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Herr von Morken

(Lord of Morken)

Demographic and social phenomena during Merovingian times in the northern Rhineland Anyone who has visited the LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn at any point over the past 50 years will have noticed the reconstructed burial place of the so-called Lord of Morken, a main exhibition object from Merovingian times. The large display case set in the floor contains the findings of the burial chamber made of oak, the coffin, and the skeleton with the extremely opulent burial objects, shown the way they were at the time they were found in 1955 on Kirchberg Hill in Morken. In addition to his clothing and weapons, an ample amount of food and drink had been placed with him in his grave. In terms of the form and types, these are much in accordance with customary burial objects of the day. However, the precious materials used for the weapons and the belt as well as the iconography of the decorative elements are unique for findings in the Rhineland from back then. They reveal far-reaching connections to graves of an elevated class, which extend from Scandinavia to Southern Europe. With respect to its quality and wealth, these burial objects from the northern Rhineland are matched only by the grave furnishings from Krefeld-Gellep, which are only 70 years older (grave from 1782), and such graves found beneath Cologne Cathedral. The grave had been dug around A.D. 600, at some distance away from the local population, together with at least 23 more Merovingian burials on a hillside spur high above the Erft River, the place where St. Martin Parish Church had been built among the ruins of a Roman villa rustica in the 10th century. The construction of the church was oriented in alignment with the grave's west-east axis; the possibility that there may have been an earlier wooden building prior to the stone church that had been built at the same time as the grave has often been discussed in the literature on the subject. But a renewed examination of the grave findings again yielded no evidence to support this. Hence, researchers refer to the interment as a burial among the ruins with a subsequently superimposed Christian interpretation, which means that the location of the burial and the person buried, including his significance, must have been handed down for generations in earlier times before this knowledge was lost. Due to the wealth and the distinctiveness of the burial place at a prominent site away from the grave field for the local population, this burial place has repeatedly figured prominently in professional discussions concerning burial grounds for the nobility and this type of elite that had been provided with such furnishings. And this all the more because in 1983, around 30 years after the excavations took place on Kirchberg hill, to everyone's surprise, lignite strip mining in the former district of Königshoven-Morken brought to light the burial grounds of the Merovingian village population of Morken about 450 m southwest of Kirchberg hill. Just before the mining began again, experts had been able to excavate and comprehensively document 480 graves. Subsequently, these findings were restored in the Landesmuseum workshop. In a project at the Department of Pre- and Early History at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelm-University in Bonn, und financed by the Stiftung für Archäologie im Rheinischen Braunkohlerevier (Archaeology Foundation in the Rhineland Lignite Area), from 2006 to 2008, they not only accomplished a critical revision of the Kirchberg excavation plans, but also the catalogue of the graves discovered in 1983 was finished for publication. This means that for the first time in the northern Rhineland area the separate burial places of the so-called nobility and the village population could be evaluated and compared. From 1 February 2011 to 1 November 2012, the Landschaftsverband Rheinland (Rhineland Regional Council) financed the project for the Landesmuseum to evaluate the sites of these findings. The focus in doing this was to assess the standing and origin of those buried on Kirchberg hill as compared with the local population. An examination was also to be undertaken concerning the extent the two groups differed in appearance, lifestyle, diet, religious aspects, clothing, and recourse to economical resources. The question arose as to whether the Lord of Morken himself came from the local populace. (Did he have ancestors buried in the grave field of the local populace?) When and why did he achieve such a privileged position? (Was it due to his wealth or his function?) Or was he a stranger to this village community (nobility of office)? The evaluation of the findings reveals that the local populace had been burying their dead in the grave field since the second half of the 5th century, and thus around 100 years before burials took place on Kirchberg hill. And the locals continued burying their dead at the old site for at least another 100 years after burials had begun on Kirchberg hill. The archaeological and antiquities work was accompanied by extensive natural science examinations. For example, Dr. Ursula Tegtmeier (University of Cologne) was responsible for examining all of the wood findings, and Prof. Dr. Annemarie Stauffer und Tracy Niepold M.A. (Cologne University of Applied Sciences) looked at the textile remains from the grave field. Also, parts of the textile remnants from the princely grave, which had been examined previously in 1955 after Karl Schlabow's excavation, were again subjected to a new examination. Whereas in the grave field, with only a few exceptions, the graves of the rich yielded remains of linen and wool materials with, for the most part, no indications of dyes or colours, the textile remnants from Kirchberg hill revealed elaborate dyes and weaving techniques. Moreover, the examinations of the origins of the garnet inlay in the fibulae clasps and belt buckles by Dr. Susanne Greiff (RGZM) reveal that only the fibula of the richest woman at the location contained garnets that came from the same place as the belt buckle of the Lord of Morken. The soil conditions were extremely unfavorable for the preservation of the skeletal remains. In order to address the question as to whether the Lord of Morken himself possibly came from the village, DNA samples were taken from the few preserved remains, which are currently undergoing examination at the Staatssammlung für Anthropologie und Paläoanatomie (State Collection for Anthropology and Paleo-Anatomy) in Munich with respect to determining if he was related to the people in the village. Anthropological examinations and examinations concerning the diet performed on the skeletal remains were carried out by Chr. Meyer and Dr. C. Knipper at the University of Mainz under the guidance of Prof. Dr. K.-W. Alt. As the wounds (massive injuries to the skull) of the Lord of Morken show, fighting determined his life. Also his pronounced high-protein diet most likely served this purpose. In everyday life, he did the same things as the rest of the wealthy populace buried in the grave field in the village. What made him stand out in contrast to the villagers was above all the diversity, quality, and origin of his weapons. That fighting may have led to his distinction from the normal population can only be presumed. The helmet as a sign of the leader in the army of the Franks would indicate this. The heritage of the royal property in Morken and its gradual transition to the ownership of the administrators, the von Hochstaden family, allows for a possibility that the Lord of Morken already held an office as a royal adminstrator around the year 600, which means that we may understand him to be a member of the nobility of office. Bibliographical references here.


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