ROOTS of Social Inequality Forum

Feb 16, 2021 from 10:00 AM to 02:00 PM

Virtual. For the videoconference link, please contact Tim Kerig

Title: Big mounds for big chiefs? On the multifaceted social frameworks of burial mounds and burial mound building from a Eurasian perspective

Speaker: Sabine Reinhold, Eurasia-Department, German Archaeological Institute, Berlin



Burial mounds are a ubiquitous feature in any Eurasian landscape. Beyond the densely settled Europe, barrows still dominate vistas and constitute cultural landscapes. Some of the mounds are huge in their dimensions, some of them nearly invisible; some form long lines, some clusters, and others stand as solitary monuments. These mounds are emblematic for Bronze and Iron Age societies, even their roots date back to Neolithic or Eneolithic times. Many of the narratives associated with Bronze and Iron Age such as increase in social disparities and the vectors of social inequality, are closely intertwined with the few great and many small burial mounds of this epochs. Huge monuments with impressive burial inventories presenting males with warrior equipment’s and females with splendid costumes – the graves inside the mounds offered perfect arguments to reconstruct elites, their social and even political role. They are based concepts of domination and sovereignty that we associate with early or medieval societies. But is the analogy correct? Are monumental mounds of the 4th millennium BC in the Caucasus built over the graves of early ‘kings’, ‘big chiefs’ or ‘big men’, as they are in later historical epochs? Is a big mound in itself an emblem of ‘kingship’ and neighbouring smaller construction that of associated elites?

In his poem ‘Questions of a Reading Workman’, Bertold Brecht pointedly posed the question on the relationship of historically spotlighted and forgotten protagonists, the ‘kings’ and the ‘others’ that are found in many of the narratives on elites and monuments, – “Who built the seven towers of Thebes? The names of kings are mentioned in the books. Did those kings drag those boulders? …“. I would like to follow in my talk this leitmotif. Who participated for what reasons in the creation of burial mounds in Western Eurasia? What does the actual archaeological sources tell us about the persons in the graves, those who interacted with the deceased and the bereaved, those who took part in the funerals, and those who finally built the monuments for their(?) remembrance? How much of social inequality can we really reconstruct from the difference in size and expenditure of the resulting constructions? The talk will focus on the onset of this phenomenon in the 5th and 4th millennium BC with a focus on early mounds in the Caucasus and the Black Sea region. This is one of the two early hotspots in the emergence of the idea to erect a mound at the spot of a burial.

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