CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

Phase 1 - Research activities 2016-2020

D3: The Bronze Age in North Central Europe: Scales of transformation


Research agenda

The Bronze Age in Northern Central Europa displays different phases of extraordinary transformations On the one hand the transition to the Middle Bronze Age and on the other the beginning of the Urnfield period. From a European perspective, 1600 and 1300/1200 BCE are commonly understood as two tipping points of drastic societal change, collapses and crises: the end of the first Bronze Age settlement between Elbe and Warta around 1500 BC and a subsequent lack of human impact in these areas for around 150 years. And 200 years later, the start of cremation burials and the large urn fields mark the beginning of the late Bronze Age around 1300 BC. The introduction of the cremation not only proves a change in the burial ritual, but also proves radical social changes. In contrast to the few older Bronze Age graves, every individual was then buried.

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Fig. 1. Transformation processes in the Bronze Age, archaeological, climatological and environmental. Red highlights the transformation periods discussed. (graphic: J. Kneisel)

But the transformation processes are not the same in all regions. Especially in the north, the transitional phases seem to change little in the settlement. The beginning of the period II, around 1500 BC, with large barrows and rich grave goods, on the contrary, shows a blossoming of the Bronze Age. At the same time, a social hierarchy is emerging whose monumental barrows and rich grave goods are maintained as long as possible. In contrast to the south, however, a drastic change did not become apparent until 1100 BC, when the monumental burials became increasingly egalitarian and abandoned. The transition to the Late Bronze Age period IV is accompanied by changes in the burial practice, but settlements are still being built in the same regions, and graves and burials continued at the same places. Therefore these transregional different reactions to the two Bronze Age transformation phases are to be investigated in a transect from North to Central Europe. Important is the incorporation of paleoecological and geological data, which can give us information about settlement density and the human impact. Additional geophysical surveying allows us to search for further sites in the vicinity of the burial mounds. The first phase of the project is based on a paleoecologically researched lake, whose laminated pollen profiles can provide us with detailed information about the landscape development and changes. Lake Belau is situated just north of a dense concentration of rich grave mounds in the vicinity of Bornhöved. The comparison between the chronological sequence of the settlement and the erection of the burial mounds and secondary burials with information on the human influence on the environment allows us to grasp the Bronze Age transformation processes in northern Germany. The second point of the transect, which reaches from northern Germany to Poland, is the area around Lake Woserin in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, whose prehistoric surroundings will be examined in more detail in the next project phase.

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Fig. 2. Visitors learn about the structure of the ditch of a neolithic barrow from Bornhöved LA 117. (photo: S. Wilhelm)


Mang de Bargen, Kr. Segeberg

The site Mang de Bargen is one of the many groups of burial mounds that extend along the moraine edges east of Bornhöved. With 21 burial mounds, Mang de Bargen was one of the largest remaining burial groups. As a result of gravel mining, the majority of the burial mounds have been examined by the Schleswig-Holstein State Monument Office since 2005. The last remaining burial mounds were excavated as part of the project. The work in the context of a PhD thesis makes it possible to examine a complete burial area from the end of the Neolithic to the beginning of the Iron Age with regard to change and continuity. Palaeolynological cores from the Belauer See, which are analysed in cooperation with botanists and geoarchaeologists, allow us to compare them with supra-regional influences, while a pollen profile directly north of the site from a small peat bog tells us something about the local agricultural habit (see F2 project).

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Fig. 3. Moraine landscape with Bronze Age barrow groups around Bornhöved, Kr. Segeberg with the sites Mang den Bargen and LA117. (graphic: J. Kneisel)

Geophysical prospection and survey 2017-2019

Extensive geophysical investigations were carried out to clarify the question of further sites in the immediate vicinity of the burial mounds. Since 2017, geophysical measuring methods have been used to investigate the burial mounds north and east of the Mang de Bargen site and to prospect for surface finds. It was possible to discover two cooking pit areas and traces of other Iron Age urn fields and settlement traces from the Bronze Age or Iron Age. The function of the cooking stone pits is still unclear. Their occurrence is documented from the 15th century BC in Northern Europe. They can be arranged in rows or groups, or they can also occur in an unregulated arrangement. The find site west of Mang de Bargen shows on approx. 2500 m2 approx. 70 such pits with heated stones, partly arranged in semi-circular groups. The pits of the northern area are arranged in an irregular row.

Cooking stone pits are not limited to settlements, but are more frequently found near burial mounds. They were mostly built over a long period of time. They are interpreted as remains of periodic feasts or gatherings. Sondage excavations in 2017 and 2018 in the western area showed the preservation of a cultural layer and made radiocarbon dating possible. These cooking pits were obviously in use at the same time as the burial mounds at the end of the 15th century to the 12th century BC. They are located in a lowland and are covered by a cultural layer, which dates from the Iron Age or later.

The geophysical investigations are carried out and interpreted in cooperation with the geophysicists (see G2 project). Especially barrows and ditch structures can be recognized better by modern prospection with the ground-penetrating radar than with magnetics.

