The Cemetery of East Lithuanian Barrow Culture from the Migration Period at Vilkiautinis, in Lithuania, in Light of Excavation in 1913
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Instytut Archeologii, Uniwersytet Jagielloński
Publication date: 2020-01-28
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2019;LXX(70):133–172
The cemetery at Vilkiautinis, raj. Varėna (fmr. Wysokie, pow. sejneński) lies to the east of the village on a hilly area surrounding Lake Bedugnis, in south-eastern Lithuania (Fig. 1, 2). The accidental discovery of a fragment of a bronze ornament was given to archaeologists in Warsaw in the spring of 1913. The same year, archaeological works were undertaken by Stefan Krukowski. Excavations lasted from 17 May to 5 June 1913. During the fieldworks, Krukowski prepared the documentation of the cemetery, including a general plan of the site and drawings of individual barrows (Fig. 2, Pl. I–IX). His journal has not been preserved, but Krukowski soon managed to publish his research in the journal “Światowit” in the form of a short report (S. Krukowski 1913). The results of this research, never published in full, are presented in this paper. At the beginning of the 20th century, the cemetery was still preserved in relatively good condition. Only some of the barrows bore traces of violation in the form of collapsed tops, which might have been the result of a secondary dig of a plundering character. The cemetery might have had a size of 100 hectares. According to Krukowski, there were about 100 barrows in the exploration zone. Two additional clusters of fewer and more dispersed mounds were located south of the mentioned area. Krukowski examined and documented 21 mounds (I–XXI; Pl. I–IX); Barrow XXII was the one that was discovered accidentally (Fig. 11). According to the researcher, the cemetery contained mainly burial mounds constructed with earth and stones. Their height ranged from a few centimetres to 1.5 metres. The diameter of their bases varied from less than one (1) to eight (8) metres. Mounds constructed in this way were also found in other nearby cemeteries in the area of Užnemunė (Polish: Litwa Zaniemeńska). As a result, 18 graves and 65 archaeological finds were discovered. In 11 graves, a grave inventory was found (III.1, IV.1, VIII.1, XI.1, XV.2, XVI.1, XVIII.1, XVIII.2, XIX.1, XX.1, XXII.1; Pl. I–IX). Finds from Vilkiautinis were taken to the Archaeological Museum of Erazm Majewski (Muzeum Erazma Majewskiego – Polish abbreviation ‘MEM’). Those artefacts that survived World War II (41 items) are now kept in the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw (Państwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne), inv. no. PMA IV/168. The archive of the State Archaeological Museum also holds the correspondence of Krukowski and Majewski from the excavation period, as well as the MEM card file catalogue which contains a full list of finds excavated in Vilkiautinis in 1913 (MEM inv. nos. 22037–22100 and 22372). The analysis of archaeological material recovered at Vilkiautinis indicates that the cemetery was in use during the late phase I (2nd/3rd – half of the 5th century) and phase II (half of 5th – 6th/7th century) of East Lithuanian Barrow Culture, which functioned in present-day eastern and south-eastern Lithuania from the 2nd/3rd century until the middle of the 12th century (A. Tautavičius 1996, 98; A. Luchtanas 2001, 27; V. Vaitkevičius 2005, 71, 75). Part of the cemetery excavated by Krukowski can be dated mostly to phases D and E, and more or less coincides with the results of further research conducted in Vilkiautinis (P. Kulikauskas 1974, 46–52; 1975, 107–110; 1977, 83–104; Z. Baubonis, B. Dakanis 1998, 135–138; 2000a, 156–159; 2000b, 159–163). This fact is supported by the presence of diagnostically sensitive ornaments, e.g. brooches (type Dollkeim/Kovrovo – phase D – Fig. 6:4; variant of the Prag type – phases D3–E1 – Fig. 6:2; brooch with a triangular foot – phase D – Pl. IV/IV.1:3; Schlusskreuzfibel type – phases E1–E2a – Pl. II/III.1:2; V/XIX.1:1, Fig. 3, 8:1), and buckles (type AH16 – phases D–E – Pl. II/III.1:3; Kreuzdornschnalle type – D–E2 phases – Pl. V/XIX:1:2, Fig. 8:2; Schilddornschnalle type – D–E phases – Pl. IV/IV.1:5, type AH15 – phases D–E – Pl. IV/IV.1:7, Fig. 4:2; B-shaped/Nierenschnalle type – phase D – Pl. IV/IV.1:6, VI/XVIII.2:1, VII/XV.2:3, Fig. 4:3, 6:2). To the same period can also be dated an element of war gear in the form of one shield-boss type of conical umbo with a wide brim furnished with a pearl-like ornament made of small protuberances along the edges (phases D–E1; Pl. VIII/XV.2:2, Fig. 6:1). A relatively unique find in Vilkiautinis was the remains of a drinking horn (D.5 type – Pl. IX/XX.1:6.7.9, Fig. 9:2.3), which is dated to the 4th – 6th century. Although only a small part of the cemetery has been examined, it still can be supposed that its southern part only contains barrows with cremation graves, while the northern area of the cemetery is where inhumation graves were located. Inhumation graves were also the oldest group of barrows (XVIII.1.2, XX.1, XXI.1) (A. Tautavičius 1996, 98; A. Luchtanas 2001, 27; V. Vaitkevičius 2005, 71, 75). The inventory features (XVIII.1.2, XX.1) can be dated to the end of phase I of the East Lithuanian Barrow Culture. All the graves are in very poor condition. Most of the bone material was not collected. In accordance with customs prevailing in that time in eastern Lithuania, human burials were oriented on a NS or NW-SE axis with the head pointed towards N or NW (see M. Michelbertas 1986, 70; L. Vaitkunskienė 1995a, 95–97, fig. A.1; A. Tautavičius 1996, 98). 