“Barbarians?” – Interpretation of the Late Sarmatian-Hunnic period

destruction horizon at Rákóczifalva

Masek Zsófia

Hadak útján. A népvándorláskor fiatal kutatóinak XXIV. konferenciája. Esztergom, 2014. november 4–6. Conference of young scholars on the Migration Period. November 4–6, 2014, Esztergom

MŐT Kiadványok 3.1 (2015) 371–406

DOI 10.55722/Arpad.Kiad.2015.3.1_16


download pdf


Az elemzett lelőhely (Rákóczifalva-Bagi-földek 5. lelőhely) késő szarmata – hun kori településén nagy kiterjedésű pusztulási réteg húzódik másodlagos helyzetben. A tanulmány célja a település tárolóvermeiben talált emberi vázak teljes közlése, valamint kontextusuk felvázolása a településszerkezeti kutatások segítségével.

Kulcsszavak: Kárpát-medence, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok megye, késő szarmata – hun kor, telepü-léskutatás, „gödörhullák”, módszertan


The Late Sarmatian-Hunnic phase of the Rákóczifalva-Bagi-földek 5 site includes a redeposited destruction layer of a burnt-down settlement. This destruction horizon constituted the base mate-rial for defining the local Late Sarmatian-Hunnic period pottery. The spatial analysis of this hori-zon provided the starting point for research of the settlement structure. Remains of nine individ-uals thrown into six storage pits were excavated.  These proved to be contemporaneous with the destruction horizon. The main goal of this paper is to introduce these features and briefly sum-marise their context. The reason for summarizing the research of the settlement structure is to show that this type of analysis cannot be avoided in such cases when human remains appear in the settlement features.

Since according to the available anthropological data the fragmented human remains of the Late Sarmatian-Hunnic settlements belong to females, children or elderly men, they may well have been victims of military events. With two exceptions, the human remains of Rákóczifalva came into light in anatomical context and were identified as belonging to adult males.

The settlement mostly consists of archaeological features of agricultural nature. Most of the features are storage pits, while the number of pit-houses is somewhat less. There are a few wells and free standing ovens too. The destruction horizon mostly came to the surface in the bell-shaped storage pits. As for the interpretation of the settlement structure I analysed the following characteristics: the scatter of the ceramic fragments belonging together but found in different fea-tures; quantitative distribution of the ceramic material; the scatter of burnt daub fragments; dis-tribution of the pits with main filling layer-types such as burnt debris layers; distribution of the main forms of pits and the location of human remains in the settlement.

Considering the occurence of this horizon, the debris could not belong to the pit-houses of the settlement. The scatter of the destruction horizon in secondary position gives way to the assump-tion that above-surface buildings could have stood in the intensive central area of the settlement but they left no archaeological traces at all. These can primarily be interpreted as dwellings. If it is so, the pit-houses might have had other functions, such as farm buildings or workshops.

The appearance of human remains in Sarmatian settlements raised a debate in Hungarian research in the last decades, variously interpreted as belonging to casualties of military events, as atypical burials or as evidence for sacrificial activity. While large-scale surface excavations multiplied the number of similar features explored over the last decades, most of them remain unpublished. Based on older publications, preliminarily records and the Rákóczifalva site these human remains, found on Sarmatian archaeological sites but not reflecting the burial rites of the population, can be grouped as follows: