A Landscape of Ancestors: The Heuneburg Archaeological Project
Report of the 2000 excavation of a Hallstatt tumulus in the Hohmichele ("Speckhau") mound group, Markung Heiligkreuztal, Gemeinde Altheim, Landkreis BiberachBettina Arnold, Matthew L. Murray, Seth A. Schneider
AbstractIn the summer of 2000, a team of American archaeologists from universities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and New Mexico concluded excavations at Tumulus 17, one of at least 36 mounds belonging to the so-called "Speckhau" group near Hundersingen in southwest Germany. The Speckhau group includes the Hohmichele, the second largest Iron Age mound in western Europe. The project was conducted with the support and collaboration of Professor Dr. H. Reim of the Baden-Württemberg Landesdenkmalamt (State Monuments Office), Tübingen branch. The excavation of Tumulus 17 is part of a larger, long-term research project based at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with the title "A Landscape of Ancestors." The project combines analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA) from previously excavated skeletal material from the Heuneburg vicinity with conventional mortuary analysis to address questions regarding early Iron Age social organization and its relationship to funerary ritual.
Project DescriptionTumulus 17 was just over 20m in diameter and was erected approximately 200m southwest of the Hohmichele. The radiocarbon dates from both field seasons have confirmed that the mound dates to the late Hallstatt period, and was erected around 580/600 BC. Relative dates based on grave goods found in the 2000 field season suggest that the mound was used as a mortuary monument as late as 450 BC, which would be a significant departure from the conventional representation of the Hohmichele mound group as exclusively Hallstatt D1 in date (Spindler 1983:141; but see Kurz and Schiek n.d.). This report will present the results of the final field season at Tumulus 17, as well as a preliminary interpretation of the stratigraphic and burial sequence at the mound.
During the 2000 excavations the two remaining quadrants of the mound (northeast and southwest) were excavated as discrete units rather than being subdivided into trenches as in the 1999 season. The stratigraphic sequence established in 1999 was used as a guide in alternating between the use of the backhoe and hand excavation of the northeast and southwest quadrants, encompassing approximately 1,188m3 of mound fill. The total amount of soil moved in both fieldseasons was ca. 2376m3. The 2000 excavation continued at least 20cm into the subsoil below the cultural deposits in the central area of the mound in order to ensure that all possible cultural features were uncovered.
Excavation yielded no evidence of a formal demarcation of the mound limits through a trench, stone setting, postholes, or other features. The excavated diameter of the mound based on calculations from the completed profile drawings proved to be approximately 20.86m. Earlier reports had suggested a larger diameter of 27-29m (Kurz and Schiek n.d.). This discrepancy is due primarily to slumping as well as burrowing activity by foxes, badgers and looters. While the estimated preserved height was originally reported to range between 1.9m and 3.2m, the excavated preserved height from the ancient ground surface to the current apex of the mound was ca. 2.7m (based on the northwest quadrant's south profile drawing). The total absence of any kind of demarcation of the mound foot is notable but not unique; the Hohmichele also lacked a ditch, row of posts, or stone circle around its base (Riek 1962). The original perimeter of the mound was therefore identified through observation of soil changes, and the actual diameter was calculated from 1999 profile drawings.
History of InvestigationPrior to excavation, Tumulus 17 was largely intact but it showed the scars of various recent disturbances. In 1893, A. Witscher of the Landeskonservatorium dug into at least two tumuli in the Speckhau group. This activity may have included Tumulus 17 and nearby Tumulus 18, just on the other side of a logging road, but it is no longer possible to differentiate between the two in excavation archives. The truncation of Tumulus 17 may be the result of Witscher's probing, which produced the remains of a decorated ceramic vessel that is no longer in existence (Kurz and Schiek n.d.). The Douglas fir on top of the mound was about 100 years old (Jehle pers. comm.). It clearly post-dated the truncation of the mound and therefore may have been planted shortly after Witscher's exploration. The disturbance surrounding the roots of the tree extended all the way to the ancient ground surface in the center of the mound, reaching into the charcoal-rich zone of the central chamber which contained large fragments of Alb-Hegau tradition burial pottery, such as sherds with red-slip, graphite, and characteristic incising. The fragments of a decorated vessel reported by Witscher could very well have been pieces similar to the Alb-Hegau pottery uncovered during 1999 excavations. This does not rule out earlier looting episodes, although after the planting of the Douglas fir the central area of the mound was not disturbed.
