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NEW ASPECTS OF THE MESOLITHIC‐NEOLITHIC CEMETERIES AND SETTLEMENT AT ZVEJNIEKI, NORTHERN LATVIA

Authors:
  • Institut of Latvian history, Latvian University
  • Institute of Latvian history at the University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia
Article

NEW ASPECTS OF THE MESOLITHIC‐NEOLITHIC CEMETERIES AND SETTLEMENT AT ZVEJNIEKI, NORTHERN LATVIA

Abstract and Figures

The paper reflects upon recent international research at Zvejnieki in northern Latvia, a renowned complex of a burial ground and two settlement sites used in the Mesolithic and Neolithic. Since its discovery and first excavations in the 1960s, Zvejnieki continues to produce evidence that provides new grounds for understanding mortuary practises and ancient lifeways. This information is relevant for other contemporary sites in Europe revealing new and hitherto unexpected elements of burial traditions. It is suggested that the Zvejnieki population was partly mobile, and the site was one of the places to bury the dead. The ancestral link was established through transportation and use of occupational debris from more ancient sites and through the incorporation of earlier burial space or even burials into the new graves. The depth of a burial also appears to be a significant variable in ancient mortuary practices.
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ABSTRACT
The paper refl ects upon recent international research at
Zvejnieki in northern Latvia, a renowned complex of a
burial ground and two settlement sites used in the Meso-
lithic and Neolithic. Since its discovery and rst exca-
vations in the 1960s, Zvejnieki continues to produce
evidence that provides new grounds for understanding
mortuary practises and ancient lifeways. This informa-
tion is relevant for other contemporary sites in Europe
revealing new and hitherto unexpected elements of burial
traditions.
It is suggested that the Zvejnieki population was part-
ly mobile, and the site was one of the places to bury the
dead. The ancestral link was established through trans-
portation and use of occupational debris from more an-
cient sites and through the incorporation of earlier burial
space or even burials into the new graves. The depth of a
burial also appears to be a signifi cant variable in ancient
mortuary practices.
INTRODUCTION
The Zvejnieki archaeological complex consists of a bur-
ial ground used over a period of fi ve millennia (approxi-
mately 7500–2600 cal BC) and two settlement sites partly
contemporaneous with it. It is located on a gravel ridge
of glacial origin, which was formerly an island close to
the shore of the palaeolake Burtnieks, in northern Latvia
(Fig. 1). In prehistoric times, during the Late Glacial and
Early Post-Glacial, Lake Burtnieks was much larger than
today. With its sinuous shoreline, many shallow bays,
peninsulas, islands and river deltas, it provided a very
suitable area for Stone Age habitation (Eberhards 2006).
The burial ground was established on the highest part of
the gravel ridge, classed as a drumlinoid, while the settle-
ment sites were located on the northern slope (Zvejnieki
II) and at the south-eastern end (Zvejnieki I) of this land-
form, close to the shore (Fig. 2 & 3).
A BRIEF HISTORY OF LONG-
CONTINUED RESEARCH
The Lake Burtnieks basin in northern Latvia is the area
where Stone Age research began in Latvia. In the mid-19th
century, the settlement sites Riņņukalns and Kaulēnkalns
were discovered at the outlet from the lake of the River
Salaca; and the Zvejnieki site was discovered on the
northern shore of the lake, where the River Rūja enters
the lake. Throughout the second half of the 19th century,
potsherds, int artefacts and stone chisels continued
to be found at Zvejnieki (by Carl Georg Sievers, Carl
Grewingk and Rudolf Virchow). An overview of these
nds was provided by M. Ebert in his general work Die
Baltischen Provinzen Kurland, Livland und Estland
(Ebert 1913). The Latvian archaeologist Eduards Šturms
also considered the settlement sites at Lake Burtnieks
(1927). He described Zvejnieki as a typical settlement
of Combed Ware people but expressed a view that the
material from the Zvejnieki site might characterize
several episodes of habitation during the Stone Age.
Later, Šturms incorporated the Zvejnieki material into his
monograph on the Stone Age of the Baltic (Šturms 1970).
In the 1960s, Francis Zagorskis directed a large scale
excavation at Zvejnieki in response to the inadvertent
discovery of ochre-stained human bones during gravel
extraction at the site. The burial ground was excavated
from 1964 to 1971, with minor interruptions. The Neo-
lithic settlement (Zvejnieki I) was excavated from 1964
to 1966; and in the 1970s, excavation was undertaken in
NEW ASPECTS OF THE MESOLITHIC-NEOLITHIC
CEMETERIES AND SETTLEMENT AT ZVEJNIEKI,
NORTHERN LATVIA
L L, L N S, I Z, V B, A C
58
Fig. 1. Latvia with the location of Zvejnieki.
Fig. 2. Location plan showing the Zvejnieki archaeological complex
and the Košķele sites in relation to the palaeolake Burtnieks.
Drawing: V. Bērziņš.
the Mesolithic (Zvejnieki II) settlement (Zagorskis 1987;
2004; Zagorska 1992). The extraordinarily rich material
has since been investigated by a wide range of specialists
from Latvia and other countries, and radiocarbon dating
has been performed to secure the chronology of the site
(Larsson & Zagorska 2006).
RESENT RESEARCH
The research devoted to the site permitted many impor-
tant insights regarding the long-lasting traditions of the
hunter-fi sher-gatherer way of life, the mortuary practices,
and the environmental perception of the ancient inhabit-
ants and their spiritual world. While this research signifi -
cantly contributed to our understanding of the Mesolithic,
several questions remained unanswered, in particular re-
garding the chronology of the burials, the temporal rela-
tionships between the two settlements and the cemetery,
and various unusual burial practices and the origin of the
inhabitants.
To answer these questions excavations were under-
taken at the Zvejnieki complex from 2005 to 2009. The
project was led by Lars Larsson (Lund University), Ilga
Zagorska and Valdis Bērziņš (Institute of Latvian His-
tory, University of Latvia), and included archaeologists
and students from the Baltic states, the Nordic countries,
Russia and Germany. This recent excavation focused on
the Middle Neolithic part of the cemetery. In addition to
this, a new area of the Mesolithic occupation site was dis-
Acta Archaeologica
59
Zvejnieki I settlement
Zvejnieki II settlement
Zvejnieki burial ground
Zvejnieki burial ground
new excavations
buildings
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
covered, and more evidence was obtained regarding Neo-
lithic habitation on the bank of the River Rūja.
The excavation at Zvejnieki has revealed one of the
largest Stone Age burial concentrations known in north-
ern Europe (more than 300 burials, comparable to sites
such as Skateholm in southern Sweden (Larsson 1993,
Vedbæk in Denmark (Albrethsen & Petersen 1975), and
Olenii Ostrov in Karelia (Gurina 1956), as well as other
concentrated burial sites in Germany, Poland, and south-
ern Finland. We do not know how many individuals were
buried at Zvejnieki. A total of 308 burials were recorded
in the 1960s and 1970s, including some collective burials
with as many as six individuals. When the recent excava-
tion ended in 2009, we had added another 27 individuals
(including very fragmented, isolated remains of two chil-
dren, nos. 324a and b), knowing that many burials may
well remain beneath the unexcavated ruins of a farm-
house at the site. In addition to this, we also know that
a number of graves have already been destroyed in the
western part of the cemetery during the gravel extraction
that prompted the research in the 1960s. Even earlier, in
the middle part of the 19th century, the site was well known
due to the skeletal parts being brought up to the surface
by ploughing. Also, a considerable number of burials had
been placed in shallow graves such as were encountered
during the excavation below the oor of the farmhouse.
If ploughing had been carried out at the same depth out-
side the house, then most of the documented burials would
have been destroyed. This means that a considerable num-
ber of burials were destroyed during early farming of the
elds around the farm. Plausibly, the original number of
burials in the cemetery could have been six hundred or
even more. This also leads us to consider the long duration
of the cemetery and ultimately the issues of representativ-
Fig. 3. Plan of the Zvejnieki archaeological complex. Drawing: M. Kalniņš.
60 Acta Archaeologica
ity. It has been suggested that the high number of interred
children is an indication that most of the inhabitants were
actually buried on the site (Zarina 2006). But even with
as many as six hundred burials, the number of interments
per generation corresponds to a small group of people.
We suggest that it is possible that the population using
Zvejnieki for burial may have been at least partially mo-
bile, using a larger territory throughout the year, and that
Zvejneiki may have been only one of the places in which
they buried their dead throughout the long history of the
site. This could perhaps also explain some of the incon-
sistencies in the burial vs. occupation remains in diff erent
periods (see below).
THE SETTLEMENT AREAS
While the Zvejnieki cemetery was excavated almost
completely by Zagorskis, except the summit of the grav-
el ridge, where gravel extraction could have destroyed
about one fi fth of the burial site, the two settlement sites
were only partially excavated. Two distinct settlement ar-
eas, Zvejnieki I and Zvejnieki II, were identifi ed at the
time. The recent excavations continued to explore the
settlement areas, with the aim of obtaining a more com-
prehensive picture of the site. It is important to note that
due to the incomplete excavation of the occupation areas
the relationship between the habitations and the burials
remains somewhat unclear; certain periods of occupa-
tion are not represented by contemporaneous burials, and
conversely, some periods are attested in burials but are
not refl ected in the settlement material. One of the main
goals of the new excavation was to better understand the
relationship between the occupation layers and the buri-
als, and more generally to get a better grasp of occupation
patterns on the site and in its immediate surroundings.
The Mesolithic settlement, Zvejnieki II
The Zvejnieki II occupation site is located at the south-
eastern end of the drumlinoid, on its northern slope. The
1970s excavation covered 665 m2, yielding c. 1500 fl int
and c. 1000 bone artefacts. Early Mesolithic bone and
antler artefacts were found in layers of light-coloured
gravel and white freshwater lime, with scarce int nds
forthcoming in the upper part of the slope, overlying a
yellow sand deposit (Zagorskis & Zagorska 1989. All
over the slope, overlying these layers, was a thick deposit
of gravel, the upper part of which varied in colour from
dark to light grey. The lower part of the layer, black in
colour, was rich in fi nds of bone, antler and fl int. Domi-
nant among the bone implements were ‘fi sh-spears’ of
Kunda type, slotted bone points spears with grooves for
int inserts, and arrowheads with a conical tip, along
with animal tooth-pendants (mainly elk). The fl int in-
ventory consisted of small blades, scrapers and conical
cores. These fi nds characterize the Middle Mesolithic
Kunda Culture, well known in the Eastern Baltic. The up-
per layers of the settlement also produced bone artefacts
characteristic of the Late Mesolithic in this area, such
as symmetrically barbed biseriate spearheads. Thus, it
is possible that the nal phase of the occupation contin-
ued into the Late Mesolithic. This chronology is further
supported by radiocarbon dates on bone and antler arte-
facts as well as a peat sample. A fragmentary bone point
from the lower layer has been dated to 9415±80 BP, or
9123–8479 cal BC (Ua-18201) (calibrated with OxCal
v. 4.2 (Bronk Ramsey 2013)). A second fragment, from
a harpoon with wide barbs, was dated to 9170±70 BP,
corresponding to 8567–8271 cal BC (Ua-19797). A bulk
sample of peat from a layer at the foot of the slope gave
a date of 8140±120 BP (Ta-2791) or 7481–6714 cal BC.
In addition, a burial discovered in the Middle Mesolithic
occupation layer (no. 305) has been dated to 8240±70
BP (Ua-3634), or 7465–7078 cal BC, and thus appears
to be contemporaneous with this broader chronology.
The excavations at the settlement site also yielded data
that permit reconstruction of the Mesolithic environment.
While the Mesolithic environment of the region was char-
acterized by a continental climate and dense forest cover,
dominated by pine, ruderal plants and charcoal in the pol-
len spectra from Zvejnieki II refl ect human activity in the
area (Eberhards et al. 2003). Elk (Alces alces) and beaver
(Castor ber) are the dominant mammals represented in
the faunal remains, with pike (Esox lucius) as the most
common fi sh species (Lõugas 2006). All this material
characterizes the Mesolithic inhabitants of Zvejnieki as a
community with a strong hunter-fi sher-gatherer tradition
(Zagorska 2009).
