Roman graves and rural rubbish. Animal remains from the Roman cemetery of Halbturn, Austria


The Roman cemetery of Halbturn (Burgenland, Austria) was completely excavated in the years 1988-2002. Associated with a small agricultural settlement nearby, it covers an area of about 7,000 m(2) and was used as a burial site from the 2nd to the 5th c. AD. An analysis of features and artefacts indicated a diachronic change of burial practices, from a dominance of cremation at the beginning towards inhumation graves during the later phases. The spatial and chronological development is complicated by a pattern of re-use of earlier structures, abandonment, and expansion into areas originally designed for other purposes. The cemetery itself is integrated into an orthogonal system of field ditches, which eventually continue into the cemetery and delimit grave groups. A small part of the 23,500 animal bones (NISP ca 6,000) can be interpreted as grave goods or ritually deposited skeletons. The vast majority of the animal remains results from field ditches, pits and grave ditches. These assemblages are dominated by remains of cattle (Bos taurus), equids (Equidae sp.) and dogs (Canis familaris) and indicate little manipulation. They correspond to a pattern of carcass disposal frequently observed at the periphery of rural settlements. The interpretation of the animal bones from the grave areas remains controversial, as the pottery may be indicative of ritual meals, whereas the bone record does not differ much from the situation in field ditches. The opportunistic disposal of carcasses and other rubbish in the course of earth works appears as the main agent responsible for the accumulation of animal bones within the cemetery area.