The Lost Fort
My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times
A Neolithic Necropolis – The Totenstatt near Oldendorf/Luhe
Neolithic Tombs can be found in various locations in northern Germany. I've already posted about the historical context and some finds here. Another group of tombs can be found in the 'Burial Site' (Totenstatt) near Oldendorf/Luhe (not far from Amelinghausen) in the Lüneburg Heath. Of course, I couldn't resist adding more big ol' stones to my collection.
Heath landcape with boulders belonging to old tombs
The most visible feature of the Burial Town are the late Neolithic stone tombs (known as hunebeds or dolmen), but there are more burials from other times still mostly hidden under the layer of earth, heather and trees. A number of Bronze Age tumuli (1600 – 1200 BCE) spread between the large tombs have not yet been researched – some of them are visible as flat stone circles hidden in the heather – and there are also several urn grave fields from the Iron Age and Migration Period, as well as burials from the Mesolithic. Overall, the site has been in use for 4,000 years.
Forested part of the Oldendorf Burial Town
The site has been turned into a little open air museum and landscape park thanks to financial support by the County of Lüneburg and the Development Funds Hamburg / Lower Saxony. There is a little museum displaying the finds in the tombs in Oldendorf, which unfortunately was closed. Corona has thrown a wench into the opening times of some museums; the small ones suffering especially.
View towards tomb III
The first to research the tombs was Ernst Sprockhoff (1892 – 1967) who made a career during the Nazi regime and studied and numbered several hundred burials in northern Germany. The Sprockhoff numbers are still used in classification of Neolithic burial sites.
The second was the praehistorian Friedrich Laux (born 1938) who excavated the site in the 1970ies. He established a chronology of the burials according to the finds within the grave chambers – mostly flint tools and ceramics – and the different ways of building the tombs, and drew a numbered plan which is used in most sources about the site.
View to tomb IV
The people who built the first tomb (tomb III, see below) belonged to the Funnelbeaker culture and migrated into the area about 3,700 BCE. They were not the first to travel there – remains of fireplaces and flint tools of the Mesolithic have been found – but the first to settle on the plateau at the shores where the Lopau brook confluences into the Luhe river. They came from settlements a few day marches in the east and had to stop here, since the ground further west was too sandy and nutrient-poor for agriculture.
Tomb III (Sprockhoff 685)
Tomb III (numbered after Laux; Sprockhoff 685) is the oldest burial on the site. It once had been 60 metres long and 7 metres wide; about 43 metres are still visible as embankment above ground, together with several of the 88 glacial erratics that once framed the tomb. Many stones have been lost, though, either taken away for repurpose, or tumbled; some can be spotted overgrown by heath.
Tomb III, closeup of some wall stones
The tomb still rises to 1.5 metres, but it must have been higher. The direction is north-east to south-west. Another tomb (IV) follows that alignment, but a third one (tomb I) follows an a south-east to north-west layout, so it is not clear whether those have been set up on purpose. It is not impossible, considering the fact that the Neolithic society had some knowledge of sun and moon patterns that obviously played a role in the cultural context.
A way on top of tomb III
At first, it was assumed the tomb was one without a chamber, but later excavations have shown that it had timbered chamber, visible by discolorations of the earth. The chamber, located in the south-eastern corner, had a size of 2 x 3.2 metres and was covered by flat stones. Friedrich Laux discovered remains of fires that once burned around the grave chamber.
Remains of tomb III, south-western end
West of the chamber was a tumulus of 4 metres in diameter covering a pit made of stones which contained another burial. A third was laid out on a 11 x 3 metres rectangular platform of flat granite stones, together with a flint hatchet and an arrowhead. More grave goods have not been found in this hunebed, though some may have gone missing over time.
Tomb III, a remaining capstone
It is interesting to note that those three different burials were afterwards covered with earth and the whole long tomb surrounded by glacial erratic boulders in typical Neolithic style. Likely, the three burials took place in comparably close temporal proximity, despite their different styles. The stone wall may have been set up first, even before the burials, but the filling up of the enclosure with earth happened in one step, as far as we can tell.
Wall of tomb III from a different angle
The next burial in chronologial order is tomb I (Sprockhoff 683). This one had a chamber made of large stones, like any good hunebed should. *grin* It is the odd one out with its south-east to north-west alignment. The chamber has been partly destroyed (see below).
Tomb I (Sprockhoff 683), remains of the surrounding wall
The tomb is 45 metres long and 6,5 to 7 metres wide and today still 1.5 to 2 metres high. Of the 76 glacial erratics that formed the framing wall only few remain in situ, some have tumbled and others were taken away in later times. There once had been 33 on both long sides and 5 each on the narrow edges. The tomb still makes quite an impression when you come walking around a bend in the path and suddenly stand in front of it.
