Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Breakthrough for mining research in the Bronze Age

Mining already took place 3,500 years ago in the Austrian region of Montafon.

FRANKFURT/BARTHOLOMÄBERG. Mining in the Alps dates back much further than previously thought - in the Austrian region of Montafon since the Bronze Age. Thanks to C14 dating, a group of researchers from Goethe University in Frankfurt led by Professor Rüdiger Krause of the Institute of Archaeological Sciences was able to detect in the course of prospecting in the Bartholomäberg region at a height of 1450 metres ancient traces of mining from the middle Bronze Age. The C14 method, also known as the radiocarbon method, makes a relatively precise age classification possible, for example of charcoal, on the basis of decreasing radioactivity in carbonaceous material.

It was in this way that the researchers also discovered that 2500 years later - towards the end of the Early Middle Ages - mining evidently even resumed there, since there are clear traces in the terrain from this period too. That means that this is one of the oldest mining areas provable to date in a mountainous region of Europe. The discovery, which was made possible through funding from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)), equates according to Professor Krause to "a small sensation, since the academic world had so far not considered that Bronze Age mining in the Montafon mining area could be possible." There are only very few places with evidence of Alpine mining in the early and late Middle Ages either. Professor Krause now sees an exciting link, for instance, to the historically documented nine iron-smelting furnaces in Drusengau - the region around Bludenz, Klostertal and Montafon - which are mentioned in the Imperial Register of Chur (Churer Reichsurbar) of the year 843.

Professor Krause and his team, which includes archaeobotanists and a large number of students from Goethe University, have been researching for 15 years in the Montafon region, which lies in the Central Alps in the south of the Austrian federal state of Vorarlberg. The objective is to explore early settlement history and early mining in this unique inner-Alpine "settlement chamber" with Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements and Bronze Age castle buildings with stone walls up to 3 metres thick.

Excavations in the newly discovered mining area are due to commence next summer. An exciting project, as the only other evidence of comparably ancient mining activity is in the Eastern Alps, for example in the famous Mitterberg mining area, where Bronze Age miners dug galleries as far down as 200 metres and developed mining on the most intensive scale in this period in the Alps. "What significance our new site in Montafon had in the context of Bronze Age copper supply in the Alps will be seen when we examine it further", says Professor Krause.

For archaeological research in Frankfurt, Montafon - with its special colonization history with Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements - is an important priority. After all, it is regarded as a model region for an interdisciplinary approach where archaeobotany, soil science and metal analysis, in particular the analysis of heavy metals in the ground as a relict of ancient mining, are very important sources of information. Work focuses on questions about what could have originally induced people to settle in this Alpine valley landscape. From what point in time onwards was their self-sufficient economy - gathering as well as livestock, arable and pasture farming - supplemented by mining activity? Thanks to the researchers in Frankfurt it is now known that this inner-Alpine valley landscape has been inhabited on a continuous basis since about 2000 B.C. and that Montafon can today look back on 4000 years of settlement history.

The scientific "breakthroughs" in the former mining area are now also visible in book form: On the 9th of November, the first monograph on the archaeology and early history of mining in Montafon will be presented in Bartholomäberg (Montafon): A "colourful" book richly illustrated with photographs and diagrams, which wants to familiarize the reader and observer in short and easily comprehensible words and in a lively way with the oldest history of an Alpine valley landscape using the example of Montafon as well as with the different types of exploration. Martin Vallaster, Mayor of the Municipality of Bartholomäberg, is noticeably impressed: "We are all very proud of this book, which is a product of lasting value for relaying the research results and their wide variety of new findings. Allow yourself when reading this book to be transported into the world of our ancestors and experience our exciting and unique settlement history".


