Station: [226] Funerary Rites in the Bronze Age

During the later Bronze Age and early Iron Age, people used to cremate their dead.  From Oberlausitz right up to the Pleiße river, there are many cemeteries only a few kilometres apart, which often contain hundreds of graves from this period. No previous historical period features such a large number of graves.  Unlike the depositions of precious bronze objects, these funerary rites did not differentiate between rich and poor. Clearly, these people treated all their dead the same way. They were consigned to the fire, as part of a ritual ceremony.  After that, the charred remains were placed in an earthenware urn and laid to rest. 

The urn burials from this period are interesting because they were accompanied by a wealth of pottery.  Whole sets of vessels were donated to accompany the dead person to the other world. These pots were not simply intended for food and drink; they were also votive and sacrificial offering vessels that were used in the burial ceremony, and for the afterlife. Specific vessel shapes were always used for the same purposes and positioned accordingly; the early Iron Age burial goods from Niederkaina displayed in the middle of the room demonstrates this along with the communal grave from Liebersee. You can see the range of vessels from the later burial in the large display case at the wall behind.

A real urn is always covered with a bowl. Beside the urn there is often a little decorated pot with two handles, and a set of vessels such as a jug to ladle liquids, and a bowl.  They were presumably intended for offering libations to the gods. A bit further away from the urn group are some large storage vessels, cups and shallow bowls. Sherds from other receptacles were then packed into the sides of the burial pit or placed on top of the vessels. Sometimes, these were a second incinerated set of the actual grave goods. In the event of communal burials, double sets of vessels were deposited. Urns in the shape of houses, or a stylised human body, or small models of ovens, show that the urn and grave were regarded as the dead person’s house, with the urn even being a representation of the deceased.