Thursday, January 17, 2013

Grave of a female in Bad Dürrenberg, district of Merseburg-Querfurt (Sachsen-Anhalt)

With the gradual climate melioration after the end of the last ice age, living conditions for humans changed fundamentally. Due to the expanding forests in Central Europe, animals that once dominated the tundra, for example, mammoths and reindeer, lost their natural habitats. 

The time of large herds of horses and reindeer were bygone. Hence, hunters and gatherers were compelled to change their subsistence strategies. Other animals, like the red deer and wild pig, appeared in the landscape, and fishing began to play an ever greater role.

It is this phase of the Mesolithic period (Middle Stone Age), presumably the first half of the 7th millennium BC, during which an extraordinary burial, interpreted as that of a female shaman, was placed in the earth. The deceased young woman was interred in a 30-cm thick layer of red hematite, a mineral colourant, together with an at most twelve month-old child. Gifts for the deceased had been placed in the grave, among which were several flint blades, two bone needles, an antler hoe, a polished stone celt and several decorative plaques from boar tusk. In addition, there were two bones of a crane, one bone of a beaver and of red deer, 16 red deer incisors, two matching skull fragments with antlers of a roe deer, shell fragments of at least three swamp turtles and 120 fragments of freshwater mussels. A container made from a crane’s bone held 31 tiny flint blades. The reconstruction of the shaman’s dress as shown here is based upon the position of the finds in the grave.

The abundant as well as extraordinary grave goods led to their association with a shaman’s burial soon after the grave’s discovery. Renewed examination of the skeleton a few years ago revealed a deformity in the first neck vertebra of the female, which could have caused lameness and difficulties in movement. Therefore, it can be presumed that it was an alleviation for the woman to be in trance.

Techniques in ecstasis are the prerequisite for a shaman’s journey into the supernatural, through which they can enter the world of spirits. 

From "Archaeological Finds from Germany" Selected and annotated by Svend Hansen (Booklet to the Photographic Exhibition) pp20-21

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