My first novel centered on a group of ancient structures in south-central Germany known as Viereckschanzen–what I refer to as “Celtic Squares.” The term translates, perhaps a bit unromantically, as “four-cornered trench.” These enigmatic earthen structures, tucked away in the woods throughout the high places of Baden-Württemberg, are silent but certain testimony to how little we actually know about ancient civilizations. Being myself of the line of the Celts, I quickly became fascinated with these relics. I spent about six years in my spare time visiting as many of them as I could get to, and studying all the literature about them I could get my hands on. No one seems to know exactly what they are, why they were built or what they were used for. Most of the proffered theories are, in my opinion anyway, little more than a grasping after straws, a reiteration of standard archeological appellations applied when we don’t want to admit we don’t know. They’re interpreted as centers of cult activity, enclosed agricultural yards or walled villages/fortresses. None of these labels accurately fits the characteristics of these structures. Probably the best answer I’ve found is that offered by Alexei Kondratiev in his seminal book on Celtic ritual and society, The Apple Branch. He suggests that their size, layout and accompanying elements (such as temple post holes and bonfire pits) indicate their use as a community gathering place, where major tribal decisions could be made via the Druids’ calling upon the help of the gods. This is a reasonable view, I think, and I subscribe to it myself.
There are some intriguing characteristics to these relics. In size, structure, and orientation they display a remarkable similarity to Stonehenge I. As enclosures roughly rectangular in shape, about the size of a football field, the Squares are made up of low earthen walls surrounded by a trench. In one wall is found a gateway, an opening that many archeologists think originally was enclosed by a roofed drawbridge made of wood. There are no standing stones, but frequently the sites are accompanied by a field of even older grave mounds.
The archeological field seems to be divided pretty evenly between two explanations of what these structures were. On the one hand are those who believe them to be old fortresses. (Originally they were thought to have been erected by the Romans, but nowadays virtually everyone is agreed that they are older, most likely Celtic in origin.) Probably the strongest argument for this is based on the moat structure. The walls themselves are not very high–usually between 3 and 6 feet–but when coupled with a water-filled trench, they might slow an enemy attack. However, unless the earth pilings were augmented with wooden or stone walls atop them, they wouldn’t slow him for long. To my knowledge, no evidence of such augmentation has yet been found.
To my mind, there are some odd things about these structures that make no sense if they are viewed as fortresses. For one thing, the corners of the walls are raised to about twice the height of the walls themselves, arcing in a grand sweep reminiscent of a racetrack. This seems to serve no defensive purpose; indeed, such a configuration would interfere with erecting additional barriers atop the walls. Moreover, the interior floor of the structures is only 18 inches below the top of the walls. Hardly enough to hide behind. So I tend to reject that interpretation.
Another explanation is that they were truck farms. Maybe. They might be big enough to feed a village of around 200 people, but maybe not. However, as Kondratiev points out, those people could conceivably fit within the confines of the walls, suggesting a possible use for the structures.
My own view follows that of such investigators as Dr. Ruediger Krause, who, working from a 1920s study of the Square at Oberesslingen (one of those I have visited on a number of occasions), determined that it was most likely a center of ritual activity. Another thing is the Squares’ orientation: Like Stonehenge, they are angled at an azimuth of just over 23.5 degrees as seen from the eastern wall, which means they are oriented to face the summer solstice dawn. (And, in many cases, so is the gateway–another similarity with Stonehenge.) There would be no defensive reason to so meticulously orient them in this way.
And meticulously done it is. As Zecharia Sitchen points out in his book The Cosmic Code, quoting an expert on ancient temples, in order to precisely align a structure with the solstice it is necessary to know exactly where north lies. And in the cases that I have personally measured on the ground, the Squares’ northern corners do, in fact, lie precisely along a 0 degree azimuth.
It is for this purpose, in my opinion, that the corners of the walls were raised in their circular sweep. Such a configuration makes it possible to easily determine the cardinal directions from the center of the Square. And this would be very important for the working of many Pagan rituals.
The power of these rituals seems to linger there, 2100 years after the Squares were abandoned. I certainly have had some intriguing experiences in those places, and even photos of them can invoke some odd feelings in people. I personally have no doubt that the Celts used them for something a bit less mundane than simple truck farming.
Whatever they may be, and however powerful their esoteric energies, the Viereckschanzen are a precious relic of Europe’s ancient past, well worth visiting and experiencing.