Observations Concerning the Bronze Age Cult-Object from Sărata Monteoru-Poiana Scoruşului1.
|By Ion MOTZOI-CHICIDEANU
For the study of the funerary behavior of the Monteoru culture, the object excavated at Poiana Scoruşului in the neighborhood of the nearby village of Sarata Monteoru represents an uncommonly significant set. The research of the object began in 1943 by a small scale excavation followed by two other excavation campaigns in 1952 and 1954 which partially uncovered a complicated structure whose interpretation has remained a matter of controversy until today. During the 1952 campaign, a 125 sqm surface was probed into, revealing the in situ ruin of a structure built on a clay-bound stone pedestal whose walls were made of a mixture of clay and straw stuck on a network of piles and thick twigs, as resulting from the wall pieces found at the time. The entire structure had been set fire to, the walls had caved in and "human bones together with rare instances of articulated bodily parts were found, alongside instantaneously smashed pottery". Two such finds could be delimited, whose bones seemed to configure a skeleton and, adjoining to it, two on the spot broken vessels. Judging by the ceramic material found, the unearthed construction was attributed to phase Monteoru Ic3 and considered to be "related to the burials of this period"2. The Poiana Scoruşului excavations were resumed in 1954 and their results became known through an equally succinct site report3. By comparison to the previous report, in this one the following was offered as a plain statement: "the funerary structure was a rectangular pyre", an interpretation that became subsequently accepted by all. There were quite a few new items of information associated to the 1954 excavations, as compared to the ones in 1952. First, it was specified that the "pyre area" was laid out by successive paving operations, three or four in number; these had served either for the consolidation of the ground or for the burning of the bodies, which action is considered to have been repeated, as an explanation for the the layer formations discovered, having 8 to 12 cm in depth and consisting of calcinated bone, coal and shards, and, in the top layer, consisting of "large pots broken on the spot and whole skeleton pieces left over from the last cremations". Another novelty was the identification of a further construction, erected after the pyre but belonging to the same phase. It was also in 1954 that a further structure made of big boulders was researched; it lay under the pyre, and its remains were beside an in situ hearth. Owing to the ceramic material, this construction was dated to the Ic4 phase. Lastly, to the north-east of the "pyre" was uncovered, but only partially, "a wall" allegedly erected over an earth vallum. The stratigraphic disposition indicated that it lay over the subsequently erected Ic4 phase construction, while at the same time it was said "to obviously pre-date" the pyre! Just as in the 1952 excavations, in the second report it was stated that the structure identified in 1952 "had been entirely uncovered". The presence of the human bones was taken to justify the connection between the identified structure and the funerary customs, while the fact that these bones were cremated, though often rather incompletely - which, on the other hand, permitted the recovery of the anatomical link - was considered a token of cremation characteristically practiced as "the tribal funerary rite", even if the absence of contemporary cinerary graves raised questions. In 1960, in his larger presentation of the bronze age in Romania, I. Nestor showed that the Poiana Scoruşului pyre had not been completely researched and went on to stress that until that date there had been found absolutely no urn grave, as against the numerous skeleton graves already ascertained, which left room for supposing that "the mentioned pyre had another (sacrificial?) function rather than pointing to the ordinary burial rite" 4. Unfortunately, I. Nestor's reservations were not taken into account, and "the pyre" at Sărata Monteoru-Poiana Scoruşului continued to be mentioned as such repeatedly, despite the insufficient archaeological documentation5. Eventually, in the very recent period, an extended report on the 1952 and 1954 excavations was published, where E. Zaharia reiterated her older interpretation of the Poiana Scoruşului object as a cremation pyre. 6. This time, the report contains a series of drawings and cross-sections of the older excavations, as well as some materials, such as ceramic, bone and flint pieces which were discovered in the objects attributed to the Ic3 phase. Here is a quotation from the conclusion: "Summing up the observations below [sic], the pyre structure was as follows: there were three small riverbed stone rows, containing 3 to 5 cm thick interspersed layers of very fine calcified bones (splinters) as well as bigger fragments, together with a lot of charcoal and ash, ceramic fragments and other larger broken pieces from the burial inventory of the cremations. Almost whole skeletons or fragments of skeletons with the bones in disorder but still anatomically related were found only at levels 2 and 3 of the pyre; next to it were found big, on the spot broken pots belonging to the funerary inventory; given that a lot of them were intensely cremated on a secondary basis, this certifies the presence of these objects when the corpse was cremated. Judging by the remains found, it undoubtedly appears that the pyre was used in the MIc3 phase, as a platform for burning the corpses together with their inventories, and their more important parts were subsequently taken to be buried in the ground. The formation of the charcoal layer with small bone fragments (splinters) at all levels where the pyre was used also indicates the existence of some cremation graves in the cemeteries corresponding to the Ic3 phase, which has been confirmed by similarly findings such as those of Cândeşti-Vrancea or Cârlomaneşti (Buzău) 7.
The significance of the Poiana Scoruşului findings caused the excavations to be resumed during 1994-19958. The results of the two campaigns, with the 1995 one split into a July and a September9 campaign were briefly outlined, as there had already arisen a controversy regarding the interpretation of the object10.
Within the Sărata Monteoru archaeological site, Poiana Scoruşului is situated 247 m above sea level and circ. 150 m south-east of the Cetăţuie settlement. The archaeological research undertaken in time has led to the discovery of several funerary zones that go under the name of Cemetery 1-4, as well as to the identification of others. All of these lie on the slopes of the Cetăţuie hill or on the adjoining hillsides11 (Fig. 1). If cemetery 3 is situated on a hill lying north-east of Cetăţuie, cemeteries 1, 2 and 4 are located right on the Cetăţuie slopes, which doubtlessly indicates that they all pertain to a single and large funerary zone appearing as fragmented due to the hazardous archaeological researches. Poiana Scoruşului does not pertain to this funerary zone, being situated on a relatively narrow plateau connected to the Cetăţuie hill by a narrow "bridge" called " Col" by the site research team. The object in question is situated on this small plateau, in a kond of a natural pit, step-shaped and oriented towards the north-east, initially circ. 3m deep. If it was possible for the step to be laid bare to the west and the south-west, to the north-east and east it sloped down towards the limit of the little plateau bearing the name of Poiana Scoruşului. This observation is quite relevant, as the natural form of the land seems to have determined to a large extent the object structure.
