Of the many terms defining Celtic culture, one that is most readily used is LA TENE. The name La Tene is from the place in Switzerland that the first definite artifacts of a Celtic culture were found. The term is associated with the development of a particular style of artwork, metalwork, goldsmithing, and pottery.
La Tene refers to the spot outside of Lake Neuchatel that, in 1858, receded to a very low level. The result was the exposure of the ribs of some construction. When the area was excavated, the second great period of the development of the Celts was revealed. The finds in the area were of such exquisite beauty, that, at first, it was believed that the area might have been one of a large votive sacrifice. Subsequent excavation of the areas around the lake found even more treasures.
The La Tene eras were divided into three sections, one, two , and three. This is a classification and designation developed by archaeologists that refer to the periods in general, and the remarkable aspects of it. Its dating period begins in the middle of the fifth century BC, and continues until the Roman conquest of Gaul, when its development stopped. Roughly, the periods of La Tene runs as follows: La Tene One, from 600 to 500 BC; ,La Tene Two from 450 to 100 BC; and La Tene Three from 100 BC until the Roman destruction of the culture.
What La Tene does is define the Celts as a real civilization, one that is differentiated from the rudimentary group of tribal primitive design. The La Tene periods produced grander and more elaborate designs, and some of the greatest artwork of the period.
La Tene featured the complete changeover from cremation to inhumation, or full body, burial. As a result, the period was an archaeologist's dream. The Celtic view of life, and death, was that when a person died, they would be able to pick up from where life ended, and the afterlife began, as though there was no stop in the action. Consequently, many of the possessions of the Celts ended up being buried with them, in a real sense of you can take it with you. Burial sites included weapons, chariots, gold and silver, and household goods. It was through these sites that much of what is known of the Celts has been learned.
What La Tene represented of the Celts was a flourishing, rich civilization. The glory that was Celtica found full flower during this period. The expansion of the Celtic world, and the monopoly that the Celts had on many items, provided them with the riches that allowed them to develop and flourish in the worlds of art and metal working. The constant interaction with other peoples of the world allowed the to cross-fertilize their culture with others, from the Greeks and Romans, to the Germans and the Carthegenians.
Much of the artwork associated with the Celts came from the La Tene period. The elaborate design in the goldworking, such as the torcs, as well as the swirling designs known today as Celtic knotwork, reached their zenith in the La Tene.