Book details:
Rüdiger Krause, Archäologie im Gebirge. Montafoner Zeitmaschine. Frühe Besiedlungsgeschichte und Bergbau im Montafon, Vorarlberg (Österreich). With contributions by Lisa Bringemeier, Rudolf Klopfer, Astrid Röpke, Astrid Stobbe, Franziska Würfel. 150 pages, 213 colour and large-format images, 23 x 23 cm, hard cover, € 19,80 Bartholomäberg/Bonn 2015 (ISBN 978-3-7749-3981-0), Distribution: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, Bonn (Germany), http://www.habelt.de
Information: Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Krause, Faculty of Linguistics, Culture and Arts, Westend Campus, Tel.: ++49(0)160-824 7 824, Email: r.krause@em.uni-frankfurt.de


Stonehenge archaeologists discover 'superhenge' neolithic site buried underground

A computerised interpretation of what the 'superhenge' site is believed to have looked like before being buried.

Archaeologists say they have found the buried remains of a mysterious prehistoric monument close to Britain's famous Stonehenge heritage site.

Up to 90 standing stones, some originally measuring 4.5 metres and dating back some 4,500 years, may have been buried for millennia under a bank of earth, they said.

The discovery was made at Durrington Walls — a so-called "superhenge" located less than three kilometres from Stonehenge — thanks to high-tech sensors.

The site may have been used in neolithic times for rituals or as some kind of arena.

"Durrington Walls is an immense monument and up until this point we thought it was merely a large bank and ditched enclosure, but underneath that massive monument is another monument," Vincent Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, told the BBC.

The discovery was made by the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, a collaboration between the University of Birmingham and the Vienna-based Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro).

The newly discovered stones, which have yet to be excavated, are thought to have been toppled over, with the bank of the later Durrington Walls henge built over them.

The monument, which lies in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, is one of the largest known henges — a circle of stone or wooden uprights — ever found.

It measures 500 metres across and more than 1.5 kilometres in circumference.

Surrounded by a 17.6-metre-wide ditch and a bank around 1 metre high, the site has long mystified archaeologists as one side is straight and the other curved.

Now ground penetrating radar has revealed that the straight edge in fact sits on top of a "C-shaped" monument, which may have been used as a site for rituals or an arena for gatherings, researchers said.

Project initiator Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the LBI ArchPro, described the discovery as a "very important and fantastic finding" and said the monument could originally have comprised up to 200 stones.

"The missing stones might be the stone material which was used later on to build Stonehenge," he explained, adding that those left in place were probably broken during attempts to move them.

Although none of the stones have yet been excavated, archaeologists believe they may be locally sourced stones similar to a single standing stone, known as "The Cuckoo Stone", in an adjacent field.
The earthwork enclosure at Durrington Walls was built about a century after Stonehenge, a ring of standing stones believed to have been erected between 3,000 and 2,000 BCE.

Archeologists said the new stone row could date back to the same period, or even earlier.

"This discovery of a major new stone monument, which has been preserved to a remarkable extent, has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting," Professor Gaffney said.

"Not only does this new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier."

Nick Snashall, a National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge site, said the findings provided "tantalising evidence" of what lies beneath Durrington Walls.

"The presence of what appear to be stones, surrounding the site of one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Europe, adds a whole new chapter to the Stonehenge story," he said.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Scandinavia - Dolmens and Passage Graves

An artist's reconstruction of Kong Svends Høj (drawing by Henrik Vester Jorgensen).

Kong Svends Høj, Denmark Kong Svends mound, on the island of Lolland in southern Denmark, is one of the most famous passage graves in Denmark, both because of its size and its history of investigation. The first recorded diggings at the mound were done in 1780 by a Danish prime minister and a pastor’s son who later became bishop of Copenhagen and one of the founders of the National Museum. The monument has since undergone two episodes of restoration in order to remove vegetation and reset the position of the standing stones.

