Lustrupholm – Et brandgravfelt fra ældre bronzealder under flad mark


  • Claus Feveile
  • Pia Bennike


Lustrupholm, brandgravfelt, ældre bronzealder, flad mark


A flat cremation cemetery from the early Bronze Age

Bronze Age burial custom is usually associated with large burial mounds containing rich inhumation graves. However, this picture of the burial custom in the Bronze Age is now complemented by an important find from Lustrupholm (fig. 1), which differs from theusual picture in a number of ways, as we are here dealing with a flat cremation cemetery from the early Bronze Age.

Twenty-three cremation graves were detected (fig. 2), seventeen of which were concent rated in the same area with out overlapping.At a distance of between nine and nineteen meters from this concentration, six more graves creating an almost complete semicircle with a diameter of c. 30 meters were in vestigated. The seventeen graves in the concentration were positioned a little off the centre of the semicircle.

The graves were found underneath a late Roman/early Germanic Iron Age settlement, and the graves are not likely to have been covered by one or more mounds. Thus, they should be considered flat cremation graves.

The twenty-three graves give an interesting picture of early Bronze Age cremation practice (fig. 3-10). With the exception of two, all graves were generally small burials with room for just the burnt bones, perhaps an urn, and grave goods. The two remaining graves had the shape of inhumation burials (fig. 11). In seven or eight of the graves, the urn was a clay vessel, whereas in eight cases, the cremated bones seem to have bee n buried in a container made from organic material. To judge from the form and size of the compact burn bones – which to a higher or lesser degree reveal the shape of the container – the containers were made from bark. The pottery, consisting of two sacrificial clay vessels and seven or eight pottery urns, is very vari d and com prises large and small vessels, finely processed, burnished vessels, and coarser, coil-built vessels. Pottery occurs in graves from the early Bronze Age, but nine clay vessels – as is the case her – from the same site is an unusually large number.

Seven graves contained bronze grave goods. Some of the grave goods had obviously been on the funeral pyreas they have melt ed co mple tely o r partly. O thers are un­ dam age d. T he grave goo ds cann o t be used for determining the sex of the buried person, as all the identifiable objects are of types that occur in both men’s and women’s graves. The amount of bronze in the individual graves is small, from 1 to 187 grams (and the remaining sixteen graves contained no metal at all). Bangles like those from grave 4, 14, and 16 occur mainly in graves from period III but also in some from period II. Similarly, small tutuli like the one found in grave 19 are known mainly from period III graves, but they also occur in period IV.

Obviously, the remains from the pyre had not just been scraped up. On the contrary,the parts that were to end in the grave had been picked out and cleaned. However, seven graves contained charcoal, which made C-14 dating possible. It must be stressed, though, that it is the charcoal, rather than the grave content, that has been dated. The datings include period I to VI of the Bronze Age, with the majoriry in period II. One very late dating (grave 14) is based on a small amount of hazelnut shells. Already before the darings were made, we had our doubts as to the value of the sample – the possibility of the shells being from ananimal’s winter depot being obvious.

To conclude: according to the C-14 datings, the pottery, and the bronze items, the majoriry of the graves are from the early part of the Bronze Age, i.e. period III. However, the span of the individual elements open the possibility of individual graves being a little younger or older. The C-14 datings tend to be a little early, probably due to the age of the wood used.

The anthropological investigation of the burnt bones from twenty- three graves has resulted in the identification of the age and sex of the majority o f the buried persons. It turned out that only one grave, grave 21, contained more than one person. This grave contained two individuals, a woman older than 35 years and a large foetus or a newborn baby.

The burnt bones from 24 individuals were identified as five infants under the age of one year, one child under the age of six, a young person (12-20 years old), and five young adults (20-35 years old). The rest of the individuals were just identified as “adults”, i.e. they were more than 20 years old, but their age could not be determined precisely.

The sex of nine of the adult individuals was identifie d: three were men, six were women. In a prehistoric context, it is not surprisin g to find an infant mortality rate of 25%, nor to find that young people and young adults have a rather high rate of mortaliry (they make up a total of 33% in the adult group). The average age of adults (i.e. those that lived to be more than 20 years old) was around 40 years. However, a predominance of women in a skeletal material is surprising, as the usual situation is a predominance of men.The predominance of women could therefore lead to the interpretation that this was a cemetery mainly for women and children. However, methodical faults resulting in wrong sex identification and coincidences cannot be ruled out. The distribution of the men’s, women’s, and children’s graves, as seen on the plan of the twenty-three graves, gives a rather diffuse picture.

In nine graves (39%), the presence of animal bones was determined for certain, and animal bones may have occurred in another one to four graves. Unfortunately, the bone remains are too small and uncharacteristic for identification.

We have not succeeded in finding any direct parallels to the Lustrupholm cemetery – i.e. another cemetery almost entirely containing small cremation graves, with the majority of the graves containing urns of clay or organic material. The best parallels within the few flat cremation cemeteries are Stendis in the county of Ringkøbing; Schwesing in Northern Friesland, Germany; and Jomfrugård on the island of Bornholm.

From the distribution of flat cremation graves and graves with a mound from the early Bronze Age in the counties of Ribe and Tønder, and in Northern Friesland (fig. 12) it occurs that the number of flat cremation graves are minimal. It is obvious that apart from the islands of Amrum and Sylt, just a few flat graves are of the urn rype.

The majority of the cremation graves, whether in a mound or flat, date from period III , with a small amount dating from period II. This is a well-known picture in the rest of Denmark, and in this respect, the Lustrupholm graves do not differ, as they also belong to period III. However, if we consider the number of graves with grave goods, which make up 39%, and the type of grave goods, then the Lustrupholm graves are certainly different from the “no rmal” contemporary mound graves.

In a thorough settlement-historical in vestigation of all finds from the Ribe area, Rasmussen concluded that when it came to graves from the early Bronze Age, around 30% of the mounds from period II and Ill contain gold. Also, only between 12 and 16% of the graves are identifiable as women’s graves, whereas the men’s graves make up a total of 50 to 75%. Rasmussen interprets the fact that a large number of graves contain gold as a need to demonstrate power and status – a power that women were apparently not entitled to share. During the last 20 to 30 years, it has become apparent that the graves in mound s from the early Bronze Age are probably not representing a wide section of the population, but more likely the upper layer of society.

None of the graves at Lustrupholm contained gold, and the artefacts found in the furnished graves are modest according to both types and weight. Quite a large number of the graves are infant graves, and women’s graves dominate among those graves that were identified. However, it cannot be ruled out statistically that the majority of the nonidentifiable graves are men’s graves. If this was the case, then the share of men may be as large as the share of women. However, if one was to hazard a guess, then the distribution of sex-identified graves could lead to the interpretation that among the adult individuals, women made up the majority of the buried. The fact that the graves contain no types of grave goods specific of men (weapon, especially) point in this direction, too. However, another explanation could be that the men buried at Lustrupholm had no access to items indicating status and power, and that together with the women and children they made up a specific social section of the population.

Claus Feveile
Den antikvariske Samling

Pia Bennike
Antropologisk Laboratorium

Translated by Annette Lerche Trolle





Feveile, C., & Bennike, P. (2002). Lustrupholm – Et brandgravfelt fra ældre bronzealder under flad mark. Kuml, 51(51), 109–141. Hentet fra