The Münchshöfen culture

Last changed: May 2007

The Münchshöfen culture was named after the village of Münchshöfen, Straubing district, in Lower Bavaria. Important for the cultural classification in between the preceding horizon called SOB and the succeeding Altheim culture is still the stratigraphy from the Galeriehöhle (”Gallery Cave”) II close to Kelheim. The Münchshöfen culture was first dealt with in a monograph written in 1976 by L. Süss; up to now, further monographs have not been published.


A transitional horizon to the Altheim culture at first termed “Fazies Wallerfing” could be extended with many new locations in the whole distribution by now (Uenze 1989; Blaich 1995). Therefore, the term is now outdated and renamed as “late Münchshöfen”. Incidentally this late phase was also considered as Polling, however, this has now been refuted (Bürger 2004).


The Münchshöfen culture can be found mainly along the river Danube and its southern tributaries. The central region lies in the districts of Straubing-Bogen, Dingolfing-Landau, Deggendorf, Kelheim and Landshut in Lower Bavaria and the neighbouring regions in Upper Bavaria and Upper Palatinate. According to Böhm, in this central region about 350 locations were known in 1994 (Böhm in: Nadler/Zeeb 1994). Further locations can be found in the Bavarian part of Swabia and in Upper Austria (e. g. Leonding close to Linz; Grömer 2001).

Treatment of the dead

In 1976, L. Süss could name only two burials of the Münchshöfen culture in his book. Thanks to intensive research in the last decades, however, the number of known burials has increased to about 30. However, only rarely there are regular burials in specially dug burial pits. Most of the time, one or two individuals were found in settlements, i. e. in big pit complexes, “slit” pits or silo pots where they were buried with more or less care. Up to today, no groups of graves or cemeteries were found. Grave goods occur only very rarely. Therefore, we cannot speak of a regular treatment of the dead. Due to the small number of known burials we have to assume that the majority of the population was not buried in inhumations. Connected with this is the question of what circumstances lead to this special treatment of those individuals which were inhumated. Only a few burials of the Münchshöfen culture can be defined as real burials in a common sense, i. e. as burials with a burial pit dug specially for the inhumation. Only a child’s grave from Pielweichs close to Plattling, Deggendorf district, is mentioned again and again (Süss 1976; Böhm/Schmotz 1991). The child even received a goblet-like beaker as a regular grave good.

Most burials, however, were found in settlements. For one, they lie in typical big pit complexes of the Münchshöfen culture which are termed “clay extraction pits”. Here, as a rule, they are buried at the edges. Examples for this kind of inhumation were found in Riekofen, Regensburg district (Süss 1976, fig. 4b), Osterhofen-Altenmarkt II, Deggendorf district (Böhm/Schmotz 1991) or Straubing-Wasserwerk (Böhm/Pielmeier 1993). In both Riekofen and in Osterhofen-Altenmarkt, a single individual lying on the left side in a crouched position was found in a pit complex whereas in Straubing two individuals were buried in one pit. Two individuals, in this case, dwarfish, were also found at Thalham, Gem. Frammering, Landau an der Isar, found in a settlement pit (Kreiner 1995). Here, grave goods such as a pot with a cylindrical neck and fragments of further vessels occured. Beside, burials can be found in other kinds of settlement pits, especially at the bottom of silo-like storage pits. An individual buried in such a pit and treated with great care could be found at Altdorf-Aich, Landshut district. The deceased was equipped with tools and meat (Böhm 1981). In the settlement of Murr, Freising district, two individuals were found in a slit pit whose original use is unclear. Both individuals lay above each other, the lower individual lying on its front, the upper on its back. Grave goods were not found (Neumair 1996).

The find from Stephansposching, Straubing-Bogen district, shows that there are also cremations in the Münchshöfen culture. Here, the burnt remains of an adult woman and at least one child were found in a big, irregular-shaped pit (Böhm/Schmotz 1991). Since the remains of an inhumation burial were found close by at the same location, the place is occasionally described as a cemetery.


At present, we know mainly flat country settlements, partly, however, also connected with earthworks in the Münchshöfen culture. Alongside also caves were used. Here, we have to mention especially the Galeriehöhle (”Gallery Cave”), Kelheim district, whose stratigraphy also lead to a chronological classification of the Münchshöfen culture.

