Well-Preserved 3,000-Year-Old Pre-Viking Sword Unearthed in Denmark is Still Sharp
Two locals from Zealand, Denmark’s largest island, decided to walk around the field in the remote west city of Svebolle in the evening.
The decision was fortuitous to take their metal detector with them because it would allow them to uncover a major find
The two amateur archeologists began digging after the device alerted Ernst Christiansen and Lis Therkelsen to something beneath the ground.
Around 30 cm down, they spotted what looked like the tip of a spear. Christiansen and Therkelsen contacted Museum Vestsjælland — a group of 11 local museums that cover the archaeological excavation and conservation of regions in the area — who revealed that the discovery was a 3,000-year-old sword from the Nordic Bronze age.
It was also a testament to the craftsmanship of the people in Scandinavia at the time.
“The sword is so well-preserved that you can clearly see the fine details. And it is even sharp,” the museum wrote in a press release.
Museum inspector Arne Hedegaard Andersen, who joined Christiansen and Therkelsen on the day following the discovery, reaffirmed how incredibly maintained the sword was.
The Nordic Bronze Age, circa 1700-500 BC, was sandwiched between the Nordic Stone Age and the pre-Roman Iron Age. During this time period, bronze imported from Central Europe replaced previously popular materials like flint and stone.
The impressively preserved bronze sword, which predates the Vikings by around 1,000 years, remained untouched since the Bronze Age. About 32 inches long and still fairly sharp, the museum believes that it dates to phase IV of the Bronze Age, or between 1100 and 900 BC.
Though the leather that made up the sword’s grip had long rotted, the pommel and hilt show intricate bronze work, clearly decorated by skilled workers.
The details suggest that it was an expensive piece of weaponry, likely used to indicate status rather than in actual battle. Additionally, warriors during this time tended to use clubs, spears, or axes for fighting purposes.
Though the Scandinavian people joined the Bronze age through trade relatively late compared to other European nations, the local workmanship was of a higher standard. So although the religion, ethnicity, and language characteristics of the people during this time period are largely unknown, they left behind a rich archaeological legacy.
One of the main ways we know about life in Scandinavia during the Bronze Age is through rock carvings called petroglyphs, which depict images of daily life, great events, and supernatural beliefs of the time.
There have been several exciting archaeological discoveries in Denmark in recent years.
In June 2016, team of three archaeologists who call themselves Team Rainbow Power uncovered the largest-ever find of Viking gold.
In October 2016, the discovery of a 5,000-year-old stone map shed light on ancient farming and topography. And in 2015, a trove of 2,000 mysterious-looking gold spirals also from the Bronze Age was discovered on Zealand
Bronze Age Fashion – The “Egtved Girl” Showed Remarkably Modern Taste
The well-preserved Egtved Girl was one of the most well-known burials of the Danish Bronze Age found in 1921. Her woolen clothing, hair, and nails were perfectly preserved, but all her bones were missing.
Scientists who studied the remains of the ancient teenager and discovered surprisingly that the girl of Egtved was not from Denmark and had traveled great distances before her death.
A study published in the journal Nature details the results of modern tests done by scientists. Strontium isotope analysis on Egtved Girl’s molar, hair, and fingernails, combined with examination of her distinctive woolen clothing, have revealed she was born and raised hundreds of miles from her burial site in Egtved, in modern Denmark. Findings show she likely came from The Black Forest of southwest Germany, and she traveled between the two locations via ship frequently in the last two years of her life.
According to LiveScience, the Egtved Girl’s oak coffin was uncovered in 1921 from a Bronze Age archaeological site near Egtved, Denmark. The grave was found within a burial mound of dense peat bog and has been dated to 1370 BC.
Inside the coffin, the 16 to the 18-year-old girl was buried. She is believed to have been of high status. The teenager had been laid on an ox hide and covered by a rough woolen blanket.
The contours of where her dead body had lain are still visible, pressed into the ox hide beneath her. She was of slim build, with mid-length blonde hair, and her clothing—a short string skirt and small, midriff-baring, sleeved top—caused a sensation when revealed in the 20s. Around her waist, she had worn a large, spiked bronze disc decorated with spirals. Even now people recreate the stylish Bronze Age fashion.
Other grave goods included bronze pins, a sewing awl, and a hair net. Local flowers decorated the top of the coffin (indicating a summertime burial), as did a small bucket of beer made of honey, wheat, and cowberries.