Project ResultsDue to the large size of the mound and its apparent early Iron Age date, secondary burials were expected in addition to a significant central interment; however, no formal burials were discovered during the 1999 field season. The most interesting results of the 1999 excavation turned out to be the evidence of mound structure and construction. (For a detailed report on the stratigraphy, see Arnold, Murray and Schneider 2000.) The 2000 field season, on the other hand, produced a total of at least five burials. The remainder of this report will be dedicated to a discussion of the burial finds and a possible interpretation of the relationships of the burials to one another.
Grave 1 was discovered in the northeast quadrant just to the south of an area that had appeared to be severely damaged either by tree fall or looting. The presence of a grave was signaled by the appearance approximately a meter below the preserved mound surface of a large bronze cauldron, one of several grave goods associated with what was probably a male inhumation. There was no indication of any soil change immediately above the grave, such as might be expected with a chamber or burial pit. The cauldron was for a time the only visible indication of the presence of a burial, and its position close to the center of the mound initially suggested that it had been disturbed by the looter's trench. Mitigating against this interpretation was the fact that the vessel was lying as it would have been placed in a chamber, and as excavation proceeded around the cauldron, additional artifacts were uncovered. These were all lying as if placed in relation to an inhumation lying on its back with the head oriented toward the south -- the same orientation as the ditch around the central chamber.
The bronze cauldron was made of a single piece of sheet bronze, ca. 40 cm in diameter at the sharply angled rim, broadening at the shoulder to a diameter of about 50cm, and about 30 cm deep from rim to base. It had no handles, and did not seem to be decorated. Two bronze cauldrons of very similar type (though slightly larger, and apparently made of two pieces riveted together), with angled, inverted rims, and without handles, were recovered from the Giessübel-Talhau mounds near the Heuneburg hillfort during the excavations conducted by Eduard Paulus in the 19th century. They are currently on display in the Heuneburg Museum in Hundersingen. Another comparable cauldron was excavated in 1879 by Otto Fraas in the La Tène A secondary burial from the Kleinaspergle tumulus. This mound is associated with the Hohenasperg hillfort near Stuttgart, and the cauldron in question, although shallower and with a slightly larger diameter, has a broad inverted rim and was made from a single sheet of bronze (Kimmig 1988: 24-25; 153-160; Plate 18).
Exact dimensions for the bronze vessel from Tumulus 17 will not be available until it has been restored. It was pedestaled and removed en bloc in plaster with its contents preparatory to being restored at the Tübingen Landesdenkmalamt by the LDA conservator. Residue analysis and analysis of the soil within the cauldron are also planned, in the hopes of recovering evidence for an alcoholic beverage like the mead found in the Hochdorf cauldron (Biel 1985). The vessel from Grave 1 is the first bronze vessel found in the Heuneburg region since excavations were conducted in the Hohmichele by Riek in the 1930s.
Other grave goods consisted of two narrow iron spear points at least 55cm in length with what appeared to be decorative midribs that had been placed one on top of the other across what would have been the deceased individual's left shoulder. The points were oriented due south. The wood from the spear shafts was still preserved to a length of about four cm. The tips of both spear points had been dislodged by a burrowing animal, and were found embedded in the burrow floor some distance away from their original position in the course of further excavation. Spear points of this length and shape are not common in the Hallstatt period. One of the closest parallels comes from Stuttgart-Cannstatt Grave 1, a north-south (head) oriented inhumation in a chamber that contained a gold neckring in addition to other personal ornament. There were three spear points in this grave, and there may in fact have been more than one individual buried in the chamber. The spear point that is closest in length and type to the one from Tumulus 17 Grave 1 was lying 90cm to the west of the inhumation with the gold neckring. Although the midrib of this spear point was plain, it was 65cm long and like the one in Grave 1, extremely narrowly tapered (Zürn 1987: Plate 398). The other two spear points were arranged at the level of the right shoulder of the gold neckring burial, and are of a different, shorter type.
