A Bronze Age Battle Lost in the Misty Past

Tollensetal Impressionsfraktur

Some fighters had bronze weapons and armor; others carried wooden clubs — and used them. (Landesamt für Kultur und Denkmalpflege Mecklenburg-Vorpommern/Landesarchäologie/D. Jantzen)

Men came to Tollense . . . or whatever it was called about 3,260 years ago.1)“The things they carried” — an appropriate literary reference? In a river valley north of Berlin, two Bronze Age armies clashed, casualties were at least in the hundreds, and no one can say who fought or why.

“We have 130 people, minimum, and five horses. And we’ve only opened 450 square meters. That’s 10% of the find layer, at most, maybe just 3% or 4%,” says Detlef Jantzen, chief archaeologist at MVDHP. “If we excavated the whole area, we might have 750 people. That’s incredible for the Bronze Age.” In what they admit are back-of-the-envelope estimates, he and Terberger argue that if one in five of the battle’s participants was killed and left on the battlefield, that could mean almost 4000 warriors took part in the fighting.

And this comparison to a war that spawned literature we still read today:

As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.

It’s my literary imagination at work — someone must have sung those dead warriors, maybe in a long elegiac poem like Y Gododdin — but in what language? And to what ends?

Lost, all lost.

Notes   [ + ]

1. “The things they carried” — an appropriate literary reference?

Scandinavian Style, 1400 BCE

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(National Museum of Denmark)

The acidic peat surrounding this grave of a Bronze Age girl, labeled a “priestess” for her elaborate jewelry,  preserved her clothing and hair but not her skeleton. The burial was found in 1921, but only this month did analysis reveal that, for instance, the wool in her skirt came from the Black Forest region of German, but also that she herself may have traveled back and forth.

The Bronze Age teenager was wearing a wool skirt belted with a large bronze disk with spirals on it.

“She looks, in a way, very modern, in this kind of miniskirt and a kind of T-shirt,” [Danish researcher Karin] Frei told Live Science. (Her unique fashion sense has inspired scores of Pinterest-worthy re-enactments.)

Peaceful Minoan Crete . . . Was Not

Boy boxers smack each other in a Minoan fresco. (Wiki Commons).

Bronze Age (Minoan) Crete is often portrayed as this peaceful place where people gathered flowers, danced, sang, and worshiped the Great Mother Goddess.

Um, no, says an archaeologist from the University of Sheffield:

“Their world was uncovered just over a century ago, and was deemed to be a largely peaceful society,” explained [Barry] Molloy. “In time, many took this to be a paradigm of a society that was devoid of war, where warriors and violence were shunned and played no significant role.

“That utopian view has not survived into modern scholarship, but it remains in the background unchallenged and still crops up in modern texts and popular culture with surprising frequency.

“Having worked on excavation and other projects in Crete for many years, it triggered my curiosity about how such a complex society, controlling resources and trading with mighty powers like Egypt, could evolve in an egalitarian or cooperative context. Can we really be that positive about human nature? As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places.”

Much like other people, in other words. Read the rest here.