Friday, April 28, 2017

The Skrydstrupgirl /Skrydstruppigen

The Skrydstrupgirl at exhibition, National Museum.
After being buried in her coffin completely undisturbed in her grave hill for more than 3000 years the grave with the Skrydstrupgirl was found and opened in 1935.
The expectations were not great, the hill had been digged earlier, but after some days work it was obvious that this was one of Denmark's most important grave finds from Bronze Age.

The Skrydstrupgirl, National Museum.
Skrydstruppigen is a famous Danish grave find from Bronze Age. The Skrydstrupgirl was excavated in 1935 at the village Skrydstrup in South Jutland. She lived in ab. 1300 before our time. She was found in a gravehill by the "Hærvejen" 1 km southwest of the town Vojens. Her oakcoffin was placed upon a bed of stones and covered by a turf hill, measuring 13 meter diameter and 1,75 meter high. Two male persons were in similar coffins at the edge of the gravehill. All was covered by a larger turf hill, measuring 24 meter diameter and 4 m high.

The Cap, National Museum
At her death the girl was only 17 years old. She was buried in an oakcoffin in the middle of the hill, covered by stones. The oakcoffin was almost dissolved. She lay upon a cowskin, and by her head was a cap made in sprangteknik. (a special made cap for women). She rested upon a layer of sorrel and other plants, which tell us that she was buried in summer. She was buried in her dress: a short-sleeved blouse, made by woven wool with embroideries upon the sleeves and around the neck, a long woolen skirt covered her from waist to feet , belt and shoes; fastened to the belt was a decorated horn comb. Her clothes were wool from dark, redbrown sheep. Her only jewelry was large spiral ear rings in 24 karat gold. She had 60 cm long, ashblonde hair, set in a special hairstyle, which she could not have done without assistance. Over the hair was a fine hairnet of horse's hair. The hairstyle was very difficult to wear and much indicates it might have been some kind of burial hair style. She was 170 cm tall which was rather tall in comparison to her contemporaries at that time.

Example of her hairstyle, wikipedia.
When her hair was arranged it was first combed flat back from the forehead, then a valk (a lump of soft material, evt. filled with human hair) was put over the forehead-hair, and the hair was combed forth above a thin layer. The tips of the hair were divided in some little tufts which were braided in front, forming a  braid across the forehead, and all of it was kept on place with  a woolen string. Over the hair was put a fine hairnet, braided by horse's hair in front and back. It was fastened upon an almost 5 m long woolen string.  The string was twined several times around the head, so it was like a headband, and it kept the hairstyle and the hairnet on its place.

The hairstyle and the goldrings, the oak coffin and the gravehill tell us that the Skrydstrupgirl belonged to a socially rich family. Her teeth witness that she from child had nutrient food. This could be a sign of high social status. The people who lived along "Hærvejen",  had the far away trade with the southern countries in Europe, with fur and amber and with bronze and gold.

The cause of her death is not known. The study of the skeleton did not reveal any kind of disease.
Skrydstrupgirl and Egtvedgirl
Her teeth were in good condition; they had a thick layer of enamel and not the slightest sign of caries. Obviously she had not missed anything in her diet during her upbringing. Her dress and her hair also witness about surplus and at the same time a great concern for the diseased. Her high position in society is underlined by the grave form itself , a gravehill of 13 meter diameter and 1,75 in height demanded lots of ressources to build, and the gathering of about 6000 peats was a common task for the local society.

New Knowledge.

Groundbreaking Danish research shows that the distinguished Skrydstrupgirl who was found in a gravehill in South Jutland in 1935 was not born or grew up in Denmark. The news were revealed in the TV- broadcast "Historien om Danmark" in April 2017. A unique recording in the TV-programme shows the moment in the laboratory when the discovery is obvious. The Skrydstrupgirl came from south of Denmark. This is a discovery which will change the understanding of much material from the Bronze Age, said professor Karin Margarita Frei from the National Museum of Copenhagen, who was the in the head of the examination.