The recent excavation project provided further details
of landscape use during the Mesolithic. A comprehen-
sive test-pit survey carried out in 2006 revealed that the
Mesolithic settlement extended further north-west along
the drumlinoid, immediately downslope of the gravel pit
(Fig. 2) (Bērziņš 2008). In 2009, four trenches were exca-
vated here, with a total area of 40 m2 (Fig. 3. The top lay-
61
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
er, containing a mix of Mesolithic and Neolithic artefacts,
consisted of re-deposited material from the upper part of
the slope. Below this, the Mesolithic occupation layer
was partially preserved in places, with pits and post-holes
extending into the subsoil (Bērziņš & Zagorska 2010).
In addition to these excavations in the immediate
vicinity, another test-pit survey was conducted on the
lower slopes of the Košķele drumlin, 1.4 km north of
Zvejnieki. Finds of Stone Age material had been report-
ed in the gravel pit on the drumlin back in 1932, and
ints had been recovered on the surface at two locations
on the upper south-western slope of the drumlin during
a fi eld survey in 2001. The 2006 test-pit survey revealed
the existence of a very large Mesolithic settlement, with
an occupation layer up to 0.5 m thick, extending for
650 m along the lower slopes surrounding the end of
the Košķele drumlin (Bērziņš 2008). In the Mesolithic
the drumlin would have projected as a headland into the
lake, separated from the Zvejnieki drumlinoid by a wide,
shallow bay (Fig. 2). Regarding environmental setting,
the Mesolithic occupation at Košķele clearly parallels
Zvejnieki II. The shallow bay of the palaeolake separat-
ing the two sites was presumably a location of intensive
shing and waterfowl hunting.
The Neolithic settlement, Zvejnieki I
The Zvejnieki I occupation site is located in an area of
fairly level ground at the foot of the south-eastern end
of the ridge, on the right bank of the former channel of
the River Rūja (Fig. 2). The area of 244 m2 excavated
in the 1960s had been seriously disturbed by later build-
ing and gardening activities, and there was an old road
cutting across it. The occupation layer, about 70–80 cm
thick, was intensively black, saturated with organic re-
mains; underlying it was white freshwater lime. The
only features were a few hearths and pits. A total of 1888
sherds of pottery were recovered, along with 613 other
artefacts (bone, fl int, stone and amber). Although the su-
perfi cial strata contained mixed material from all periods
of the Stone Age, the bulk material belongs to the Mid-
dle Neolithic. The ceramic assemblage was dominated by
Combed Ware, but porous ware corresponding to the in-
digenous Neolithic tradition was also recovered here. The
pottery is richly ornamented with geometric designs, and
the miniature clay gurines characteristic of the East Bal-
tic region and Finland, are also represented (Fig. 4). The
nds confi rmed that Zvejnieki I was a settlement of the
Combed Ware Culture, with some evidence of occupation
also during the Early Neolithic.
In 2005 excavation resumed at Zvejnieki I, uncover-
ing a small area, 2×5 m2, located north of the previously
excavated part. This area had not been disturbed: the oc-
cupation layer was approximately 70–80 cm thick, con-
sisting of dark, peaty earth, saturated with decomposed
organic material, charcoal fragments, small fl akes of am-
ber and int, and cracked stone. At the base of this deposit
was a freshwater lime layer, underlain by yellow sand and
glacial till deposits. Extending into the freshwater lime
were two pits containing animal bones and potsherds.
These were located close to a larger pit thought to be a
semi-subterranean dwelling, only one corner of which
was excavated. The entire occupation layer was rich in
artefacts: 106 bone, antler, int and stone artefacts were
recovered, along with 930 potsherds. The pottery was
mainly concentrated in the upper part of the layer, where-
as fl int and bone artefacts along with faunal remains,
dominated at the deeper levels. Hundreds of small fl int
akes and small bone fragments were found, along with
some amber debris. Most of the pottery is tempered with
organic matter or crushed rock, and the majority of sherds
are richly decorated with comb impressions and pits (Fig.
5:1-7). However, in the upper layers, Corded Ware sherds
were also found, with intense cord impressions close to
the rim of the vessel (Fig. 5: 8-10). Some small fragments
of clay fi gurines, similar to those found previously, were
also identifi ed. The fl int inventory includes small scrapers
on fl akes as well as burins, borers, knives and small, in-
tensively used cores, generally prepared from low-qual-
ity int pebbles. Some small, trapezoidal stone chisels
were found. Bone and antler artefacts were not so well
preserved; only fragments of harpoons, spears, daggers,
knives and chisels were found.
All layers contained animal bones and sh remains
(about 400 fragments). As in the Mesolithic, elk and
beaver dominate the bone material, but the range of de-
termined species is wider, supplemented by goat/sheep,
bovid (Bos sp.) and suid (Sus sp.) bones (Table I). Among
the fi shes, pike and pike-perch prevail; bream, perch and
cyprinids are also represented (Table I; Lõugas 2007).
Analysis of plant macrofossils from the occupation
layer (Ceriņa 2007) indicates a variety of terrestrial plant
remains, among which ruderal plants constitute the ma-
jority. Fat-hen (Chenopodium album) remains are par-
ticularly common. This is an ancient food plant rich in
62
Table I. Summary of faunal remains from the Zvejnieki I site, 2005 (determined by Lembi Lõugas).
Elk (Alces alces) – 32
Red deer (Cervus elaphus) – 2
Aurochs (Bos primigenius) – 6
Bovid (Bos sp.) – 1
Horse (Equus sp.) – 1
Large ungulate (elk, aurochs, deer or horse) – 99
Wild boar (Sus scrofa) – 8
Suid (Sus sp.) – 6
Goat/sheep (Capra/Ovis) – 2
Brown bear (Ursus arctos) – 1
Pine marten (Martes martes) – 1
Dog (Canis familiaris) – 1
Wolf or dog (Canis sp.) – 1
Beaver (Castor ber) – 33
Mammalia indet. – 117
Bog tortoise (Emys orbicularis) – 1
Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) – 1
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) – 1
Aves indet. – 3
Pike (Esox lucius) – 195
Perch (Perca uviatilis) – 3
Pikeperch (Stizostedion lucioperca) – 116
Bream (Abramis brama) – 7
Cyprinidae – 8
vitamins A and C as well as minerals. The rest of the re-
mains are from meadow and shore plants. The lower part
of the occupation layer contained charred hazelnut frag-
ments. The underlying sandy freshwater lime contains
abundant ostracod remains and mollusc shell fragments,
indicating that the deposit formed in shallow water (Ta-
ble II). The palynological study at Zvejnieki indicates
habitation during the whole time span starting from the
Preboreal (Kalniņa 2006).
NEW EXCAVATION OF THE
CEMETERY
The new excavations also included a portion of the
cemetery. The graves excavated in the 1960s and 1970s
were found within an elongated area measuring 250 m
by 35 m on the top of the gravel ridge, parallel to the
shoreline of the lake (Fig. 2). Graves were mainly found
in the higher western part and the lower eastern part,
with a small number of graves in between. The west-
ern part had been partly destroyed by the extraction of
gravel, while the eastern part was partly aff ected by the
building of the recent farm. In some areas, the excava-
tion extended up to the foundations of the farm build-
Acta Archaeologica
63
Table II. Zvejnieki II site, plant and other macrofossils (analysed by Aija Ceriņa).
Plants Remains
A-1 A-2 A-3 A-4 A-5 A-6 R-7a R-7b R-8 1.R 2.ZA 3.ZR 4.R
Depth, m
0.0– 0.1– 0.2– 0.3– 0.4– 0.5– 0.6– 0.75– 0.9- 0.4– 0.4– 0.4– 0.4–
0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.75 0.9 1.05 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.6
sandy peat, well decomposed freshwater
lime sand with
freshwater
lime
sandy peat
Trees and shrubs
Betula alba L. nuts 6 1 2 37 53
birch (arboreal forms) scales 2 110
Corylus avellana L. common hazel nutshells, charred
fragments 421
21
Ruderals
Chenopodium album L. fat-hen seeds 49 41 125 53 6 10 3 7 153 126
Poligonum lapathifolium L. pale smartweed nuts 2 1
Potentilla sp. nuts 1
Meadow and shore plants
Scirpus lacustris L. common club-rush nuts 1
Scirpus sp. rushes nut fragments 1
Polygonum minus Huds. pygmy smartweed nuts 1
Alchemilla vulgaris L. common lady’s
mantle nuts 7
Cirsium oleraceum cabbage thistle seeds 2
Medicago lupulina L. black medick seeds 1
Ranunculus sp. nuts 1
Viola sp. seeds 1
Polygonum sp. nut fragments 1 1
Indeterminate seeds seed fragments 1 4 3 1 1 2 1 2
Other remains
Ostracods valves X X X
Gastropods shells X X 1
Molluscs shell fragments X XX
Fish vertebrae, teeth,
scales XX XX XXX X
amber chips XX
int chips X X
charcoal fragments X X X X X X X X X X
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
64
Fig. 4. Clay fi gurines from the Zvejnieki I site and the cemetery. Drawing: M. Jāņkalniņa.
Acta Archaeologica
2 cm
65
Fig. 5. Pottery from the Zvejnieki I site. 1–3: Combed Ware, 4–7: Piestiņa Ware, 8–10: Corded Ware. Photo: L. Palma.
3 cm
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
66 Acta Archaeologica
ings. However, areas to the north and the east of the main
building were not accessible for excavation at the time
due to gardening activities (Fig. 3). The house which was
subsequently abandoned and gradually collapsed, what
created an opportunity for the new excavations to focus
on these previously undocumented areas.
The excavation to the north of the house revealed sev-
eral features, but no graves. However, human bones and
artefacts found in the topsoil indicated the previous de-
struction of shallow graves in this area. Among the fi nds,
we may note a fragment of a large bone, probably from
elk, with decoration on the angular side (Fig. 6:1). An-
other object is a bone plate with notches on the narrow
side, resembling a pendant (Fig. 6:2).
To the east of the house, the excavation was more
successful, and several burials were uncovered (Nilsson
Stutz et al. 2008; 2013). Here, an area of seven by four
metres, previously covered by a veranda and therefore
inaccessible for excavation, was opened up (Fig. 3). A
foundation wall belonging to the veranda structure cuts
across the area. The central part within the boundaries
of the veranda was disturbed by a large and shallow pit,
which could explain the absence of burials here (Fig. 7).
A fi nd of a Swedish coin from the 17th century in this
feature dates it to the time when the region was a part
of Livland, one of the Swedish provinces. Despite this
historical disturbance, several burials were encountered
in the area east of the house, and as it became clear that
some extended under the walls of the standing structure,
we eventually gained permission from the owner to exca-
vate the area immediately to the west of the eastern wall
of the house. Once the area was cleared, it turned out that
the oor of parts of the farmhouse had been placed di-
rectly above the ground surface. The construction of the
farmhouse had preserved in places a previous surface that
had generally been destroyed in other parts of the cem-
etery by subsequent activities, such as farming and gar-
dening. A number of very shallow graves were identifi ed.
No occupation layer was present below the surface.
THE METHODOLOGY APPLIED IN
THE FIELD
While the documentation from the earlier excavations of the
burials at Zvejnieki in the 1960s and 1970s is remarkable,
and the material recorded then has positioned Zvejnieki
as one of the most signifi cant Stone Age cemeteries in
northern Europe, the new research project initiated in
2005 incorporates a novel approach to the excavation
and registration of burials known as archaeothanatology
(Duday et al. 1990; Duday 2009). This method requires
meticulous recording during excavation in order to register
as much information as possible about these unique
burials. It has previously been successfully applied to the
documentation of the Mesolithic cemeteries at Skateholm
and Vedbæk-Bøgebakken (Nilsson Stutz 2003) and on a
selected number of burials from the earlier excavations
at Zvejnieki (Nilsson Stutz 2006). Archaeothanatology
combines archaeological observations and insights
with knowledge in biology about how the human body
decomposes after death. At the time of excavation, the
approach relies on the methodology of décapage: all the
remains are carefully uncovered, and their exact position
is recorded in detail and photographed, in order to allow
for a detailed analysis of the sequences of disarticulation,
disturbances, etc. (for a more detailed description of the
approach, see Duday et al. 1990; Duday 2009; Nilsson
Stutz 2003). The goal of this approach is to account in
detail for the mortuary practices, and especially the
handling of the body. All artefacts and faunal remains
encountered in the features were recorded three-
dimensionally, and at the level of the human remains,
they were left in situ and included on the plan along
with the human remains. The protocol, including careful
documentation with photographs and drawings (scale
1:5), and identifi cation and lateralization of all bones in the
eld, was systematically applied during the excavations.