The size of the Münchshöfen settlements can be developped only with the single completely researched settlement of Sallmannsberg close to Landshut (Böhm/Brink 1986). Here, six pits on an area of 50 x 50 metres were excavated. The situation at other locations also speaks for a small-scale way of settling and a small number of houses. The locations are mostly characterised by the existence of specially shaped pits. E. g., silo pits with a pear-shaped profile and a flat floor, circular pits with a cylindrical profile or irregular big trough-shaped pit complexes are especially typical. Besides, in Murr, Freising district, two slit pits and a trapeze-shaped pit were found (Neumair 1996). The construction of houses is still hard to assess. Structures made up of regular oblong pits as they were found in Enzkofen, Deggendorf district, or from the Frauenberg close to Weltenburg, Kelheim district (Rind in: Nadler/Zeeb 1994) were interpreted as pit-houses. Only in Murr a rectangular house with six posts and measuring 3 x 6 metres could be safely attributed to the Münchshöfen culture. Further post-holes from the same location which could not be reconstructed to a house were dug in only shallowly and therefore hardly recognizable. This might point to structures with only slightly dug-in posts or otherwise constructed using horizontal beams which can hardly be diagnosed today since the original floor did not survive the times.

Recently, evidence for enclosures has increased significantly. E. g., among others, enclosures were found in Murr, Freising district (Neumair 1996), Atting-Rinkam, Straubing-Bogen district (Engelhardt 1995), Riekofen, Regensburg district (Becker/Tillmann 1995; Bürger 2004) or Bergheim, Neuburg-Schrobenhausen district (Meixner 2001). The construction of these enclosures can differ strongly in detail. However, a common element seems to be the use of naturally prominent places and the composition of the ditches with passages. That way, the enclosure sealed off a certain space and access was made checkable. We may only speculate about a fortificatorial, mercantile or cultic background of the enclosures.

Find material

The pottery in the Münchshöfen culture is generally grogged with micaceous sand or quartz gravel. The shapes can be classified in the following (according to Süss 1976): There are pots with a cylindrical neck, about 20-30 cm high, with a high belly and cylindrical necks resp. necks slanted or cambered to the outside with lugs or knobs. Furthermore, bowls and cups with a thickened rim (so-called beaded-rimmed bowls) and with an unthickened, upright or inturning rim. The shapes of the rims may be pointed, round, angled and straight or angled and slanted inwards. The lower parts are conical and straight, cambered or slight-bellied. So-called “Glonn bowls” are big-bellied and have a knob at the break of the vessel. Bowls are often pedestalled with a high, decorated foot. Typical are also variously-shaped shouldered vessels (”shouldered flasks” or “shouldered pots”, “mushroom pots”). They have a cylindrical, partly very tight neck, a rim mostly slightly slanted outwards, a conical straight or cambered lower part and a thickened and decorated shoulder. Furthermore, cylindrical pots, beakers (also with handles made from organic material) and pedestalled beakers, vessels with handles, vessels with lugs, ladles with spouts or a clay handle, spoons and miniature vessels occur. Decoration most likely occurs on vessels with a shouldered neck, pedestalled bowls and beakers with an organic handle. Decoration may also be found on bowls and cups. The decorations are incised into the wet clay using a wooden or bone stick. Afterwards, the dried decoration is encrusted before or after firing with a whitish filling made from quicklime and sand. People used “Furchenstich” and single impressions but also comb impressions and incised lines. Decorations are extensive and are made up of lineal geometric patterns and braided bands. Grooves at the rim and the shoulder break of vessels can also easily be recognized.

Stone tools are comprised of grinding stones made from granite and cross hatchets, adzes and hammer-shaped axes made from amphibolite. A flat hatchet from Enzkofen, Deggendorf district, might be the imitation of a copper hatchet. Flint tools were typically made from sheets and lumps of Jurassic flint from the Kelheim region. Blades, scrapers, sickle blades from “harvest knives” and arrow heads were found. We also know of bone awls and antler tools. By now we have to consider that in the Münchshöfen culture copper was at least known, but probably also exploited and worked. This is likely due to the find of a copper ring which came to light at the excavation of a burial with two individuals at Straubing-Wasserwerk (Böhm/Pielmeier 1993).

A specialty in the find material of the Münchshöfen culture are the few remains of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines. Here, we have to mention a zoomorphic vessel in the shape of cattle from Geiselhöring (Böhm 1985) or the “wedding cup” from Murr; on its wall we can make out a pair of two individuals and another, single individual scratched on the bottom, all in geometric, triangle shapes (Neumair 1996). Relations to the contemporaneous south-eastern cultures can be established with the up to today single wholly preserved clay figurine, the so-called “Aufhausen Venus” (Kreiner/Pleyer 1999). Fragments of further figurines were found in Haidlfing, Dingolfing-Landau district (Petrasch/Schmotz 1989) and in Murr (Neumair 1995).