Another body was found with Egtved Girl in her coffin. Ashes and bones comprised the cremated remains of a small child recovered near Egtved Girl’s head. The identity of the child, who was about five or six years old when he or she died, is not known. No DNA could be recovered from either set of remains, so their relationship is a mystery.
Scientists found that the soil composition of the grave worked as a microclimate, preserving some items and destroying others. Rainwater seeped into the hollowed-out, oak-trunk coffin, but it was starved of oxygen. These conditions decayed the bones completely away but left behind excellently-preserved fingernails, hair, scalp, a small part of her brain, and clothing.
Senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen analyzed the Bronze Age girls’ remains, according to Science Daily.
Analysis of the high-status teenager’s remains, as well as the cremated bones of the young child, showed that the pair had spent much of their lives in a distant land, thought to be Schwarzwald (the Black Forest) in Germany.
“If we consider the last two years of the girl’s life, we can see that, 13 to 15 months before her death, she stayed in a place with a strontium isotope signature very similar to the one that characterizes the area where she was born. Then she moved to an area that may well have been Jutland.
After a period of c. 9 to 10 months there, she went back to the region she originally came from and stayed there for four to six months before she traveled to her final resting place, Egtved. Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died.
As an area’s strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to ‘Denmark’ and ‘Egtved’ about a month before she passed away,” Karin Margarita Frei told Science Daily.
This movement makes sense to researchers. Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg told Science Daily, “In Bronze Age Western Europe, Southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centers of power, very similar to kingdoms. We find many direct connections between the two in the archaeological evidence, and my guess is that the Egtved Girl was a Southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families.”
The bronze belt disc found on Egtved Girl may have come to the area via the busy trade routes of the day. The spiral decorations are said to be related to a Nordic solar cult, and the bronze is thought to have originated somewhere in the Alps. Further, the wool that made up her clothing came from sheep outside of Denmark. The ‘fashionable’ Egtved Girl and her mysterious tiny companion have captivated people since their discovery in 1921. Modern research brings the life and death of the prehistoric girl to light in amazing detail and gives us a better understanding of early European people.
But she is not the only teenage girl found in Denmark that has created a stir in the last few years. In 2017, it was announced that another famous Bronze Age burial of a teenage girl, this time found in Jutland, Denmark was also a traveler from faraway lands. Strontium analysis of the 16- to 18-year-old Skrydstrup woman suggests she originally came from Germany, the Czech Republic, France, or Sweden.
As archaeologist Karin Frei of the National Museum of Denmark told ScienceNordic, “We can’t say with 100 percent certainty where she [the Skrydstrup woman] came from, and we may never be able to, but she definitely wasn’t Danish. It gives us so many new perspectives. Now we know that Egtved Girl was not an isolated case.” These studies show that early European mobility was more dynamic than previously believed; Bronze Age people were trading and traveling long distances, quickly.
Stone Age “chewing gum” yields 5,700-year-old human genome and oral microbiome
Experts of the University of Copenhagen have been able to extract a complete human genome from a “chewing gum” which is thousands of years old. It’s a new untapped source of ancient DNA, according to the researchers
Archaeologists found a “chewing gum” type of birch pitch, which was 5700 years old during excavations on Lolland. In a new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen succeeded in extracting a complete ancient human genome from the pitch.
This is the first time that an entire ancient human genome was extracted from anything other than human bones. The new research results have been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
The Associate Professor Hannes Schroeder of the Globe Institute of Copenhagen University who led the research says, “It is amazing to have a complete ancient of the human genome from anything other than bone.”
‘What is more, we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains,’ Hannes Schroeder adds.
Based on the ancient human genome, the researchers could tell that the birch pitch was chewed by a female. She was genetically more closely related to hunter-gatherers from mainland Europe than to those who lived in central Scandinavia at the time. They also found that she probably had dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes.
The birch pitch was found during archaeological excavations at Syltholm, east of Rødbyhavn in southern Denmark. The excavations are being carried out by the Museum Lolland-Falster in connection with the construction of the Fehmarn tunnel.
‘Syltholm is completely unique. Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal,’ says Theis Jensen, Postdoc at the Globe Institute, who worked on the study for his Ph.D. and also participated in the excavations at Syltholm.
‘It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia,’ Theis Jensen adds.
This is reflected in the DNA results, as the researchers also identified traces of plant and animal DNA in the pitch – specifically hazelnuts and duck – which may have been part of the individual’s diet.
