Mansion on the Hill – A Monumental Late Neolithic House at Vinge, Zealand, Denmark

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Jens Winther Johannsen

Abstract

This paper presents the results of an excavation of the remains of a large, Late Neolithic two-aisled house in the northeastern part of Zealand, Denmark. The house shows a strong resemblance to the well-known Fosie-houses, but is almost three times as large as these structures. It is suggested that the building housed a Late Neolithic family, their farmhands and their livestock. Furthermore, the house’s monumentality signalled the power and wealth of its inhabitant(s) and is thus a clear indicator of the presence of an elite in the Scandinavian Late Neolithic society. The house is contemporaneous with the flourishing Únětice-centre in the Thuringia/Saxony-Anhalt region, from where copper and bronze were imported to Scandinavia. Although rooted in a Scandinavian building tradition, the Vinge house was probably influenced by the building of monumental houses in that area. The interactions with the Continent were likely based on a surplus in the Scandinavian Late Neolithic society generated by changes in agricultural strategies. These changes are reflected to some degree in the material from Vinge.

Introduction

In recent years, various development projects are being realized in the area around the northern half of Roskilde Fiord on Zealand, Denmark. One of these is the construction of the new town of Vinge to the southeast of the town of Frederikssund. The area is rich in prehistoric remains. More than 50 Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows are registered within in a radius of three kilometres of the planned city centre. This concentration of prehistoric monuments led to one of the earliest Danish descriptions of a prehistoric landscape (Knudsen 1839), written only decades before the massive destruction of barrows and dolmens caused by intensive farming initiated as a reaction to the Danish loss of Schleswig, Holstein and Saxe-Lauenburg in the Second Schleswig War in 1864. Only two of the 50 barrows remain today. Because of the development of Vinge, several excavations were undertaken, revealing prehistoric sites in the area including the remains of a dolmen, a Middle Neolithic axe hoard (Johannsen 2016) and several small settlements dated to the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition. The present paper presents a large Late Neolithic house, which was discovered at the site of Vinge’s future train station.

Description

Fig. 1. The Vinge area seen from the north. The photo was taken in the summer of 2016, the year after the excavation of the Vinge house was finished. The location of the Vinge house has been marked with a red dot. In the centre of the photo, the construction site of Vinge town can be seen. The Tvinsmosen bog is immediately to the right of the construction site, while Roskilde Fiord is in the background. The photo was taken from a plane at approximately 500 feet. Photo: Ole Kastholm/ROMU.

Fig. 1. The Vinge area seen from the north. The photo was taken in the summer of 2016, the year after the excavation of the Vinge house was finished. The location of the Vinge house has been marked with a red dot. In the centre of the photo, the construction site of Vinge town can be seen. The Tvinsmosen bog is immediately to the right of the construction site, while Roskilde Fiord is in the background. The photo was taken from a plane at approximately 500 feet. Photo: Ole Kastholm/ROMU.

The house was located ca. 18.5 metres above sea level at the northern edge of a large plateau. The plateau is naturally well-drained and was a cultivated field in recent history. The subsoil is typical Danish moraine with various mixes of clay, sand and pebbles. North of the house, the terrain slopes down towards what was once a large, lowlying wet area with several small bogs. However, the area has been extensively drained since the late 19th century and was used for cultivation until the initiation of the development work in the area. Only the bog Tvinsmosen exits today (Fig. 1).

Fig. 2. The Vinge house and the surrounding area with contour lines (equidistance 0.5 metres). The grey stripe depicts a railroad track.

Fig. 2. The Vinge house and the surrounding area with contour lines (equidistance 0.5 metres). The grey stripe depicts a railroad track.

Fig. 3. Several pits, house structures and scattered postholes were found close to the Late Neolithic house. None of these are dated to the Late Neolithic, but mostly belong to a settlement from the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age.

Fig. 3. Several pits, house structures and scattered postholes were found close to the Late Neolithic house. None of these are dated to the Late Neolithic, but mostly belong to a settlement from the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age.

The house measured 45.5 metres in length by 7.2 metres in width, was two-aisled and had a SW-NE orientation. Because the house was found at the edge of a plateau, the level of the postholes was observed approximately 50 centimetres lower in the east end than in the west end, while the postholes of the northern wall was observed approximately 10 centimetres lower than the postholes of the southern wall (Fig. 2). Several house structures, scattered postholes and pits were found nearby. However, none of these can be dated to the Late Neolithic, but belong to a settlement from the transition between the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age (Fig. 3).