Tomb 1, seen from a different angle
The burial chamber lies crossways to the alignment of the tomb, with the entrance to the south. The chamber consisted of three bays of two carrier stones (glacier erratics) and one capstone each, as well as a threshold stone. Only two of the carrier stones remain, as well as the threshold stone. The chamber has a size of 5.4 x 3.6 metres. The ground was made of packed loam with flint and granite splinters on a bed of field stones.
On the tomb hill
The chamber has been excavated by Laux in 1973. He found the remains of two bodies, together with two funnel beakers and two cups, another cup with a high handle, several flint arrowheads and a hatchet. I could not find any information about the gender of the bodies; likely there was no way to tell from the remains.
Tomb I, closing boulder on the narrow side of the chamber
Tomb II (Sprockhoff 684) is somewhat younger and different from the other burials on the site. It is not a hunebed, but an oval tumulus of about 20 metres in diameter and 2 metres in height. The burial was – contrary to the others on the site – not framed by a wall of glacial erratic boulders.
Tomb II (Sprockhoff 684)
Remains of the chamber are visible today. The chamber – of the passage grave type with an entrance tunnel ‒ is located in the middle of the tumulus. The chamber measures 5.2 x 1.6 metres and has four bays. The entrance was to the south-west where a stone is missing in the pattern. Two support stones each on the long sides are still in situ. On its south-eastern narrow end, the chamber has two support stones instead of the more customary single stone.
Tomb II, different angle with the entrance in the foreground
The earth covering the chamber was sandy and poor in nutrients, different to the two earlier burials where the earth was darker and fertile. The soil must have been leached over several generations of agriculture. Maybe the settlers had moved to a better place and the site was only used for burials at the time.
Tomb II, interior
Bone remains show that the dead were a man aged about 50 years and a woman of about 30 years. But most interesting is one of the grave goods, a ceramic cup with a high handle and a foot in the omphalos style, a fashion that can be found in metal vessels from the Aegean. Even the outline of the rivet that connect the handle to the body has been recreated in clay. There must have been trade contacts and cultural exchanges between this remote area in the Lüneburg Heath, still a Neolithic culture, and the Mediterranean where the Bronze Age had already begun.
Some remaining stones of tomb IV (Sprockhoff 686)
Tomb IV (Sprockhoff 686) is the youngest and also the most spectacular of the four burials. It once had 108 external stones, a number of which are still in situ; many have been taken away and some were dislocated over time (some have been relocated during the reconstruction). The dolmen is 80 metres long and abut 6 metres wide; the height is about 1.5 metres – it was likely a good deal higher when it was erected.
Spaces between boulders filled with drystone
The surrounding wall once had been a complete enclosure. There was not only a set of glacial erratic boulders; the spaces between them had been filled with ashlar. This feature has been reconstructed in some spots.
Tomb IV, the burial chamber
The burial chamber is still pretty much intact except for the roof, and is presented to the public. It is quite a looker, too. *grin* The chamber, located at the western end of the tomb, was excavated by the Dutch archaeologist Albert Egges van Giffen (1884 – 1973) in 1970. Chambers in the western end, with the entrance leading outside the dolmen (and not crosswise to the alignment of the hunebed, with an entrance 'inside' the earthenwall like in tomb I and III) is called a Holstein Chamber (Holsteiner Kammer).
Tomb IV, entrance to the chamber
The chamber is 8 metres long and 2 metres wide and consists of five bays. There are 12 supporting stones – five each for the long sides and one each for the narrow ends – and another two for the passage on the south-west side of the chamber. Originally, the chamber had 5 capstones and the passage another one; those are missing. The threshold stone survives. The boulders are leaning slightly inwards, the spaces between them are filled with drystones.
Tomb IV, interior
There have been two burials; the older one with the traditional grave goods of flint tools an ceramic, including models following Bronze Age patterns. That older burial was partly removed and the remains covered by sand before the new bodies were placed. The ceramic that goes with those marks the change from the Funnelbeaker to the late Neolithic Globular Amphora culture that had moved in from the east.
Tomb IV, interior other side
As mentioned above, after the Neolithic, the site was also used by Bronze Age people (who left behind tumuli that are now mostly flattened) and later for urn field burials of the Iron Age and Migration time – the Langobards settled there for a time, for example. The tombs II and IV were still accessible at the time; a body belonging to the Iron Age has been buried at the entrance of tomb II.
