Tollense Vallery Bronze Age battlefield

A warrior on a unique Bronze Age battlefield site in the Tollense Valley

Lost in Combat? Researchers discover belongings of a warrior on unique Bronze Age battlefield site

Tollense Vallery Bronze Age battlefield
This collection of objects was found by divers in the Tollense river and is probably the contents of a personal pouch of a warrior who died 3,300 years ago on the battlefield. Credit: Volker Minkus

Recent archaeological investigations in the Tollense Valley led by the University of Göttingen, the State Agency for Cultural Heritage in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the University of Greifswald have unearthed a collection of 31 unusual objects. Researchers believe this is the personal equipment of a Bronze Age warrior who died on the battlefield 3,300 years ago.  This unique find was discovered by a diving team headed by Dr Joachim Krüger, from the University of Greifswald, and seems to have been protected in the river from the looting, which inevitably followed fighting.  The study was published in Antiquity.

Tollense Vallery Bronze Age battlefield
These are the battlefield remains from the layer where objects were found at the site near the Tollense river in Weltzin. Credit: Stefan Sauer

The archaeological records of the European Bronze Age are dominated by settlement finds, hoards and evidence of funeral sites.  However, the site at the river Tollense in Northern Germany is very different and provides for the first time in Europe the evidence of a prehistoric battlefield.  Over 12,000 pieces of human bone have already been recovered from the valley and osteoanthropologist Ute Brinker, from the State Agency has identified more than 140 individuals – young adult males in good physical condition. 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 travelled.

 

The discovery of a new set of artefacts from the remains of battle provides important new clues. The divers could document a number of Bronze finds in their original position on the river ground, among them a decorated belt box, three dress pins and also arrow heads. Surprisingly they also found 31 objects (250g) tightly packed together, suggesting they were in a container made of wood or cloth that has since rotted away. The items include a bronze tool with a birch handle, a knife, a chisel and fragments of bronze. Radiocarbon dating of the collection of objects demonstrates that the finds belong to the battlefield layer and they were probably the personal equipment of one of the victims. The finds were studied in a Master’s thesis by Tobias Uhlig and the new results make it increasingly clear that there was a massive violent conflict in the older Nordic Bronze Age (2000–1200 BC). In fact, recent evidence suggests that it is likely to have been on a large scale, clearly stretching beyond regional borders.

Tollense Vallery Bronze Age battlefield
This is a human skull found in the Tollense valley with fatal trauma caused by a Bronze arrowhead. Credit: Volker Minkus

Professor Thomas Terberger, from the Department of Pre- and Early History at the University of Göttingen, says, “This is the first discovery of personal belongings on a battlefield and it provides insights into the equipment of a warrior. The fragmented bronze was probably used as a form of early currency. The discovery of a new set of artefacts 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.”

 

Original publication: Tobias Uhlig et al. Lost in combat? A scrap metal find from the Bronze Age battlefield site at Tollense (2019), Antiquity. DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2019.137

 

Press release (No. 207 - 15.10.2019) from the University of Göttingen / DE


Levänluhta jewellery links Finland to a European exchange network

Levänluhta jewellery links Finland to a European exchange network

Levänluhta
Archaeological findings of Levänluhta in the Finnish National Museum's exhibition. In the front arm rings and necklaces found from the burial site, made out of copper alloy. Credit: Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä

The Levänluhta water burial site, dating back to the Iron Age (300-800 CE), is one of Finland's most famous archaeological sites. Nearly one hundred individuals, mainly women or children, were buried in a lake located at Isokyrö in SW Finland, during the Iron Age. Some of the deceased were accompanied by arm rings and necklaces made out of copper alloy, bronze or brass.

Style of jewellery domestic but material from abroad

"The origin of the metals used in these pieces of jewellery was determined on the basis of the objects' geochemical and lead isotope compositions. The jewellery of the deceased is stylistically typical Finnish Iron Age jewellery, making it probable that they were cast in local workshops. However, the metals used to make these objects are unlikely to be originally from the region, since copper ores had not yet been discovered here during the Iron Age," says Elisabeth Holmqvist-Sipilä, a postdoctoral researcher.

Up to now, archaeologists have assumed that copper used in the Iron Age came mainly from the copper ores discovered in southern Scandinavia. However, this interpretation has in recent years been called into question, since the copper found in archaeological metal discoveries in Sweden has also been determined to be imported.

In a study conducted in collaboration between archaeologists at the University of Helsinki and the Geological Survey of Finland, the origin of the bronze and brass jewellery found at Levänluhta was investigated by comparing their geochemical composition and lead isotope ratios to known copper ores in Finland, Sweden and elsewhere in Europe. The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Copper tracks lead to southern Europe

"The results demonstrate that the copper used in the objects was not from Finland or the nearby regions; rather, it has travelled to Finland along extensive exchange networks, most likely from southern Europe," says Holmqvist-Sipilä.

