Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov Prague wikipedia

Jewish Cemeteries in Central Europe in the Middle Ages

Wherever Jews settled in Central Europe, their first initiative was to plan a cemetery. New research deals with the archaeological and folkloric evedence of these evocative places.

Houses of Graves’ of Central-East Europe: Archaeology about Jewish Funeral Rituals.
By Kalina Skóra
In: Fasciculi Archaeologiae Historicae, Vol 36 pp 63-97, OA
DOI 10.23858/FAH36.2023.003

Jewish cemeteries represent some of the most evocative evidence of the thousand-year history of the Central European Jews. When Jews settled in a new town, the first act was to buy land for burial.

A recent article by Kalina Skóra from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology at the Polish Academy of Sciences presents a thorough overview of the current state of archaeological identification and studies of these burial grounds in Central Europe. Also, the article presents evidence of Jewish and non-Jewish practices of dealing with the dead. The focus is on the cemeteries in Poland, Lithuania, and Czechia.

Some of the key conclusions deal with the cemetery’s location, which was sought outside human settlement to secure its integrity. Next, the practice of adding layers of earth to ensure the adequate separation and preservation of the dead bodies for centuries at a time, and men, women and children kept apart, with “sinners” buried outside the fence in the “field of shame”. Third, the traditional location with the head facing in the direction of either The Holy Land or the local synagogue is discussed. Further religious and folkloric practices are dealt with, such as the prescribed form of shrouding, the burial of padlocks, etc.

The author of the article, Kalina Skóra, stresses that the “priority is to protect the cemeteries, to document them accurately and comprehensively while respecting the rules in force.”

The article is lavishly illustrated with fine maps and beautiful photos by the author.

Featured Photo

Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov Prague. Source: wikipedia/Jorge Royan


Kalin Skóra holds a doctoral degree in archaeology. Her main research interests the Roman period and the migration of peoples in Central European Barbaricum and the Early Middle Ages in Polish lands




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