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Neolithic Burial Mounds ‘Grosser Wald’, Balzfeld, Germany

Near the small village of Balzfeld-Horrenberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany in a small forest called ‘Grosser Wald’ (‘Large Forest’) there are three round burial mounds arranged in a line from east to west. The barrows were called ‘Roman’ barrows and the inhabitants of Balzfeld and Horrenberg believed that there was a huge battle at Balzfeld and three great Roman generals had been buried here. It is also said, that 200 years ago the Catholic priest from Mühlhausen-Angelbachtal still used to hold mass there once a year.

Ernst Wahle, then professor at Heidelberg and the excavator of the burial mounds described them as 0.8 to 1.2 m high with a diameter of 12 to 14 m.

Ernst Wahle

Ernst Wahle
photo: http://www.propylaeum.de (Creative Commons Liscence)

Today they are still clearly visible:

Grosser Wald burial mounds 1, 2, and 3 as seen from the south-eastphoto: Torwen Baus

Grosser Wald burial mounds 1, 2, and 3 as seen from the north-west
photo: Torwen Baus

The most eastern one (3) which seemed to be undisturbed was excavated in just two days on the 1st and 2nd of July 1925 by Heidelberg University students and a group of volunteers.

Ernst Wahle and his group of students and volunteers at Balzfeld, 1925photo: University library Heidelberghttp://www.propylaeum.de/vor-und-fruehgeschichte/themenportale/ernstwahle.html

Ernst Wahle and his group of students and volunteers at Balzfeld, 1925
photo: University Library Heidelberg

The central grave which Wahle found at a depth of 1.2 m below the central point of the hill consisted of a single burial in a crouched position. The young male individual was accompanied by two stone tools. Near the skeleton’s pelvis was a small knife and part of a stone axe lied behind his back.

Balzfeld Bural Mound with central grave Wahle 1926, fig. 53

Balzfeld Burial Mound with central grave
Wahle 1926, fig. 53

Balzfeld, crouched burial as seen from the east (c) University of Heidelberg (Creative Commons Liscence)

Balzfeld, crouched burial as seen from the east
(c) University of Heidelberg (Creative Commons Liscence)

A further axe and a somewhat larger knife were found in a separate pit east of the skeleton. The second part of the broken stone axe was lying on top of the burial, only 15 cm beneath the hill top. Both knives are made from jasper which can be found in lime malm rock from the Alb and Upper-Rhine area and was probably transported along the Rhine and River Neckar  together with gravel towards Mauer or Wiesloch.

The axes were fabricated from an amphibolite (amphibol-gneis) found only in the Black Forest area. Since it cannot be found in river gravel it must be assumed that either the stone or the axes were imported from the area of origin.

Although there were no traces of wooden or stone architecture, there was a layer of burnt wooden branches on top of the skeleton. The best match for the wood was birch tree. Still burning or at least  smoldering birch branches were laid down on the skeleton. Which is quite intersting, as birch was already in decline due to the spread of oak and lime and therefore although definitely still present much rarer.

No pottery was found with the burial and the attribution to the Corded Ware culture was based on the stone tool types as well as the layout of the burial (crouched position under a round barrow). Comparison with other similar burials in the Kraichgau area as well as sites in the Neckar and Rhine valley (Wiesloch and Mannheim) substantiated Wahle’s conclusion.

Balzfeld, burial mound 1

Balzfeld, burial mound 1
photo: Torwen Baus

Balzfeld, burial mound 1

Balzfeld, burial mound 1
photo: Torwen Baus

Balzfeld, burial mound 2

Balzfeld, burial mound 2
photo: Torwen Baus

site coordinates: 49.26066, 8.77258 (mound 1)


Wahle, E 1926. Steinzeitlicher Hügel bei Balzfeld, B.-A. Wiesloch, Badische Fundberichte 1, 1925-28, 118-123.




Pu’u O Mahuka Heiau, Oahu, Hawai’i

Pu’u O Mahuka (“hill of escape”) heiau is the largest heiau  (temple complex) on the island of O’ahu. It covers roughly two acres of land and sits on the northern hillside of the Waimea valley, overlooking Waimea Bay.

Puu o mahuka

Satelite Image of Pu’u O Mahuka
(c) Google Maps

Pu'u O Mahuka, view over Waimea Bay photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, view over Waimea Bay
photo: Torwen Baus

It was declared National Historic Landmark as early as 1962, due to its importance to Hawaiian culture and history.

