Funerary practice and ritual

The most fundamental change in burial practice represented in the late Bronze Age in Europe is the widespread adoption of cremation as the funerary rite. The north-alpine practice of burial in Urnfields, first appearing in the Bronze D phase of the thirteenth century, spread over the next half millennium northwards into the Lausitz culture zone of the north European plain, and westwards towards the Atlantic coasts as well as into southern France and across the Pyrenees. The Urnfield culture, as its name implies, is distinguished by its cremation cemeteries, in which the ashes of the dead are buried in a pottery vessel or sometimes simply in a pit. Though the burial may be covered by a low mound, there is commonly no trace of any marker that survives. Burials may be enclosed by a shallow ditch defining a circular or rectilinear enclosure, sometimes an elongated rectangle, with distinctive regional variants across Northern Europe. Even beyond the Urnfield zone proper, including Britain, cremation becomes the dominant rite of the late Bronze Age, with the ashes commonly deposited in a pottery urn.

For the most part, burials in the Urnfield tradition show little evidence of hierarchical differentiation. Only in the earliest phase in eastern Central Europe are there burials distinguished by the wealth of their accompanying grave-goods, even though these may have been largely destroyed by the funerary pyre. At Caka (Toak and Paulik, 1960) in south-western Slovakia, a rich burial of Bronze D, including fragments of bronze armour, was inserted into a large barrow mound of the Tumulus Bronze Age, and other rich pyre-graves in the same region date from the thirteenth century. In the Hallstatt A1 phase, rich burials are found in tumuli throughout Moravia, Slovakia, Hungary and Bohemia, while burials with vehicle fittings and drinking vessels occur in several burials from Switzerland and south Germany. The grave at Hart-an-der-Alz in Bavaria (Muller-Karpe, 1956) is notable for its inclusion of the fragmentary fittings from a full-sized vehicle, including axle-caps with linch-pins, fragments of nave-hoops and spoke-covers and other ornamental attachments. While vehicle parts are included in burials of the Bronze D to Hallstatt A1 transition, however, the practice of burying the whole vehicle intact does not become the norm until the Hallstatt Iron Age. Beyond these early Urnfield exceptions, the great majority of Urnfield cemeteries thereafter include no elite burials distinguished by the structure of the tomb, though increasingly in later Urnfields grave-goods may indicate special status.

Associations may include accessory vessels and accompanying grave-goods to a greater or lesser degree. Some have few, if any, diagnostic metal types, but cumulatively it has been possible to build up a reasonably reliable sequence, based upon the changing technical details of bronze typology. The classic demonstration of this approach was Muller-Karpe's (1959), based upon some eight hundred closed groups, even if the detail of the sequence with its sub-divisions was subsequently subject to modification. Among pottery types, the cylinder-neck urn, sometimes embellished with bosses or fluting, is widespread. The predominant bronze types, apart from weapons and edge-tools - swords, spear-heads, axes and knives - are personal ornaments, including bracelets and a great diversity of pins.

Though inhumation had been virtually non-existent from Bronze D through Hallstatt A, it reappeared as a rite in Hallstatt B, and with the transition to Hallstatt C, inhumation once again becomes fashionable, though certainly not exclusively or even predominantly. Even in contexts like the well-known princely tomb at the Hohmichele (Riek, 1962) cremation is equally represented, and evidently was not displaced by inhumation, since some cremations are stratigraphically later than inhumations. In fact, burial sites like the Hohmichele are readily attributed princely status on grounds of their size and the wealth of some burials, even though other burials in the same tomb are virtually devoid of grave-goods to proclaim their elite status. A striking element is the inclusion in elite burials of a four-wheeled wagon, providing a link with vehicle burials of the early Urnfield phase, and equestrian equipment, again with Urnfield precedents. The practice of vehicle burial in Hallstatt C and D (van Endert, 1987; Pare, 1992) was focussed upon the four-wheeled funerary carriage, but anticipates the more obviously martial tradition of chariot-burial that developed from the early La Tène.

South of the Alps by the twelfth century bc, the rite of cremation and the practice of urn burial had spread through much of the Italian peninsula, and several of the key bronze types from the Italic urnfields, including violin-bow brooches, razors and median-winged axes are types shared in common with their north-alpine counterparts. This tradition of trans-alpine connections continues into the first Iron Age, with the regular occurrence, for example, of brooch types in common. It is unnecessary to engage in a debate regarding the significance of this commonality of culture in terms of diffusionism or whether specific types were developed in any one region first, thereafter spreading to another. The simple reality of such demonstrable relationships underscores the fact that the trans-alpine transmission of artefacts, styles and perhaps the craftsmen themselves in the early La Tène period was hardly a novelty, but based upon long-standing cultural reciprocity, however generated.

