Animal Bones from the Avar Cemetery at Vienna Csokorgasse (11th District). A Zooarchaeological Study of Avar Burial Practices
The avar cemetery that was excavated by the Vienna Historical Museum (today Wien Museum) in 1976 and 1977 close to the Csokorgasse in Vienna-Simmering, comprises more than 700 burials. Most of these contained grave goods of animal origin.
In the frame of a PhD-dissertation which was completed in October 2013, the large material of more than 10.000 excavated animal bone finds was analysed. They stem from the end of the Early Avar Period, the Middle and the Late Avar Period, i.e. the 7th and 8th century AD. The aim of this study was to gain new insights into the burial practices of the Avars and to contextualise these with the existing knowledge of their culture, society and history.
The most common animal grave good were chicken or parts of chicken, which were encountered in 45 % of the burials. Almost as common were thigh bones of sheep or goats (rarely other parts of the domestic mammals were found). Furthermore thigh bones of cattle and pig, as well as geese, wild birds and fish were identified. Four late avar horsemen burials with horses and dogs mark the chorological end of the cemetery.
The first part of the study and some appendices are dedicated to the presentation and documentation of the finds. This part was kept as transparent and descriptive as possible in order to make the publication of the material usable for further research without having to consult the material again. Special emphasis was placed on the diligent documentation of the ossification, the sexing and the skeletal representation of the thousands of chicken bones (as well as the numerous pathologies they showed). This allowed, for the first time, for a detailed distribution analysis of roosters and hens, young and old, as well as specifically trimmed chickens (e.g. with the head or the feet chopped off).
This analyses – not only for the chicken but for all animals and animal parts – represents the second part of the study. It was checked how the grave goods distribute in the burials of high status men (discernible by a multipartite belt), common men, women and children of different ages. Clear aberrations from an equal distribution were assessed as a hint that these grave goods were perceived as very appropriate for the respective group. In most cases, no burial practice specific for a certain group was detected (that means that the grave good was exclusively met in the burials of one group), but a burial practice that is typical for a certain group (that is, that the grave good was met primarily in the burials of this group). The results gained point to meanings of animals and animal parts that go beyond the frequently mentioned idea of them being merely food for the dead. These possible significances were discussed against the background of the present knowledge of Avar culture and society. Both parts of the study also take diachronic changes in burial practices into account.
The third part places these results into a supraregional comparison. The selection of animals and animal parts for burial purposes as well as the degree of standardisation shows regional idiosyncrasies which can be explained by different historical and social developments in the respective regions that took place before the Avar conquest. It seems that the autochthonous population groups in the different parts of the Carpathian Basin were formative parts in the regional layouts of the general avar burial practice.
The applied methodology allowed for findings beyond the obvious role of animals and animal parts in burial contexts. Furthermore the detectable standardisations and meanings of burial goods gave information on potential motives and roots of the burial practices as well as social dynamics and mentalities, as they are interlocked with traditions, cultural self-conceptions, the social system and the political environment of the time.
- Henriette Kroll, Ihrer Hühner waren drei und ein stolzer Hahn dabei – Überlegungen zur Beigabe von Hühnern im awarischen Gräberfeld an der Wiener Csokorgasse. Festschrift für Helmut Kroll. Offa 69/70, 2012/13, 201-216.
- Henriette Kroll, Die Tierknochenfunde aus dem awarischen Gräberfeld an der Wiener Csokorgasse (11. Bezirk). Eine archäozoologische Studie zu den awarischen Bestattungssitten. Monographien des Römisch-Germanischen Zentramuseums (Mainz, in Vorb.).