Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-2 (November 2010)Lucas Meurkens: The late medieval/Early Modern reuse of prehistoric barrows as execution sites in the southern part of the Netherlands
5 The afterlife of prehistoric barrows in the medieval Low Countries

5.1 Before Christianisation

It would seem that attitudes towards prehistoric barrows were on the whole positive before the full Christianisation of society, which in the Netherlands occurred around the year 1000. There is hardly any archaeological evidence of a hostile attitude towards barrows to the south of the Rhine in the Roman and Merovingian periods (Roymans 1995, 9-12). In the Frankish areas in general there was even a brief revival in the erection and reuse of barrows after the mid-7th century, which is assumed to reflect deliberate use of pagan burial rites in reaction to the expansion of Christianity (Sippel 1980, 146). In the Saxon areas outside the Frankish Empire small cemeteries were often sited close to prehistoric barrows well into the 8th century, a custom that is generally associated with Saxon ancestor worship (Thäte 1996). This practice was indeed so common that the Carolingian emperor Charlemagne felt the need to issue a law to ban it when these areas were annexed to the Carolingian Empire at the end of the 8th century. This Capitulatio de partibus Saxoniae stipulates that Christian Saxons were from then onwards no longer to be buried ad tumulus paganorum but in Christian churchyards (Sippel 1980, 139). This is a first sign of a changing attitude towards the pagan barrows.

In the course of the Carolingian era new churches were founded in many places and the land was gradually divided into parishes. There is however still no clear evidence that prehistoric burial monuments were deliberately destroyed. On the whole they appear to have remained respected elements of the landscape (Roymans 1995, 9).