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Fig. 4. Profile of a cooking pit with preserved cultural layer above. (photo: S. Schaefer-Di Maida)

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Fig. 5. Magnetic plan of the cooking pit area west of the group of barrow in the Schwentine lowlands. (Graphic: S. Schaefer-Di Maida)

Excavation LA 98/LA 99 Mang de Bargen Kr. Segeberg - one of the last barrows on site

As part of the project, two of the remaining burial mounds on the area of the gravel quarry were examined in 2017. While one of the barrows proved to be a geological formation, in LA 99 the central grave and the fill of the barrow could still be examined. The barrow had a diameter of 18.5 meters and was still about 50 cm high. It was placed on a natural hilltop under which a huge bed of gravel was found. The burial lay in a gone tree coffin without further stone structures on the gravel bed. In the grave lay the cremated remains of the deceased. There were no grave goods, apart from a few small pieces of broken pottery. The grave dates back to the 14th century BC on the basis of radiocarbon data. It was built at a time when the burial custom changed from inhumation to cremation, but the traditional burial method with tree coffin in a burial mound was still maintained. In the northeast, a large stone cobblestone pavement is directly adjacent to the mound, which is only partly of natural origin.

To the south and west of the burial mound there were several disturbed pits, one of which still contained remains of a urn burial. In the north, remnants of an old agricultural horizon have survived in a depression. Based on the pollen and OSL dating it dates from the Neolithic period. Obviously the area was also used for agriculture in prehistoric times. To the east of the agricultural layer, individual post-holes could be identified, which give an indication of a possible settlement further east on the neighbouring fields. Despite extensive prospecting and extensive excavation, only isolated traces of settlement activities have been found so far.

Compared to the other burial mounds in Mang de Bargen, in which mighty stone packs and complex stone constructions were found, we see with LA99 a barrow with a very simple structure and a cremation as a central grave. LA 99 was probably built as one of the last burial mounds of this group and combines old traditional grave customs with the new ritual of cremation. Here it can be seen that the transformation of the burial ritual takes place step by step and that the monumental construction method is only gradually being abandoned. However, the younger Bronze Age urn graves also refer to the burial mounds and the local consistency of the burial area is maintained over the centuries.

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Fig. 6. Profile through the grave mound LA99 with central grave. The bend of the tree coffin is clearly visible. The barrow was heavily ploughed over. (photo: S. Schaefer-Di Maida)

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Fig. 7. Detailed plan of the LA 99 burial mound in Mang den Bargen with further features. (graphic: S. Schaefer-Di Maida)

Excavation LA 117 Bornhöved, Kr. Segeberg - A burial ground from the Late Neolithic to the Modern Times

In 2018, the cooperation with the Bornhöved commune and the State Department for the Conservation of Historical Monuments gave rise to the opportunity to excavate another burial mound north of Bornhöved. It belongs to a burial group with three further Bronze Age barrows, some of which had rich grave goods and were already examined in past centuries. Preliminary investigations from the previous year showed a very unusual grave construction.

The excavation of the burial mound and adjacent areas on 2100 m2 took place in the hot summer of 2018 with up to 44 °C on the site. The excavations were carried out with the help of students from Kiel and Berlin, who acquired their excavation practice there. First the digger was used to remove the humus surface, then the excavation continued more carefully with shovel and spade. The interest of local people and the press in the progress of the excavation was immense, with almost 700 visitors over the entire period and on the Open Day.

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Fig. 8. Open day, fascinated visitors follow the excavation of an urn. (photo: J. Kneisel)

Central grave

Despite the dryness and the hard clay, the features were clearly visible. The central grave, unusually deep with over 1.20 metres, was deepened in the hard clay. The bones had passed, but still weak traces of a north-south aligned crouched burial were visible. The grave contained surprisingly many pieces of charcoal in the backfill (oak, hazelnut) and some Flint flakes, as well as a small Flint blade. Situated on a natural hilltop at the edge of the young moraine, the actual fill was strongly disturbed by the plough. However, the erosion layers show that the mound was originally not one of the largest in the area. The barrow fill contained many small flint flakes and single pottery pieces, obviously former settlement material from the surrounding area was used for the barrow.

Construction of the barrow

The other construction elements of the mound were exciting. Around the edge of the barrow lay a ring of stones, the traces of which were still visible. In addition, the mound was bordered by an up to 2 m wide and 1.20 m deep ditch, with an approx. 1 m wide passage in the northeast. The backfill layers of the ditch prove a slow backfilling in the lower area and at least 1-2 times re-deepening of the ditch. In one of the younger ditch phases the outer edge was lined with two rows of wooden beams (oak), which were strongly charred. Occasional traces of fire in the clay indicate that the beams were lit on site. This means that the burial mound was illuminated at a certain time. Charred hazel branches and moss stems prove that in addition to the beams there must also have been wickerwork lined with moss. In the next younger phase, a stone packing of up to 30 cm large field stones was placed on the ditch. Obviously the ditch was not sufficient to mark the mound and a ring of 17 large posts was placed around the mound. All these features point to a Late Neolithic burial mound (2700-2500 BC). We know these complex grave constructions above all from Jutland, from Schleswig-Holstein only a few parallels are known so far.

