Unique Bronze Age Burial Mound With Post Rings Discovered In East Flanders

(ORDO NEWS) — In Melsele, near Beveren, in the Belgian province of East Flanders, archaeologists have discovered a unique burial mound with three rings of posts.

The mound dates back to the Bronze Age (2100 – 800 BC). Burial mounds are not uncommon, but what makes this one special is that it was demarcated by rings of wooden posts. And that’s not often discovered in Flanders: less than 1 percent of the burial mounds found have such a ring of poles.

Archaeologist Thierry Van Neste collaborated on the excavation: “People from the Early and Middle Bronze Age with prestige were buried in larger monuments. These were characterised by a series of mounds. In this case, the area involved is about 15 to 16 metres in diameter.”

“These mounds were sometimes bounded by a certain structure. In most cases this was a moat dug around the mound, sometimes even a second moat. In exceptional cases, as in Melsele, the mound was bounded by rows of posts”, says the archaeologist.

In Melsele, there are three rows of wooden posts. The pits are about 20 centimetres deep and it is suspected that the posts had a diameter of about 20 centimetres.

“You can tell by the discolouration of the soil,” explains the archaeologist. “This can be recognised by round circles that are darker in colour in the ground. As an archaeologist, you suspect that this is a post hole. On further investigation, we were able to confirm that it was a post hole.”

“The posts were probably about 1 metre, or maybe even higher, above the ground. It would have been about 280 posts in total. That must have been serious work,” says Van Neste.

“About 1,100 burial circles are known for the whole of Flanders,” says the archaeologist. “For the Waasland region, this is the 39th. Not really exceptional, but the special ones in Melsele are the post circles.

Only about 10 examples have been found. And often such a ring of poles can be found in combination with a moat, but here too it is different and there are only the three rows of poles, which is also very unusual for Flanders.”

“It is special because not many such rows of posts have been discovered. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more. The discovery of burial mounds, for example, is done through research by UGent,” explains archaeologist Van Neste.

That is done with aerial photography. Grave mounds and ditches around them are discovered by the discolouration in the ground. Pile rings are simply also less likely to be recognised in this way.”

Human remains will not be found by the archaeologists. “All bone material has disappeared in this sandy soil. We also do not know how many people were buried here. Usually it starts with one person and over time other people are added.

You can compare it with the large family graves that can be found in the cemetery. We hope to find a number of grave goods here. It will still be quite a job to investigate the terrain. The burial mound has a diameter of 17 meters. We will be here for at least another two to three weeks.”

A precise dating remains to be done, but Ven Neste estimates that the burial mound was constructed between 2100 and 1500 BC. “When we look at the surrounding terrain, we see why. It is slightly higher than the rest of the area. This made it an interesting place to live and bury the dead even in the Bronze Age.”

The archaeological research was commissioned by project developer Structa-Plan bvba, which wants to build an SME unit in the area. “Within the framework of the environmental permit, a desk study was first carried out. This revealed that a medieval site had been found in the vicinity in 1993.

And a burial mound was already known in Kruibeke. This lay on a sand ridge and was therefore more visible in the landscape. The chance that a burial mound was present was therefore already greater.”

The archaeologists then started the investigation, which is now proving to be very important in the context of research into burial mounds in general. And certainly such a unique case. Several trenches and ditches also came to light, indicating (intensive) use of agricultural land.

A few post traces on the eastern edge of the project area can probably be related to an outbuilding from the Middle Ages.

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