The work of stone thieves on the boulder in the foreground (tomb IV)
Unfortunately, those big stones were quite popular with people about to build churches, house foundations and walls to separate fields. Many of the boulders have been dragged away and often chopped into smaller bits. Traces of an unsuccessful stone theft can be seen in the photo above.
The grave goods, as far as they were accessible, also attracted some interest – I would not be surprised if some real Bronze Age goods were pilfered (they're more fun than ceramics, after all) and have disappeared for good.
The remains of tomb III in the landscape
In 1853, the burial site was bought by request of King Georg of Hannover to prevent further stone pilfering and illegal digging.
The tumuli and urn graves that are sprinkled between the impressive dolmen and beyond – today barely visible – did not attract much interest for a long time. But modern methods of geophysical survey have shown that the necropolis was spread much farther than the extent of the Neolithic stone settings. A research project is going on right now.
Another view of tomb I
Angelika Franz: Wandern zwischen Leben und Tod – Die Oldenburger Totenstatt, in: Archäologie in Deutschland 01/2021, p.67-71
Johannes Müller: Großsteingräber, Grabenwerke, Langhügel – Frühe Monumentalbauten Mitteleuropas. Darmstadt, 2017
The Megalith-Seiten by Thomas Witzke.
Impressions from the my Hiking Tours in the Lüneburg Heath
I finally managed to get in a few days of travelling this year – still in Germany, due to Corona. I chose the Lüneburg Heath (Lüneburger Heide), an area between Hamburg and Hannover that still has stretches of various heath landscapes, most of them protected nature reseves.
A hiking way in the Lüneburg Heath
The weather was ideal for hiking, moderate temperatures and an overcast sky, though the latter unfortunately makes for less pretty photos – heather in the sunshine looks more lovely on pictures. The peak of the heath bloom is over by mid-September, though some of itl is still in flower.
View to the Wilseder Berg from the Steingrund
I made several tours in the area around the Wilsede; admittedly one of the most tourist-y spots in the Lüneburg Heath, but the main season is over and there were not so many people around.
View from the Wilseder Berg to the Totengrund
The landscape is really beautiful, and the infrastructure to get there is acceptable (I'm depending on public transport, after all).
Juniper heath near Wilsede
Cars are not allowed around the Wilsede area with the Wilseder Berg (Wilsede Mountain), the Totengrund (Death Ground) and the Steingrund (Stone Ground), but you can travel by horse coach to some of the main spots.
Those chaps took me part of the way on a long day tour.
A typical feature of certain parts of the Lüneburg Heath are bogs. Most of them have dried out over time due to peat cutting and drainage, but there are programs to renaturate some of them. The largest is the Pietzmoor near Schneverdingen.
One of many open waters in the Pietzmoor
There is a plank way leading through it. The overcast sky was less of an issue here, since a bog looks more mysterious in such weather, especially on photos.
Another view of the bog
And because I got so many photos of the place, here is another nice view.
Birch and pine forest in the Borstel Heath
The sun came to visit one day, so there is some heather in the sunshine, after all. These vista are from the Borsteler Schweiz (Borstel Switzerland), an end moraine landscape near Bispingen.
Juniper heath in the sun (Borsteler Schweiz)
The Lünbeburg Heath is not always a flat area, as these photos show. In fact, the north-eastern part is rather hilly, compared to the southern part.
Neolithic burials at Oldendorf/Luhe, tomb IV
Neolithic burials and Bronze Age tumuli can be found in several places; the best preserved ones are the Oldendorfer Totenstadt near Amelinghausen. Here the remains of half a dozen 'Giant Tombs' (Hünengräber) and tumuli are gathered close together.
Burials at Oldendorf, remains of tomb III
Several of the burials belong to the same cultural context as those in the Everstorf Forest, on Rugia and other places in northern Germany.
14th century church in Bispingen
I also found a cute 14th century church close to my hotel in Bispingen.
Evening in the Osterheide
The Osterheide near Schneverdingen was a military training area used by German and British troops until 1994, after which the site was renaturated. Now almost all traces of their presence have vanished and heath grows again.
Another shot of the Pietzmoor
There will be more detailed posts about the geology and history of the Lüneburg Heath – I got plenty of photos, after all. Today it's just a little overwiev of the places I visited.
Views from my Balcony – Summer Flowers
This year, I didn't plant any geraniums and marguerites as usual, but decided for a 'bee friendly seed mix'. It turned out quite well; there are new flowers popping up every few days.
Marigolds, bluebottles and other pretty flowers
There had been a rain shower right before; the drops lend an extra sparkle to the flowers.
