive off water and gases, leaving the carbon structure intact. Achieves a high temperature when burnt with air blown into the fire and is used in working metal.
CHARIOTA fast two wheeled cart mainly used in warfare.
CLAYA water softened rock, composed of Aluminium Silicate, that can be moulded to shape. When fired it becomes a ceramic. Main use in the production of pottery. See ARTIFACTS or KILN


Set amounts of precious metals forged into disks and decorated. Used as wealth or to trade with.


Preparation and heating of food before eating. See diet.


Cutting a tree down at ground level and allowing it to re-grow. The multiple shoots grow in competition and increase after each cut. The growth area is known as a 'stool'. Harvesting is done every5-7 years. The wood is thin and flexible.
Used as 'wattle' to weave fences and walls of buildings.
Also see Pollard


A small one man boat made by stretching animal skins over a wooden frame


A man-made island, usualy in a lake, with housing on it. Good examples in Britain were the lake villages at Glastonbury and Meare
CURRENCY BARSIron ingots formed into the shape of sword-blades. Used as 'currency' for trading with.

- D -

DAUBA mixture of clay, soil, hair or hay, and animal droppings. Plastered onto a wattle wall in the construction of a building.
DITCHAn elongated hole dug as protection or drainage. Usually around a settlement.See EARTHWORKS


The Iron Age diet was very healthy, and consisted mainly of boiled meat, fresh bread, and seasonal vegetables. The main drinks were water and beer.


A fire cult that arrived in Britan during the first century BC and gained the ears of the ruling class
DYESThe product used in the process of colouring a material

- E -

EARTHWORKSA large series of ditches dug around defended settlements, and linear ditches dividing up the countryside. Also see MAIDEN CASTLE


The information and finds from an excavation that are used to reconstruct the use and purpose of the origional item. (An example is a click away)

- F -

FLINTNodules of stone found in layers in chalk deposits, extracted by digging or mining. Flint can be worked by splitting into shards, then shaped using percussion or pressure flaking.
Tools - cutting blades, scrapers, axe heads
Weapons - arrow heads, spear heads.
Fire - struck on iron to produce a spark
FLAXThe seeds of the plant are rich in oil. A fibre can be processed from the stem of the plant and can be spun into a thread called linen.
Oil Used as a fuel in lamps
Thread woven into a strong cloth
FLETCHINGFeathers fastened onto the back of an arrow to help it fly straight. See ARCHERY
FARMINGThe Celts farmed a wide range of crops. They produced excess wheat and were exporting it to the Roman empire in large quantities.


Enclosed areas on cultivated ground used for growing crops or enclosing animals.

- G -

GOLDA soft yellow precious metal found in pure nuggets or extracted by sieving ground rock or sand. It was a highly prized metal for its decorative qualities and is found as jewellery in particular. The metal can be worked cold, including hammer welding.
Jewellery - torcs, bracelets, fibula
Coins - called a stater (used by Belgae/Gallic tribes)
GLASSA fusion of sand and wood ash. Coloured with the addition of metal oxides. Used for the production of beads, and enamels for decoration.
GRANARIESStorage units for grain
GRINDINGThe crushing of food to make it more palatable and to release more of the nutritional values.


The gods live alongside the human world and can be called on to help.

- H -


An area of ground that has a bank and ditch structure around it.The area inside was normally used for 'rituals'.
HORNHorn is the covering over a bony growth on the head of a cow. It is composed of the same material as finger nails. It can be moulded, or split into thin layers.
Heated glue, shaped and moulded
Whole - drinking vessel
Layer - lantern glass
HILLFORTAn area of ground that has a ditch and bank structure around it. Strange though it may seem, not necessarily on a hill! The area inside was normally lived in. SeeMaiden Castle
HOUSESBuildings in which people live (not huts!!!)

- I -


- 10,000BC (Britain) The Ice Sheet retreats. SeeTimeline
IRONA hard metal extracted from ore by smelting at high temperatures. Capable of holding a sharp edge.
Weapons- swords, spears, arrow heads
Tools - chisels, drills, hammers, tongs, saws, axes
Domestic - cauldrons, chains
Personal - pins, torcs, razors


800BC-43AD (Britain) The technology of smelting iron, and use of iron for tools and weapons. SeeTIMELINE
IVORYThe tooth of an animal used as a material in making decorative items. In Nothern Europe the tusks of wild boar were used.

- J -

JETFossilised coal, only use is as jewelry.


Decorative or functional items that are worn on the clothing or around parts of the body.


A short throwing spear, used as a shock weapon

- K -

KILNSEnclosed structures in which pots can be fired. See POTTERY and CLAY

- L -


See Crannog
LEATHERPreparation of animal skins and hides using vegetable extracts to preserve and alter the structure of the skin. Types and uses:
Furs - bedding, floor covering, clothing
Raw-hide thonging, armour
Sheet - buckets, bags, shoes, clothes.
LINENThe fibre obtained from the plant FLAX
LYNCHETTerraced field systems around hills with steep slopes.See FIELDS
LOOMSThe frames on which cloth is woven.

- M -


The largest Iron Age hill-fort in Europe. Interior area is big enough to hold 50 foot-ball fields! It is though to have been the capital of the Durotiges, one of the most powerful tribes of the South of England.