Human remains were encountered and excavated during
all four seasons. The archaeothanatology protocol was
rst introduced in 2006, which results in a variation in the
documentation for the fi rst season. Also, the double burial
319-320 was excavated at the close of the 2007 fi eld
season and was not subjected to the archaeothanatological
documentation.
The numbering of the burials follows as closely as
possible the numbering established during the initial ex-
cavations (Zagorskis 1987; 2004), i.e. in general, each
individual is assigned a number, also in cases of double
and collective interments. An exception in this regard is
the collective burial 312. This burial was looted before
it could be fully excavated, and the exact relationships
between the individuals remain unclear (they are distin-
guished as “a-d”, based on the initial partial excavation,
see below). Osteological analysis established that the im-
67
1
2
3
45
0 1 2 3 cm
Fig. 6. Loose nds of artefacts that might have belonged to destroyed graves. 1: bone with decorations, 2: pendant, 3: perforated vertebra and 4–5: leister
points. Drawing: L. Lecareux.
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
mature and disarticulated remains in 324 were from two
individuals, and they are distinguished as “a” and “b”
(concerning the distribution of burials, see Fig. 7).
DESCRIPTION OF THE NEWLY
DISCOVERED BURIALS
Burial 309
Length: > 0.4 m, width: 0.4 m, depth: 0.3 m. The fi ll con-
sisted of grey sand. No artefacts were found. This burial
was disturbed, and only the skull and the upper part of the
thoracic cage remained. No archaeothanatological analy-
sis was carried out.
Burial 310
Length: > 1.5 m, width: 0.4 m, depth: 0.3 m. The fi ll con-
sisted of grey sand. No artefacts were found. This burial
was disturbed, and only the remains of the lower limbs
and the pelvis were preserved. No archaeothanatological
analysis was carried out.
Burial 311
Length: >0.8 m, width: 0.4 m, depth: 0.3 m. The remains
of an incomplete but partially articulated individual was
distinguished within a large feature, which distinguished
itself from the surrounding substrate by the slightly dark-
er colour of the ll. The boundaries of the feature were
diffi cult to distinguish since it had been disturbed by re-
cent construction. The foundation wall for the veranda,
oriented E–W, cuts into the grave along its southern limit,
disturbing the right side of the individual. No artefacts
were found.
The individual was deposited on the back and prob-
ably with extended limbs, oriented WE, with the upper
part of the body directed to W. It was placed on a slope
with the upper part of the body at a slightly higher eleva-
tion and was also slightly rotated to the left.
Despite the extensive disturbance of the human re-
mains, the perfect articulation of the cervical vertebrae,
as well as the presence of the phalanges of the left hand,
indicates a primary burial.
There is no clear indication of movement outside of
68 Acta Archaeologica
Fig. 7. The excavated area, showing graves. Drawing: L. Lecareux.
69
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
the initial volume of the cadaver, indicating filled
space.
Burial 312
Length: >1.8 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.2 m. The general
area of this burial contained a signifi cant number of dis-
articulated remains in the upper layers, and as excavation
progressed a collective burial was revealed containing at
least three adults and one child. The complexity of the
remains did not allow a complete excavation in the rst
season (2006), and the human remains were covered up
and left for the following season.
Unfortunately, the burial was destroyed by looters be-
tween the seasons. The scattered remains were collected,
and the area was carefully examined to assess if there
were any remains left in situ and to collect the remains
as carefully as possible. Despite a careful excavation ap-
proach, no clear limit could be discerned for the feature
which appeared as a large, irregular shape of dark grey
sediment partially mixed with silty grey sediment, and
with the gravel and smaller pebbles that are characteristic
of the substrate. The depth of the feature remains unclear,
but it is estimated as being approximately 15 cm.
At the time of full exposure of the human remains un-
covered in the 2006 excavation at least four individuals,
three adults and one child were documented (Fig. 8). The
three adults were lying very close together, two of them,
312b and 312c, lying close side by side, on the back, and
oriented SSW-NNE with the heads in the SSW, and a
third individual, 312a, was placed in front of 312b. The
burial partially extended below the house, to the SSW.
The sparse remains of a child, 312d, comprising teeth and
a vertebra, were encountered in the area of the pelvis and
femora of 312c, which could indicate that this child had
been placed in front of the individual 312c. Just a small
number of fl int artefacts was found. It is uncertain if these
should be regarded as grave gifts or as belonging to the
ll.
Burial 313
Length: 1.8 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.7 m. Age: adult (33-
37). Sex: female.
The feature was characterized by a dark brown, al-
most black fi ll, rich in faunal remains, fl int and bone arte-
facts, which contrasted sharply with the substrate of yel-
low gravel and sand (Fig. 9).
The human remains, a complete skeleton of an in-
dividual placed on the back, slightly rotated to the left,
Fig. 8. Burial 312, with at least four individuals. Oriented SSW-NNE. Photo: L. Larsson.
70 Acta Archaeologica
Fig. 9. Burial 313. Oriented N-S. Photo: L. Larsson.
with the limbs in extended position and directed N-S,
with the head directed to the south, were found on the
bottom of the pit, lying immediately above the sandy
gravel. The right side of the body was slightly tucked
up against the wall of the pit. This is especially clear
in the position of the right shoulder and the right hand,
but can also be traced in the discrete movements within
the thoracic cage, where a transfer of the weight toward
the left can be seen in the pattern of collapse of the rib
cage.
The maintained labile articulations of the entire skel-
eton, but most notably the hands and feet, indicate that
the deposit was primary.
The movements of the bones were restricted to the
initial volume of the cadaver (the left carpals have slid
into areas liberated by the decomposition of the soft
tissues surrounding the pelvis). At the same time, bones
in labile positions, like the right hand resting on the
medial side, have remained perfectly articulated. The
pubic symphysis remains articulated. We can, there-
fore, conclude that decomposition took place in a fi lled
space.
A couple of animal bone fragments were found in
close proximity to the body and could possibly be inten-
tional depositions. However, considering that the fi ll of
the burial was very rich in both faunal and lithic mate-
rial, it is possible that the position of these remains, close
to the skeletal remains, is simply coincidental.
Burial 314
Length: >1.6 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.4 m. Age: adult
(35+). Sex: female.
Due to the recent construction of the veranda, the limits
of the feature are irregular and not entirely clear. The ll
surrounding the human remains is dark grey and sandy in
texture and contrasts with the yellow gravel substrate.
Despite the disturbance of the veranda wall, running
E-W and cutting across the middle of the grave, the initial
position of the body can be reconstructed. The individual
had been placed on the back and rotated to the left, ori-
ented N–S, with the head, directed north. The rotation
can be traced throughout the body as it aff ects the skull
and the vertebral column which are both rotated to the
left, the rib cage and the hyoid bone both showing a pat-
tern of movement indicating a transfer of the weight to
the left. The projection forward of the right shoulder and
the elevation of the left shoulder are also consistent with
this rotation. The lower limbs also show a tendency of
rotation to the left. Two large stones were placed in the
vicinity of the skull, and two more stones were found
in front of the lower limbs at the level of the knees. It
is interesting to note that they appear to have weighed
down on the human remains and contributed to fractures
in these areas of the skeleton.
The burial was clearly a primary deposit. Labile ar-
ticulations, such as the cervical vertebrae, were perfectly
articulated, and so were several bones in the feet.
Among the bones that were registered in situ, there
71
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
are no movements outside of the initial volume of the
body, which clearly indicates that decomposition took
place in a fi lled space.
The bi-lateral pressure at the level of the shoulders
indicates a so-called e et de parois. It is unclear if this
could simply be the eff ect of a narrow feature (while the
limits are diffi cult to trace, it seems they can be more
clearly traced at the skeletal level), or if the body was
wrapped in something. The limits of the feature are not
close enough to the shoulder to provide a complete ex-
planation, and it is, therefore, possible that the body was
indeed wrapped. No artefacts were found.
Burial 315
Length: >1.2 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.4 m. Age: indet.
Sex: indet.
Just as with the nearby burial 314, the limits of the
feature are irregular, and the ll surrounding the human
remains is dark grey and sandy in texture, contrasting
with the yellow gravel substrate. The human remains are
only partially preserved due to the disturbance caused by
the construction of the veranda. However, it is possible
to determine that the body was placed on the back, lying
E-W with the head directed to W. The remains are par-
tially placed in front of the remains of burial 314: as the
lower limbs of 315 are lying in front of the upper part of
the body of 314.
While heavy disturbance has aff ected extensive parts
of the burial, the remains in situ, such as the articulation
of the left hand and both feet, clearly indicate that decom-
position took place in situ (i.e. primary burial).
No movement outside of the initial volume of the
body can be observed, and everything indicates that the
space created during the decomposition was fi lled in. No
artefacts were found.
Double grave 316-317
Length: 1.9 m, width: 1.0 m, depth: 0.8 m.
316: Age: adult (36-40). Sex: female.
317: Age: adult (25-30), Sex: male.
The burial extended (E–W) under the farmhouse.
Due to the depth of the grave, the sill construction for the
walls of the farmhouse had not aff ected the burial. But to
complete the excavation, permission had to be obtained
from the house-owner, which explains why the grave was
excavated in two separate stages.
The feature was distinguished by a very dark brown
to black ll, which contrasted very distinctly with the
surrounding substrate. The ll was rich in artefacts and
disarticulated human remains. A large stone (Fig. 10) was
found in the upper level of the burial, in the western part
of the feature, 16 cm wide and 30 cm high. Stones of
such size do not occur naturally on the site, and it is there-
fore likely that it was intentionally brought in, perhaps
serving as a grave marker.
During the excavation, many isolated human remains
were encountered in the fi ll of the feature. The abundance
was striking, and many of the elements were large (includ-
ing a whole sacrum, large vertebrae, hand and foot bones,
etc.). The osteological analysis shows that they were from
at least two diff erent individuals. The double grave cut
through several older burials and had disturbed them in
the process. The human bones in the ll may come from
several of these burials, and perhaps also from other buri-
als that were not preserved in recognisable form. It is also
possible that the ll comprised isolated elements from the
cemetery, which probably already at that time contained
loose disarticulated bones.
The two bodies were placed on the back with extend-
ed limbs and oriented E–W, heads being in the E and ro-
tated to the left, and on a slight slope with the feet lying
ca. 10 cm higher than the pelvis (Fig. 11).
For the female (316), the positions of the cranium
and cervical vertebrae indicate that the head was rotated
Fig. 10. Stone above the double burial 316–317.
Photo: L. Nilsson Stutz.
72 Acta Archaeologica
to the left and fl exed forward at the time of deposition.
The right upper member was rotated inward, and the left
upper limb was placed in supination. Both were placed
very close to the body. The right lower limb was rotated
outward and slightly exed at the hip, knee and ankle.
The left limb was in extended position and only showed
a rotation at the level of the foot, which was extended
and rotated medially. The feet were placed very close
together.
For the male (317), the skull is surrounded by intense-
ly red, ne, almost clayey sediment, which is especially
dense in the area of the face but less so on the calvarium.
Several amber pieces were found in the area of the skull,
one behind the right mastoid process and two in the area
of the cervical vertebrae. Both forearms were in prona-
tion. The right hand was placed in front of the right groin.
The left hand was positioned behind the upper part of the
left thigh. A st-sized round stone had been placed in front
of the wrist. A large burnt, ochre-stained stone, ca. 10 cm
in diameter, had been placed behind the pelvis, causing
dislocation of the pelvis, already rotated upward on the
left side, with the sacrum maintained elevated as the iliac
blades fell backward. The lower limbs were in extended
position and rotated outward. The right foot is partially
perfectly articulated, and in some places more loosely
articulated. The majority of the tarsals present their su-
perior and medial sides, indicating that the segment was
slightly rotated laterally. The position of the bones indi-
cates that the segment was placed in an extreme extended
position, with the anterior and medial side facing up. The
right foot was wrapped around the left foot, which was
rotated outward and strongly exed. The movements of
the bones are very limited, considering their precariously
balanced position. This indicates that they were held in
place by a strong alignment eff ect, which indicates the
presence of a supporting element in this area at the time
of decomposition.