An outstanding element of the later Bronze Age of Europe is what has been called the 'spiritual revolution' (Harding, A., 1994), of which the adoption of cremation is one principal manifestation. One striking feature is the repeated use of symbolism, frequently of sun discs or water-birds, commonly the two together (Figure 2.1). The beaten bronze buckets from Unterglauheim in Bavaria and Hajdu-Boszormény in northern Hungary both have repoussé ornament in which these bird motifs are balanced about a sun-disc, while radiating sun-symbols recur on several examples of body armour, and both birds and sun-discs are found on greaves. The same combination of water-birds and sun-disc or wheel-motif occurs on the beaten bronze amphora from Mariesminde, Fyn, Denmark, one of several exotic items of beaten bronze-work that have been interpreted as the products of long-distance trade or gift-exchange from eastern Central Europe. Bird imagery is widespread throughout the Urnfield and Hallstatt Iron Age, with small cast representations being used as ornamental finials or pendants. In the world of the La Tène Celts there is ample documentary evidence to endorse the special ritual associations of birds, and doubtless some representations, like the bird of prey hovering over the Çiumejti helmet and the malevolent owls on the Bra cauldron, had a profound supernatural significance. But others, like the duck swimming down the spout of the Basse-Yutz flagons or the bird's head terminal of the Torrs horns, are more in the tradition of bird images of the Urnfield period or Hallstatt Iron Age, and if they did embody any significance more than ornamental they may have been simply tokens of good luck.

A particularly striking component of the later Bronze Age ritual assemblage is Kesselwagen, wheeled cauldrons, which might have been thought to have been part of the festive drinking service, but which in several instances are actually the containers of cremations (Figure 2.2A, 1—3; Piggott, 1983, 120—2). Among the earliest is an example from Milavec in Bohemia which was found with a Riegsee sword of Bronze D. Some, like the example from Orastie, Romania, or that from Acholshausen in Bavaria (Pescheck, 1972), are notionally drawn by teams of water-birds. The cult of the

Bronze Age Figures Romania
Figure 2.1 Late Bronze Age vessels with bird and sun-disc ornament. 1, Hajduboszormeny, Hungary; 2, Tiszavasvary, Hungary; 3, Unterglauheim, Bavaria; 4, Mariesminde, Fyn, Denmark. Adapted from Kossack (1959), Patay (1990) and Thrane (1965).

wheeled cauldron was evidently not restricted to the Urnfield culture zone, however; from Denmark comes the wheeled cauldron from Skallerup, and there is evidence both from artefacts and from rock-carvings of ritual symbolism. Sun symbolism plainly is of great antiquity in both Central and Northern Europe, and for the period immediately

Bronze Age Greaves
Figure 2.2 Late Bronze Age cult vehicles. A: 1, Milavec, Bohemia; 2, Acholshausen, Bavaria; 3, Orastie, Romania; 4, Burg-im-Spreewald, Brandenburg. Adapted from Piggott (1983) and Muller-Karpe (1980). Not to scale. B: Dupljaja, Serbia. Inv. No. 4533. Photo: the National Museum in Belgrade.

preceding the late Bronze Age is eloquently evidenced by the gilded sun disc on a wheeled carriage from Trundholm in Denmark and by the disc inside the pair of pottery miniature tricycles, bearing a bird-headed priest or priestess accompanied by birds, from Dupljaja in Serbia (Figure 2.2B). A variation on the theme are the Deichselwagen, wheeled trailers, also in miniature, with socketed shaft bearing bird-headed protomes (Figure 2.2A, 4). The occasional occurrence in Urnfield graves of the parts of such vehicles, like the bronze wheels, suggests a widespread practice that has frequently failed to survive the funerary pyre. Yet whether these vehicles in miniature, and the technical construction, for example, of their four-spoked wheels, reflected full-sized equivalents in regular use in everyday life remains a vexed issue. Evidently by the later Bronze Age, horse-drawn vehicles, notionally depicted at Trundholm, were replacing the older practice of ox-draught, and by the Hallstatt Iron Age four-wheeled carts or funerary hearses had reached a considerable level of technological sophistication. One of the most elaborate of the cult-wagons of later prehistoric Europe, dating from the Hallstatt C—D transition around 600 bc, is from Strettweg in Austria (Figure 2.3; Egg, 1996). The four-wheeled wagon bears an entourage of female and ithyphallic male figures, together with horse-warriors and stags, with a central oversized goddess bearing a shallow dish, which in the latest reconstruction served as the base for a hemispherical bowl. Here is the culmination of ritual drinking, animal and fertility symbolism combined in a single funerary emblem.

