Monday, 14 October 2013

Nice cairn – no burnt bones

Even if I am here at Stockholm in the discipline of Classical Archaeology, I do like to go to listen some talks in the research seminar of the Archaeology Department. I did hear Gavin Lucas present his new thoughts of the contemporeanity the other week and last week I head a very interesting case of the Bronze Age burial cairns and stone settings without any burnt bone in the Mälare area.

A cairn in Sweden

PhD student Annar Röst is carrying out a microarchaeological study (see Fahlander 2003) of three burial ground in central Sweden during the latter part of the Bronze Age. This area was part of the ‘northern Bronze Age’ with much fewer bronze objects than its southern, richer equivalent. The dead were buried in the large stone cairns, some with a set stone ring lining the edge of the cairn. The burials were normally cremations with a pottery vessel as an urn or grave-good and some with small bronze objects. Recent decades have seen a huge increase in the excavation of these sites for rescue and development purposes and with the enhanced excavation methodology it is possible to get more information out of the grave finds.

The recent studies have shown that the stone setting types were more varied that previously thought. There were smaller types, rectangular settings and the reuse of natural stony areas for burial purposes. One intriguing fact is that not all cairns or settings seem to contain a burial, or they contain much less bone than could be expected to result from a cremation of an adult body. Thus, with the help of Lecturer Jan Storå Anna has looked at the types of persons buried and the proportion of the bodies found in the cremations.

The results show that there is a tendency that the largest and most symmetrical circular cairns have most bone and more bronze objects. However, some of the large cairns are without bones and there are bronze objects in some of the smaller settings as well. Nevertheless, the ‘imperfect’ cremations tend to concentrate in the smaller settings, and there are children and even a dog buried as well. This all shows a strong case of core trends and considerable amount of variability allowed in the past.

The real challenge for Anna will be the comparison of these three well-studied burial grounds to the 200 others that sometimes have been studied in the early 20th century and even earlier and cannot provide the same detail. My guess will be that she will concentrate on the statistical relationship between the presence or absence of burnt bone and bronze objects and the type, size and form of the stone setting. However, setting a database of 200 sites will take some time, when you want to include all the cairns and settings in a group. Anna will be soon two thirds into her PhD, so let’s hope she will manage (or some Masters student will do part of the background studies), so that the wider context will be studied with the same ambition as the microarchaeological investigation.

Fahlander, F. 2003. The Materiality of Serial Practice. A Microarchaeology of Burial, Gotarc serie B 23. Göteborg: Institutionen för arkeologi.

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