The burial is without any doubt a primary deposition.
The decomposition pattern of the hands and feet of both
individuals, with only limited movements of the bones,
indicates this very clearly. Due to the proximity of the
two individuals and the lack of disturbance, it can further
be established that the two were deposited at the same
time.
The space of decomposition was fi lled in. The main-
tenance in place of the bones is a clear indication of this.
Ochre was found in large quantities in connection
with both bodies. For the female the substance was found
in front of the body while it was largely absent behind it,
indicating that the ochre had either been placed on top
of the body at the time of deposition or that it was part
Fig. 11. Double burial 316–317. Oriented E–W. Drawing: L. Lecareux.
73
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
of some element placed on top of the body at the time of
burial. The only exception to this pattern is the lumbar
and pelvic region, where ochre was also found behind the
body. In this area, numerous amber beads were also found
both behind and in front of the body, and the ochre could
have been a part of a belt or a garment that also included
the amber.
In the case of the male, a signifi cant amount of ochre
was found around the cranium (described above), and in
the upper levels of the thoracic cage. Intense ochre col-
ouring was also observed behind the lumbar segment and
in connection to the deposited stone described above.
The male shows clear indication of a tight wrapping
of the body, including a very strong bilateral pressure at
the level of the shoulders (projected forward with verti-
calization of the claviculae) and the thoracic cage with
its clear bilateral compression. The right humerus also
shows the eff ect of lateral pressure, lying very close to
the thoracic cage and extended along the medial axis of
the body presenting the lateral and anterior sides. The bi-
lateral pressure can further be traced around the knees,
pelvis and feet. It is likely that the stone behind the pel-
vis, and the stone positioned in front of the left hand, had
been placed there intentionally, probably included in the
wrapping of the body. It is also possible that the beads
encountered among the foot bones were associated with
the wrapping, but they may also have been placed at the
feet, inside the wrapping.
Grave goods of the double burial 316–317
The double burial was extremely rich in grave goods. The
female (316) was accompanied by several stunning ar-
rangements of amber and bone beads. Two large amber
rings were found at the left shoulder of the female (316)
(Fig. 12). One, with a diameter of 7.5 cm, was probably
complete at the time of burial. It was encountered imme-
diately to the lateral left side of the mandible. The second
ring, which was larger, approximately 9 cm in diameter
and had two perforations, was broken probably before the
time of deposition and lodged beneath the fi rst ring and
under the left clavicle. Two amber pendants were found
on the upper part of the body: one of these, rectangular in
shape, was located to the right of the neck, while the other
was positioned in front of the upper part of the chest. To
the left of the lower part of the torso, an additional con-
centration of amber beads was recorded.
A large arrangement of amber pendants was also
placed in an area extending from right above the pelvis
down to the knees (Fig. 11). The pendants, which var-
ied in size, formed eight more or less clearly identifi able
rows. The largest pendants were placed in two rows at
the top of the arrangement (Fig. 11). Most of them are
oval or almost rectangular in shape, measuring between
5.5 and 3.5 cm in length, with one side almost fl at and
the other somewhat convex (Fig. 13). A gap was evident
between the two uppermost rows and the six rows be-
low, with smaller pendants (Fig. 14). Further down in the
arrangement, the pendants become even smaller, 4.5 to
2.0 centimetres in length, and the shapes are more var-
ied: rectangular, droplet-shaped, triangular and irregular
(Fig. 15). As the pendants become smaller, they generally
become more rectangular in cross-section. Pendants with
one perforation comprise the overwhelming majority, a
small number having two perforations. The surfaces of
the amber pendants and beads are poorly preserved, thus
precluding close studies of colour, traces of working,
wear or possible decoration. However, it is obvious that
no pendants have a preserved, more or less irregular sur-
face from the original amber lump. All have been cut or
polished to a smooth surface, which means that a consid-
erable number of large amber pieces have been included
in the adornment. The lower part of the arrangement in-
cluded fi ve bone pendants of the same shape as the am-
ber pendants (Fig. 15). The arrangement ended with two
concentrations of smaller pendants or beads. The pres-
ervation of the amber pendants, particularly those in the
Fig. 12. Burial 316, with amber rings by the left shoulder.
Photo: L. Larsson.
74 Acta Archaeologica
Fig. 13. Amber rings and pendants from burial 316. Drawing: A. Bē rziņ a.
75
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
lowest part of the arrangement on the female, was quite
poor, making it diffi cult to determine the exact number.
The bone pendants have been cut from massive bones,
such as the metacarpal or metatarsal bones of elk or red
deer. They are similar in shape to the amber pendants:
rectangular, droplet-shaped or almost circular. Most have
a single perforation, but a few have a double perforation.
However, they are smaller than those made of amber, 1.5
to 2.5 centimetres in length. This category of nds was
not previously known at Zvejnieki.
Concentrations of beads made of tubular bones from
birds were discovered below the knees of the woman. On
the right side, there were also two pendants: one of amber
and one of bone. A concentration of tubular bone beads
was also found to the right of the femur. The tubular bone
beads are 0.5 to 2 cm long. The small concentrations of
tubular bone beads also included some fossils (oral infor-
mation from Aija Macane). A single tooth pendant was
found close to the feet. It is fashioned from the proximal
end of the tooth, with a furrow cut around the tip of the
root, and probably originates from an aurochs.
The male (317) was also equiped with grave goods.
A fl int knife, almost trapezoid in shape, was found to the
right of the cranium (Fig. 16). A bone awl or a sort of dag-
ger, made from ulna of an elk, with additional cutting and
polishing of the point, was placed to the immediate lateral
side of the right humerus.
Several small amber beads were placed around and
on the cranium, with one concentration at the top of the
cranium, and another concentration of beads arranged
in a row to the lateral right side. Another collection of
pendants was found just below the right knee. It consists
mainly of bone beads, but also includes some amber pen-
dants. Two other concentrations and a few separate beads
were located in the area around the lower portion of legs,
just above the feet. Again, the arrangement was predomi-
nantly composed of bone beads, but also included a few
amber pieces. Near these beads, a concentration of beads
made from tubular bird bones was found. Another such
concentration was associated with the feet.
Altogether, the burial includes at least 135 pendants
and beads made of amber, two large amber rings, one
small amber ring, 38 beads made of bone, one ring of
bone, one tooth pendant and at least 190 beads made of
tubular bones. 48 beads and one ring are associated with
the male, while the rest relates to the female.
Burial 318
Length: >0.3 m, width: >0.1 m, depth: 0.4 m. Age: indet.
Sex: indet.
The human remains encountered in the northern part
of the larger feature associated with 316-317 were limited
to a right forearm and hand, oriented WNW–ESE (distal
in WSW) and dipping slightly to the ESE. These remains
were found isolated but more or less articulated at a level
approximately 20–25 cm above the bottom of the fea-
ture. It is interpreted as an older shallow burial that was
partially disturbed by the digging of the grave for burial
316-317. This hypothesis is strengthened by a symmetry
established between the third metacarpal and an isolated
third metacarpal found in the fi ll of 316–317.
Several bones of the hand are present including the
Fig. 14. Arrangements of ornaments in double burial 316. Photo: L. Larsson.
76 Acta Archaeologica
0 5 cm
Fig. 15. Bone pendants and ring from the double burial 316–317. Drawing: A. Bē rziņ a.
77
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
right hamate, right capitate, right trapezoid and right na-
vicular, right metacarpals 4 and 5, and an intermediate
phalange. These bones are slightly disarticulated but still
occupy a position very close to what would be expected
if they were still in articulation with the forearm. The
location of the hand bones, which were found in close
proximity, even if they were not perfectly articulated, in-
dicates that this was initially a primary deposition.
The initial position of the body and the taphonomic
processes responsible for the lling of the space left by
the decomposed body are impossible to determine. No
artefacts were found.
Double burial 319-320
Length: 1.6 m, width: 1.2 m, depth: 0.8 m.
The pit was fi lled with a black earth containing int,
animal bones and teeth, such as a fragment of a leister
prong, an animal tooth pendant and a int scraper. The
0 5 cm
1
2
Fig. 16. Grave gifts from the burial 317. 1: fl int knife, 2: awl or dagger made from ulna of an elk. Drawing: L. Lecareux.
78 Acta Archaeologica
grave was oriented E–W, and the bodies had been placed
on a layer of ochre in a parallel position with the heads
to the west. This double burial has not been subject to
archaeothanatological analysis.
319: Age: 5 +/- 18 months. Sex: indet.
The child had been placed on the left side in an ex-
tended position with the face turned N, arms extended
along the body and the legs placed close together. In the
area around the feet, six tooth pendants of elk were found.
An additional pendant was found in front of the face. The
whole body was covered with ochre, with an increased
intensity from the knees to the top of the head.
320: Age: 2.5 +/- 0.5. Sex: indet.
The child had been placed in an extended supine
position, with the head turned S to face 319. The upper
members were extended and positioned close to the body.
Eleven tooth pendants of elk were found in a half-circle
in the area around the ankles. The entire skeleton was
covered with intense ochre. On the lateral left side of the
knees, an oval patch of light ochre containing a fl int burin
and two fl int fl akes were recorded.
Burial 321
Length: >1.1 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.5 m. Age: 16–17.
Sex: indet.
The limits of the feature could not be clearly distin-
guished, and the feature was partially destroyed by the
intensive use of the area for burial. The grave cuts across
the lower part of burial 322, which has been partially
destroyed in the process, and the body is placed perpen-
dicularly across the area where the disturbed lower part
of the body in 322 would have been. The right part of
the body and the lower part of the body are absent. This
destruction is probably linked to the digging of burials
328 and 316–317. We cannot rule out that some of the
disturbance may also be linked to the construction of the
house. The yellow gravel substrate appears immediately
under the body with a very thin black sediment separating
the human remains from the gravel, which is buried in a
comparatively shallow grave.
The skeletal remains are incomplete and partially
disarticulated, but based on the position of the bones it
is possible to conclude that the body was oriented E–W,
with the head to the W, on the stomach with the left upper
limb extended along the body, and on a slope to the N
bringing the left side of the body to a higher level.
Based on the presence of hand bones in a position that
anatomically was reasonably correct, if not perfect, we
conclude that this is a primary deposition, which has later
been signifi cantly disturbed.
There are no clear indications regarding the lling of
the space created by the decomposed body.
Burial 322
Length: > 1.2 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.5 m. Age: 35–40.
Sex: female.
The area that contains burial 322 has repeatedly been
disturbed by successive burials, and the limits of the fea-
ture could not be clearly distinguished. Burial 321 has
caused the destruction of the burial 322 from the area of
the knees downwards. An additional secondary distur-
bance in the area of the left hip, including the upper part
of the left femur, the left forearm and hand has removed
the bones in this region. The area can be seen as a dark
circular patch, contrasting with the yellow sediment sur-
rounding it. It is not clear if this disturbance is prehis-
toric or can be linked to the construction of the house,
but the dark colour is very similar to the fi ll of the graves,
which points to a prehistoric origin. The natural yellow
gravel substrate of the ridge appears immediately under
the body, delimiting very clearly the boundaries of the
burial feature, which appears to have been shallow. In
some places, a thin black layer of sediment separates the
human remains from the gravel.
The body was placed on the back in extended posi-
tion, oriented N–S, head towards S. At the level of the
hips, the body was on the back, but the upper part of the
body was rotated to the right, bringing the right upper
limb under the body. The right shoulder was projected
upward as a part of this rotation, a position that became
further exaggerated during the process of decomposition.
Large yellow pebbles/small stones that occur naturally in
the substrate were found on the skull at the level of the
eyes, one in each orbit. It is not impossible that they were
placed there intentionally, but due to their common oc-
currence in the substrate, this remains hypothetical.
The burial is a primary deposition. Despite the exten-
sive destruction, the presence of the bones of the right
hand indicates a primary burial.
Very limited displacement of the bones of the right
hand indicates a complete fi lling of the space created by
the decomposed body and decomposition in a lled vol-
ume.
