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The chambergrave and cemetery at Pilgramsdorf/Pielgrzymowo

Dr. Nina Lau

Investigations of archives, finds and burial rituals

The cemetery of Pilgramsdorf/Pielgrzymowo, dating from both the Early and Late Roman Iron Age, is located in present-day NE Poland. At the time of its excavation, at the end of the 1930s and beginning of the 1940s, the site lay within the southern border district of what was then Eastern Prussia. Shortly after the excavations, the finds from the site were presented in a few minor articles; comprehensive publication did not take place prior to the Second World War. Numerous archaeological investigations have been based on these articles, in particular with reference to the wooden grave chamber and its rich content of grave goods, despite it having been robbed. After the war and up until the 1990s, the excavation records and finds were believed to have gone missing. After a complicated process of relocation, the excavation records from Pilgramsdorf/Pielgrzymowo, together with additional Prussian archive documents and finds from the former Königsberger Prussia-Museum, have now been located in the Prussian Archive at the Neues Museum at the Museumsinsel in Berlin. The actual finds from the three burial mounds, together any other additional evidence, are now considered to have been completely lost. Already in the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age, and during the Early Roman Iron Age, a cemetery of the Przeworsk culture existed within the small forests to the east of Pilgramsdorf/ Pielgrzymowo. This was characterised by grave structures with above-ground, circular stone constructions and fire pits and post formations.

Pilgramsdorf excavation

Cemeteries of this kind and duration are characteristic of the so-called regional Nidzica group of the Przeworsk culture. From phase C2 of the Late Roman Iron Age, a group of burial mounds relating to the Wielbark culture was constructed here and this practice continued up into the Late Roman Iron Age (phase C3/D). These monuments comprise typical external stone constructions associated with large earthen mounds. The construction of individual Late Roman Iron Age barrows relating to the immigrant Wielbark culture on or at the edge of an earlier discontinued cemetery of the Przeworsk culture is a common phenomenon in NE Poland.

Despite its distinctly regional components, mound I, which was plundered in early historical times, with its wooden grave chamber and rich furnishings from the late phase C2, displays a supra-regional character.

Pilgramsdorf chamber

Elements of the wooden grave chamber, revealing links with block- and post-building techniques, are also seen distributed in other Roman Iron Age wooden chambered graves in the Barbaricum. The golden Kolbenarmring, signifying the high social status of its bearer, the richly-ornamented belt fittings and the glass bowl all indicate far-reaching relationships and contacts. In the wooden drinking set and the gaming board, the grave inventory demonstrates symbols of an elitist lifestyle. On the basis of the burial practices and the grave goods, the grave can unequivocally be assigned to the Wielbark culture. However, some of the finds also reveal influences from some aspects of the Przeworsk culture. This possibly indicates a continuation of the Przeworsk burial tradition in this area or contacts with the Late Roman Iron Age Przeworsk culture settled further to the south. Burial mound I, on the basis of its exceptional, very elaborate tomb and the character of its grave goods, despite the robbery, must be ranked among the finest of Barbarian elite graves. The analysis and interpretation of this site formed part of a MA thesis completed in 2003 and will now be further developed for publication in a monograph.

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