At the same time, the absence of any personal ornament in this grave, especially the absence of a neckring, typically found in high status burials with bronze vessels, is an unusual feature of this burial. The closest parallels can be found in the Gießübel-Talhau mounds, but none of the known Heuneburg burials is an exact match with respect to their grave good assemblages. Grave 23 in Tumulus 4, a male inhumation without a neckring, was buried in a small chamber with a bronze cauldron, a dipping/drinking vessel made of wood, two iron spear points and various unidentifiable iron objects. Unlike Grave 1 from Tumulus 17, however, this burial included four bronze fibulae and did not contain a sword. All three of the graves with bronze vessels in Tumulus 1 of the Gießübel-Talhau group also contained gold neckrings, although interestingly Grave 5 in this tumulus had a gold neckring without a bronze vessel, suggesting that the correlation between the two is not necessarily absolute. The burial in Tumulus 4 Grave 3 contained not only three bronze vessels but also had a bronze neckring, and the male individual in Grave 6 of the Hohmichele secondary burials, which contained three bronze vessels, had an iron neckring.
Grave 1 also contained an enigmatic iron riveted object just to the left and slightly below the spear points consisting of a slotted iron disk set at right angles to the body of the rivet but parallel to the rivet head. This may have been part of a shield, as suggested by the organic material preserved as a yellowish stain in the immediate vicinity of the object. Defensive armor (shields, greaves, helmets, breastplates) are known for the Hallstatt period, but they are much more common in the East Hallstatt area, and shields are not found with any frequency until the La Tène period in southwest Germany. If after restoration this object can be definitively identified as a shield fitting, it would be one of very few known from the West Hallstatt area.
Grave 2 in the southwest quadrant is represented by an isolated iron spear point ca. 12cm long with a portion of wood shaft preserved. This spear point was found just under two meters below the preserved surface of the mound in what appeared to be an animal burrow, possibly associated with iron fragments found in the southeast quadrant in the 1999 season. The spear point is very unlike those found in Grave 1. It is comparable to spear points from the Magdalenenberg Grave 38, which also included several Schlangenfibel, of a type generally dated to Hallstatt D1. Given that a Schlangenfibel was found in the same quadrant in another burrow (possibly the same burrow complex?), these two items could belong together. If so, then this grave could be roughly the same age as Graves 4 and 5 in the central chamber, based on radiocarbon dates obtained from charcoal within the chamber.
Grave 3 was uncovered in the southwest quadrant at about the same depth as Grave 2, but in this case a quite noticeable rectangular discoloration could be seen well before any artifacts were uncovered, suggesting that the wooden coffin within which this individual was buried was lowered into a shaft cut through the gray clay cap represented by Stratum 4 and into Stratum 6 below it. Unlike Graves 1, 2 and the central chamber burials 4 and 5, which were all found in the area just above or within the central enclosure area, Grave 3 was about two meters west and circa one meter above the central enclosure. On the other hand, like Grave 1 and the central enclosure itself, this grave was also oriented north-south, with the head of the individual at the southern, wider end of the narrow, rectangular burial pit into which the wooden coffin had been placed. The deceased individual had been jammed into an extremely narrow box-like coffin, no more than 70-50cm wide at the head and 50-30cm wide at the foot (with the rectangle becoming more narrow with increasing depth).
Like the "warrior" in Grave 1, this presumably male individual was buried with two iron spear points, each about 30cm long, over his left shoulder. These were of a different type than the extremely long, thin points in Grave 1, but they were not as short as the spear point in Grave 2. Several centimeters of shaft were again preserved at the hafted ends of the spear points. A solid, undecorated, bronze armring lay in the vicinity of what would have been the deceased's left upper arm, and here the only inhumed human bone found in the mound was visible as a neon-green scatter of humeral splinters running through the armring. These were removed for analysis by Professor Frederika Kaestle, the geneticist for the project, although the bone is probably not well enough preserved to yield amplifiable DNA.
Central Enclosure: Graves 4 and 5
Grave 4 was inside the central chamber up against what would have been the east chamber wall at a slight angle, again with a north-south (head) orientation. It is possible that this grave was disturbed by looters and shifted slightly out of its original position. Several plank fragments were found on top of what appears to have been a female inhumation. A large stone was found lying on top of one of the plank fragments, suggesting that the chamber may still have been intact when the central burial was looted, and that the stone fell with the chamber ceiling when the looters broke through the planking.