Kong Svends Høj is a remarkable example of a very large megalithic tomb from the Middle Neolithic (Dehn et al. 1995). The 11 m (36’).long passage grave is enclosed in a large, rectangular, house-shaped mound surrounded by high curbstones. The tallest of these is 4 m (13’). The passage grave was constructed ca. 3200 BC by craftsmen capable of splitting the large standing stones inside the chamber. These massive split boulders are referred to as ‘twin stones.’ Kong Svends Hoj contains at least 10 twins supporting the massive capstones of the tomb. The passage entrance to the tomb was not found until the first restoration in 1942, located on the side rather than in the normal eastern location. The artist’s reconstruction below shows this entrance and a wicker fence enclosing the entire structure and its immediate surroundings.

Dolmens usually contain a small stone-lined chamber for burial covered by three or more standing boulders supporting a massive capstone. These huge granite boulders weighed many tons and require an enormous amount of labor for construction. The stone structure was often covered by a round or rectangular mound, circumscribed by a row of large stones. Like the simple inhumation graves, the early dolmens were apparently originally intended for a single funeral (Skaarup 1985). The dead were placed in a similar position and given the same equipment as in the inhumation graves. Only later in the Neolithic were larger dolmens and then passage graves built as collective tombs for tens or hundreds of individuals. More elaborate offerings, involving many pottery vessels, were made at the entrances of the tombs. Similar offerings of a few pots were made at the east end of the long barrows at the beginning of the Neolithic.

Passage graves are another form of megalithic tomb from the Neolithic. A passage grave is a larger megalithic tomb, entered via a long, low, narrow passage that opens into a larger chamber, generally near the center of the covering mound. The walls and roof of the construction were made with huge stones (megaliths). These larger megalithic tombs contain many burials, sometimes hundreds. The burial place may have been intended for most or all the members of a related group of farmsteads or hamlets or as a communal tomb for many generations of the same family or community. These tombs must have symbolized the collective and cooperative nature of the group, both in life in the construction effort and in death in the shared space. The erection of these monuments ended everywhere around 3000 BC.

There are thousands of these megalithic tombs still standing today across southern Scandinavia, western Sweden, and northern Germany. The megalithic tombs are sometimes found in lines or rows across the landscape and were probably built along Neolithic trails or roadways. Wheel tracks have been found beneath at least one of these monuments. The tracks found at the TRB monument of Flintbek LA3 in Schleswig-Holstein have been dated to 3400 BC (Mischka 2010), perhaps the oldest evidence of the wagons anywhere in the world (Bakker et al. 1999). However, the tracks might also have come from a sledge used in the construction of the tomb.

As part of the communal burial phenomenon that appeared ca. 3250 BC, burial in the megalithic tombs apparently became the second step in the funerary process. The skeletons found in the megaliths are usually incomplete, missing smaller bones or skulls or other parts, and disarticulated, i. e., not in correct anatomical order. Part of the burial ritual may have involved lengthy ceremonies and treatment of the bodies of the deceased prior to final disposition in the tombs. Some of this treatment of the deceased may have taken place at the causewayed enclosures described in the next segment.

Parker Pearson (2012) has characterized Durrington Walls and Stonehenge in the Salisbury Plain in Wessex, England, as way stations for the passage of the dead. Durrington Walls involved the passage from life to death, involving celebration and perhaps preparation of the dead for their journey. Nearby Stonehenge, a short journey down the Avon River, was the home of the ancestors, a final resting place and cemetery. Perhaps a similar situation on a smaller scale is reflected in the relationship between the causewayed camps and megalithic tombs.

Scandinavia - Early Neolithic settlements

Plan of a passage grave at Damsbo, Denmark. A two-aisled house, 12 m long and 4.6 m wide, was the first structure on this spot (dotted red line). A burial chamber with a passage to the east was found in the middle of this feature, surrounded by a spiral of smaller boulders where deposits of broken pottery vessels were found. A curb of smaller stones surrounded these features, and an outer row of larger granite boulders enclosed the whole.

The ENII house at Rastorf with burial, fireplaces, and plow marks.

