For my argument about later prehistoric
receptions of megalithic
monuments in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, it is crucial
that such ancient monuments remained (or became) visible in the landscape.
This issue can be approached from different angles: one is the condition
of the monuments themselves, another is the morphology of the landscape,
and a final one is the vegetational cover of the landscape.
People nowadays cannot easily fail to recognise well-preserved megaliths, as they are typically marked by the distinctive large stones and surrounding trees. Megaliths were built deliberately monumental! However, many smaller sites are today completely grown over and surrounded by dense scrub, which can make it difficult to find them, even with a map. During later prehistory it is likely that many megaliths were covered by earthen mounds, from which at best the cap-stones were not affected (see the discussion elsewhere).
|People in later prehistory have nevertheless usually been able to recognise and identify at least some of the mounds which contained ancient burials from the distant past. This is shown in secondary burials in such mounds, in their imitation for later grave architecture, and possibly also in cup-marks drilled into the cap-stones. The tradition of stone-circles surrounding graves in the Iron Age may indicate that also some stone circles around megalithic tombs may still have been visible at that time and could function as architectural models. Perhaps the aura of megaliths made later generations honour the memory of these sites and regularly clear the grass and scrub around them, as Raymond Williams has suggested (1990: 311).|
The morphology of the landscape of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is characterised by the impact of glaciers during the Saale and, in particular, the Weichsel Ice Ages.
Diagonally across the country, from the northwestern corner near Lübeck
to the southeastern corner near Feldberg, runs a ridge of land formed by
deposits from terminal moraines during various stages of the last Ice Age,
with a hilly and varied landscape containing numerous streams, rivers, and
lakes between them. These gentle hills do not, in the west, normally exceed
60120m in altitude and only in the southwest reach heights of up to
179m (the Helpter Berg being the highest hill in
The landscape of the central areas of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, reaching from
just south of Rostock in the north to Neubrandenburg in the south and Prenzlau
in the far southeastern corner, is formed mainly by ground moraines together
with occasional terminal moraines, disrupted by river valleys. The region
around Teterow-Malchin, with low lands and terminal moraines of up to 100m
altitude next to each other, is also known as Mecklenburgische Schweiz,
"the Switzerland of Mecklenburg".
The area between Ribnitz-Damgarten, Greifswald and the modern Polish border
is virtually flat and shaped by ground moraines.
Finally, there is a very flat area of coastline and shallow bays along the Baltic Sea, including the islands of Usedom and Rügen. Rügen has however some substantial elevations on its eastern side, due to terminal moraines from late during the last glaciation.
|Coastal landscape on Rügen (1995)||Inland landscape near Teterow (1996)|
Overall, the land is mainly flat and only some of the more hilly regions in the south and west of the country offer a more structured surface with altitudes changing in small areas. The megaliths which I visited in 1995 and 1996 seemed (see my database) never to be related to the morphology of the landscape in any noticeable way. Mainly due to the lack of a strong landscape relief, the megaliths are neither hidden in valleys, nor visible only from particular directions, nor located on prominent hilltop positions overlooking the neighbourhood. They all seemed to be widely visible, and accessible from all directions. But how open was the landscape in later prehistory in terms of its vegetation?
With regard to tumuli in western Germany it has been argued that they cannot originally have been surrounded by woodland, as this would make them pointless: wide visibility was obviously of key importance when building burial mounds (Röder 1949: 426). While future visibility may also have been central for the builders of megaliths who certainly wanted to make an impact on the future, this alone cannot support the claim that megaliths were in fact visible when they were built, as well as in later ages.
The environmental study from which the following information is drawn (Lange et al. 1986, espec. pp. 136150) was undertaken in relation to Rügen, but the conditions in other parts of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are unlikely to have been fundamentally different. The oldest evidence for clearances of the previous mixed oak forest and the lay-out of settlements and fields for cultivation or grazing is from the Middle Neolithic, i.e. contemporary with the builders of the first megaliths. During the Bronze Age, this process of clearing the forest continued (Lange et al. 1986: 139141). On most sites investigated there was a continuity of settlement and agriculture also into the pre-Roman and Roman Iron Age. There is however some evidence for small-scale forest regeneration around disused settlement locations (Lange et al. 1986: 143). The Slavic period saw a major change in vegetation. A decrease in animal husbandry and the greater economic importance of plant cultivation, together with an increase in population, led to further large-scale clearings in the remaining mixed oak forests. This process was locally accelerated by the need for timber to build Slavic castles (Burgwälle). According to one written source from the 12th century (Saxo Grammaticus), less than half of the island of Rügen was by then still covered by primary forest (Lange et al. 1986: 144150).
Overall, pollen evidence shows a marked decrease in elm, lime and ash as well as a slight decrease in hazel since the pre-Roman Iron Age. With the beginning of the Roman Iron Age, frequencies of mugwort and ribwort increased, both indicating clearances. In the Slavic period the increase of mugwort and ribwort continued. Sorrel became now more frequent too, likewise indicating clearances. At the same time there was a general decrease in forest and more evidence of cereals, especially rye. The remaining forest consisted of less oak and increasingly of hornbeam and beech. This trend became even more marked in the Medieval Age and may reflect a continuing expansion of landscape occupation (Lange et al. 1986: table 3).
This pollen evidence is consistent with archaeological evidence of later prehistory which also indicates an expansion of agriculture and overall population size during the Roman Iron Age and especially in the Slavic and Early German periods (Grünert 1988; Herrmann 1985).
The vegetation in later prehistory therefore allows the following conclusions
in respect to the visibility of older monuments:
Grünert, Heinz (1988) Die wirtschaftliche Entwicklung im 1. und 2. Jahrhundert: Pflanzenanbau, Ernte, Speicherung und Verarbeitung. In: B.Krüger (ed.) Die Germanen. Geschichte und Kultur der germanischen Stämme in Mitteleuropa, vol. I, pp. 440450. Veröffentlichungen des Zentralinstituts für Alte Geschichte und Archäologie der Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
Herrmann, Joachim (1985) Wirtschaft und Wirtschaftsentwicklung: Ackerbau. In: J.Herrmann (ed.) Die Slawen in Deutschland. Geschichte und Kultur der slawischen Stämme westlich von Oder und Neiße vom 6.-12.Jahrhundert, pp. 6880. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
Lange, Elsbeth, Lebrecht Jeschke and Hans Dieter Knapp (1986) Die Landschaftsgeschichte der Insel Rügen seit dem Spätglazial. Two Parts. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
Ritter, Gerold (1995) Physische Geographie . In: H.Heckmann (ed) Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, pp. 117127. Historische Landeskunde Mitteldeutschlands. Augsburg: Weltbild.
Röder, Josef (1949) Neue Gräber der jüngeren Hunsrück-Eifel-Kultur in Kärlich, Landkreis Koblenz. Bonner Jahrbücher 148, 417426.
Williams, Raymond (1990) People of the Black Mountains . 2 Vols. London: Paladin.
© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 10 July 2001