Grave 4 lay just outside a roughly circular area surrounded by a dense concentration of charcoal in the very center of the chamber, presumably the remains of the funeral pyre associated with cremation Grave 5, the likely "primary" burial of the mound. This cleared space represented the very bottom of the looter's trench, visible in the 1999 quadrant profiles in the area around the roots of the Douglas fir. A large chamber ceiling(?) fragment, visible as a wood-grained stain in slab form, lay in the cleared area at an angle, as though the looters had dug down into sterile soil after removing the grave goods, fragments of which were found scattered at the edge of the disturbed area, and included small fragments of sheet bronze, some with fabric or matting still attached. The latter were distributed throughout the funnel-shaped disturbed area from just under the Douglas fir to the very base of the mound, apparently the remains of shattered vessels, belt plates or other sheet bronze objects broken during the looting event(s).
Central Chamber Ditch
At a depth of 2.55m below the top of Tumulus 17, the 1999 excavation uncovered a narrow rectilinear soil stain in the center of the mound (Features 17 and 22). This feature turned out to be the bottom portion of a rectangular ditch enclosure evident in all four quarters of the mound. The ditch demarcated the central area of the mound and the primary burial chamber. The ditch fill consisted of the same grayish material as the lower portion of the inner mound core, with yellowish sterile soil (Stratum 10) representing redeposited material from the excavation of the ditch. There was a posthole at each corner of the enclosure, but there was no evidence of a superstructure within the ditch itself. No cultural debris was recovered from the excavated ditch fill.
The central enclosure within Tumulus 17 was oriented with each of its sides toward one of the four cardinal directions. At 5x5m, the central chamber of Tumulus 17 is one of the largest known from the late Hallstatt period in this region. Since evidence of a primary burial was not discovered in 1999, it was not clear if the central grave was a cremation, inhumation, or both. The 2000 excavation season revealed that there were at least two individuals buried in the chamber, one an inhumation (Grave 4), the other a cremation (Grave 5), probably male based on the fragments of grave goods recovered from within the area of looter's trench (at least one iron spear point tip, a possible iron spear shaft and fragments of what may have been an iron knife).
The enclosure was too large to have contained a cremation grave on its own. In addition, according to Kurz and Schiek (n.d.), the central burials of Iron Age mounds associated with the Heuneburg are invariably inhumations. This observation, however, raises the question of the origins of the cremated bone fragments found in association with the charcoal "nests" and the dense layer of charcoal and pottery identified as Stratum 5. None of the features in the mound fill are large enough, nor do they contain enough cremated bone, to be considered formal cremation graves. Their concentrated nature and patterned distribution, on the other hand, mitigate against the suggestion that they represent disturbed and redeposited cremation graves from the borrow pits in the immediate vicinity of the mound that yielded soil for the tumulus fill (cf. Kurz and Schiek n.d.).
We had predicted in the 1999 field report that the central chamber would turn out to be bi-ritual and would contain the remains of both an inhumation and a cremation grave (Arnold, Murray and Schneider 2000). This has been confirmed by the results of the 2000 field season. Other bi-ritual graves are known from this period. Closest to home, Hohmichele Grave VII contained an inhumation and the remains of a cremated individual (Wahl in Kurz and Schiek n.d.); several examples are also known from the Magdalenenberg (Spindler 1983:169). Interpreting multiple burials is always difficult, since the implication is that one individual represents the "primary" burial, while the other (or others) is a grave good, an example of sati. The central burial of Tumulus 17 is complicated by the fact that the cremation was looted, so we cannot even say with certainty whether it was a male or female individual. The central location of the charcoal and the peripheral position of the inhumation does seem to suggest that the cremation is the primary burial, while the belted lady represents the subsidiary role. However, this reconstruction cannot be substantiated with the limited information available to us at present.
