Niedertiefenbach

Financed by: GSHDL

Niedertiefenbach is a burial chamber constructed of large stone tiles measuring 10 m in length and 3, 2 m in width (gallery grave). It was erected in the Neolithic Age, specifically in the Late Neolithic Age around 3100 BC, and was used as a burial place (tomb) up until 2800 BC. The large number of preserved burials and the unusual grave goods make it an exceptional research project for the Hessian Monument Preservation.

The renewed studies of Niedertiefenbach is part of a research project on the transition from the Late Neolithic to the end of the Neolithic. During this time a marked change takes place in Central Europe from a pronounced regionalisation with  several discernible form groupings in finds, tomb constructions and burial rites (archaeological culture) to two groups with uniform characteristics spread over a wide area, the Bell Beaker and Corded Ware cultures.  It was probably not an abrupt event that caused this change but a fundamental transition that occurred within a few generations with an oral tradition. Because of the profound changes that occurred in these societies' traditions (especially within the burial rites) we assume that there was a perceived crisis at this period and the processes involved is what we strive to grasp.

Project collaborators: Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (Prof. Dr. rer. nat. B. Krause-Kyora)/ Hospital for Conservative Dentistry and Periodontology at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (Prof. Dr. C. Dörfer, J. Kopp) / The Hessian Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments (Dr. S. Schade-Lindig) / Institute for Pre- and Protohistory at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (Dr. C. Rinne)

Site

Niedertiefenbach (wikipedia) is currently part of the parish Beselich in Limburg-Weilburg (Hessia). The site of the tomb lies to the Southeast of Niedertiefenbach on a flat hill (193 m above sea level) that extends south into the lowlands of Tiefenbach. The hill is a southern extension of the Limburger Becken which is an extensive intermontane depression within the Rhenish Uplands consisting mainly of loess soil and with intensive agricultural use. The nearest modern settlement to the site is the sity Limburg an der Lahn which lies 7 km to the Southeast.


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Research History

The research history of this significant burial chamber belonging to the Wartburg Culture is one of constant rediscoveries. In 1847 the tomb was burst open (with no supervision) which destroyed a large part and the bones were taken to i.a. a bone mill. This is the information gathered by K. Rossel in 1859 during the course of his research on three grave mounds that lay in the vicinity and was published that same year (Rossel 1859). Over a hundred years later, in April 1961, the report was used as a guide in order to rediscover the burial chamber. The excavation on the remnants, especially of the preserved chamber filling (approx. 5 m²) was conducted by H. Schoppa and his wife as well as I. Schmidt from the 2nd of October to the 30th of November of the same year (Wurm et al.  1963, 51, NB. 2). 

Towards the end of the chamber protected by vertical stone plates, was the filling of the chamber with a compact layer of human bones still preserved. This is where the few but special findings were made: 6 rolls of copper coils,  21 amber beads, 10 canines from dogs, two canine imitations carved from bones, two left and right mandible fragments from dogs,  four flint artifacts (including a simple triangular arrow head), a fossilized shell, three fragments of pottery and 15 bone fragments of i.a. Bovine. A preliminary report on the uncovered skeletal remains can be found at the end of the publication (Wurm et al. 1963). The anthropological processing of the finds are concluded with the dissertation by A. Czarnetzki (1966, wikipedia) abgeschlossen.

In a large scale dating study on the Neolithic transition in Europe (among many other sites) three samples were taken in different depths out of the burial of Niedertiefenbach (Breunig 1987, 304). The publication of this study was (at the time) a fundamental piece on radiocarbondating. Following an extensive study on the (in Hessia widespread) Late Neolithic Wartburg Culture and a dating study with radiocarbon dating, the three existing radiocarbon dates were combined with their corresponding depths into a dating model (wiggle-matching) (Raetzel-Fabian 2002, 5 ill. 4).

Since 2014 the burial site is once again part of a research study. This time the focus is on scientific analysis of the aDNA, the microbiology and dental medicine. Besides the issue of relations, the demographic development, the physical condition (parasitology) and the dental states (i.a. abrasions and morphological changes compared to extant samples) are topics of interest. The following collaborators are part of this cooperative research:

  • Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (Prof. Dr. rer. nat. B. Krause-Kyora)
  • Hospital for Conservative Dentistry and Periodontology at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (Prof. Dr. C. Dörfer, J. Kopp)
  • The Hessian Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments (Dr. S. Schade-Lindig)
  • Institute for Pre- and Protohistory at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel (Dr. C. Rinne)

 

Literature

Breunig 1987:
P. Breunig, 14C-Chronologie des vorderasiatischen, südost- und mitteleuropäischen Neolithikums. Fundamenta A 13 (Wien 1987).

Czarnetzki 1966:
A. Czarnetzki, Die menschlichen Skelettreste aus vier neolithischen Steinkisten Hessens und Niedersachsens (Diss. Tübingen 1966).

Raetzel-Fabian 2002:
D. Raetzel-Fabian, Revolution, Reformation, Epochenwechsel? Das Ende der Kollektivgrabsitte und der Übergang von der Wartberg- zur Einzelgrabkultur in Nordhessen und Westfalen. www.jungsteinsite.de Artikel vom 5. Januar 2002, 2002 <http://www.jna.uni-kiel.de/index.php/jna/article/view/81> (13.08.2014)

Rossel 1859:
K. Rossel, Das Steingrab bei Nieder-Tiefenbach. Periodische Blätter 9, 1859, 240–241 <http://www.vhghessen.de/mhg/1859/1859_09_240.htm> (13.08.2014).

Wurm et al. 1963:
K. Wurm / H. Schoppa / C. Ankel / A. Czarnetzki, Die westeuropäische Steinkiste von Niedertiefenbach, Oberlahnkreis. Fundber. Hessen 3, 1963, 46–78.

Digitalising former excavations

Modern computer technologies and software, even those that are free and in everyday use,  make excellent tools for the renewed analysis and illustration of former excavations. At the beginning the archived lithographies of the plan were digitalised (to enable a higher quality for print) and arranged in a geographic information system. Included in digitalisation were the written recordings of age, gender and individual skulls. Several clearly visible characteristics were also recorded, such as name of the individual bone, its association with others and its position within these associations. This work allows immediate access to the available data during contextualisation of the finds. A first quantifiable illustration of the occurrences of bones and can be used to visualise results. Within the 71 recognised anatomical associations containing 501 bones, there is a definite preference for a positioning lengthways to the chamber with the head facing towards the entrance in the South (n=224). From Southeast to Northwest (n=87)   and transversally to the chamber (n=85) are other positions that occurred in the burial chamber.

Bones Quantity
Skulls and Jawbones 209
Vertebrae, Ribs and Collarbones 360
Pelvises and Coccyxes 37
Arm Bones and Scapulae 43
Leg Bones 111
Hand- and Foot Bones 151
Long Bones unident. 682
Total 1593
 
3D-Visualisation of the burial positioning at the northern end of the chamber.
Orange: Skulls | Green: Anatomical Associations | Yellow: other Bones