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Information board for the construction of a barrow
Tumulus with three small burial chambers near Taouz , Morocco

A barrow or burial mound ( Latin tumulus , plural tumuli ; Greek τύμβος tymbos ) is an elongated, round or oval pile of earth. There are tombs or other prehistoric monuments. The graves can be body burials (possibly in a tree coffin ), urn graves or scattered corpses . The mounds can have internals, e.g. B. from concentric circles, buildings ( burial mounds of Trappendal ), stone burial chambers or stone boxes .

Stone hills are called Cairns (French Tumuli de pierres ) in English and Gravrøser in Denmark . The prehistoric barrows of North America are known as mounds , the barrows characteristic of eastern Lower Saxony as humpback tombs .


Cairns and roes are not burial mounds within the meaning of this article . A term for an artificial hill is also Leeberg (or phonetic variants of it), but it does not have to contain a grave.


Burial mounds can neither be limited in time nor region. They exist in Europe almost consistently from the Stone Age through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and the Middle Ages . Even literate cultures knew the grave. In ancient times, the Greeks raised burial mounds for their heroes, as did the Etruscans and the Romans . In the Mediterranean they were called tumuli , in Eastern Europe they were called kurgan .

In Eurasia there are tumuli in numerous countries and cultures. The largest burial mounds are arguably the mounds over the graves of the early Chinese emperors. They contain huge underground tombs. The most famous is the Qin Shihuangdis mausoleum .

Barrows were also common among many Native Americans before the arrival of Christopher Columbus .

Grave mound in the landscape

Burial mounds have heights of 1 m to over 30 m or more, depending on the tradition and importance of the person buried. In Denmark alone, 11,054 large (mostly in Jutland) and 8,846 small burial mounds from different times have been preserved. Similar figures can also be proven for northern Germany on both the Baltic and North Sea coasts. So are z. B. in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania registered 4978 single barrows and 81 barrow fields with approx. 1274 burial mounds. The low hills are often on burial grounds such as the Mansen Mountains , the Männige Mountains in Emsland or the Pestrup burial ground in the Wildeshauser Geest . The older hills increased in height (partly due to multiple overbuilding) until their importance was finally forgotten. Such mighty hills influenced the landscape for centuries until they were removed again by wind, waves or cultivation.

This had a strong impact on the North German Plain, from the Netherlands to the mouth of the Vistula, including Denmark and southern Sweden, as barrows were built in some areas for more than 4000 years. This effect may also have existed in some places in Great Britain. The landscapes of Northern Europe probably looked extremely impressive with dolmens , menhirs , circular moats and barrows during the Bronze and Iron Ages and sparked the imagination of the people. Similar effects that influence the image of the landscape can still be seen in some places where the Scythians and Saks built their burial mounds much later . Some of these areas are poetically referred to as the “Valley of the Kings”.

It was only through the intensive plowing of the fields in Europe that most of these burial mounds were leveled again. Some also fell victim to coastal erosion, while others were damaged or completely eroded by grave robbers . Even today there are numerous items that come from barrows in the antique trade and in museum magazines. Especially in Eastern Europe, e.g. B. in the land of the Dacians and Thracians , but also in Russia this is an inestimable loss. So z. B. during the Kosovo war on numerous art objects that suggest grave robbery. The Z. A lack of knowledge very quickly leads to looking only at Western Europe. In Germany, for example, B. many burial mounds or their remains, ignorant of their significance, only in the last 200 years, when the Prussian kings massively promoted agriculture. In Germany, too, the lack of visibility today leads one to massively underestimate the number of burial mounds. It was not until aerial archeology that many of these structures were and are gradually being rediscovered. The large number of graves from different cultures at the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age in the area of ​​Central Germany / North German Plain are clear indications that this perspective must be reconsidered. German and Scandinavian scientists are currently working hard to make the barrow phenomenon tangible.

