Tag Archives: bronze age

Ancient weights show markets were already globalizing a few thousand years ago

Ancient people throughout Western Eurasia built surprisingly wide-ranging trading networks as far back as the Bronze Age, new research shows. Judging by the systems of weights in use throughout the area, these networks formed self-regulating markets without the need for centralized authority.

Weight units from the Indus Valley Civilization. The lightest commonly found is around 0.89 g (0.03 oz). Image credits Nisha Yadav, Mayank Vahia via Harappa.com

Shopping today is a very clear-cut activity: we know exactly how much items weigh, how much they cost, and a whole range of other facts about them. This information is meant to guide us to the best purchases for our needs, and help ensure nobody swindles anybody else (for the most part).

However, our ancestors didn’t have this luxury. For the longest time, in fact, concepts like ‘money’ or ‘weight’ were only applicable on a local scope, and the people one village over might use different ones from yours. Or so we believed. New research at the University of Göttingen comes to show that although they were still imperfect, people were already using standardized weight systems to trade goods in Bronze Age Western Europe. The findings point to a much higher level of sophistication of ancient markets than was so far assumed.

Weightwatching

“With the results of our statistical analysis and experimental tests, it is now possible to prove the long-held hypothesis that free entrepreneurship was already a primary driver of the world economy even as early as the Bronze Age,” explains Professor Lorenz Rahmstorf from the Institute for Prehistory and Early History, University of Göttingen, corresponding author of the paper.

For the study, the team analyzed different units of weight that emerged in different regions from Western Europe to the Indus Valley during the Bronze age (between 3,000-1,000 BC, roughly). In total, 274 balance weights from 127 sites were used. Overall, with the exception of those from the Indus Valley, new but very similar units of weights gradually appeared westwards from Mesopotamia (the historic region west of the Indus Valley).

One of the hypotheses that the team tested first is that these new weight systems were attempted — but flawed — copies of a single, pre-existent system that was already in use in the Mesopotamia region. Towards this end, they modeled the creation of 100 new units, considering factors such as measurement error. It proved to be likely, with the data supporting the single-origin hypothesis — but it also suggests, based on the differences between these systems and the one in use in the Indus Valley, that the latter probably developed its weight system independently.

What’s most exciting about these results are their implications, the authors note. If people during this time intermingled and traded to a sufficient degree to create, essentially, a common weight system (although imperfect, given its local variations), then they were likely also able to react to local price fluctuations on a regional level. In other words, markets in Western Europe were taking their first steps towards globalization even by this time.

Since all the weight systems developed west of Mesopotamia by this time were very similar, a merchant could in theory travel from any point to another over this area without needing to change their set of weights. Trade with foreign partners would likely be performed by approximating the conversion rates between different weight systems.

Another striking implication is that these systems developed organically. There were virtually no centralized authorities west of the Aegean (Black Sea) by this time, no central banks to dictate what weights to use when trading. The emergence of similar systems was thus an example of global trade networks self-regulating from the bottom up.

It’s astonishing to think that merchants were engaging in and profiting from long-distance trade even thousands of years ago, without modern conveniences such as phones, the Internet, credit cards, or cars.

“The idea of a self-regulating market existing some 4,000 years ago puts a new perspective on the global economy of the modern era,” says first author Dr. Nicola Ialongo, University of Göttingen “Try to imagine all the international institutions that currently regulate our modern world economy: is global trade possible thanks to these institutions, or in spite of them?”

The paper “Bronze Age weight systems as a measure of market integration in Western Eurasia” has been published in the journal PNAS.

Ancient woman may have ruled Bronze Age society in modern-day Spain

Silver diadem that adorned the skull of a woman in a 4,000-year-old grave. Credit: Autonomous University of Barcelona.

In the time of the Bronze Age — a period that stretches from 2200 BCE to 800 BCE when humans learned how to cast bronze — society was already rife with inequality. Hierarchies not only applied to social classes, but also to genders, with anthropologists generally agreeing that Bronze Age societies were patriarchal. But at least in the Iberian Peninsula, women — not men –may have reigned.

Inside a tomb uncovered in 2014, at a site known as La Almoloya in Spain, researchers have found the remains of a richly adorned woman. There are no written accounts or records that can identify her, but the evidence suggests she was a high-ranking member of her society and may have even been its ruler.

The tomb was found below a palace-like structure perched on a rocky hilltop. The structure was built by the El Argar culture, which represents the first true state to appear in the Iberian Peninsula.

La Almoloya site is found atop a rocky hill. Credit: Autonomous University of Barcelona.

From their foothold on the Murcia coast, established about 2200 BCE, the Argarians expanded rapidly along the west coast as far as the present-day border between Granada and Málaga provinces, northeast as far as Alicante and inland to cover the copper and silver deposits in the eastern end of the Sierra Morena. By 1700 BCE, the Argat state covered a land area of over 33,000 square kilometers.