Bluebottles, petunias and more
A veritable wilderness. Those flowers all grow higher than the description of the seeds says. You can literally watch them grow from the seeds I put in in late April.
Marigolds and sunflowers
The colours of summer; little suns on my balcony. They do indeed, attract a lot of bees, but I don't have a macro lens to get decent photos of the wee buzzies.
A sunflower called 'teddy bear'
This is a low growth sunflower called 'teddy bear' – an extra fluffy variant which is well suited for balconies.
Pretty mix in front of the window
Another mix in front of my bedroom window. Those pretties can be seen from both sides, the balcony and the room.
Marigolds, bluebottles and more
Those photos are just snapshots from the middle of summer. The fun started in spring and is going on well into autumn. I'm defintely going to do some seeding again next year.
The Tragedy of Afghanistan - A Poem by Theodor Fontane
In the light of recent events I repost a slighty edited version of a translation of a ballad by Theodor Fontane I did back in 2006. Carla Nayland kindly provided me with the historical context - which is outside my area of expertise - in the comments.
Das Trauerspiel von Afghanistan
Snow like powder from the sky softly falls,
When before Djelalabad a rider halts.
"Who's there" - "A British horseman I am,
I carry a message from Afghanistan."
Afghanistan. So weakly he'd said.
Half the town around him had met;
The British commander, Sir Robert Sale,
Himself helped the man to alight from his bay.
Into a guard-house they guided him
And made him sit at the fire's brim;
How warm was the fire, how bright was its shine.
He takes a deep breath, and begins to explain.
"Thirteen thousand men we had been,
When our outset from Kabul was seen -
Now soldiers, leaders, women and bairn
They are betrayed, and frozen and slain.
"Dispersed is the entire host,
Who is alive, in the darkness is lost.
A God to me salvation has sent -
To save the rest you may make an attempt."
Sir Robert ascends the castle wall,
And soldiers and officers follow him all,
Sir Robert speaks "How dense the snow falls,
How hard they may seek, they'll never see the walls.
"Like blindfold they'll err and yet are so near,
The way to their safety, now let it them hear,
Play songs of old, of the homeland so bright;
Bugler, let thy tune carry far in the night."
And they played and sang, and time passed by,
Song over song through the night they let fly,
The songs of their home so far and so dear,
And old Highland laments so mournful to hear.
They played all night and the following day,
They played like only love made them play;
The songs were still heard, but darkness did fall.
In vain is your watch, in vain is your call.
Those who should hear, they'll hear nevermore,
Destroyed, dispersed is the proud host of yore;
With thirteen thousand their trail they began.
Only one man returned from Afghanistan.
The German original can be found here
This blog is non-political. Please respect this in the comments. The post is about the poem and its emotional impact. Thank you.
The Night the Devil Got Angry – The Teufelsmauer in the Harz Foothills
Once upon a time, god and the devil decided to divide the world between them. The devil should get all the land he could wall in during one night. So the devil set off from the north and all went nicely at first. But an old woman was walking down the Harz mountains with a cock she wanted to sell at the market. Since the way was long, she had started off in the middle of the night. She stumbled in the darkness, and the cock awoke and let off a merry cock-a-doodle-doo. The devil thought dawn was approaching and, taken with ire, he smote the wall he had built.
The Devil's Wall near Blankenburg
Parts of the cracked wall – known as Devil's Wall (Teufelsmauer) – can still be seen between Ballenstedt, from where it runs for about 20 km in north-western direction to Weddersleben (near Quedlinburg) and Blankenburg. Geologically, the formation stretches all the way to Goslar where it reappears as the Klus Rock.
Way at the rock formation near Blankenburg
The poor devil has been blamed for a number of geological features that stand out in the surrounding landscape. The mountains of the Harz give way to the Northern German Plain in the north, so the Devil's Wall is a singular chain of rocks beyond the last hills, looking like the remains of a giant wall indeed.
The highest rock in the formation is the Grandfather Rock (Großvaterfelsen; 317 metres) near Blankenburg. Other interesting rocks appear at Weddersleben (like the King's Rock). The rock formations shown in the photos of this post are in the area near Blankenburg.
Grandfather Rock, different angle
Parts of the Devil's Wall were put under protection to prevent further mining of the sandstone as early as 1833, the part at Weddersleben is a nature reserve since 1935; 2006 the entire Devil's Wall was added to the list of National Geotopes.