In addition, the researchers succeeded in extracting DNA from several oral microbiotas from the pitch, including many commensal species and opportunistic pathogens.
‘The preservation is incredibly good, and we managed to extract many different bacterial species that are characteristic of the oral microbiome.
Our ancestors lived in a different environment and had a different lifestyle and diet, and it is, therefore, interesting to find out how this is reflected in their microbiome,’ says Hannes Schroeder.
The researchers also found DNA that could be assigned to the Epstein-Barr Virus, which is known to cause infectious mononucleosis or glandular fever.
According to Hannes Schroeder, ancient “chewing gums” bears great potential in researching the composition of our ancestral microbiome and the evolution of important human pathogens.
‘It can help us understand how pathogens have evolved and spread over time, and what makes them particularly virulent in a given environment.
At the same time, it may help predict how a pathogen will behave in the future, and how it might be contained or eradicated,’ says Hannes Schroeder.
The study was supported by the Villum Foundation and the EU’s research program Horizon 2020 through the Marie Curie Actions.
Did you ever wonder where the Vikings went for Toilet? Or perhaps you didn’t really think about it. We don’t always think about how it used to be with the world’s luxury today, especially a thousand years ago.
A 1000-year-old toilet dating back to the Viking age was found in Denmark in Stevns Municipality, in the town of Strøby on the farm called Toftegård.
This toilet seems to have been in a small house or maybe an outhouse. By using the carbon 14 method on the feces, it shows that it dates back to the Viking age, and therefore there is a big probability that this is the oldest toilet discovered in Denmark.
According to the Ph.D. student Anna S. Beck from the museum in southeast Denmark, this was a random discovery. She says, quote: We were looking for small houses called grubehuse, which are small workshop cabins, on the surface, it looked like them, but we soon figured out that it was something else.
We know of outhouses from the late Viking age and from the early middle ages, but not from villages or farms. People just thought that they used their feces as manure in the fields or just used the stable where they had their animals. The logic behind this is, that people in the cities just wanted to get rid of it, but in the country, it was a resource to grow their crops. So I got very surprised when the results from the samples came back.
There could be more of these discoveries to be uncovered in Denmark, but it could also be one of a kind discovery. According to Anna, the people in this community might have been inspired by the people in the Mediterranean, after an expedition, and built a version of it when they returned home.
According to Anna S. Beck, Archaeologist could have overlooked finds like these in the past, because they didn’t think toilets existed outside the cities. In the results from analyzing the feces, they found traces of honey, which is something animals rarely eat, especially in the same spot for years. If the Vikings ate bread with honey or drank mead is unclear, but there was definitely pollen from honey in the soil.
The Vikings were not the only ones who loved honey, even the Danes today are still in love with their sweet honey, and lucky for the Danes they live in the country with the worlds best honey, at least according to a big beekeeping conference in Istanbul in Turkey last year.
Personally, I always buy the Danish brand, not just because of its quality, but also because it is important to support your local farms, but I don’t brew mead nor do I put it on a piece of bread, I like it in my tea, taste much better than sugar.
Anyway back to the subject, it seems that this farm was not just an ordinary farm, but a big farm with a wealthy community and a community with a high status.
Their living quarters were a big hall 10 x 40 meters, and it seems that they have been living there for generations, because there were 4 other great halls close by, which dates further back. While this seems to have a community of high status, it was not on the level as Gammel Lejre.
As Anna says the Vikings did not pick their house from a catalog, which of course makes sense, and I would love to see what kind of gifts our soil has in store for us in the future. Just like there are variations in how the Vikings practiced their faith and which Gods and Goddesses were important to them, there also has to be some differences in their architecture.
Not all the Archaeologist agree with Anna S. Beck, and she has generally met resistance to the idea. Some Archaeologist thinks that the excrements could have been put in the hole by other means, and not necessarily have been a Viking toilet.
According to Anna the thought that excrements were used in the fields requires, that the people had a modern and rational ratio to their life.
We know that In other cultures all over the world, the treatment of excrements has been complicated cultural, as well as social, rules and taboos. By looking at the toilet culture we can learn a lot from their standards and rules within their society.
We know that people and animals lived together under the same roof for more than 1000 years in Scandinavia. But in the late Viking age, the people and the animals started to distance themselves from each other. The people might have changed their habits and not just walked into the stable and sit among the animals.
Since the excavation started in 1995, and only a third of the area 47.000 m2 of more than 160.000 m2 has been investigated, there might be more treasures from the past, laying in the soil ready to be discovered.