Argarians employed technologies, pottery production, metalworking. They were also known for their intramural burial practices, that is, burials that took place within a building, normally the dwelling. Another burial custom was the placement of grave offerings, including a limited set of metal weapons, tools, and ornaments, as well as highly standardized and finely burnished clay vessels.

Both the building and burial objects can indicate the status of the people who were buried. And based on the artifacts found at Grave 38 — a princely tomb in the La Almoloya site containing the remains of two individuals, a male and female — this burial looks like it was meant for royalty.

Grave 38 was dug right beneath a relatively large room that lacked any artifacts you’d typically expect to find in a household, such as tools, pottery, or various cooking utensils. Instead, the room only contained some stone benches alongside its walls, which suggests it may have served as a place of governance.

The man was aged between 35 and 40 while the woman was between 25 and 30. Researchers don’t know how the pair died, but there were no signs of physical trauma so perhaps they may not have died violently. Genetic analysis showed that the two weren’t related but they formed a couple judging from the DNA of their daughter who died in infancy and was buried nearby.

The man and woman buried together at La Almoloya. Credit: Autonomous University of Barcelona.

The man wore a copper bracelet and golden earlobe plugs — that’s pretty high status for the time. However, he looked like a serf in comparison with the woman, dubbed the “Princess of La Almoloya,” who wore several silver bracelets and rings, a beaded necklace, and a silver diadem adorning her skull.

The lavish jewelry suggests that it was, in fact, the woman who was of much higher status than the man. Perhaps she was the ruler of her society, which would challenge the idea that state power in the Bronze Age was exclusively in the hands of males.

Since there are no written records left from these times, researchers can only speculate. Maybe she was the wife of the king, or maybe he was the husband of the queen.

But it may very well be the latter, judging from other indirect evidence. In the journal Antiquity, archaeologists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona wrote that the graves of some Argar women were reopened generations later, a practice that likely conferred a great honor.

Earlier research also showed that elite Argarian women ate more meat than other women, suggesting that they may have had real political power. Other burials of high-status El Argar women also indicate great wealth, but men were never buried with such riches.

What’s more, the scientists compared the diadem found at La Almoloya with four others found at different tombs from the El Argar society, and found they were all very similar and very valuable.

So, there seems to be a pattern here suggesting that elite women in Argar culture were valued higher than men, or at least they were wealthier and, perhaps, by extension more powerful.

“In the Argaric society, women of the dominant classes were buried with diadems, while the men were buried with a sword and dagger. The funerary goods buried with these men were of lesser quantity and quality,” the researchers wrote in their study. “As swords represent the most effective instrument for reinforcing political decisions, El Argar dominant men might have played an executive role, even though the ideological legitimation as well as, perhaps, the government, had lain in some women’s hands.”

Ancient bronze rings and ribs were some of the earliest money

Credit: M.H.G. KUIJPERS.

Money makes the world go round, and it all may have started more than 5,000 years ago. In a new study, researchers have described what they believe to be one of the earliest examples of currency. Only instead of paper bills or metal coins, these 5,000-year-old denominations took the form of bronze rings, ribs, and even axe blades.

The odd-looking currencies were identified by a team of researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who examined over 5,000 such objects from more than 100 ancient hoards of artifacts from Europe, ranging from Germany to Scandinavia.

Although some of the objects don’t conjure the familiar image of ‘money’, the researchers are confident they served as currency due to their weight, which falls within the Weber fraction — the idea that if objects differ by very little in mass, a human weighing them by hand won’t tell the difference.

The team performed a statistical analysis of the weighted objects, finding that around 70% of the rings were similar enough to be indistinguishable by hand, averaging 195 grams in mass. Similar results were reported for the bronze ribs and axe blades.

“The euros of Prehistory came in the form of bronze rings, ribs and axes. These Early Bronze Age artefacts were standardized in shape and weight and used as an early form of money,” the researchers said.

Credit: M.H.G. KUIJPERS.

When and how money first appeared is the subject of ongoing research. It also depends on how you define money, which can be either a means of exchange or a means of account (i.e. credit). What’s certain is that initially, people bartered, making direct trades between two parties of desirable objects.

The fact that these objects occurred in hoards and had consistently similar shape and weight, led the researchers to conclude that these objects were employed as a very early form of standardized currency. As technology improved, Middle Bronze Age people in Europe had access to more sophisticated weighing tools that allowed them to mint currencies that had a much more uniform shape and weight, unbiased by the human perception by hand.

According to the researchers, bronze ribs and other objects were a game-changer in the ancient world due to their ability to be duplicated by casting the metal in molds. Over time, these copies naturally gave rise to an abstract concept of weight. Later, such rudimentary forms of money were replaced by coinage which proved extremely successful, largely due to its portability, durability, and the high degree of control of production that it offered to political leaders (hence the state).

