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Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age: Transcultural Warriorhood and a Carpathian Crossroad in the Sixteenth Century BC


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The breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age (NBA) c. 1600 BC as a koine within Bronze Age Europe can be historically linked to the Carpathian Basin. Nordic distinctiveness entailed an entanglement of cosmology and warriorhood, albeit represented through different media in the hotspot zone (bronze) and in the northern zone (rock). In a Carpathian crossroad between the Eurasian Steppes, the Aegean world and temperate Europe during this time, a transcultural assemblage coalesced, fusing both tangible and intangible innovations from various different places. Superior warriorhood was coupled to beliefs in a tripartite cosmology, including a watery access to the netherworld while also exhibiting new fighting technologies and modes of social conduct. This transculture became creatively translated in a range of hot societies at the onset of the Middle Bronze Age. In southern Scandinavia, weaponry radiated momentous creativity that drew upon Carpathian originals, contacts and a pool of Carpathian ideas, but ultimately drawing on emergent Mycenaean hegemonies in the Aegean. This provided the incentive for a cosmology-rooted resource from which the NBA could take its starting point.
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Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age:
Transcultural Warriorhood and a
Carpathian Crossroad in the Sixteenth
Century BC
Department of Archaeology, Institute of Culture and Society, Aarhus University,
The breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age (NBA) c. 1600 BC as a koiné within Bronze Age Europe
can be historically linked to the Carpathian Basin. Nordic distinctiveness entailed an entanglement of
cosmology and warriorhood, albeit represented through different media in the hotspot zone (bronze) and
in the northern zone (rock). In a Carpathian crossroad between the Eurasian Steppes, the Aegean world
and temperate Europe during this time, a transcultural assemblage coalesced, fusing both tangible and
intangible innovations from various different places. Superior warriorhood was coupled to beliefs in a
tripartite cosmology, including a watery access to the netherworld while also exhibiting new fighting
technologies and modes of social conduct. This transculture became creatively translated in a range of hot
societies at the onset of the Middle Bronze Age. In southern Scandinavia, weaponry radiated momen-
tous creativity that drew upon Carpathian originals, contacts and a pool of Carpathian ideas, but
ultimately drawing on emergent Mycenaean hegemonies in the Aegean. This provided the incentive for
a cosmology-rooted resource from which the NBA could take its starting point.
Keywords: Bronze Age, culture change, transculture, cosmology, creative translation, hot society
From the beginning to the end of the
Bronze Age, Nordic-type metalwork clus-
tered in Scandinaviassouthernhotspot
zone. However, the northern metalwork-
poor zone showed a similar cultural belong-
ing, albeit through an immensely rich
pictorial realm of tales carved into rock.
The present contribution will scrutinize
how southern Scandinavia came to form a
cultural zone of its own and especially
explore how this remarkable formation was
concurrent with distant historical pathways.
Early links with the Carpathian Basin
stand out from within the record as was
noted in previous research by Lomborg
(1960) and by Vandkilde (1996: 143,
22356). I have recently (Vandkilde
2014b) pinpointed Nordic Bronze Age
Period IB (NBA IB) between c. 1600 and
1500 BC as the birth of the NBA, as it
comprised all the essential material and
social features by which the entire era was
characterized. In their recent study, Kris-
tiansen and Larsson (2005: 12886)
described the period 18001400 BC as for-
mative for both the Nordic and the
European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014, 602633
© European Association of Archaeologists 2014 DOI 10.1179/1461957114Y.0000000064
Manuscript received 10 November 2013,
accepted 27 March 2014, revised 1 March 2014
European Bronze Age. In their view, it
was during this broader era that chiefly
lineages emerged, sustained by wide-
ranging elite networks and a new sun-
cosmology in addition to prestige
technologies of metalworking and particu-
larly horse-chariot war gear: ‘…it
represents the formation of the so-called
steppe corridor linking the Altai with the
Carpathians, and ultimately China with
Europe(Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005:
181). The overall role of the Carpathian
Basin as a cultural melting pot sustained
by a network of hillforts has been
addressed in several studies that often
include Eurasian Steppe or Aegean con-
nections as an underlying theme (e.g.
Sherratt, 1994; David, 1997, 2007, 2010;
Boroffka, 1998; Hänsel & Machnik, 1998;
Earle & Kristiansen, 2010; Úhner, 2010).
More specifically, the question
addressed below is how the emergence of
the NBA as a cultural koiné was linked to
distant regions and in particular the Car-
pathian Basin, which is framed by the
Carpathian mountains on three sides and,
roughly, the Danube River towards the
west. The argument will be presented that
Carpathian connections commenced on a
smaller scale in NBA IA c. 17001600 BC,
but were particularly lively, influential and
culturally formative in NBA IB c. 1600
1500 BC. In NBA II, the first true high-
light of the NBA, an aftermath is
suggested in which Carpathian connec-
tions may have continued but left a cultural
impact only barely discernible in the now
fully-matured and uniform Bronze Age
culture of southern Scandinavia.
Although NBA II has been frequently
described as the true kick-off phase of the
NBA on the grounds that it rose from the
Central European mature Tumulus culture
of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries
BC, this article will argue that it was the
preceding period that was historically deci-
sive in this manner. Hence, the analytical
focus will be NBA IB and the sixteenth
century BC.
The Nordic development in metallurgy
and metalwork from c. 2350 BC onwards
co-occurred with socio-cultural changes
(Vandkilde, 1996, 2014b). This corre-
spondence can imply that metal objects,
metalworking, and their added values
should be located within the web of causes
and effects that led to a millennium of
Bronze Age accomplishments within a
number of different domains. The desire
for metal was doubtless of key importance
but can hardly in and of itself account for
the emergence of the NBA or its position
as an affluent and clearly distinguishable
material-cultural koiné within Europe. It is
therefore pertinent to look at the archaeo-
logical record for additional game-
changers within Scandinavia as well as its
European setting. For over a millennium,
the para-historical (Hawkes, 1954) NBA
was structurally tied to the rest of Europe.
The Nordic perspective taken below has
cultural and cosmological echoes with con-
ceptual input from cultural anthropology
as well as globalization studies.
Three theoretical entries can be suggested
as appropriate tools with which to think
about this whole era of socio-cultural trans-
formation, namely the concepts of creative
translations, transculture, and hot societies.
These concepts form a neat juncture
between the specific and micro-scale with
the more general and macro-scale at the
onset of the MBA in temperate Europe.
First, creative translationis a highly
appropriate term by which to recognize
objects that were neither imports nor truly
indigenous by tradition. The NBA IB is
rich in such objects, especially as regards
those manufactured in bronze. Their
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 603
particular value may have stemmed from
the creative combination of local and
foreign traits in terms of material, form,
and decoration. That is to say, these items
could be considered highly unique trans-
lations of the originals. This understanding
fits well with the idea of a hot social
climate described below. According to
Benjamins (1968) seminal essay and later
elaborations (Nicolaescu, 2004) material
translations possess considerable autonomy
from the originals. In fact, the translations
can almost replace the original, which may
itself be a translation of something else.
Creative translations of material culture
can sometimes be followed across wide geo-
graphical distances. An excellent example of
this phenomenon can be found with the
HajdúsámsonApa swords, which were in
many cases locally manufactured rather than
imported from the Carpathian Basin. These
first-generation swords in the Carpathian
Basin were in turn highly creative trans-
lations of contemporaneous swords and
daggers with decorated blades in the
Aegean. Creative translations are most cer-
tainly rooted in the directional transfer of
finished objects and raw materials. Intangi-
ble ideas were probably co-travelers, as was
the knowledge that related to the various
technological, social, and religious inno-
vations. Although these seem to manifest
and coexist in an intertwined fashion, it will
be proposed here that the very successful
cultural transmission and creative trans-
lations of innovative metalwork that
appeared at the threshold to the European
MBA, c.1600BC, occurred due to the
added value of new religious ideas concern-
ing the constitution of the cosmos. These
novel ideas were not necessarily directly
transplanted, but were rather tailored to fit
local traditions of culture. It is important in
this respect to note that Whitehouse (1995,
2004) understands religion as a constella-
tion of cultural information that is created,
transmitted, and transformed across time
and geographical distances. While material
culture can spread rapidly, meanings may
not travel in the same haste and in their
original condition, as noted early on by
Spier (1921) in his study of the sun dance
of the Plain tribes. A common ground in
social organization and languagesuch as
the Indo-European communities from
Mycenaean Greeks in the south to the
people inhabiting southern Scandinavia
would presumably facilitate a more com-
plete transfer of tangible and intangible
Second, the subject of transculture con-
stitutes an additional window into the
world of Bronze Age Europe. It may be
argued that early metalwork and its ideo-
logical connotations were essentially
transcultural or obtained concrete elements
of transculturality because of an in-built
desirability as well as the fact that the
metals from which these objects were made
had also travelled long distances across cul-
tural borders from the mining areas of
Europe. Transculture can best be under-
stood as a fashion or as a sort of
meta-culture (Epstein, 2005); it is an inter-
cultural crossover which moves quickly over
wide geographical distances. In some cases,
material culture is designed at the outset to
be highly mobile, as exemplified in the
EBA by the so-called Ösenhalsringe (Vand-
kilde, 2005). A transcultural flow, however,
implies both the displacement and place-
ment of materials and their connotations in
a repetitive, albeit translated, pattern (cf.