The 1994 and 1995 excavations met with considerable difficulty. Firstly, there were land-disturbances provoked by the 7th c. AD cemetery, though they did not really reach very deep down; still they displaced the deposits over the object, which precluded the precise identification of its corresponding ground level. Secondly, the forestation in the area sometime in the 1960s restricted the research area, together with the widening of a natural muddy glen lying to the north. Last but not least, the impossibility of correlating the new excavations with those made in the years 1952 and 1954, in the absence of the old landmarks, forced the research team to restore by on-site excavations the routes of the old cross-sections and surfaces, especially the ones of 1954, which is why today it is extremely difficult to restore the initial aspect and dimensions of the unearthed object.(Fig. 2 - 3)
The research followed two intersecting trenches meant to identify the exact position of the object, then it opened three surfaces destined for the study in detail (Fig. 4). Owing to some objective conditions, the excavation did not touch the virgin soil level anywhere besides the P.7-2 surface and at the western end of the West section, where the western limitation of the object was in fact clearly revealed. As for the rest of the site, the research was interrupted at two different levels, and in the P.7-3 surface it was interrupted at the level where there were unearthed two lines of big sized stone boulders apparently structured into two rows belonging to the construction identified in 1954 and attributed to "phase Ic4". The difficulties of the research were also increased by the fact that the entire object had been covered by earth dug from the excavations, which left room for confusion between the in situ deposits and those due to the covering up. In 1994, the North trench was unearthed at 0.15-0.25 m from the present ground level, being a mass consisting of riverbed stone and red-burnt adobe. According to Eugenia Zaharia, this represented the upper part of the "pyre" preserved in situ and recorded as such (Fig. 5 - 6). In July 1995 I ordered that this mass be dismantled and we found underneath a "5 bani" coin dating back to 1953; lower down we scraped away the earth and what appeared quite clearly was the route of one of the 1954 sections.
The stratigraphic observations were made especially on the north, east and south walls of the P.7-2 as well as on the walls of the intersecting sections or of the other surfaces, or even on intermediate raw stratigraphic proofs. The most eloquent is the south profile of the Surface P.7-2 (Fig. 7 - 8); here it has been possible to record a stratigraphic sequence which reveals the structure of the object itself, in my opinion. The oldest traces are represented by the pit 8a-b with the two actually intersecting pits, as indicated in the drawing (Fig. 9). Both pits were dug in the virgin clay deposits, but their initial excavation level has not been preserved, which can be seen in the drawn profile . The pit filling consists of grayish-black soil in which have been found small adobe pieces, coal granules and a few shards some of which have the specific decoration of the so-called " Ic4-2 Monteoru phase". In the same stratigraphic position with Pit 8a-b, in S-P.7-2 were discovered Pits 5, 9 and 10. If in the fillings of Pit 5 and 10 there were found no archaeological materials, in Pit. 9 was found a good portion of the skeleton of an animal - of the sheep or goat family - which might point to a potentially cult-related function of this pit. Over Pit 8a-b there is a stretch of directly overlying gray clayey soil mixed with archaeological material consisting of ceramic fragments, animal bones - which are not cremated -, something I insist upon, and of small riverbed stone. This layer "goes up" in the western direction, overlying directly the yellow virgin clay soils beyond the limit of Pit 8a-b. Corroborating this observation with the missing dug soil level of Gr 8a-b it clearly follows that the gray soil level was deposited in a pit laid out by making a gradient to the west, which explains "the ground slant" and the fact that the gray layer with archaeological material overlies first the dark yellow clay and then the layer underneath it. In the lower part of the gray clayey layer and approximately in the middle of the S-P.7-2 surface was discovered hearth 2, consisting of a thin crust of cremated clay which turned yellowish brick-red. Under the hearth crust, the layer of red cremated earth was circ. 1-3 cm thick, which proves that the fireplace was not long in use. Maybe hearth 2 indicates the ground level from which pits 5, 8a-b, 9 10 were dug, but it has not been possible to capture any direct archaeological relationships to prove it. In the gray layer were found ceramic fragments which pertain to the Monteoru Ic3 style, judging by the forms and decorations. To the north-east, over the gray clayey layer there was a short and thin dark-brown stretch of clay, devoid of archaeological material. A strange finding is represented by the two pit-holes dug in the gray clayey layer and reaching down to the virgin soil. The holes are circ. 0.60-0.70 m deep and circ. 0.20 m in diametre. Their digging level has been destroyed and there exist other overlying strata, which is why it becomes impossible to specify what their relationship with the grayish-black layer is or which structure they may have been part of. Directly overlying the gray clayey layer and the short, thin brown stretch of soil as well as the two pit-holes is a layer of greenish-gray earth interspersed with several riverbed stones and also with Ic3 style shards. This deposit, circ. 0.25 m thick, was encountered throughout the P.7-2 surface as well as in the other two, wherever they had not been affected by the old 1952 and 1954 excavations. The deposit is very rich in riverbed stone which once formed a compact stretch of land at the base of the whole object. Again, to the north-east, over the greenish-gray layer there has been identified another short and thin stretch of soil, slightly thicker toward the middle of the object and consisting of evidently brought-in yellow clay that contained very sparse ceramic fragments and a few riverbed stones. Over the yellow clay stretch is a chestnut clay layer, very compact and completely devoid of archaeological material. There is another short and thin stretch of yellow clay overlying this clay layer; it is thicker at the centre and grows thinner to the south-west. A few stones and some further Ic3 style shards have been found here. Over the short and thin yellow clay stretch there lies a further thick layer, averaging about 0.15 m in depth which consists of gray soil where ceramic Ic3 fragments were found alongside sparse riverbed stones. Next comes a mauvish clay layer, circ. 0.50-0.70 m deep, very compact and completely devoid of archaeological material. Over it there is a chestnut earth layer in which numerous riverbed stones could be found, together with very short and thin stretches of black burnt soil, shards of the Ic3 style, small bone fragments, some of them calcined. On the southern profile of the Surface P.7-2 it can be noticed how this deposit was later disturbed, most likely during the excavations which followed the 1954 site researching the cemetery of the 7th and 8th c AD, since in 1994 the respective fillings revealed a ceramic fragment dating back to this period. It was also in the Surface P.7-2 that another stratigraphic sequence was recorded, which makes complete the observations in the south profile. This is a longitudinal profile recorded on whatever has been preserved from the object after the 1954 excavations (Fig. 10 - 11). The stratigraphic sequence is quite identical to the one of the south profile. The 1954 fillings have not been inscribed. The new element noticed is represented by the thick in situ layer of adobe, circ. 0.10-0.15 m deep, bearing imprints of branches and twigs; it directly overlies the black cremation deposit. This doubtlessly represents the wall remains of a structure erected over the object and subsequently set fire to. It was under these wall remains that the older excavations revealed the left overs of human skeletons whose bones were anatomically connected and contained spontaneously broken pottery by their side.