Double burial 323-325 and 324
Length: >1.7 m, width: 1.1 m, depth: 0.5 m.
79
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
Fig. 17. Double burial 319–320. Oriented W–E. Photo: I. Zagorska.
80 Acta Archaeologica
323: Age: 4 (+/- 1 years. Sex: indet.
325: Age: 30–35 Sex: male.
This feature, containing a double burial of an adult
male and a child, was located in the SE corner of the
house (the walls overlie the skull of the adult) (Fig. 7).
This double burial was assigned the numbers 323 (child)
and 325 (adult male). The grave was a relatively shallow,
but a clearly delimited feature characterized by a dark
grey fi ll with inclusions of yellow and white stones, con-
trasting with the yellowish white gravel of the substrate.
Small patches close to both lower legs of the adult were
coloured with red ochre. The remains of the child were
found at ca. 0.4 m below datum, and the remains of the
adult were at a level between 0.4 and 0.5 m below datum.
The adult was placed in the middle of the feature (10–
20 cm away from the wall of the feature) on the back, ori-
ented SE–NW with the head towards SE. The right upper
limb was rotated inward and fl exed moderately at the el-
bow, with the forearm in pronation, so that the hand came
to rest in front of the abdomen (at the level of pelvis).
The upper left limb and both lower limbs were extended.
A large stone was placed partially in front of and to the
lateral side of the right femur. Four ceramic fragments
had been placed in front of the lower part of the vertebral
column, and a fi fth ceramic fragment in front of the left
wrist (Fig. 18). The sherds belong to the same vessel,
with horizontal imprints, and can be identifi ed as Combed
Ware. No other parts of the vessel have been deposited
together with the dead. Two of these vessel fragments
could be refi tted. A fl int arrowhead was found above and
partially behind one of the three ceramic fragments in the
vertebral area. A second int arrowhead was found be-
hind one of the lower ribs in the left hemi-thorax. A third
and a fourth arrowhead were found in the hip region (Fig.
18). One of them was found in broken condition. It is not
possible to determine if this break occurred during the
interment or was due to subsequent processes. The arrow-
heads are of the same type, made by pressure fl aking and
with a tanged basal part.
The child was placed against the NE wall (right of
the adult), on the lateral left side, oriented SE–NW with
the head in SE. The shape of the feature was somewhat
irregular at the level of the child’s head, where it appeared
to loop around to form a small niche for the head, and
perhaps something else as well.
The burial was clearly primary. For the adult, several
labile articulations are well preserved (including both
hands and feet, and the cervical vertebrae), and while the
remains of the child were less well preserved, their over-
all position indicates that the body decomposed in situ.
The space created by the decomposed body was lled.
The movements of the bones of the adult, especially the
hands, but also the movements in situ of the left radius
and the right leg – are all restricted to the initial volume of
the cadaver. The maintenance in place of the bones of the
left foot further supports this interpretation. In the case
of the child, the overall position of the human remains is
rather precarious, lying on the lateral left side. The bones
have moved very little, which indicates immediate fi lling
and decomposition in a fi lled space.
It is not completely obvious whether the two indi-
viduals were deposited in a single episode. The spatial
relationship between the two bodies indicates simultane-
ous deposition, i.e. a double burial. There is no indication
of any secondary disturbance caused by the subsequent
digging of a grave, which would likely have disturbed
whichever of the two was the older one. However, there is
no clear intermingling of the anatomical elements, which
would allow us to identify this as a clear double burial,
and we must attach a certain amount of uncertainty to this
interpretation. An additional observation is that the child
appears to be separated from contact with the adult, lying
precariously balanced on the edge of the burial feature
with no anatomical elements moving into space below.
The position of the body and the lack of movement out-
side a very confi ned space of the body raises the question
of whether this body was in fact covered or wrapped at
the time of disposal.
Burials 324a and b
When excavating a double burial 323-325, isolated im-
mature remains were found across the area and W of
it. They could not be attributed to any preserved burial
feature but were assigned the number 324 at the time of
the excavation. The osteological analysis of these bones
revealed that they belonged to two immature individuals
of diff erent age. Since they were not in situ, no detailed
analysis was carried out
Burial 324a: Age: newborn. Sex: indet.
Burial 324b: Age: 2–3 years. Sex: indet.
Burial 326
Length: > 1.0 m, width: 0.4 m, depth: 0.5 m. Age: indet.
Sex: indet.
81
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
Fig. 18. A: Burial 325, oriented SE-NW, B: ceramic fragment of a vessel of Combed Ware, C: four arrow-heads. Photo L. Larsson.
A
B
C
82 Acta Archaeologica
The articulated remains of a partial skeleton, includ-
ing hands, femora, patellae, bulae, tibiae, left talus and
left calcaneus, were located within a feature distinguish-
able by a slightly darker ll. To the N, where the ll pre-
sents a stark contrast with the yellow gravel substrate,
the feature was easily recognizable, but the boundaries
remained unclear in the lower part of the burial to the S
and also more generally to the W, where the area had been
markedly disturbed during construction of the house.
From the remains found in situ, it can be concluded
that the body had been placed on the back, oriented NE–
SW with the head (missing) towards SW, and on a slight
slope to NNE. The lower limbs were extended. From the
position of the hands, it can also be determined that the
upper limbs were extended. The position of the right hand
indicates that the right forearm was in pronation. The po-
sition of the left hand indicates that the limb was probably
lying close to the wall of the feature and rotated inward
(presenting the lateral side, with the forearm presented in
supination).
Despite the incomplete character of the remains, it is
possible to determine that this was a primary burial. The
maintenance of the labile articulations of the hands is a
clear indication of this.
The fi xed position of the bones of the right hand,
placed on the side against the wall of the grave, indicates
immediate fi lling. Similarly, the fi xed position of the
bones of the left hand, balanced on the femur, also indi-
cates immediate fi lling. There is no doubt that this burial
was fi lled in after the deposition of the body.
The partial disturbance of this burial is likely linked to
the construction of the house.
Burial 327
Length: >0.6 m, width: >0.3 m, depth: 0.4 m. Age: indet.
Sex: indet.
Partially articulated remains of a left and right foot,
and a right fi bula and tibia were encountered when clean-
ing the wall to the N in order to complete the excavation
of the burial 316–317.
From the remains in situ, it can only be determined
that the legs were positioned in an E–W orientation with
the distal end towards W.
The presence of the phalanges of the feet and their
location in proximity to one another and the rest of the
bones of the feet indicates that this was a primary bur-
ial.
It is not possible to establish the process of fi lling up
the space created by the decomposed body.
It seems these bones are the remains of a burial dis-
turbed by the construction of the house. There is a possi-
bility that there may be a connection to 318, but consider-
ing the extremely intensive use of this area for burial and
the high concentration of burials, it is also probable that
this is a separate burial.
Burial 328
Length: >1.0 m, width: 0.5 m, depth: 0.8 m. Age: 20–25.
Sex: male.
Burial 328 appeared along the S wall of the grave con-
taining burials 316 and 317 during the excavation of this
double burial. It is a partially articulated but incomplete
skeleton, which appears to be placed along the south-
ernmost limit of the feature. Many of the bones show a
signifi cant dip (both large bones, such as the femur, and
smaller bones, such as metatarsals), which indicates dis-
turbance. Most of the human remains were found at a
depth between 80 and 90 cm below datum.
The body was placed on the lateral right side, oriented
E–W, with the head (missing) towards W. The initial posi-
tion of the limbs cannot be determined.
There are no clear indications of fi xed position of the
labile articulations. On the other hand, the remains found
in situ appear to have decomposed in the grave. The anal-
ysis is inconclusive.
There is a signifi cant movement of the bones, but this
is seemingly happening within the area of the initial vol-
ume of the cadaver. The dramatic sectioning of the verte-
bral column appears to contrast with the orderly collapse
of the thoracic cage. The pattern has been interpreted as a
result of penetration of sediment holding the ribs in place
from the outside of the cadaver while the lling of the
internal volume was delayed. This would be indicative of
a fi lled-in burial. No artefacts were found.
Burial 329
Length: >0.6 m, width: 0.4 m, depth: 0.6 m. Age: adult
(fully erupted third molars). Sex: indet.
The remains attributed to 329 are limited to several
cranial fragments, a fragmented mandible, a segment of
articulated cervical vertebrae, one thoracic vertebra and
two rib fragments. They were found when excavating W
of the burial 321, in what appeared to be two separate
features. The cervical vertebrae and the right half of the
83
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
mandible are located at the S edge of a larger feature,
which appears to merge with a diff use, large, dark feature
containing burial 321. The other half of the mandible was
found in a smaller circular feature to the south of the larg-
er feature. This feature contains the same dark sediment
as the burials. It also contains a large stone. The segment
of articulated vertebrae consists of CV2-CV7 and the rst
thoracic vertebra. They are articulated and present the an-
terior and lateral left sides, thus being rotated to the right.
The mandible has slid down and occupies a position im-
mediately in front of CV3.
The left half of the mandible shows the inferior and
lateral side, with the chin pointing east. It is lying 0.08 m
higher than the right half (0.6 m below datum compared
to 0.63 m below datum for the right half).
From the remains in situ, we can establish that the
body was probably placed on the back with the head
turned to the right. The body was oriented E-W with the
head towards W.
The articulation of the cervical vertebrae, which are
relatively labile articulations, shows that this segment de-
composed in situ, indicating a primary burial.
Gradual rotation of the cervical vertebrae indicates a
lled-in space after decomposition.
Given the fact that the remains appear to have de-
composed in situ in a fi lled-in space in combination with
the fact that the bone preservation is very good, the par-
tial presence calls for an explanation. It is possible that
the burial was disturbed through the intensive use of this
part of the cemetery. The re-deposition of the left half
of the mandible is interesting. It seems that it has been
deposited in a separate feature. The perfect t between
the two halves and the fact that the other half is in an
anatomically correct position, intimately connected to
the cervical vertebrae, indicates that the removal of the
left half probably took place after the process of decom-
position had run its course. It is possible that this can be
connected to the construction of the house. However, it
is also important to point out that the skull and the rst
vertebra (atlas) are also absent. The atlas adheres to the
cranial base, and this is a very persistent articulation. If
the skull was removed at a very late phase of decomposi-
tion, the atlas may still have been connected to the skull
and has thus been removed in the process. This would
not have been the case thousands of years later when the
disarticulation would have been complete. This makes it
possible to propose at least that the re-deposition of the
mandible may, in fact, have been a part of the practice
of skull removal.
Burial 330
When excavating the burial 323–325, an additional burial
appeared beneath it. It was partially exposed, and it could
be seen that the body had been placed SW–NE with the
head end in the SW. The body is lying so that the lower
limbs would have been located immediately behind the
pelvis of 325 and the cranium of 323. Since there was no
time at that point in the season for a full excavation, the
burial was photographed, left in situ and covered up with
no bones being removed.
In order to assess whether this was a separate burial,
the area around the limits of the burial was examined. Im-
mediately under the pelvis of 325, the limits of 330 were
easy to identify both on the NW and SE side. The ll of
the two burials seemed to be diff erent, and it was clear
that the burial 330 preceded the burial 323–325. The area
below the cut of 323–325 into 330 was examined, but no
bones were found. This indicates that 323–325 was dug
through 330, disturbing the older burial in the process.
DATING THE BURIALS
A number of burials from the recent excavation have been
radiocarbon dated.
The earliest burials are those of double burial 319-
320, dated to 7635±65 BP (Ua 36994, 6612–6394 cal BC
and 7620±65 (Ua 36995), 6609–6376 cal BC, respective-
ly. The dates, as well as the nd circumstances, indicate
that the two children were buried simultaneously. Burial
313, a female, is somewhat younger, dated to 7525±60 BP
(LuS 8220) 6467–6249 cal BC. Burial 313 also partly dif-
fers from most other burials of the time. Most of the buri-
als had been strewn with ochre. Among those that lacked
ochre, two thirds were without grave goods (Zagorskis
2004, 79). Burial 313 had no ochre, and therefore stands
out as atypical for the period. Its location on the site is
also atypical (see below).
