French archaeologists have completed excavations of an ancient burial site revealing the decorated skeleton of a Celtic prince, who however might as well have been a princess.
The tomb dating back some 2,500 years was discovered in an industrial area of Lavau, a village near Troyes, about 150km south east of Paris earlier this year.
The finding was soon described as "extraordinary" by experts analysing the first artefacts to surface, which included a Mediterranean bronze cauldron adorned with lion heads.
As digging continued, the team with the National Archaeological Research Institute (Inrap) eventually reached the centre of the burial site, which at 40m (130ft) of diameter is one of the largest from its period ever to be unearthed.
There laid, inhumed with the head to the south along with a two-wheeled chariot, was the body of what they believed to be a high-ranked aristocrat from the so-called Hallstatt culture that dominated central Europe during the Early Iron Age.
The skeleton sported ancient pieces of jewellery including a richly decorated gold torque weighing more than half a kilogram and gold bracelets that Inrap said are similar to those found in the famous tomb of Reinheim in Germany.
Remains of the deceased's costume, such as shoe parts, finely worked amber beads that supposedly formed a necklace or hair decoration, and iron and coral hooks that attached to a piece of clothing were also retrieved.
Despite the rich discoveries, however, archaeologists were unsure whether they had exhumed a prince or a princess.
"Due to the poor preservation of the bones, it is not yet possible to determine the sex of the individual with certitude," Inrap said.
"At the beginning of the 5th century, between the end of the Hallstatt and beginning of the La Tène periods, several princess tombs exist in the north-east quarter of France, such as that of Vix. We must thus be cautious in our interpretation of these funerary remains belonging to the highest classes of the society," the institute explained, adding that "the aristocrat, and his/her sex, will be the subject of a complete biological anthropological study."