The Voice of Tradition. A Cemetery from the Roman Period at Wyszomierz Wielki, Zambrów County
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Państwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne w Warszawie, ul. Długa 52 «Arsenał», PL 00-241 Warszawa
Submission date: 2020-07-23
Final revision date: 2020-10-12
Acceptance date: 2020-10-16
Publication date: 2020-12-31
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2020;LXXI(71):319–353
The site at Wyszomierz Wielki, Zambrów County, is located on the border of the Northern Mazovian Lowland and North Podlasie Lowland in NE Poland. A cemetery from the Roman Period was situated at the edge of a vast wet meadow north-west of the village and south of a kame-moraine forming the characteristic landscape of this area – a cluster of longitudinal elevations called Czerwony Bór (Fig. 1). Rescue excavations at the site took place in 2015 during works preceding the expansion of the European route E67, the so-called Via Baltica (Fig. 2). The cemetery is interesting and unusual in many ways. It was located not on the top of the local elevation, which is common for Mazovian cemeteries from that period, but on a slope of a smaller nearby hill (Fig. 1, 3). It is also surprisingly small – 12 cremation graves, located on the NE-SW line, with a length of about 30 m, were discovered there. Some of the graves seem to be paired (features 138 and 139, 109A and 109B, 236 and 108, and 110 and 111) (Fig. 21:A). Eleven graves, including those with Almgren 41 type brooches (Fig. 4:1, 9:5.6, 10:5.6, 11:3.4, 13:1–4), one-layer combs of the Thomas AI type and antler pins (Fig. 4:3, 9:2, 10:1.9, 11:5), should be dated to phase B2/C1–C1a, i.e. the oldest horizon of the Wielbark Culture in Mazovia and Podlachia. The lack of inhumation burials is also characteristic of this initial phase, which corresponds to the historical migration of the Gothic tribes. The grave goods and results of anthropological bone analysis allow us to conclude that a man (feature 139) and women (features 109A, 111, 227 and 228, possibly also features 108 and 235) were probably buried there; feature 235 also contained the bones of a newborn, which may suggest the burial of a woman who died in childbirth. A several-year-old child was buried separately, in feature 229. The sex of the deceased from three graves (features 138, 109B and 236) cannot be determined (Fig. 21:B). The most interesting feature is the richly furnished grave of a warrior, who died at the age of about 40 (feature 110) (Fig. 5–8). Iron shield fittings, including a ritually destroyed boss with a blunt spike of type Jahn 7a and an iron grip with simple, undefined plates of type Jahn 9/Zieling V2 from the 5th and 6th group of armaments according to K. Godłowski and dated to phase B2/C1–C1a, were found in the grave. The most interesting elements of weaponry, with Scandinavian references, are a spearhead with the blade constricted in the middle, corresponding to spearheads of type 6 from a bog deposit from Illerup, Jutland, and a bent javelin head with large, asymmetrical barbs, whose curved ends point towards the socket, corresponding to type 8 of spearheads from Illerup, i.e. of the Scandinavian Simris type. In the areas north of the Baltic Sea, both of these types are dated to phase C1. Fragments of two rings made of deer antlers and delicate trough-shaped fittings made of copper alloy, probably from the edge of a decorative waist belt, are the only decorations and dress accessories found in the grave (Fig. 7:15–18). Two glass counters (Fig. 7:13.14, 15:8.9), and possibly traces of the third one (Fig. 7:10) are probably all that remains of a larger set, while a few iron fittings are most likely parts of a wooden folding game board. The ring and handle were probably used to open and close the board, while two corner fittings must have strengthened its edges (Fig. 7:7.10–12, 15:5). Similar objects, in addition to a full (?) set of counters, were found in the late Roman grave 41 from Simris in Scania, where a warrior was also buried (Fig. 16:1.2)62. Although no board hinges, as the ones known from the ‘Doctor’s grave’ from Stanway, SE England (Fig. 16:4–8), dating to the middle of the 1st century CE64, dating to the middle of the 1st century CE, were found in the grave from Wyszomierz Wielki, it seems that the two ornamental iron fittings attached with three rivets each could have fastened a leather belt that acted as such a hinge (Fig. 7:8.9, 15:4). This is supported by the shape and width of the fittings, and by the number of rivets, suggesting that they pressed against some not preserved element. Carefully bent nails of the handle, corner fittings and alleged hinges may indicate that the board formed a kind of a ‘container’ for counters when folded (Fig. 17). Fragments of an imported vessel of the terra sigillata type were also found in the grave (Fig. 8:19,15:6.7). The vessel that served as a cinerary urn (Fig. 8:20, 13:5) was wheel-made, i.e. made using a technique that was only just beginning to come into use in the lands north of the Carpathians in phase B2/C1–C1a93.95.96. The burial from feature 110 shows features characteristic of the Przeworsk Culture – primarily, the set of ritually destroyed weapons, although it should be noted that both spearheads are not typical of this culture 72.73.80. In phase B2/C1-C1a, only relicts of the settlement of the Przeworsk Culture, identified with the ‘Vandal’ peoples, were present in right-bank Mazovia, and the population of this culture had been replaced by the people of the Wielbark Culture, identified with the ‘Gothic’ tribes. It is then possible – as the other graves from this cemetery, undoubtedly attributed to the Wielbark Culture, seem to indicate – that it is a rare case of a burial with a weapon of a ‘Gothic’ warrior of this particular culture. Although Wielbark weaponry is very poorly known, it has Scandinavian references in the Late Roman Period123. The man buried in this grave, most likely a member of the local elite, must have been affiliated with an older cultural tradition. What is more, this tradition still had to be legible and acceptable for the people organising funerary rituals. Grave 110 from Wyszomierz Wielki is another of the burials from the end of the Early Roman/beginning of the Late Roman Period, combining features of the Przeworsk and Wielbark Cultures, that are being discovered more and more often in eastern Mazovia and Podlachia128–130 and constitute an important contribution to the study of the processes of cultural (and political) change that took place in Barbaricum during this turbulent period.