Based on the lead isotope ratios, the copper in the objects has its origins in the copper ores found in Greece and Bulgaria. These regions produced a large quantity of copper in the Bronze and Iron Age, which spread around Europe as various object forms, distributed as presents, loot and merchandise. Metals were also recycled by melting old objects into raw material for new casts. It may be possible that metals that ended up in Finland during the Bronze Age were recycled in the Levänluhta region.

The findings of this project, funded by the Emil Aaltonen Foundation, demonstrate that products of the copper exchange network of continental Europe also reached Finland across the Baltic Sea, thus making it possible to link the region with the extensive copper exchange system known to have extended throughout Europe. The results also illustrate the temporally and technologically multi-layered nature of prehistoric metal artefacts: raw materials found their way here through a number of hands, most likely over a long period of time and across very great distances. In domestic artisan workshops, these metals of international origin were manufactured into pieces of jewellery in domestic Iron Age fashion, perhaps embodying the local identity and place of residence of the bearer.

 

Press release from the University of Helsinki


Scientists shed light on preservation mystery of Terracotta Army weapons

Scientists shed light on preservation mystery of Terracotta Army weapons

Terracotta Army weapons Terracotta Army of Xi'an mausoleum of Qin Shihuang First Emperor of ChinaThe chrome plating on the Terracotta Army bronze weapons - once thought to be the earliest form of anti-rust technology - derives from a decorative varnish rather than a preservation technique, finds a new study co-led by UCL and Terracotta Army Museum researchers.

The study, published today in Scientific Reports, reveals that the chemical composition and characteristics of the surrounding soil, rather than chromium, may be responsible for the weapons' famous preservation power.

Lead author Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres (University of Cambridge and formerly of UCL Institute of Archaeology), commented: "The terracotta warriors and most organic materials of the mausoleum were coated with protective layers of lacquer before being painted with pigments - but interestingly, not the bronze weapons."

"We found a substantial chromium content in the lacquer, but only a trace of chromium in the nearby pigments and soil - possibly contamination. The highest traces of chromium found on bronzes are always on weapon parts directly associated to now-decayed organic elements, such as lance shafts and sword grips made of wood and bamboo, which would also have had a lacquer coating. Clearly, the lacquer is the unintended source of the chromium on the bronzes - and not an ancient anti-rust treatment."

The world-famous Terracotta Army of Xi'an consists of thousands of life-sized ceramic figures representing warriors, stationed in three large pits within the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang (259-210 BC), the first emperor of a unified China.

These warriors were armed with fully functional bronze weapons; dozens of spears, lances, hooks, swords, crossbow triggers and as many as 40,000 arrow heads have all been recovered. Although the original organic components of the weapons such as the wooden shafts, quivers and scabbards have mostly decayed over the past 2,000 years, the bronze components remain in remarkably good condition.

Since the first excavations of the Terracotta Army in the 1970s, researchers have suggested that the impeccable state of preservation seen on the bronze weapons must be as a result of the Qin weapon makers developing a unique method of preventing metal corrosion.

Traces of chromium detected on the surface of the bronze weapons gave rise to the belief that Qin craftspeople invented a precedent to the chromate conversion coating technology, a technique only patented in the early 20th century and still in use today. The story has been cited in some books and media.

Now an international team of researchers show that the chromium found on the bronze surfaces is simply contamination from lacquer present in adjacent objects, and not the result of an ancient technology. The researchers also suggest that the excellent preservation of the bronze weapons may have been helped by the moderately alkaline pH, small particle size and low organic content of the surrounding soil.

Dr Xiuzhen Li (UCL Institute of Archaeology and Terracotta Army Museum), co-author of the study, said: "Some of the bronze weapons, particular swords, lances and halberds, display shiny almost pristine surfaces and sharp blades after 2,000 years buried with the Terracotta Army. One hypothesis for this was that Qin weapon-makers could have utilised some kind of anti-rust technology due to chromium detected on the surface of the weapons. However, the preservation of the weapons has continued to perplex scientists for more than forty years.

"The high-tin composition of the bronze, quenching technique, and the particular nature of the local soil go some way to explain their remarkable preservation but it is still possible that the Qin Dynasty developed a mysterious technological process and this deserves further investigation."

By analysing hundreds of artefacts, researchers also found that many of the best preserved bronze weapons did not have any surface chromium. To investigate the reasons for their still-excellent preservation, they simulated the weathering of replica bronzes in an environmental chamber. Bronzes buried in Xi'an soil remained almost pristine after four months of extreme temperature and humidity, in contrast to the severe corrosion of the bronzes buried for comparison in British soil.

"It is striking how many important, detailed insights can be recovered via the evidence of both the natural materials and complex artificial recipes found across the mausoleum complex --bronze, clay, wood, lacquer and pigments to name but a few. These materials provide complementary storylines in a bigger tale of craft production strategies at the dawn of China's first empire," said co-author, Professor Andrew Bevan (UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Professor Thilo Rehren (The Cyprus Institute and UCL Institute of Archaeology), stressed the importance of long-term collaboration. "We started this research more than 10 years ago between UCL and the museum. Only through the persistence, trusting cooperation and out-of-the-box thinking of colleagues in China and Britain were we able to solve this decade-old mystery."

Read more