Inda & Rosaldo, 2008). Early metalwork
makes a good example of transculture that
was creatively transformed locally by means
of a process we can trace in geographical
Third, the southern range of the NBA
region was a particular hotspot, or rather it
consisted of numerous such hotspots. Other
such hotspot regions existed in Europe at
the same time, for example the Carpathian
Basin with its network of fortified nodes of
604 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
tells and hill-top settlements. According to
the original conceptualization as proposed
by Lévi-Strauss (1966: 23340) hotrefers
to the idea that societies could be either
cold or hot, depending whether the predo-
minant societal mode was reproductive or
transformative in terms of its traditions.
Sahlins (1985: xii) elaborated on the
concept by suggesting that hot societies
were structured in a performative mode
with a social climate of creativity, mobility,
and entrepreneurship (Sahlins, 1985; cf.
Vandkilde, 2007: 1518). A hotspotmay
therefore be a suitable description for a
socio-economic hub that received and for-
warded culture in an intensive and
somewhat unpredictable manner.
Long-lasting, intensified interactions may
that would mean an inter-community, or
oikoumene (cf. Horden & Purcell, 2000: 27),
sharing a canon of culture and associated
rites while at the same time maintaining local
and regional particularities. This does not
imply that there were formalized relations of
political power and domination. It is, in fact,
quite unlikely that Nordic distinctiveness,
emerging in NBA IB and unfolding in NBA
II, was due to state formation processes com-
parable to those in contemporaneous China,
the Levant, or Greece (cf. Trigger, 2003;
Smith, 2006; Manning, 2008; Shelmerdine
& Bennet, 2008).
Rather, a koiné was glued together by
something that was likely more than what
would, strictly speaking, be implied by
transculture.Akoiné may thus have
emerged through a common interest in
certain desirable transcultural objects and
the cultural capital with which they were
associated. In the Scandinavian case, con-
nectivity was primarily enabled by water
traffic in a manner comparable with that
of the Mediterranean region (cf. Horden
& Purcell, 2000). Likewise, we should of
course not imagine bounded or enclosed
identities (Damm, 2012).
1600 BC
definition of NBA IB (Vandkilde, 1996:
14760, 22356) and thrives on the
improved comparative chronology which
appeared in the wake of the discovery of
Nebra. A consensus now prevails about
overall chronological links and develop-
ments (cf. Meller & Bertemes, 2010; Meller
et al., 2013). Meller and his team date the
Nebra hoard to c. 16001500 BC,withthe
Sky disc, two HajdúsámsonApa swords,
two high-flanged axes, nick-flanged chisel,
and jewellery (based inter alia on a radiocar-
bon dating of birch bark within the hilt of
one sword; Meller, 2010: 56; Meller et al.,
2013: 488493). Nebra tallies with NBA IB
as the metalwork and dates are strikingly
similar (cf. Vandkilde, 2014b; S. Hansen,
2010). Correspondingly, the related
arsánd groups of settlements in the
Carpathian Basin have radiocarbon dates
between 1730 and 1500 BC (Bátora, 2000;
Görsdorf et al., 2004). These groups divide
into a classical phase, Br A2b, broadly cov-
ering the seventeenth century BC and a
post-classical phase, the so-called Koszider
period Br B, broadly covering the sixteenth
century BC. Especially the latter period con-
cerns us here, with metalwork hoards such
as Nitriansky Hrádok, Koszider IIII,
Simontornya, Spišský Štvrtok, Barca, Haj-
dúsámson, Apa, Oradea, Paulis, Téglás,
Ighiel, and Zajta (see Vandkilde, 1996: 142;
David, 2002: 91011). It is also within this
same period that dark-polished pottery and
bone and antler pieces with swirling patterns
occur (David, 2007: 415). An additional
note to the comparative chronology: The
final EBA phases Br A2cBr A3 are dis-
tinguishable in Danubo-Carpathian burials
and are also fairly distinct in the sequence of
hoards. Following the metalwork chronol-
ogy of David (2002) for the Carpathian
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 605
Basin and Central Europe, the Koszider
metalwork with the groups of Hajdúsám-
sonApaZajta hoards clearly succeeds the
Br A2cBr A3 phase and thereby initiates
the MBA Br B. In Scandinavia, the Br
A2cBr A3 steps are difficult to identify,
but logically should belong at the transition
(2002) Central European chronology, NBA
IB (as defined in Vandkilde, 1996) as well
as the Nebra hoard correlate entirely with
Br B.
This more certain chronological frame-
work is in accordance with the new
radiocarbon chronology 15501500 BC
dating the emergence of the MBA Tumulus
culture (Müller & Lohrke, 2009), hence the
same time or a little later than Nebra and
overall corresponding to NBA IB. The
recent high-precision dating of the Danish
Bronze Age placing NBA II between 1500/
1465 and 1300 BC (Olsen et al., 2011: 268
71) is another recent achievement, which
accords with the comparative chronology
here presented in outline (Table 1).
The high-precision dating of the erup-
tion of the Thera volcano to 1613 ± 13 BC
(Friedrich et al., 2006; Friedrich, 2013)
furthermore corresponds, it seems rather
accurately, to the onset of the following
suite: NBA IB, the Nebra assemblage, the
Koszider Br B phase of the Carpathian
Basin, and LM IB/LH IIA in the
Aegean. The Theran eruption took place
at the very end of LM IA, after which
LM IB/LH IIA commenced (Shelmer-
dine & Bennet, 2008; Brogan & Hallager,
2011; Sørensen et al., 2013). In the con-
cluding address, the possible implications
of volcanic disaster will be outlined.
Any form of cohesive culture across
southern Scandinavia can only have been
created through maritime contacts. The
sea binds this region together, uniting
long stretches of coast and numerous
islands. Throughout the NBA, not only
settlements but also metalwork, burials,
and hoards were tied to coastal areas,
fjords, archipelagos, and major internal
waterways (Oldeberg, 1974: 92; Larsson,
1986: 28, 168, 171; Engedal, 2010).
Moreover, fresh and saltwater ship-borne
traffic constituted a precondition for con-
nections with the rest of Europe. The
reliance on water transport is testified by
numerous Bronze Age ships on rock and
bronze (Kristiansen, 2004).
Southern Scandinavia is a diverse region
divided into two geographical parts
(Figure 1) of which the northern has
Table 1 Chronological table with NBA IB and the sixteenth century BC as its centrepiece
S. Scandinavia Carpathian Basin BCE Events
NBA IA Br. A2b Madarovce-Otomani-Füzesabony-Gyulavarsánd
Classical phase 1700
Br. A2c/A3
NBA IB Br. B Koszider periodwith Hajdúsámson-Apa-Zajta-Ighiel
metalwork Madarovce-Otomani-Füzesabony-
GyulavarsándPost-classical phase
1600 Thera
NBA II Br. C Tumulus culture/impact with Percica-Forró metalwork 1500/1465 Tumulus
NBA III Br. D-Ha A1 Urnfield culture/impact with Ópályi and related
1300 Urnfield
606 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
coniferous forests, metallogenic moun-
tains, and rocky ground, whilst the
southern has fertile agricultural lowlands
and deciduous forests. The latter is here
labelled a hotspot zone, because it contains
an amazing amount of metalwork in
addition to concentrations of well-
equipped burials in turf-built mounds (cf.
