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The ever-changing Barum grave


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The ever-changing Barum grave

Hanlon, Conleth

Fornvännen 2004(99):3, s. [225]-230 : ill.


Ingår i: samla.raa.se



The ever-changing Barum grave

The Barum woman, an Early Mesolithic burial in north-eastern Scania excavated by Folke Hansen in 193g, is an archaeological treasure depicted in schoolbooks and, since 1943, on p e r m a n e n t display in the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. T h e skeleton, once thought of as male, is in fact female (Gejvall

igyo)-fn the course of research related to excava-tions a t Ä r u p just south of the town of Bromölla in the summer of 2002, we had reason to exa-mine the Barum grave goods, consisting of a slotted bone point and a bone chisel. In the pro-cess, we found some previously unobserved in-consistencies, which call for comment. A more detailed discussion will be published in a forth-coming book on the excavations at Arup (Hanlon 8c Nilsson in prep.).

The shifting microblades of the slotted bone point from Barum

Let us begin with the slotted bone point. Accor-ding to Hansen's report on the exeavation (ATA 2 5 8 4 / 1 g3g), the bone point had 5 microblades still in their original positions at the time of dis-covery. Sieving produced additional micro-blades that were j u d g e d as belonging to the ne point. Since the exeavation, the Barum bo-ne point has been fitted with eight additional microblades. Thus, 13 microblades are cur-rently attached to the bone point.

Examination of the bone point revealed that the microblades have been fitted with glue in a haphazard and incorrect mannen No resi-due of resin was observed. As a general rule, Mesolithic slotted bone points and daggers ha-ve the microblades fitted with their ha-ventral fa-ces oriented upwards on one side and their dorsal faces oriented upwards on the other (e.g. Voss 1 g61, p. 156; Larsson 1 g73, p. 8; Kar-sten & Knarrström 2003, pp. 64, 82). T h e rea-son for this is not quite clear, but may perhaps

be explained both in functional and aesthetic terms.

Över the years, various archaeological pub-lications have depicted the bone point from Barum with varying numbers and positions of the microblades. Hansen depicted the bone point with 11 microblades ( i g 4 i , p . 16), Oskar Liden ( i g 4 2 , p. 83) first depicted the bone point with a drawing featuring 5 microblades, and låter ( i g 4 8 , p. 75) with a photograph fea-turing 13 microblades. Furthermore, only two or three of the microblades seem to be inserted at the same positions in Lidén's two depictions. An added microblade at the base of the bone point is worth special notice. Since there is no record of exactly which 5 of the 13 microblades that were attached to the bone point at the time of recovery, there is no way of deciding the original positions of the microblades. In c o n d u -sion, the Barum bone point on display in the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm is not presented in a pristine condition.

In connection with conservational measu-res and transferral to improved exhibition fa-dlities in iggö, tbc Barum woman was subjec-ted to a combination of renewed analyses, among other things consisting of osteological and odontological analyses as well as analysis of isotopic diet indicators and radiocarbon da-ting. Moreover, the artefacts from the burial were reconsidered. The results were published in Fornvännen (Sten et al. 2000). In the artic-le, the analysis of the bone point did not ob-serve the problematic discrepandes in the de-pictions of the bone point över the years.

The microblade at the base of the bone poin t must obviously have been incorrectly pla-ced since it was not present in the photograph in Hansen's a r t i d e of 1941. Close to the micro-blade in question four small grooves can be ob-served. The position of these brought aboul a discussion of whether they had anything to do


2 26 Debatt

Fig. i. The slotted bone point from Barum with (hanges in numbers and positions of the microbla-des. Note that Liden depicted lhe bone point from two different sides. From the left: Hansen 1941, Liden 1942 and Liden 1948/ Sten et al. 2000. — Genom åren har flinteggspetsen frän Barum tyst re-konstruerats på diverse olika sätt.

with the shafting of the bone point by lashing or if they represented some kind of sign or ow-ner's mark. Sten et al. (2000, p. 83) c o n d u d e d that the carvings had to be interpreted as a sign or an owner's mark, since a lashing would other-wise have covered the microblade. The

reaso-ning, which concentrated on the position of the microblade, is pointless since the micro-blade in question had not originally been there. Regarding the carvings, they may very well be interpreted as a sign or an owner's mark.

How, then, did the bone point look origi-nally? Hansen is the primary source in this mat-ter. In his report, he described the b o n e point as being 23 cm long (in fact it measures 23.5 cm) with 5 microblades still in their original positions. There was no mention of any resin left in the slöts of the bone point. If this was ac-tually the case, we do not know. When Hansen published the results from the exeavation ( i g 4 i , p . 16), the bone point was depicted with a photograph apparently featuring 11 micro-blades. As this must represent Hanseifs own in-terpretation, it may be the closest to the origi-nal condition of the bone point we will ever get. Hansen was one of very few people who had the opporlunity to study the bone point while the 5 original microblades were still in position.

