3. General Characteristics of the Empirical Material

The funerary area of Holešov is a good example of an intentionally structured set of archaeological evidence (Ondráček and Šebela 1985). There is no doubt that there has been some post-depositional loss in some aspects (for instance organic tissues, the appearance of graves in the landscape, potential surface markers and structures), but nevertheless much of the original organisation and contextual relationships had been preserved, a significant part of which was recorded in the process of excavation. It is not only the range of grave goods and their combinations that makes the site of Holešov extremely interesting, but also an intriguing variability in the orientation of burials and the placement of bodies and objects in the grave pits.

Another observation of considerable significance is that in the Holešov cemetery, burials of each period seem to express some knowledge of the funeral customs and rites of the previous period, which I understand as an aspect of social perception of temporality associated with the site (see Ingold 2010). The individual prehistoric cultural groups obviously followed some aspects of earlier local traditions at the expense of rules otherwise typical for their contemporary period and cultural milieu (e.g. positioning and orientation of bodies in graves, see Section 5). Many formal similarities of burial rites are recognisable throughout the whole timespan represented on the site (Šmejda 2001).

Figure 3
Figure 3: A plan of Holešov cemetery with highlighted graves of the Bell Beaker culture. Image credit: L. Šmejda.

A cemetery as extensive as that of Holešov must be understood in terms of its long usage spanning several centuries. If we consider the attested affiliations of the graves to the dated archaeological cultures, the cemetery was established as a small group of burials of the Bell Beaker culture (Figure 3), followed by graves belonging to the early stage of the Epi-Corded Ware Cultural Complex, so-called Chłopice-Veselé group. Whether there was any significant break between the two is not quite clear, although it seems that the latest phase of Bell Beakers is not represented. The majority of burials show strong affinities to the later stage of Epi-Corded Ware cultural complex, which is represented by the Nitra/Mierzanowice culture and typical of West Slovakia/Little Poland (Kadrow and Machnik 1997). The final period of the cemetery's development can undoubtedly be linked to the classical phase of Únětice culture (for a recent overview of Moravian prehistory see Podborský 1993). Many burials cannot be dated more precisely than to the EBA owing to the lack of diagnostic features. There are still many gaps in our understanding of the cultural transformations replacing one culture with another in this region in a relatively rapid sequence. It can be noted that EBA burials from Holešov differ in various details from the 'normative' characteristics of those found in the geographical cores of the respective cultures (Benkovsky-Pivovarová 1998; Peška 2009). However, as the site was located close to a main communication axis of supra-regional importance (the Morava river) and in the buffer zone between several major cultural complexes, this seems to be a rather logical consequence of cultural dynamics and interaction (Stuchlík 2000).