It was also a sensation worldwide in 2015 when another grave find from antiquity revealed , that the iconic Egtvedgirl was not from Denmark, but was born and grew up in the southern Germany. This makes the discovery of the same result for the Skrydstrupgirl even more interesting. The result is important, because it shows that the Egtvedgirl was no special case; it seems to be a pattern, which tell us how humans, and in this case women, travelled and moved around in Bronze Age.

Karin M. Frei was also behind the examination of the Egtvedgirl, but contrary to the Egtvedgirl the examination of the Skrydstrupgirl shows all her life from childhood till death. This is the first time this has happened. Contrary to the Egtvedgirl who did travel several times during her life the Skrydstrupgirl was only out on one travel,  the travel from her birthplace to the region at Skrydstrup. The young woman came to the region at Skrydstrup when she was 13-14 years old, until then she had lived in a place many hundred kilometers away from this neigbourhood. She might have lived in the northern part of the Czech Republic, in France or in Mid Germany. After her arrival to Denmark she lived in South Jutland for almost 4 years before she died, ab.17 years old, around 1300 BC. She moved from south to north, possibly to create an alliance between two powerful families by marriage.
The Skrydstrupgirl's hairstyle /wikipedia

In order to map the ways of the Skrydstrupgirl professor Karin Frei has examined a 6-year tooth, a wisdom tooth, an about 50 centimeter long lock of hair  and some bones. Those things tell about food, upbringing  and geographical location through her life. Her grave has told us that she belonged to the elite of the society both before and when she came to Denmark. Her teeth tell us that she from child had nutritious diet,  which can be a sign of high status.

According to professor of archaeology at Gøteborg University , Kristian Kristiansen, the result has a significant importance for our understanding of Bronze Age. The Skrydstrupgirl emphasizes that Bronze Age was a time of globalization. People went from south to north in connection to marriage, and they went on long trade travels. Now there are scientific proofs that this is the case.

It is strange the Egtvedgirl died young too, there are no sign of disease in the bones and no sign of violence. It seems special that she died that young. Examinations shows that the Skrydstrupgirl was healthy, and the scientists have wondered what might have killed her. It was not possible to see from the bones if she had had any children, and if her death might be because of a childbirth. Much indicates that the Skrydstrupgirl migrated to Denmark when she was 13-14 years of age , an age where women were considered ready to marry in Bronze Age. 


National Museum exhibition:" Danmarks Oldtid." 

Karin Frei and the National Museum continue mapping other grave finds from Bronze Age. The investigation of the Skrydstrupgirl was only the first in a series. By mapping the origin of several Bronze Age women they hope to achieve a deeper insight in Bronze Age. 

The research project named: Bronzealderkvindens fortællinger. (The tales of the Bronze Age women) has its own web site.

The Skrydstrupgirl from ab. 1300 bc , the Egtvedgirl, who was buried in the summer 1370 BC and the other oakcoffin graves with dresses and jewelry are on the exhibition: "Danmarks Oldtid".

The Skrydstrupgirl's  oakcoffin was almost dissolved, only a small part was preserved around her head. At the exhibition she lies in a coffin from another hill, Mølhøj. At Haderslev Museum is a copy of her dress, and a bronze statue of the Skrydstrupgirl is set up in the town Vojens.

Bronze Age House in Thy, North Jutland (wikipedia) 

The Skrydstrupgirl's House.
During  Bronze Age arose in the region of Vojens a wealth center  ab. 1800-1000 bc. This is seen by the building of a number of grave hills and impressive houses. The Skrydstrupgirl's family was one of the strong parts in the building of this center. This period is often named Denmarks first Golden Age.

Much gold ended as grave equipment in the gravehills.  An important explanation  why a wealth center arose just at this place is the geography of the region. Here lies Hærvejen and it was via this road the precious metal came to the north.

In 1993 gravel was extracted in South Jutland. Museum Sønderjylland  examined the area and found several houses from Bronze Age; especially two houses were interesting.

