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L’organisation spatiale de la nécropole : aspects fonctionnels, sociaux et symboliques

Houses of living and houses of dead in the Neolithic and Copper Age of Central Europe

Maisons des vivants et maisons des morts au Néolithique et âge du Cuivre en Europe centrale
Jan Turek

Résumés

Un des rôles symboliques des maisons allongées néolithiques d’Europe centrale a pu être celui de tombe des ancêtres. Il n’existe pas de preuve formelle de la fonction funéraire des maisons danubiennes, toutefois, celle-ci est fréquemment considérée comme possible (Bradley 2001). Durant leur phase d’utilisation comme habitat, certaines maisons ont sans doute été utilisées comme lieu d’inhumation des restes des ancêtres. Lors de l’abandon de ces habitats, les sépultures ont été soit déplacées soit laissées à l’intérieur des constructions. Ceci est le processus de transformation des maisons des vivants en maison des morts. L’objectif de la seconde partie de cet article est de discuter de la question de l’absence de tertres funéraires en Europe centrale lors du Néolithique cordé et du Campaniforme. Différents problèmes, tels que la représentation démographique des nécropoles, les pratiques funéraires et la structure spatiale des espaces funéraires, sont liés à la question des tertres absents. Je me concentre ici sur la variabilité des monuments funéraires de la fin du Néolithique, en incluant une discussion sur les chambres funéraires et enceintes, un autre type de construction funéraire dépourvu de tertre et qui peut être décrit comme maison des morts.

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Texte intégral

1Version Abrégée
Un des rôles symboliques des maisons allongées néolithiques d’Europe centrale a pu être celui de sépulture des ancêtres. Il n’existe pas de preuve formelle de la fonction funéraire de ces maisons allongées, mais celle-ci est communément admise (Bradley 2001). Dès la durée de leur fonction d’habitat, certaines maisons furent probablement utilisées comme lieu de dépôt primaire de restes d’ancêtres. Plus tard, lors de la phase d’abandon de la maison, les sépultures ont été déplacées ou bien laissées en place dans la structure. C’est le processus de transformation de maison des vivants en maison des morts.

2L’homme néolithique a créé son propre espace culturel (paysage culturel) qu’il a structuré et ajusté à ses besoins. Un tel espace culturel devint la propriété de l’ensemble de la communauté et des familles individuelles. À de telles divisions de la propriété correspond également une plus grande importance accordée à la démonstration de la généalogie. Pour la première fois peut-être dans l’histoire humaine est apparu le besoin de manifester un lien avec les générations précédentes des ancêtres et d’utiliser leur mémoire afin de re-confirmer leur droit d’utiliser leur terre et d’occuper leur territoire.

3C’est peut-être la raison principale pour laquelle les premiers agriculteurs du Proche-Orient ne créèrent pas initialement d’espaces funéraires et utilisèrent, pour enterrer leurs morts, l’espace domestique, parfois directement en dessous de leur habitat. Il existe des preuves archéologiques d’extraction de crânes d’ancêtres provenant de sépultures en habitat, de recréation de leur visage (ex. Jéricho, Palestine) à partir d’argile ou de plâtre, ou bien, comme c’est le cas à Çatal Hüyük en Anatolie, d’entretien de têtes séchées ou momifiées à l’intérieur des maisons, dans des sortes de coins-autels pour les ancêtres. Il est bien possible que le même phénomène soit également apparu d’une certaine manière dans les phases initiales du Néolithique de l’Europe centrale et qu’il devint l’une des nombreuses coutumes funéraires alors hétérogènes. La question des sépultures néolithiques en habitat et des ossements humains isolés répartis dans les zones d’habitat a été étudiée par J. Rulf (Rulf 1996). La présence de restes humains épars préservés parmi les éléments enterrés le long des maisons allongées néolithiques est, en particulier, un possible indice expliquant l’absence de sépultures dans certaines régions d’Europe Centrale.

4Un nouvel examen des sépultures humaines des cultures Céramique Linéaire et Céramique pointillée, découvertes en contexte funéraire en Bohème (Zápotocká 1998), démontre que la majorité de la population était inhumée d’une manière qui n’a laissé aucune trace identifiable par les méthodes archéologiques actuelles. L’une de ces pratiques funéraires peut être les sépultures sur ou sous le sol des sites d’habitat, ou même à l’intérieur des maisons allongées néolithiques. Il y a également une présence plus fréquente des sépultures d’enfants à proximité immédiate de certaines maisons allongées.

5Selon Richard Bradley (Bradley 2001), certaines parties des maisons allongées néolithiques ont pu servir de morgue ou de compartiment tombal dans la maison des vivants. Ceci pourrait notamment expliquer pourquoi les maisons néolithiques sont si longues alors qu’elles n’accueillaient probablement qu’une seule famille. Malheureusement, il n’y a aucune preuve véritable de telles pratiques funéraires. Toutefois, certains indices indirects offrent une base pour de telles hypothèses.