More rocks of the wall near Blankenburg
The rock formations of the Devil's Wall are sandstones from various strata of the Cretaceous. The limestone from the Upper Cretaceous is intercalcated by hard Neocomian sandstone, for example. Quartizitation by ingress of silicic acid also hardened the sandstone. The various layers often alternate within a few metres.
Vertical rock strata with fault lines
The sandstone was originally the bottom of a shallow sea, and the strata thus horizontally layered. When the Harz mountains rose during the Saxon Orogeny, the lithologic sequence of rocks have been brought to the surface in a vertical or semi-vertical position (about the geology of the northern Harz see also this post and the one linked above).
More sandstone boulders
The folding of the layers was not a smooth process, but took place at different times in different parts along the northern Harz Boundary Fault line, which led to a discordant overlapping of the the older Triassic buntsandstein, musselkalk and keuper as well as the younger Cretaceous sandstone.
The Grandmother Rock
Erosion and the glaciers of the Ice Ages eliminated the softer rocks, leaving the harder parts that now stand out as crags and pinnacles. The river Bode also changed its course during the glacial periods, washing out a new bed. As a result, the Devil's Wall, marker of the boundary fault, today shows some gaps between the rock formations.
Boulders and trees
The elements of the Devil's Wall are of different age. The formation at Weddersleben is younger than the rocks near Ballenstedt which are a silificied sandstone and – in case of the Grandfather Rock – quarzitic sandstone, for example (I'll spare you a list of names of geological subformations of the Cretaceous period represented here).
A particularly picturesque pillar
After the little geology lesson, let's just enjoy the pretty sights of picturesque grey and white sandstone rocks and green trees on a hot, sunny day.
Hiking in the Harz can be like that
I did the tour together with my father some years ago. Yes, there were beers with our name on back in Quedlinburg. It's the best thing after a hot day out. *grin*
Different angle of the crag
The way around – and through – the formations near Blankenburg is, let's say interesting in parts. At some points, the path leads through narrow crags between boulders, partly natural, partly man made.
One can climb some of the rocks, but we didn't go that far (it requires climbing equipment, too). The viewpoint on the summit of Grandfather Rock is accessible by stairs, but it was a bit crowded that day, so we decided not to go up there.
Rocks, trees, and sunny spots
You can see that the ground once has been sandstone as well, partly weathered and turned into a thin layer of soil – trees win all the time – but there's quite an amount of rocky surface left to make for a pretty pattern.
Rocks, trees, and blue sky
And another photo which I like well enough to share, though I have no more text to go with it.
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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The Flensburg Firth
Rugia - Jasmund Peninsula and Kap Arkona
Rugia - Seaside Ressort Binz
Rugia - The Pier of Sellin
Rugia - More Photo Impressions
A Tour on the Wakenitz River
Harz National Park
Arboretum (Bad Grund)
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
Ilse Valley and Ilse's Rock
Views from Harz mountains
Nature Park Meissner-Kaufunger Wald
Around Bad Sooden-Allendorf
Nature Park Solling-Vogler
Forest Pasture - Hutewald Project
The Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Nature Park Reinhardswald
The Old Forest at the Sababurg
Oberderdorla and Hainich National Park
Rivers and Lakes
Bruchteiche / Bad Sooden Allendorf
The Danube in Spring
A Rainy Rhine Cruise
Vineyards at Saale and Unstrut
Weser River Ferry
Harz Falcon Park
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The Baltic Sea Life
Ozeaneum Stralsund: The North Sea Life
Spring in the Botanical Garden Göttingen
Spring at the 'Kiessee' Lake
Spring in the Rossbach Heath (Meissner)
Memories of Summer
Summer Hiking Tours 2016
Autumn in the Meissner
Autumn at Werra and Weser
Winter at the 'Kiessee' Lake
Mountains and Valleys
West Highland Railway
The East Coast
By Ferry to Newcastle
Highland Mountains - Inverness to John o'Groats
Some Photos from the East Coast
Scottish Sea Shores
Crossing to Mull
Mull - Craignure to Fionnphort
Castles Seen from Afar (Dunollie and Kilchurn)
Summer Days in Oban
Summer Nights in Oban
Wild Wales - With Castles
Views of Snowdownia
Views from Castle Battlements
-Tour / Norway
A Voyage into Winter
Along the Coast of Norway - Light and Darkness
Along the Coast of Norway - North of the Polar Circle
Norway by Train
From Oslo to Bergen
From Trondheim to Oslo
Dog Sledding With Huskies
Eagles and Gulls in the Trollfjord
The Baltic Sea
A Baltic Sea Cruise
The Curonian Spit in Lithuania
Beaches at the Curonian Spit
Geology of the Curonian Spit