Swiss Chocolate and La Tène Culture

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Turrón, or nougat candy, is a popular Christmas sweet in Spain, which comes in many consistencies and flavours. At home we’re particularly fond of the least classic variety, chocolate turrón, popular amongst Spanish children, and traditionally manufactured by Suchard.

Whilst eating a few pieces on New Year’s Eve I started wondering where Suchard was from. Obviously Suchard doesn’t sound anything like your average Spanish family name or brand, so where exactly is it from? The word chocolatier written on the back of the packet hinted at a Belgian, French or Swiss origin, but I was curious so I decided to find out more once we were done with dinner.

Philippe Suchard Image source: Suchard.ch
Fig. 1: Philippe Suchard
Image source: Suchard.ch

So, a few hours before 2013 drew to a close, I found out that Philippe Suchard (Fig. 1), the brand’s founder, was a Swiss chocolatier born in 1797 who was also responsible for the tasty creation that is Milka chocolate. Suchard, however, was not only interested in chocolate manufacture, but had many other passions, including silk production, steam ships and hydrology (Presence Switzerland n.d., Suchard 2013).

In 1834 Philippe Suchard introduced the first iron steam ship to the Swiss Lake Neuchâtel, close to where his chocolate factory was located. His interest in hydrology grew as a result of this purchase and soon Suchard began supporting projects that aimed to regulate the amount of water carried by the different rivers feeding Lakes Biel, Murten and Neuchâtel, which had been flooding for centuries as a result of the rivers’ heavy flows (Presence Switzerland n.d.).

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Fig. 2: Bronze applied ornament. Middle La Tène (300-100B. C.), La Tène (Neuchâtel). Photo: J. Roethlisberger/Laténium
Image source: Wikipedia

The partial draining of Lake Neuchâtel as part of one of the water management projects supported by the chocolatier led to the discovery of one of Switzerland’s most important archaeological sites, La Tène, whose name was then used to describe the Late Iron Age culture of central and western Europe (c. 450–50 BC).  This culture emerged from the ‘Celtic Cradle’ in Germany after the centre of influence of the Hallstatt culture moved west into the mountain areas of the Rhine and Switzerland (Mountain 1998).

The archaeological assemblage found at La Tène is considered to be one of the most important later prehistory collections in Europe. Most of the material excavated from the site is, unsurprisingly, made of iron, but bronze, wood, bone, textile, leather, etc. artefacts were also recovered (Fig. 2). Amongst the most impressive finds are its weapons (e.g. over 160 swords, 269 spearheads, and nearly 30 shields), and personal ornaments (nearly 400 brooches and 158 belt clasps), which now form part of the collections of numerous museums around the world (Champion 1996).

So next time you’re having a banana and find yourself wondering where ‘Chiquita’ is from make sure to Google your query: there might be another archaeological link out there waiting for you to discovery it!

Happy New Year 2014!

References and Further Reading

Champion, T. 1996. La Tène. In Fagan, B.M. (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 379. (£)

Mountain, H. 1998. The Celtic Encyclopedia. Boca Raton: Universal Publishers. (£)

Poppi, L.K. 1991. The archaeological sources. In Mocati, S., Frey, O.H., Kruta, V. et al. (eds), The Celts. New York: Rizzoli, 42–50. Available at: <http://www.utexas.edu/courses/ironagecelts/texts/poppi.pdf> [Accessed 1 January 2014]

Presence Switzerland, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. n.d. Philippe Suchard [online]. Available at: <http://www.swissworld.org/en/people/portraits_chocolate_makers/philippe_suchard> [Accessed 1 January 2014]

Suchard. 2013. Histoire [online]. Available at: <http://www.suchard.ch/suchard/page?siteid=suchard-prd&locale=chfr1&PagecRef=578> [Accessed 1 January 2014]

(£) Denotes printed book/paywall. 

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