Early Neolithic settlements were poorly known in Scandinavia until the last 30 years or so, when large, open excavations became a common strategy in rescue archaeology projects. Small excavation units could not expose a sufficient area to make such structures and the related posts and pits visible and coherent. In addition, such houses must have been largely on the surface of the ground without much depth, so that repeated plowing for millennia erased many of the traces of these structures.

The earliest Neolithic settlements in southern Scandinavia are found in two zones, either coastal in the upper levels of late Mesolithic settlements or inland in new locations. The majority of settlements were inland, at some distance from coastal areas, placed at lakes or streams where fresh water was easily obtainable and conditions for grazing animals were favorable. Most of the sites were small, containing individual farms (Larsson and Brink 2013). Inland settlements are sometimes found beneath burial monuments that protected the locations from later plowing. The association of settlement and subsequent burial at the same spot may reflect attempts to legitimize claims to place through ancestry and inheritance.

Two examples document this practice, Damsbo in central Denmark and Rastorf in northern Germany. The house at Damsbo was found beneath a later passage grave and defined by the postholes that remained from the earlier structure. The postholes revealed a two-aisled house with four central posts. This large house, 12 m (40’) long and 4.6 m (15’) wide - the equivalent of a long, narrow classroom - was the first construction on this site, built sometime before the passage grave. Little was left of the house contents because of the later construction.

Excavations at Rastorf, Germany, revealed a similar structure with pits, a burial, and plow marks to the east in front of the house. It is unlikely that the plowed area and the house are contemporary, since the plow marks were also observed inside the house, but their location here may reflect the close proximity of the farmers to their fields. The house is a large rectangular structure with a central row of roof support posts, approximately 17 m (55’) x 7 m (23’) in size, almost 120 m2 (1300 ft2) in area. For comparison, that is the equivalent of two 18-wheel truck trailers side by side. The combination of cultivation and residence appears to be typical for an Early Neolithic single farmstead with associated fields (Steffens 2009). The normal arrangement for early TRB settlement during the fourth millennium BC appears to be single, isolated farmsteads.

The typical Early Neolithic house was either rectangular with oval corners or a more fully oval structure with a central row of roof support posts. This latter type of house has been designated as the Mossby two-aisled house, after the original place of discovery (Larsson 1992). The size of these elongated oval structures varies from 5 m (16’) to 17 m (56’) in length and 4.5 m (15’) to 7 m (23’) in width, ca. 35 (377 ft2).130 m2 (1,400 ft2) in area (Artursson et al. 2003, Eriksen 1992, Larsson and Brink 2013). The houses were usually oriented east-west. Cultural layers of midden and waste were found in front of the houses, outlining the former farmyard. The entrances to the houses were probably on one or both long sides. In most cases, no internal rooms were seen in the structures, although there are a few examples with an internal walled division. Often the house floor was sunken or semi-subterranean and contained an area likely used for the hearth and as a workplace and primary activity area (Larsson and Brink 2013).

Residential sites in the earliest Neolithic were small in size with a thin cultural layer compared to late Mesolithic settlements, suggesting that co-resident groups in the Neolithic were small (e. g., Andersen 1993). Madsen (1982) and Larsson (1992) argue that Early Neolithic settlements were regularly relocated within a short distance and rebuilt. This pattern has been observed repeatedly, for example, at the site of Dagstorp in Skane, where a number of houses and huts were uncovered (Andersson 2004). Detailed analysis of the ceramics indicated that only two houses were in use at any one time, and they were apparently rebuilt at a nearby location several times. The significance of this relocation is not clear, but may relate to patterns of land use and soil exhaustion caused by slash-and-burn agricultural practices.

Houses of the Mossby type were present during the entire Early Neolithic. Structures from the later Early Neolithic were somewhat larger than the older constructions (Larsson and Brink 2013). Slightly different house types appear at the end of the Early Neolithic and in the early part of the Middle Neolithic. The greater size might correspond to larger family groups or more than one family living at the same farm. Smaller houses or huts may be linked to farmsteads. However, no obvious clustering of farms into small villages is observed (Müller 2011).