6Un important débat au sujet de la fonction symbolique des maisons allongées néolithiques a été lancé par Evzen Neustupny (Neustupny 1995: 208) qui a réétudié l’interprétation des prétendus fossés de construction le long des murs des maisons. Il se montre sceptique au sujet de l’interprétation traditionnelle de ces fossés comme carrière d’argile pour le plâtrage des murs des maisons, interprétation à laquelle Neustupny oppose de nombreux arguments. L’argument le plus évident peut-être est que ces longs fossés furent creusés dans un sol composé de loess, de sable et de gravier. Le loess convient probablement comme matériau de plâtrage mural, toutefois, compte tenu des connaissances actuelles sur les maisons néolithiques, le gravier et le sable peuvent être difficilement utilisés dans ce même but. Neustupny conclue que ces fossés de forme irrégulière avaient une fonction de protection symbolique et il suppose qu’ils protégeaient la maison contre des pouvoirs surnaturels néfastes.

7Les deux interprétations, la rationaliste et la symbolique, supposent que ces fossés furent créés durant la construction et/ou la période d’utilisation de la maison. Mon avis, cependant, est différent. Selon moi, ces fossés ont tout à fait pu être creusés le long des maisons après leur abandon. Un tel acte transformait une maison désertée en une maison des morts ou tombe. Dans ce cas, la fonction de protection symbolique des fossés n’est pas attachée à la protection de l’espace intérieur de la maison des vivants ; elle protégeait à l’inverse les alentours extérieurs de la maison des morts contre l’influence négative des fantômes de l’habitat défunt à l’intérieur de la structure désertée. De plus, le sol extrait des fossés a pu servir de matériau du long tertre édifié au-dessus de l’ancienne maison une fois celle-ci effondrée, et ceci pourrait être l’origine de l’idée de créer des tumulus funéraires au-dessus des monuments sépulcraux. Cette hypothèse rencontre évidemment différents problèmes et manque de preuves claires. Néanmoins, il faut garder à l’esprit que Vere Goron Childe (Childe 1949) avait déjà noté le lien entre la forme des maisons du Néolithique final de la région du Danube et la forme des tumulus du début de l’Énéolithique à l’intérieur du même territoire. Il est très probable que la coutume de construction des tumulus funéraires du début de l’Énéolithique a ses racines dans la forme des maisons allongées du Néolithique final. Peut-être y avait-il une sorte de forme transitoire de monuments funéraires entre les maisons allongées utilisées en second temps comme tombes et les tumulus allongés du début de l’Énéolithique. Dans ce contexte, il faut prendre en compte le fait que les longs tumulus du nord-ouest de l’Europe et des îles Britanniques, chronologiquement plus récents, étaient également entourés des fossés longs et étroits, comme l’étaient les maisons allongées continentales (Bradley 1998, Bogucki 1988). Il est par conséquent possible que l’origine de l’idée des tumulus funéraires ait son origine dans la coutume de constituer un tertre au-dessus des ruines des maisons désertées contenant les sépultures des ancêtres. Le fait que seulement certaines maisons allongées néolithiques étaient accompagnées de fossés latéraux suggère que seulement certaines d’entre elles étaient utilisées à des fins funéraires après leur abandon. Afin d’apporter plus de lumière sur ce problème, il serait nécessaire de mener une recherche systématique sur les relations stratigraphiques et les processus post-dépositionnels dans les trous de poteaux et autres restes possibles des maisons et fossés allongés et des fossés situés à leur proximité.

Introduction

8One of symbolic roles of Neolithic long houses in central Europe might have been burial of ancestors. There is no hard evidence for the funerary function of long houses, however, it is commonly assumed (Bradley 2001). Already during their dwelling function some houses were possibly used for primary deposition of remains of ancestors. The burials were later in the time of abandonment of the house removed elsewhere or remained resting inside the building. This is the process of transformation from the house of living to the house of dead.

Living and dying in the Neolithic Period

9Neolithic man created his own cultural space (cultural landscape) that he structured and adjusted to his needs. Such cultural space became property of whole community and individual families. A greater emphasis on demonstration of genealogy was also in line with such divisions of ownership. Perhaps for first time in human history occurred the need to demonstrate a link with preceding generations of their ancestors and to use their memory in order to re-confirm their right to use their land and to occupy their territory.

