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Grave mounds of the Wielbark Culture

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Dr. Adam Cieśliński

Studies of Roman Iron Age burial customs in northern Central Europe

The Wielbark Culture is one of the most important cultural complexes in the archaeology of the Roman Iron Age and early Migration Period in northern Central Europe. It is characterised by a very varied range of burial customs, which may indicate that different traditions were followed by individual families and clans who used the same burial ground. In addition to the great variety of grave forms there are surprising differences in the ways the graves were marked above ground. A group of burial grounds stands out in particular, in which at least 300 grave mounds have been recorded. Despite a history of discovery and excavation over more than a century, no monograph is at present available on these grave-mound burials. Thanks to a two-year research grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, a multifaceted investigation of this complex subject will be undertaken by the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA).

Grave mound Jasionowa Dolina

The Jasionowa Dolina grave mound in Podlachien (Eastern Poland)


The following milestones in the project can be mentioned:

1.  A complete catalogue of the Wielbark Culture grave mounds;

2.  The organisation of scientific research (e.g. physical anthropology, genetic analysis, archaeozoology, geophysical information systems, isotope dating);

3.  Previous and present research;

4.  Topographical investigation of the location of the grave-mound cemeteries;

5.  Analysis of the structure of the grave mounds;

6.  Chronology;

7.  Analysis of this burial custom, including any features of a ritual character found in conjunction with the mounds;

8.  Grave mounds of the Wielbark Culture compared with other grave-mound burials in areas outside the Roman Empire;

9.  Socio-economic differences among the deceased;

10. Historical perspectives (questions regarding the origins and migration of the Goths);

11. Technical and social questions regarding the construction of the grave mounds;

12. Symbolic and religious interpretations of grave-mound burials;


Bead necklace from a grave mound in Nowy Łowicz in Pomerania. Picture by J. Strobin

Grave-mound burials of the Wielbark Culture pose a wide range of complex problems. Their examination is one of the most topical subjects of research in the archaeology of the Roman Iron Age in Central Europe. This project demands a multifaceted investigation of an interdisciplinary character. The archaeological analysis will be enhanced by coordination with the results of other specialised research, e.g. from the fields of physical anthropology, genetic analysis, archaeozoology, geophysical information systems, isotope dating. Conclusions may thus be reached that are of interest not only for archaeology but also for historical and social research. Furthermore, symbolic and religious interpretations of the grave-mound burials will be sought. This method of proceeding will expand our knowledge of the inhabitants of large areas of Central Europe during the Pre-Roman Iron Age and early Migration Period.

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