The 5000-year-old grave field found in 2015 in Dalfsen was used by families from the area to bury their dead for about two centuries. The graves and grave goods offer a unique new look at the time of the hunebed builders, who lived in Northern Europe from about 3400 to 2750 BC, according to the researchers.
The cemetery has 142 burial pits and is considered the largest of its kind in Western Europe. People at that time used a dolmen built of large boulders as a burial monument, as can still be seen in Drenthe, but the builders at Dalfsen built an earth mound for this purpose, according to the archaeologists.
Dolmens were also usually reused for the burial of the dead. However, pits were discovered in the cemetery in Overijssel in which one deceased person had been placed. The grave goods that were in those graves, according to the researchers, show that the dead were given a “dignified” burial at the time.
“We infer this from careful placement of various objects in the graves,” they said in a statement. “Probably all members of the group were buried here because we also found several children’s graves.”
Since the tombs were very similar, it seems that most of the hunebed builders were alike. “At most, an individual gained an extra appreciation for special skills by giving him or her some special objects.” There were also few differences between the graves of children and adults.
Family did play an important role, the researchers concluded, because a person was buried in a few burial mounds, and people of later generations were subsequently interred at the foot of those mounds. The earthen burial mound was used to radiate community spirit. “This mound subsequently became the central place in the burial field. Several deceased was buried in it.”