The stone dances of Boitin

The site of Boitin, Kreis Bützow (see map), consists of four stone circles which for a long period of time were of an uncertain age. After an urn from the pre-Roman Iron Age was found in one of the circles, and other later prehistoric stone circles were noted in Northern Germany, the site is now commonly believed to date from the pre-Roman Iron Age (see Becker 1939; Leube 1979). The stone circles may continue or indeed revive a long-standing prehistoric tradition of burials being surrounded by a stone enclosure.

A painting by C.Schumacher shows the three main stone circles as they appeared in 1836. In c.1890, the forester Emil Jürgens re-erected some of the stones which had fallen over, and re-built a small earthen bank around the circles (Hertel 1988: 266).

1836: painting by Schumacher
(from Sahlström 1942: Fig. 6)

Steintanz, Boitin (1995)

About the folklore associated with the stone-circles of Boitin, Karl Bartsch writes that individual stones are known as "Kanzel" (pulpit) and "Brautlade" (bridal chest), while the site as a whole is called "der Steintanz" (the stone dance) and is associated with a specific folk-tale (Bartsch 1879: 131f.):

"Many years ago, not far from this place, lay the village of Dreetz in which many rich peasants lived [this village disappeared during the Thirty Years' War, CH]. Once upon a time a wedding party was held in the village and everyone was very merry. Eventually, in high spirits, they decided to play skittles with sausages and loaves of bread. At this point they were hit by a punishment from heaven; all of them, skittle players and dancers alike, as well as the richly filled bridal chest, were turned to stone. ... On St. John's day a red thread hangs from the bridal chest. Whoever is courageous enough to pull it, can dig up the treasure." (my translation, link added)

The oldest reference to the stone circles of Boitin from 1765 names them as "Stein-Dantz" but interpreted the whole site as an ancient court-site (Mantzel, after Hertel 1988: 262f.; cf. the Welsh Gorsedd Circles which include a pulpit). The tale about the petrified wedding, with slight alterations, was however known to Lisch in 1837 who also used the term "Opferplatz" (sacrificial site; p. 164f.). Various scholars suspected that the name stone-dance may go back much further and recall their prehistoric function as sacrificial sites around which people used to dance (Allcroft 1923: 278; Beltz 1929: 103; Becker 1939: 128f.). Nowadays the folktale about the stone-dance is still very much alive, as is reflected in the name of the local authority "Steintanz Warnowtal".

Interestingly, two stones nearby where removed around 1830 and re-used as a luck-bringing threshold of a barn in Boitin (Beltz 1930; see also Beltz 1929: 100). During the 20th century another form of modern folklore has also been connected with the stone-circles of Boitin: their interpretation as astronomical observatory (for a brief overview see Hertel 1988).

In 1928 Werner Timm started the discussion about the relationship between the stone circles and the stars with a paper entitled "A 3,000 year old observatory" in which he interpreted the site as a primitive calendar. A central place was given in his theory to the number of the stones in each circle, to a single split stone which he considered to be a visionary aim, and to 13 holes in one stone which he took to be for counting the months. Timm's account was later attacked by Robert Beltz (1930) and Rolf Müller (1931) who pointed out that some stones had certainly disappeared, while others had been moved in c.1890, and that the split stone, as well as the striking holes in one of the stones, were in fact the result of attempts to break up the stones so that the smaller rocks could be re-used for other purposes. Other characteristic forms of stones were due to natural forces such as frost. There were also mathematical errors in Timm's theory and even if certain significant orientations could be proven to be part of the stone circles' design, this would not prove that they were actually used as observatories. Moreover, the excavations in 1929 produced a burial urn from the pre-Roman Iron Age and two fire-places which seemed to indicate a funerary significance of the site (Leube 1979: 14).

The stone circles have always been of considerable public interest. The Ortsakte for Boitin contains numerous press reports and correspondences about the stone circles, which partly deal with their astronomical significance and date from the 19th century until the time of the GDR. Most recently, astronomical interpretations gained new importance during the 1970s when Rolf Müller (1970) and Peter Hertel (cf. 1988) published the results of new measurements and came up with new astronomical theories about the use of the stone circles for observing the sun and the moon. These theories were later disputed by Jürgen Hamel (1980) and others. Most recently, Werner Baumann and Max Seurig published in 1986 (chapter 4) a mathematical interpretation of the geometry of the stone circles.


Literature

Allcroft, A.Hadrian (1923) The circle and the cross. Archaeological Journal 80, 115–290.

Bartsch, Karl (1879) Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche aus Mecklenburg. Wien: Braumüller. Reprinted 1978: Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms Verlag.

Bauman, H.Werner and Max Seurig (1986) Prähistorische Mathematik. Beiträge zu Rechenmethoden alter Kulturen. Bonn: self published.

Becker, Julius (1939) Steintänze und Steinkreise. Mecklenburg 34, 123–133.

Beltz, Robert (1929) Zu den "Steintänzen". Mecklenburg 24, 100–103.

Beltz, Robert (1930) Zum Steintanz von Boitin. Rostocker Anzeiger no. 280, 30.11.1930, 6.Beiblatt.

Hamel, Jürgen (1980) Der 'Steintanz' von Boitin. Diskussionen um ein eisenzeitliches Bodendenkmal. Wissenschaft und Fortschritt 30(8), 292–296.

Hertel, Peter (1988) Der Boitiner Steintanz in Mecklenburg. Mannus 54, 261–275.

Leube, Achim (1979) Eisenzeitliche Steinsetzungen im nördlichen Mitteleuropa. Zeitschrift für Archäologie 13, 1–22.

Lisch, G.C.Friedrich (1837) Friderico-Francisceum oder Grossherzogliche Alterthümersammlung aus der altgermanischen und slavischen Zeit Mecklenburgs zu Ludwigslust. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel.

Müller, Rolf (1931) Die astronomische Bedeutung des Mecklenburgischen 'Steintanzes' bei Bützow. Praehistorische Zeitschrift 22, 197–202 (with a supplement in Praehistorische Zeitschrift 24, 304–305).

Sahlström, K.E. (1942) Domarringarnas Härkomst [with a German summary]. Fornvännen 1942, 115–136.

© Cornelius Holtorf