The Neolithic settlement area expands over much of southern Scandinavia in ENII. Regional forest clearance is seen in pollen diagrams. Domesticates were more common. However, cereal growing continues to be limited; specialized hunting and fishing sites are still in use. Exchange of local and exotic materials appears to have intensified. An enormous amount of energy was invested in ancestor cults and other rituals, reflected in the construction of thousands of megalithic monuments and tens or hundreds of causewayed enclosures within a very short period. Elaborate offerings, including human sacrifices (Bennike and Ebbesen 1987), were placed in bogs and lakes. Within this context of larger population and large-scale construction between 3600 and 3200 BC-toward the end of ENI and into MN-the Early Neolithic settlement pattern in southern Scandinavia can be described as two levels with regional centers at the causewayed enclosures, surrounded by small settlements, each with a cluster of megalithic tombs and bog deposits. These types of sites are described in more detail later in this chapter.

The final stage of the TRB, MNA, 3300-2800 BC, is characterized by population growth and aggregation. One estimate of site size from eastern Jylland suggests that the early settlements covered ca. 500 (5,400 ft2)-700 m2 (7,500 ft2), increasing to 4,000 m2 (43,000 ft2) in ENII and 20,000 (215,000 ft2)-30,000 m2 (323,000 ft2) in MNA (Madsen 1982). It is not until the beginning of the Middle Neolithic around 3300 BC-700 years after the first appearance of the TRB-that substantial agricultural activity is seen. Vast areas of forest were cleared, and there is abundant evidence for cattle herding and the use of pasture as well as cereal cultivation, predominantly of wheat. Settlements increased dramatically in size and number, and more substantial houses were constructed.

Territorial divisions appeared to have been fixed; each territory may have been marked by a cluster of megalithic tombs. A group of hamlets appear to have shared a common regional ceremonial center at the causewayed enclosures (Madsen 1982, Madsen and Jensen 1982). Trade and exchange of flint axes, copper, and amber items intensified at this time. After 3300 BC, there is an influx of amber from western to eastern Denmark, suggesting an intensification of inter-regional trade relations (Ebbesen 1995). The heavier reliance on food production was apparently associated with more people more ritual activities and a need for prestige status symbols (amber/copper jewelry) to signify leaders and authority (Kristiansen 1987, Skaarup 1985).

Several Neolithic settlements are described in the following pages in order to convey some sense of the scale, contents, and organization of these small farms. The focus is on early TRB settlements. The discussion includes early inland sites such as Mossby in southern Sweden and Lisbjerg Skole from eastern Jylland in Denmark, early coastal sites such as Bjornsholm in northern Denmark, Almhov and Skjutbanorna in southwesternmost Sweden, Skogsmossen in eastern Sweden, and Kotedalen in southern Norway.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Yeavering, Northumberland

Reconstruction drawing by S. James of one of the phases of the use of Yeavering, Northumberland. In the foreground is part of the `great enclosure' and one side of its entrance, a fenced circle enclosing a building. If animals were brought here as tribute to the palace's owner, it is difficult to see how they could have been prevented from trampling the barrow mound (emphasised here by a totem-like post). The great hall, joined by an open enclosure to a small annexe building, would have been the focus of feasts and entertainment. Beyond, the reconstruction of the post-holes and slots as staging suggests a setting for decision-making by the leader and his people. One of the buildings in the background may have been used as a temple, as human burials and deposits of ox bones and skulls were found associated with it.

