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Central German Enclosures

Work in progress

To date, in the course of the excavation campaigns of 2005, 2009 and 2010, about 64% of the entire Belleben I roundel (Salzland district, Saxony-Anhalt) have been archaeologically investigated. A total of 139 individual interventions could be recorded during the excavations, comprising about 185 m of the roundel ditch, three ‘large pits’, a small number of other pits and some postholes. In addition, a Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age pit alignment overlay the roundel. An 88 m long section of this alignment could be excavated.

 

 

 

The excavation

Fig. 8  Belleben I. ‘Tunnel vision’ through several roundel segments. On the left side of the ditch, traces of a darker fill are visible.

Features such as the roundel ditch or the three ‘large pits’ in the entrance area were dug in opposing quadrants (chequerboard style) and in 15-20 cm thick artificial spits. The roundel ditch was divided into roughly 2.5 m long segments (numbered 1-19 to 1-81). This length allowed the convenient photographing of longitudinal profiles, while the numerous cross-sections enabled us to quickly recognise changes in the structure of the ditch. Features such as the three ‘large pits’ were divided into metre squares. In areas where this seemed appropriate, this procedure was modified; for instance, the section could be placed differently or the feature excavated in the negative method (Fig. 8; negative of ditch segment; section of posthole; negative of posthole).

The ditch

Fig. 9  Belleben I. Main profile through the roundel ditch. The flat-based ditch is ca. 2.40 m deep and 3.0 m wide at this point.

In the eastern part of the enclosure excavated so far, the cross-sections dug at 2.5 m intervals show that the ditch changed its depth and width as well as its shape. The northern ditch section (Fig. 9) is about 4 m wide and can be described as Martini glass-shaped with a very wide top and very gently sloping sides. At the topographically highest point in the north of the site, the preserved ditch depth is ca. 1.90 m (2.40 m with the A-horizon). In contrast, the southern ditch section is ca. 2.5 m wide and shows a funnel-shaped profile with a flat, 0.3 m wide base and a depth of over 1.10 m. The reasons for these changes in the ditch profile can be sought in the site’s topography, erosion processes and the building of the enclosure by several work teams. In addition, it must be pointed out that a ditch profile documented today will accurately represent the original ditch section in only very few places. Especially in the top part of the ditch, which flares out widely but is not very deep, erosion, waterlogging and trampling by people and animals probably took their toll.

Fig. 10  Belleben I. Adjacent to its southern terminal, the ditch forms a trough-shaped depression over a length of ca. 7 m.

The changing profile can probably also be recognised in the polygonal outline of the roundel, which in turn suggests that the ditch was dug in segments.

A further notable feature are the trough-shaped depressions in the two ditch terminals (Fig. 10; northern ditch terminal, longitudinal profile and cross-section). Interestingly, the northern terminal yielded noticeably more finds than its southern counterpart. .

 

 

The pits

Fig. 11  Belleben I. Under the baulk in pit 14, the fragment of a cattle jaw was recovered just above the base of a trough-shaped scoop.

At the centre of the roundel, half-way between the assumed centre of the enclosure and the ditch, as well as immediately adjacent to the ditch, several pits were recognised. These differ in their size in plan and in their depth, but showed a similar profile: one side was vertical or sloped slightly, the opposing side sloped very steeply (feature 124, section; feature 124, negative; feature 42; feature 96). Apart from smaller posts and the three ‘large pits’, the sections of all Baalberge pits on this site showed this characteristic shape of an acute triangle. The longitudinal and cross-sections, too, indicate posts set at an angle. The largest pit was about 1.20 m deep.

The three ‘large pits’ (features 12; 13; 14) close to the ditch opening, all have similar trough-shaped profiles. Interestingly, in the case of the two larger and more finds-rich pits, episodes of intentional deposition can be suggested. The intentionality of the placements is visible in the position of the finds (halves or fragments of jaws) in the deepest parts of the trough-shaped scoops within the large pits (Fig. 11).

 

 

Finds

Fig. 12  Belleben I. The fragments of this vessel were scattered over nine ditch segments, but two main concentrations could be identified: one in the ditch terminal and a further one 20 m away. Drawing by Johanna Schüler.


Fig. 13  Belleben I. With a rim diameter of at least 50 cm, this incompletely preserved funnel-necked bowl stands out due to its size. Drawing by Johanna Schüler.

Ceramics account for the majority of finds. So far, just over 200 vessel units could be established and recorded. Alongside the vessel shapes typical of the Baalberge Culture, three vessel units must be particularly emphasised: the rim fragment of a tulip-beaker, a bowl with cylindrical rim and a large funnel-necked bowl. The fragment of the tulip-beaker differs from the remainder of the assemblage especially in its rim shape, which, much like its manufacturing technology and colour, is reminiscent of Michelsberg pottery. The bowl with cylindrical rim must be mentioned because of its preservation. The directly adjoining fragments of this vessel were scattered over roughly 22.5 m within the ditch. About ⅛ of the vessel is preserved, but the profile is complete. Its character and colour set it apart from the remainder of the pottery. A third notable vessel is an incompletely preserved funnel-necked bowl, which is of remarkable size. Its diameter at the base is 19.7 cm, at the rim it is at least 50 cm across, while its preserved height is around 20 cm (Fig. 12; 13).

Fig. 14  Belleben I. A selection of flint tools from different raw materials.

