Original paper

Social Structures and Social Relations ± An Archaeological and Anthropological Examination of three Early Medieval Separate Burial Sites in Bavaria

Czermak, Andrea;Ledderose, Anja;Strott, Nadja Meier, Thomas;Grupe, Gisela

Abstract

As part of an interdisciplinary cooperation, three early medieval separated burial sites from central Bavaria were subjected to archaeological and anthropological examinations. Separated burial sites are probably an expression of social stratification. This paper focuses on two characteristic aspects of these separated burial sites: 1. structure of the site, and 2. biological manifestation of a social upper class. The separated burial grounds Etting/Sandfeld (31 individuals), Großmehring (44 individuals) and Kelheim (43 individuals), all located in southern Bavaria, were analyzed. Sex and age at death of all individuals were determined, and dietary behaviour was reconstructed by means of carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in bone collagen. Local conditions such as climate, soil conditions or the intensity of agriculture can provoke significant variations in plant d15N-values, which could lead to a shift of the baseline values of the corresponding trophic web. To facilitate the comparison of isotopic data from different sites,d15N-values of cattle bones were taken as a reference for the human data (presuming the diet to consumer chain). The results of dietary reconstruction indicate that the populations enjoyed very good living conditions with a primarily animal protein-based diet. Furthermore, the isotope analysis revealed more detailed indications for certain individuals regarding their social status. Some individuals can even be appointed as possible chiefs of the population, since anthropological and archaeological interpretations were in total agreement: It was possible to identify persons of a higher social status based on the structure of the burial site, grave goods and the isotopic analysis.

Keywords

Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopesseparated burial sitessocial statusearly medieval