14 cremation graves, which appeared from the 5th century in eastern and southern Lithuania, were found in Vilkiautinis inside 13 barrows (I, II, III, IV, V, VIII, XI, XII, XIII, XV – two graves, XVI, XIX, XXII; Pl. I–IX). The chronology could only be determined for five of them (III, IV, VIII, XV.2, XIX). The oldest one in this group can be dated to phase D/E1 (VIII). The next four graves (III, IV, XV.2, XIX) are from phase E. The absence of furnishings or the sole presence of non-characteristic forms prevented the precise dating of graves in other barrows (I, II, V, XI, XII, XIII, XV.1, XVI, XXI, XXII). We can only assume, according to their construction and funeral rites, that they were formed from the mid-5th until the 7th century. It is supposed that barrows which did not contain any graves or furnishings (VI, VII, IX, X, XIV, XVII) might possibly have performed the function of cenotaphs (J. Jaskanis 1974, 124–126; L. Kurila 2007, 292). It is worth noting that some of the furnishings from Vilkiautinis cemetery were ritually destroyed and burned (III, IV, VIII, XV. 2, XXII). This practice was also present in other surrounding cemeteries representing the discussed culture (G. Iwanowska 2006, 49; V. Vaitkevičius 2005, 76–78). In most examined barrows, traces of other rituals related to the fire were also discovered (with the exception of VI, XX, XXI, XXII). These so-called layers of coal and ash are interpreted as remnants of funeral rituals that were performed before the founding of the later burial mound (M. Michelbertas 1986, 69–70). The custom of placing pottery in the graves was not typical of the population of the East Lithuanian barrows (P. Kulikauskas 1977, 99). Similarly, in Vilkiautinis cemetery, no traces of ceramic material were found, either in the form of cremation urns or as an element of grave equipment. Urns made of organic material were used instead (G. Iwanowska 2006, 50). Part of the discovered inventory may be evidence of multilateral cultural contacts experienced by the population using the cemetery in Vilkiautinis. Interregional finds such as buckles of the AH16 type (Pl. II/III.1:3), ornamentated kidney-shaped buckles of group VIII according to I.A.Bažan and  S.Û. Kargapol'cev  (Pl. IV/IV.1:6, VII/XV.2:3, VI/ XVIII.2:1, Fig. 4:3, 6:2), as well as bracelets with thickened terminals (Pl. III/IV.1:12, VI/XVIII.2:2), can be understood as the result of contact within the area of Barbaricum. In turn, a buckles of Germanic provenance (Pl. IV/IV.1:5.7, Fig. 4:2) and the Prag type brooch (VIII.1:4, Fig. 5:2) testify to possible cultural contacts between this population and the Carpathian Basin. The closest analogies to the discussed oval buckle occur in the territory of the Carpathian Basin in the areas of the Middle Danube basin and the Tisza River (see D. Csallány 1961, 276, fig. CCI:2.14, CLIX:; A. Kiss 1996, 203–204). Similar are also known from other archaeological sites in Lithuania, e.g. Sudota (M. Kaczyński 1963, 141, fig. 5:i), Taurapilis (A. Tautavičius 1981, fig. 30, 40), and Plinkaigalis (V. Kazakevičius 1993, 73, fig. 125:11.12, 193:9, 207:8). On the other hand, some types of spearheads discovered in Vilkiautinis (Pl. II/III.1:1, III/IV.1:2, IV/IV.1:1, VII/XV.2:1) may reflect contacts between the Balt population and Scandinavia. Spearheads type Kazakevičius I.B, IG, ID, and V were found in a bog find from Balsmyr, Bornholm (B. Kontny 2017, 40–43). The cultural links between the Balts and Scandinavia can also be confirmed by the uncommon discovery of a drinking horn (Pl. IX/XX.1:6.7.9, Fig. 9:2.3). Use of mounted drinking horns in Lithuania indicates connections between the Balts societies and Gotland (J. Andrzejowski 1991, 33–34). The cemetery at Vilkiautinis lies close to other similar barrow cemeteries discovered in southern and eastern Lithuania, north-western Belarus and the Suwałki region in north-eastern Poland. The lack of ceramic urns in the graves, the presence of weaponry elements in the grave equipment, as well as the general composition of the grave inventories at the cemetery in Vilkiautinis most closely resemble other grave fields of eastern Lithuania. The cemetery was founded by the western frontiers of the East Lithuanian Barrow Culture, which was undoubtedly in contact with neighbouring Balt regions to the west.