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- November 8, 2011 at 10:54 pm #342329
The rondels—earthworks comprising very formal, circular arrangements of banks, ditches, and timber palisades—remain the most enigmatic structures of the central European Neolithic. The first such enclosure was discovered at Krpy, in Bohemia, in 1885 but it was not until the late 1970s, mainly through excavations in Moravia and Slovakia, that rondels were recognized as an important class of Middle Neolithic site. Most of these sites are known from aerial reconnaissance, with only a handful having been excavated. Their limited distribution, a relatively narrow horizon of use, and rather enigmatic evidence about their function all ensure that the rondels continue to be the subject of heated debate.
The distribution of the rondels is one of their curious features; they are found in a relatively small area of central Europe, from Bavaria in the west to Slovakia in the east, with just a few outliers known in Hungary. Apart from several Bavarian examples, most of the rondels lie to the north of that very important prehistoric communication route, the River Danube.
However, this known distribution is changing dramatically. The political changes of the late 1980s in central Europe have permitted aerial reconnaissance of previously unexplored areas. An intensive flying program in Saxony, for example, has identified many new rondels, extending their distribution farther to the north; many more sites may well come to light in the future.
Examples excavated by the end of the twentieth century suggested that rondels were built and used for a very short period. They are associated with the Late Stichbandkeramik IVa–Lengyel Ia–Oberlauterbach cultural groups. The available radiocarbon dates fall between 4800 and 4500 B.C., with the majority centering on 4700 B.C. Thus the phenomenon seems to have had a very brief existence, lasting perhaps barely more than a century and a half and involving only a few generations.
The ditches are arranged concentrically and vary in number from one to five. In the classic form there are four opposed narrow entrances that tend to be oriented on the cardinal points. Often there are concentric timber palisades within, or occasionally outside, the ditches, which respect the arrangement of other features. It is this very formal circular layout that, although differing in detail from one site to the next, nevertheless seems to adhere to a preconceived overall plan and thus distinguishes the rondels from other earlier and later Neolithic enclosures.
The ditches were V-shaped in section, up to 5 meters deep and 8 meters wide. Sometimes they were re-cut: segments of ditches near the entrances at Künzing-Unternberg, in Bavaria, were renewed four times (on four separate occasions). But generally the ditches were filled up quickly, with the profiles displaying characteristic thin bands of dark and light soil. The poverty of cultural materials further confirms that the ditches stood open for only a brief time.
The ditch circuit usually has four openings allowing access to the interior. Sometimes the entrances are formalized by the turning of the ditch terminals outward (Svodín and Bučany in Slovakia, Bylany in Bohemia) or inward (Hornsburg 3 in Austria); occasionally the terminals join the outer and the inner ditch together (Kothingeichendorf and Künzing-Unternberg in Bavaria or Friebritz 2 in Austria). They may be narrowed further by means of palisades, creating a clearly focused passageway to the interior. The timber palisades, usually one or two in number, follow the circular shape defined by the ditches, delimiting a similar but smaller area inside. Palisades have also been encountered outside the ditches (Těšetice-Kyjovice in Moravia).
Few features in the interior of the rondels can be associated with their use. The traces of a small rectangular building at Bučany, Slovakia, are quite exceptional. At Bylany, Bohemia, there were several carefully constructed pits, which may represent graves or places of special offering. Similar features were found at TeȈšetice-Kyjovice, Moravia, where one pit contained fragments of painted pottery and a human skull. Generally, however, the interiors of the rondels seem to be free of other contemporary structures.
Attempts at classification of the rondels have included the number of ditches (single-, double-, and multiple-ditched enclosure), the geometry of the layout (from circular to flattened), and the number and construction of entrances. The size seems to be an important factor as it may not only indicate the number of people allowed into the interior but, more significantly, reflect the manpower that communities could muster in order to carry out the construction.
Some archaeologists have argued that rondels are defensive in nature and that the ditches and palisades should be seen as features of fortification; the Slovakian rondels, for example, have been interpreted as fortified settlements by J. Pavúk. But although many rondel enclosures were, indeed, located in areas that were settled, there is no evidence of any contemporary settlement within the enclosures themselves. The possible presence of one building inside the Bučany rondel is hardly sufficient to interpret it as a defensive settlement. Similarly, settlement traces to the outside of the enclosing ditches (at Svodín in Slovakia, TeȈšetice-Kyjovice in Moravia, and, at a somewhat greater distance, at Bylany in Bohemia) are not suggestive of defenses.
Effectively, there is little archaeological evidence that could indicate the rondels' function. The purpose of digging ditches and piling up earthen banks to enclose a small area of the open landscape may appear difficult to comprehend to the modern mind. It is perhaps for this reason that most scholars tend to lean toward interpretations involving cult and ritual activities. That these sites do not appear to have been maintained after their initial construction, but rather were allowed to become ruined, suggests that it was the construction rather than any prolonged activities in the interior that may have been of primary importance. Indeed, on a number of sites, a new rondel was built either on the same spot (Svodín) or very close by (Bylany), as if to emphasize the importance of engaging in further construction.
The short duration of this phenomenon—a century and a half at the most—as well as its clearly limited cultural associations suggest that the creation of the rondels was a response to the very specific needs faced at that time by the communities within the Carpathian Basin. Such needs could have been economic, social, political, or possibly even environmental, or a combination of all these factors. Within the cult and ceremonial sphere, arguments range from some sort of environmental catastrophe that necessitated the monitoring of meteorological and astronomical events, via the creation of communal centers devoted to ceremonies of thanksgiving for prosperous societies, to an increased need for previously dispersed communities to come together, at least for communal and ritual purposes.
[img width=534 height=700]http://antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/kvet/images/fig3big.jpg”/>
Principal types of the Neolithic-Rondels in central Danubian region: (1) Němčičky, Moravia. (2) Vedrovice, Moravia. (3) Nitrianský Hrádok, Slovakia. (4) Rašovice, Moravia. (5) Kľačany, Slovakia. (6) Strögen, Lower Austria. (7) Běhařovice, Moravia. (8 ) Hornsburg 3, Lower Austria. (9) Těšetice-Kyjovice, Moravia. (10) Rosenburg, Lower Austria. (11) Bučany, Slovakia. (12) Cífer, Slovakia. (13) Golianovo, Slovakia. (14) Svodín, Slovakia.November 8, 2011 at 11:18 pm #365743
Very interesting Svätoslava. Thanks a lot for this threadNovember 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm #365744
Glad to hear you like itNovember 9, 2011 at 12:45 am #365745
fascinating, indeed. Thanks for posing it.
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