The mass burial 312, with at least four individuals, is
more than a millennium younger, 6160±50 BP (LuS 6854),
5286–4957 cal BC. While only one of the individuals was
dated, the preliminary analysis done in the fi eld before lift-
ing the human remains indicates that the bodies were de-
posited simultaneously, allowing the assumption that this
date is representative for all the individuals in the grave.
84 Acta Archaeologica
Both individuals in the double burial 316-317 have
been dated. The male is dated to 5105±50 BP (LuS 8216,
4033–3781 cal BC, and the female to 5285±55 BP (LuS
8217, 4255–3979 cal BC. If we can regard the two indi-
viduals as having died and been buried at the same time,
what as the archaeothanatological analysis suggests, then
the age diff erence between the male and the female from
the grave falls approximately within the same range of
acceptability. Two samples of human bone from the grave
ll gave values of 6050±55 BP (LuS 8218), 5205–4794
cal BC (burial 318) and 5830±60 BP (LuS 8219), 4834–
4541 cal BC. These probably originate from at least two
diff erent burials that were destroyed when the double
grave was dug.
Burial 328, located close to the double burial 316–
317, was dated to 5805±50 (LuS 8834, 4785–4541 cal
BC. It was disturbed, perhaps due to the digging of the
grave for the double burial.
The adult in the double burial 325 (double burial with
an adult and a child, was dated to 5230±50 BP, 4230–
3961 cal BC (LuS 8833, which is almost contemporane-
ous with the double burial 316-317.
The remains of the badly-disturbed burial 310 are
somewhat younger, dated to 5150±60 BP (LuS-6437,
4230–3961 cal BC.
It thus appears that the excavated burials belong to
diff erent phases of the site. Following the Latvian chro-
nology (see Zagorska 2006a), burials 319–320 and 313
are Middle Mesolithic, burials 312, 318 and 328 are
Early Neolithic, and a number of burials (316–317, 325
and 310) are Middle Neolithic. The dates confi rm the
previous interpretation of the site as well as add new
details. Before the most recent excavations, dates from
the eastern part of the cemetery had been obtained for
some 15 burials in the area around the farmhouse, rang-
ing from 5545±65 (Ua-19810), 4522–4263 cal BC up to
4825±75 BP (Ua-15546), 3771–3377 cal BC (Zagorska
2006a). The majority of the burials in this part of the
cemetery were dated to the Middle Neolithic, with a
presence of burials dated to the Late Mesolithic. It is
worth pointing out that no other burials from the Middle
Mesolithic had previously been found in this part of the
cemetery.
OTHER BURIALS WITH SIMILAR
OBJECTS IN THE CEMETERY AT
ZVEJNIEKI
Tooth beads
Tooth beads in the double burial 319-320 are all perfo-
rated by drilling technique (Larsson 2006) and do not
show any marked use-wear. Drilling is the predominant
technique used to perforate beads in the early stage of the
cemetery, with the earliest example found in burial 170,
dated to 8150±80 BP (OaxA-5969), 7454–6836 cal BC.
Later, other techniques are applied, and the youngest evi-
dence of this technique can be found in burial 164, dated
to 5230±95 BP (Ua 15544), 4322–3803 cal BC (Larsson
2006). Soon after this, amber beads and pendants re-
placed tooth beads. Burials with amber have been dated
to between 5285±50 BP (Ua 3634), 4244–3982 cal BC,
for burial 206, and 4865±75 BP (Ua 19884), 3906–3381
cal BC, for burial 201 (Zagorska 2001).
The location of the beads at the feet, as in the burials
319–320, is common, but the arrangement in a half circle,
as in the burial 320, is unusual. In this case, a single spe-
cies, elk, is represented. This, too, is unusual, since the
typical practice is to use several species for this type of
ornament by the feet (Larsson 2006).
A previous study has shown that children up to the
age of about two years were buried with beads having
evidence of considerable use-wear. This wear is too pro-
gressed to have been produced during the lifetime of a
child and has been interpreted as the gear of an adult
placed in the grave with a child (Larsson 2006). In con-
trast, older children are often buried with beads that show
little or no sign of use-wear. This indicates that at some
point after the age of two, a child would be buried with a
new set of beads that would likely be their own, possibly
worn by them in life.
Amber objects
All burials at Zvejnieki containing amber are located in
the eastern part of the cemetery, and the double burial
316–317 is no exception. In addition to this grave, 17
graves at Zvejnieki contained amber in diff erent forms,
with a total of about 210 pieces (Zagorska 2001). Amber
objects are most commonly found in collective graves
containing between two and seven individuals that also
have signifi cant amounts of ochre. Amber is occasionally
found in single graves, but this is less common.
85
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
There is no clear pattern of how amber beads, pen-
dants and rings were worn or placed in a grave. When
comparing the burials at Zvejnieki, only burial 221 is
comparable to burial 316. Burial 221 is the richest, with
53 pendants and four rings, altogether covering the area
from the pelvis to the knee, an arrangement very similar
to the distribution in burial 316. Burial 221 is dated to
5180±65 BP (Ua-19813), 4229–3800 cal BC (Zagorska
2001, Table IV), which places it in the same chronologi-
cal period as 316. Burial 221 has been identifi ed as male,
whereas burial 316 is female. However, based on more
recent analysis, burial 221 may be accompanied by a
child, also belonging to the mass grave (Zagorska 2001,
112). Another female, burial 256, had two pendants be-
tween the legs.
For the burial 317, a parallel can be found in burial
206, where the buried male had a similar arrangement of
beads around the cranium. Another similarity between
the burial 317 and other burials at the site is the presence
of ochre in front of the face. In the case of the burial 317,
the ochre appeared to be mixed with a clayish substance,
forming a layer up to 0.5 cm thick. Similar ochre lay-
ers up to 0.5 cm thick have been found in the facial area
of six other individuals at Zvejnieki (Zagorska 2006b).
In these cases, round amber rings with large, centrally-
placed holes had been put in front of the eyes, a posi-
tion that eventually led them to become lodged in the eye
sockets. In the case of burial 317, an almost circular bead
was found just below the right eye socket. It might ini-
tially have been placed in front of the eye, similarly to the
other cases we know from Zvejnieki. We may note that
this piece diff ers in shape from the others, with an asym-
metrically positioned perforation.
When comparing the fi nds on a larger scale, it is clear
that burials with amber are not uncommon in the East-
ern Baltic area and Russia during the Neolithic. Several
graves with amber are known from Estonia (Ots 2003).
The graves and settlement of Tamula in southern Esto-
nia, the closest cemetery to Zvejnieki, have produced the
largest number of ornaments in the country. Burial with
two amber pendants among other grave goods has been
dated as early as 5760±45 BP (Hela-1335), 4712–4501
cal BC (Kriiska et al. 2007). Several burials rich in amber
are also known from the cemetery Sakhtysh IIA, in the
Ivanovo region of Western Russia. These are the richest
burials regarding amber beads known in northeastern Eu-
rope (Kostyleva & Utkin 2000). Burial 15 had more than
two hundred beads. These beads are button-shaped, with
a perforation that can be described a reversed V-shape,
made from the fl at reverse side. This type was not found in
the double burial 316–317, but does occur in other graves
at Zvejnieki (2001, Fig. 7). The burials at Sakhtysh IIA
are dated to between 4540±160 BP, 3637–2898 cal BC
and 4800±200 BP, 4037–3021 cal BC (GIN-6234, GIN-
7190 and GIN-6237). It appears that the button-shaped
beads are somewhat younger than some of the pendants,
and were worn in a somewhat diff erent fashion from pen-
dants (Kostyleva & Utkin 2000, Fig. 4; Zagorska 2003,
Fig. 6).
Large amber rings have been found in settlement sites
in the Baltic region. However, these rings are more like
discs with a large hole, compared to the ones from the
burial 316, and relate to a somewhat later stage of the
Neolithic (Butrimas 2001). The rings from the burial 316
have a much closer similarity to the slate rings found in
graves and settlements of the Combed Ware Culture in
Finland, with a maximum diameter of 15 cm (Kopisto
1959; Edgren 1992). They are found at the neck, as in the
case of the female burial 316. Like the second amber ring
from this grave, fragmented slate rings were perforated to
prolong their use as ornaments.
Fragments of pottery
Fragments of pottery, such as those found with burial 325
(Fig. 18), are also known from other burials at Zvejnieki.
In the case of the burial 199, seven sherds were found
behind the skull. The design of the vessel consisted of a
band of fi ne-tooth impressions (Zagorskis 2004, 69). In
the case of the burial 269, a rim of a vessel decorated with
rows of impressions and pits characteristic the Piestiņa
Ware (Zagorskis 2004, 69) was found in the waist region
of the deceased. The decoration and the position on the
body are very similar to the burial 325.
Flint objects
The fl int object found in burial 317 (Fig. 16) has no direct
parallels to other int objects previously found at Zve-
jnieki. There are knives, but these have generally been
made on blades (Zagorskis 2004, 62). This object is made
on a large ake. It has some similarities to a scraper, but
both sides have been retouched in order to create denticu-
lations. A similar technique has been used for scrapers at
Zvejnieki (Zagorskis 2004, Fig. XIX:6).
The arrowheads from burial 325 were made by pres-
86 Acta Archaeologica
sure fl aking. There are several graves with arrowheads of
similar shape from the cemetery (Zagorskis 2004, 61), all
common in the Middle Neolithic.
Bone object
The type of bone object made from an elk metacarpal that
was found at the right arm of the deceased in burial 317
(Fig. 16) is well known as a grave good in several graves
at Zvejnieki (Zagorskis 2004, 56). They are classifi ed as
awls. While the object itself is not uncommon, the posi-
tion in the case of the burial 317 is more unusual. Other
awls have been found at the waist, in front of the chest or
by the legs. These objects might have been used for dif-
ferent purposes, and the variation in position may relate
to the use. In the case of burial 317, the position suggests
that it may have been used as a dagger. It might have been
hidden in the sleeve or contained in the wrapping of the
body and could have been used for protection (Petersen
1974).
Tar at the feet of the female burial 316
A dark area characterized by a fatty texture was identi-
ed behind the feet of the woman (Fig. 11). Analysis of
a sample of this material revealed that it is a compos-
ite material originating from some form of dry distillate
of birch-bark, perhaps birch-bark tar or birch-bark resin
(Isaksson 2013). The resin might have been used for
many purposes, such as hafting arrowheads and form-
ing handles for various tools. In a period preceding the
double grave, the resin was used both for xing micro-
blades in slotted bone points and attaching the point to
the arrow-shaft, as well as for attaching leister points to
their long shaft. It is likely that this product continued to
be used for various hafting and adhesive purposes. It is
also likely that the presence of the substance in the burial
is symbolic or ritual.
THE PAST IN THE PAST
The intensive use of the site for settlement and burial and
the manner in which some burials described here appears
to have cut through an older one, prompted us to consider
how older burials were perceived at the time. When the
phenomenon “the past in the past” is discussed it nor-
mally concerns the use of clearly observable monuments
like burials and settlements that have been well preserved
and were easily identifi ed at the time, several centuries
after erection, when they became incorporated into a new
function (Bradley 2002; Jones 2007). At Zvejnieki we
have quite another situation, but still, a case where there
is evidence of how prehistoric people intentionally used
the remains left by the previous generations.
In a society without solid monuments, the earth is the
most permanent of materials (Helms 2005). In an archi-
pelagic environment, the distinction between earth and
water is clearly established. One lives on earth, and in
the occupation layer, the remains of the living society are
mixed with soil. Everyday life is buried in the earth, just
like the dead members of the society. If the same loca-
tion continues to be settled for a considerable time, the
remains of the ancestors will still be obvious for several
generations. The memory of the ancestors will be easy
to maintain through a close relationship to their refuse.
When a pit is dug the remains of those long deceased
will be unearthed, just as when digging a grave, an older
burial is exposed. The settlement itself becomes a monu-
ment of the past.
If one and the same area is used as a settlement over
a long period, a confrontation with the vestiges of past
generations cannot be avoided. The encounter with the
ancestors will become a frequent issue. A society can
either try to avoid this confrontation by moving away
(Knutsson 1995) or regard the connection to the ances-
tors as an important and desirable part of life. If a trust in
the connection to the ancestral past exists, then the soil
itself will be regarded as an important link between the
living and the dead – a link that is directed towards the
past and oriented towards the future (Gosden 1994, 15).