A site which shows how an aristocrat's life-style might have been maintained in the fifth and sixth centuries is in the far north at Yeavering, Northumberland, an inland promontory-though not hill-top-site. Timber buildings, some very large and using very solid posts and planks, were replaced at various times in a period of occupation which ended during the seventh century. The site's initial use was in the Bronze Age as a cemetery, and recognition of this religious use in the past may have been a reason for reoccupation, if association with such antiquities was considered to give some claim to ancestral links, and rights of inheritance to land and authority. The reuse probably started in the fifth century as no mass-produced pottery or other fourth-century artefacts were found. The very few objects that were recovered included an elaborate bronze-bound wooden staff in a grave aligned on the largest building; its purpose is unknown, but its importance must have been clear to those who deposited it in such a prominently-placed grave. 

Ceremonial and ritual at Yeavering are also suggested by a timber structure, the fan-like ground-plan of which has generally been accepted as the remains of wooden staging, for use during assemblies. These occasions were presumably enlivened by feasts and sacrifices, which the ox skulls overflowing from a pit alongside one building seem to attest. Before their slaughter, the animals were probably kept in a great enclosure on one side of the site. Sheep were also taken to Yeavering, and at least one building may have been used specifically for weaving since loom-weights were found in it. 

Yeavering suggests a site to which large numbers of animals came, presumably brought as tribute owed from the surrounding area to its chieftain. The feasts that were held after their slaughter would have confirmed this leader's status as one whose authority brought wealth which could be conspicuously, even recklessly, consumed; the high proportion of young calf bones suggest a profligate disregard for the need to maintain breeding herds. The meeting-place was where decisions were announced and agreed; the biggest of the buildings is interpreted as a hall where the feasts took place and oaths were sworn. These occasions were used to reinforce social ties that bound people together, as lord and dependent. Nor is Yeavering unique, since there is a site not far from it at Sprowston which seems to have most of the same features, except for the assembly-place, and at Thirlings, also in Northumberland, a complex of rectangular buildings, one some twelve metres long, has been investigated. Dating is not precise at any of these, but that the Yeavering staging was enlarged from its original size could be an indication that a larger group of people was becoming involved in the affairs conducted there as time passed, as though the authority of the ruler was becoming extended over a wider area. 

Nowhere that has been excavated in the south of England has shown evidence comparable to Yeavering's. In the south-west, and possibly further east in a few cases, hill-top sites may have been used by the aristocracy, but it is difficult to establish the precise functions of those places where some evidence of activity has been found. Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, was initially interpreted as a chieftain's residence, on the basis that animal bones suggested food inappropriate to the religious life, but that is now seen as too exclusive an interpretation.  Activities there included metal-working; crucibles were found, and copper-alloy residues and a fine little head. Dating depends upon Mediterranean and Gaulish pottery imported into the south-west in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, bowls and dishes being recognisable as having been made in the East Mediterranean and North Africa between c. 450 and 550. Most such sherds are from amphorae, which were probably reaching the south-west as wine containers, so their presence at Glastonbury Tor suggests drinking of an exotic rarity at the feasts of those who managed to obtain it. But the bones found there do not suggest such high-quality consumption; most of the beef and mutton came from elderly animals, not young stock which would have provided the most succulent joints, as at Yeavering.

The meat consumed on Glastonbury Tor was nearly all brought there already butchered and prepared, which is hardly surprising on such a small site where there would have been no room to do the slaughtering. At Yeavering, the great enclosure and the ox skulls suggest that animals were brought on the hoof; only one quern-stone was found, however, which could indicate that most of the grain arrived already ground into flour. A good standard of agriculture would have been necessary to supply Yeavering and the other residences used by a chief and his entourage as they progressed round their territory. Various pollen studies from the north of England show no decrease in meadowland and cereal plants in the fifth century, though some show regeneration of scrub and bog during the later sixth; but these analyses have to be made on sites which, being prone to wetness, have low agricultural potential and are inevitably therefore marginal and not necessarily representative of what was happening everywhere. It is even possible that poorer land was being farmed in preference to better, because the latter tended to be in less remote areas and was therefore more vulnerable in troubled times to slave raiders and other disrupting agents. Nevertheless, the evidence from the north seems to support that from West Stow in the east, of reasonable standards being kept up.