Time position

Barrows were built in many eras, in Europe from the beginning of the Neolithic to the Middle Ages. The oldest deposits of megalithic structures can be found on the Atlantic coast of Iberia. The Passy-type enclosures in France date from the 5th millennium BC. And mostly belong to the Cerny culture and the La Hoguette culture. The plants of the Niedźwiedź type and the “Konens Høj” type (women's hill - named after a place where they were found) are the oldest in North Central Europe and originate from the carriers of the funnel beaker culture (TBK). Backfilling through earth was already observed during the immigration of the linear ceramics for various circular moats and probably also represent a burial ritually. Not only the barrow is cross-cultural, but also the circular moat and megalithic forms.

There are also in the Sahara, z. B. in Algeria, burial mounds that were heaped up with stones and sand. Their age is so far unknown as they have hardly been researched or not at all. It can be assumed that its current structure is due to wind removal. The coastal burial mounds of North Africa are predominantly Phoenician tumuli and date to the Iron Age. The Kurgan is also a tumulus, only it is traditionally associated with the steppe and Asia. Spa cultures are barrow cultures. The distinction between burial mounds and kurgan is a modern view. The distinction between individual graves (possibly also with entourage) or group graves is essential for the classification. The early burial mounds of the 5th millennium are almost all still group graves, so that the shape was not necessarily round. They also experimented with different shapes, structures and materials and combined soil, sod, wood or stones. The circular shape was probably never decisive, just the result of the embankment. The hills of the End Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age are numerically predominant.


In Central and Northern Europe burial under the mound of earth was typical for the late individual grave culture , the corded ceramic or battle ax culture and ball amphora culture , apart from those in the early phase of the TBK , but also occurred in the Baden-Boleraz culture .

Bronze age

In the early Bronze Age , burial mounds were the typical burial form for the elites of the Aunjetitz culture . Outstanding examples here are the Bornhöck near Raßnitz , the prince's grave of Leubingen and the prince's grave of Helmsdorf .

The hills of the tumulus culture followed in the Middle Bronze Age . The barrow culture brings together various local cultural groups of the Bronze Age from the Carpathian Basin to the Rhineland , where burial mounds were common. In northern Germany, Bronze Age or Iron Age burial mounds are enclosed with a double circular moat , or as burial mounds with a keyhole , such as the Plaggenschale burial ground near Osnabrück . The burial mounds in Bremlevænge forest on Langeland are lined with single or double stone wreaths .

In the early Bronze Age (1,800 - 1,000 BC) 100 to 150 burial mounds were built annually. In total we know about 60,000 burial mounds from the Bronze Age in Denmark, but only about 25 percent have been preserved.

Some burial mounds are also occupied in Anatolia . In addition, the Kurgang grave mounds of the Maykop culture belong to this time, whereby the Maykop culture was already a culture of arsenic bronze , i.e. it was much more developed with regard to metal. The largest burial mound of the Bronze Age in northern Germany is the Dobberworth near Sagard on the island of Rügen with a height of 15 meters, a diameter of 40 meters and a volume of 22,000 m³.

Iron age

In the early Iron Age ( Hallstatt period ) there are barrows such as those on Magdalenenberg near Villingen-Schwenningen from Hallstatt D1 level, dendrochronologically dated at the end of the 7th century BC. The grave of Hochdorf an der Enz shown above also dates from the Hallstatt period (HaD1). The grave mound 1 of Eichlehen in the Frankfurt city forest contained over 20 graves from the Bronze Age B to Hallstatt D. The Celtic princely grave of Glauberg is also one of the impressive grave mounds of that time. There were significant tumuli among the Mycenaeans. So was z. B. the father of Alexander the Great Philip II of Macedon buried in a mighty tumulus. Similar impressive burial mounds can also be found among the Carthaginians in North Africa. Lots of burial mounds can also be found in the area of ​​the lower Don , Dnepr and Kuban , as well as near Kerch on the Crimean peninsula, which come from Bolgars , Teutons (mostly Goths ), Kimmerern and probably Alans . At best, these burial mounds can be assigned by dating. Also striking are grave goods that correspond to a Greek-Scythian style and document the merger with the Greeks at the Pontus.