One house was a more than 50 meter long and 10m broad hall, more than 500 square meter was under roof. It is the largest house from Bronze Age from this period in Scandinavia. The region was an important area with a great activity. The house was divided in three rooms, the living room, the barn, the stable. The dating of the house was 1500-1330 BC. Charred corn (mostly wheat) and mold residues show that the lord of the house both mastered the hard bronze casting and was able to get hold of the coveted metal. 

Another huse was under a small gravehill, the house was 30 m long and a little more than 7 m broad. Rooms were divided like in the big house. The dating of this house was between 1320 and 1220 BC. The house lay here upon the hillside at the same time as the Skrydstrupgirl lived (she was buried in one of the great Bronze Age hills only 600 m southwest of this house). Maybe she lived in this house, if so it might have been her grandfather or great grandfather who built the great hall.

Source: National Museum, Copenhagen; professor Karin M. Fre;  professor Kristian Kristiansen, Gøteborgs Universitet, and wikipedia. 
photo: National Museum and wikipedia. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Egtvedgirl / Egtvedpigen

Egtvedpigen is a famous Danish grave-find from Bronze Age and one of the best preserved,especially for her wellkept dress, which brought new knowledge about Denmark's past. She was considered a Danish girl from the beginning, but new knowledge and analyses have shown that she was born and grew up in south western Germany.
Egtvedgirl, National Museum.

yarrow from the hill, july 2010/gb
A Jutland farmer wanted in 1921 to remove the rest of a great hill, named "Storehøj", in his fields to make room for sowing, but while he was digging he hit a two meter long oak coffin. "Storehøj" was at that time outdigged and almost flat , but the wellkept grave with the oak coffin and a young girl's  body was placed in the eastern part of the hill. The coffin was an outhollowed barked oak trunk, one half was the coffin, the other a lid. The oak coffin is dated to year 1370 BC. Everything was found placed in the coffin as it were almost 3500 years ago. The coffin was lined with cow skin and the body of a young girl was placed carefully on the soft skin surrounded by her grave goods and covered with a woolen blanket -  and the coffin was closed . A little yarrow flower was put on the edge of the coffin before the lid was put on. The yarrow reveals that she was buried on a summer's day.

Storhøj in july 2010/gb

The region of Egtved was at that time of Bronze Age a power center in Jutland. Southern Germany and Denmark were two dominating power centers in western Europe. The archaeological material reveals that there are many direct connections between the two regions. One theory is that the Egtvedgirl was a girl from southern Germany who was to marry a powerful chief in Jutland in order to seal an alliance between two strong families. She was buried in a hill of her own, she was a person of high status. On a summer's day in 1370 BC her body was carefully buried in an oak coffin and covered by a grave hill, later named "Storehøj", close to Egtved village west of Vejle city. Her story is a fascinating tale from Bronze Age, and only because of her early death and burial in the grave hill at Egtved we are now able to discover more about the Bronze Age people. 

bronze belt plate(from Langstrup)/ wikipedia
The Egtvedgirl's teeth tell us that she was about 16-18 years old when she died. Although her skin and body parts are gone the find is still exceptional, since her dress and grave goods are very well preserved. She was carefully wrapped in a cow skin and covered by a woolen blanket. Her dress was a short-sleeved blouse, a kneelong cord skirt and a woven belt, mounted with a circular bronze belt plate , decorated with a spiral pattern. The belt plate symbolized the sun, the most important element of the Bronze Age religion. Fastened at her belt was a comb made of horn,  and her feet were wrapped in pieces of cloth. She had a bronze arm ring on borth arms and a fragile ear ring in one ear. A little wooden bowl beside her contained the rests of a fermented fruit drink - some kind of beer - and in a small box made of linden barch were a bradawl and the rests of a hair net. At her feet was a bundle of cloth with the burnt bones of a 5-6 year old child, and at her head a small box of birch-barch bones from the same child.

