A Landscape of Ancestors: The Heuneburg Archaeological Project
Preliminary report of the 1999 excavation of a Hallstatt tumulus in the Hohmichele ("Speckhau") mound group, Markung Heiligkreuztal, Gemeinde Altheim, Landkreis BiberachBettina Arnold, Matthew L. Murray, Seth A. Schneider
History of Investigation
Outer Fill Mantle
As noted previously, Tumulus 17 may have been partially excavated in the late-nineteenth century by A. Witscher. A funnel-shaped disturbance in the center of the mound is partly visible in the standing profiles of the 1999 excavations. It extends at least 1.5m below the current mound surface and may represent a looter's shaft. As a result of disturbance from the aggressive roots of the massive Douglas fir, it is not clear if the shaft originally continued into the mound's central enclosure. Other more superficial disturbances to the mound include Features 13 and 25. Feature 13 is a large pit visible in the south profile of the northwest quarter which yielded charcoal, a wire nail, and pieces of a slag-like material. The pit ended at the base of the outer mantle of fill. Feature 25 was a shallow depression lined with sheet metal that was found during a shallow backhoe sondage in the northeast quarter of the mound. This pit also did not extend below the outer mantle. A similar disturbance containing fragments of sheet metal was visible in the east profile of the northwest quarter extending into the upper portion of the inner mound. These disturbances appear to date to the late-nineteenth or twentieth century after truncation of the mound and therefore they may be related to Witscher's investigations. The discovery of ubiquitous glazed folk-pottery post-dating the 16th century along the foot of the mound may suggest that looting also was attempted as much as 400 years ago. A variety of debris from the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries was also recovered.
Stratum 6 consists of a relatively thin (10-40cm thick) layer of brownish silty clay loam between the gray clay loam of Stratum 4 and the inner core of the mound. Occasional charcoal flecks or large pieces of charcoal were found in this stratum. Finds from both sides of the mound consist of isolated pottery fragments that were not associated with identifiable features within the layer.
Below Stratum 6 the composition of the inner mound core becomes increasingly heterogeneous and difficult to reconstruct. Strata 7-15 present a challenging interpretive puzzle, which may not be resolved until the remaining portions of the mound are excavated. The stratigraphy becomes markedly complex with increased depth and proximity to the center of the mound, partly a result of disturbances from the Douglas fir, animal burrowing, and an apparent looter's trench. Morphological distinctions were used to determine strata since it was often impossible to discern stratigraphic relationships during excavation. Stratigraphic differences between the northwest and southeast quarter excavations also increased, inhibiting correlations between mound strata.
At a depth of 2.55m below the top of Tumulus 17, excavation uncovered a narrow rectilinear soil stain in the center of the mound (Features 17 and 22). This feature is the bottom portion of a rectangular ditch enclosure evident in both excavated quarters of the mound. The ditch appears to demarcate the central area of the mound and suggests the presence of a primary burial chamber. The ditch fill consists of the same grayish material as the lower portion of the inner mound core, while the yellowish sterile soil of Stratum 10 is redeposited material from the excavation of the ditch. A posthole is evident at each corner of the enclosure, but there is no evidence of a superstructure within the ditch itself. No cultural debris was recovered from the excavated ditch fill.
Although no clear evidence for a primary burial was uncovered within the enclosure, a series of four stains and one depression feature was identified within or adjacent to the enclosure extending into the sterile subsoil. Features 18, 20 and 21 are irregular and poorly defined soil stains in the northwest quarter of the mound that contained small amounts of charcoal. These stains may be cultural, but they were difficult to distinguish from animal burrows, root decay, or natural soil variations. Feature 24 consists of several small, roughly circular charcoal stains in the subsoil outside the enclosure. The stains may represent remnants of Features 15 and 16, which have been mixed into the underlying subsoil through biomechanical processes. Feature 19 is a shallow depression that extended into the south standing profile in the northwest quarter of the mound. It is the only clearly defined feature identified within the rectangular ditch. A small portion of the depression excavated in 1999 was 20cm deep and yielded no cultural material. Most of the feature appears to be intact within the standing profile and awaits future investigation.