The use of such soil might be a commemorative practice.
The material culture within the soil represents an objecti-
cation of the past, yet it is also experienced subjectively
(Jones 2007, 53).
For the graves excavated in the 1960s and the 1970s,
the ll or at least the soil around the dead has been de-
scribed as black with diff erent additions such as “rich
in charcoal”, “intensively black earth”, etc. (Zagorskis
2004). Of the 308 excavated graves, 140 or 45 % had
a black fi ll. In most cases, the earth simply covered the
human remains, but in a few cases from the Middle Neo-
lithic, black soil covered the bottom of the grave, with the
deceased placed on top of this layer.
Among the graves with black soil, 52 are registered
as having a fi ll from the occupation layer. These diff er by
their inclusion of artefacts such as fl int fl akes. It was also
87
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
observed that a small number of grave fi lls from the Mid-
dle Neolithic included Mesolithic artefacts (Zagorskis
2004, 81).
The grave ll, mixed with soot and charcoal, had a
close resemblance to the occupation layer nearby. In ad-
dition, it included a considerable number of fl int and bone
nds similar to the settlement remains. However, there
seemed to be a discrepancy between the date of the burial
and some of the artefacts found in the ll. However, in
the case of burial 313, the ll included a fragment of a
slotted bone point that should date from the Preboreal or
the Early Boreal, a phase two millennia earlier (Hartz et
al. 2010).
Black soil
The house on the site had been rebuilt as late as the 1960s
but had been placed on the same foundation of stones as a
much earlier farmhouse building, probably the fi rst build-
ing on the site. As no cellar had been dug, this provided
a view of how the surface and soil might have looked
before the area was farmed – the only opportunity for
this kind of investigation within the entire site of Zve-
jnieki. No settlement remains whatsoever were identifi ed.
However, a number of shallow burials were preserved as
little as a couple of decimetres below the previous sur-
face. These graves were even shallower than any previ-
ously excavated. This reinforced the interpretation that no
farming had taken place in the area below the farmhouse
during modern times. The fi ll, with a large number of ar-
60
70
80
90
100
110
120
80 90 100 110 120 130 140 150 160 170 180 190 200 210 220 220
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
HH
H
H
H
H
H
H
H
P
PP
AA
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AA
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AAAA AA
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K
BP
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FLINT QUARTZ BONE HUMAN BONE POTTERY AMBER PENDANT
FLINT KNIFE BONE POINT
Fig. 19. The fi ll of the burial 316–317 in a 20-cm-thick transverse section. Drawing: L. Larson
88 Acta Archaeologica
tefacts (Fig. 19), could therefore not be regarded as soil
from an existing occupation layer that the graves had cut
through. However, nds from the fi ll, such as a couple
of fragmented leister points of the Kunda type (Larsson
2010, Fig. 5), indicated that the ll held material that
might be older than the burials.
One explanation would be that an occupation layer
initially covering the area was later destroyed by erosion
and ploughing before the farm building was erected. The
analysis confi rmed that only three of the burials (burial
313, and the double burials 316–317 and 319–320) con-
tain material similar to what we fi nd in the occupation
layers. We also noted that these graves are signifi cantly
deeper than the others, and represent diff erent periods,
from the Mesolithic to the Middle Neolithic. If indeed
this ll originated in an occupation layer, that occupa-
tion layer would have had to have started accumulating
already in the Mesolithic. This raises the question why
none of the shallower burials from that same period in-
cludes any of the same ll. Even a shallow pit had to be
lled with some soil, and therefore at least some material
of the kind that we nd in the deep graves would likely
have also been recorded in the more shallow ones. How-
ever, this is not the case.
The specifi c conditions presented a unique opportu-
nity to have a closer look at the chronological relation-
ship between the human remains and the ll used for their
burial. The double burial 316–317, with its signifi cant
depth and number of artefacts in the fi ll, lent itself very
well to this kind of detailed study, and a number of 14C
dates were carried out on the artefacts from the fi ll. As
discussed above, the two human skeletons of the burial
316–317 gave close 14C values. Samples were also taken
from an awl/dagger made of an elk ulna found close to
the right arm of the male in the double grave. The main
reason for taking this sample was to get a date from a
terrestrial species of the same age as the humans in order
to learn whether there was a fresh-water reservoir eff ect
of freshwater because a considerable intake of freshwater
sh could have altered the apparent age of the humans
(Meadows et al. 2015). The dagger was dated to 4865±60
BP, 3786–3521 cal BC (LuS 7852). However, the diff er-
ence is rather small, and it seems that the reservoir eff ect
was of no major importance in this case.
In order to obtain information about the age of the fi ll,
a number of bones with and without traces of alteration
were dated. The tip of a Kunda leister head has been dated
to 8275±55 BP (LuS 8738), 7486–7141 cal BC; a beaver
vertebra is dated to 6320±60 BP (LuS 8222), 5472–5081
cal BC; a vertebra of wels has given a date of 6630±55
BP (LuS 8223), 5636–5483 cal BC; and an incisor of a
wild boar has been dated to 5455±50 BP (LuS 8835),
4446–4174 cal BC. All dates of bones in the fi ll are older
or considerably older than the human remains and must
be interpreted as dating from a period that preceded the
burial (Fig. 20). The dates do not seem to indicate that
the soil was taken from a contemporaneous settlement,
but rather that it was extracted from an abandoned and
signifi cantly older settlement area. This must have been
Human bones in the filling
Burial 317
Burial 316
Bone dagger
Kunda leister point
Vertebra from wels
Vertebra from beaver
Incisor from wild boar
Fig. 20. The dates of the burials, a bone dagger provided with the burial, the fi nds in the fi ll and human bones in the fi ll.
89
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
a deliberate choice. According to the dates, which diff er
by as much as three thousand years, the soil must have
been taken from diff erent parts of the settlement area or
at diff erent levels in a location that had been occupied
for a considerable time. The eff ort to bring the soil from
these abandoned occupation areas would have been rath-
er small, as they are located very close by (Fig. 2).
This relationship appears to be more generally appli-
cable for Zvejnieki as a whole. A bird bone found in the
burial 165, dated to the 5th millennium BC, was just a
few centuries older than the human remains. Previously
obtained radiocarbon dates for bone nds in the fi lls have
turned out to be considerably older than the human re-
mains in the burials (Zagorska 2006; Mannermaa 2008;
Mannermaa et al. 2007). In graves from the 7th millen-
nium (burial 170), the 6th millennium (burial 154) and
the 5th millennium (burial 164), bird bones (dating to the
11th millennium BC) were found to be between three and
ve millennia older than the human remains (Mannermaa
et al. 2007, Fig. 8). These early bird bones are found in
graves on the highest part of the gravel ridge and are of
about the same age. They have been interpreted as hav-
ing a natural depositional history, as there are no nds
of that age in the settlement. According to a radiocarbon
date 9415±80 BP (Ua-18201), 9123–8421 cal BC as well
as on the basis of the artefact types, the settlement seems
to start during the 9th millennium BC. However, only
parts of the settlement area have been excavated, so even
the early bones might originate from an occupation layer.
Removing the soil from a settlement used in the dis-
tant past and using it in the ll of the graves creates a
connection between the present and past. This practice
seems to be most common during the 5th and the 6th mil-
lennia but is already represented, albeit more sparsely, in
the earliest graves of the cemetery, located in the western,
highest part of the gravel ridge. In this early phase, the
practice may have been reserved for a distinct group of
people within the community who were given this spe-
cial favour. This hypothesis is further supported by the
observation that the use of darker fi ll often corresponds
to the largest numbers of grave goods and elaborate dress
decoration. Around the 6th and the 5th millennia there ap-
pears to have been a change in the use of the cemetery,
with a shift in the location of the burials, away from the
previously used areas, now inhabited by the ancestors (?),
towards the eastern part of the ridge, including the slope.
At this point, the use of black soil for fi lling also becomes
more common. It appears that the practice of using old
occupation layers for grave ll is becoming more estab-
lished over time.
Graves into graves
Another perspective related to the past in the past con-
cerns the very practice of burial deposition. The recent
excavations revealed how the digging of the grave also
involved close up encounters and engagement with the
past, including with human remains originating from
older burials. In fact, the practice of partial or complete
destruction of older graves in the process of digging new
ones was apparent from the documentation of the excava-
tions in the 1960s and 1970s. The pattern became even
clearer during the 2005–2009 excavations, and in particu-
lar in the area below the farmhouse. Some of the exposed
graves had been partly destroyed by the digging of later
graves. The isolated human remains scattered throughout
the area indicate that some of this destruction could have
been so extensive that we no longer even recognize them
as burials. In some cases, the process could be at least
partially traced. As an example, it was possible to see that
at least two graves had been aff ected by the digging of
the double grave 316–317 (see above). Some of these dis-
articulated human remains appear to have been returned
to the grave as part of the fi lling process. In the case of
the burial 316–317 a couple of the disarticulated human
bones found in the ll have been dated. The results reveal
that the isolated bones are several hundred years older
than the two skeletons in the grave, which is consistent
with a practice of engaging with human remains of the
past and fragmenting the remains as part of the burial
process. This fragmentation may have been intentional.
There is no evidence to suggest that the destruction of
older burials caused any specifi c concern or mandated
any correcting strategy.
Given the estimates of how many people were once
buried here, and to what extent the site continued to be
used for this purpose over several thousand years, it
seems reasonable to assume that the people digging the
grave were aware that they might hit ancient graves. The
remarkable preservation of the human remains, even to-
day, would have contributed to their conspicuous pres-
ence in the soil. We propose that we must understand
this destruction of older burials not as representing mis-
takes or exceptions, but rather as a meaningful part of the
mortuary ritual. Like the soil of the ancestral occupation
90
layer, the soil of the cemetery was mixed not only with
the remains of everyday life but also with the ancestors
themselves. The skeletons were the durable substances
associated with a cosmological sense of history (Helms
1995). Through this engagement with the past burials, the
deceased is lowered into a transformative ancestral place,
literally comingled with the ancestors (Nilsson Stutz et
al. 2013). This practice contrasts with the respect for the
integrity of the body which is characteristic for the mor-
tuary practices of the hunters and gatherers in Southern
Scandinavia, as exemplifi ed by the mortuary practices
at Skateholm and Vedbæk-Bøgebakken. Here the dead
are placed in a grave in a fashion that emulates life, and
where only a few of the burials are disturbed after the
deposition (Nilsson Stutz 2003). At Zvejnieki the concern
to maintain the body intact after death appears to have
been replaced by a desire to become part of the ancestral
place. Perhaps the transition to ancestor was already un-
der way at the time of burial, as the body was transformed
through wrappings and masks, as has been suggested re-
cently (Nilsson Stutz et al. 2013).
We do not know if any grave markers were used. No
stone covering has been documented, and no soil discol-
ouration from posts has been noticed in conjunction with
the graves. One indication that some graves were marked is
evident in the elongated stone found in the uppermost part
of the fi ll in the double grave 316–317 (Fig. 10). The stone
measures 0.3×0.16 metres. It was found in an upright posi-
tion. This stone might have been visible from the surface
after the grave had been refi lled, and thus may have been
a kind of grave marker. This fi nd is fortuitous, and it is im-
portant to emphasize that it was found inside the protective
walls of the farmhouse, meaning that the soil surface has
suff ered less erosion. This means that ploughing may have
removed stones that marked graves in other parts of the site
and that such marking may have been a common practice.
That being said, in the same area, inside the walls of the
house, we still have clear evidence for repeated destruction
of older graves by more recent ones. It is thus also possible
that this particular burial was singled out for protection;
for some reason, it was also signifi cantly deeper and richer
than the other graves in its vicinity. If that is the case, we
are witnessing an interesting tension within the mortuary
programme. There may also have been additional signals
at the site. Perhaps the black soil, very visible as a contrast
against the light yellow natural gravel substrate to anybody
removing the surface layers, could also signal the presence
of burials. This soil, as an ancestral substance removed
from the old occupation sites, was reserved for the dead
and may have had a special meaning that made further dig-
ging inappropriate. Here it is interesting to point out that
most graves with a fi ll deriving from an occupation layer
are deeper than the majority of graves within the cemetery.
