Østbirk – a strategic settlement at the end of the Neolithic

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Per Borup


Over a period of more than 10 years, Horsens Museum undertook a series of excavations at Østbirk, north of Horsens. These resulted in an extensive and diverse body of evidence from a settlement area with scattered houses and an associated cemetery with barrows and flat-field graves. The two areas lay together within a melt-water valley that also framed their areal extent. In dating terms, the burial ground extends from the Single Grave culture to the early Pre-Roman Iron Age, while the settlement is restricted to the period from the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age period IA (EBA IA). Neither the settlement nor the burial ground have been fully exposed, but collectively these two areas provide an excellent insight into a local agrarian community that, in the course of the Late Neolithic, developed under successive external cultural influences. In Late Neolithic I (LN I), these were, in the first instance, from the northern Jutish Bell Beaker environment, while in Late Neolithic II (LN II) they came from southern Sweden and the continental Únětice culture. The changes saw expression in not only a number of new artefact types but also in completely new grave forms and house types. In LN II, the latter included the hybrid house and the three-aisled longhouse, which both occurred together with the traditional two-aisled longhouse with a sunken floor.

Throughout the entire habitation period, the settlement consisted of small households that, via economic cooperation, were able to practise intensive arable agriculture aimed at producing an economic surplus. The special significance of arable agriculture is demonstrated, first and foremost, by the farmsteads' utility- or economy buildings, and it was perhaps an increased need for these buildings that led to the development of new types of longhouses at the end of the period. The locality lay on one of the area's important travel and communication routes and later, in the Bronze Age, a palisade was built across the mouth of the valley, probably to regulate or control movement through this natural bottleneck.

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How to Cite
Borup 2019: P. Borup, Østbirk – a strategic settlement at the end of the Neolithic. JNA 20, 2019, 83–130. DOI: https://doi.org/10.12766/jna.2018.3.