In the coffin was a wooden bowl, which in the bottom had a layer of thick brown precipitation. When the content was analysed it was obvious that it had contained a fermented drink, probably honey-sweetened beer. The drink was made by lingonberry or cranberry. Besides this were wheatgrains, rests of sweet gale and large amounts of pollen from the lime tree. The Egtvedgirl's brew is now put into production after 3.300 years. 
National Museum /Egtved girl/wikipedia
The grave hill "Storehøj" is reconstructed today, and in attachment is a small museum with permanent exhibitions and alternate activities. The Egtvedgirl is considered one of the best kept Bronze Age finds i Danish history and she is one of the most famous persons from antiquity.  She is today at exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen, and she is one of more than 20 Danish grave finds from Bronze Age which is unique worldwide.

New knowledge.
Schwarzwald, wikipedia/gb
The Egtvedgirl was not born in Egtved. She was from the start considered a Danish girl but today we know that she was born and grew up many hundred kilometers from Denmark. Analyses by help of the isotope strontium of her hair, teeth and nails show that she was born and grew up , probably in southwestern Germany -  and that she came to Egtved shortly before her death. The analyses of her hair and a thumb nail show that she travelled back and forth during the two last years of her life. This new knowledge tells us that the Bronze Age people travelled long distances in a relatively short time. The people of Bronze Age lived in a cosmopolitic and dymamic world.

the small museum/wikipedia
belt plate and arm ring/museum/gb
barch box/ july 2010/ museum/gb
The wool from her dress, the blanket and the cow skin come from a region outside Denmark. The wool comes from sheep which grass in various places or in a relatively big area with a complex geology  - and this is found in South West Germany. A combination of various analyses point to that the girl, her dress and the cow skin come from Schwarzwald (800 km south of Egtved). The same goes for the cremated rests of a six year old child, who was buried with her.

medieval market, Egtved july 2010/gb
landscape Egtved, july 2010/gb
The dating of the Egtvedgirl's coffin is a summer's day year 1370 BC. It is possible that the Egtvedgirl left Germany and went to Jutland to marry a great man's son, but after a few months she went back home to fetch a child from her home region, maybe a little brother or little sister who should be fostered in Egtved.  The child got sick and died underway, and the body was burnt, which made it easier to transport. The Egtvedgirl's hair shows that she has either suffered from starvation or been sick on the tour. Maybe she was still sick when she arrived at Egtved where she died shortly after and was buried with the child. She is the only person from Bronze Age, who was buried with the burnt bones from a child. The child was too old to be her own, but it might be her brother or sister whom she brought to Denmark to be fostered by her family in law. The analyses say that the child and the Egtvedgirl came from the same region. 


Human sacrifice?
In the grave was a bundle with the burnt bones of a 5-6 year old child. The child was too old to be the girl's own child.  Maybe it was her little brother or sister or maybe a child who was sacrificed. From another woman grave in Bronze Age from the southern part of Jutland  is known a possible human sacrifice. The grave was examinated in the 1980s. Here was the body of a woman with a very rich grave equipment. At her feet were the burnt bones from a grown human, maybe her personal slave who was killed and burnt when she died? Possible human sacrifices are known from some contemporary graves in Bronze Age.

Dance rituals?
The Egtvedgirl was dressed in a significant cord skirt which reached her knees, it was wrapped twice around her waist and was about 38 cm long. That kind of skirt was used through Bronze Age. Some small women figures in bronze, found at Zealand, are also dressed in cord skirts. It has been suggested that the figures depict rituals which was made at the cult-feasts. Maybe women dressed in cord skirts danced ritual dances, and maybe the Egtvedgirl took part in these dance rituals.

Storhøj july 2010/gb


Source:  Det Natur og Biovidenskabelige fakultet, Københavns Universitet. .
professor Karin Margarita Frei,  Københavns Universitet
professor Kristian Kristiansen, Gøteborg Universitet. 

photo: wikipedia
photo: grethe bachmann, july 2010.