2.1 In Her Majesty’s service: discovery
Holwerda arrived at the Royal Estate in the summer of 1907. He was allowed to investigate eleven burial mounds at two locations, labelled G1-7 and D1-4. Holwerda noted that three of the mounds (G1-3) had already fallen victim to ‘urn diggers’, and directed most of his attention to mound G4. Holwerda (1908) is not explicit on the methods and strategy he used to excavate mound G4. Based on his description, some of the drawings and photographs, and the excavation data of mounds G5 and D4, it is likely that he excavated the mound in layers, occasionally preserving one profile bank across the mound (e.g. Holwerda 1908, Pl. III.1). It is certain that he cleared away all larger sections when he encountered the first traces of the grave and completely opened up the area of the entire mound (ibid., Pl. I.1a). After removing the surface and top layers of the mound, during which he uncovered several secondary interments, Holwerda discovered a large circular feature consisting of charcoal and following the contours of the hill. He interpreted it as belonging to a burnt cylindrical construction on top of the original graves. In addition, he found a pavement of cobbles below the entire burial mound which, according to him, were placed there on purpose. In the centre, there was a large upright stone, of c. 60 cm in length, partially protruding from the cobble pavement, marking the area of a possible second primary interment (cf. infra). He then describes the primary grave (Holwerda 1908, 4-7), which he, not bereft of any enthusiasm, characterizes as a find of a highly rare nature and extreme importance. In the midst of the cobble floor, he identified an ovoid area devoid of stones and ‘surrounded by a burnt lining’, which he interpreted as a burnt wooden fence marking off a small burial pit. Inside the pit at a depth of c. 30 cm below the cobble floor, the remains of two interments were discovered. Holwerda alerted local physician Dr Hanedoes van Almkerk from nearby Vaassen, who made a preliminary assessment of the burial. He described several of the most important bones that were visible. The description is of importance since it is the only field assessment of the skeletal elements that were visible from above, which was subsequently sealed by plaster.
Holwerda interpreted the observed features and in effect the complete barrow as the remains of a collapsed mortuary house. A photograph of a model was added to the article, the model itself was sent to Her Royal Majesty, Queen Wilhelmina. The next year, he re-interpreted his observations and considered the (Neolithic) barrows to be remnants of large wooden beehive-like constructions or koepelgraven, which he linked to the corbelled vaults found at Mycenae (Holwerda 1910, 21-30). He made a new model, sent it to the Queen, and asked her to destroy the old model as it was no longer up to date. This later reconstruction received some (deserved) criticism (e.g. Van Giffen 1930, 143ff.).