10Perhaps this may be the main motive why the first farmers in the Near East initially did not create specialised funerary areas and they used to burry their dead within the habitation area, eventually directly underneath their dwellings. There is the evidence of extraction of ancestor’s skulls from settlement graves, recreate their faces (e.i. Jericho, Palestine) using clay or plaster, or such as in the case of Çatal Hüyük in Anatolia to keep cleaned dried or mummified heads of their ancestors inside their houses in some kind of ancestral shrine corners. It is well possible that the similar pattern appeared to some extend also in the initial phases of the central European Neolithic and became one of many varieties of yet heterogeneous funerary customs. The evidence for Neolithic settlement burials and isolated human bones scattered within the habitation areas was analysed by J. Rulf (Rulf 1996). The scatters of human remains surviving in the sunken features along the Neolithic longhouses are particularly the possible clue to the explanation of missing burials in some regions of Central Europe.

11The re-examination of Linear Pottery Culture and Stroke Pottery Culture human burials found in burial contexts in Bohemia (Zápotocká 1998) is clear that the majority of population was buried in a different fashion that is leaving no traces that could be identified by current archaeological methods. One of such funerary practices may be burials on or above ground of the settlement or even in the interiors of Neolithic longhouses. There is also more frequent occurrence of child burials in the close proximity of some longhouses.

12Richard Bradley (Bradley 2001) argues that certain part of Neolithic longhouses could possibly serve as a morgue or lets say a tomb compartment of the living house. This could be one of the explanations why the Neolithic houses are so long, even thought their probably accommodated just one family. Unfortunately there is no clear evidence for such funerary practices. However, some indirect clues offer a base for such assumptions.

13An important discussion, concerning the symbolic function of Neolithic long houses, was introduced by Evžen Neustupný (Neustupný 1995: 208), who re-examined the interpretation of so-called construction pits along the long walls of houses (fig. 1). He is sceptical about the traditional interpretation of these features as pits for exploitation of clay for plastering of longhouse walls. Neustupný offered a wide range of arguments against the interpretation of such features as exploitation pits. Perhaps the most obvious argument is that these long pits were sunken both in loess as well as in sand and gravel subsoil. Loess is probably suitable material for plastering of walls, but considering the current knowledge on the Neolithic house for the same purpose could hardly be used gravel or sand.

14Neustupný reached the conclusion that the ditches of irregular shape were of symbolically protective function and supposed protected a house against negative supernatural powers.

1. Comparison of an LBK house and a long barrow, both with side ditches

(after Bradley 1998, fig. 13)

Dying houses and houses of dead

15Both interpretations, the rationalistic one and the symbolic one, presume that these ditches were created during the construction and/or during the use of a house.

16My view is, however, different. I argue that the ditches might have well been hollowed along the house even after its abandonment. Such act turned the deserted house into the house of dead or one may say a tomb. In this case the symbolically protective function of ditches may not be connected to the protection of interior space of the house of living, just the opposite they protected the outer surroundings of the house of dead against the negative influence of the ghosts of the dead dwelling inside the deserted building. Furthermore the soil dug out of the ditches might have been the base of a long mound piled up on top of the former house once it collapsed and this could be the origin of the idea to create burial mounds above funerary monuments. This hypothesis is obviously facing many problems and lack of clear evidence. Nevertheless, one has to bare in mind that already Vere Gordon Childe (Childe 1949) observed the link between the shape of the Late Neolithic houses in the Danubian region and the form Proto- and Early Eneolithic barrows within the same territory. It is very likely that the habit to built barrow funerary monuments of Proto-Eneolithic period has its roots in the form of late Neolithic long houses. Perhaps there was some kind of transition form of funerary monuments between long houses secondarily used as tombs and long barrows of Proto-and Early Eneolithic period. In this context it has to be considered that the later long barrows of north-western Europe and British Isles were also surrounded by long shallow ditches, as it was in the case of continental long houses (Bradley 1998, Bogucki 1988). It is therefore possible that the origin of the idea of burial mounds has its origin in the habit to pile up the mound over the ruins of deserted houses containing burials of ancestors. The fact that only some Neolithic long houses were accomplished with marginal ditches may suggest that only some of them were after their abandonment used for funerary purposes. To shed light on this problem it would be necessary to provide a systematic research of stratigraphical relations and post-depositional processes within postholes and other possible remains of long houses and long ditches and other pits in their proximity.

From houses of death to barrows

17The link between the Neolithic houses secondarily used as tombs and long barrows as specialized features created as primarily funerary features, is not very well visible in the archaeological record. However, we have to bear in mind the similarity of ground plans of the Lengyel and TRB barrows and houses in some regions of Central Europe. There are some examples of long structures that were originally interpreted as ground plans of houses and later reclassified as barrows, such as one of the TRB period in Niedzwiedz. In the following paragraphs I am going to discuss the interpretation of special and temporal palimpsest of settlement structures and funerary monuments in 5th millennium Europe.

18Unfortunately the floors and interiors of the Neolithic longhouses do not survive in the ploughed landscapes of the Central Europe. The fact that we reconstruct ground plans of longhouses only based on the traces of postholes or foundation troughs makes the interpretation of their use, abandonment and further palimpsest rather complicated.