During the years 1952 and 1954 the situation recorded on the drawing was thought to represent "the third and last level when the pyre was used". On the drawing published in 200112 were recorded several uncremated human bones including a trepanned skull, which remains would have been out of place in a "cremation pyre"; there were also recorded a bone ring, a pendant made of an animal's tooth and two bone tools, all of them integrally preserved 13. I wonder how all of these have managed to remain untouched by fire?! The drawing for "the second level of the pyre" again contains illustrations of uncremated human bones and another well preserved bone ring. In the descriptions corresponding to these drawings, the rather confused and often contradictory text records several cases where uncremated human bones were found, whose skeleton parts were in anatomical connection, sometimes also with instantaneously broken pottery. On the structure considered to have been the pyre that "appeared like a large platform made of small riverbed stone and burned soil, with a floor and with fragments of cremated gluing" there were found several adobe pieces bearing the imprint of a twig and branch network, fragments of cremated wood "planks" 14- all of which cannot possibly have been part of a pyre used for a long time, as the repeated fires would have burned them up.
All over the surface researched during 1994-1995 there were discovered and recorded portions of this "level", every time adobe pieces with branch imprints being unearthed, too; in the north-eastern corner of the P.7-1 another cremated beam was also dug out (Fig. 3). Approximately in the middle of the object, under the "stretch of land" consisting of riverbed stone there have been found piling boulders and among them sparse shards of the Ic3 style. To the east the object is delimited by the "wall" consisting of big riverbed stones - some of these reaching nearly 1 m in length; they served to consolidate on this part the eastern side of the entire structure (Fig. 13 - 14). During the last campaign of the 1995 autumn a sample was taken from the south-east corner of the P.7-3 surface. The purpose of this sampling was to ascertain the position of the big riverbed stone "wall", more precisely, to identify its layout. On this occasion, 2.50 m under the the digging level of today was uncovered the riverbed stone structure already excavated during previous campaigns. It proved to be made of riverbed stones whose size ranged from 0.40 to 0.60 m and which were laid out in regular rows (Fig. 15). For objective reasons, the excavation could not be developed. But ostensibly the structure with its riverbed stone rows underlay the greenish-gray soil with the numerous riverbed stones. It was proved again during the 1995 campaign that the big boulder "wall" whose width seems to exceed 1.70 m at circ. 2.30 m under the present digging level, sloping upward at the centre of the object, probably served to consolidate the entire structure. The "wall" unearthed in situ, an actually regular Trockenmauer, was bound together with a deep yellow clay interspersed with calcareous concretions, a very compact wall prevented from collapsing in the course of time. Its upper part ended at the level of the black burnt earth area, which indicates once again the existence of a structural constructive connection with the latter, connoting contemporariness therefore. If in the surface P.7-2 the state of the object's remains prevented the researchers from observing the exact deposits that used to cover the object long ago, this observation became possible in severalo portions of the other researched surfaces. Thus, in the southern and north-eastern sections it was noticed that over the entire object there stretched a light yellow clay layer of variable depths ranging from 0.15 to 0.25 m, very compact, almost completely devoid of archaeological material. In this layer were unearthed fireplaces 3 and 4, or rather remains of these, plus Ic2 shards - dismantled and deposited in the clay layer. An on the spot broken Ic2 ware was found also in this light yellow clay layer and in the south-eastern corner of the South trench. Moreover, in the East section and in the P.7-1 and P.7-3 surfaces it was noticeable that the yellow clay layer also covered the "wall" made of large rocks, thus indicating the "closure" or "sealing" of the entire structure at the level of the Ic2 phase/style15.