Roman Imperial Era

Barrows still existed in the late Roman Empire . In the provinces, this burial custom was partially continued by the local population under Roman rule - one example are the Noric-Pannonian barrows in the Vienna Woods (communities Altlengbach and Asperhofen , but also in Vienna - Hütteldorf ).

Early middle ages

In the early Middle Ages , the custom lived on in certain areas, for example in Sutton Hoo in England . For the early Middle Ages, the Viking Age hills raised above a ship ( ship grave in Gokstad or von Oseberg ), as well as the burial mounds of Danish Jelling and Ladby with the Ladby ship near Odense are known for Scandinavia . The royal tomb at Sutton Hoo is an impressive example of Anglo-Saxon cultures. There are also examples from the Rus and Sarmatians . Menhirs were also set up on some burial mounds .

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania there are 132 individual burial mounds and 5 burial mounds from the Slavic period (600–1200), with one burial ground near Ralswiek on Rügen alone having over 400 burial mounds from this time.

Modern times

The burial mound custom only ended with the Christianization of the Vikings around 1050 AD and the Christianization of the Baltic States. In the Fürst-Pückler-Park Branitz in Cottbus there is a tumulus from the middle of the 19th century.

Shapes and sizes

The hills can be low (by one meter) or high (2 to approx. 13 m) and surrounded on the outside by small ditches or stone circles. The diameter of the embankment can range from a few meters to more than 100 m. The largest hill is the Raknehaugen in Norway with a diameter of 100 m and a height of 15 m. Sweden's largest hill is the Anundshög with a diameter of 60 meters and a height of ten meters. The Hallstatt Magdalenenberg near Villingen-Schwenningen has a diameter of 100 m and a height of 10 m; and about 46,000 m³ of bulk material. There - in addition to a central burial chamber - 126 secondary graves with a total of 136 burials were found in the embankment.

Grave mound with a flat top

These burial mounds can be distinguished from the Dansehøjene , which resemble a platform. Kong Rans Høj in Randbøl cemetery west of Vejle in South Jutland has a flat knoll and is a Dansehøj. His investigation revealed that it was built over a Bronze Age grave.

Grave mounds with a flat top, on the other hand, date from the Danish Iron Age and can be traced back to the end of the Viking Age . They differ very clearly from the spherical burial mounds of earlier times. Of the oldest hills (around 200 AD) near Himlingøje on Zealand , four of the original seven have been preserved. A center stake was found in two of them. One contained a small build-up of stones on the bottom of the hill. On Vorbjerg Bakke, northwest of Horsens, lies a group of eight large hills with flat crests. One found a grave from the later Roman Iron Age, a strong central post and a large building stone . Fallen building blocks lay on three of these hills. They are also known from other burial mounds . A building stone on the southern hill of Jelling can still be seen in a picture from 1591. The "Kajesten" stands on a hill near Kongstrup on Røsnaes Zealand.

About 75 - that's about a third - of the hills in old Danish cemeteries have flat knolls. They reveal a connection between the ancient sacred sites of the Iron Age and the oldest Christian churches. Occasionally, the flat dome was not created until the Middle Ages to build a bell tower (churches from Birket on Lolland and from Tandslet on Alsen ). This also applies to the north hill of Jelling and the Galgebakken (Slots Bjergby) on Zealand. The flat crest had a function. In the sagas it is reported that kings "sat on a hill" from which they exercised violence. This is known from the "Tynwald Hild" on the Isle of Man, from the top of which to the present day changes of kings are announced and laws read out. The practice is also known from Lybers Høj north of Lund, from which the inhabitants of Skåne worshiped Oluf, the son of Queen Margrethe and several of his successors, it also offered up for the last time in 1610. The fact that on the flat tops animal sacrifice, let the Recognize bone finds and the Christian laws against sacrifice on burial mounds. The sacrificial rituals have been preserved up to our day. In 1909 a mound was excavated in the Raundal in Norway. Its owner reported that an animal was sacrificed when someone died on the farm. The animal was for "Garvor" who lived in the hill. When his father died, a heifer was sacrificed (for the last time).

