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Juni 2019

Tyrsted – a kettle hole with international research potential

Berit Valentin Eriksen, Sascha Krüger and Markus Wild in cooperation with Martin Krog Nielsen, Per Borup and Morten Fischer Mortensen

In late December 2016, archaeologists from Horsens Museum (Denmark) were busy excavating at a locality provisionally named Kværnbækgård Øst by reference to a local farm. It was just before Christmas and the last day of excavation. The investigation of some prehistoric peat extraction pits in a small kettle hole had been successfully completed, and the only thing yet remaining was to extend the excavation to the bottom of the kettle hole in order to have a look at the deeper subsurface sediments. This was the start of an archaeological sensation leading to an urgent rescue excavation, a renaming of the site to appease an international audience, and, not least, a spot in the top ten of the most important archaeological finds in Denmark from 2017.

Tyrsted 1

Figure 1: Location of the Tyrsted site in relation to the regional topography during the Late Glacial, GS 1, c. 10,300 BC (map: Sonja Grimm, ZBSA).

The kettle hole proved to have exquisite conditions for organic preservation. In the deep gyttja layers the almost complete skeleton of a pike was soon accompanied by a wealth of very well preserved floral macro-remains, a Bromme type tanged point, more Late Palaeolithic flint artefacts, and three very well preserved reindeer antlers. Unfortunately, the site was situated on a high-priority by-pass and due to the scheduled construction work the excavation had to be resumed in the dead of winter under quite challenging circumstances.

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Figure 2: The kettle hole during excavation in February 2017 (photo © Horsens Museum).

The apparent connection of Late Palaeolithic Bromme type flints and worked reindeer antlers in a Late Glacial horizon is indeed sensational. In Denmark, and indeed throughout southern Scandinavia, Late Palaeolithic finds are almost exclusively known in the form of lithic inventories, many of which come from surface sites or, in case of excavations, from sites lacking a proper stratigraphy. The organic artefact inventory from the Bromme culture is thus largely unknown – apart from some stray found objects of Late Palaeolithic appearance and dating. Likewise, faunal remains that may be attributed to Bromme settlements are hardly ever present. The eponymic site is one of the few exceptions with a record high total of c. 50 bone and antler fragments. Accordingly, due to the scarcity of organic remains and the general lack of proper stratigraphic observations the absolute dating of the Bromme culture is a genuine research desideratum. The available dates concentrate in the (late) Allerød and early Younger Dryas chronozones, but unfortunately most of these datings are tentative only.

Tyrsted 4

Figure 3: Reindeer antler from Tyrsted (photo © Horsens Museum).

Given the obvious importance of the site, the name Kværnbækgård Øst was soon dismissed in favour of the more internationally legible Tyrsted referring to a nearby suburban area. The excavation of the small kettle hole was completed in winter and early spring 2017 with the on-site assistance of Sascha Krüger and Markus Wild from the ZBSA. Due to the very challenging circumstances, the focus of the excavation was placed on the documentation of the find-context of the anthropogenic objects, and on securing the scientific potential with respect to dating the find horizon(s) and establishing the palaeoecological background for the Late Palaeolithic settlement at the kettle hole. During the excavation two more fragmentary reindeer antlers were found in the back dirt, and numerous Late Palaeolithic flint artefacts were recovered from the gyttja and peat layers. The latter sediments also produced ample remains of fish (in part very well preserved complete specimens of pike, but most likely naturally embedded) as well as floral macro-remains, e.g. birch stems (with tooth marks of beaver), branches, twigs and even well-preserved leaves.

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Figure 4: Late Palaeolithic flint artefacts from the kettle hole (photo © Horsens Museum).

The lithic artefacts found are attributable to the Bromme culture, and for now this general dating is also applied to the five reindeer antlers. Some of these antlers are unquestionably worked by humans, although the observed traces of working are quite rough and needs further studying. For instance, two strong beams are still attached to skull fragments, and may perhaps belong to one individual only; the tines have been broken off, and it is highly unlikely that these two pieces ended up in the kettle hole naturally. One specimen is a cast antler from a young (or a female) reindeer and the final two antlers are a distal and a medial fragment; here traces of working are more indecisive.

Tyrsted 5Figure 5: Reindeer antler from Tyrsted being sampled for radiocarbon and aDNA analysis (photo: Markus Wild, ZBSA).

Obviously, the Tyrsted site is of great relevance for the research carried out within the SFB-1266 subproject “Pioneers of the North”, and we are very pleased about the opportunity to join forces with our colleagues from Horsens Museum in the plans for publishing this great find. Berit V. Eriksen (ZBSA) will be in charge of analysing the lithic inventory from the site. Markus Wild (ZBSA) will investigate the chaîne opératoire of the worked reindeer antlers. Sascha Krüger (ZBSA) and Morten Fischer Mortensen (National Museum, Denmark) are collaborating on the palynological dating and the overall palaeoecological analysis of the stratigraphy. Colleagues from Kiel University are collaborating with respect to aDNA-analysis of the reindeer remains (Ben Krause-Kyora), geophysics (Erica Corradini), and lipids (Lorenz Schwarck), while the overall archaeological responsibility belong with Martin Krog Nielsen and Per Borup from Horsens Museum.

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Figure 6: A birch stem from the Allerød period that has been cut down by a prehistoric beaver (photo © Horsens Museum).

Today there is a bicycle path crossing the former kettle hole. The Tyrsted suburb has engulfed the Late Palaeolithic site, but names of the new roads in the area bear witness to the 12,000-year-old heritage; in Horsens, you can now live at Bromme vej, Dryasvej or Renrosen and be reminded of long gone reindeer hunters.

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