Document of the Tilsit district

A Roman Period Burial from the Cemetery of Tilsit-Splitter

by Christine Reich

Drawing of grave 26 from the cemetery of Tilsit-Splitter (PMA_0772_03.pdf: page 21). © Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. 
Drawing of grave 26 from the cemetery of Tilsit-Splitter (PMA_0772_03.pdf: page 21). © Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

The drawing presented here is part of the excavation records of an area of the cemetery Tilsit-Splitter, site "Am Schwedenfriedhof", which was uncovered by Walter Gronau in 1936 and 1937. Since the municipality of Splitter was not incorporated into the city district of Tilsit (today: Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Oblast) until 1919, the reconstructed file is kept under the older designation "Splitter". The associated file comprises a total of four volumes, which contain correspondence, parts of excavation diaries and excavation reports, plans, drawings of findings and photos, especially of the burial ground there. The sheet discussed here is from the third volume.

In the upper left corner of the sheet grave 26 is indicated [„Gr. [Grab] 26“]. In the upper right corner there is a handwritten description of the find: „Planum 1,54 [/] Frauengrab, Kopf SO. [/] br. [bronzene] Halskette, einf. [einfache] Glieder, Halsring, [/] Verschluß im Genick, Haken- od. Scheibe [/] Anhänger aus Br. auf d. Brust. [/] Auf jedem Unterarm je 1 br. Armspirale, [/] 1 br. Fingerspirale v. Bein [/] nach drinnen verdreht.“ [planum 1,54 woman’s grave, head SE. Bronze necklace, simple links, neck ring, clasp in the neck, hook or disc, pendant made of bronze on the chest. [/] On each forearm 1 bronze arm spiral, 1 bronze finger spiral from leg twisted inwards]. The lower right corner of the sheet is missing. That there was no further information here, however, is shown by the following sheet in the file (PMA_0772_03.pdf: page 22). This is a completely preserved copy for which the drawing had been traced on transparent graph paper. There are further archival documents on grave 26: page 13 in the same file volume shows a part of the cemetery plan, on which the outline of this burial is also recorded. In the fourth file volume, also on page 13, there is a fragmented plate with two photographs of the find.

In Splitter there are several sites where burials have been uncovered. For example, as early as the beginning of the 20th century Felix Peiser uncovered medieval graves "Am Mühlenteich". A good overview of the individual burial sites is given by Wojciech Nowakowski (Eine vergessene Nekropole an der Memel - das kaiserzeitliche Gräberfeld Tilsit-Splitter. In: Archaeologia Lituana 7, 2006, pp. 23-30). The site "Am Schwedenfriedhof", where Walter Gronau excavated in the 1930s, is about 1 km away from Peiser's excavation. Gronau's investigation has remained largely unpublished. There is a short note by Dietrich Bohnsack in the journal Altpreußen 3, 1938/39, p. 29, which states: „Tilsit-Splitter, 19.-27.11.36, 21.4.-21.7.37 (mit Unterbrechungen). Amtliche Grabung auf dem großen Gräberfelde in der Kiesgrube Milkutat ergab im ganzen 131 Gräber und zwar Körpergräber des 3.-6. Jh. n. Zw. und Brandgräber des 11. Jh. n. Ztrw. in diesen zahlreiche Spuren von Wikingereinflüssen. Reiche Bronze- und Eisenbeigaben. Einige Tongefäße weisen auf samländische Beziehungen hin. In seiner Bedeutung ist der Friedhof nur mit dem von Linkuhnen gleichzustellen.“ [Tilsit-Splitter, 19-27.11.36, 21.4.-21.7.37 (with interruptions). Official excavation on the large cemetery in the Milkutat gravel pit revealed a total of 131 graves, namely inhumation graves of the 3rd-6th century AD and cremation graves of the 11th century AD, in which there are numerous traces of Viking influences. Rich bronze and iron grave goods. Some clay vessels indicate relations to Sambia. In its importance the cemetery can only be equated with that of Linkuhnen.]

The extensive find material from Walter Gronau's excavation must be considered lost today. At least no objects can be found in the Prussia Collection in Berlin. Even though the finds of grave 26 presented here, are not described in great detail, it can be assumed that the burial belongs to the younger Roman Period. This is supported by the typical pattern of grave goods and the orientation of the grave with the head of the deceased in the southeast. The burial customs in the Memel region were recently compiled by Rasa Banytė-Rowell (Die Memelkultur in der Römischen Kaiserzeit. Auswertung der Archivalien aus dem Nachlass von Herbert Jankuhn. Studien zur Siedlungsgeschichte und Archäologie der Ostseegebiete 17 [Mainz 2019] pp. 18-20).