The Stone Age grave from Brunstad, Norway – a sensational discovery
Last summer a grave containing the remains of unburnt human bones was discovered in Brunstad, Vestfold, by archaeologists from the Museum of Cultural History. An 8,000 year old Stone Age site was excavated, revealing the grave between two large rocks. The find is sensational: No other Stone Age burial pit has ever been recorded with so many preserved human bones in Norway. The grave casts invaluable light on little-researched topics such as burial rituals and customs in this period. In the field the grave containing the human remains could be observed as a darker patch in the ground measuring 1.5 x 1 m.
The skeletal material was too fragile to be excavated in the field. Here archaeologists and a conservator prepare to remove the skeletal material in blocks. Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO
The unique discovery was brought to the Museum of Cultural History in July 2014 to allow scientists to excavate the remains in controlled laboratory conditions. In recent weeks (January and February 2015) a multidisciplinary team has been studying the blocks containing the skeletal material that were brought in last summer. The team consists of an osteoarchaeologist, who is in charge of the excavation, identification and analysis of the bone material, a conservator, who is assisting with the preservation of the extremely fragile material, and a GIS expert, who is documenting the work along the way, in close cooperation with the head of excavation and the project manager.
An osteoarchaeologist carefully digs out the skeletal remains. The legs that were tucked up in a so-called hocker position can clearly be seen. The grave had to be split up into several sections because of the position of the body directly on the rock. Photo: Museum of Cultural History, UiO
Some of the skeletal material was highly decomposed. The excavation work in the laboratory was able to determine that these were the remains of an adult individual. The body had been laid in the grave on its back with its legs drawn up to the chest in a foetal position, known as the hocker position. This position is typical of Stone Age burials and has been observed in many other areas in Europe. Parts of the skull, ribs, forearm and the legs have been preserved. It is not possible to determine the biological sex of the individual on the basis of the preserved bone material. No artefacts were found in the grave. The burial pit was partially lined with flat stones.
Samples have been taken of the skeletal material and the soil. In the best case scenario, the analysis results may be able to provide information on the buried person's diet and health, as well as the age of the grave. Because the collagen in the bones is extremely degraded, it is not possible to date the remains exactly using the 14C dating method. Nevertheless, initial 14C analyses confirm the dating of skeletal material to the Stone Age, meaning it dates from before 1800 BC.
Text: Almut Schülke