And although the ancient objects don’t look like money as we imagine it today, their shape isn’t all that surprising, falling under so-called utensil currency. Elsewhere, scientists have found money shaped like knives and spades in China or like a hoe and axe in Mesoamerica. Alternatively, people have even used live animals such as cows as a form of currency, but the age of this practice is difficult to assess for obvious reasons. Officially, the first known form of currency is believed to be the Mesopotamian shekel, which emerged nearly 5,000 years ago.

The findings appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.

Bronze Age people sometimes curated human remains as heirlooms

Musical Instrument made from a human thigh bone found with the Wilsford G58 burial of an adult male located close to Stonehenge. The thigh bone probably came from a contemporary of the man it was buried with (Credit: Wiltshire Museum).

It is common for people to cherish objects belonging to a dear person who passed away so that they might honor their memory and remember them fondly. Humans have been doing this for ages — even if some ancient traditions may seem gruesome by today’s standards.

In a recent study, archaeologists in the UK highlight how some Bronze Age cultures curated the remains of their dead, which they retained as relics over subsequent generations. For instance, in one particularly extraordinary case, a human thigh bone was crafted into a musical instrument some 4,500 years ago.

“Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age. However, they treated and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today,” said lead author, Dr Thomas Booth of the University of Bristol.

Dr. Booth and colleagues performed radiocarbon dating on human remains and artifacts excavated from a burial site close to the iconic Stonehenge site. That’s when they noticed that many of the partial remains buried at the site had been buried a good chunk of time after the person had died. This immediately led to an uneasy conclusion: could these remains have been kept and circulated as heirlooms?

“People seem to have curated the remains of people who had lived within living or cultural memory, and who likely played an important role in their life or their communities, or with whom they had a well-defined relationship, whether that was direct family, a tradesperson, a friend or even an enemy, so they had a relic to remember and perhaps tell stories about them,” said Dr. Booth.

Unique Pronged Bronze Object from the Wilsford G58 burial found alongside the human bone musical instrument. Credit: Wiltshire Museum, David Bukachit.

The most striking example is that of a human thigh bone crafted into a flute, which was placed as a grave good at the burial of a man at Wiltshire. The intricately carved and polished flute-bone was found along with other items, including stone and bronze axes, a bone plate, and a tusk. The researchers believed that the buried man must have been acquainted during his lifetime with the person whose thigh bone was turned into a musical instrument.

Archaeologists widely recognize the fact that many Bronze Age cultures circulated artifacts such as jet beads and ceramic vessels over many generations. Occasionally, as this study shows, fragments of human bone were also kept as heirlooms.

“Although fragments of human bone were included as grave goods with the dead, they were also kept in the homes of the living, buried under house floors and even placed on display”, said Professor Joanna Brück, principal investigator on the project, and visiting professor at the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology.

“This suggests that Bronze Age people did not view human remains with the sense of horror or disgust that we might feel today.”

Burial of a woman from Windmill Fields, Stockton-upon-Tees accompanied by skulls and limb bones from at least 3 people. The 3 people represented by the skulls and long bones had died 60-170 years before the woman with whom they were buried (Credit: Tees Archaeology).

The researchers also performed a microcomputer tomography (micro-CT) at the Natural History Museum in order to assess how the bones and bodies were treated before decomposing.

Generally, the dead bodies were treated in similar ways to what archaeologists expected to see from Bronze Age burials. Some had been cremated before being split up into fragments, while “some bones were exhumed after burial, and some had been de-fleshed by being left to decompose on the ground,” Dr. Booth said.

“This suggests that there was no established protocol for the treatment of bodies whose remains were destined to be curated, and the decisions and rites leading to the curation of their remains took place afterwards.”

During the Bronze Age, people employed a wide variety of burial rites, including primary burial, excarnation, cremation, and mummification. These new findings show that the memory of loved ones was cherished outside these traditional contexts, with some human remains regularly kept and circulated amongst the living in a community.

“This study really highlights the strangeness and perhaps the unknowable nature of the distant past from a present-day perspective. It seems the power of these human remains lay in the way they referenced tangible relationships between people in these communities and not as a way of connecting people with a distant mythical past,” said Dr. Booth.

The findings were reported in the journal Antiquity.

3000-year-old abandoned tools show that ancient warriors crossed Europe to join battlefields

Bronze artifact collection dating from 3,300 years ago. Credit: Thomas Terberger.

More than 3,000 years ago, in a swampy valley relatively close to Berlin, Germany, thousands of warriors clashed in an epic battle. Archaeologists know that such a grand battle happened from the countless metal scraps, woody remains, and nearly 12,000 pieces of bones found there, which sank to the bottom of the Tollense River to be preserved for millennia.

Archaeologists discovered the site of the Bronze Age battlefield in the Tollense Valley more than a decade ago. However, it has been only recently that they were able to describe an assemblage of 31 objects retrieved by divers from the bottom of the river. Among the objects, researchers identified three bronze cylinders that may be the fastenings of an organic container, along with a bronze knife, awl, and a small chisel. 