DiscussionThe central enclosure within Tumulus 17 is oriented with each of its sides toward one of the four cardinal directions. The dimensions of the enclosure can be estimated at 5x5m based on the position of the postholes at the ditch corners. Since evidence of a primary burial was not discovered in 1999, it is not clear if the central grave was a cremation, inhumation, or both. The enclosure seems rather large for a cremation grave, and in fact 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. It is assumed that the burned bone is human in origin, although the fragments are generally too small to be identifiable. They have been submitted for testing. None of the features 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.). Areas of burned earth in association with charcoal concentrations that suggest in situ burning are known in Hallstatt period mounds in Baden-Württemberg, such as the tumulus cemetery of Böblingen which is partly contemporaneous with Tumulus 17 and is located only about 45 km from the Heuneburg (Bittel, Kimmig and Schiek 1981:308-310). Tumulus 11 at Böblingen contained an area of burned clay just under 1m in length (Zürn 1979:60). This area of burned clay appears to have been located on the ancient surface and could have been associated with a disturbed context unconnected with the mound. In the same mound group, Tumulus 16 contained what Zürn calls a "charcoal floor" about 3cm thick and about 1.5m long, also on the ancient ground surface. This concentration of charcoal apparently did not contain any cremated bone. If all of the preceding assumptions are true, it seems probable that the central chamber is bi-ritual and could contain the remains of both an inhumation and a cremation grave. Bi-ritual graves are known from this period, and in fact Hohmichele Grave VII contained an inhumation and the remains of a cremated individual (Wahl in Kurz and Schiek n.d.). The complete excavation of Tumulus 17 will contribute to a resolution of this important issue.
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:
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)
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. It would seem worthwhile to obtain radiocarbon dates from the other mounds in the Hohmichele group, since the questions regarding 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 is being conducted by Dr. Frederika Kaestle of Indiana University. The remaining quarters of Tumulus 17 were excavated in the summer of 2000. The results of that excavation and the accompanying aDNA analysis will be presented in follow-up reports.
We would like to thank the National Geographic Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Graduate School Research Fund, 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, S. Kurz, H. J. Teufel, S. Hopert, H. Hagmann, G. Jehle, A. Lumpp, H.W. Schäfer, and the citizens of Hundersingen, Mengen, and the Dollhof who made us welcome in their communities during our stay in 1999.
BibliographyK. Bittel, W. Kimmig and S. Schiek, Die Kelten in Baden-Württemberg. 1981. Stuttgart: Konrad Theiss Verlag.
S. Kurz and S. Schiek (eds), Bestattungsplätze im Umfeld der Heuneburg. n.d. (September 30, 1997 version).
G. Riek, Der Hohmichele. 1962. Berlin:De Gruyter.
J. Wahl, Die menschlichen Knochenreste aus den Altgrabungen im Hohmichele. In Kurz and Schiek (eds), Bestattungsplätze im Umfeld der Heuneburg. n.d. (September 30, 1997 version).
H. Zürn, Grabhügel bei Böblingen. Fundberichte aus Baden-Württemberg 1979: 54ff.
FiguresFigure 1 Heiligkreuztal. Plan of the Hallstatt period Tumulus 17 in the Hohmichele-Group "Speckhau" showing the extent of the summer 1999 excavations. (Illustration: A. Chojnacki)
Figure 2.1 Partial profile (south profile) of the northeast quadrant showing stratigraphy and mound construction. (Illustration: A. Chojnacki)
Figure 2.2 Plan drawing #3 of the northeast quadrant showing stratigraphy and mound construction. (Illustration: A. Chojnacki)
Figure 3 Color photograph of the mound during excavation. Summer 1999. (Photo: S. Schneider)
A preliminary field report of the 1999 project was published in Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg 1999 under the following title: Untersuchungen an einem hallstattzeitlichen Grabhügel der Hohmichele-Gruppe im "Speckhau", Markung Heiligkreuztal, Gemeinde Altheim, Landkreis Biberach (Bettina Arnold, Matthew L. Murray, Seth A. Schneider), pp. 64-68.