In respect to the observations of 1994 -1995, the problem is to what extent they can confirm or contradict the interpretation of the entire Poiana Scoruşuluiobject as a "funerary pyre"; also it is worth deciding to what extent the staging proposed during the 1952 and 1954 excavations can still be maintained. It is obvious that where the Poiana Scoruşului findings lie today there existed several older objects represented by the pits 5, 8a-b, 9 and 10, and also potentially by hearth 2; the content of some of these could indicate certain ceremonies and could be stratigraphically situated under the first layer of brought in earth. The deposit to which these pits pertained is not available for us; nevertheless the crossing of the pits 8a and 8b lets us presuppose that these activities lasted for a while which can be tentatively placed some time during the Ic4-2 style, judging by the ceramic fragments in the two already mentioned pits. This first stage was followed by an activity special in character during which a complex structure was put together. I insist upon the fact it was at approximately the same level with pits 5, 8a-b, 9 and 10 that hearth 2 was constructed. The fireplace did not remain in use long, as is proved by the earth underneath that turned red only over a portion of 2 or 3 centimetres in depth (Fig. 16). Over the hearth there was or brought earth meant to cover it. That there is no question of a deposit due to dwelling here but rather of a case when the earth was brought or carried over is something easy to ascertain by the missing concrete elements (i.e., floors or ceramic in situ material) which would attest the stepping on the ground level . The succession of clay or brought-in earth levels, many of them completely devoid of archaeological material, again shows that we are not faced with any dwelling deposits but rather with a construction activity which was to raise the ground level or to cover another, possibly buried, structure. In addition, as could be observed from the recorded stratigraphic profiles, the successively laid clays do not come from the Cetăţuie hill but were brought from somewhere else, most likely from the bed of the nearby Sărata brook16, running circa 500m west, at the foot of the Cetăţuia hill. After obtaining this field elevation, at its top level was erected a structure consisting of branches and twigs stuck together with adobe, as shown by the cremated in situ remains discovered. If the natural dip in the ground was used to the south and to the west, to the east, where the ground sloped downwards, the whole structure seemed to have been shorn with the boulder "wall", the boulders being also brought from the Sărata valley. We have been able to verify only partially the relationship that this object had to the structure made of boulders laid out in rows; nevertheless, it could be noticed that the boulder "wall", without a foundation trench, starts from an elevation underlying the level where the first three rows emerged, so that we have grounds enough to consider that when the "wall" was erected, the structure with boulders laid out in rows was visible and therefore it was contemporary to the "wall"; consequently, the two represented stages in the construction of the same complex structure.
In conclusion to the above mentioned, it is legitimate to state that we are confronted at Poiana Scoruşului with a complex structure of remarcable size, unique so far if only for the bronze age north of the Danube. The main elements of this structure are, in my opinion the following: 1 - the structure with the rows of bouders; 2 - the overlying "fillings"; 3- the riverbed stone wall that consolidates it to the east; 4- the wooden structure erected at the top of the entire structure; these are followed by the thick layer of brought in "sealing" made immediately after putting fire to the construction situated at the surface level, which actually marks the moment when the object went out of use. Taking into consideration, on the one hand, the complicated structure, and, on the other hand the remarcable masses of materials brought over to be used here - clays and riverbed stone - it is obvious that the erection of this "construction" required a huge effort for the Cetăţuie community; assessing the consumption of social energy behind this great effort we cannot fail to notice the exceptional character of the entire object, which strongly supports, even though indirectly, the conclusion that we have to do here with a unitary construction whose last "stage" consisted in its burning and covering with clay.
Yet another argument against interpreting the Poiana Scoruşului object as a "pyre" is provided by the condition of the osteological remains found. Some of these are represented, as already seen, by skeletons with anatomical connexions; others come in the form of scattered bones. By contrast, the calcined bones are represented only by splinters. It has been stated that "the more important parts were taken to be buried in the ground". We feel entitled to ask what exactly" these more important parts" may have been, since it is a known fact that in the majority of cinerary graves subjected to anthropological analyses almost all the skeleton parts are present, and as regards the funerary ritual at Monteoru, the skull was always given a privileged place, as is proved by a few of the graves at Cândeşti17.
Taken to be a "pyre", the Poiana Scoruşului object appeared thereby as a rarity for the whole south-east European bronze age at least, the only similar layout known to that moment being a Trojan "crematorium", in the settlement VI18.Recent research in Troy have shown, however, that the "crematorium" in question is nothing but a domestic layout of a dwelling pertaining to level VI19. Consequently, the "pyre" at Poiana Scoruşului, considered to have been repeatedly used, just like a regular crematorium building, remains an oddment for the European bronze age. This interpretation, proposed as early as 1954, was regarded with enough reservations, especially owing to the fact that until then there had not been discovered any cremation graves pertaining to the Monteoru Ic3 phase20. Later on, in the great Monteoru cemetery at Cândeşti, there were discovered some cremation graves, with or without urns graves, that belonged to the Monteoru Ic3 -Ic2 phase, but they were less frequent than the skeleton graves21, which seems to indicate that cremation functioned as a rather adjacent or secondary rite, thus rendering even stranger the repeated use of the same place for the cremation of the corpses. So far, no such "collective funerary pyre" repeatedly used has been archaeologically attested for the bronze age in the European south-east. There exist two exceptions, however, highly debatable from the archaeological situation point of view as well as regarding the mode of publication and, moreover, the interpretation itself. The first exception is represented by Ring 7 of Cândeşti. The following statement has been made: "Here, after erecting the stone structure (the ring made of agglomerative slabs parallelepiped in form that delimited a surface of circ. 23 sqm) half of it was saved to be used for the pyre. On it were cremated the four members of the respective family, and their cinerary remains were then deposited in small pits laid out in a semi-circle in the other half of the ring, spared from the beginning" 22.There exist no detailed observations of the pyre from within the respective stone structure, so we are entitled to express reservations regarding the interpretation. But even if things were in fact just as the author of the excavations "saw" them, the pyre is not really collective and it was used at most 4 times, in an entirely special context, as a family funerary structure. The second exception is represented by a fireplace discovered on the verge of the Wietenberg settlement at Sibişeni, in whose neighborhood, circ 100 - 150 to the south, was researched a biritual cemetery. At the western edge of the settlement was discovered a decorated fireplace interpreted as a pyre/ Scheiterhaufen.The arguments in favor of such an interpretation are the following: "die ungewöhnliche Form und Größe des Herdes (Durchmesser = 1.50 m); - sein guter Konservierungszustand; - seine Lage außerhalb der Behausungen und gegen den Siedlungsrand hin; - das spezielle Bausystem mit einem festen und kompakten Unterbau aus Bachstkieseln und keramischen Fragmenten; - das Fehlen der Haushaltsabfälle auf dem Herd und in dessen Nähe; - das Vorhandensein einer zylindrischen Grube im südlichen Teil des Herdes, in der die reste vom Herd gesammelt wurden; - seine Ähnlichkeit in Form und Größe mit dem mit Spiralenmotiven verzierten Kultherd aus der namengebenden Siedlung von Sighişoara"23. It is impossible to consider seriously such a ludicrous argumentation, all the more so as there are absolutely no extant traces, such as calcined bones, secondary burnt shards also to testify to the cremation of corpses on that spot.