Credit: Antiquity.

“Most of the individuals represent young adult males in good physical condition. The unusual age and sex profiles, combined with evidence for trauma on some bones indicating the use of close- and long-range weapons, support the hypothesis that the remains are those of combat victims. Furthermore, evidence for a number of healed traumatic lesions may suggest that these individuals were trained for, and accustomed to, fighting,” the researchers wrote in the journal Antiquity.

Within a few meters of the bronze objects, divers discovered other artifacts from the battle, including dress pins, a knife with a bone handle, and arrowheads. Bits of preserved wood from the awl were used to date the artifacts to about 1300 B.C.E.

Photograph of human remains found at the battlefield. Credit: Antiquity.

Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist with the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage in Hanover and lead author of the new study, says that this tool kit likely belonged to a warrior who died on the battlefield.

The tools were likely held in a small bag or wooden container that has since decayed. Luckily, the thick mud of the riverbed preserved the artifacts in pristine condition.

“The battlefield site at the Tollense River is very different: no formal burials and no traces of settlement are present in the valley. The many bronze finds suggest that offerings took place in the valley during period III, most probably connected to post-battle rituals. It is also probable, however, that some of the battle participants lost personal equipment in the river, saving it from the looting that inevitably followed the battle,” the researchers wrote.

A previous analysis found that some bones retrieved from the Bronze Age battlefield had different strontium content than those found in people raised in the region. In the new study, the researchers claim that the warrior who owned the toolkit probably originated from southern Central Europe.

Taken together, these findings suggest that 3,000 years ago, warriors in Europe were traveling from hundreds of kilometers away to join battles, which is evidence of social organization at a grand scale during a time when there were no means of modern communication nor roads.

“This conflict should be interpreted in the framework of the social and economic development that characterised Central Europe in the thirteenth-century cal BC.,” the researchers concluded.

The findings appeared in the journal Antiquity.

Bronze Age burials reveal social inequality and marriage patterns

Primitive furnace of the bronze age. Illustration from The Story of Man by J W Buel (Historical Publishing Co, 1889).

It’s a well-established fact that humans had hierarchical social structures rife with inequality by the time of the Bronze Age — a period that stretches from 2200 BCE to 800 BCE when humans learned how to cast bronze. A new study, however, goes a step further, zooming into the lives of ancient Bronze Age humans, showing that social inequality was a fact of life not just in the community but also at the level of individual households.

Philipp Stockhammer from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, along with Johannes Krause and Alissa Mittnik from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena and the University of Tübingen, excavated Bronze Age farms and their associated graveyards in the south of Augsburg, Germany.

The researchers carefully analyzed how the various burials were positioned and adorned with goods. In order to establish kinship between buried individuals, the researchers analyzed the genomes from the bones of more than 100 skeletons. This allowed them to establish both social status and family trees for each individual.

One of the most interesting findings had to do with marital practices. The findings suggest that more than 4,000 years ago, most of the women in the Lech valley were not local. This was also a time when humans started manufacturing goods that required raw materials from abroad, spurring the need for extensive trade networks. Marriages between individuals from different, relatively distant communities may have fostered these networks and enabled knowledge transfer.

The women from abroad were high status, judged by their burial goods, and lived together with biologically related families of equal higher status. Many other locals were buried in the same cemeteries but were clearly less well-off individuals. These individuals were associated with single homesteads, suggesting that they may have been servants or even slaves. Researchers cannot say for sure but the excavations show that social inequality was already part of household structures in that place and time.

“Wealth was correlated with either biological kinship or foreign origin. The nuclear family passed on their property and status over generations. But at every farm we also found poorly equipped people of local origin,” says Philipp Stockhammer, professor of prehistoric archaeology at LMU Munich.

“Unfortunately, we cannot say whether these individuals were servants and maids or perhaps even enslaved,” says Alissa Mittnik. “What is certain is that through the male lines, the farmsteads were passed from generation to generation and this system was stable over at least 700 years, across the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. The Lech Valley shows how early social inequality within individual households can be found.”

Such social structures were commonplace in ancient Greece and Rome, but the Lech Valley hierarchies are 1,500 years older. “This shows how long the history of social inequality in family structures goes back in time,” Stockhammer added.

It’s amazing, though, how much scientists are now able to learn about the lives of ancient people. The dead may be silent but their genes and customs still have many stories to speak.

The findings appeared in the journal Science.

Researchers find surprisingly sophisticated prehistoric monuments off the coast of Greece

New excavations from the Aegean Sea have revealed the impressive sophistication of the Greek Bronze Age. Archaeologists have uncovered a number of monuments, including ones built from massive imported rocks.

The Isle of Keros was a busy place during the Bronze Age. Image credits: Phso2 / Wikipedia.