19Within the Danubian Neolithic cultural area can be observed identically repeating phenomenon of spatial correlation between trapezoid houses of the 5th millennium BC and ground plans of the earlier (LBK) longhouses of the 6th millennium BC. The accuracy with which these structures overlap cannot be coincidental. Such cases occurred in different, spatially distant regions with different cultural sequence. Examples of such linkage can be found in the Danubian Neolithic territory, such as at at Bożejewice 22/23 where the in Lengyel/Brzesc Kujavski Culture house (fig. A) is overlapping the earlier LBK house (Czerniak 1998). Joanna Pyzel (Pyzel 2013a, 2013b) states: “This is not the only site that displays this practice, although it is an exceptionally well preserved example. At the sites of Brześć Kujawski 3 and Smólsk 4, postholes of LBK houses were not preserved any more, however, the typical external elongated pits, located usually along the N-S walls of the buildings clearly indicate the presence and exact location of such structures. In both cases Brześć Kujawski trapezoidal houses were superimposed on them, in exactly the same way as Bożejewice 22/23 (Grygiel 2008)”. Another example of long temporal/spatial palimpsest from the Danubian zone is the LBK house overlapped by a trapezoidal one of the Stroke pottery Culture at Roztoky (Kuna 1991, Turek 2005). The LBK house had several long pits along its sides. Therefore, based on my assumptions above, we may expect that the abandoned house was transformed into a barrow. This would explain the surface visibility of the house ground plan even after several centuries. The Stroke pottery house is therefore exactly following the axis of the earlier house (fig. B).

A. Bożejewice 22/23, Lengyel/Brzesc Kujavski Culture house overlapping the earlier LBK house

(after Czerniak 1998)

B. An LBK house overlapped by a trapezoidal one of the Stroke pottery Culture at Roztoky near Prague

(after Kuna 1991)

20The similar pattern occurred during the same period also in the Atlantic Neolithic territory. Very similar pattern as in Bożejewice and at Roztoky has been recorded in the case of French late LBK (Rubané) houses 6 and 7 from Gurgy (Bickle 2013, fig. 7.4). Both constructions of trapezoidal ground plan are probably representing a sequence of rebuilding (fig. C). Another example can be found at Balloy, where the cemetery was placed upon an earlier Villeneuve-Saint-Germain settlement with five of the Cerny long mounds exactly overlapping earlier Villeneuve-Saint-Germain long houses and respecting their orientation and partly even morphology (Mordant 1997, Midgley 2005, fig. 33).

C. French late LBK (Rubané) overlapping houses 6 and 7 from Gurgy

(after Bickle 2013)

21Another example is represented by the Cerny monumental cemetery at Passy, for which Phillipe Chambon (Chambon 2003) suggested that the individual barrows were not distributed randomly but their construction followed certain internal spatial structure, grouped by two or three features. Magdalena Midgley is proposing that the Passy barrows were indeed modelled upon the Danubian long houses and their exaggerated sizes may be the expression of an additional symbolism involved in their creation (Midgley 2005: 88).

22This is obviously only tip of an iceberg and such pattern represents a systematic behavior of our ancestors. Farmers of the 5th millennium BC recognized remains of the 6th millennium BC settlements as areas with certain symbolic and mythical value and they perceived their remains as heritage of their ancestors. If my assumption of transformation of abandoned LBK longhouses into burial mounds then this relationship would be even more symbolic. The question is whether the evidence of direct spatial palimpsest summarized above represent the continuity of dwellings or if these trapezoidal 5th millennium structures were in fact barrows. As we have no evidence of floors of these structures, it would be quite well possible that they are in fact no houses but ground plans of burial mounds. This would make sense as evidence of re-use and reconstruction of the earlier houses converted into houses of dead. This is of course only hypothesis that would need revision of currently known sites and targeted approach towards such sites that may be excavated in future.

A brief outline of the development of early barrows in Bohemia and Moravia

Invisible long barrows of the Proto- and Early Eneolithic Period

23Possible traces of burial mounds were possibly excavated within the later Neolithic Stroke pottery cremation cemetery in Prague - Bubeneč. When L. Horáková-Jansová (Horáková-Jansová 1931) in 1930s excavated remains of the cemetery, she recorded several stone structures of oval or oblong ground plan containing human cremations and numerous funerary offerings. These structures were not yet interpreted as remains of a burial mound and Stroke pottery Culture barrows are not known from the territory of its geographical spread, but it is well possible that they were in fact long barrows.