Holst & Rasmussen, 2013) and valuable
items thrown into wetlands for reasons
tied to belief and ritual. It is further distin-
guished by abundant sources of flint, and
it isvery importantly within a Bronze
Age contextalong these coasts that
amber could be collected. Metalwork pro-
duction in the northern zone was less
intensive. The region had a stronger cul-
tural emphasis on rock carvings (Ling,
2008; Skoglund, 2013). Bronze and rock,
however, can be considered as different
media that tell the same story. In the
Bronze Age, the greater area of southern
Scandinavia came to share cosmologies
and religious traditions, although the
materialization of these concepts differed
between the northern and southern zones
Figure 1. Cultural geography of the NBA with its two zones. Metalwork as well as rock imagery occur
most densely near the coast, emphasizing the maritime coherence of the NBA.
Image: H. Vandkilde.
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 607
(Willroth, 1985; Kaul, 2004, 2005; Kris-
tiansen & Larsson, 2005; Goldhahn,
2007; Ling, 2008).
Despite rich local copper ore in middle
and northern Scandinavia, there are few, if
any, metal-analytical signs that these were
put to use. Trace element analysis has
demonstrated a remarkable coherence
between Scandinavia and Europe in the
composition of copper-based alloys through-
out the Bronze Age (Cullberg, 1968;
Vandkilde, 1996, 1998; Liversage, 2000;
Rassmann, 2000). Current lead isotope-
based research confirms that Scandinavian
Bronze Age metallurgy relied on other
European sources from beginning to end
(Ling et al., 2012, 2014; Melheim, personal
communication). The argued importance of
the Carpathian Basin for the onset of the
NBA should be understood within a broad
Eurasian setting. This included commerce
with metals and other raw materials along a
few routinized routes from Scandinavia
across Europe (Ling et al., 2014: 129).
Potential transfer of culture-traits should
also be taken into account. Transmission of
culture need not have functioned in total
dependence on trade in raw materials:
regular transfer and use of copper ores from
particular mines in west, central, and south
Europe, as now especially testified by lead
isotope analyses (Ling et al., 2014), do not
necessarily mean a corresponding cultural
impact from those same regions. One vari-
able is local receptivity and taste; another is
the channels, methods, and distances of
transfer: commercial trade in metals and
amber could have operated in a mode deviat-
ing from cultural transmissions in general.
This clear disposition linking southern
Scandinavia with the rest of Europe applies
to both Nordic zones described above. Over
the long term, Nordic socio-cultural for-
mations were related to major European
trends. However, they did so while at the
same time retaining a distinct style of their
Understanding the historical pathways and
the formation of a cultural koiné in the
greater region of southern Scandinavia
requires a deep and broad perspective.
Statistics allow us to infer that this region
had already entered the metallurgical scene
c. 2350 BC, by the indications of initial
metalworking in Late Neolithic I (Br A1)
and most particularly in Late Neolithic II
from around 2000 BC (Br A2a). The latter
changed around 1700 BC into NBA IA
(Br. A2b), which shared similarities
mainly with earlier periods. It was NBA
IB that was a turning point in terms of
the formation of the NBA: it broke with
the past in crucial ways while expanding
on trends already in place as regards
metallurgy and exogenous links.
When examining the progression of
change over time in the Scandinavian
hotspot zone, it becomes eminently clear
that the availability of metal (Figure 2) was
moderate in the early periods. It increased
markedly in NBA IB, which indeed pre-
sents the onset of the peak later reached in
NBA II. This quantitative increase of
NBA IB was accompanied by a new quali-
tative variability in metalwork production
(Figure 3), to be discussed in the next
section. The geographical distribution of
metal objects across Scandinavia conveys a
telling picture. Even allowing for unknown
factors relating to curation and recycling, it
is remarkable how the number of metal
objects drastically decreased immediately
to the north of the hotspot zone in
Denmark and Scania (Vandkilde, 2014b:
figs. 2A and B). This confirms that the
northern zone truly was poor in early metal
objects. However, this is a picture with
modifications: NBA IB stands out as
quantitatively different from the foregoing
periods across southern Scandinavia, in the
608 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
hotspot zone as well as in the northern
zone. NBA IB is then the first period with
a consistent and distinct presence of metal-
work in both zones.
Assessing technological skills around
1600 BC, metallurgy in NBA IB built
entirely on a uniform-looking sulphide
copper type (ostalpines Kupfer), arsenic
and nickel in terms of predominant trace
elements (Krause, 2003). This may reflect
a preference for chalcopyrite and/or tech-
nological advances in the refinement of
complex deep-lying copper ore. Across
Europe, this achievement was first intro-
duced c. 1700 BC and co-occurred with the
establishment of a tradition for alloying
with tin (e.g. Vandkilde, 1998, 2007; Per-
nicka, 2010).
The emergent NBA relied on central
European copper sources as well as those
from Atlantic Europe. In terms of cultural
response, however, the Western Euro-
peanBritish connection is clearest in the
earliest Bell Beaker related metalwork of
LN I. This relation is still culturally visible
in LN II, especially through imports of
BritishIrish developed bronze flat axes
and, in a hybridizing manner, in the
periods local low-flanged axes (Vandkilde,
1996: 6692). Henceforth, during NBA
IANBA II and despite the continued use
of Western European ore sources (Ling
et al., 2014), British cultural traits are hard
to distinguish in the metalwork. By con-
trast, connections with Central Europe are
culturally distinct from the onset of metal-
working traditions in Scandinavia. LN II
metalwork is specifically related to the
EBA Únětice complex, and a strong
Central European orientation character-
ized NBA IA as well as later periods.
From 1600 BC and throughout the NBA,
contact with remote Iberian and Aegean
communities is revealed in glimpses in the
Nordic cultural sphere (e.g. Kristiansen &
Larsson, 2005; Vandkilde, 2013). The
addition of Mediterranean ores precisely
in NBA IB with continuation until c. 900
BC (Ling et al., 2014: 120) could then
have had a historical significance of
importance for understanding NBA com-
mencement and maintenance.
Around 1700 BC in NBA IA, the Car-
pathian Basin for the first time becomes
distinguishable in the Nordic record when
spearheads entered the repertoire. The
socketed spearhead prominently present in
NBA IA hoards referenced faraway places: it
originated in the seventeenth century BC
from the overarching Seima-Turbino metal-
work complex, which stretched across the
Steppe zone between the Urals and the Car-
pathians (cf. Anthony, 2007: 412; Koryakova
& Epimakhov, 2007: 106). This great
novelty used the latter region as a gateway
from which it unfurled into the European
interior and northwards into Scandinavia.
The socket-spearhead idea and the
complex casting technology it required may
have reached southern Scandinavia from the
Carpathian Basin, if not necessarily directly.
This particular link is thus likely to have
Figure 2. A significant increase in the avail-
ability of metal characterizes both zones in NBA
IB c. 1600 BC. Calculated by metal weight (kg)
while correcting for the differing lengths of
Image: H. Vandkilde.
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 609
commenced on a small scale in the seven-
teenth century BC, but not earlier. Moreover,
the multi-lined curved figure, occasionally
ornamenting the curved dagger blades and
spoon-shaped flanged axes of NBA IA, also
demonstrates the first contacts with the
Danubo-Carpathian region. In the sixteenth
century BC,thissimplecurvedpatternflour-
ished into a rich vocabulary of complex
swirling figures applied to ceramics, bronze,
gold and bone/antler. These designs thrived
in social environments from early Myce-
naean communities in the Peloponnese to
fortified settlements of the Carpathian Basin
and western nomads of the Steppe corridor.
Such designs, and arguably their meanings,
even travelled northwards into southern
Figure 3. Three main styles (AC) of NBA IB metalwork, each incorporating elements traceable to the
Carpathian-Koszider styles of HajdúsámsonApa and AuZaita (data from Vandkilde, 1996).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
610 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
Throughout the prologue period of 800
years in Scandinavia, objects made of
copper, bronze, and gold were deposited
ritually in wetlands rather than in burials. A
clear deviation from this deep-rooted tra-
dition happened precisely in NBA IB.
Rituals reliant on water nevertheless contin-
ued to play a major societal and religious role
over the next several centuries. Indeed,
wetland rituals involving metal objects count
among the chief defining features of the
entire NBA, particularly in the hotspot zone.