The findings were made on the small, relatively unknown isle of Keros. Keros lies somewhere between Greece, Turkey, and the island of Rhodes. Not much is going on today on Keros, but four to five millennia ago, things were much different. Scientists have previously found evidence of ritual activities dating from 4,500 years ago, rituals which involved marble figurines. Now, archaeologists have found evidence that one of the island’s promontories was almost entirely covered by remarkable monumental constructions, built using stone brought painstakingly from Naxos, some 10 km away. Professor Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge, co-director of the dig, believes the narrow promontory offered a great view over the sea.

The island must have been an extremely important place. In total, more than 1000 tons of stone were imported, and archaeologists have found evidence that pretty much every flat bit of the island was built upon. The complex is the largest of its kind ever found in the area. The dig also revealed, two metalworking workshops, full of metalworking-related objects and debris. Within, archaeologists found a lead axe, a mold used for making copper daggers, as well as dozens of ceramic fragments (such as tuyères, the ceramic end of a bellows, used to force air into a fire to increase its temperature).

It’s not just the sheer size and mass of the constructions, but the level of technological advancement is also impressive. Underneath the stairs and within the walls, archaeologists uncovered sophisticated systems of drainage, indicating an advanced level of urban planning, and careful design of the structures. The team is now trying to figure out whether the drainage system was for water management or more like a sewer system. The settlement was named Dhaskalio.

Excavations underway on Dhaskalio, off Keros. Image credit: Cambridge Keros Project.

To make things even more impressive, the people of Dhaskalio were also knowledgeable farmers. Dr. Evi Margaritis of the Cyprus Institute is currently analyzing the soil on Keros for seeds, burnt wood, and animal and fish bones to see what locals were eating.

“Dhaskalio has already provided important evidence about the cultivation of olive and grape, two key new domesticates that expanded the horizons of agriculture in the third millennium. The environmental programme is revealing how agricultural strategies developed through the lifetime of the site.”

This won’t only provide agricultural and cooking information — it might also show what trading networks locals established. Since Keros was so small and hilly, it probably couldn’t sustain itself, and food was brought from other places.

“Keros was probably not self-sustaining, meaning that much of this food was imported: in the light of this evidence we need to reconsider what we know about existing networks to include food exchange”.

Mould for a copper spearhead, just after discovery during the excavation Image credit: Cambridge Keros Project.

At a time when access to raw materials and skills was very limited, establishing such a finessed complex is no easy feat. The Dhaskalians needed to have not only the technology but also the power and will to make something so special on such a small and inconspicuous island. It was truly a time of change, and a time when society as we know it today was starting to shape up. Dr. Michael Boyd of the University of Cambridge concludes:

“What we are seeing here with the metalworking and in other ways is the beginnings of urbanisation: centralisation, meaning the drawing of far-flung communities into networks centred on the site, intensification in craft or agricultural production, aggrandisement in architecture, and the gradual subsuming of the ritual aspects of the sanctuary within the operation of the site. This gives us a clear insight into social change at Dhaskalio, from the earlier days where activities were centred on ritual practices in the sanctuary to the growing power of Dhaskalio itself in its middle years”.

It’s not just the Dhaskalians who were technologically advanced — modern archaeologists are also bringing the best they have to the table. The data is recorded digitally, using a new system called iDig – an app that runs on Apple’s iPads. Lab results are also recorded on the same app, which means that anyone working (on or off the site) has instant access to the data. As diggings reveal new structures, 3D models are created using a technique called photogrammetry. At the end of the digs, the trenches will be recorded in detail through laser scanning.

Bronze Age people used meteorites to create iron weapons

It’s surprising enough that Bronze Age people were making iron weapons, but imagine they were even using materials from space.

Tutankhamen’s dagger was one item made from meteoric iron. Image via Wikipedia.

As it says on the tin, the Bronze Age is when civilizations started to produce and use bronze, by smelting copper and alloying it with tin, arsenic, or other metals. Many other technological and social changes emerged during this period, but archaeologists typically consider this to be the most notable feature. The Bronze Age followed after the Neolithic and was succeeded by the Iron Age. However, when civilization started to transition to the Iron Age, some were already using iron — meteoric iron, that is.

It took a long time before people realized how to properly smelt iron, reduce impurities, and control the carbon content so that the result is just right. But as it sometimes happens, nature provided some people with what they needed (iron) without having to lift a finger — in the form of meteoric iron. Meteoric iron is a native metal found in meteorites and made from the elements iron and nickel, in mineralized forms. Archaeologists had found several Bronze Age artifacts made from meteoric iron, but they didn’t know if this was a rare feat or rather a common occurrence. Now, Albert Jambon, from the Institut de minéralogie, de physique des matériaux et de cosmochimie demonstrated that all iron used during the Bronze Age was meteoric. Space artifacts, as it turns out, aren’t as rare as we might think.

An iron meteorite. Credits: H. Raab.

