Inside and outside a burial mound: when, how and in what environment were the kurgans built by Late Neolithic communities on the Subcarpathian loess plateau (SE Poland)?

Maria Łanczont, Jolanta Nogaj-Chachaj, Bogdan Żogała, Maryna Komar

Abstract


The unique, well-preserved kurgan complex near Cieszacin Wielki (SE Poland) is a specific type of archaeological site with its own landscape form. This complex of prehistoric earth burial mounds, located on a wide, flat watershed hilltop with NW–SE orientation, belongs to a chain of similar forms found in the loess foreland of the Carpathians. The kurgans were probably built by Late Neolithic communities of the Corded Ware culture engaged in pastoralism with rotational grazing. Taking into account the need to preserve this valuable element of the cultural landscape and archaeological heritage in its original form, instead of by excavation that would irretrievably destroy the site, non-invasive and minimally invasive investigations were carried out at the Cieszacin Wielki site. The results of lithological, geochemical, palaeopedological and palynological analyses as well as combined geophysical prospection were used to examine the structure of the kurgans, and to reconstruct their original appearance and the natural palaeoenvironment in their surroundings. The time when the mounds were built was determined based on radiocarbon dating of organic material in the samples taken from boreholes made into them. The kurgans near Cieszacin Wielki are of different sizes and occur close to each other. The cover of the mounds consists of two layers. An inner dark layer contains humus material evidently indicating earlier human activity due to a high content of phosphorus. Radiocarbon dating shows that the material of this layer was formed about 4800–5300 cal BP, so it is a remnant of the Funnel Beaker cultural layer. Pollen analysis indicates that each mound was decorated with blooming birch twigs after the first stage of kurgan construction. This practice could have been an expression of magic and ritual ceremonies as well as being aimed at protecting the mound from erosion. Grooves around the circumference of the mounds marked their original extent. Subsequently, the whole mound was covered with pale loess material taken from a nearby pit. Geophysical investigations indicated the existence of several anomalies, differing in size and shape, inside the mounds. These represent burial chambers located at various depths both under and within each mound. Based on pollen analysis, we think that the kurgans were originally located not in open landscape but in a mid-forest clearing, in an area previously used by the people of the Funnel Beaker culture, probably for cattle grazing.


Keywords


llithological method; combined geophysical approaches; pollen analysis; stratigraphy; environmental history; Corded Ware culture; Holocene

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