The Lost Fort

My Travel and History Blog, Focussing mostly on Roman and Mediaeval Times

24 Oct 2021
  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 and ceramic, including models following Bronze Age patterns, as well as several drums. 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 worth more 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

Sources 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.
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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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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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Open Air Museum Oerlinghausen


Neolithic Orkney
The Neolithic Landscape of Orkney
Ring of Brodgar
Skara Brae
Life in Skara Brae

Bronze Age / Iron Age
Clava Cairns
The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Their Function in Iron Age Society


The Ship Setting of Gnisvärd

Post-Mediaeval History

Explorers and Discoveries

Fram Expedition to the North Pole
Fram Expedition to the South Pole

Otto von Guericke and the Magdeburg Hemispheres
Raising a Wreck, Now and Then (Vasa Museum in Stockholm)


European Nobility
Prince Wilhelm Malte of Putbus


History in Literature and Music

History and Literature

The Weimar Classicism
The Weimar Classicism - Introduction

Historical Ballads by Theodor Fontane
Short Biography of Theodor Fontane
(Some of Fontane's Ballads, translated by me)
Archibald Douglas
Gorm Grymme
Sir Walter Scott in Abbotsford
The Tragedy of Afghanistan

History in Opera

Belcanto and Historicism
Maria Padilla - Mistress Royal
The Siege of Calais in Donizetti's Opera

Not so Serious History

Building Hadrian's Wall
Playmobil Romans

Mediaeval Times
Kings Having a Bad Hair Day
The Case of the Vanished Wine Cask

Rules for Writing Scottish Romances
Tourist Kitsch in St.Petersburg


Geological Landscapes

The Baltic Sea
Geology of the Curonian Spit
Chalk Cliffs on Rugia
Flint Fields on Rugia

The Harz
Bode Valley and Rosstrappe Cliff
The 'Hübichenstein' Rock
Karst Formations in the Southern Harz
The Lonau Falls
The Rhume Springs
Sandstone Formations: Daneil's Cave
Sandstone Formations: Devil's Wall
Sandstone Formations: The Klus Rock

Meissner / Kaufunger Wald
Blue Dome near Eschwege
Diabase and Basalt Formations
Karst Formations
Salt Springs at the Werra

Raised Bog Mecklenbruch
Hannover Cliffs

The Shores of Scotland

Fossils and Other Odd Rocks

Fossilized Ammonites
The Loket Meteorite

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