Funerary consumption of rich metalwork
made a literal breakthrough in NBA IB
while turf-built mounds of considerable size
began to appear (Vandkilde, 1996: 22356,
289; Holst, 2006; Thrane, 2013). The rapid
increase in wealthy burials testifies to a
socially coupled ritual practice culminating
in NBA II, which has been described in
terms of megalomania (Thrane, 2013) and
herostrats(Holst et al., 2013). Social life
became intrinsically linked to the consump-
tion of metals and, arguably, also to the
ideologies and cosmologies they enhanced.
A sun-oriented religion in floruit formed
part of it all (Kaul, 2004, 2005; Kristiansen
break with a tradition anchored in Neolithic
culture and suggests that the change we see
in the archaeological record was engineered
by a particular section of the population.
Similarly, it was presumably a small segment
of residents who engaged in what must have
been a predominantly water-borne transpor-
tation of metals and other goods.
This distinct change conceivably
emerged from a male domain, since most
NBA IB novelties reveal warriors gear as
a foremost concern. Extraordinary bronze
items were manufactured that belong
entirely to the domain of warriorhood and
rituals associated with it. The most signifi-
cant of Bronze Age weapons, the sword,
made its first appearance at precisely this
moment in time. Swords and long daggers
were notably accompanied by spearheads
as well as weapon axes. In addition, small
objects for the warriors dress, body, and
grooming call to mind a mature Bronze
Age preoccupation with personal appear-
ance (Treherne, 1995; Sørensen, 1997).
The emphasis on high-class weaponry
accords with a male ideal as leader of war
and ritual while corresponding female ideal
roles were not yet in place or are invisible
in the record (cf. Bergerbrant, 2007). The
founder burials placed centrally in mounds
and with luxury metalwork may be seen as
tribute to a group of males who were
symbolic or de facto war leaders at their
time of death and presumably undertook
ritual and other tasks as well.
Very elaborate warrior burials might
contain, for example, a decorated pointed
cane with handle; probably the metal part
of a whip used by the charioteer to chivvy
his team to increase speed (Figure 4).
Such rich weapon assemblages are quite
often accompanied by gold jewelry for
both body and raiment. Other outstanding
assemblages should be mentioned, such as
the ritual deposit from Fårdrup (Sealand)
with its exquisitely decorated shafthole
axes and unique macehead, the two ritual
deposits from Valsømagle (Sealand) with
the full equipment of sword, spear, and
axe (Vandkilde, 1996: 12126, 23238),
and the two scimitars deposited in a bog
at Rørby (Figure 10). Many swords occur
as singly deposited items in wetlands. At
Dystrup (Jutland), eight swords of Hajdú-
sámsonApa type were deposited together
(Rasmussen & Boas, 2006). Such finds
suggest the presence of war leaders with or
without their companions of warriors
(Vandkilde, 2006, 2011, 2014a).
The relative availability of metal had in
fact not only increased considerably in NBA
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 611
IB. Variations in the metalwork now set new
standards for the quality of craftsmanship in
gering parallel innovations in other crafts (cf.
Roberts et al., 2008). The repertoire now
included several interrelated categories, types,
and styles of objects. The Sögel-Wohlde
metalwork style (Figure 3B) appeared in
southern Jutland and extended well into
northwestern Germany and the Netherlands.
The Valsømagle metalwork style (Figure 3C)
emerged in northern Jutland, Funen,
Zealand, and Scania. By contrast, the paired
Hajdúsámson and Fårdrup metalwork styles
(Figure 3A) lacked clear regional preferences
(Vandkilde, 1996: 25057). In the hotspot
zone, regional-stylistic differentiation was
accentuated as a differential response to
Figure 4. NBA IB burial equipment of the Valsømagle Style (see Figure 3C): right, Strantved
(Bovense, Funen) and left, Buddinge (Gladsakse, Sealand). Presumably founders graves. Such early
mound burials are symbol-rich warrior burials, often equipped with gold ornament, belt hook, tweezers,
spearhead, sword or dagger, axe and sometimes a fish hook and a pointed cane for chariot driving. The
early palstave is adorned with an ogival-V figure (data from Vandkilde, 1996: figs. 247, 253).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
612 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
cultural trends in a Europe where the MBA
began to coalesce from the conjuncture of cir-
cumstances at the turn of the sixteenth
century BC (Vandkilde, 2007). The regional-
ity in the metalwork of the hotspot zone
echoed Continental-European regional
groupings and therefore also reflected culture
flows and materials from northwestern
so-called Sögel-Wohlde groups, from
Central European early Tumulus groups
extending west of the Middle Danube, as
well as from Carpathian Madarovce-
Otomani-Fuzesabony-Gyulavarsánd group-
ings further towards the east.
Regional particularities within a joint
canon of culture were celebrated in the
hotspot zone: NBA IB metalwork styles
shared several material elements that taken
together are recognizable as Nordic, albeit
often being translations of exogenous traits
all pointing towards the Carpathian Basin.
Chief among these NBA IB objects with a
Carpathian signature was the sword, but
also spearheads and metal shafthole axes
can be included.
All NBA IB metalwork styles reached the
northern zone. However, they did so without
regional preferences and were more thinly
distributed, as was emphasized above. Local
coastal hubs in the north nevertheless boasted
fine pieces of metalwork which count among
the first clear signs that the northern zone
was engaged in the cultural consumption of
metal objects. Metalwork in near coastal
areas co-occurred with a markedly increased
concern with the carving of long-ships into
prominent rock surfaces near the sea (Ling,
2008; Goldhahn, 2013: 446; Skoglund,
2013). These same rocks continued to be
focal areas for cults throughout the NBA.
However, it is worthy of note that this had
already taken off by approximately 1600 BC.
In summary, NBA IB continued the
metalworking traditions that had been pre-
viously established. However, it revitalized
and developed them to a considerable
extent, particularly with regard to input
from the Carpathian Basin. While a general
orientation towards Central Europe crystal-
lized, the Carpathian Basin stands out as
provider of novel warriorsgear and the cul-
tural stimuli linked thereto. In comparison
with the preceding NBA IA, by NBA IB,
the Carpathian link was firmly established,
thereby ultimately incorporating the Aegean
world in the Nordic sphere of interaction
for the very first time. Recent isotope ana-
lyses of NBA IB metalwork confirm this
(Ling et al., 2014), but the character of this
initial Aegean incorporation remains to be
tracked. The Carpathian link surfaces as a
vehicle for the processes that led to the
breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age in
NBA IB. This coincided with the fact that
metal items now occurred manifestly north
of the hotspot zone, which would also
suggest that these events were linked.
Rich warrior assemblages and particular
weaponry in association with cosmological
symbols take centre stage in the suite of
events that created the NBA, as shall be
argued below. By NBA II, Carpathian
features had been completely absorbed in
the local metalwork, which has by then
unfolded as a distinct Nordic style without
manifest regional divisions.
The time around 1600 BC was a breaking
point within an interconnected Europe that
may have consisted of numerous hot
societies. This may not be an unduly exagger-
brink of the MBA: new kinds of transculture
flowed across wide distances comprising raw
materials and metal-technological knowledge,
religion-infused warriorhood which materia-
lized via new forms of weaponry boasting
cosmology-rooted ornaments. A reformed
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 613
understanding of how the world was consti-
tuted travelled along with those more
tangible items as they were transferred over
long distances.
Transcultural flows can be said to have
linked together temperate Europe while sup-
plementary branches reached spheres of
mutual interaction in the Aegean and even
the Eurasian Steppes (David, 2007). Metals
most certainly constituted an essential com-
ponent of the goods that were transported.
However, amber must also have been a
crucial commodity travelling northsouth
from Nordic-Baltic provinces to the Car-
pathian Basin, especially given that amber
beads occur very commonly in
Madarovce-Otomani-Füzesabony cemeteries
(Bátora, 2000; Czebreszuk, 2007). Long-
distance amber trade characterized the entire
era of the European Bronze Age connecting
the NBA hotspot with distant southern hubs
(Jensen, 1994). This amber link included a
number of hotspot regions across Europe
(Rowlands & Ling, 2013: 519, fig. 8). In the
society whose prominent dead were buried in
the two shaft grave circles at Mycenae in
18001500 BC, amber seems to have signi-
fied the sun (Maran, 2011), hence favouring
the argument of cross-cultural similarities in
belief and cosmology around 1600 BC.The
archaeologically visible transculture of luxu-
ries may only have represented a small part
of the goods that flowed long-distance. In
addition to trade in amber and metalsand
the human mobility by which their move-
ment was preconditionedit is possible that
there were parallel exchanges involving
horses and cattle and plants like millet,
opium poppy, and gold-of-pleasure or even
textiles like wool and (Mediterranean) silk.
