OEAW|IMAFO | Austrian Academy of Sciences | Institute for Medieval Research

At the Austrian Academy of Sciences, interdisciplinary archaeological and historical studies about the period are conducted. Cemeteries to be sampled for genetic testing are studied from an archaeological point of view. One aim is to find out as much as possible about the local communities that lived in the region in the 1st millennium CE, using both methods of scientific archaeology and of hermeneutic cemetery analysis. Building on this evidence, the goal is to trace the timeline of population shifts and continuity. Which impact did migratory events have? We will pay special attention to the art of interpretation. This entails systematic reflection of the workflow and the resultant epistemological process, achieved in close collaboration between team members and in an open network involving other scholars.

The cemetery of Mautern (Burggartengasse/Kainzstraße)

The cemetery is located in the former civilian settlement of the castellum of Mautern/Favianis on the south bank of the Danube, in what used to be the Roman province of Noricum and is now Lower Austria. In the course of the 4th c. AD, the settlement outside the castle walls was gradually abandoned, and the area around today's Burggartengasse/Kainzstraße began to be used as a burial ground. A total of 413 graves have been excavated there so far. The oldest burials can be assigned to the 4th century. In the 5th c., some of the graves stand out because of their grave goods, which show connections to regions north of the Danube and to the middle Danube region. Within the framework of our project we want to find out whether these connections can also be detected in the composition of the population. The latest burials in the cemetery of Mautern can so far be dated to the 9th/10th c. AD.

While in the 2nd half of the 5th century the civilian population of Mautern found refuge in the former stronghold, only isolated traces of settlement can be found in the vicus area. Between the 6th and the 2nd half of the 8th century we have no definite evidence of settlement activity in Mautern. Only in the 9th and 10th century is there evidence of continuous settlement activity.

One aim of HistoGenes is to find out when when the burial ground was actually used: On the one hand, it is conceivable that the settlement (and therefore, the cemetery) was not occupied between the 6th and 8th century, and only used again in the 9th/10th century. On the other hand, the cemetery could have been continuously occupied, while we do not know the associated settlement site in this period at present. In both cases, it is interesting to see how the population changed over this long period of around 500 years.

Structural changes in the 6th c. AD

The late 5th and 6th c. AD were marked by structural changes. While we have hardly any evidence of burials in the former military centres along the Danube during this period, we now find them in their periphery or in rural areas. Most of the burials are small groups of graves laid out in rows of up to 30 burials. Larger cemeteries such as Maria Ponsee in Lower Austria with 93 graves are an exception.

Changes can also be observed in burial customs. Thus we can see not only an increase in burial offerings in the graves, but also the deposition of weapons, which had not been common before.

According to historical sources, the Lombards settled in the area of present-day Lower Austria since the late fifth century, when the provincial population was transferred to Italy, and later also in Pannonia. Many other, mostly Germanic-speaking peoples are mentioned in the period: Rugians, Heruls, Suebi, Sarmatians and others.

The HistoGenes project will show to what extent this process of change is reflected in population genetics. Can we detect a northern European immigration and in which period? If so, how long can these populations be found in the area of present-day eastern Austria? Their cultural traces in the archaeological record fade out in the late sixth century.

Image: Main strap end, Leobersdorf, Grave 65

The cemetery of Leobersdorf (Lower Austria)

The Avar time cemetery of Leobersdorf (Lower Austria) is particularly suitable as a first case study for an analysis of the relationships in a small Avar community, because the occupation of the necropolis from the beginning of the 7th to the end of the 8th century can be easily followed with archaeological means. Initially, in the first quarter of the 7th century, warriors (and only a few women?) buried their deceased in a wide area with great distances between the graves. In the 2nd quarter of the 7th century, the construction of a real necropolis begins, which probably belongs to a small village. In the middle of the 8th century there are some men's graves containing belts with gold-plated fittings. Does general prosperity suddenly increase? Is there a higher competitive pressure? Did a new power arise? Is there a new strong influx from the East? These two phenomena, huge burial areas of the Avar pioneers and a horizon of rich men's graves in the 8th century can also be seen in other Avar necropoles in Austria (Sommerein am Leithagebirge, Vienna 11 - Csokorgasse and Zillingtal) and Hungary. What we want to understand are the historical processes that led to these changes in the funeral world. Why do row grave fields prevail? Do the migrants adopt a practice of the local population, the Byzantines or the western neighbors? Another focus lies on the graves that were created at the end of the Avar Empire, under formal Carolingian rule. Can immigration already be proven here or does the Carolingian or Bavarian influence (along with that of the Church) alone lead to new trends in the burial customs?

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