Jambon gathered a series of notable findings and analyzed them with a portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometer. X-ray fluorescence is widely used in metal analysis to determine the elemental and sometimes isotopic composition. With this, Jambon was able to identify the specific elemental signature of meteoric iron and determine whether or not the objects had been built from such meteorites.

Among others, he analyzed beads from Gerzeh (Egypt, −3200 BCE), a dagger from Alaca Höyük (Turkey, −2500 BCE) a pendant from Umm el-Marra (Syria, −2300 BCE); an axe from Ugarit (Syria, −1400 BCE), items from the Shang dynasty civilization (China, −1400 BCE), and the dagger, bracelet, and headrest of Tutankhamen (Egypt, −1350 BCE). These come from a wide geographical area from some of the most advanced civilizations of the time. All of them showed similar chemical make-ups, indicating that they were made from meteoric iron.

This makes a lot of sense. Meteoric iron is also already in a metal state, ready for use. It wasn’t abundant, but when it was found, artifacts were crafted from it and then cherished and preserved — which is what allowed scientists to find them in the first place. The Iron Age started around 1200 BCE. But for nearly 2,000 years before that, people were making weapons from space iron. If that’s not amazing, I don’t know what is.

Journal Reference: Bronze Age Iron: Meteoritic or not? A Chemical Strategy. Albert Jambon. DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2017.09.008

Complete wheel from the Bronze Age found in the UK

Archaeologists have uncovered one of the biggest and best-preserved wheels from the Bronze Age, dating from nearly 3,000 years ago.

Photo by University of Cambridge.

The wheel holds a special place in human culture – even though we rarely give wheels a second thought, they basically revolutionized our world, allowing us to redefine transportation. After all, there’s a reason why something so simple is still used to this day. But 3,000 years ago, wheels were the pinnacle of technology, and understanding Bronze Age wheels could enable us to better understand the challenges of achievements of the time.

The discovery was made in a site nicknamed “Britain’s Pompeii,” a Bronze Age site near Peterborough. The site mostly consists of intriguing round wooden houses, built on stilts next to a river. Thought to date from 1100-800 BC, the ancient wooden wheel is one metre in diameter and has been so well preserved by the silt that it still contains its hub. Kasia Gdaniec, Senior Archaeologist for Cambridgeshire County Council, said:

“Among the wealth of other fabulous artefacts and the new structural remains of round houses built over this river channel, this site continues to amaze and astonish us with its insight into prehistoric life, the latest being the discovery of this wooden wheel. Believed to be the most complete example yet found from this period, this wheel poses a challenge to our understanding of both Late Bronze Age technological skill and, together with the eight boats recovered from the same river in 2011, transportation.”

Photo by University of Cambridge.

Archaeologists were delighted to find the wheel in such a good condition. Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, believes this is proof of the sophistication of the people living during the time.

“This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain. The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago.”

The invention of the wheel falls into the late Neolithic, and some people consider it to be pivotal for the emergence of the Bronze Age. The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle (here a wagon — four wheels, two axles) is on the Bronocice pot, a c. 3500 – 3350 BCE clay pot excavated in a Funnelbeaker culture settlement in southern Poland, and the earliest wheels were always constructed from massive, singular pieces of wood.

As for the site where the discovery was made, it seems to reveal more and more stunning artefacts from the Bronze Age. As scientists dig more and more, they are bound to make even more  discoveries.

 

Archaeologists discover Bronze Age “British Pompeii”

Archaeologists have discovered something as valuable as the Roman Pompeii – a Bronze Age settlement that contains the “best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found” in the country. Pots with meals still inside have been found at the site.

Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Archaeologists from Cambridge University have been working at the Cambridgeshire site, beneath the Must Farm quarry, since September, and by now they have a pretty good idea of what happened there. The settlement consisted of circular wooden houses that housed an extended family of around 10 people. The houses were built on stilts above water, and when a fire started to spread and destroyed the stilts, the houses collapsed into the river, where muddy sediments helped to preserve them very well.

Sadly, just like Pompeii, a disaster seems to be the key for the good preservation. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, which is funding the project, said:

“A dramatic fire 3,000 years ago combined with subsequent waterlogged preservation has left to us a frozen moment in time, which gives us a graphic picture of life in the Bronze Age.”

Cambridge Archaeological Unit

The Bronze Age in Britain kicked in approximately 2500 BC and lasted up until 800-650 BC, ending when migratory people brought in iron from overseas. These huts date from 1000-800 BC, towards the end of the Bronze Age and could help us better understand how people lived back then.

“We are learning more about the food our ancestors ate, and the pottery they used to cook and serve it. We can also get an idea of how different rooms were used,” Wilson said, adding that the importance of this finding is global and not regional. “This site is of international significance and its excavation really will transform our understanding of the period.”

So far, aside from the houses, archaeologists have found pots and pans of varying sizes, spears and daggers, exotic glass beads and even textiles that had been fashioned from tree bark. The textiles seem to have been created from lime tree bark. Digs have also uncovered  “exotic” glass beads that formed part of a necklace which hints “at a sophistication not usually associated with the Bronze Age”.