The multi-phase nature of the ditch proves that the burial ritual did not end with the erection of the barrow. The various transformations on the mound testify to recurring rituals over a longer period, perhaps even several generations.

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Fig. 9. Structures of a barrow. (graphic: J. Kneisel, S. Beyer)


In the younger Bronze Age (1100-500 BC) the mound was again used for burials. A total of seven urn graves were recovered in the southeast of the hill, five of them in a small grave group. They had no grave goods and contained the cremated remains of two children, two adults and one teenager. Several cooking stone pits were also found on the eastern edge of the hill.

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Fig. 10. Bronze Age Urn within a stone packing. (photo: J. Kneisel)

Settlement remains

This time we were also able to recover significant settlement remains in the southwestern area of the excavation. A kiln and two irregular pits with a culture layer and several postholes point to a house site from the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. Local people also pointed out two fireplaces that had come to light during construction work. There were also two glass beads from the Migration Period in a pit, a Renaissance settlement pit and remains of a modern lime kiln.

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Fig. 11. Glass beads from Migration Period. (photo: A. Heitmann)

Obviously the burial place was visited again and again since the late Neolithic up to the Bronze Age and was also used later as a settlement place. Even today the community cemetery is located on the other side of the street. Radio carbon dating is still pending, but already now various transformation processes can be seen as a result of the use of this area. In close cooperation with the botanists (see project F3), the charred macro remains have already been mutilated and examined on site. They provide us with valuable information about the composition of the wood species used and the rituals that took place during the construction of the burial mound.

Celtic Fields

The term "Celtic Field" describes prehistoric field systems, which occur especially in Northern Europe as early as the Stone Age, but more often from Iron Age. Most of these systems have disappeared due to modern agriculture, the remains of which have been preserved in forests. Only the modern measuring technique of the lidar system makes it possible to recognize and investigate these field systems. Together with V. Arnold and the botanists of the F3 project, several of these field systems were prospected in 2018 and pit sondages were made. The excavated material was finely sieved and flotated to obtain charcoal for dating. In all the sondages also small pieces of pottery were found, which were apparently deposited on the prehistoric fields along with the manure. Most of the fields in Schleswig-Holstein investigated so far date from the Late Bronze Age (1100-500 BC).

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Fig. 12. Prospection of Celtic Fields in the Forest of Schierenwald, Schleswig-Holstein. (photo: J. Kneisel)

Excavation at Dobbin 2019, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

The excavation campaign took place in late autumn in cooperation with the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania State Office for Culture and Monument Conservation. The Late Bronze Age site had already been discovered in 2011 during investigations of the gas route and was examined. It lies on a moraine crest between two lakes, of which the north-eastern one is now silted. A small cut north of the route brought more than 130 features, mostly post-holes, and 4 silo pits.

Excavation at Dobbin 2019 in autumn 2019
Fig. 13.

In the planum a floor plan could be clearly seen, which continues in the old excavation and belongs to at least one house. The culture layer above contained numerous ceramics, but was disturbed by the modern plough. The casting mould found in 2011 was supplemented by a fragment of a crucible and documents the local metal production. Fragments of a grindstone, knocking stones and the fragment of a bronze spiral arm bear witness to a well-established settlement. The accumulation of post-holes and small pit areas, rather unusual for this period, speaks for a small hamlet. The excavation team was supplemented by botanists of subproject F3 who examined soil samples for charred grain residues and charcoal. Furthermore, a core for pollen analysis was taken from the silted lake by subproject F2.

Excavation at Dobbin 2019 in autumn 2019
Fig. 14.Excavation at Dobbin 2019 in autumn 2019
Fig. 15.

Figs. 13.-15. Excavation at Dobbin 2019 in autumn 2019. (photos: J. Kneisel)

Excavation at the Dobbin site 2020, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

In spring 2020, the previous year's trench was extended to the north and west by 125 m2 to cover the western end of the house area. In changeable weather ranging from rain and hail to storm and sunshine, the house floor plan of the previous year could be completed.

Even on the west side of the house the cultural layer was still preserved up to 20cm and contained many rolled ceramic fragments and flint flakes (Fig.1). A beautifully worked hammer stone was among them. In the area numerous post holes and three silo pits were found (Fig. 2). In one of them the negative imprint of the basketwork had been preserved in the ground (Fig. 3). Interesting was a flat pit of 3.5m width in the west of the area, whose lower part consisted of a 10cm thick charcoal layer (Fig.4).

In addition to the excavation, the neighbouring field could be magnetically investigated and prospected. The aim of the investigation was to locate the centre of the settlement. In addition, the geophysicists of the University of Kiel from subproject G2 examined the archaeologically investigated area with the georadar before the excavation (Fig. 5).

The Open Day (Fig. 6), organized by the Heimatverein "Kiek in't Land" Below, followed by a lecture (Fig. 7) with coffee, cake and sausages, was very popular.

Fig. 1-5: J. Kneisel; Fig. 6-7: D. Bradke

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