Celtic Burial Rites: Traditions That We Still Use


The ancients Celts were a preliterate society. With no written record, modern researchers rely heavily on archaeology to understand their lives and the Celtic burial rites that still influence modern funerals and how we memorialize those who pass away. The religious views held by the Celts undoubtedly influenced their opinions of death and how the remains of the deceased should be handled. There is not a lot known about the funeral ceremonies, but a lot of information has been gathered from excavation and analysis of Celtic burial sites.

Elaborate funeral rituals and trappings

Some Celts had relatively simple burials in accordance with their social class. As their social status increased, their funerals were more elaborate. A chieftain would be buried with trappings of his wealth. The most elaborate tomb of a known Celtic woman is that of the Lady at Vix. She was buried with her funeral wagon, jewelry, mirrors, and a food service for nine people. Modern funerals for heads of state and famous people tend to be elaborate affairs to accommodate the thousands of people who wish to pay their last respects.

A comfortable resting place

The deceased were often placed on large burial coaches in spacious tombs that included items that could be of use to the person as they crossed over to the next life. Modern coffins include pillows and padded sides. Friends and family members will often place items inside the coffin such as a favorite candy or small personal item that had special significance to their loved one.

Full body burial

Previous cultures would typically cremate the dead and then bury the ashes in urns. They are referred to as the Urnfield culture. This practice continued from approximately 1300 BCE to 750 BCE until it was succeeded by the Hallstatt culture of the 8th to 6th centuries BC. One of the most widely noted Celtic burial rites was the practice of inhumation, also referred to as full body burial.

Many Celtic burial rites developed based on their belief in an afterlife and their respect for the person who died. It takes time for loved ones to accept that a cherished person has passed away. Regardless of faith or view on life after death, people still want their deceased loved one treated respectfully and with care.