Tempelhus fra stenalder


  • Poul Kjærum


mortuary house, begravelses hus, ossuary, funnel-necked beaker culture, tragtbæger kultur, grav, grave, tempel, temple


A Neolithic Temple

In the neighbourhood of the village of Tustrup in the parish of Nørager on northwest Djursland (East Jutland) - upon a heather-clad terrace which slopes down towards the valley of the Hevring - lies a megalith cemetery, consisting, of two dolmens and a passage grave. The three graves lie on the circumference of a semicircle with a radius of 46---48 metres, and at the centre of the semicircle lies a cult building (Fig. 1). Before excavation this central site appeared only as a low heather-covered mound, formed of windblown sand which had drifted over a heap of stones, edged on three sides by a horseshoe-shaped stone setting (Fig. 2). On investigation the heap of stones proved to be collapsed house walling covering an inner wall construction of wood and orthostats.

The rear wall of the house consisted of four orthostats, sunk in pits and supported by stone packing (Figs. 3--4). The orthostats had suffered considerably from erosion and breakage, but it was nevertheless possible to determine the original height of two of them as about 1.6 metres above the floor level of the house. The side walls of the house were distinguished by stones and charred post stumps, projecting up to 20 cms. above the ground surface (Fig. 5). Horizontal excavation and a series of vertical sections showed that the walls had consisted of closely placed segments of tree trunks, set in wall trenches and supported by stone packings (Figs. 6-7). In the southern wall the posts stood approximately vertically in the sections, whereas in the north wall they showed a considerable inward inclination (Fig. 9). The angle of inclination varied, however, considerably from post to post; the inclination is therefore presumably secondary, the result of considerable pressure from without. The course of the north wall was moreover very irregular. 2.8 metres from the rear wall the wall trench broadened out into a pit of about 2 metres in length, 1.3 metres wide and 0.75 metres deep. Thereafter it again resumed normal dimensions. In association with this pit the line of the wall was broken, being displaced to the inner edge of the pit. (Fig. 7). At the same time the wall of trunk segments was here replaced by a lighter walling, probably of wattle.

In the northeastern opening between the line of the walls there was no trace of posts, but in the centre of the opening stood a large stone, sunk in a deep pit.

If the building be reconstructed, ignoring for the moment the outer edge-stones and the heap of stones, it is thus seen to consist of a 5 metre long curved rear wall, consisting of four orthostats of about 1.6 metres in height, sunk in pits and with the intervals filled in with dry walling; and of two sidewalls at right angles to the rear wall, built up as palisade walls of presumably vertical, closely placed, trunk segments. The north wall, however, is broken by a reverse niche, the inner, rear, wall of which is of a lighter character, presumably of wattle. The length of the walls is a good 6 metres. Towards the northeast the house has been open but its limit is defined by the clear termination of the line of the side walls.

But the horseshoe-shaped setting of edge stones, and the heap of stones which covered the site, have comprised an important part of the building, and by incorporating them into the reconstruction we change the architecture completely.

A trench, and the dry walling, which was preserved in situ between the edge stones, showed that these originally stood vertically, forming a horseshoe-shaped wall about 1 metre high around the central complex. The distance between the edge stones and the line of the inner walls was, at the northeast end, 0.6 metres, and the distance increased steadily towards the rear wall, where it was no Jess than 1.1 metres.

The sections through the house site (Figs. 10-11) showed that the heap of stones sloped gently down from the edge stones towards the centre of the house, and that the stone layer gradually diminished from the rear wall towards the open northeast end. These details, and the fact that no charcoal at all was found outside the lines of the walls, and that the inclined position of the wall-posts must be secondary, support the view that the orthostats and the palisade walls of the house must originally have been covered with stones, in such a way that the house, viewed from outside, has had the appearance of a stone building. The numerous flat slabs found in the heap of stones have therefore presumably been built up one above the other as dry walling, perhaps extending right up to the eaves, while the ordinary round pebbles were heaped up between this dry-wall construction and the edge stones, which thus in fact came to form the outer surface of the house walls (Fig. 13). The heap of stones does not appear to have been so high against the weaker wall in the niche as in the rest of the house, and the gaps in the edge stones at this point suggest that free access was here provided both to the niche and to the pit (Fig. 8). The excavation gave no indication of roof construction, but, as the low rear wall can hardly indicate the original height of the house, it would he reasonable to assume that there has been a hipped roof.

In the centre of the floor of the house was an oval pit. It had been filled in before the house was burnt and contained no objects. Behind it, however, lay the furnishings of the house which consisted entirely of pottery. In two sharply distinct groups, clearly separated from each other by an area without objects, lay the sherds of thirty pottery vessels and pottery ladles (Figs. 8 and 14). The sherds of each vessel lay together, showing that, before the burning and collapse of the house, each vessel must have stood, complete and undisturbed, in its place (Fig. 15). The pottery is of fine quality and the shapes are extremely characteristic. Space unfortunately does not permit a detailed survey, but a summary of the types is necessary, as they are of considerable importance for the interpretation of the function of the building.