Individual pyres have been found in the Suciu de Sus area, as in the case, for example, of the cremation cemetery at Zemplínske Kopcany, in Slovakia, where the cremation places for several graves of the cemetery have been identified, each of these being used only once24. Actually, for the Suciu de Sus group, there have been recorded a number of special purpose funerary layouts connected to the cremation practices, at Suciu de Sus - Poduri25, at Lăpuş, where further pyres are mentioned in the literature26, at Libotin27 or at Medieşu Aurit28. Individual pyres are mentioned, though actually in not very conclusive terms, in the biritual barrow cementery of Komarów29. It should be stressed that although corpse cremation was the treatment exclusively used in the Suciu de Sus group, and although there is quite a big number of graves pertaining to this group that are known, never was there identified a structure capable of being interpreted as a "collective pyre" repeatedly used. The same is true for the Gârla Mare30 or Belegiš groups, both of which are entirely cremation ones. If for the cultural groups evincing the exclusive use of cremation as funerary rite there have been discovered no collective pyres, it is all the more difficult to believe in the reality of the interpretation proposed for the Sărata Monteoru - Poiana Scoruşului object, given the very well-known fact that the overriding funerary rite of the Monteoru communities was the burial, with cremation as an adjacent rite. In addition, in the Cândeşti cemetery was recorded a situation that stands apart somehow, in so far as here, over a skeleton grave one individual was cremated , then all was covered with stones and earth and a second cremation took place over it, finally everything being covered once again31 , which stands as an indelible proof for the fact that the cremation of the dead was individual and it took place in different/individual places, as the case may be, so the "collective pyre" of Poiana Scoruşului becomes something singular even for the restricted Monteoru area.
Another issue is related to the burnt construction remains discovered in situ at the surface of the object. They appear in the form of quite extensive portions of adobe fixed on branch and twig networks, burnt red at the top and black at the bottom, which proves that the burning took place over them, thus offering an explanation for the fact that the human skeletons and bones discovered underneath were only partially burned. From the archaeological data available today it is hard to deduce the layout and the dimensions of this construction situated at the top of the entire object. During the 1994-1995 excavations, such remains of burnt walls were also found to the NE, so that the surface that used to be covered with them had the approximate dimensions of circ. 10 x 6 m, with the long axis approximately directed E-V, whereas the area with the riverbed boulders in rows and with burning traces spanned over circ.15 m from its western limit clearly observable to its eastern limit which was marked by the "wall" of big boulders. As regards the length of the object, I find it hard to make any precise statement, since its limit has not been reached to the south, while to the north; the current muddy glen has broken the old layout. Under these circumstances, the length uncovered as far as this could be done through the surfaces and sections opened, is of circ. 18 m, though it must have been actually bigger. For all the insufficiently specified information, we feel entitled to suppose that the dimensions of the Poiana Scoruşului object were considerable. It is in the same direction that the thickness of the adobe pieces points; they ranged from 10 to 15 cm in thickness and came from the adobe construction situated at the top, while inside there were only recorded traces of burnt floors and in a single corner, too.
For the Bronze Age, wooden structures in funerary contexts are known to be a common feature. Usually destined exclusively for high status characters, such structures, fairly varied, are relatively widespread and they contribute to expressing the social energy spent. The first of the wooden structures that I consider worth mentioning are the ones in the barrow burials of the nort-Pontic steppes, where it is fair to speak, from the constructive viewpoint, of something like the dynamic of their construction, as they range from the wooden beam coverings of the graves, the so-called Jamnaja, sometimes with pit-hole traces of the poles, to the wooden "boxes" of the Mnogovalikovja graves, or to the wooden "constructions" of the Srubnaja tombs32. But if these are buried under barrows, there also exist data related to the structures situated above ground level, as is the case of some burials of the bronze age in central Europe, the so-called Totenhause33. Among these, the ones from the Aunjetitz area, the Fürstengräber are best known; their sophisticated structures are made of stone and wood and they come accompanied by sumptuous inventories as in Leubingen or Helmsdorf34. In the Monteoru environment, the only information regarding a wooden structure used during the funerary ceremonies come from a triple skeleton grave dating back to the last part of this culture and discovered at Năeni. In the grave filling were found numerous big pieces of adobe with marks from the branches and twigs. Given their considerable thickness, the adobe pieces derived from a burnt-out construction whose remains had been then thrown into the grave pit, together with ceramic fragments of secondarily burnt pots35. At Pietroasa Mică was discovered an object considered not to be a grave proper and containing pieces of adobe, ash and a human molar tooth36.These two cases clearly testify to the habit of depositing, either in the graves, or, maybe even in objects within the cemeteries, of remains from burnt constructions, ostensibly situated, however, outside the cemetery/funerary zone itself. We have no reason to exclude the oldness of this tradition, and in this case the structure with adobe walls fixed on branches and twigs could represent such a Totenhaus. At the same time, the presence of skeletons inside this construction would cease to point to corpses placed on the "pyre" for cremation37, rather, it would indicate some very special deposits accompanied by ceramic inventories and possibly by food offerings, all of which had been destroyed by the purposeful setting of the construction on fire. During the 1994-1995 excavations at the surface of the object, calcined bone splinters were found in a few places. Judging by their small dimensions it is hard to accept that they represent calcined human bones. Rather they come from little animals. I insist that the surface under the adobe debris was black, which clearly indicates that the burning took place in a closed environment, not in the open air as would have been the case had there existed "a pyre". The excavation, however, is not yet complete, as already shown. The structure under the boulder stretch was only partially unearthed in 1995, and the 1952, 1954 excavation reports are no use for drawing any relevant conclusions. What are certain are the position and the construction modality. So far as could be seen, this is a structure consisting of large