Monday, September 14, 2009

The Tustrup Dolmens , Djursland

Dolmens from Stone Age

At one of the grave chambers

Bondestenalderen in Denmark began 4.000 år B.C. and lasted until 1700 B.C. The period got its name because the Danish population began to cultivate the land and keep live stock. They had the inspiration from the south, where people had been peasants for a long time.
Bondestenalder = Peasant Stone Age

For the people from Bondestenalderen were the dead not separated from the living. The ancestors lived among their descendants in large stone built houses, built as a symbol of the eternal presence of the ancestors and the family's right to the land. Inside the dark grave chamber lay the skulls of the dead and other bones, an object of the worship from the living.

Their ceremonies ar not known, but there were probably some burial ceremonies, like grief rituals, moans and sacrificial ceremonies, where they perhaps prepared the transfer of the dead to the grave chamber. And this might have happened in special cult houses or at a large central place, maybe in both places. The uniform building of the cult houses indicates that they were used in ceremonies widespread among people of Bondestenalderen.

A small grave chamber

Reconstructed cult house (Dødehus) Moesgård Strand
photo 2003: gb

The Tustrup dolmens consists of four contemporary plans from ab. 3.330 B.C. ; two polygonic dolmen chambers, a passage grave and a cult house. The culthouse was the most sensational part of the excavation in 1954. It is placed in the centre of the area in proportion to the three large stone graves. Its outer wall is preserved; it is a horseshoe-shaped stone circle of ab. 1 m high stones with a 1 m thick face wall in field stones. From the inner wall were found traces of charred oak planks. The opening of the building turns away from the stone graves, facing northeast and the rising sun. A stone block in the middle of the opening might have had a cultic function, but it might also just have been supporting the turfed roof. In the middle of the building was a sand filled hollow, around it were the rests of not less than 28 beautifully decorated sacrificial vessels, 10 vessels with a high foot and each with a clay spoon. (exhibition Moesgård Museum).

Tustrup cult house is reconstructed by the archaeologists at Moesgård Museum and placed upon a field close to the beach and the outflow of Giberåen. (river). The Tustrup-house is the only reconstructed cult house, but there have been found traces of about ten cult houses in Jutland. Some of them were burnt down like the Tustrup-house, probably as a part of the cult service.

The passage grave

Tustrup passage grave is the largest among the small east Jutland passage graves. The well-preserved chamber is 10 m long, and behind the chamber is a small side chamber, which else is mostly known from the Limfjord-area. In the passage grave were found some bones and an amber pearl, and outside the entrance were several clay vessels, similar to the vessels in the cult house and at the entrance of the other two dolmens.

The cult house , horseshoe shaped.

Some of the cult houses were placed close to the stone graves. They were small, but solid houses.
The foundations were horseshoe-shaped or square, and the gable of the house was open, eventually with a front room. The area was often 5 x 6 m. Sometimes the building was built in the same technique like the stone graves. The Tustrup house was built like this with walls in large stones, outside packed with flat stone tiles. They formed a facade of meter high flat blocks. The walls inside were built in down-digged planks, while the roof was supported by heavy, vertical posts in the middle of the house.

Entrance to the cult house

An important part of the sacrificial ceremonies might have been the use of the pretty large vessels with matching spoons. The ceremonial clay vessels are some of the finest ceramics known from the period. It also seems to be a part of the rituals that the houses after a period of use were burnt down, and the vessels weres crushed by the falling roof. After the destruction the houses were just left to be.

Entrance to the passage grave.

It might be that the cult houses were just a temporary whereabout for the dead, who later on was put to rest in the grave chamber. And maybe people of the settlement prepared for the final burial ceremony, which went on at the passage grave.

Ingrid Falktoft Andersen: Vejviser til Danmarks Oldtid, Wormianum 1994.
Jørgen Jensen : I Begyndelsen, Gyldendal og Politikens Danmarkshistorie, 1992

photo Tustrup/Moesgård 2003/2009: grethe bachmann

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