Death and burial

We know a lot about Grauballe Man’s unusual death and burial in a bog. Yet what happened to everyone else when they died? What was the norm in the Early Iron Age?


People were generally cremated on a funeral pyre in the Iron Age. Perhaps people believed that the soul or spirit of a deceased person was released from the body when the smoke rose from the pyre and the body was consumed by the fire. After this, what remained of the body was placed in an urn, with the bones crushed and broken into small pieces. A few modest grave goods, like a pin, belt hook or sometimes a neck-ring in bone, iron or bronze, might accompany these remains. Interestingly, the human remains we find in the urns do not represent entire bodies, which suggests that some parts of dead bodies were taken elsewhere. Maybe they were used in other rituals carried out at home or elsewhere in the landscape, like bogs.

Iron Age cemeteries

The urns with the rest of the remains were buried in modest graves in large cemeteries. These burials are hard to detect, but several thousand are known from the Early Iron Age in southern Jutland. They were covered by a small hillock and surrounded by a ditch. The graves were laid out side by side and are remarkably uniform.  It seems then, that the social inequality that we see in cattle ownership and varying farm sizes no longer plays a role. In death all souls were equal, despite increasing inequality between people in life.