boulders, apparently laid out in rows, which confers it a somewhat megalithic aspect. Neither during the 1952, 1954 excavations nor during the 1994-1995 ones could the ultimate base of the rows and of the "wall" be reached, which is why their constructive relation remains as yet rather unclear, but since the "wall" slopes down exactly like the row structure to which it is adjacent, the arguments are in favor of their contemporariness, and, moreover, of their constructive unity. In 1954, in the close vicinity of this structure was discovered a fireplace next to which were found two instantaneously broken pots, attributed to the Ic4-3 style38.But the published "layout drawing" for this structure does not clarify the situation39, as it contains no record of the stratigraphic relationship between the respective fireplace and the boulder structure. The clue for solving the problems connected to the structure and destination of the Poiana Scoruşului object is obviously provided by the construction with the rows, its layout and dimensions. But one should take into consideration, nevertheless, the discovery of pits 5, 8a-b, 9-10, providing evidence for a cult activity preceding the object, from a stratigraphic view point at least. The concrete site situation has not offered the conditions for verifying the stratigraphic and construction relations between these pits and the row construction. Given their different structure it is to be expected that the pits be anterior, which is also indicated by the few ceramic fragments of pits 8a-b. According to E. Zaharia, the construction with stone rows is datable owing to some ceramic fragments to the Monteoru Ic4-3 phase, whereas the ceramic material on the "pyre" belongs to phase Ic3. Almost two decades ago, the materials for levels Ic4 and Ic3 of the eponymous station were published40. But their presentation, after a severe selection, only by levels and without specifying any closed object cannot possibly clarify the content of any of these levels, each stratigraphically divided into three sub-levels. Consequently, it is not always possible to differentiate unequivocally the ceramic styles Ic4-3 and Ic3. What is more, the incomplete status of the Poiana Scoruşului excavations does not permit the acceptance in this case without reservation of the differentiation in time between the main elements of the object, all the more so as on a close archaeological inspection it becomes obvious that the object had a unitary structure. As a matter of fact the beginnings of the Monteoru culture still represent a controversial subject today, largely due to an insufficient definition of the Ic4-1, Ic4-2 and Ic4-3 levels41.
In connection to this, another issue is the appearance of the cremation rite in the environment of the Monteoru culture. There are no local antecedents. Cremation is met with in the Schneckenberg environment alongside burials42. The same condition appears in the literature for the group of graves with stone containers in the Dâmboviţa -Muscel43 area, and, though with less certainty, for the Glina environment44. But even for these groups it is not yet sufficiently clear from what direction the cremation customs came. As a dominant funerary rite, cremation was well known at the time in the late Zók, Makó and Nyirség environments45. In Transylvania, cremation appears in a few cases in the Coţofeni environment46, and as a secondary and adjacent mortuary practice in the Livezile47 group, as well as in a cultural environment of the early bronze age as yet insufficiently fixed at Bratei48; it seems likely that it spread from here to the north of Wallachia49, but in view of the extremely low percentage, as a secondary/adjacent rite, in a symmetrically opposed situation to the one in the Wietenberg area, where burial was the adjacent rite to the predominant cremation50. Looking at things from this viewpoint, I do not think that there subsist any reasons to let the interpretation of the Poiana Scoruşului object as a "collective funerary pyre" continue in existence in a cultural environment where this funerary practice was only episodically used, most likely in close connection with certain allogenic elements arrived here from beyond the mountain range together with their mortuary customs.
As already stated above, the sophisticated structure of the whole layout, the considerable amount of materials, - clays, and boulders - brought over for this structure serve as so many proofs for a remarkable consumption of social energy51, undoubtedly determined by its special function. But having in view the fact that the construction situated at its upper part was put fire to, and the ulterior "sealing" of the whole settlement with a thick layer of clay, obviously brought in, in which there had been deposited remains of fireplaces, it is hard to believe that the Poiana Scoruşului object functioned as a cult site for a long time. I believe that there are reasons good enough for supposing that with the Sărata Monteoru- Poiana Scoruşului object we are rather in the presence of a special layout, probably funerary in nature, and exceptional both through its location outside the known funerary zones - i.e., cemeteries 1, 2 and 4 - as well as outside the actual dwelling area proper52 , and through its structure. In this presumable situation, the grave proper being most probably represented by the structure made of rocks laid out in rows, underground and the construction at the upper part, which was deliberately burnt then covered by brought in clay, may very well be a Totenhaus/funerary house, in which it was not, however, the corpse of the main character of the ceremony that was deposited, but rather some adjacent burials and potential sacrifices. We would consequently have here the case of an exceptional grave, not only for the entire Monteoru area but also for the entire Bronze Age north of the Danube.
But we need to wait some more time until the research of the object is completed, without letting any a priori interpretation condition the real on site observations, and until the proper publication of the results permit the drawing of a final, pertinent conclusion.
|1 Translated by Ioana Zirra.
2 I. Nestor et al., SCIV4.1/2, 1953, P. 79-81. The Poiana Scoruşului excavations were led by I. Nestor in 1943 and by V. Zirra in 1952
3 I. Nestor, E. Zaharia, SCIV6.3-4, 1955, p. 506-509. Conducerea săpăturilor în Poiana Scoruşului i-a revenit de această dată Eugeniei Zaharia.
4 I. Nestor, în Istoria României, vol. I, Bucureşti 1960, p. 127.
5 Eugenia Zaharia, in Studii şi cercetari de istorie buzoiana, 1973, p. 24, stating that: "the thick layer on the pyre platform....proves its lengthy use "; eadem, in D.M. Pippidi et al., Dicţionar de istorie veche a României, Bucharest, 1976, p. 414; eadem, Dacia NS31.1-2, p. 33, Note 2; eadem s.v. Monteoru, in C. Preda et al., Enciclopedia Arheologiei şi Istoriei vechi a României, Bucharest 2000, p. 104.
6 E. Zaharia, L. Bârzu, MCA NS 1, 1999 (2001), p. 41-58.
7 Ibidem, p. 55.
8 The excavations were entrusted to the undersigned, as archaeologist in charge of the site, together with E. Zaharia as consultant. Since 1996, however, E. Zaharia has resumed the excavations, and the institution in charge has been the County Museum of Buzău. The results were not published yet.
