"In the late Iron Age glass was the most common material for making pearls, and therefore glass pearls are often found in men's and women's graves from this period. The women wore the pearls in a cord around the neck and brought more pearls with them into the grave than men did. The discovery of the seven pearls made us assume that it was a woman's grave we investigated," Hemdorff says.
"But then we suddenly found a stone axe. It was in the same layer of soil as some of the pearls. The axe is from the Stone Age and more than a thousand years older than the pearls! It is a so-called greenstone axe. All the other indicators suggested that the cairn was from the Iron Age and belonged to a buried woman. So why was there an old axe from the Stone Age in the grave?," the archaeologist asks.
To clarify, the Iron Age in Northern Europe dates from about the sixth century BC. In places like India and Northern Africa it started much earlier. But we're definitely talking about items from the Stone Age being mixed in.
The researchers say that people back in the Iron Age had a conscious relationship to objects from earlier times that connected them to their past.
"People probably considered old objects as a heritage from their ancestors. Recycling of old burial mounds for new graves is an indication of this relationship. The idea was that the mounds were memories from a distant past, and written sources indicate that recycling of mounds had a double function. Apart from providing a grave for the dead they also legitimized property and rights. People asserted their control over an area by burying their family in a gravesite belonging to their ancestors," Thäte explains.
For Iron Agers, one thousand years previous was still a long time. Most would have had lifespans in the--maybe--thirties. Yet they seem to have perceived a connection to that earlier time. Few people could really claim personal connection to anything in the 11th century now.