Radiocarbon Dating Results
Radiocarbon dating of several features was carried out by Beta Analytic Inc. of Miami, Florida. Charcoal samples recovered through water sieving and sorting from Features 1, 5, 9, 10, (all part of Stratum 5), as well as 15, and 16 were submitted for dating and yielded the following results (all results produced from charcoal samples):
Stratum 5 (Feature 5): Cal BC 810 to 400 (Cal BP 2760 to 2350)
Stratum 5 (Feature 9): Cal AD 1675 to 1765 and Cal AD 1800 to 1940
Stratum 5 (Feature 10): Cal BC 795 to 400 (Cal BP 2745 to 2350)
Feature 15: Cal BC 790 to 375 (Cal BP 2740 to 2325)
Feature 16: Cal BC 790 to 395 (Cal BP 2740 to 2345)
Based on these results, the relative chronology of grave goods in the West Hallstatt region appears to be tighter and provides a better resolution than radiocarbon dating when dealing with features that are less than a century apart in date. Fibulae of the Spitzpaukenfibel type (pointed drum fibula) found in Grave 3, for example, are typically assigned a Hallstatt D3 date (ca. 450 BC), while the Schlangenfibel (snake fibula) found in Feature 10 in the southwest quadrant in 2000, though not clearly associated with a burial, is a much earlier form dating to between 600 and 550 BC. In this case conventional seriation dating is more useful in reconstructing the life history of the tumulus; the radiocarbon dates provide more information about wood curation and reuse than about the chronological relationship between burials in the same mound. Residue analysis from vessels like the cauldron in Grave 1 and the ceramic cup in Grave 3 might still provide organic material that could yield radiocarbon dates closer to the actual date of the burials themselves, however.
The average date of the 1999 C-14 samples is around 588 BC; the average for the 2000 C-14 samples is around 620 BC. Both correspond to the presumed "founding date of the Iron Age Heuneburg (Periods IVb/3 to Ia), which lasted from 600 BC-440 BC. The Hohmichele radiocarbon dates are very close to those from Tumulus 17 (Kurz and Schiek n.d.). The oldest of the Hohmichele dates is only 20 years older than the oldest date from Tumulus 17 (and given the standard deviation, that difference loses significance), while the most recent Hohmichele date is 20 years younger than the youngest of the dates from Tumulus 17.
The Period IV Heuneburg seems to have been occupied for only 70 years, from 600 BC until 530 BC, when the mudbrick wall settlement and its extra murus extension were destroyed by fire. That corresponds to roughly two generations (assuming a life expectancy of no more than 35 years), in which case the apparent overlap between Tumulus 17 and the Hohmichele is intriguing. The fact that there is at least one grave (Grave 3, based on the fibulae, and possibly even Grave 1, based on the similarity between its bronze cauldron and those from the Gießübel-Talhau mounds) in Tumulus 17 that is contemporary with the graves in Tumuli 1-4 of the Gießübel-Talhau group (dated to Hallstatt D2 and D3 [Spindler 1983:141]) is especially interesting. The question of what motivates the construction of a new mound and how mounds of different sizes relate to each other may be answered by a combination of aDNA analysis of individuals in these mounds (where possible) and their temporal relationships to one another. This second phase of the project is currently underway. The aDNA analysis of previously excavated skeletal material from the Heuneburg and the Gießübel-Talhau mounds being conducted by Dr. Frederika Kaestle of Yale University is still in progress.
The relatively small number of burials in Tumulus 17 relative to its size appears to be worth some discussion as well, especially considering the number of graves in the neighboring Hohmichele. If we calculate at least three burials (with Graves 4 and 5 being counted as a single initial deposition event) over the 130 years of use apparently suggested by the range of dates provided by relative and chronometric dating, we have one individual deposited in the tumulus per generation. A comparison between tumulus size and number of recorded graves per tumulus for the mounds associated with the Heuneburg is instructive:
The "Landscape of Ancestors" project now must determine to what extent Tumulus 17 is representative of similarly sized mounds in this tumulus group. The excavation of Tumulus 18, approximately the same size as Tumulus 17, and only a few meters to the west, is planned for the summer of 2002. In the meantime conservation and analysis of finds from the 1999 and 2000 excavations at Tumulus 17 will continue in tandem with the genetic analysis of skeletal material from the region.
We would like to thank the National Geographic Society and the Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg, Außenstelle Tübingen for their generous financial support of this project. We would also like to thank the following individuals for their assistance and encouragement: H. Reim, H. J. Teufel, S. Hopert, H. Hagmann, G. Jehle, H. and H. Williges and the citizens of Hundersingen, Mengen, and the Dollhof who made us welcome in their communities during our stay in 2000.
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