Resource curation, power and cult at Stillfried?

Stillfried an der March: Aerial view from the west towards the river March and Slovakia. The hill with the former ramparts rises about 30 m above the present location of Stillfried and can be seen in the center of the photo (date: July 1st, 2003; photo: aerial archive of the Institute for Prehistory and Historical Archeology, University of Vienna, photo no. 02030701.096)
Vertical shot of the rampart from Stillfried, from the year 1973 (oriented north). In the east, the course of the river March has been regulated. During the Urnfield period, the river with its marshy area reached directly to the steep slope of the ramparts (Grabungsdokumentation Stillfried, Niederösterreichische Landessammlung für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, photo no. ST 0613)

The Stillfried hill fort represents one of the most important archaeological sites in eastern Austria. One principal occupation phase dates to the Late Urnfield Culture (900–750 BC) when the plateau area (23 ha) was fortified with a mighty sectional rampart with an additional front-ditch in the west. Such places are currently interpreted as node, trade- and production centres (metal, textiles) under the control of elite social groups. The current project aims to answer the question whether the central place Stillfried, among others, functioned as a centralized storage site for grain. The impetus for these considerations was provided by the noticeable high density of characteristic pits with trapezoidal profile (at least 100) discovered in the course of archaeological excavations between 1969 and 1989 at the highest elevation of the fortified area (so called “Hügelfeld”). These features, measuring 4 m³ on average, were dug into the loess bedrock displaying a horizontal bottom and a bottleneck opening. In their primary function they were used as grain storage facilities (granaries) as the presence of charred layers of seed remains at their bottom shows us. In the historical literature such constructions functioning as granaries are also well documented; entirely filled with grain and hermetically sealed they allow the desired conservation over long time periods and were used as silos.

Elevation map of the site with excavation trenches (© OREA/ÖAW, graphic: I. Hellschmid)

According to preliminary results, the pits of the “Hügelfeld” show a comparable sequence of in-filled layers. Exceptional remarkable are depositions of wild and domestic animals on intentionally created platforms in some of the pits (deer, wolves, wild boars and domesticated pigs, hares; see FWF-project No. 22755). Part of these procedures was the accompanying deposition of organic offerings such as grain, rivershells, fish and parts of antlers. It is reasonable to assume that these pits were not used as middens after the discontinuation of their primary function as storage facilities; but instead they had to be attended by rituals. By analogy to ethnographic studies we can assume, that the mode of construction, usage and termination of such important prehistoric buildings like public storages followed predetermined rules and protocols.

West profile of the cone-shaped pit V949 from Hügelfeld, late Urnfield period. The pit originally served for grain storage. In the course of the last and final closure, a male Red Deer was deposited. It was also possible to identify the chaff remaining after threshing various types of cereals (© OREA/ÖAW, project Stillfried, plan no. 120/1989, redrawn by I. Hellerschmid)

In the course of the proposed project all excavated trapezoidal pits dating to the Late Urnfield Culture and to the Early Hallstatt period from “Hügelfeld” at Stillfried will be investigated and categorized according to six principle parameters of a well-defined “criteria key”. Additionally, those excavated pits from the fortified area, whose documentation has not yet been evaluated will also be included into this study. This helps to clarify the question whether characteristic filling patterns are also present at pits outside “Hügelfeld” (site „Bügeleisen“, „Küssler-Acker“) and if this tradition continues during the following Hallstatt period (“Wagneracker” site).
The planned investigations represent an important contribution to current issues concerning Late Bronze Age settlement research in Central and Eastern Europe. Reviewing the literature will help to clarify if the characteristic filling patterns, which were widely neglected by the scientific community so far, also occur at other contemporaneous sites.

Archaeozoological and anthropological investigations and additional 14C-dating and stable isotope-analyses (addressing the question of origin) on the bone material from the pits (animal and human remains) will be conducted. With the possible assignment of the function of the Stillfried site as a centralized storage and redistribution place for grain the project is breaking new scientific ground.

Wheat field with poppies, June 2015 (© M. Griebl).