Archaeologists Find Personal Equipment of Bronze Age Warrior

Archaeologists have unearthed a collection of 31 metal objects, including a bronze tool with a birch handle, a knife, a chisel, bronze cylinders, and ingot fragments, at the site of a Bronze Age battlefield in the Tollense Valley in north-eastern Germany.

Photograph of the collection of bronze objects from the battlefield site in the Tollense Valley, Germany. Image credit: V. Minkus.

Photograph of the collection of bronze objects from the battlefield site in the Tollense Valley, Germany. Image credit: V. Minkus.

The Bronze Age site at the Tollense River was discovered in 1996 by an amateur archaeologist.

The battle took place around 1250 BCE and involved more than 2,000 combatants.

Archaeologists found the remains of over 140 individuals (young adult males) along with many bronze objects.

Their bones showed signs of recent trauma — the result of close and long-range weapons — and healed lesions, which probably indicate they were accustomed to combat.

Isotopic results suggested that at least some of the group were not from the local area, but until now, it was not clear how far they traveled.

“The discovery of a new set of artifacts from the remains of battle provides important new clues,” said University of Göttingen’s Professor Thomas Terberger and colleagues.

During the excavations, they found an assemblage of 31 metal objects (total 0.25 kg in weight) tightly packed together, suggesting they were in a container made of wood or cloth.

The items included a bronze tool with a birch handle, a knife, a chisel, and fragments of bronze.

“At the top of the deposit was a bronze awl with a wooden (birch) handle and a knife,” the researchers explained.

“Below, were a chisel, fragments of bronze sheet, three cylindrical objects, at least three ingot fragments and an array of small bronze pieces, such as casting waste and scraps.”

“In addition, a decorated belt box as well as three dress pins, a bronze spiral, a human skull and a rib, were recovered from the same findspot.”

The objects are similar to those found in Bronze Age burials of southern Central Europe, and likely represent the personal equipment of a warrior from that region who died on the battlefield in Northern Europe.

“This is the first discovery of personal belongings on a battlefield and it provides insights into the equipment of a warrior,” Professor Terberger said.

“The fragmented bronze was probably used as a form of early currency.”

“The discovery also provides us with clues about the origins of the men who fought in this battle and there is increasing evidence that at least some of the warriors originated in southern Central Europe.”

The finds are described in a paper published in the October 2019 issue of the journal Antiquity.

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Tobias Uhlig et al. 2019. Lost in combat? A scrap metal find from the Bronze Age battlefield site at Tollense. Antiquity 93 (371): 1211-1230; doi: 10.15184/aqy.2019.137

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