However, the story continues. The year after Hansen published his artide, the Barum bone point was included in Oscar Liden's (1942) work on slotted bone points. In a drawing, Liden depicted the bone point with the other side fa-cing the viewer as compared to Hansen. Liden depicted the bone point with only 5 microbla-des inserted and curiously enough in very diffe-rent positions from Hansen 1941. Furthermore, Liden stated that the bone point measured 18.5 cm, a reduction in length by 5 cm. He also com-pared the Barum bone point with a "point of precisely the same size and type" ( i g 4 2 , p. 52) from Lake Råbdövsjön. The two bone points we-re depicted side by side as of identical size with their respective lengths clearly stated (Liden

1942, p. 83). Peculiarly, the bone point from Lake Råbdövsjön, referred to by Liden, mea-sures 18.5 cm (cf. Åhlén 1879, fig. 283; Montelius 1917, p. 7, fig. 63). Liden seems to have confused the facts.

When Liden in his a r t i d e of 1948 discussed lhe subject again, the bone point had undergone yet another transformation. By now, the bone point had 13 microblades and the strangdy po-sitioned microblade by lhe carvings at the bast-had been added (Liden 1948). This is also the


current state of the b o n e point. T h e c o n d u -sion to be drawn from this review is that the changes the bone point from Barum bas been subjected to took place between the years of 1941—ig48. Remarkably, these changes were not in a single instance comniented u p o n or explained and have until now never been noti-ced. Liden seems to have contributed substan-tially to the controversy surrounding the Ba-r u m bone point. HoweveBa-r, exactly how and in which way the bone point was changed, the re-cord does not tell.

On the position of the slotted bone point in the Barum burial

The story of the slotted bone point from Ba-r u m does not e n d with the incoBa-rBa-rect positio-ning of the microblades and the incorrect de-pictions. On examining the facts more closely, the position of the bone point in the recon-structed grave struck us as oddly placed. This gave rise to questions regarding the recon-struction of the burial as such.

Not only the bone point has u n d e r g o n e a metamorphosis, but also the Barum skeleton on display in the Museum of National Anti-quities has u n d e r g o n e considcrable changes since the exeavation. In connection with the va-rious preservation measures taken över the years in the care of the grave, the positions of the skeleton and the grave goods in the display-case have gradually been changed. T h e most extensive change occurred in i g g ö when the grave was completely reconstructed due to a new view of how the grave should be interpre-ted. As a curious fact, the stones present in the original grave were not added to the recon-struction until i g g ö , and then they were in-correctly positioned.

In 1943 when the grave was exhibited for the first time, the skeleton was placed in an upright sitting position with the arms folded in a high position in front of the chest with the hands close to the shoulders. T h e bone point was placed on the right-hand side of the pelvis. At some time in the late 1970S or early 8os, the first changes are evident. T h e alterations consisted of a lowering of the right arm and hand to a position in front of the chest and a

Fig. 2. A: The original positioning of the Barum wo-man at lhe Museum of National Antiquities in Stock-holm in 1943. Note the position of the bone point as well as the position of the hands. No stones are present. (Photo: ATA). — Barumkvinnan i utställ-ningen »10. 000 år i Sverige« pä SHM.

slight re-positioning of the left arm and hand so that it rested against the left knee. The bone point was moved to an almost horizontal posi-tion on the right shoulder (Burenhult i g 8 2 , p. 93» J9 9 9 ' P- 2S 0 - Burenhult seems to be the

only one who has explidtly discussed the rea-soning behind the changes in writing:

"In a delailed study of the old exeavation re-port it has also been established that the wo-man has been sitting in a more r e d i n e d posi-tion than was previously reconstructed, and that the spear with flint insets rested against her right shoulder" (Burenhult 1982, p. 90. Authors' translation).

This informs us that the bone point was seen as having been shafted when deposited in the gravt- and that it was interpreted as belonging to


228 Debatt

Fig. 2. B: An intermediate positioning of the Barum woman after 1970. Note the position of the bone point as well as the position of the hands. No stones are present. (Photo: Göran Burenhult). — Barum-kvinnan som hon ställdes ut pä SHM efter 1970.

Fig 2. C: The current positioning of the Barum wo-man since iggö. Note the changed positions of the bone point and hands. One gets the impression that the bone point is shafted and thal lhe skeleton is in fact holding a shaft. All of a sudden, stones have ap-peared. (Photo: ATA). — Skelettet från Barum har genomgått en serie olika rekonstruktioner. Barum-kvinnan i utställningen iggö.

a spear and not an arrow. We also learn that a de-tailed investigation took place, which, however, was apparently never published.

T h e repositioning in i g g ö resulted in the skeleton being arranged in a slightly more re-clining position with the arms folded in the lap. In the process, the bone point was moved to an almost vertieal position by the right shoulder of the skeleton, thus giving the impression that it had been shafted. Why these changes were dee-med necessary is härd to tell. In our opinion, the rearrangements of the grave have no sup-port in the facts presented by Hansen in his re-port.