Pu'u O Mahuka, enclosure wall photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, enclosure wall
photo: Torwen Baus

During the pre-contact period, Waimea valley was heavily populated. Not only was the bay and the valley used for fishing, taro and sweet potato cultivation, it also offered good canoe landing sites in the bay and high visibility for signal fire even between different islands from the hilltops. At a strategic location, at the valley mouth, overlooking the bay, are two large heiau, the Pu’u O Mahuka on the northern hills, and the Kupopole on the southern ones.
Constructed in the early 17th century, Pu’u O Mahuka was remodelled several times to adapt to the needs of the changing high chiefs (ali’i nui). At first the upper (mauka) enclosure was built with a paved floor of basalt and coral boulders, then a paving of smaller stones (‘ili ‘ili) was laid over the boulders. The upper enclosure represented a typical luakini heiau, dedicated to the war god Kukailimoku, with an oracle tower, ki’i figures, a lele altar, drum tower, and hale buildings which housed sacred water and artefacts needed for ceremonies.

Mahuka artist

Artist’s Rendering of Pu’u O Mahuka at around 1750 http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/brochure_pdfs/Puuomahuka%20Brochure.pdf

Pu'u O Mahuka, basalt and coral lining photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, basalt and coral lining
photo: Torwen Baus

Later a second and third enclosure were added which provided for domestic activities and suggest a prolonged stay of the royal court in the heiau (cf. Kolb 1999 who excavated heiau on Maui and demonstrated diverse usage periods and reorganisation of the heiau investigated).

Pu'u O Mahuka, platform of upper enclosure photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, platform of upper enclosure
photo: Torwen Baus

Pu'u O Mahuka, outline of hele building photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, outline of hele building
photo: Torwen Baus

At around 1819 the heiau was abondend and the site used for agricultural purposes. The larger middle enclosure was probably used for cultivation. Smallish stone mounds around the outside of the heiau walls probably originated from clearance activities to make space for crops.

Pu'u O Mahuka, Stone Mounds  photo: Torwen Baus

Pu’u O Mahuka, Stone Mounds
photo: Torwen Baus

Up to the 1960s pineapple was grown around the heiau.

Pineapple Plantation , Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, O'ahu photo: Torwen Baus

Pineapple Plantation , Dole Plantation, Wahiawa, O’ahu
photo: Torwen Baus

site coordinates: 21.641727,-158.058694


Kolb, M 1999. Monumental grandeur and political florescence in pre-contact Hawai’i: Excavatons at Pi’ilanihale Heiau, Maui, Arch. Oceania 34, 71-82.



The Ulupō Heiau, Kailua, Hawai’i

On the eastern edge of the Kawai Nui Marsh in Kailua, Oahu, Hawai’i sits the Ulupō Heiau. Its name means ‘night inspiration’ and all that is left of the second largest temple in Oahu is a huge stone platform and some stone features.

ulupo satelite

Satelite Image of Ulupô Heiau
(c) Google Maps

Since there has been no archaeological investigation or any scientific dating, the exact age is not known. Muriel Seto, Culture Chair of Hawaii’s Thousand Friends and collector of oral histories says it goes back to around AD 900; its antiquity is also suggested by the mentioning of the menehune people (pre-Polynesian inhabitants of Hawai’i, often described as dwarfs) as responsible for the first stage of the heiau (SterlingSummer 1978, 233). A comparison with heiau on Maui, which have been radiocarbondated, however, points to a later date at around AD 1300 (Kolb 2006).

side-view on the Ulupô platform

side-view on the Ulupô platform

Heiau in general are structures which range from single houses surrounded by a mere wooden fence to stonewalled enclosures containing more than one building to these massive open air temples with several terraces, large platforms and carved wooden figures of Hawaiian gods. High ranking positon holders and priests constructed these temples. Some, especially the mapele (agricultural temples) heiau which were dedicated to the god Lono, held ceremonies for a general audience. Others, like the luakini (war temples) were accessible only by the aristocracy and the kahuna (priests).