Grave mound with wet core

Among the archaeologically excavated burial mounds, especially from the Nordic Bronze Age , there were always specimens that stood out for their excellently preserved burials. Inside, the burials were preserved by an unusually high water content. Numerous excavators reported large amounts of water that poured out of it when the burial mound was pierced. Recent excavations indicate that such grave mounds with a wet core may have been deliberately created by their builders for reasons that are still unknown. The internal structure of the burial mound ensured that large amounts of water were collected and retained in the burial area. The resulting exclusion of oxygen meant that the burials were as well preserved as bog finds or bog corpses . It is currently difficult to research these conditions, as almost all burial mounds with a preserved wet core have already been historically destroyed or have not been excavated with appropriate documentation. Several years of experimental archaeological tests at the Danish open-air research center Sagnlandet Lejre confirmed the conditions observed during the excavations.

Mock graves

Many flattened grave mounds from the Iron Age are empty graves . Among them are some of the largest in the north, such as the southern burial mound of Jelling, the Galgebakken at Slots Bjergby, the “Farmannshaugen” and the “Raknehaugen” in Norway. The latter is 15 m high and the highest Nordic burial mound; however, it only covered a collection of logs. Another example is Silbury Hill near Avebury in southern England.

There are several explanations why great mounds are empty. In the Skjoldungesaga it is reported that the mythical King Sigurd I. Ring (735–756) was laid in the Løfting, the raised structure in the back of his ship, after a serious wound, which was set on fire and sent out to sea. A hill was thrown on the beach and was given the name Ringhøje. In the Yngling saga, Snorri Sturluson reports that the ashes of the dead should be thrown into the lake or buried in the ground, and a burial mound should be built in memory of outstanding men. Other mounds (later rune stones ) were piled up for chiefs who fell abroad.

Western and Central Europe

British Islands

Ring Barrow from Woodcutts Common

Burial mounds made of earth ( English barrows ) occur in Great Britain occasionally since the early Neolithic. Your burial chambers can be made of wooden stakes ( non-megalithic round mounds : Round Barrow ) or megaliths . There are burial mounds in many shapes, the round and oval shape ( Oval Barrow ) can be surrounded by a ditch ( Easington Barrow ) (see also Disc Barrow ). Especially in the north of the British Isles, however, the stone mounds predominate . The Round Barrow at Veryan in Cornwall is one of the largest at 106 m in diameter. The Silbury Hill at Avebury is no mound grave.


In France , the Tumulus St. Michel in Carnac is the largest burial mound on the continent. In 1993, Ch. Boujot and S. Cassen presented a study according to which the Breton corridors had precursors as small round and rectangular chambers arranged lengthways and crossways in the hill. These include, for example, the Mané Pochat er Uieu, Mané Hui, Mané Ty ec, Le Manio I + II and Kerlescan systems in the Morbihan department .

Northern Europe

Barrows near Wesiory, Poland
Thracian tumulus near Pomorje , Bulgaria
Tumulus in the Necropolis of Hierapolis

The barrows in Scandinavia (like those in the north German lowlands) were dug from the end of the Neolithic to the 11th century AD. Many Danish hills are extremely large ( Møllehøj from Årslev ). Many of the smaller ones have since been destroyed by plowing. The burial mounds of Jelling (DK) are part of the world cultural heritage. In Denmark, but especially in Sweden, there are also large Bronze Age stone hill graves ( Röse ) and small (two to three meters) round stone graves. Some are circular walled, like those in the cemetery of Trullhalsar on Gotland .

Eastern Europe

The kurganes (round mounds with individual burials) in Moldova , southern Russia , Ukraine , Romania and Bessarabia were built by semi-nomadic peoples of the bar grave and pit grave culture and were a characteristic of the steppe . The barrows in Pomerania z. B. in Wesiory and other places of today's Poland, are mostly ascribed to Goths .

Southeast Europe

The Thracians in south-east Europe also built barrows. They are mainly found in the valley of the Thracian kings , but also in the Danube plain and in Thrace. Some of them, such as the Thracian grave of Kazanlak and Sveshtari in Bulgaria, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites .

