Brides for the afterlife? Some considerations on female burials from West Lithuania in the third century AD
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Department of Archaeology, Lithuanian Institute of History/Lietuvos istorijos institutas, Lithuania
Submission date: 2022-02-22
Final revision date: 2022-03-18
Acceptance date: 2022-07-21
Online publication date: 2022-10-03
Publication date: 2022-12-31
Corresponding author
Rasa Banytė-Rowell   

Department of Archaeology, Lithuanian Institute of History/Lietuvos istorijos institutas, Tilto g. 17, 11351, Vilnius, Lithuania
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2022;LXXIII(73):109-130

The article is devoted to the female costume of graves in West Lithuania (area of cemeteries with stone-enclosures, the northern part of so called Memelkultur acc. C. Engel), which belongs to the third cent. AD (interregional phases C1b-C2, ca 220-300AD)(Fig. 1). Particular attention is drawn to two burials from Šernai (DE – Schernen) cemetery in Klaipėda rajonas which was excavated by A. Bezzenberger in 1891 (published by him in 1892). The skeletal remains of Šernai graves 10 and 22 were described by Bezzenberger as belonging to individuals of child age which may be connected with category of infans II (7-14,9 years) (see footnote 90). These two burials are widely known foremost because of the splendid headdress decorated with tiny bronze details – studs with two legs (Group III D of Bronzebuckelchen acc. Blumbergs 1982) and bronze flat spirals-pendants (Fig. 2). Both Šernai graves contained a rich set of ornaments – neckrings, crossbow brooches, rosette tutulus pins or tutulus brooch, strings of beads with iron bell-shaped pendants, spiral bracelets of Klaipėda type acc. Michelbertas and sash-like bracelets, finger rings (Figs 3-7). The similar female burials were unearthed in the neighbourhood to Šernai Cemetery on the same left bank of Minija river, some four kilometres to the North-East – in Baitai Cemetery (now Baičiai, Klaipėda rajonas, DE – Baiten). The part of a female‘s outfit from Baitai Grave 18 also was a headdress (headband or front part of the hood) decorated with the same type elements like in Šernai graves 10 and 22 (Fig. 8). The set of jewellry was similar despite being less numerous: a silver neckring, a pair of rosette tutulus pins linked with a chain, glass and amber beads, spiral bracelet of Klaipėda type, bronze finger rings (Figs 9-12). The remains of teeth belonging to the deceased from Baitai Grave 18 were examined by Associate Professor Ž. Miliauskienė and it was concluded that they belong to an individual of adolescent age between 15 and 19 years of category juvenis (15-19,9 years). The female from Baitai Grave 8 contained no remains of splendid headdress but she was provided with a set of ornaments similar to the burials discussed above: two rosette tutulus pins linked with string of glass and amber beads and iron bell-shaped pendants, two bronze bracelets with slightly thickened terminals, three bronze finger rings (one with blue glass inlay) (Fig. 13). The anthropological investigation of finger bones preserved in Baitai Grave 8 allowed us to conclude that the burial belonged to a child under the age of 16 (this investigation was performed by Dr J. Kozakaitė). The deceased belongs to the age category of infans II (7-14,9 years) or to the transitional age towards category of juvenis (15-19,9 years).

It seems that a headdress with bronze decoration, tutulus-shaped ornaments, strings of beads and iron bell-shaped pendants, spiral bracelets of Klaipėda type and sash-like bracelets with a concave cross-section were elements of a ‘uniform’ for the burials of girls and young females. The grave-set from Lazdininkai Grave 23 (1996) has such components and according to anthropological investigations this burial belonged to to an adultus individual of 20-30 years. Another female burial from Lazdininkai Grave 63 (2000) contained the remains of a headdress decorated with bronze details. The deceased belonged to the category of age juvenis/adultus (age of 15-25 years) (Bliujienė, Bračiulienė 2018, Table 25). It is noticeable that the remains of a headdress or other dress decorated with bronze details of Group III D of Bronzebuckelchen acc. Blumbergs and flat spiral pendants were also found in other burials in Šernai (graves 54, 67) and Baitai (graves 2, 24) cemeteries. Šernai Grave 54 was attributed to a ‘grown up child’ and recent anthropological investigations of teeth from Baitai Grave 2 proved that they belonged to the individual of age ca 18-25 years old. Thus, it seems that age of females provided with headdress vary between category of infans II and early adultus.

All the burials discussed here were richly equipped with jewellery. Nevertheless, they were not exeptional in the context of the mid-third century – second half of third century in West Lithuania. Similar headdresses occured in other cemeteries of Memelkultur (such like Kurmaičiai, Dauglaukis, Tilsit). Tutulus pins also occured almost in every cemetery containing burials of this chronological period. The same may be stated on the occurrence of strings with iron-bell shaped pendants. Thus such richness may be caused not only by higher status of families of deceased. It is argued in the article that this may have been caused by the status of females based on their young age. The elements of outfit discussed in the article should be associated with ceremonial dress which could be used during wedding ceremonies. The preparation of young female deceased as a bride might be caused by the need to ensure her special status for the entering the Other World. The wedding motif is also represented in the male graves of that period containing containers/boxes with female types of jewellry. These grave-goods were interpreted by C. Reich (2013) as ‘gifts for brides‘ in the Afterlife. The set of jewellery and ceremonial costume prepared for the wedding rites were closely personally tied to the particular girl and in the case of premature death these items could not be inherited by other family members. The burial of a girl or young female with an outfit such as those discussed here was a custom related to giving back her property for the Afterlife that could not be used during her lifetime. Such rites ensured that the girl would be initiated into the status of married woman to ensure her position among her ancestors in the Other World. The elements of burials customs and wedding ceremonies have many common features in various cultures and a motif of farewell and parting with the beloved one is strongly intertwinned in them. Such archaic traditions are not specifically related to ethnic inheritance but most probably represent archetypes of human thinking.
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