24The first monuments of such character are known from the Proto-Eneolithic period. They are represented by two underground structures interpreted as long barrows from Březno (District Louny, North Bohemia, cf. Pleinerová 1980). Both monuments were outlined by shallow ditches orientated in east-west direction. The shorter structure was 24 meters long and it was of slightly trapezoid ground plan, the longer oblong barrow was 143,5 meters long (one end was however eroded by the watercourse of the nearby Ohře River). The long barrow was 4 meters wide and it was about one meter wider than the shorter structure. Few graves were found inside the building, which Ivana Pleinerová classified to be contemporary with the creation of the barrows. The burials respected the long axes of the barrow and the radiocarbon date (GrN 8803 – cal. 3890 BC) suggest that the burial from which the bone sample was extracted was inserted into the monument at the very end of the Proto-Eneolithic. There are, however, other sites in Bohemia that represent long barrows, such as Proto-Eneolithic structure at Klučov (Distr. Kolín), or Early Eneolithic Funnel Beaker Culture (TRB) possible barrow at Velké Žernoseky (Distr. Litoměřice, cf. Krištuf 2003).

25Much better situation appears to be in Moravia, where there are several sites with long barow cemeteries still visibly preserved above ground in currently forested areas, such as Ludéřov-Žlíbek, Křemela, Slatinky etc. (cf. Šmíd 1990). According to the evidence from archaeological excavations there is continuity of long barrows since the Early TRB Baalberge phase up to the Ohrozim horizon of Early Baden Culture.

26It is probable that the burials covered by long barrows were amongst the common funerary practices during the Proto-Eneolithic Period in Central Europe and that this could be the archetype of later long barrows of the megalithic circle in the Western Europe (cf. Neustupný 2001).

Invisible death in the Middle Eneolithic Period

27The continuity in creation of barrows is seemingly interrupted during the Middle Eneolithic Period. The evidence of funerary activities seems to disappear from the archaeological record. The graves and barrows are “replaced” by enclosed hill-top sites. It is possible that the Middle Eneolithic fortifications in Bohemia and Moravia were structures of a symbolic character with some importance in rituals and cult. We presume some other activities such as production and exchange of stone axes might have been concentrated on these hill-top sites. Also the lack of evidence of burial rites in the Řivnáč, Cham and Jevišovice B period may be in connection with the symbolic function of fortified hill-top sites. Cremations or some other methods of disposing death (which do not leave any traces within the archaeological record) might have taken place on these hill-top sites.

Corded Ware and Bell Beaker barrows and the houses of dead

28The trend of individual burials entirely dominated throughout the Late Eneolithic Period. Also the size and shape of barrows is designed to cover a single burial. Some further burials might have been later inserted into such single grave barrow. As I am going to argue the idea of houses of dead has probably survived the change from collective towards individual burials.

Perishable monuments

29Burial rites of the late Eneolithic period in central Europe concerned on the symbolic demonstration of social status and representation of social categories. The funerary symbolism of Corded Ware and Bell Beaker Cultures is using similar expressions, such as positioning and orientation of inhumations and choice of significant gendered grave goods (cf. Turek 2000, 2002, 2003 with further references). Another common phenomenon of the late Eneolithic burial customs was covering the grave cuts with burial mounds. The traces of prehistoric burial mounds however disappeared in most of the lowland deforested regions of central Europe due to the intense agricultural cultivation. This is very probably the reason why we cannot detect the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker burial mounds in the current countryside of Bohemia, Moravia and neighbouring regions. Another important destructive factor is erosion. The purely earthen burial mounds of the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker period were generally more affected by erosion then burial mounds of some other prehistoric periods (e.g. Tumuli Culture, Hallstatt D etc.), that were using more stone in their constructions. As we know from the subterranean parts of late Eneolithic graves the stone was only rarely used for construction of burial mounds. The sunken grave cuts contain very small amount of stones if any at all. This appears to be a great difference in comparison to the subsequent Únětice period. The Únětice graves, especially of the “classical“ period are usually packed with stone (especially in the central Bohemia). However, it needs to be observed that the survival of Únětice barrows is very low too (e.g. Čejetičky-Choboty, District Mladá Boleslav, Plesl 1959).

Tracing the invisible barrows

30The evidence of the late Eneolithic barrows is possible to divide into four categories:
A - visible remains of barrows;
B – negative traces of burial mounds within the spatial structure of a multi-period funerary area;
C – An overlap of late Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age burials;
D - traces of objects from a burial mound secondarily deposited within the fill of a grave cut.

31The visible remains of Corded Ware barrows are very rare in Bohemia. Currently the only known cases come from Selibice and Toužetín (both District Louny) in north Bohemia (Moucha 2000). The forested areas of eastern Moravia are currently representing the only region of Czech Republic, where the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker barrows are still visible up to present day (e.g. Dřevohostice, Kostelec na Hané, Turovice etc.). Majority of east Moravian barrows were selectively excavated already in 19th and early 20th Century (Červinka 1911). Fortunately some of the original site records are of reasonable quality and it is generally possible to re-identify the plans of excavated graves, burial assemblages and the location of individual barrows within the cemetery (for the Corded Ware - Šebela 2000; for the Bell Beaker period is similar revision of data currently carried out by A. Matějíčková). The 19th/20th Century data from the Moravian barrow cemeteries suggest that the barrows were created using soil with minimum stone, that some barrows contained multiple burials and that there are traces of secondary insertion of later burials into the above ground mounds. There are many questions on the spatial and chronological development of such barrow cemeteries (including the questions of continuity in use, satellite burials, use of space between individual barrows) that would greatly contribute towards the modelling of the late Eneolithic cemeteries excavated in the eroded and ploughed landscapes (cf. Kruťová – Turek 2004). This would, however require a modern targeted revision excavation of such site.