A preliminary study of the flint artefacts shows an inventory which varies in both raw material and tool type. Alongside modified blades there are arrowheads, trapezes and splintered pieces (Fig. 14). A group of flakes with a straight, ca. 2 cm wide distal end (formed by a larger negative on the dorsal side) is notable. Macroscopically, some pieces show traces of usewear. This is not surprising, since many bones show deep cut marks. Overall, compared to other Neolithic assemblages, the Belleben I pieces are remarkably small.

Since Belleben I is situated in a largely stone-free loess landscape, almost any stone identified during excavation was catalogued, especially given the scattering of fragments of red sandstone across the entire site. The source for this sandstone was pinpointed at an outcrop about 10 km away, but the ditch and pits yielded many more non-local stones.

Fig. 15  Belleben I. Small metal tube from the enclosure.

Animal bones are a crucially important finds category in the enclosure. During the excavations of 2009 and 2010, roughly 1600 bones and bone fragments with a total weight of 13.8 kg were recovered. A first examination revealed numerous cut marks. It must be mentioned that the degree of fragmentation of the bones differs considerably between the pits, but also between the pits and the ditch. For instance, in the ‘large pit’ (feature 14), the relationship between bone weight and number of finds is opposite to that in the ditch, i.e. in spite of a reduced number of bones, bone weight in feature 14 is considerably higher. This is due to the different ‘treatment’, or rather the different degree of fragmentation of the bones.

A small copper tube ca. 4.5 cm long and 0.3 cm across was recovered from the ditch in the northern area of the enclosure (feature 1-34). This is one of the few metal finds from the Baalberge Culture in Saxony-Anhalt which was not recovered from a grave context, and the first to come from an enclosure site (Fig. 15).

Geophysical prospections and fieldwalking surveys carried out to date

Fig. 16  Belleben II.


Fig. 17  Lodderstedt I. Location: 2 km WSW of Belleben I, size: ca. 85 m x 90 (?) m.

In August and September 2010, several areas in a radius of up to 2 km around Belleben I were surveyed with the Institute’s own five-channel vertical component fluxgate gradiometer FGM650. These geomagnetic prospections in the micro-region resulted in the discovery of numerous sites (Fig. 16; 17).

Alongside two perhaps Bronze Age circular enclosures and an area of possible pit huts and countless pits to the northwest of the village of Belleben, the discovery of a further roundel, Lodderstedt I, is noteworthy (Table 1). It lies almost exactly 2 km WSW of Belleben I, and is also virtually the same distance away from Belleben II. Lodderstedt I is not yet dated, but field walking yielded numerous flints and sherds consistent with a Late Neolithic or possibly Late Bronze Age date.

Roundel

definite and dated

definite but undated

uncertain

Belleben I

Baalberge period

-

-

Belleben II

Baalberge period

-

-

Belleben III

Bronze Age

-

-

Belleben IV

-

-

to check (Geophysics)

Lodderstedt I

-

Late Neolithic ?

-

Gerbstedt I

-

-

to check (Geophysics)

Table 1 Overview of the roundels in the micro-region around Belleben and Gerbstedt (Salzland district and district of Mansfeld-Südharz, Saxony-Anhalt).

 

 

Fig. 18  Results of the geoseismic and georadar surveys. Figure by D. Wilken.


Fig. 19  Results of the analysis of archaeobotanical macroremains. After S. Klooß, pers. comm.

On the 15th of August 2010, we were visited by a working group of the Geophysical Institute of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel in order to carry out a geophysical survey for the trapezoidal enclosure II adjacent to Belleben II. Amongst others, our aim was to investigate whether we could expect a stone packing, a hollow space or a stone setting in the small ditch at the centre of the trapezoidal enclosure II. The survey showed a weak reflection amplitude for the radar, which suggests that a stone setting is unlikely (Dr. D. Wilken pers. comm.). Surprisingly, however, the interior of the trapezoidal enclosure yielded a shape resembling a right crouched inhumation. Even a vessel can possibly be recognised at the edge of the visible grave pit. Should these results be confirmed through excavation, georadar measurements would be an immensely powerful tool which, under certain conditions, allows more detailed conclusions than geomagnetic prospection (Fig. 18).

Per ditch or pit segment, and for each 20 cm spit, one bucket of soil (ca. 10 l) was wet-sieved, or rather ‘decanted’ over a sieve with a 400 µm mesh. In addition, the sediment which remained in the bucket was run through two sieves (with a 4 mm and 1 mm mesh). Given these mesh sizes, the roundel yielded what is now the expected amount of macroscopically visible finds for an enclosure ditch. In contrast, the large pits in the interior of the enclosure revealed very many finds: small flint flakes and chips, ceramic sherds a few millimetres in size, fragments of bone and charcoal, molluscs and botanical macroremains (Fig. 19).

It is notable that the finds were overwhelmingly deposited in the first few centimetres above the base of the ditch, and above a ca. 3 cm to 5 cm thick layer of light greyish brown soil.

Overall, the investigations so far allow us to recognise a structured, hierarchical settlement landscape, within which the monument type of the ‘roundel’ plays a special role.

Through the investigation of the enclosure of Belleben I, we have come one step closer to answering our questions. After analysing contemporary roundels, or those belonging to the same chronological horizon, and comparing them with roundel sites from preceding and successive periods, we will also be able to improve our understanding of the origin and significance of this phenomenon.