Aberrant burials found inside a Merovingian necropolis in Germany


When it comes to the hindsight of history, it was the Merovingian dynasty (circa 5th – 8th century AD) that sowed the seeds of statehood for both France and Germany, by uniting the Franks of late antiquity. But this time around, one of their legacies have been oddly identified via aberrant burial methods discovered inside a Merovingian necropolis. The site was found during roadworks in Theißen, a hamlet of Zeitz, Germany.

One of these deviant burials pertained to that of a teenager woman (16-18 years old), who was interred with her face down and hands tied while an iron bar pierced her chest. According to Susanne Friederich, director of the archaeological project –

It seems that she was buried in this way so that her soul would not abandon the tomb. Reasons for this may be that she was disabled or malformed, had special, perhaps inexplicable and thus frightening abilities, or that she was simply regarded as a witch. It may be that this unusual burial of the young woman was also due to the fact that she came to the Zeitz region from far away. This could be found out by means of teeth, for example, if there is preserved material.


She also added –

With the iron driven through the back and chest and its anchoring in the ground, a resurrection was to be prevented. The deposition of the dead facing the earth served this purpose, to point the ‘dying soul’ away from the living. The head of the young woman was not oriented to the west as usual, but to the east. The bones of the deceased, however, are in poor condition because the loess soil lets a lot of water through.


The other strange burial relates to a jumble of human bones found in one part of the site. The archaeologists currently don’t have any explanation for this, since the ‘heap’ grave also contained glass and bronze-made jewelry items, thus suggesting that it was not the handiwork of grave robbers. However, all is not grim and bizarre inside this Merovingian necropolis. For example, the researchers have also discovered the conventional high-status interment of a very tall man (6 ft 5 inches) who was buried with his weapons and accompanied by horse burials. Friederich concluded –

The remains of the giant man are probably those of a warrior, perhaps a leader. In his left arm, he holds an iron sword, on his right side, there are remains of a lance. His clothes were girded and closed with a brooch. The horse graves were probably not directly related to the dead.


Interestingly enough, in terms of history, archaeologists are already aware of both Bronze Age and Slavic settlements in this particular region, in proximity to the necropolis. To that end, the site probably represents the cyclic mode of habitation that had continued for over two millennia. In any case, the researchers will continue their excavation till November, to look for more answers that could shed light into the customs of the (Salian) Frankish Merovingians of late antiquity.


Source: Mitteldeutsche Zeitung / Via: Archaeology News Network

All Images Credit: ZB