Such long-range trading would have arguably
relied on stable institutions to be effective
and safe (Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005).
Weaponry, horse gear, and other items
belonging to the warrior may constitute the
upper hierarchy of the transmitted transcul-
ture. At the same time, these items
highlight a broad corridor of interaction
from Carpathian Transylvania to Southern
Scandinavia (Figure 5) with further links to
the east and south (Figure 9). The wide-
ranging spread of HajdúsámsonApa type
swords and daggers and their various con-
temporaneous derivatives illustrates this
channel of transfer, to/from Scandinavia/
Transylvania in the clearest manner, as they
cover the entire route, albeit with highest
density in the Carpathian Basin and in the
Scandinavian hotspot zone. By comparison,
Carpathian shafthole axes did normally not
cross the Baltic Sea, but nevertheless
inspired a Nordic version that gained great
popularity: the solid Fårdrup shafthole axes
with comparable geometries (Figure 3A;
Vandkilde, 1996: 22729). While some
objects are clearly the real thing,suchas
some swords, horse-chariot gear, and
unique items, most should be considered as
derivatives. Such material translations in
themselves form a linked pattern of respon-
sive movements. This creative translation of
exotic culture and knowledge would have
been meaningful on several scales: local,
regional, and macro-regional.
In the sixteenth century BC the organiz-
ation of warriorhood and fighting was
reinforced by the new warfare technologies
made possible by metal weaponry and horse-
drawn vehicles (cf. Kristiansen & Larsson,
2005; Anthony, 2007), all of which are sug-
gestive of war leaders and their close warrior
companions. Novelties and identities became
engaged in a process of mutual becoming.
Weapons in comparable and rival styles were
social power, but were also practical devices
for the clear identification of particular
persons and groups. In the sixteenth century
BC, the novelty of the sword played a crucial
role in promoting an accentuated interest in
warrior representations across Europe (cf.
Kristiansen, 2002; Harding, 2007). Shaft-
hole axes and spearheads were also
prominent together, as was material culture
614 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
linked to charioteering. Spectacular and
roughly contemporaneous hoard and burial
finds with fairly similar contents document
the presence of an overarching interest in
warriorhood from Mycenae, Hajdúsámson,
and Zajta to Nebra, Rørby, and Valsømagle.
Because of the esoteric symbols often
carried by such arms, these weapons may
demonstrate that innovations in cosmology
and religiosity invigorated the macro-scale
spread of magnificent warrior gear. As
mentioned above, weapons tend to share a
preference for complex curved ornaments,
which are arranged and combined in ways
suggesting they were assigned special sig-
nificance. These symbolic decorative
Figure 5. A sixteenth century BC long-range corridor transpires when mapping stylistically linked
weaponry (NBA IB/Br B Koszider) from the NBA koiné to the Carpathian
Otomani-Fuzesabony-Gyolavarsánd powerhouse (from data in Aner & Kersten, 19732014; Olde-
berg, 1974; Vandkilde, 1996; David, 2002, 2010; Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005; Moucha, 2005;
Meller, 2010, 2013; Thrane, 2010).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 615
elements are traceable to a common pool
of Carpathian motifs (Figure 6): multi-
lined curved-ogival-V figures, spirals, con-
centric circles, and wavy garlands. These
often combine with linear-geometric
bands in addition to singular motifs of
wheel-cross, circles with sunrays and fish.
In the Carpathian homeland, this plethora
of designs was particularly used on metal
weaponry. The designs also appeared on
other materials, notably on bone pieces for
the bridling of horses and the ferrules of
whip shafts used in chariot driving
(Figures 4, 79; e.g. Lomborg, 1960;
Piggott, 1965; David, 2002, 2007, 2010;
Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005).
Certain Carpathian motifs on weaponry
(Figure 6) and horse gear (Figure 8) could
very well have been signs for the moon,
stars, and sun (Kristiansen & Larsson,
2005; David, 2010) and hence have rep-
resented an upper skyworld, or perhaps
the entire cosmos, as is likely to have been
the case with the wheel-cross. Other
motifs do not fit this interpretation but
more likely refer to Oceanos, the World
Sea (in maritime habitats), or the Great
River (in riverine habitats), which bor-
dered the visible world of sky and earth
and shielded it from the otherworld. Ana-
logous with other such cosmologies (for
example, the one underlying Greek reli-
gion and mythology), this waterway may
then have been thought to lead to the
otherworld where the human dead
dwelled. The golden ships of the Nebra
disc support this suggestion, as they occur
attached to the circumference of the
bronze circle: they are thus depicted
sailing the Oceanos, which clearly encircles
sun, moon, and stars. This understanding
dovetails with Mellers (2010: 64, fig. 30)
model. Meller builds on the imagery of
the Nebra disc and plausibly argues for a
tripartite division of the cosmos while also
at the same time integrating the idea of an
all-encompassing waterway. This is a
version of the cross-culturally common
axis mundi model (Eliade, 1957), which
also framed religious life in the ancient
Near East (R. Hansen, 2010).
Figure 6. Téglás hoard (Hajdú-Bihar, Transyl-
vania). The sword has two fish in the space
between hilt and the blade, which carries the cus-
tomary curved-ogival-V, or fish-shaped, figure.
Like other Carpathian disc-butted axes, the
Teglas axe has narrow face ornamentation termi-
nating in a fish-shaped figure placed near the
cutting edge while the broad face has the mean-
dering swirl, perhaps symbolizing the eternal flow
of Oceanos. By contrast, sun-ray ornamentation
adorns the swords hilt-button, the axes disc-butt,
and shaft-tube. In this way, both the upper and
nether realms of cosmos are represented in appro-
priate order (after David, 2002: Taf. 126).
Reproduced by kind permission of Wolfgang
616 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
The wavy and sometimes swirling garland
a predominant motif on Carpathian metal-
work and equestrian bone itemsmakes
sense as a symbolic reference to Oceanos,and
should furthermore be associated with the
nexus of warrior, chariot, and horse. The
characteristic curved-ogival-V figures are cen-
trally placed as the main or sub-motif on the
swords, axes, and spearheads from this period
hence accentuating the outline shapes of
these items (cf. Jockenhövel, 2005). This par-
ticular figure can be best interpreted as a
representation of the flow of this particular
waterway, the point of the Vindicating the
prolonged stream of the watercourse into the
otherworld. On the eponymous swords from
Hajdúsámson and Apa, the curved-ogival-V
has a strikingly wavy outline, arguably
mimicking waves and moving water, as also
found on the sword blade from Vreta in
Sweden (Berger et al., 2010: 766 fig. 22)
whereas the mid-rib of one of the Nebra
swords is plastically wave-shaped (Meller,
2010: 5152, fig. 2021). Small fish-figures
were also integrated within the elaborate dec-
orations as exemplified by the sword and
disc-butted battle-axe from the Transylvanian
hoard of Téglás (Figure 6). The
curved-ogival-V figures occur in a number of
sizes, variants, and applications, which may
suggest they were sometimes thought of as
separate signs or doubly as both fish and
water flow. The fish can even be seen to pull
the stream towards the deadly tip of the
sword or towards the cutting edge of the axe,
in which direction the otherworld presumably
lay. Such symbols and images on deadly
weaponry denote the ever-presence of a
supernatural force. Great weapons may make
great warriors. However, those warriors
would nonetheless need robust symbols for
protection, efficacy in the killing of foes, the
preparation of an otherworldly life, or the
expression of their affiliation with a certain
religion. Indeed, weaponry, warriors, and
death make a significant cross-cultural trilogy.
Warriors and soldiers know that death is
always a likely outcome of war, which is one
of the reasons for which war and warfare are
more often than not imbued with rituals and
religiosity (Vandkilde, 2011, 2014a).
