From Ancestral Village to Monumental Cemetery: The Creation of Monumental Neolithic Cemeteries

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Magdalena S. Midgley


The north-west communities of the mid-5th millennium BC embarked upon a remarkable transformation of their surroundings by creating permanent abodes for their dead which manifest themselves in veritable monumental long barrow cemeteries. These make a highly significant appearance on the periphery of the disintegrating Danubian world, precisely in the areas of intensive cultural contacts between the indigenous hunter-gatherers and the Danubian farmers.
The sites are important not only in terms of their visual and cultural impact in the landscape, and in terms of the actual burial ritual which imaginatively combined elements of hunter-gatherer and Danubian burial practices, but also in terms of their relationship with both past and contemporary settlement patterns.
The idea of a house of the living serving as a prototype for a
house of the dead has an ancestry that goes back to at least the mid-19th century, but the results of the past two decades of research have enabled us to consider this issue anew. In areas as far apart as Kujavia and the central Paris basin, long mounds can be shown to imitate the Danubian long houses.
However, a house was merely a component of a village – one of
many elements which symbolised families coming together to form a community. The significance of the long mound cemeteries lay not just in imitating the long houses but in monumentalising entire ancestral villages. Thus, the intentional combining of architecture with the funerary sphere linked elements of the past – the abandoned villages– with those of the future – enduring abodes for their dead.

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Midgley 2006: M. S. Midgley, From Ancestral Village to Monumental Cemetery: The Creation of Monumental Neolithic Cemeteries. JNA, 2006. DOI: