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European award for dissertation on Early Iron Age elite burials

In 2017 Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof defended her dissertation on Early Iron Age elite burials of the Low Countries at the Faculty of Archaeology. Out of 36 applications from ten different countries, her dissertation was awarded the Prix Européen D’Archéologie Joseph Déchelette on June 15th.

A movement

The jury was not only impressed by the ‘strong’ dissertation, but also by the clear proposal for further research on the topic. Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof was praised for building a strong research network and for shaking up the field of Early Iron Age research. One jury member even called her a ‘movement’.


Van der Vaart-Verschoof’s fascination with Early Iron Age elite burials started during an internship at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden in 2009 when she was asked to arrange the finds from the Chieftain’s burial of Oss into its new display case. She found herself completely captivated by this exceptional complex, and it formed the start of her career as an Early Iron Age scholar.

She proceeded to not only write her MA- and PhD-dissertation on the elite burials of the Low Countries (the latter was published in the PALMA series of the National Museum of Antiquities as “Fragmenting the Chieftain”, available through Sidestone Press), she also initiated, co-organised and hosted an international workshop during her PhD on large-scale connections and interactions during the Early Iron Age Hallstatt C period and published a proceedings on the same topic (“Connecting Elites and Regions", also available through Sidestone Press).

Widespread connections

Both the workshop and her dissertation demonstrated the importance of a European perspective on these graves if we are to understand the widespread connections that clearly existed during the Early Iron Age, which was an era of rapid development and a formative period in Europe’s past.

It saw the first indisputable rise of elites, who intriguingly were buried with cosmologically charged weaponry, bronze vessels and wagons (in fact, Joseph Déchelette was one of the first people to describe such items, and lists several of these objects in his Manuel d’Archéologie). These ‘princely graves’ are found primarily in the Central European Hallstatt Culture, though burials with the same grave goods are found in very different cultural settings in surrounding areas, with a geographically distinct concentration in the Low Countries – indicating direct interaction across hundreds of kilometers – which is extraordinary in preliterate societies and continues to fascinate her.

Sasja van der Vaart-Verschoof investigating the Fürstengrab of Frankfurt-Stadtwald

Fürstengrab of Frankfurt-Stadtwald

Having studied the Dutch and Belgian elite burials in detail, Van der Vaart-Verschoof currently continues her research into this period by examining how the Low Countries’ elite graves relate to those found in France, Germany and Austria, as well as those farther afield, thereby seeking to understand the long distance contact and interaction that they reflect. Most recently she has started examining the exceptionally rich Fürstengrab of Frankfurt-Stadtwald, and is excited to further explore other German and French elite burials as made possible by the awarding of the Joseph Déchelette European Archaeology Prize.

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