The importance of the Carpathian Basin
with Transylvania cannot be overestimated
as a region where manifold cultural encoun-
ters took place; it was a meeting point which
thrived on the reception and further trans-
mission of innovations and knowledge. The
Carpathian Basin was a formidable cultural
crucible sustained by the intersection of a
number of networks which stemmed from
Central and Northern Europe, the Aegean,
and the Pontic-Caspian Steppes. The most
important martial innovation of the seven-
teenth century BCthe socketed spearhead
previously passed through the same
Figure 7. Pair of bridle cheek-pieces of antler
from Østrup Bymark (Roskilde, Sealand; cf.
Jensen, 2006). They date to NBA IB on the
grounds that they relate to local metalwork styles
(Figure 3AC), but have close parallels in the
Carpathian Basin and likely originated there
(Figures 8 and 9).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 617
juncture and subsequently reached distant
places including southern Scandinavia. The
hot social climate characterizing the sixteenth
century BC culminated in the formation of
the MBA Tumulus culture, which emerged
in the immediate Central European periph-
ery of the Carpathian Basin. This may have
happened through violent interactions with
eastern and southern tells and other fortified
settlements which were then abandoned
(David, 2007: 416).
In summary, material and immaterial
elements were fused in this Carpathian
intersection into a transcultural product that
represented something immensely attractive
to the identification strategies taking place
in faraway places, including southern Scan-
dinavia, 1000 km to the north.
The NBA IB marks the onset of the
Bronze Age in Scandinavia and this
Figure 8. Bridle cheek-pieces and whip handle ferrules of antler retrieved at Carpathian hill-top and
tell settlements. However, the piece shown in the middle row, first from right, is from an early Myce-
naean tomb at Kakovatos, Peloponnese. As ferrules relate to the cheek-pieces, both may have belonged in
the horse-chariot domain (data from David, 2007: CIII: f2f3, r1r3, tu, v8v9, CV: d3, e).
Reproduced by kind permission of Wolfgang David.
618 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
beginning concurs with the introduction
of novelties which were essentially influx
traceable to the Carpathian Basin. Spirals
were adapted to a small and exclusive
group of weapons perhaps dating from the
latter half of the period. Intricate combi-
nations of surface-blanketing geometric
patterns and the curved-ogival-V figures
also adorned NBA IB weapons. In total,
these various elements all had demon-
strable links to the Carpathian Basin
(Lomborg, 1960: 51146; cf. Vandkilde,
1996: 25257; fig. 274). Likewise, depic-
tions of fish and flows of water occur in
both regionsmetalwork (Figures 3, 6 and
11). Such fishy and watery designs may
ultimately link with the marine styles of
pottery, weaponry, and frescoes in the
contemporaneous Aegean LBA, and the
same goes for spiral designs.
An outspoken preference for conspicu-
ously curved decorations and geometries,
including spirals and fish, then occurred
across wide distances from the Aegean over
the Carpathian Basin to southern Scandina-
via. Intensified large-scale intercultural
mobility was obviously the cornerstone of
this, hence enabling transcultural flows of
desirable objects, materials, new metallurgi-
cal techniques, and less tangible issues.
Bålkråka (Knape & Nordström, 1994) and
swords that are close derivatives of Hajdú-
sámsonApa originals testify to the
transportation of goods from the Car-
pathianTransylvanian crossroad (Figure 5).
Figure 9. Map of decorated bone/antler bridle cheek-pieces and whip handle equivalents (Figures 7
and 8). They are often local translations that remained faithful to the originals (from data in Piggott,
1965; Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005; David, 2007).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 619
This long-range movement along rivers
(Swieder, 2013) and crossing seas (Østmo,
2008) must have given rise to the rich
Scandinavia between 1600 and 1500 BC.
True imported items occur but rarely in
NBA IB, especially in contrast to earlier
periods. Instead, creative translation was
practiced as a means of appropriating the
exotic and foreign. Metal objects testify to
amentalité of experimentation involving
the continual renewal of the forms and
decoration of weaponry such as swords,
scimitars, daggers, spearheads, and weapon
axes. These often recall Carpathian
weapons. The Nordic series of swords and
daggers are clearly reminiscent of the Haj-
dúsámsonApa or AuZaita types of
swords in the Carpathian Basin; some
Nordic swords even incorporate elements
from both these types. Similarly, the
Fårdrup and Valsømagle types of weapon
axes can be interpreted as radical Nordic
translations of the elegantly shaped Car-
pathian weapon axes (Figures 3A and 6;
see David, 2002).
At first sight, NBA IB metalwork
appears somewhat stereotypical. On the
other hand, it is difficult to find two
weapons that are completely alike (cf.
each weapon possessed individual qualities
even a spiritof its own (Pearce, 2013).
was strategically performed within a
common NBA idiom. Indigenous tradition
and transmitted innovation from abroad
quite obviously interacted in highly creative,
even hybridizing, ways (Vandkilde, 2010).
This responsive behaviour must surely also
Figure 10. One of a pair of scimitars from a bog at Rørby (Holbæk, Sealand). The blade takes the
shape of a ship and carries a manned long-ship of plank-built NBA type, possibly the earliest known of
this specific type. Such scimitars are Nordic but adapt Carpathian decorative elements, including the
ogival-V figure and geometrics (from data in Aner & Kersten, 19732014: Vol. 2, no. 617).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
620 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
have applied to the concurrent flow of
exogenous ideas and cosmologies.
The ritual contexts and constituent of
NBA IB weaponry suggest that there was
a similar link between warfare, warriors,
and religious beliefs as was present in the
Carpathian Basin. Symbols were intro-
duced in NBA IB which referred to a
celestial skyworld associated with the sun
(Kaul, 2005): wheel-cross (on dress pins),
concentric circles, the spiral itself, and
spirals arranged in a whirling grid. These
may also make sense as representations of
the entire cosmos and the cycle of life and
death. The puzzling occurrence of fish
shapes, and seemingly also swirling water-
ways, is likely to be associated with a
netherworld, as argued above. This place
may have been perceived as having been
situated beneath and around the human
world: a place accessible through or by
means of water.
The arguments previously brought
forward in this article have pinpointed a tri-
partite cosmology as central to the beliefs
and ideas circulating in and out of the Car-
pathian Basin around 1600 BC.The
innovative material traits seen in translation
during NBA IB are likewise suggestive of a
cosmology dividing the world into the
realms through which segments of NBA
society understood the itinerary of life and
death. The realms of the skyworld, the
earth, and the netherworld were likely
thought to be connected at certain points in
the landscape, notably at the seashore, in
certain ponds and lakes, or along rivers
believed to be liminal points, zones, or
routes of transfer. It is within this broad
context that the custom of depositing
weapons in watery places should be inter-
Inasmuch as wetland depositions were a
chief component of the Bronze Age in a
large part of Europe, their significance to
our understanding of Bronze Age beliefs is
hard to exaggerate. Kaul (2005) and Bradley
& Nimura (2013) likewise argue for the
presence of a Bronze Age belief in a divided
cosmos. Water has recently been presented
as the very medium through which human
beings and inalienable objects travelled to
the otherworld (Vandkilde, 2013). The
Hjortspring plank-built ship (Crumlin-
Pedersen & Trakadas, 2003) was ritually
deposited in a lake on Als in southern
Denmark with war gear still on board and
thus bears witness to the continuation of
this belief into the early Iron Age.
The ship imagery of one scimitar from
Rørby (Figure 10) could be the earliest sym-
bolic representation of travelling to the
netherworld on water while also boasting
the invention of the plank-built ship for
long-distance travelling. The blade includes
an image of a double-sterned longship
fully manned with a crew of 36 paddlers
as it allegedly sails the Oceanos. The mean-
dering flow of the water course is shown by
the upper and lower panel with a wavy
band. The ships trajectory would have
brought it towards the spiralling tip of the
sword where obstacles blocking its passage
would have had to be conquered. An associ-
ated symbolic manifestation occurs in one
of the Valsømagle weapon hoards, which
includes fish imagery on the large spearhead
and a fishhook (Figures 3 and 11). A fish
hook is also present in the accoutrement of
the warrior buried at Strantved (Figure 4)
and other contemporaneous or slightly later
weapon burials, where the fish hook seems
out of place unless understood as an other-
worldly symbol. The fashionable
curved-ogival-V shape, itself roughly fish-
shaped, decorates sword blades, as well as
the Fårdrup type shafthole axes and the pal-
staves, albeit more sporadically. The equally
ogival shape of the swords, dagger blades
and spearheads of the period may likewise
have signified the otherworld, or rather
water-borne movement towards the
beyond. By NBA II, spirals had become
hugely fashionable almost as a Nordic
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 621
brand, whilst a stereotypical and much sim-
plified version of the curved-ogival-V figure
is still discernible on the blades of the now
unambiguously Nordic metal-hilted swords.