32The negative evidence of Corded Ware barrows may be traced in the spatial distribution of grave cuts within multi-period funerary sites. Such barrow negatives are visible on the ground plan as empty spots of roughly circular shape. The burial mound of a Corded Ware grave prevented the later graves from reaching the natural ground or perhaps it was respected by the successors even thousands years later. Similar pattern was recently presented by Ladislav Šmejda (Šmejda 2001) based on the case of Corded Ware cemetery at Brandýsek, including the discussion of the spatial relationship of Late Eneolithic and Early Medieval cemetery and earlier hypothesis on existence of a wooden church.

33Another indirect clue for reconstruction of barrows are fairly frequent observations of an overlap of the late Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age burials. Examples may be found at Prague-Kobylisy (Hájek 1968) for the Bell Beaker interference into an earlier Corded Ware grave or several cases of Early Bronze Age Únětice burials cutting into the Corded Ware graves (Březno – Pleinerová 2000: 201-204, obr. 1; Roztyly - Holodňák – Holodňáková 2002: 135-140, obr.1-2) or Únětice graves fitted into the ring ditches of Bell Beaker period at Dolní Věstonice III, graves 44 and 71, 73 (Dvořák et al. 1996: 17-18, Taf. 18-19). These examples are only the tip of an iceberg of frequently represented phenomenon of continuity in use of funerary areas and reuse of funerary monuments. It is more than obvious that the Corded Ware graves were visibly marked on ground so the successors might have reused the monument even several centuries later.

34Last but not least there are traces of objects found within fills of some grave cuts that may be secondarily deposited coming from the original burial mound. The material for construction of barrows might have been gathered in the immediate vicinity of the current grave, perhaps also using earlier mounds. That could explain appearance of decorated bell beaker fragments in the fill of Early Bronze Age Únětice graves at Soběsuky (District Chomutov). These shards may well be parts of destroyed earlier burials that were inserted into the coat of burial mounds. The soil for piling up a burial mound could have been possibly carried on relatively far distance, perhaps from the habitation area (such movement could possibly be part of funerary ritual). This may explain the appearance of a fragment of an early Corded Ware settlement pottery inside of the later Corded Ware grave as it was recorded at Čachovice (District Chomutov, Neustupný – Smrž 1989).

Vanishing mounds - missing evidence

35Considering the integrity and completeness of the late Eneolithic funerary sites in the ploughed landscape one has to bear in mind that the subterranean part of a burial monument is usually less than half of the original tomb construction. As I suggested earlier, the amount of funerary data we are missing from eroded and ploughed away burial mounds is enormous. What could be missing? Later burials, votive offerings, traces of construction, reopening and possible extension and reuse of burial mounds, as well as, environmental data from levels buried within the mound.

36In 2002 I have discussed the question of missing evidence of female burials in certain regions of central Europe during the Bell Beaker period (Turek 2002). The lack of female inhumations is characteristic for the Bohemian and central German group of Bell Beakers. The situation is however, different in Moravia and southern Germany, where both sexes are equally represented in common burial rites.

Table summarising the basic characteristics of the Bell Beaker burial rites within some regions of the Eastern Province

(after Turek 2002)

37The lack of female burials in some regions must have been caused by an alternative method of burial that was used for certain number of deceased women. There are certainly many ways of disposing the body without leaving any traces retrievable by archaeological methods. In the case of Bell Beaker burial rites, it is important to note that secondary burials were often placed into the burial mounds above ground. Such practice is known from the regions where intact barrows survived (eastern Moravia, some sites in central Germany). The traces of prehistoric burial mounds however disappeared in most of the regions in central Europe due to the agricultural cultivation. These undiscovered burial mounds may be a key to the question on “missing” Bell Beaker women in Bohemia and central Germany.

Ring ditches and burial chambers, elite burials?

38Within the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cemeteries in Bohemia and Moravia appear tombs of a higher status. The common inhumations were usually inserted in a simple grave pit and perhaps covered by a simple burial mound. There are, however, also tombs with more elaborate construction of the burial chamber and sometimes with a ring ditch outlining the space around the grave cut.