Several graves within the cemetery at Zvejnieki in-
clude more than one individual. As many as six individu-
als were buried in one grave. Occasionally, a disease or
accident might have taken a number of lives. In most
cases, natural deaths did not occur that often. In several
cases, the black soil seems to have been used as a marker
warning about the already existing burial. In those cases,
the inhabitants still had a good memory of the fi rst buried
individual, who could have functioned as a guardian for
the deceased relatives. To place a recently deceased per-
son close to an individual buried previously could have
been considered a desirable action.
We have to be aware that the use of the settlement, as
well as the cemetery, lasted for several millennia, during
which mortuary practices might have changed consider-
ably in line with the changing views of the inhabitants.
However, during most of the time, a relationship between
the dead and the living was established that brought the
living into close connection with the ancestral remains –
the remains of everyday life in old occupation layers as
well as the remains of the inhabitants themselves.
GRAVE FILLS WITH OCCUPATION
DEBRIS IN OTHER HUNTER-
GATHERER SOCIETIES
We have suggested that people at Zvejnieki in the 7th and
6th millennia used the fi ll as a connection between the past
and present. Similar practices may have been present at
Skateholm, Southern Sweden, with its more than eighty
burials in three cemeteries dated to the Late Mesolithic
(Larsson 1993). In some graves, the fi ll had been arranged
in sections of diff erent colours. This was also connected
with considerable variation in the character of artefacts in
the fi ll. The graves with a high number of artefacts were
also the darkest in colour. At the time of excavation, it
was suggested that soil from an existing occupation had
penetrated during the digging of a grave. But in certain
cases, the marked diff erence between diff erent fi lls of the
same grave indicates that soil from occupations had been
used intentionally. In one of the graves, the area closest to
Acta Archaeologica
91
the wall of the grave consisted of light sand without any
artefacts, while the ll of the central part of the grave was
dark with a high number of artefacts (Larsson 2009). The
preservation at Skateholm cannot be compared to the situ-
ation in Zvejnieki. There were bones among the artefacts
in the fi ll, but the organic component was insuffi ciently
preserved to allow any dating. However, microblades ap-
pear in some graves at Skateholm I, and this type of int
blade ceased to be made some centuries before the area
was used as a cemetery. This is a strong indication that the
earth was taken from another site and used as fi ll. Some-
what older sites from which soil could have been taken to
be used as fi ll are known in the immediate area, such as
Skateholm II, on a small island close to Skateholm I, and
sites along the shoreline of the former lagoon.
HANDLING SOIL FROM OLD
OCCUPATION LAYERS
The form of secondary use of occupation material that we
can see in these cases might cause severe problems with
the dating of layers and features.
The admixture of older occupation layer in a grave fi ll
might make the use of charcoal in the grave, for example,
as a sample for radiocarbon dating of the grave highly
unreliable. The ll might be of a much earlier date than
the burial. But when collagen is lacking in the bones of
the burial there are no other possibilities. A date based on
the fi ll should then be regarded as a terminus post quem.
Dating a grave based on the tools found in the fi ll is like-
wise problematic and requires very careful consideration.
The use of occupation soil might also have some con-
sequences in the form of the alteration of stratigraphies. A
grave such as some of those at Zvejnieki holds more than
one cubic metre of soil. It seems that soil was taken from
diff erent parts of the settlement. However, with several
tens of graves, the disturbance to the original layers could
have been considerable. When excavating occupation
layers, such soil removals might be taken as evidence of
much later interference. If not identifi ed, the disturbances
might cause severe problems concerning the interpreta-
tion of the stratigraphy.
GRAVES AND SETTLEMENTS
If we compare the periods of habitation indicated by the
settlement remains and the period of use of the cemetery,
then we fi nd that these do not completely overlap. This
can partly be explained by the fact that part of the cem-
etery was not archaeologically excavated, having already
been destroyed in the course of gravel extraction, and by
the limited extent of excavation on the habitation sites.
Thus, the earliest phase of habitation on the Mesolithic
(Zvejnieki II) site – in the Preboreal – has no correspond-
ing burials; settlement in the Boreal, refl ected by a rich ar-
ray of settlement material, is poorly represented in terms
of burials. The graves from this period are mainly unfur-
nished or else provided with tooth pendant ornaments. On
the other hand, the fi nal period of Mesolithic settlement
is well represented regarding burials: both the habitation
and the burial sites have produced bone arrowheads and
spearheads, small trapezoidal chisels and other artefact
forms characteristic of the early Atlantic.
Finds dateable to the Early Neolithic (second half of
the Atlantic) are very poorly represented at the Zvejnieki
I settlement; only some tens of potsherds from this period
have been found, in addition to which two intact bone ar-
rowheads representing Early Neolithic forms have been
recovered in the boggy depression north of the ridge. The
Middle Neolithic shows the closest correspondence be-
tween the cemetery and the habitation site. Thus, a rich
assemblage of Combed Ware and clay fi gurines has been
recovered from the settlement, while the burial site has
richly-furnished collective graves from this period, with
grave goods of fl int, bone and amber, and evidence of
very distinctive burial practices. The Corded Ware re-
covered in the course of the small 2005 excavation at
Zvejnieki I permits these fi nds to be connected with the
few scattered crouched burials in the cemetery and in the
upper strata of the settlements. These evidently mark the
nal phase of habitation and of the burial site (Zagorskis
2004, 76–77).
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Preparation of this article was partially undertaken with-
in the frame of the project “History of Latvia. Culture-
historical milieu and socio-political developments in
the context of the Baltic Sea region”, part of the Latvian
National Research Programme “Letonika – history, lan-
guage, culture and values of Latvia”. The Visby Program
from the Swedish Institute as well as grants from the
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences nanced the exca-
vation and analyses.
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
92
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Addresses of the authors:
Lars Larsson, Institute of archaeology and ancient History, Lux,
Box 117, SE-221 01 LUND, Sweden, Lars.Larsson@ark.lu.se
Liv Nilsson Stutz, Department of Anthropology, Emory University,
207 Anthropology Building 1557 Dickey Dr. Atlanta, GA 30322,
lstutz@emory.edu
Ilga Zagorska, Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia,
Kalpaka bulvāris 4, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia, ilga.zagorska@gmail.
com
Valdis Bērziņš, Institute of Latvian History, University of Latvia,
Kalpaka bulvāris 4, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia, valdis-b@latnet.lv
NuroAija Ceriņa, Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences,
University of Latvia, Jelgavas iela 1, Rīga, LV-1004, Latvia, caija@
inbox.lv
New Aspects of the Mesolithic-Neolithic Cemeteries and Settlement at Zvejnieki
... Since its discovery in the 1960s, the Zvejnieki cemetery in northern Latvia has become a reference for hunter-gatherer burial archaeology. The current number of 330 excavated graves (Zagorskis, 1987(Zagorskis, , 2004Larsson et al., 2017) makes it one of the largest burial grounds in northern Europe. Zvejnieki is exceptional not only for the quantity of recorded burials but also for their temporal span, from the eighth to the third millennium BC and beyond. ...
... A new phase of burial archaeology started in the 2000s through an international research collaboration, with a Latvian-Swedish project that investigated further burials at the Zvejnieki cemetery between 2005 and 2009 (Larsson, 2010;Nilsson Stutz et al., 2013;Larsson et al., 2017). New finds of human remains were also made by the Latvian-German cooperative project at the Riņņukalns site in 2011-2018 Lübke et al., 2016;Brinker et al., 2020). ...
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The well-known Zvejnieki cemetery, with 330 burials, is one of the largest hunter-gatherer cemeteries in northern Europe, overshadowing the more than 115 other Stone Age burials from over ten sites in Latvia. This article is a first overview of these other burials, summarizing their research history, characteristics, and assemblages. The authors discuss the problematic chronology of Latvian Stone Age burials and place them in a wider regional context. Most of the burials are hunter-gatherer burials, and a few are Corded Ware graves. This overview broadens our understanding of Latvian Stone Age burials and brings to light the diversity of hunter-fisher-gatherer mortuary practices in the eastern Baltic region.
... A couple of finds with zigzag engravings are known on Danish leister points probably dating from the early part of the Mesolithic [8]. Among later single finds, such as a number of points from a bog in central Scania, there are no ornamented pieces [9]. Just a couple of finds from about the same age as Strandvägen have certain parallels in Southern Scandinavia. ...
... The problem is that none of these finds have been radiocarbon-dated. Most can be included in the Kunda type, belonging to the Early Mesolithic, of which only a few have been dated and shown to belong to the Early Mesolithic [9]. Leister points with similar ornaments are known from other sites in western Russia [17 ; 18]. ...
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Our knowledge of Mesolithic decorated bone and antler tools from Scandinavia has mainly been based on finds from sites and single finds from Southern Scandinavia. However, recent excavations at a Late Mesolithic site at Strandvgen in Motala, south-central Sweden, have changed the state of research and revealed a large number of bone and antler tools, some of them with decorations. The site is located on the eastern shore of Lake Vttern, the second largest lake in the south of Sweden and at the only large outlet of the lake. The site was used during a number of centuries, with a concentration of radiocarbon dates around 7500-7000 cal. BP. The settlement at Strandvgen is the only site in this part of Scandinavia with a large number of finds of bone and antler. The location of the site was exceptional as it was easily available by contact links to the south and north as well as east and west. This is well manifested in the find material. Leister points are the single largest group of tools, with a total of more than 400 examples. A number of these are furnished with decoration in the form of small notches on the barbs more or less in systematic order, as well as cross-hatched motifs. A small number of other tools such as slotted daggers and antler objects with shaft holes are also decorated. In comparison with southern Sweden and Denmark, similarities are obvious concerning both the choice of motifs and the variety of their execution. The only other area in the Baltic region with a number of decorated objects is the East Baltic. However the chronological relevance is uncertain. For example one can find leister points with similarities to the finds at Strandvgen among the finds from Lake Lubāna in south-eastern Latvia. The question of how many of the motifs, and how they are executed is a pan-Mesolithic phenomenon within Northern Europe and how much can be related to specific regional markings.
... Zvejnieki in northern Latvia is a cemetery where individuals were buried from the middle Mesolithic to Neolithic period, from the 8th to 4th millenia BC (Eriksson, Lõugas and Zagorska, 2003;Stutz, Larsson and Zagorska, 2013). Individuals at the site were partially mobile and the inhumations did not respect one another, suggesting the absence of knowledge of previous burial placement in some later periods (Larsson et al., 2017). ...
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While early Neolithic populations in Europe were largely descended from early Aegean farmers, there is also evidence of episodic gene flow from local Mesolithic hunter-gatherers into early Neolithic communities. Exactly how and where this occurred is still unknown. Here we report direct evidence for admixture between the two groups at the Danube Gorges in Serbia. Analysis of palaeogenomes recovered from skeletons revealed that second-generation mixed individuals were buried amidst individuals whose ancestry was either exclusively Aegean Neolithic or exclusively local Mesolithic. The mixed ancestry is also reflected in a corresponding mosaic of grave goods. With its deep sequence of occupation and its unique dwellings that suggest at least semi-sedentary occupation since the late Mesolithic, the area of the Danube Gorges has been at the center of the debate about the contribution of Mesolithic societies to the Neolithisation of Europe. As suggested by our data, which were processed exclusively with uncertainty-aware bioinformatic tools, it may have been precisely in such contexts that close interactions between these societies were established, and Mesolithic ancestry and cultural elements were assimilated.
... Thus, this data reinforces the concept of two possible paths of diffusion of this technology. The early Preboreal AMS dates at Pulli, Kunda Lammäsmagi, Zvejnieki II and Lapiņi sites also show the early stages of the use of pressure blade technique in the Early Mesolithic and would support this concept (Damlien et al., 2018;Larsson et al., 2017), however, there is still a great lack of dated material from Lithuania, which would supplement the concept of the supposed southern route. There are many sites in the territory of Lithuania where early Mesolithic Pullitype lithics can be found. ...
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1. About Time. 2. Understanding Long-Term Social Change. 3. Meaning, Mind and Matter. 4. Towards a Social Ontology. 5. Concepts of Being. 6. Problems of History and Meaning. 7. Species Being: The Very Long Term. 8. Final Thoughts. Further Reading. Bibliography. Index.