The Neolithic Burial Sequence at Flintbek LA 3, North Germany, and Its Cart Tracks: A Precise Chronology

By Mischka, Doris | Antiquity, September 2011 | Go to article overview

The Neolithic Burial Sequence at Flintbek LA 3, North Germany, and Its Cart Tracks: A Precise Chronology


Mischka, Doris, Antiquity


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Introduction

Discussions about the earliest appearance of wheeled vehicles regularly call upon the small pictograms from Uruk and images on ceramics made in the Baden style or from the Polish Funnel Beaker settlement of Bronocice (e.g. Bakker et al. 1999; Burmeister in press). To these may be added the cart tracks from the site of Flintbek LA 3, which feature in this paper. All these finds have been dated to between 3600 and 3300 cal BC (Furholt 2008: 626) but, because of the relatively long time-span, there are two alternative opinions about the context in which the wheel was invented and the route by which its technology was distributed. The first favours the Middle East or, more recently, the northern Pontic steppe regions as a point of origin followed by a fast dispersal across south-east Europe into the Funnel Beaker context of northern Europe. The second favours contemporary polycentric developments over the same area (e.g. Bakker et al. 1999; Koninger et al. 2002; Fansa & Burmeister 2004; Burmeister in press). One of the main problems in dating the first occurrences of the wheel lies in the calibration curve of the radiometric dates, which shows two wiggles between 3650 and 3350 cal BC. This does not allow a higher temporal resolution without the input of further information.

In the new study reported here, the evidence from Flintbek LA 3 was revisited and Bayesian analysis was used to produce a new high precision chronology (Buck et al. 1996; Bayliss et al. 2007). This has provided a tightly dated account of the construction and development of a continental Neolithic long barrow, including the moment at which the cart tracks appear, now dated to about 3420-3385 cal BC.

The Flintbek site

Flintbek is situated in northern Germany, 8km south-west of Kiel and the western Baltic Sea coast (Figure 1). Between 1976 and 1996, a cemetery containing 88 Neolithic and Bronze Age burials was excavated by the state office of Schleswig-Holstein in the context of recent plough damage (Zich 1992/1993, 1999). Among these burials, the site labelled Flintbek LA 3 is located in the north-eastern part of the cemetery and was excavated between 1988 and 1989. It consisted of a 53m-long Neolithic barrow, which had developed from a group of eight non-megalithic graves, and four additional earth-covered megalithic dolmen chambers which had between them gradually elongated the tumulus (Figure 2). In the last phase of construction, the tumulus was almost doubled in width from 11m to 19m and cart tracks leading towards the latest dolmen chamber were preserved beneath. Previously, these features had only been dated to the late Early Neolithic (Fuchsberg phase) of the Funnel Beaker culture by means of a decorated pot, deposited as part of the grave furniture found in the chamber of the latest dolmen.

Direct dating of the parts of a megalithic monument is difficult. The finds are rarely connected to the structures themselves and seldom contain charcoal, bone or other organic remains. Most megalithic graves have been used for collective and later secondary burials with probable clearance and disturbance within the chambers. The context of datable charcoal taken from beneath the standing stone chamber walls is also difficult to interpret. However, in this case it proved possible to use charcoal samples taken during the 1988 excavation to undertake a rigorous study of the chronology at Flintbek LA 3 using AMS radiocarbon dating and Bayesian analysis. A total of 32 samples were dated by AMS, and the precision of the dates was enhanced by Bayesian analysis, using knowledge of the stratigraphic order in which they were deposited in the ground.

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Sequence of the monument

The stratigraphic record was clear and provided an a priori ordering of both the structures and the features within them. The earliest activity is indicated by two hearths (marked as Firepits 24 and 26 on Figure 2, at either end of the later long barrow). …

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