39Carefully selected grave goods that may be considered as prestigious were inserted into burial chambers, usually with wooden lining of walls (e.g. Tišice and Holubice; fig. 2 and 3). Some of these burials were placed into a grave encircled by a ring ditch (e.g. Prosiměřice or Smolín in Moravia). In addition to this, human cremations were secondarily inserted into some of these wealthy graves or into the ring ditches.

2. The Bell Beaker female burial in a chambered tomb from Tišice in Central Bohemia

(photograph by J. Turek)

3. The Bell Beaker male burial in a chambered tomb from Holubice in Central Bohemia

(photograph by L. Šulová)

40Individuals buried in such wealthy graves are usually accompanied by decorated bell beakers traditionally classified as examples of early phase of the Beaker period. Some of these graves contain “mixed gender” assemblages containing both, artefacts considered to be specifically male, as well as female (for an example cf. Radovesice – graves 116/78 and 117/78, see Turek 2003, fig. 5 and 6). It seems that specifically male artefacts appear sometimes in graves of women, however, it is rarely opposite. We have to bear in mind that not every item inserted into a burial context has to be indicative of social category of the buried person. Some funerary gifts may rather reflect the relations of mourners towards the deceased (cf. Brodie 1997: 300-301). Some grave goods perhaps reflected not only the social position of the person who died but also the rank status of the descendants and their shared social identity.

41In the following paragraphs I am going to focus on formal characteristics of such elite tombs that are ring ditches and wood lined burial chambers.

Ring ditches

42In Bohemia and Moravia ring ditches occurred in both Corded Ware and Bell Beaker periods. Their shape is roughly circular, with a grave pit in the centre. Diameters of these round ditches varies from 564 cm to 1050 cm in Corded Ware period and from 300 cm to 1200 cm in the Bell Beaker period. If we drop out the extremely small and large circle then the average Corded Ware ring ditch was about 9.4 m in diameter and average Bell Beaker ring was just over 7 m in diameter. Corded Ware ditches are larger and their most common size seems to be generally respected in northwest Bohemia, as well as, in Moravia. Petr Holodňák (2000) suggested earlier that the standard diameter of Corded Ware ditches is very near to 12 megalithic yards and he considers this phenomenon to be of some symbolic significance. The variability of the Bell Beaker ditches seems to be much greater (see the box-and-whisker plot of ditch diameters, fig. 4). It is, however, important to note that that the two extreme cases of bell Beaker ditches (Šlapanice 300 cm and Lhánice 1200 cm in diameter) were containing non-standard or currently invisible traces of burials and also the only example from Bohemia (Stehelčeves) was not considered due to inaccessibility of its data.

4. Box-and-whisker plot of the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker funerary dich diameters (max. dimensions) in Bomenia and Moravia

4. Box-and-whisker plot of the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker funerary dich diameters (max. dimensions) in Bomenia and Moravia

43All currently known cases of Late Eneolithic ring ditches from Bohemia and Moravia are summarized in the following lists. The maximum diameters are listed for every site. The data were collected from original publications and articles summarising the finds of ring ditches (Měřínský – Stuchlík 1980: 373-376, obr. 5; Bálek et al. 1999: 16-19; Holodňák 2000: 88-89).

44Corded Ware ring ditches in Bohemia
Hrdlovka grave C/89 – 564 cm; Radovesice 925 cm; Čachovice 938 cm; Chudeřín 940 cm; Strupčice 1050 cm.

45Corded Ware ring ditches in Moravia
The only currently known site with evidence of a ring ditch comes from Holubice (950 cm, Čižmář 1985).

46Bell Beaker ring ditches in Bohemia
Currently the only ring ditch was excavated at Stehelčeves (Knor 1966 mentions one ring ditch 12 meters in diameter).

47Bell Beaker ring ditches in Moravia
Šlapanice 300 cm; Dolní Věstonice III grave 73–500 cm; Maršovice-Jezeřany 520 cm; Smolín 550 cm; Bulhary 640 cm; Dolní Věstonice grave 44–700 cm; Tvořihráz I ditch 3a/91– 740 m; Tvořihráz I ditch 2a/91–820 cm; Tvořihráz I ditch 1a/90–860 cm; Prosiměřice – iner ring 570 cm, outer ring 850 cm; Lechovice 900 cm; Lhánice 1200 cm.

48Further ring ditches are known from Horní Bojanovice and Přísnotice (without relevant site record) and most recently from the cemetery at Hoštice (A. Matějíčková, personal communication).

49In last two decades raised dramatically number of ring enclosures recorded as crop-marks by the aerial survey in Bohemia and Moravia (cf. Gojda 2004 with further references). Some of such sites were subsequently excavated and appeared to be of late Eneolithic date (Chudeřín & Holodňák 2000; Tvořihráz I, Bálek et al. 1999) others are of late Bronze Age or early Iron Age origin (Uhy, Sofaer – Turek 2004).

