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It was preceded by the Beaker culture and followed by the Tumulus culture. It was named after finds at a site in Únětice, northwest of Prague. It is focused around the Czech Republic, southern and central Germany, and western Poland.
The culture corresponds to "Bronze A1 and A2" in the chronological schema of Paul Reinecke:
- A1: 2300-1950 BC: triangular daggers, flat axes, stone wrist-guards, flint arrowheads
- A2: 1950-1700 BC: daggers with metal hilt, flanged axes, halberds, pins with perforated spherical heads, solid bracelets
History of research
The site at Únětice was excavated in 1870s by Čeněk Rýzner. The German Adlerberg and Straubing groups were defined in 1918 by K. Schumacher.
The culture is distinguished by its characteristic metal objects including ingot torcs, flat axes, flat triangular daggers, bracelets with spiral-ends, disk- and paddle-headed pins and curl rings which are distributed over a wide area of Central Europe and beyond.
The ingots are found in hoards that can contain over six hundred pieces. Axe-hoards are common as well, the hoard of Dieskau (Saxony) contained 293 flanged axes. Thus, axes might have served as ingots as well. After about 2000 BC, this hoarding tradition dies out and is only resumed in the urnfield period. These hoards have formerly been interpreted as a form storage by itinerant bronze-founders or riches hidden because of enemy action. This is likely as even today weapons are hoarded underground to hide them from the enemy and axes were the primary weapon. Hoards containing mainly jewellery are typical for the Adlerberg-group.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the Únětice metal industry, though active and innovative, was concerned with producing weapons and ornaments mainly as status symbols for leading persons, rather than for widespread domestic use or for equipping large fighting forces - developments which would wait until later periods in European history. But the Adlerberg cemetery of Hofheim/Taunus, (Germany) contained the burial of a male who had died from an arrow-shot, the stone arrow-head still being located in his arm.
Burials are normally inhumations in flat graves with bent legs and arms, lying on the side, oriented South-North or Northeast-southwest. Males are normally buried on the left, women on the right side.
Some groups used hollowed out tree-trunks for burial. Stone cairns are also found, mainly in the Western part of the Aunjetitz (Unetice) area (Upper-Rhine-, Singen- and Ries-groups). Males were often buried with copper triangular daggers, flint arrowheads, stone wrist-guards and clay cups. Female grave gifts include bone or copper pins, bone arm-rings, bracelets with spiral ends and rings.
The Leubingen burial was covered by a barrow that was still 8,5 m high. It contained a wooden tent-shaped chamber. The grave contained two burials and golden grave gifts.
The Únětice culture had trade links with the British Wessex culture. Unetice metalsmiths mainly used pure copper; alloys of copper with arsenic, antimony and tin to produce bronze became common only in the succeeding periods. The cemetery of Singen is an exception, it contained some daggers with a high tin-content (up to 9%). They may have been produced in Brittany, where a few rich graves have been found in this period. Irish tin was widely traded as well, a gold lunula of Irish design has been found as far south as Butzbach in Hessen (Germany). Amber was traded as well, but small fossil deposits may have been used as well as Baltic amber.
Settlements include so called "pile dwellings", for example the Siedlung Forschner in the Federsee. The wood of the palisade has been dendro-dated to 1767-1759 BC. Houses measured up to 8 by 4 meters. In Southern Germany, two-aisled longhouses of up to 50m length and 5 m width were used (Eching, Poing and Straubing-Öberau in Bavaria).
The clay cups found in burials, especially of the Adlerberg-group, are typical for Unetice as well. They indicate beaker connections, as do the bone-buttons with a v-shaped perforation, the stone wrist guards and the arrowheads.
It is thought that many allied cultures in the region were part of a general Unetice tradition. Cultures of the Unetice complex include Adlerberg, Straubing, Singen, the Neckar- Ries and Upper-Rhine-group in Germany, Unterwölbling in Austria, Hatvan and Nagyrév in Hungary, Nitra and Kost'any in Slovakia and Trzciniec[disambiguation needed] in Poland. In adjacent areas of Northern Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, late Neolithic traditions (giant beakers) were still dominant, in Scandinavia, late corded ware was still produced. The distribution of the Unetice-groups in Germany consists of several isolated areas. But the finds indicate that they are interconnected, with a gradual change from the west, with influences of the older part of the French Rhône-culture to the east, where the finds are very similar to the Austrian Unterwölbling-group.
- J. M. Coles/A. F. Harding, The Bronze Age in Europe (London 1979).
- G. Weber, Händler, Krieger, Bronzegießer (Kassel 1992).
- R. Krause, Die endneolithischen und frühbronzezeitlichen Grabfunde auf der Nordterrasse von Singen am Hohentwiel (Stuttgart 1988).
- B. Cunliffe (ed.), The Oxford illustrated prehistory of Europe (Oxford, Oxford University Press 1994).
- http://www.uni-leipzig.de/~ufg/reihe/files/lobufa13.pdf (B. Lißner on the German groups, in German)
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/janamo/collections/72157623982947819/ (Photos of artefacts from únetice settlement area in Brno -Tuřany (Czech Republic)