Southern Europe

Tumulus in the Etruscan necropolis Banditaccia near Cerveteri

The Etruscans built from the 7th century BC Chr. Necropolis where numerous tumuli were located. Both simple mounds of earth and firmly walled burial mounds with underground burial chambers have been found in Cerveteri , Populonia and other Etruscan archaeological sites.



In Egypt , tumuli were used for burials until the end of the pre-dynastic period and are therefore the forerunners of the mastabas and the pyramids .


In Algeria there are several bazinas from pre-Roman and Roman times, which are obviously connected to the barrows.


Barrows occur in almost all Nubian cultures (e.g. C-group , X-group , but also in historical times).


In the south of Morocco near the oasis village Taouz there are several barrows, of which only one with three cross-shaped burial chambers is well preserved; possibly the entrance remained open or was only closed with stone rubble, so that the dead person could be visited again and again by passing caravans. The El Gour, surrounded by hewn stones near the village of Souk el Gour near Meknes, may also belong in this category.


In the Sahara there are numerous, but mostly badly ruined grave structures.



From the prehistoric tumulus grave, monumental princely graves with a large hemispherical mound developed in India. In the form of the stupa , the barrow acquired from the 3rd century BC. Great importance as a tomb and reliquary in Buddhism . As a central symbol, it was a reminder of the final extinction (nirvana) of the historical Buddha and was spread in many different ways in several regions of Asia (e.g. as a pagoda in East Asia).


In Japan the tumuli that were built for those in power who have died are known as kofun . The Kofun period in Japanese history (around 300–552, Japanese epochs: around 300–710) derives its name from these graves, the largest of which is more than 700 meters long.


Double barrow in Kaesong

In Korea, deceased rulers were buried in tumuli for almost two millennia, from the time of the Three Kingdoms to the Korean Empire . Many of these tumuli are part of the UNESCO World Heritage , u. a. the Koguryo tombs or the royal tombs of the Joseon Dynasty . Towards the end of the Goryeo dynasty , the double burial method for a king and his wife emerged.


Artificially created hills, predominantly in the southeastern United States, that were built by various Indian cultures for cultural and burial purposes are referred to as mounds. The forerunners of the temple and palace pyramids of Mesoamerica are also referred to by research as mounds.

Other types of graves

Elongated grave structures, some with megalithic installations, are known as long beds in Central and Western Europe . Rock graves are sunk into the natural rock, be it above or below ground. The Neolithic megalithic systems consist of large stones and in Europe were mostly covered with earth. The archaeologist describes burials without mounds as shallow graves .


Web links

Commons : Tumulus  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: barrow  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Tumulus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. List of surface monuments in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
  2. https://www.gedaechtnisdeslandes.at/orte/action/show/controller/Ort/ort/altlengbach.html
  3. data sheet of the culture portal of the city of Vienna
  4. Torsten Capelle: Tumulus. In: RGA 2, vol. 15, pp. 179-181
  5. List of surface monuments in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
  6. ^ Mechtild Freudenberg: Grave mound and cult complex of the older Bronze Age by Hüsby, Schleswig-Flensburg district . In: Archäologische Gesellschaft Schleswig-Holstein (Hrsg.): Archäologische Nachrichten number = 14 . 2008, ISBN 978-3-529-01430-7 , ISSN  0942-9107 , pp. 30-32 .
  7. Henrik Breuning-Madsen et al: The chemical environment in a barrow shortly after construction - An archaeological-pedological experiment . In: Journal of Archaeological Science . No. 28 , 2001, ISSN  0305-4403 , p. 691-697 .
  8. ^ Ian Kinnes, Round barrows and ring-ditches in the British Neolithic. London: British Museum, 1979, Occasional paper 7, ISSN  0142-4815
  9. ^ AWR: Whittle, Sacred mound, holy rings: Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Palisade enclosures: a later Neolithic complex in north Wiltshire. Oxbow Books, Oxbow monograph 74, Oxford 1997
  10. ↑ Tomb structures in the Sahara