Celts in the Iron Age rubbed oil into the heads of their victims after cutting them off to stop them rotting, it has been revealed.
Ancient writings often mention the beheadings, with the severed skulls kept as trophies – but until now, researchers had not known how they were preserved.
The new study of over 100 fragmented human skulls were found buried in a French town found plant oils were key to the embalming efforts.
Researchers believe the heads were put on display to mark the ‘bravery and strength of the community and of its warriors.’
‘Ancient texts described that one of the most impressive ritual practices of the Celts during the Iron Age was to remove the heads of enemies killed in battle and to embalm them for display in front of the victors dwellings,’ the researchers wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Weapons were also exhibited alongside the severed heads, they said.
The gruesome discoveries were made in an open area of Le Cailar, France– a 2,500 year–old town on the Rhone River.
The skulls, which were discovered among ancient weapons in the walled village, date back to the 3rd century B.C., when Le Cailar was a Celtic settlement, and the team believe the heads may have been on display until the area was covered in dirt around 200 BC.