Settlements and Burial-grounds of the I and early II millennia AD in the Sambian Peninsula

Wide-scale rescue archaeology in the Kaliningrad Region provided a unique opportunity for studying settlement and the cultural situation within the territory of the Sambian Peninsula from the Bronze Age to the post-Medieval period.
Over five years, excavations have made it possible to study more than 20 settlements and burial-grounds1 most of which dated from the I and the early centuries of the II millennium AD in the zones set aside for the construction of an underground gas reservoir near the town of Romanovo and the Kaliningrad–Khrabrovo–Zelenogradsk highway. For the first time in the history of the Sambian Peninsula, ordinary rural settlements have been the object of investigation.
Settlements dating from the I millennium AD were situated, as a rule, on low elevations in flood-plains, sometimes on the slopes of the bedrock coast, further away from rivers and streams. To judge from the arrangement of pits in the natural soil, the buildings which existed here had a timber frame and posts. At sites fully excavated or over a large area (between 10,000 and 24,000 m2) usually 4-5 courtyards or properties are identified separated from each other by quite large open plots of land. Most of the finds from the pits consist of fragments of hand-moulded pottery. The preliminary dating of the groups of settlements to the Roman period, based on an analysis of pottery materials, has been confirmed by rare finds of copper and silver Roman coins of the 2nd century AD, certain types of glass beads and jewellery items made of amber — beads and blanks for pendants. Thanks to the excavations over wide areas, it has proved possible not only to investigate the territory set aside for construction but also the adjacent land used by the settlements for various economic activities, where separate groups of storage pits and post-holes have been identified, which related to structures a considerable distance away from the dwellings.
Some of the most revealing finds have been materials from burial-grounds from the period of Roman influence to that of the Migration Period, dating from the 2nd to the 6th centuries, which reflect the pre-history and the early stages in the formation of the culture of the Prussians. The burial-grounds consist of fields of burials — both cremations and inhumations — arranged, as a rule, on top of hills or on their gently sloping sides. In some cases it proved possible to trace parts of the internal layout of the burial-grounds — rows or above-average concentrations of burials stemming from periods close in date.
During the Roman period burials arranged in roughly rectangular grave pits gave way to cremations, usually performed outside the cemetery. These would be placed in hand-moulded funerary urns made of pottery, containers made of organic materials or scattered on the floor of grave pits, above which stones were often laid out. Horses were quite frequently buried above cremations of men or next to them.
The grave goods accompanying the burials consisted of articles of weaponry and military accoutrements. They included dagger-knives, spear-heads and shields with iron umbones, belt and sword-belt sets, jewellery (torques, necklaces of glass and amber beads, fibulae and bracelets) and also hand-moulded vessels of various shapes. Sometimes the horse burials contained articles of harness. In some graves from the period of Roman influence provincial Roman imports were found, the presence of which would indicate the special status of their owners — a gold ring, a cast silver spoon, certain types of fibulae and sword-belt buckles and also silver and copper Roman coins.
“High-status” articles, such as silver fibulae edged with gold, a silver facing for the pommel of a saddle bearing zoomorphic and anthropomorphic depictions and others are found in graves from the Migration Period. One of the distinctive features of high-status burials would be the presence of a large amount of amber jewellery and un-worked pieces of amber, which had been collected within the territory of ancient Sambia, starting from the Neolithic period.
Investigations carried out in 2005–2009 were the first attempt to excavate burial-grounds within the Kaliningrad Region over a large area. The excavated section of the Aleika 3 Burial-ground measured 5,000 m2 and that of the Mitino I Burial-ground over 10,000 m2. Starting out from the calculation of the number of burials in the areas already investigated and the assessment of the total area of the sites concerned, it can be assumed that “burial fields” of this kind contained thousands of burials.

A.N. Khokhlov

Digital publication