These glass beads are thought to have formed a necklace. Cambridge Archaeological Unit

David Gibson, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation, said:

“So much has been preserved, we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round. It’s prehistoric archaeology in 3D, with an unsurpassed finds assemblage both in terms of range and quantity.”

Most other sites don’t even begin to compare with it.

“Most don’t have any timber remaining, just post-holes and marks where posts would have been,” he said. “So far this is unique as we have the roof structure as well.”

Work must be carried on as fast as possible at the site, because there are concerns that water levels will rise in late winter and spring and could wash away some of the artifacts and structures.

The golden enigma: archaeologists find trove of mysterious golden spirals

A team of archaeologists working in Denmark have made a puzzling discovery: they found nearly 2,000 spectacular gold spirals dating from the Bronze age. The reason why they were made, especially in such a large number, is a mystery and the trove baffled scientists.

Bronze Age gold spirals found in Boeslund, 900-700 BC. Credit: Morten Petersen / Zealand Museum.

The spirals are made from pure gold, hammered down to just 0.1 millimeters thick, and measure up to 3 cm long; together, they weighed 2-300 grams. While archaeologists have no clear indication of what their purpose was, Flemming Kaul, a curator with the National Museum of Denmark, believes the coils were part of a Bronze Age ritual honoring the Sun god.

“The sun was one of the most sacred symbols in the Bronze Age and gold had a special magic,” Kaul writes. “Maybe the priest-king wore a gold ring on his wrist, and gold spirals on his cloak and his hat, where they during ritual sun ceremonies shone like the sun.” It’s also suggested the gold was simply buried as part of an elaborate sacrifice.

Gold spirals surrounded by flakes of birch pitch. Credit: Flemming Kaul / National Museum of Denmark.

Scientific analysis in the Museum’s lab found chunks of birch bark tar, a substance used by prehistoric people and Neanderthals as an all-purpose adhesive since 80,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe the spirals were placed inside a sort of jewelry box or chest before being buried in the Boeslunde field.

Interestingly, it wasn’t archaeologists that initially found the trove, but amateur metal detectorists Christian Albertsen and his uncle Hans Henrik Hansen. They also made several other discoveries in Boeslunde, on the Danish island of Zealand, including two extremely elaborate gold bowls which incredibly thin gold wire wound around their handles to look like dragons.

Credot:Morten Petersen / Museum Vestsjælland.

The Zealand Museum and the National Museum are continuing the diggings in the area, and in the meantime, the local museum in Skaelskor is holding a viewing event for two hours, along with a talk from a curator who will discuss the find. If you’re in the area, be sure not to miss it!

Bronze Age Priestess Traveled Huge Distances

In 1921, archaeologists found the remains of a Bronze Age priestess, dubbed the Egtved Girl. Now, a new study reveals that the priestess, who was found in Denmark, likely traveled hundreds of kilometers and was born somewhere in Germany.

Image via Wikipedia.

The Egtved Girl was, according to all clues, an extraordinary person. She only lived to be 16-18. She was slim, 160 cm tall (about 5 ft 3 in), had short, blond hair and well-trimmed nails; her remains were found alongside the cremated remains of a child in a barrow, buried in 1370 BC. Now, isotopic analysis has revealed another remarkable fact about her – she seems to have traveled a lot throughout Europe, and was likely buried far away from her birth place. Even isotopes in the wool from the ancient girl’s clothing, the blanket that was used to cover her originated form outside Denmark.

Researchers used strontium analysis, an element found in bedrock throughout the world.  Living creatures and plants absorb this element through food and water. What makes strontium isotope analysis especially interesting for archaeologists is that the parts of the human body where the isotopes collect–tooth enamel and bone–are formed at different stages of a person’s life. So if you see different strontium ratios in enamel or bone formed at different stages, you know that the person you’re analyzing traveled quite a lot. Furthermore, to an extent, you can infer where he or she traveled.

“I have [analyzed] the strontium isotopic signatures of the enamel from one of the Egtved Girl’s first molars, which was fully formed/crystallized when she was three or four years old, and the analysis tells us that she was born and lived her first years in a region that is geologically older than and different from the peninsula of Jutland in Denmark,” said Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen.

The results showed that the girl was likely born in the Black Forest, in southern Germany, which is consistent with some theories that Denmark and Germany had commercial connections all the way back in the Bronze Age. Denmark commonly traded amber for bronze, with Germany serving as a middle man.

“Amber was the engine of Bronze Age economy, and in order to keep the trade routes going, powerful families would forge alliances by giving their daughters in marriage to each other and letting their sons be raised by each other as a kind of security,” said professor Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg.

As for what the Egtved Girl’s role was, it was likely quite important. Archaeologists believe she basically served as a contract, tying two powerful families together. Sadly though, her fate wasn’t so fortunate.