In Hansen's report the b o n e point is de-scribed as having been found inside the

right-hand part of the rib cage. However, a photo-graph and a drawing from the exeavation clear-ly show that the bone point was clear-lying just besi-de the ribs on the right-hand sibesi-de of the pelvis pointing towards the head. The mosl impor-tant observation is, however, the indisputable fact that stratigraphically, the bone point was si-tuated below the arms and rib cage, the same region in which the bone point was originally placed in the display case. Had the bone point been shafted when deposited, the råte of de-composition of the wooden shaft would have been considerably slower than that of the body. This would have resulted in the bone point be-ing situated stratigraphically above the arms and rib cage since the chest cavity would have


collapsed before the shaft disintegrated. There-fore, on stratigraphical grounds the Barum bone point cannot originally have been shafted nor placed by the right-hand shoulder.

Över the years, the position of the bone point has been a subject of discussion. O n e view that has been expressed is that the bone point pos-sibly killed the woman (Larsson ig82, p. g; Ed-gren i g g 7 , p. 32; for a critical discussion cf. »Karsten & Knarrström 2003, p. 127). This hy-pothesis was primarily based on comparison with the male burial from Stora Bjärs on Gotland, in which a fragment of a slotted bone point was found. Injuries to the jaw and skull of the deceased were seen as proof that the man had been deliberately killed, and that the bone point could have been the cause of death. T h e fragmentation of the bone point in combina-tion with the well-preserved skeleton supports such an interpretation (Arwidsson 1979; Lars-son i g 8 2 ) . Comparing the Barum burial to the one from Stora Bjärs, the Barum bone point is intact, which speaks against a violent death. Had the woman been shot, the b o n e point would most likely have been fragmented given its brittle nature. No further indications that the Barum woman was deliberately killed have been discovered (Sten et al. 2000).

A brief examination of paralld cases where slotted bone points have been present in graves suggests an interesting pattern of Mesolithic burial practise.

O n e example comes from the Tågerup ex-eavation where a slotted bone point was found in a double burial, placed in the abdominal re-gion of a man with the tip orientated towards the head. At a glance, the placing of the object might suggest that it had caused the man's death, like the interpretation of the burial from Stora Bjärs. However, in this case it was seen as unlikely since the bone point was found on top of a sooty, humic layer which covered both bodies. The find was interpreted as a grave gift and a last gesture towards the couple before the grave was filled in (Karsten & Knarrström 2003, p. 81).

Another paralld is grave 4 at the B0ge-bakken cemetery on Zealand. There a slotted bone dagger was found placed on the lower

part of the chest of the deceased pointing towards the head (Albrethsen & Brinch Peter-sen i g 7 7 , p. 7 f; SorenPeter-sen i g g ö , p. 73). When one compares the positioning of the bone points and the bone dagger from the Barum, Tågerup and Bogebakken burials, the similarity is indeed striking and indicates that we are in fact dealing with a Mesolithic burial custom. In this tradi-tion, the bone point can be seen as a status sym-bol, used by both men and women (cf. »Karsten & Knarrström 2003, p. 84!).

However, the tendency to position grave goods in the lower chest region during the Mesolithic does not pertain solely to slotted bone points. Bone spatulas and flint blades have also been found in this region (e.g. Albrethsen & Brinch Petersen i g 7 7 ; Larsson ig84; »Kjällquist 2001, p. 51 ff; »Karsten & Knarrström 2003, p. 80 ff). In condusion, there are few facts or paral-lels in support of the present reconstruction of the Barum grave in the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. Furthermore, the reconstruction gives rise to problems of a mo-re ethical natumo-re. How unmo-restrained should ar-chaeologists and curators be in their interpre-tations of the archaeological record without ex-plicitly presenting the line of thought leading n p to a certain reconstruction? The present re-construction in which the woman seems to be holding a shafted bone point constitutes a sta-tic picture, which is no doubt perceived by the public as an unadulterated and true picture of the grave. From a scientific point of view, the re-construction can be seen as the uncritical transferral of m o d e r n values and beliefs onto Mesolithic people, thereby intensitying the no-tion of the Barum woman as an active hunter. The problem is not the perception of the Ba-rum woman as a h u n t e r - she most probably was involved in hunting of some kind. Rather it is the uncritical way this condusion was arrived at. A distortion of facts in order to convey a cer-tain message is not good c o n d u e t Statements about the distant past must be firmly rooted in the archaeological record.


2 3 0 Debatt


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Conklh H a n l o n is? Björn Nilsson Riksantikvarieämbetet UV Syd Äkergränden 8 SE-22Ö 60 Lund conleth.hanlon@raa.se, bjorn.nilsson@raa.se


Fig. i. The slotted bone point from Barum with  (hanges in numbers and positions of the  microbla-des
Fig. 2. A: The original positioning of the Barum wo- wo-man at lhe Museum of National Antiquities in  Stock-holm in 1943
Fig. 2. B: An intermediate positioning of the Barum  woman after 1970. Note the position of the bone  point as well as the position of the hands


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