Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Stone-Cist Grave at Kasekula, Western Estonia, in the Light of AMS Dates of the Human bones/Kasekula Kivikirstkalme Laane-Eestis AMS-Dateeringute Valguses

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Stone-Cist Grave at Kasekula, Western Estonia, in the Light of AMS Dates of the Human bones/Kasekula Kivikirstkalme Laane-Eestis AMS-Dateeringute Valguses

Article excerpt


The main aim of this article is to present and discuss new radiocarbon (AMS) dates of the human bones collected from stone-cist grave I at Kasekula, western Estonia. The stone-cist grave was excavated by Mati Mandel in 1973 with the purpose of specifying the settlement history of the region (Mandel 1975). So far it has remained the only excavated stone-cist grave in mainland western Estonia (Mandel 2003, fig. 20). Excavation also uncovered a Late Neolithic settlement site beneath the grave, which was further investigated by Aivar Kriiska in 1997 (Kriiska et al. 1997). His 22 [m.sup.2] excavation on the southern and south-eastern side of the grave also exposed the ruin stones of the grave. Based on artefact finds, the construction of the grave is currently dated to the IV or V period of the (Nordic) Bronze Age and the presence of Pre-Roman Iron Age burials has been considered likely (Lang 1996, 297). The human bones of the grave were examined by Jonathan Kalman (2000a) and Raili Allmae (2010), which offers a rare opportunity to compare two expert views on the same osteological data.

Radiocarbon dating of the grave's human osteological material was part of a more extensive project designed to investigate the chronology and burial practices of stone-cist graves, in particular the well-known issue of protracted use of stone graves. Before 2009 there were only four radiocarbon dates of human skeletons from three graves and charcoal dates were hardly more numerous (Lang 2007, fig. 97), although the number of excavated stone-cist graves in Estonia is well over a hundred and dating them on the basis of grave goods is notoriously difficult. Without a good chronological framework, however, palaeodemographic and social inferences would hardly make any sense. To improve the situation, bone samples for AMS dating were selected from several stone-cist graves from which the human osteological assemblage had undergone sex and age determination and which contained burials both in the cists (assumed to date from the Late Bronze or Early Pre-Roman Iron Age) and outside cists (assumed to date from later periods). The grave at Kasekula meets these criteria perfectly.

There already exist three AMS dates for this grave, published by Raili Allmae in 2010. It is necessary to note that her samples were collected before mine, and I was unaware of her research; otherwise my selection of samples would probably have been slightly different. The new dates, however, significantly enhance the existent chronology of the grave and also shed some light on the discrepancy between the osteological studies by Kalman (2000a) and Allmae (2010). To provide a comprehensive discussion, I publish the dates for this grave in a separate article, while the dates for other stone-cist graves involved in the aforementioned project will follow shortly.

In what follows, the description of the grave itself, i.e. its structure, find assemblage, burials, as well as its neighbouring sites come first. This is essential for the interpretation of radiocarbon dates; also, the find assemblage, particularly pottery, has undergone no thorough examination previously and thus deserves extra attention. After that the radiocarbon dates are presented and discussed, including their correlation with artefact finds and osteological estimations, as well as their representativeness and relevance in the wider context of prehistory in Estonia.

Context of the grave

The stone-cist grave under review is located three kilometres from the western coast of mainland Estonia, 600 m south-west of Kasekula village (Fig. 1). Here a north-south aligned elongated ridge, a former coastline formation that is today called Parnamagi [Linden Hill], rises 1-1.5 m above the surrounding fields and pastures. The ridge is densely topped with a row of stone graves, probably stone-cist graves. Altogether seven graves have been registered, but the actual number of graves is larger (see grave descriptions in the National Registry of Cultural Monuments). …

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