The Ulupō heiau began its life with the legendary menehune and later with high chiefs of Oahu, such as Kakuhihewa in the 15th century and Kuali’i in the 17th century. Ulupō had its peak of importance around 1750 when Kailua was the political seat of power for the district of Ko’olaupoko and the favoured residence of Oahu chiefs because of the fish pond (which is now the Kawai Nui Marsh) and the superb canoe landing point at the bay. After Oahu was conquered in the 1780s the heiau was abandoned. It was turned into a territorial park in 1954, restored in the early 1960s, and listed as State Monument on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

It probably started its life as a mapele heiau, but Kauli’i eventually turned it into a luakini heiau with an altar, an oracle tower (anu’u), thatched hale buildings and wooden images (ki’i). A nice comparison can be seen in the restored Hale O Lono heiau at Waimea Valley (built between AD 1470-1700).

ulupo luakini

Artist’s view of the Ulupô Heaiau

waimea valley heiau

Hale O Lono Heiau, Waimea Valley, Oahu, Hawai’i

Ki'i figure of the warrior god Ku

Ki’i figure of the warrior god Ku, Bishop Museum

While mapele heiau required offerings of pigs, vegetables and tapa (bark cloth), The warrior god Kukailimoku demanded not only animal offerings but also human offerings.

The still very visible stone platform measures 42m x 54m and the outer walls are 9m high. In mass and volume of stones used in its construction it is even the largest heiau in Oahu. Some stones were brought over more than ten miles away, from Kualoa north of Kailua.

Ulupo heiau Stone platform

Ulupô heiau Stone platform

An important feature was the natural spring which was feeding the crops of taro, sweet potato, and sugar cane.

Taro Field in the Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawai'i

sugar caneTapa Cloth (Bishop Museum) From top: Taro Field in the Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawai’i,  Sugar Cane Field, Oahu, Hawai’i , Tapa Cloth (Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawai’i)

Although Hawai’in religion is not officially practised anymore, one can still observe offerings laid down by worshippers, and there are regular ceremonies held at the heiau (see this YouTube Video)

Offerings wrapped in banana leaves

Offerings wrapped in banana leaves

site coordinates: 21.38561,-157.752938


Kirch, P 1996. Legacy of the Landscape: An Illustrated Guide to Hawai’ian Archaeological Sites,  Honolulu.

Sterling, E and Summers, C 1978. Sites of O’ahu, Honolulu.

Kolb, M 2006. The origins of monumental architecture in ancient Hawai’i, Current Anthropology 46 (4), 657-64.


Ceremony at the Ulupô Heiau: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=–t68tsOr8U


web page of Dr. Michael Kolb, Northern Illinois University with publication list: http://www.niu.edu/anthro/faculty_staff/faculty/kolb.shtml and http://dig.anthro.niu.edu/kolb/publications.htm

A Rare Deer Haniwa from the Hetabira Kofun in Hamakita

The area of Hamamatsu  in Shizuoka Prefecture has been settled since the final Palaeolithic. The Negata cave, situated in a lime stone quarry in Hamakita, produced human fossils in two different ‘human bed’ layers (Shuzuki et al. 1966). The younger ones were radiocarbon dated to about 14 ka cal BC, the human tibia from the lower levels could not be directly dated since no collagen was preserved.However, comparable leopard/tiger bones were dated to 17 ka cal BC (Kondo, M & Matsu’ura, Sh 2005, 159).

During the early Kofun period (3rd to 7th century AD) Hamamatsu must have been controlled by a powerful clan (Gōzoku 豪族) which is evidenced by the many cairns, kofun , bronze bells and so on. The smaller Hetabira 1 keyhole kofun ( 辺田1号墳遺跡 ) from the late 5th century was excavated in 1997.

hetabira kofun

Contour of the not preserved Hetabira kofun
(c) bing maps

Among the haniwa (clay figurines that were placed on and around a burial hill) was a rare deer haniwa. The only other comparable haniwa are from the Kashihara Kofun in Nara Pref. and the Matsue Kofun in Shimane Pref. After five years of restoration, these haniwa will now go on exhibition.

The deer haniwa is 90 cm high and 80 cm long. The deer is looking backwards at its hunter. The huntsman figurine is only partially preserved. Only the body and the arm with parts of the bow survived.

In the kofun period, hunting scenes were symbols for the rulership over the land, a means of legitimisation. These haniwa are a further piece of evidence to support the autonomous role of clans in the early to middle kofun period.

The exhibition starts on the 12th of September 2013 in the Hamakita Regional Museum, 〒 434-0038 Hamakita Culture Center, 291-1 Kibune, Hamakita-ku, Hamamatsu-shi. Tel. 053-586-6207.


Kondo, M and Matsu’ura, Sh 2005. Dating of the Hamakita human remains from Japan, Anthropological Science 113, 150-61.

Suzuki, H, Takai, F, Endo, B, Hasegawa, Y, Chinzei, K, and Tanabe, G 1966. Hamakita man and the site of Nekata Limestone Quarry at Hamakita. Journal of the Anthropological Society Nippon 74, 101-176.