9 E. Zaharia participated for only 20 days in the July campaign, and she did not participate in the September campaign.
10 See the Cronica cercetarilor arheologice - Campania 1994, Cluj-Napoca, 1995, p. 80, where the note written by I. Motzoi-Chicideanu specifies that there have been recorded a number of stratigraphic and construction observations that "are likely to cause modifications of the object's interpretation"; subsequently, see the Cronica cercetarilor arheologice - Campania 1995, Brăila, 1996, p. 104-105, the note written by E. Zaharia, which cursorily includes a few new data and retains her pyre interpretation , while at p. 105, the note written by Ion Motzoi-Chicideanu, after mentioning the existence of some succinct objects, contains the statement that the observation object consisting of the would-be pyre and the stone "wall" is in reality a single object, with the human osteological remains serving as proof for sacrifices, which renders the "cremation pyre" interpretation untenable.
11 E. Comşa, Thraco-Dacica 2, 1981, p. 121.
12 E. Zaharia, L. Bârzu, op.cit., fig. 2.
13 Ibidem, loc.cit. şi fig. 14/1-2, 5, 8 with the photos of the bone pieces in the pyre!
14 Ibidem, p. 46-50.
15 The yellow clay layer that covered the entire object was also observed during the 1952 excavations, on the P.6 section profile, cf. E. Zaharia, L. Bârzu, op. cit, fig. 6, but with an incomplete legend.
16 The observations of the soils and the riverbed boulders at Poiana Scoruşului were made by Tudor Berza from the Geological Institute of Bucharest, on the occasion of the visit he paid to the site in July 1995. I want to take the opportunity of thanking him here.
17 Marilena Florescu, Carpica 10, 1978, p. 83,116-117.
18 C. Blegen et al, Troy III. The sixth settlement, Princeton 1953, p. 391-395.
19 M. Korfmann, Studia Troica 2, 1992, p. 128.
20 See supra note 3.
21 Marilena Florescu, in Actes du IIe Congrés Internationale de Thracologie, I, Bucharest 1980, p. 75, specifying that the cremation percentage for the Ic3 phase is 2-3%; but see there as well, at p. 77, the statement that, for the Ic3-Ia phases, the cremation did not exceed 8%. But the Cândeşti situation is not clear in the least, since on another occasion, Eadem, Carpica, 10, 1978, p. 100, had specified that of the 258 graves belonging to the phase Ic3 "237 (were) skeleton graves, 13(were)plain cremation ones -, 3(were) urn graves, and 5 biritual", which amounted to 21 cremation graves actually representing no more than 8.14% !
22 Eadem, Carpica, 10, 1978, p. 103 and fig. 6 from which are lacking, however, any details regarding the so-called pyre.
23 I. Paul, Vorgeschichtliche Untersuchungen in Siebenbürgen, Alba Iulia 1995, p. 170 şi fig. 5.
24 Sonia Demeterová, SlArch 32.1, 1984, p. 11-74.
25 Ibidem, p. 20, where she quotes one of M. Roska's mentions.
26 C. Kacsó, Necropola tumulară dela Lăpuş, Doctoral dissertation, Cluj 1981.
27 C. Kacsó, Thraco-Dacica 11.1-2, 1990, p. 79098.
28 T. Bader, Epoca bronzului în nord-vestul Transilvaniei, Bucureşti 1978, p. 68-70.
29 T. Sulimirski, Corded Ware and Globular Amphorae North-East of the Carpathians, London 1968, p. 105-116, where the description of some barrow graves at Komarów contain cremation traces, also called "pyres" in some cases; I. K. Svešnikov, SovArh 2, 1968, p.159-168.
30 During the 1985-1993 research of the Cârna-Ostrovogania cemetery there were unearthed some uncommon objects. First, the uncommon burnt earth surfaces, sometimes with a superficial burnt clay gluing/pasting (???) of variable dimensions - of circ. 2 x 3 m - on which could be found shards, and even in two cases, entire pots that had been strongly burnt secondarily, as strongly burnt as to become vitrified and lose their shape; secondly, there were found two uncommon circular pits filled with strongly burnt adobe containing a few secondarily burnt shards. Owing to the infiltration of the lake water, it was only very scarcely possible to research these objects. Then it could be noticed that the burnt surfaces were situated at a level that overlay the cremation graves in the cemetery. In two of the cases, Cpl. O and K, the ceramic material belonged to the end of the bronze age, namely to the Bistreţ-Işalniţa group, and the two objects were contemporary with some graves of the cemetery belonging to this group, whereas the Gârla Mare had no such layout elements. We cannot decide whether there existed any pyres here, but one thing is sure: we have to do here with a kind of layout related to the mortuary practices. See for more about mortuary practices in Gârla Mare culture Monica Şandor-Chicideanu, Cultura Žuto Brdo-Gârla Mare. Contribuţii la cunoaşterea epocii bronzului la Dunarea Mijlocie şi Inferioara, Cluj-Napoca 2003, p. 158-168.
31 M. Florescu, Carpica 10, 1978, p. 117, the reference being made for a grave belonging to one of the rings attributed to the Monteoru Ic3 phase, but, again, here is offered no detail observations which would permit deciding if we are dealing with simultaneous burials or burials following each other over a given time span.
32 Olga A. Krivcova-Grakova, Stepnoe Povolze i Pri(ernomor(e v epohu bronzej, Moskow 1955; A. Häusler, Die Gräber der älteren Ockergrabkultur zwischen Ural und Dnepr, Berlin 1974; idem, Die Gräber der älteren Ockergrabkultur zwischen Dnepr und karpaten, Berlin 1976; I. Ecsedy, The People of the Pit-Grave Kurgans in Eastern Hungary, Budapest 1979; I. Panayotov, Yamnata kultura v balgarskite zemi, Sofia 1989; E. Sava, Kul'tura mnogovalikovoj keramiki Dnestrovsko-Prutskogo mezdurec'ja, Kishinew, 1992.