The most common type is the "fruit-dish" (pedestal bowl). Ten specimens of this form were found, the largest being 29 cms. high and the smallest only 10 (Fig. 16). In close association with the fruit-dishes were 8 pottery ladles, each corresponding in ornamentation and size to one of the dishes (Fig. 17). Of other pottery types were found: 6 funnel-necked beakers, 2 sharply angled handled vessels with a completely imperceptible transition from neck to body, 1 shouldered vessel with a cylindrical neck, lugs under the rim and corresponding holes pierced in the shoulder, 1 shouldered vessel with a low cylindrical neck and rounded shoulder, and finally a single unornamented lid (Fig. 17), which moreover fitted exactly the funnel-necked beaker besides which it was found.

All the vessels are richly ornamented, and as the objects must moreover be regarded as a compound discovery the assembly will be of the highest importance for assessing the complicated chronological problems of the Middle Neolithic. The material has not yet been thoroughly worked out, and all that can be stated at the moment is that a superficial survey would date the pottery to an early phase of the Passage Grave Period, probably transitional between I and II (Troldebjerg-Blandebjerg).

As has been suggested, the inventary of the building gives a hint as to its function. The pottery types do not belong to those normally met with in the settlements, but are rather reminiscent of the combinations found in association with the megalith graves, often as votive deposits by the passage graves.

Just as the inventary differs from that of the normal dwelling-houses of the period, so also does the construction. Admittedly the horseshoe-shaped ground plan is usual for the "single­family" houses, but neither palisade nor orthostat walls are known, nor are stone walls defined by edge stones. Palisade walls are found in continental Stone-Age houses, but the other details of the construction make the architecture more reminiscent of grave construction than of dwelling houses.

Thus the situation of the house, its construction, its fitments and its contents all suggest that its function cannot have been of a secular character. The possibility that the building has been used as a "mortuary-house" or ossuary must, on consideration, be rejected. On the other hand the suggestion is put forward that it did service in the death and burial cult as a place of offering, in other words as a regular temple. Within the area of the Funnel-necked Beaker Culture no parallel is known, either in respect of construction or of religious function or content. In the spiritually related western megalithic area, on the other hand, the building of temples is not unknown (Stanydale in the Shetlands and the temples in the western Mediterranean area), and it is therefore assumed that this type of site is associated with the whole complex of cult monuments which typifies the megalithic area. The basis for this hypothesis is admittedly weak, and a verification would require investigations to be carried out both on the megalith cemeteries of south Scandinavia and in western Europe.

In interpretation of the site it has hitherto been taken for granted that the whole area forms a single unity, as its plan would suggest. Investigations of the northwesterly dolmen (Fig. l, II and Fig. 19) and the passage grave (Fig. 1, III and Fig. 20) have confirmed the correctness of this assumption.

The northwesterly dolmen is a free-standing chamber, which has apparently stood open ever since the Stone Age; no objects were therefore discovered in the actual chamber. But around it there was a circular stone paving, and under this, but above the waste dug up from the hole in which the side stones of the dolmen were set, lay a quantity of pottery. Among this were pedestal bowls which must be dated to the same period as the pottery from the cult building.

In front of the passage of the dolmen there were in addition found two pits, both filled with charcoal. One was circular, with a diameter of 0.75 metres and a maximum depth of 0.4 m. At its surface a few burnt bones were found, but otherwise the pit contained nothing but earth mixed with charcoal and fire-scorched stones. The second pit was oval, 2.6 metres long, 1.5 m. wide and 0.6 m. deep. Like the first pit this one was full of stones and sand mixed with charcoal, but here the charcoal was especially concentrated along the sides of the pit (Fig. 21), while in the pit bottom were found connected pieces of charcoal, in which at the base of the pit the grain ran in the direction of the longer axis of the pit, while at the ends it ran at right angles to it. Above the charcoal in the bottom a few burnt bones were found. The shape of the pit, with "steps" half way down, was strongly reminiscent of the hole dug to receive a coffin, and it is probable that the charcoal is the remains of a burnt coffin. The pits cannot be dated archeologically, but a C--14 analysis will be able to determine their relationship to the dolmen.

The passage-grave which was investigated is one of the largest in East Jutland, the chamber being 10 metres in length and the tumulus 24 metres in diameter. Its investigation proved a disappointment, however, as both the chamber and the passage were completely empty of artefacts. However, sherds of a large number of pottery vessels were found in front of the passage-entrance, where they had apparently been deposited as offerings. The sherds included, in addition to funnel-necked beakers, pedestal bowls and ladles and shouldered vessels, the shape and ornamentation of which dated them to the same period as the house.

Mention should be made, among the details of construction of the passage grave, of the fact that the tumulus was constructed in two stages (Fig. 22). The first mound reaches the level of the top of the orthostats of the chamber, and it is assumed that the surface of this tumulus acted as a ramp up which the cap-stones could be transported (Fig. 23).

The third megalith grave (Fig. 1, IV) and the area around and between the graves has not yet been investigated, and it is therefore possible for the site to produce still further surprises. The attempt at interpretation which is here set forward must accordingly not be regarded as final. Many changes may yet be made in the overall picture.

Poul Kjærum





Kjærum, P. (1955). Tempelhus fra stenalder. Kuml, 5(5), 7–35. Hentet fra https://tidsskrift.dk/kuml/article/view/97191