7000-4000BC (Britain) See TIMELINE
MOONVery important in the Celtic Calendar, more so than the sun. Used to plot the seasons and festivals. Great Lunar years marked with extra significance as they only occur every 22 years. See Calendar
MIRRORA number of bronze mirrors have been found across Britain all decorated on the backs.
MUSICAlthough the Celts had access to the musical instruments of Greece and Rome, there is nothing in the archaeological evidence to show their use in the Celtic world. Do not get misled with the idea of a celtic harp, they are 14 century instruments and do not have Celtic origins!

- N -

NAMESThat which you are called by.


4000-2500BC (Britain) SeeTIMELINE
NETTLESA plant rich in vitamins. The stems can be processed into a thread similar to linen.

- O -

OPPIDAThis is a latin word that describes a Celtic town rather than a hillfort, but not in the sense of a 'civitas' - a centre of government.
OVENSThere have been a number of clay ovens found in assorted excavations. Most were within buildings and are presumed to be for cooking bread and other foods.

- P -


10,000-7000BC (Britain) Resettlement of Britain as the ice sheet retreats. SeeTIMELINE
PEATCaused by the growth of plant material in waterlogged conditions. Because there is no oxygen available below the upper surface there is no rotting taking place so the vegetation is preserved and builds up over time. In later years when the bog is drained, the peat can be dug out and used as fuel.
PITSAssorted pits were dug into the ground and used for storage of food or materials, or for the disposal of rubbish
POTTERYThe process of heating clay to turn it to a ceramic.


Cutting timber off a tree at the top of the trunk to produce new growth. The new branches are in competition and grow fast and straight. Harvesting is done every 15-20 years.
Also see Coppicing


Machine for turning a material so that it can be shaped and carved into circular or round objects. See SHALE and WOOD

- Q -

QUERNStones used for the grinding of cereals to make flour.
Saddle Quern - One large stone with the grain on it, and one smaller stone moved around on the top to crush the grain against the lower stone.
Rotary Quern - Two circular stones fitted together one on top of the other. The top stone is turned around a spindle set in the lower stone. Grain is fed through the stones in a continuous process

- R -

REEDA plant of the grass family that has adapted to living in water. The most well known is the Norfolk reed.
Thatching roof covering with a long life (60+ yrs)
Woven mats, screens
ROMANSA people who were once a Celtic tribe named the Romani, and were fed up of being beaten up - so they joined forces with the tribes around them, and started an empire! (We hate Romans !!!!!, well - professionally anyway!)
RAZORA tool with a sharp edge used for shaving.

- S -

SILVERA bright white precious metal extracted from ore by smelting. Finds suggest that silver was not in wide use in Britain, but it does turn up as a small quantity of jewellery, and in sheet form with hammered decoration.
STRAWThe by product of wheat, being the stalk, left over from the production of grain.
Thatching - roof covering with a short life (20+ yrs)
Loose - bedding for livestock, then composted
Tied - coil mats, bee skeps.
SHALEAn oil bearing rock found at Kimmeridge in Dorset. Pieces turned on a lathe to make bracelets and bangles.
SPINNINGThe process of turning a raw product (wool, nettle, flax) into a thread by twisting to bind the fibres together.
SALTA mineral used for flavouring and/or preserving food.
SPEARSSee Weapons


See Weapons


See Weapons

- T -

TINA white coloured metal extracted from ore at low temperatures.
Solder - bonding two pieces of metal together
Alloy - mixing with other metals
Decoration coating metals to stop oxidisation



Items used to assist work. Some of them having sharp edges to cut with. Examples: Hammer, chisel, spade, knife.
TORCNeck ornament worn as a status symbol.
TRANSPORTGetting around - See: Horse, CHARIOT, CORACLE, Boat, Cart.


Large stable groups of poulation with well defined boundries. Each tribe had a ruling class comprised of Chieftans or Kings.

- U -

URINEStale urine (piss) is used for the preparation of leather, and as a mordant in the dyeing of cloth.

- V -

VEHICLESSee Transport

- W -


The Romans wrote that the Gauls houses were 'brightly coloured', and from evidece in Britain there was possibly painted decorations on the inside of the houses. The paint base was lime-wash, with mineral pigments added for colours.See House Interior


Persons (male or female) who take up weapons and go to war. They can also be deployed as a protection.
WOODThe woodlands during the Iron Age were heavily managed to produce the right wood for the builder and carpenter. Methods of production include coppicing and pollarding.
Uses of wood:
Construction of buildings
Lathe turned bowls, platters
Boats - plank built and hollowed log
Boxes - storage chests, and bent wood boxes
Fences - wattle and hurdles
Fuel - open fire or production of charcoal
Carving - spoons, figures
WOOLWool is the hair off a sheep. One of the by-products is lanolin which can be used in the production of soap.
After spinning into a thread - sewing, weaving, embroidering
Felt clothing

See Spinning

WOOD-ASHAlkaline remains from burnt wood.
Production of soap and glass.
WILLOWThin withies of willow are used for the production of baskets. They become flexible when soaked in water and can be bent with ease. Hardens again when dry.
WATTLEThin rods of wood used to weave fences and house walls.


Tools that are use for hunting and warfare
WICKER-MANA large man-shaped basketwork, made of wood. This was filled with animal and human sacrifices, and set on fire.


Writting was in use across Gaul by at least 600BC

- Z -

ZINCThe only use in pre-history is as an alloy with copper to produce brass. Called by the Iron Age people 'yellow bronze'.
ZOOMORPHICWith animals - See Art

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