33 W. Löhlein, ArchKorr 24.4, 1998, p. 513-522, with critical commentaries; J. Bátora, PZ, 74.1, 1999, p. 1-57.
34 U. Fischer, Die Gräber der Steinzeit im Saalegebiet, Vorgeschichtliche Forschungen 15, Berlin, 1956, p. 186-190, mentioning the fact that these sumptuous graves are placed outside cemeteries / funerary zones and have as a characteristic trait the erection of barrows that do not occur in the common burials at Aunjetitz, placed in large flat cemeteries.
35 I. Motzoi-Chicideanu, Monica Şandor-Chicideanu, Dacia NS, 38-39, 1994-1995, p. 22.
36 A. Oancea, Dacia NS, 25, 1981, p. 157-159.
37 There exists absolutely no analysis of the - cremated or not - osteological remains discovered at Poiana Scoruşului. Actually the present location of these materials is not known. Several human bones devoid of any anatomical connections and some of them retaining traces of fire contact were discovered, in 1994, near and partially in the west profile of the P.7-2 surface, approximately at the 1.10 m level. Eugenia Zaharia considered them initially to represent a cremation grave of the 7th - 8th c. AD, but their stratigraphic position, i.e., inside the filling earth of the 1954 excavation itself, excludes this interpretation and raises the question whether or not they might be parts of human skeletons discovered during the old excavations, subsequently thrown when the latter were filled!
38 E. Zaharia, L. Bârzu, op.cit., p. 50 şi fig. 12/4-5.
39 Ibidem, fig. 8, where it is obvious we are not dealing with a "construction" layout drawing but with the drawing of a cross-section that traversed it. At the same time, the respective layout drawing does not indicate at all clearly whether or not the stones overlying the fireplace belong to the "construction".
40 E. Zaharia, Dacia NS, 31.1-2, 1987, p. 21-49.
41 Ersilia Tudor, Dacia NS, 26.1-2, 1982, p. 59-75; A. Vulpe, Starinar NS, 40-41, 1989-1990 (1991), p. 105-111; I. Motzoi-Chicideanu, M. (andor-Chicideanu, Materiale NS, 1, 1999 (2001), p. 59-97; A. Vulpe, în vol. Lux orientis. Archäologie zwischen Asien und Europa. Festschrift für Harald Hauptmann zum 65. Geburstag, Internationale Archäologie Bd. 12 ‑ Studia honoraria ‑, Rahden 2001, p. 419-425; idem, in Istoria Românilor, vol. I, Bucureşti 2001, p. 250-252; I. Motzoi-Chicideanu, Mousaios 8, 2003, p. 37-59
42 A. Prox, Die Schneckenbergkultur, Kronstadt 1941.
43 I. Motzoi-Chicideanu, Gh. Olteanu, SCIVA 51.1-2, 2000, p. 3-70.
44 A cremation grave using a stone slab container attributed to the Glina culture was reported a long time ago, but with not details, at Govora-Runcuri, cf. Petre-Govora, O preistorie a nord-estului Olteniei, Râmnicu-Vâlcea 1995, p. 22-23 and fig. 5/4; another cremation grave, also attributed to the Glina culture, was signalled at Teţcoiu, Co. Dâmboviţa, in Wallachia, along the Argeş river, cf. Gh. Bichir, Eugenia Popescu, Materiale, 9, 1970, p. 273.
45 N. Kalicz, Die Frühbronzezeit in Nordost-Ungarn. Abriss der Geschichte des 19.-16. Jahrhunderts v. u. Z., Budapest 1968, p. 81-82, respectiv 73-74.
46 P. Roman, Cultura Coţofeni, Bucureşti 1976, p. 32-33.
47 H. Ciugudean, Epoca timpurie a bronzului în centrul şi sud-vestul Transilvaniei, Bucureşti 1996, p. 128-134.
48 Eugenia Zaharia, in vol. N. Boroffka, T. Soroceanu (Hrsg.), Transsilvanica. Archäologische Untersuchungen zur älteren Geschichte des südöstlichen Mitteleuropa. Gedenkschrift für Kurt Horedt, Internationale Archäologie – Studia Honoraria – Bd. 7, Rahden, 1999, p. 53-58.
49 For the present discussion, the oldest case is that of the biritual cemetery at Năeni-Colarea, cf. A. Vulpe, V. Drâmbocianu, SCIVA 32.2, 1981, p. 171-193 and the anthropological analysis at D. Nicolaescu-Plop(or, M. Şt. Udrescu, SCIVA 32.3, 1981, p. 447-453. I find worth signaling that in Oltenia the situation is reversed, for here, judging by the small number of " Verbicioara" burials, cremation is predominant, and burial is only a secondary rite. cf. G. Crăciunescu, Drobeta 9, 1999, p. 19-61; see also I. Motzoi-Chicideanu, s.v. Mormânt, in C. Preda (coord.), Enciclopedia Arheologiei Istorie vechi a României, vol. III M-Q, Bucureşti 2000, p. 117-131
50 N. Boroffka, Die Wietenberg-Kultur. Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der Bronzezeit in Südosteuropa, UPA 19, Bonn 1994, p. 106-114.
51For the concept of social energy, see J. Tainter, World Archaeology, 7.1, 1975, p. 1-15; I. Motzoi-Chicideanu, in vol. Daniela Marcu-Istrate, A. Istrate, C. Gaiu (coordinators), In Memoriam Radu Popa. Temeiuri ale civilizaţiei româneşti în context european, Cluj-Napoca 2003, p. 73-74.
52 In the near vicinity of the object, some of the dwelling traces reported belonged to "phase" Ic2. I stress here that the triple skeleton grave at Năeni-Zănoaga was also situated outside the funerary zone of the settlement, cf. Ion Motzoi-Chicideanu, M. Şandor-Chicideanu, Dacia NS 38-39, 1994-1995, p. 19-40.