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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 15:00 GMT
Stone warrior delights experts
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff

Detail of the back-plate from the Latte torso, Antiquity
The style of the armour is unusual for this area of France
Archaeologists are delighted by a 2,500-year-old stone statue that offers a rare insight into life in western Europe before the Roman conquest.

The stone torso, unearthed at Lattes in southern France, is one of just a few detailed figurines considered to have been made by the ancient Celts.

The statue of a male warrior wears a style of armour worn in Spain and Italy and was life-size when it was complete.

The "Warrior of Lattes" is described in the scholarly journal Antiquity.

It is around 79 centimetres in height and was discovered in the wall of an Iron Age house where it had been used as a building stone.

Some time after it was created, the statue was mutilated to be re-used in a door opening. The head was removed, the left leg and arm hacked off and the crest of the warrior's helmet smoothed away.

The statue's pose is also unusual for Iron Age sculptures from southern France. Most are shown cross-legged, but the Lattes sculpture was in a crouched position - a pose reminiscent of some Greek sculptures.

Cultural elite

Experts say the statue provides a unique insight into early interactions between the inhabitants of western Europe and the classical world prior to the Roman conquest.

The style of armour worn by the warrior is similar to that found in graves and on statues associated with the Iberian culture of ancient Spain. However, the Iberians may have adopted this style of armour through links with Italy.

Lattes warrior, Antiquity
The statue may orignally have been kneeling
This is unusual because the people of the eastern Languedoc region of France, where the statue was found, are generally thought to have had a Celtic culture, different from people from the Iberian zone to the west.

Michael Dietler, of the University of Chicago, US, and Michel Py of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Lattes, France, propose that a cultural elite in the eastern Languedoc may have adopted exotic customs, while the majority of the people held on to their old ways.

Professor Greg Woolf, a historian at the University of St Andrews in the UK, told BBC News Online: "I can't think of anything to compare it to. But this could be the result of a broad range of interaction [in the Mediterranean]."

He added that the statue was not necessarily a depiction of someone indigenous to that region.

"Are they sure it's not a god? Not all pictures are self-portraits."

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