Kuckenburg: Exploring central Germany from a Bronze Age settlement to a medieval hilltop fortification

The Kuckenburg site in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, is unique in that there was a coexistence of different mortuary practices. Both inhumations and cremations ascribed to the Urnfield period are represented in archaeological contexts from a time period when cremations were, elsewhere, the main form of mortuary practice. Continuously occupied from the Late Paleolithic until the Early Middle Ages, the site enables the study of diets, demography, and environment through time. In a collaborative study involving researchers from institutions across Jena, we apply a multidisciplinary approach, including archaeobotany, ancient DNA, stable isotope analysis, osteoarchaeology, and material culture analysis to get a better understanding of the experiences and identities of Urnfield-related groups in the Late Bronze Age of Central Europe. 

The archaeobotanical results demonstrate that a wide range of crops were grown, as well as collecting useful plants and weeds. Broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) is present in some of the structures and the strong stable isotope signal for the consumption of broomcorn millet (signal for C4-plant consumption) in only some of the individuals raises questions about the tempo and nature of the appearance of the enigmatic crop in Central Europe. Analysis of genome-wide data from 18 inhumatedindividuals indicate that different mortuary practices at Kuckenburg were not the result of a new genetic group, but rather cultural variation within a local population. With this study we show that the combination of multiple lines of evidence allows us to reconstruct a more complete picture of the past at a critical Central European site.

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