Animal symbolism in fact is not as prominent in the Urnfield late Bronze Age as it becomes in the Hallstatt Iron Age. The archaeological evidence certainly underscores the importance of pastoral agriculture in the late Bronze Age economy, but this is not evidently reflected in ritual symbolism. Where animals, and particularly horses, are depicted, on occasional pendants or in North European rock art, they are stiff-legged creatures. In the Hallstatt Iron Age, cattle are sometimes more realistically rendered, but in bovine protomes, and even in the rendering of the whole animal, there is still a cartoon-like simplicity (Figure 2.4).

One aspect of prehistoric social practice for which a ritual motive is commonly invoked is the practice of deposition, frequently in water or wetlands, of prestige goods or hoards of artefacts (Bradley, 1998). Hoards are widespread in the late Bronze Age, and votive deposition is by no means the sole explanation. Founders hoards and scrap hoards had a more practical explanation, and the conspicuous destruction of wealth has frequently been argued as an important factor in sustaining the social hierarchy. Burial with lavish grave-goods is one obvious way of disposing publicly of wealth; destruction on the funeral pyre is an even more effective way of ensuring its disposal. Wealthy graves seemingly were vulnerable to robbing in antiquity, as is witnessed by the central burial of the Hohmichele barrow. The tomb builders evidently anticipated this problem, in the case of the late Hallstatt (Hallstatt D) grave at Hochdorf in Baden-Württemberg (Biel, 1985) going to considerable lengths to create an inner and outer wall to the timber chamber with substantial stonework between. The techniques used evidently drew upon the skills of contemporary engineers of hill-fort defences. The intriguing question arises, who were the potential robbers? In the absence of evidence for external raiders, one must assume the threat was internal, and with tombs of this status and magnitude it can hardly have been any odd group of moonlighting grave-robbers. Rather than supposing social upheaval in the form of a popular uprising against the aristocracy (Pauli, 1985), Arnold (1995) proposed that the highly targeted

Strettweg Artist
Figure 2.3 Strettweg, Austria, cult vehicle. Adapted from Egg (1996) based on original in Ur- und Frühgeschichtliche Sammlung am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz.

tomb-robbery of the late Hallstatt period reflects a change in ruling dynasties, the seizure of power by a secondary elite and the wilful destruction of the symbol of legitimacy of the overthrown regime. Tomb-robbing, therefore, may not have been intent upon the acquisition of illicit wealth so much as its public destruction, together with all it stood for.

The wealth of material for which a ritual interpretation seems probable raises the question whether by the later Bronze Age there was already a distinctive sect within society whose responsibility was the conduct of ritual activities and custody of spiritual

Hallistatt Symbols

Figure 2.4 Hallstatt period animal imagery in bronze and pottery. 1, cow and calf as cauldron handle, Hallstatt, grave 671; 2, cast bronze bull, Hallstatt, grave 507; sketch drawings from various published photographs of originals in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna; 3, cast bronze bull, Byci Skala, Moravia; 4, two pairs of pottery horses and mares, Römerstein-Zainingen, Baden-Württemberg. Adapted from Torbrügge (1968). Not to scale.

Figure 2.4 Hallstatt period animal imagery in bronze and pottery. 1, cow and calf as cauldron handle, Hallstatt, grave 671; 2, cast bronze bull, Hallstatt, grave 507; sketch drawings from various published photographs of originals in the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna; 3, cast bronze bull, Byci Skala, Moravia; 4, two pairs of pottery horses and mares, Römerstein-Zainingen, Baden-Württemberg. Adapted from Torbrügge (1968). Not to scale.

knowledge, in a role comparable to that attributed to the druids of the later Iron Age. Archaeologically such a specialist group is unlikely to be readily recognizable, though it is tempting to see the decorated gold cones as 'hats' (Pl. 1), which, if they were indeed intended for use as headgear, must have been worn by a prince or priest of the Urnfield aristocracy.

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