In close analogy with Rørby, the carving
of ships where rock meets seawater was an
entirely new tradition founded in the
northern zone (Ling, 2008), and with
impact far into Arctic Scandinavia. In the
northern zone, Stone Age rock imagery
with animalistic motifs occurs especially in
Bohuslän and south Norway (Gjedde,
2010: 178, fig. 90), which are mostly
known for their rich Bronze Age imagery
on rock with ships in large numbers: the
first tradition may well have ceased when
the second emerged (Gjedde, 2010). In
Arctic Scandinavia, by comparison, most
rock art is animalistic and Stone Age.
Only at key sites such as Nämforsen and
Alta, long-ships of NBA type are
occasionally depicted (Gjedde, 2010: 240
394, 397 fig. 282).
This remarkable turn north of Scandi-
navias hotspot zone may well have been
inspired by the same Carpathian link that
renewed the making of weapons and war-
riors. More concretely, the east Scanian
early pictorial sites of Simris and Järestad
may have posed inspirational material, as
their use began around 1600 BC, perhaps
even 1700 BC but not earlier (Skoglund,
2013). Here, imagery on rock near the
seashore includes early ship representations
as well as males wielding oversized axes
whose form seems reminiscent of Car-
pathian shafthole axes with crested butt
(see David, 2002: Plates 5967; Kristian-
sen & Larsson, 2005: 202, fig. 89). The
nearby site of Kivik may be similarly con-
sidered as an inspirational cult place at
which activities also commenced around
this time or slightly later (Goldhahn,
2013). Apart from the prevailing ships,
images of chariots, horses, fish, and axes,
amongst other things, were incorporated
in the Kivik pictorial panels also showing
the divided worlds of cosmos (Goldhahn,
2013). Ships and weapons were communi-
cated in different media, but likely had the
same otherworldly significance. The ships
depicted on rock and on bronze were
believed to transport dead souls to the
Figure 11. Images of ships, fish, and materials of
the sea may refer to the otherworld: Eight fish are
depicted on the huge spearhead from the epon-
ymous site of Valsømagle (Ringsted, Sealand); the
spearhead shape in itself recalling a fish. The fish
hook from the same locality can be understood as a
link to the realm of the dead. Four fish occur on
the blade of a Valsømagle-type spearhead from
Gotland (Sweden) found together with another
spearhead. Fish imagery recurs on the
shafthole-axe from Uhe (Vejle, Jutland) (from
data in Aner & Kersten, 19732014, Vol. 2,
nos. 109798, Vol. 9, no. 4452; Oldeberg, 1974:
no. 2117).
Image: H. Vandkilde.
622 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
netherworld (Kaul, 2005). It is plausible
however that these early ship images had a
double meaning tied to both imagined and
corporeal travelling, hence were rooted in
the real world of maritime travel to foreign
A brief note on the horse: not only was it
an animal of practical use in travelling and
warfare, but it was also commonly attributed
extra qualities as a transgressor of boundaries
between this world and other realms (such
as Odins Sleipnir in the Viking Period). In
NBA IB, the horse was not yet dominant
within cultural expressions (see Metzner-
Nebelsick, 2003), but is nevertheless a can-
didate for inclusion among the list of
novelties which originated from the Car-
pathian Basin (Kristiansen & Larsson,
2005). Belt hooks are sometimes adorned
handles mentioned above in the burials at
Strantved and Buddinge correspond with
Carpathian bone versions (Figures 4 and 8).
A pair of imported antler bridle cheek-pieces
from a bog at Østrup near Roskilde in
Zealand also testifies to horse handling
(Thrane, 1999; Figure 7). The Østrup
cheek-pieces share the geometric
zone-organized ornamentation with other
Carpathian bone cheek-pieces and bone
whip-handles, notably showing a meander-
ing line swirling around circles with a central
dot, sometimes genuine running spirals and
spiral hooks in addition to meandering
double lines compressed into circumferential
bands. These designs are typical of the
Otomani-Fuzesabony-Gyolavársand culture
and associated metalwork styles (David,
2002, 2007), and even adorn material
the two circles in Mycenae (Karo, 193033;
Mylonas, 197273; David, 2007). It was
precisely decorations like this that were
translated to decorate locally made NBA IB
metalwork (Figure 3AC).
To summarize, close connections
between the Carpathian Basin and NBA IB
transpire in terms of weapons and horse-
chariot gear as well as images rooted in a
shared cosmology. Novel forms of religiosity
were introduced and locally adapted in
Scandinavia. This concurs with social
change, which was especially evident from
the striking appearance of mound-inserted
rich burials with symbol-rich warrior equip-
ment as well as a number of outstanding
assemblages of weaponry ritually deposited
in wetlands and, last but not least, rock
carving activities on prominent rocks near
the Bronze Age waterline. As the Car-
pathian link co-occurred with new social
and ritual technologies in both Nordic
zones with a joint concern with carved ships
tous catalyst in bringing the NBA koiné to
its breakthrough.
The above analysis allows the following
inference: the emergence of the NBA as a
cultural zone in and of itself was histori-
cally interlinked with the Carpathian
crossroad, particularly during the period
with Koszider metalwork (Table 1). This
could in turn mean a longer chain of
linked socio-cultural change starting in the
Aegean. Indeed, similar warrior gear with
swirling cosmology-embedded designs
embellishes the pinnacles of the material
hierarchies across Europe with highlights
in southern Scandinavia, the Carpathian
Basin, and the Aegean. A widely shared
Indo-European background may have
facilitated a generally high degree of recep-
tivity across Europe at this time, where
the practice of creatively translating
exogenous traits was rooted in directional
transfer of raw materials. A suite of linked
histories across Europe transpires, when
attaching importance to the fact that the
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 623
time period in which it all began, c. 1600
BC, was a turning point on a European
scale. The precise timing may be debated,
but it is here suggested that the link of
change could ultimately have emanated
from the early post-eruption Aegean with
embryonic Mycenaean hegemonies.
Cross-cultural demand for the raw
materials of copper, tin, gold, and amber
surely formed part of the engine that
brought the NBA to its breakthrough c.
1600 BC. Recent results in lead isotope
analysis identify routinized transports of
raw materials across Europe, basically an
Atlantic route and a central European
route, both of them linking up with an
Aegean trade network (Ling et al., 2014).
Both routes played a role this early, but
culturally the second one stands out: the
allure of outstandingly exotic and esoteric
novelties has above been pinpointed as sig-
nificant, as were the differential responses
to such transculture within and between
southern Scandinavias hotspot zone and
northern zone. In all likelihood, flint and
amber from the NBA hotspot zone were
exchanged for other desirable items, such
as metal (e.g. Rassmann, 2000).
In briefly assessing the historical intrica-
cies, two observations are deemed
significant: first, the new kind of martial
culture appeared roughly simultaneously in
Scandinavia and in the Carpathian Basin,
whilst such martiality already existed in the
Aegean. This is amply evidenced by rich
early Mycenaean graves displaying superior
warriorhood with an abundance of
warrior-chariot equipment and many of the
same designs (Dietz, 1991: 10684, 266,
fig. 80, 321, fig. 93; Kilian-Dirlmeier,
1997). An initial direction of transfer with a
start in the south is supported by the fact
that swirling patterns and spirals have a
deep ancestry in the Aegean. Marine and
watery pictorial scenes also occur early on,
and these lively designs changed towards
stereotypy after the eruption (Sørensen
et al., 2013): a pre-eruption example of
watery vivacity is the Nilotic dagger
(Mycenae, grave circle A, shaft grave V)
dating to the LH IBthe seventeenth
century BC (Dietz, 1991: 26164). Indeed,
such blades with sophisticated figural
metal-inlays in the central section constitute
likely models of inspiration for the Hajdú-
sámsonApa kind of swords and daggers
with curved-ogival-V figures on the blade.