Burial chambers

50Almost every Bell Beaker grave encircled with a ring ditch had an internal construction of burial chamber of some kind. The grave pits of such chambers are of conical section with walls narrowing down towards the bottom of the grave. Traces wooden construction are usually visible as dark, ashy stripes along the walls and sometimes it is possible to distinguish remains of posts and postholes in corners of the chamber, such as at Holubice (Šulová et al. 2008; fig. 3). However, there are cases of elite wealthy burials found in burial chambers without any traces of ring ditches (Radovesice, Tišice etc.). This may be also caused by a high degree of soil erosion or method of excavation techniques or simply by different construction of such burial monuments. The traces of internal construction of graves suggest that the chambers were lined with wood, perhaps in the fashion of a log cabin. It may be well possible that the “roof” of such tomb was elevated above the ground and created a visible monument as such. A burial “log cabin” was then accomplished with an enclosure created of tree trunks that might have been split, creating a timber circle.

Houses of dead

51The earlier attempts of reconstruction of the graves with ring ditches usually involved a burial mound that was held and delimited by a wooden ring (cf. for example the reconstruction of the tomb from Smolín, Novotný 1958). Although, there are several observations suggesting that these monuments were not covered by a mound, or at least not by a mound that would fill entire inner area of the timber circle.

52An important data for the re-consideration of this question may be found on south Moravian Bell Beaker sites at Dolní Věstonice (Dvořák et al. 1996) and Tvořihráz (Bálek et al. 1999). The Bell Beaker grave n° 44 at Dolní Věstonice was excavated within the ring ditch n° 45 (fig. 5). This ditch was sunken only 25 cm deep into the natural subsoil (measured from the stripped surface). The outline of the ditch was of a wavy shape and in the north-eastern part were clearly visible postholes in the shape of halved tree trunks. One could imagine the construction of such monument to be similar as recently discovered funerary timber circle at Holm-next-the-Sea beach in Norfolk that is known as Seahenge (Pryor 2001, Turek 2000). The slightly oval shaped ring was created with 65 posts that were mainly split trunks of tree embedded into the ground (fig. 5). At the south-western part of the ring there was an entrance into the internal area, where was a stump of an old oak embedded upside down into the ground. This central point is interpreted as the place where once rested human remains (body or cremated remains). Such monument was relatively easy to enter and the funerary events and/or subsequent ceremonies might have repeatedly taken place here. Also the monument from Dolní Věstonice was reused by three inhumations of the Únětice Culture. The repeated funerary ceremonies may also be presumed i the case of the grave 2/91 at Tvořihráz, where it was possible to identify cremations of at least five children (Langová 2004). Langová presumes that because the cremated bones of all five individuals were mixed together within three excavated deposits inside the burial chamber. Unlike Langová I do not consider the mixing of remains to be an evidence of a single funerary event and it may be well possible that burials were accumulated there over a period of time. The funerary construction in the terms of a log cabin or one may say “house of dead” would be ideal for such re-opening and continual use of the tomb.

5. The Early Bronze Age funerary enclosure Seahenge in Holm-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England (left) compared to The Bell Beaker funerary circle at Dolní Věstonice III, Břeclav District, Moravia

(after Pryor 2001, fig. 24 and Dvořák et al. 1996, Taf. 18)

53The ring ditch n° 45 at Dolní Věstonice had several post holes in the shape of halved logs, such as it is known from the Seahenge monument. Another important discovery are 18 more or less complete pots, mainly decorated beakers, found in the fill of the ditch of the grave 2/91 at Tvořihráz. Were they votive offerings inserted to the ditch during individual funerary events or repeatedly during some ceremonial memorial feasting?

Conclusion

54In this paper we have followed the first four millennia of developments of burial mounds and their role in shaping communal and social identity of early European farmers. The barrows were not only important landmarks structuring the landscapes and settlement areas but also important symbols of identity and mythological unity. People perceived burial monuments as the heritage of their forefathers and set their own funerary areas according to the spatial distribution of the earlier monuments. We can imagine that at the beginning of the 2nd millennium AD, after almost seven millennia of the barrow building tradition the Central European landscape was covered with millions of prehistoric and early medieval barrows that marked the traditions of the settlement networks. Despite the great importance of these monuments they disappeared from the modern human culture and were effectively whipped out of the landscape by ploughing, erosion and modern development. The use of barrows for commemoration of battleships and war heroism, however, remained as the symbolic rudiment of the former glory of burial mounds.

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Titre 4. Box-and-whisker plot of the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker funerary dich diameters (max. dimensions) in Bomenia and Moravia
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Jan Turek, « Houses of living and houses of dead in the Neolithic and Copper Age of Central Europe », Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], Colloque | 2014, mis en ligne le 19 décembre 2014, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL : http://pm.revues.org/1132

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Jan Turek

Czech Institue of Egyptology, Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, Charles University in Prague, Celetna 20, 110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic — turekjan@hotmail.com

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