Chronological relations

Depending on the chronological system that is used, the Münchshöfen culture is dated to the late Neolithic, the Eneolithic resp. the early Copper Age. In terms of absolute chronology it can be placed in between 4500 - 3900 BC. From 4250 on we may assume the late Münchshöfen (according to Bürger 2004).

The Münchshöfen culture is a part of the epi-Lengyel complex and therefore the westernmost branch of the Lengyel culture which can be proved by vessels with a flat bottom, pedestalled bowls, shouldered vessels and vessels with handles as well as decoration. The settlement pits found at Leonding close to Linz can also indicate these relations: here, Münchshöfen and Lengyel pottery occurs in the same features (Grömer 2001). At the same time the Münchshöfen culture is exposed to strong western influences from the post-Rössen groups (Aichbühl, Goldberg) which becomes visible with certain decorations such as extensive impression and incised motifs. It was parallelized with Michelsberg II and III by I. Matuschik (Matuschik 1992).

Meantime, we can establish a first transitional horizon for the Münchshöfen culture with the locations of Ergolding-LA 26 and Weltenburg-Frauenberg (for both, cf. Nadler/Zeeb 1994). However, there is a break between Münchshöfen and the preceding cultures (Stroked Pottery culture, SOB) which is expressed with the flat-bottomed vessels and the lack of regular burials as well as a sparely recordable way of settling .

Today the Münchshöfen culture can be classified into three phases: an early phase, a middle phase, i. e. the so-called “classical” Münchshöfen, and a late phase. The early phase is characterized by big-bellied and still bowl-shaped vessels. Decoration can be found on the mushroom-shaped shoulders of the vessels and the pedestals. It comprises accurate and deep impressions forming angular snags resp. braided bands composed of bundles of Furchenstich lines. The bottoms of bowls can also be decorated. On smaller vessels we find all sorts of opposite triangles. Early pottery can be found in the find complexes from Pfettrach, Altdorf community, Landshut district (Nadler/Zeeb 1994, fig. 27-28) and Glonn, Ebersberg district (Süss 1976, pl. 4, 2-7; 14, 12).

In the classical Münchshöfen, flasks with a mushroom-shaped shoulder, bowls with a beaded rim and high pedestalled vessels with a long, cylindrical straight foot dominate in the find material. Storage vessels have an even wall. We note a marked richness in decoration. Especially typical is an extensive coating with Furchenstich of the foot of pedestalled vessels and the shoulder of mushroom-shaped vessels but we find also a simpler groove decoration at the rim of bowls.

The changes in the vessel shapes and decorations in the late phase are researched best up to now (Uenze 1989; Böhm 2002; Bürger 2004): typical representatives are now jugs with handles at the rim, decorated at the rim and the transition between the neck and the shoulder. Beakers with pronounced shoulders are likewise representative. There are coarse pots decorated with applied bands with finger impressions resp. finger imprints or rod-shaped imprints, whose walls are covered with a clay slip. Increasingly decorated applied bands at the rim and “arcade rims” occur which already point to the transition to Altheim. Pedestalled vessels with a conical hollow foot are now more compact and undecorated. Jugs with handles with a wide clearance starting at the rim are new; they remind of parallels in the Balaton-Lasinja culture. Beside triangular decorations made from fine regular Furchenstich lines, especially fine impression motifs made with a many-toothed tool, “arrow” impressions and increasingly, incised lines occur. A new decoration are cross-shaded surface fillings with hollow angular bands, braided bands or rhombs. All in all, decoration decreases. Typical vessel shapes of the late Münchshöfen culture can be found at Riekofen, Regensburg district (Becker/Tillmann 1996), Osterhofen-Altenmarkt, Deggendorf district (Bürger 2004), Wallerfing, Dingolfing-Landau district (Uenze 1989) or Pilsting-Wiesen, Dingolfing-Landau district (Blaich 1995). During the late Münchshöfen, the pottery shows contacts to the Bohemian Jordanów culture as we can see at the pottery spectrum from Osterhofen-Altenmarkt and Regensburg-”Napoleonstein” (Böhm 1984, 56ff.; 1994, 170). Later Münchshöfen can be parallelized to the groups Bisamberg-Oberpullendorf, Kanzianberg and Balaton-Lasinja.


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© 2006 Monika Schwarz
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