“We find many direct connections between the two (regions) in the archaeological evidence,” said Cristiansen. “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.”

Archaeologists find 3.900 year old armor made from bones

Archaeologists are intrigued by the discovery of a complete and well preserved warrior armor made from bones. This highly valuable find was probably a war trophy, and was worn by an elite warrior or warchief. The armour was in ‘perfect condition’, and nothing similar was ever found in the area (or anywhere else).

bone

It was buried separate from its owner, and was found around Omsk, in south-western Siberia. It is probably an artifact from the Krotov culture, which is well documented in the area. The Krotov were animal breeders in the steppe and forest-steppe area of the Western Siberia Altai mountainous area of Russia. However, this armor seems more like something made by the Samus-Seyminskaya culture, who inhabited an area 1000 km southwest of the find. If this is indeed the case, then the armor may have been a gift or perhaps spoils of war.

Boris Konikov, curator of excavations, said:

‘It is unique first of all because such armour was highly valued. It was more precious than life, because it saved life.Secondly, it was found in a settlement, and this has never happened before. There were found separate fragments in burials, like on Rostovka burial ground.’

bone2

Archaeologists still haven’t figured out what from what animal bones the armor was made, but that should be fairly easy to figure out – after it is washed and cleaned.

‘We ourselves can not wait to see it, but at the moment it undergoing restoration, which is a is long, painstaking process. As a result we hope to reconstruct an exact copy’, Boris Konikov said.

It’s not clear if the armor was used in combat or if it was more a trophy, but archaeologists believe it definitely would have been useful in fights. But one thing is for sure – due to its rarity and the difficulty of craftsmanship, the armor almost certainly belonged to a ‘hero’, a warrior of legendary status.

‘While there is no indication that the place of discovery of the armour was a place of worship, it is very likely. Armour had great material value. There was no sense to dig it in the ground or hide it for a long time – because the fixings and the bones would be ruined. Such armour needs constant care. At the moment we can only fantasise – who dug it into the ground and for what purpose. Was it some ritual or sacrifice? We do not know yet.’

bone4

The site where the armor was found also included a complex series of monuments belonging to different epochs. There are settlements, burial grounds, and manufacturing sites. Burials have been found here from the  Early Neolithic period to the Middle Ages. The main, long term goal is to preserve and promote the site, helping the nearby community in the process.

‘Our goal is to save the site, to research it and to promote it. We organise excursions for schoolchildren and draw the attention of citizens to this unique site.’

4,000-Year-Old Burial With Chariots Discovered In Georgia – Before Horses Were Domesticated in the Area

chariot archaeology georgia

An ancient burial stash containing chariots, gold artifacts and potentially human sacrifices was unearthed in the country of Georgia, in Europe.

The burial site was constructed for a very important person, in a time archaeologists call the Early Bronze Age (4000 years ago). Archaeologists dug and discovered the burial chamber made from wood inside a 39-foot-high (12 meters) mound called a kurgan. They were expecting a big find, but were absolutely shocked when they reached the chamber – finding, among others, wo chariots, each with four wooden wheels.

Zurab Makharadze, head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum was delighted by the finding:

“In the burial chamber were placed two four-wheeled chariots, both in good condition, [the] design of which represents fine ornamental details of various styles,” Makharadze wrote. The chamber also contained wild fruits, he added.

chariot archaeology georgia

The remains of seven people were found, and it’s theoretized that six of them suffered a very unfortunate fate.

“One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants,” Makharadze explained in an email.

Interestingly enough, the burial was dated to a period in which horses hadn’t yet been domesticated in the area. While no animal remains were found in the mound, it’s very probable that oxen pulled the chariots. Finding burial mounds 5-6 millennia old is not unique in the area, but this one is the most imposing ever found. Especially a wooden armchair is remarkable.

chariot archaeology georgia

“The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power,” Makharadze said in the email.

The kurgan was excavated in 2012, but only now were the results detailed and officially published.

 

Gorgeous Roman helmet sells for 3.6 million

Pictured above is an exquisite Roman helmet and mask, dating from the late first to second century AD, was discovered in May 2010 by a treasure hunter who used a simple metal detector in Cumbria, a county in northwestern England. Of extraordinary taste, this art piece dubbed Crosby Garrett was sold for $3,6 million, eight times the amount it was estimated to earn, by Christie’s auction house in London last week, who described the helmet as “an extraordinary example of Roman metalwork at its zenith.”

“When it was initially brought to Christie’s and I examined it firsthand, I saw this extraordinary face from the past staring back at me and I could scarcely believe my eyes,” said Georgiana Aitken, Christie’s Head of Antiquities, for the AP.

The 2000 year old artifact is considered to have been used by nobles as a cavalry parade helmet, worn for sporting events rather than for combat. Besides the excellently crafted face and ornaments, on top of its Phrygian-style cap, the helmet features a solid-cast bronze piece in the form of a griffin.