Patterns in the distribution of graves in the central medieval cemetery of Reusel , the Netherlands
Local variations in burial practices
Catelijne I . Nater Leiden University
Abstract Cemeteries from the Central and Late Middle Ages have not yet been studied extensively , even though cemeteries can provide interesting information about societies . This study assesses patterns in the ways that individuals were buried at the central medieval cemetery of Reusel ( the Netherlands ). It was examined whether patterns in grave morphologies and distribution were different from burial practices in other medieval cemeteries . In order to do this , the distribution of different grave morphologies and their orientation were examined . Different grave morphologies appeared all over the cemetery , apart from the ladder gravetype , which was restricted to the eastern part of the churchyard . Differentiation was also apparent in the orientation of graves . One woman was buried in a priest-like position . Such patterns suggest that social differences between individuals were expressed by burial in different parts of the cemetery , and by burial in different types of graves and orientations . Furthermore , this study confirms the existence of local variation in burial practices in this period .
Keywords Central Middle Ages , graveyard , spatial analysis , North Brabant , burials
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Archaeological research on ancient burials and their context can give a great deal of information about past societies ( Effros 2003 , 1-3 ). Prehistoric cemeteries have been studied extensively , since grave fields are among the best documented and well-preserved features to learn about societies from this period ( Drenth and Lohof 2005 , 433 ; Toorians 1998 , 1-9 ). Cemeteries from the early medieval period ( the fifth to eighth centuries CE ) have seen much study as well , because the abundance of grave goods in such burials ( Effros 2003 , 2 ; Theuws and Van Haperen 2012 , 163 ; Treffort 1996 , 73 ) makes them relatively easy to date ( Arts et al . 2007 , 41 ; Blair 2005 , 240-1 ; Lefever et al . 1993 , 179 ; Renfrew and Bahn 2012 , 123-4 ). Cemeteries from the Central and Late Middle Ages ( around CE 950 to 1500 ), however , are studied less , especially in the Netherlands ( Arts et al . 2007 , 58 ; Arts 2013a , 23 ; Theuws in press ). As a result , knowledge on funerary rituals and their social meaning in this period is limited . Furthermore , local differences in mortuary ritual are apparent ( Blair 2005 , 60-1 ; Daniell 1997 , viii ). This means that one cannot simply extrapolate knowledge about death rituals from one location to another . Therefore , more research on this subject is necessary to understand social cultural religious values in past societies .
In order to contribute to the research on medieval graveyards , the cemetery of Reusel , a village in the southern part of the Netherlands , is studied ( fig . 1 ). This case study was chosen because the cemetery was well-dated and well-documented . This site has been excavated between 1995 and 1997 by the University of Amsterdam . The excavation resulted in the recovery of the foundations of three former churches : an early timber church , followed by a Romanesque church to which a tower was added later on , and eventually a gothic