Following the Ochre

While the weather gets colder and ground is covered by frost, most archaeological work is moved into the laboratories and offices. However, we still had time for one more gig - this time in Outokumpu, where we staid three whole weeks excavating a site that would be one of the most memorable ones over my short career. Our task was to finish the excavation of an ochre grave that had already been opened up earlier in summer.

Ochre is a natural clay earth pigment, that has had various uses since the Stone Age. Besides being used as a pigment for rock paintings and small objects, it was also once used on graves. Around 60 such graves, dated to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, have been discovered in Finland.1 Besides ochre, the graves typically contain stone tools and flakes, and especially the Comb Ware graves have contained a plenty of amber, flint and slate objects. However, human teeth or bone has been found only from nine sites.2

Our site was discovered already in the early 90s, but it had remained without further research ever since. However, as the road use and weather conditions were endangering the grave, it was now time to find out what it had to offer. And the site sure delivered. While our weeks were hindered by a breaking tire, water cuts, fish bites and even a tornado alert, we managed to finish the research and discover multiple finds from stone tools to animal bones. It also became soon evident that the site had been somewhat disturbed and the grave itself had been run over by a plow of some sort, spreading the ochre around the area.

As the research of the finds and samples is still ongoing, it's not in my liberty to go over the exact details of the excavation. However, I can say that the finds include also a limited amount of human remains, which prompted us to advance in very thin layers while taking multiple soils samples for further study. Hopefully they will reveal new information about the current site and the person that once was put into rest. While I'm now leaving my work on the field for the time being, I'm looking forward to find out everything that truly lied within the grave we excavated.

1) Ahola, M. 2015. Tracing Neolithic Funerary Practices from Finnish Ochre Graves – A case Study from Kukkarkoski Comb Ware burial ground. Thanatos vol 4, 2/2015: 23–41.
2) Ahola, M., Salo, K. & Mannermaa, K. 2016. Almost Gone: Human skeletal material from Finnish Stone Age earth graves. Fennoscandia Archaeologica XXXIII: 95-122.


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