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Central German Enclosures

Fig. 1  Aerial photograph of the roundel Belleben I (Salzland district, Saxony-Anhalt), looking east. Photo: R. Schwarz, © LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Halle.

Fig. 2  Magnetometry plot of Belleben I. © Martin-Luther-Universität, Halle.

Fig. 3  Belleben I. The excavated eastern half of the site. Diameter of the circular ditch ca. 92 m. © Martin-Luther-Universität, Halle.

The monumental enclosures of the Funnel Beaker Culture (4100-2800 BC) have been known for more than 100 years and have been an object of interest for archaeological research throughout. Given their size and structure, they are a considerable challenge both in terms of excavation and interpretation. In the course of enclosure research, a wide variety of functions have been proposed for this monument type. These range from profane animal corrals to sacred ritual places (as summarised e.g. in RAETZEL-FABIAN 1999; BERTEMES 1991). However, only the systematic excavation of such sites can elucidate their actual function in the context of the first complex societies of central and northern Europe, as shown by the Funnel Beaker site of Sarup on Funen (ANDERSEN 1997).

In a settlement landscape that is increasingly hierarchically structured, enclosures play an important role in assessing the genesis and kinds of processes of social differentiation taking place in the framework of ever more complex exchange systems. Until recently, one characteristic of enclosures across the entire distribution of the Funnel Beaker Culture was their irregular form, which disregarded terrain morphology. In recent years, however, extensive aerial surveys for instance in Saxony-Anhalt, southeastern Lower Saxony and northern Hesse have revealed a striking number of roundels (SCHWARZ 2003; SPATZIER 2009). The construction of monumental circular enclosures on the one hand and of non-circular examples on the other suggests fundamental changes in the social sphere. These changes probably took place at social, economic and ritual-religious levels. Can the degree and extent of these transformations be read off the high density of newly built earthworks?

The current project aims to excavate several such enclosures completely or partially and to investigate their immediate surroundings in order to gain an overview over the structure of these monuments, as well as clarifying their genesis, function and social or ritual-religious significance in the context of the Funnel Beaker phenomenon. In addition, the differences between different kinds of enclosures are to be established.

It seems that graves of the Baalberge period or trapezoidal enclosures are connected to the contemporary roundels. It is therefore crucial to also take into account the trapezoidal enclosures, which in some cases are in a clear spatial relationship with roundel sites. The data collected in the study area, the micro-region around Belleben (Salzland district) and Gerbstedt (Mansfeld-Südharz), include different kinds of site, such as roundels, non-circular enclosures, settlements and burials, and will be spatially analysed in a GIS programme.

The results of the excavations and finds analysis, carried out immediately after fieldwork, will lead to new approaches to the Funnel Beaker landscape of Saxony-Anhalt in particular and of central Germany in general and enable more nuanced interpretations of the significance and function of roundels in the micro-region around the villages of Belleben and Gerbstedt.