Nordic Bronze Age

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Map of the Nordic Bronze Age culture, c. 1200 BC

The Nordic Bronze Age (also Northern Bronze Age) is the name given by Oscar Montelius to a period and a Bronze Age culture in Scandinavian prehistory, c. 1700–500 BC, with sites that reached as far east as Estonia. Succeeding the Late Neolithic culture, its ethnic and linguistic affinities are unknown in the absence of written sources. It is followed by the Pre-Roman Iron Age.

General characteristics[edit]

Even though Scandinavians joined the European Bronze Age cultures fairly late through trade, Scandinavian sites present rich and well-preserved objects made of wool, wood, and imported Central European bronze and gold.

Many rock carvings depict ships, and the large stone burial monuments known as stone ships suggest that shipping played an important role. Thousands of rock carvings depict ships, most probably representing sewn plank built canoes for warfare, fishing, and trade. These may have a history as far back as the neolithic period and continue into the Pre-Roman Iron Age, as shown by the Hjortspring boat.[1]

There are many mounds and rock carving sites from the period. Numerous artifacts of bronze and gold are found. No written language existed in the Nordic countries during the Bronze Age. The rock carvings have been dated through comparison with depicted artifacts, for example bronze axes and swords. (There are also numerous Nordic Stone Age rock carvings in the north of Scandinavia, mostly portraying elk.)

Sub-periodization[edit]

Oscar Montelius, who coined the term used for the period, divided it into six distinct sub-periods in his piece Om tidsbestämning inom bronsåldern med särskilt avseende på Skandinavien ("On Bronze Age dating with particular focus on Scandinavia") published in 1885, which is still in wide use. His absolute chronology has held up well against radiocarbon dating, with the exception that the period's start is closer to 1700 BC than 1800 BC, as Montelius suggested. For Central Europe a different system developed by Paul Reinecke is commonly used, as each area has its own artifact types and archaeological periods.

A broader subdivision is the Early Bronze Age, between 1700 BC and 1100 BC, and the Late Bronze Age, 1100 BC to 550 BC. These divisions and periods are followed by the Pre-Roman Iron Age.

Climate[edit]

The Nordic Bronze Age was characterized first by a warm climate that began with a climate change around 2700 BC (comparable to that of present-day central Germany and northern France). The warm climate permitted a relatively dense population and good farming; for example, grapes were grown in Scandinavia at this time. A wetter, colder climate prevailed after a minor change in climate between 850 BC and 760 BC, and a more radical one around 650 BC.

Religion[edit]

Not much is known about the Nordic Bronze Age religion, since written sources are lacking. Archaeological finds draw a vague picture of what the religion might have been, but only some possible sects of it and only certain possible tribes. Some of the best clues to the religion of this period come from the rock carvings scattered through Northern Europe.

Bronze Age religion

A pair of twin gods are believed to have been worshipped, and is reflected in a duality in all things sacred: where sacrificial artifacts have been buried they are often found in pairs. A female or mother goddess is believed to have been widely worshipped (see Nerthus). Sacrifices (animals, weapons, jewelry, and men) have been connected to water, and small lakes or ponds were often used as holy places for sacrifice and many artifacts have been found in such locations. Hieros gamos rites may have been common. Ritual instruments such as bronze lurs have been found sacrificed and are believed to have been used in ceremonies.

Bronze Age rock carvings may contain some of the earliest depictions of well-known gods from later Norse mythology. A common figure in these rock carvings is that of a male figure carrying what appears to be an axe or hammer. This may have been an early representation of Thor. Other male figures are shown holding a spear. Whether this is a representation of Odin or Týr is not known. It is possible the figure may have been a representation of Tyr, as one example of a Bronze Age rock carving appears to show a figure missing a hand. A figure holding a bow may be an early representation of Ullr. Or it is possible that these figures were not gods at all, but men brandishing the weapons of their culture.

Remnants of the Bronze Age religion and mythology are believed to exist in Germanic mythology and Norse mythology; e.g., Skinfaxi and Hrímfaxi and Nerthus, and it is believed to itself be descended from an older Indo-European prototype.

Gallery[edit]

Nordic Bronze Age

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ling 2008. Elevated Rock Art. GOTARC Serie B. Gothenburg Archaeological Thesis 49. Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Gothenburg, Goumlteborg, 2008. ISBN 978-91-85245-34-5.
  2. ^ . The carvings have been painted in recent times. It is unknown whether they were painted originally. Composite image. Nordic Bronze Age.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Dabrowski, J. (1989) Nordische Kreis un Kulturen Polnischer Gebiete. Die Bronzezeit im Ostseegebiet. Ein Rapport der Kgl. Schwedischen Akademie der Literatur Geschichte und Alter unt Altertumsforschung über das Julita-Symposium 1986. Ed Ambrosiani, B. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Konferenser 22. Stockholm.
  • Davidson, H. R. Ellis and Gelling, Peter: The Chariot of the Sun and other Rites and Symbols of the Northern European Bronze Age.
  • K. Demakopoulou (ed.), Gods and Heroes of the European Bronze Age, published on the occasion of the exhibition "Gods and Heroes of the Bronze Age. Europe at the Time of Ulysses", from December 19, 1998, to April 5, 1999, at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, London (1999), ISBN 0-500-01915-0.
  • Demougeot, E. La formation de l'Europe et les invasions barbares, Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1969-1974.
  • Kaliff, Anders. 2001. Gothic Connections. Contacts between eastern Scandinavia and the southern Baltic coast 1000 BC – 500 AD.
  • Montelius, Oscar, 1885. Om tidsbestämning inom bronsåldern med särskilt avseende på Skandinavien.
  • Musset, L. Les invasions: les vagues germanique, Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1965.