Het vroegmiddeleeuwse grafveld van Zweeloo. Met bijlagen van W.A. van Bommel-van der Sluijs en L. Smits


  • W.A. van Es
  • R.P. Schoen


The site, threatened by sand extraction, was excavated in 1952 under the direction of Professor A.E. van Giffen. Not only graves were uncovered, but also the remains of a settlement of the Middle and Late Roman Period. The earliest graves date from the same period, but most are early medieval. Initially cremation was the only rite. Inhumation was introduced towards the end of the Roman Period. The cemetery is composed of grave clusters, which probably correspond to the 'houses' or family households in the settlement. Unfortunately the cemetery could not be excavated in its entirety, as sand extraction had already destroyed part of it before the investigation started. From the Roman Period we have only a few simple cremation graves, scattered across the site in small clusters and mostly without grave goods. Between AD 400 and 475, Zweeloo was the home of a household that maintained contacts with the Rhineland as well as the coastal areas of the northern Netherlands and Germany. This family left a cluster of inhumation graves, one of which is the rich grave of the 'Princess of Zweeloo'. A series of six horse burials may have been mortuary offerings to accompany her dead husband, whose grave probably was destroyed prior to the excavation.

After 475, a period of about two centuries followed from which we have no finds. It is unlikely that occupation at Zweeloo ceased during this time. Elsewhere in Drenthe, for example at nearby Odoorn, habitation continued, be it apparently on a smaller scale. Presumably a mortuary rite was practised that left no archaeologically detectable traces, such as the deposition of cremated remains upon or just below the surface. When the site was later used as arable land, this surface was incorporated into the topsoil.

Between about 675 and about 850, new graves were dug. There are exclusively inhumations, initially oriented south-north, and later west-east. Deposition of grave goods was practised up till the very end, but shows a peak in the 8th century. In the present article the grave goods are subjected to an elaborate chronological and functional analysis. In this period the cemetery was shared by three groups; the settlement probably comprised the households. The abandonment of the cemetery, which had served the local community for many hundreds, if not thousands of years, is due to the Christianisation of the region. The exact time of its dereliction is hard to establish, nor is it clear where its successor lay. It is generally assumed that burials henceforth took place in a churchyard; likely candidates for Zweeloo might be those of Sleen or Emmen - a comparison is drawn with Vries. However, the regional ecclesiastical organisation in the 9th century is insufficiently understood to allow any certainty.