Some of these even integrate polychrome
painting in metaltechniques (Berger et al.,
2010). Second, after the volcano, Myce-
naean martial culture gained ground across
the Aegean: here may lie the outline of a
reason why objects and ideas around 1600
BC began to travel regularly between the
Aegean and the Carpathian meeting point
and from there to Scandinavia. It is here
highly significant that NBA IB metalwork
for the first time bears witness to the use of
Cypriote copper and designs traceable to an
Aegean source. NBA IB is also in this
respect a breaking point, albeit the Car-
pathian crucible seems to have been both
mediator and transformer of Aegean
culture-traits before they travelled north-
wards. The thronesfrom Balkåkra in
Scania and Hasfalva in Hungary are
perhaps the clearest evidence of a direct
connection between the Scandinavian
hotspot zone and the Carpathian Basin.
While commencing c. 1600 BC,NBA
IB, in a manner of speaking, did not come
into full fruition until c. 1500/1465 BC in
NBA II, which is therefore justifiable as
the first true highlight of the southern
Scandinavian Bronze Age (Kristiansen,
1998; Kristiansen & Larsson, 2005). In
NBA II, however, the Carpathian connec-
tion is no longer culturally visible but
rather completely absorbed in the now
uniform Nordic koiné. Instead, clearer
glimpses of Mycenaean cultural impact
occur in Scandinavia (Kristiansen &
Larsson, 2005). This is now sustained by
the testimony of lead isotope analyses
624 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
(Ling et al., 2014). The Aegean seems
from 1500 BC directly included in the
Nordic sphere of interaction.
The reach and effects of the Theran
eruption have a long research history in
Aegean archaeology, and wider inter-
national and historical consequences have
lately begun to be discussed: according to
Risch and Meller (2013: 610, table 1), the
volcanic impact encompassed decline and
growth as well as commencements across
Eurasia. A major reason for recent
advances is the high-precision dating of c.
1600 BC (Friedrich, 2013) for the volcanic
eruption at the very end of the LM IA
period. Presumably triggered by the suite
of disasters in the immediate wake of
eruption (e.g. Friedrich, 2013), political
fragmentation began already during LM
IB in Minoan Crete and its ports of trade
(cf. Preston, 2008; Brogan & Hallager,
2011; Hatzaki, 2011; Knappett et al.,
2011; Driessen, 2013; Sørensen et al.,
2013). This process first culminated with
the fire destructions at the very end of the
LM IB phase c. 1500/1450 BC (cf. Brogan
& Hallager, 2011): political power, and
cultural prominence as such, slowly but
surely moved from the Minoan oikoumene
towards the Mycenaean mainland with its
robust warrior aristocracies of
Indo-European speakers and eventually
allowed successful conquests and commer-
cial expansion of Mycenaean states.
The onset of the sixteenth century BC
emerges as historically crucial due to the
Aegean power shift the eruption expedited:
across the Aegean world weaponry, warfare
and warriors were from now on overtly cele-
brated. Mycenaean military-stately
organization was intimately coupled to reli-
gion, and indeed substantially different
from Minoan Crete (e.g. Palaima, 2008),
and this suits the presented arguments very
well. Still, one may wonder how much of all
this was already inherent to societies in the
Europe of the earliest second millennium
BC and how much was essentially novel.
Possibly, the volcano changed peoplesper-
spectives on their place in the world, and
this coupled to the ensuing world-systemic
transformation in the Aegean gave rise to
extraordinary and successful transfer of a
particular social construct spiced with cos-
mology and warriorhood. The latter were in
turn easily adaptable to local and already
hot social habitats.
Finally, when addressing the historical
significance of the Carpathian link, it may be
concluded that this remote region provided a
direct incentive for the cosmology-rooted
resource from which the NBA took off. An
even broader perspective is however necess-
ary to comprehend why this happened
precisely in the sixteenth century BC.
This research has received funding from
the European Union Seventh Framework
Programme (FP7/20072013) under grant
agreement no. PITN-GA 212402. Col-
laborations around the theme Forging
IdentititesThe Mobility of Culture in
Bronze Age Europe have contributed much
to the present article (http://www., which relates to
perspectives taken in Vandkilde (1996,
1998 and 2014b). I am grateful to valuable
remarks from three reviewers. Zsofia
Kølcze provided information of relevance
for Figure 5, and Samantha Reiter cor-
rected my English: I thank them both for
the improvements. Jeppe Boel Jepsen did
Figure 7, while figures 15 and 911 were
prepared by Louise Hilmar in cooperation
with the author, who collected the under-
lying data. Furthermore, I am grateful to
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang David for permission
to use the illustrations in Figures 6 and 8.
This article, first communicated at the
Bradford conference in honour of Prof.
Kristian Kristiansen, also owes much to
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 625
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Percée de lÂge du Bronze nordique: guerriers transculturels et carrefour carpate au
16e siècle BC
La percée autour de 1600 BC de lâge du Bronze nordique (NBA) comme un koiné au sein de lâge du
Bronze européen peut être liée historiquement au bassin des Carpates. Le distinct caractère nordique
impliquait un enchevêtrement de cosmologie et de statut guerrier, même sil était représenté par des
632 European Journal of Archaeology 17 (4) 2014
médias différents dans la région hotspot (bronze) et la région du nord (pierre). Autour dun carrefour
carpate entre les steppes eurasiennes, le monde égéen et lEurope tempérée de cette époque sest formé un
assemblage transculturel, rassemblant aussi bien les innovations matérielles quimmatérielles provenant
de différents endroits. Un statut supérieur de guerrier était lié à des croyances en une cosmologie tripar-
tite, avec un accès aquatique aux enfers, et présentant également des nouvelles technologies de combat et
des nouveaux modes de conduite sociale. Cette transculture fût traduite de façon créative dans de nom-
breuses sociétés chaudes lors du passage à lâge du Bronze moyen. En Scandinavie du sud, larmement se
distingue par une créativité très importante empruntant des originaux, des contacts et un ensemble
didées provenant des Carpates, mais qui se base en fin de compte sur les hégémonies mycéniennes émer-
gentes en mer dEgée. Ceci procurait le stimulus pour un point de départ ancré dans la cosmologie d
pouvait émerger le NBA. Translation by Isabelle Gerges.
Mots-clés: Âge de Bronze, changement de culture, transculture, cosmologie, traduction créative,
société chaude
Der Durchbruch der Nordischen Bronzezeit: Transkulturelle Kriegerschaft und ein
karpatenländischer Kreuzungspunkt im 16. Jh. v. Chr.
Der um 1600 v. Chr. erfolgte Durchbruch der Nordischen Bronzezeit (Nordic Bronze Age, NBA) als
Koiné innerhalb des bronzezeitlichen Europa kann historisch mit dem Karpatenbecken verbunden
werden. Nordische Distinktivität brachte eine Verschmelzung von Kosmologie und Kriegerschaft mit
sich, die sich allerdings in der Kernzone (Bronze) und der nördlichen Zone (Felsgestein) durch
unterschiedliche Materialien abbildete. An einem karpatenländischen Kreuzungspunkt, der zu dieser
Zeit zwischen den eurasischen Steppen, der ägäischen Welt und der gemäßigten Zone Europas bestand,
entwickelte sich ein kulturell übergreifendes Inventar, in das materielle und immaterielle Innovationen
aus verschiedenen Herkunftsgebieten einflossen. Die hochstehende Kriegerschaft war an Vorstellungen
einer dreigeteilten Kosmologie geknüpft, die u. a. einen wassergebundenen Eingang in die Unterwelt
umfasste, und zeigte zudem neue Kampftechnologien und Wege sozialer Führung. Diese übergreifenden
Kulturphänomene wurden im Umfeld vonheißen Gesellschaftenam Beginn der Mittelbronzezeit frei
übertragen. In Südskandinavien entstand Waffentechnik von großer Kreativität, die aus Originalen des
Karpatenraums, Kontakten und einem Pool von karpatenländischen Ideen herrührte, doch letztendlich
auf die entstehenden mykenischen Hegemonien in der Ägäis zurückgriff. Dies bot den Stimulus für eine
kosmologiebasierte Quelle, aus der die Nordische Bronzezeit ihren Anfang nahm. Traslation by Heiner
Stichworte: Bronzezeit, kultureller Wechsel, Transkultur, Kosmologie, freie Übertragung, heiße
Vandkilde Breakthrough of the Nordic Bronze Age 633
... Beginning around 1600 BC, the Nordic world became well connected to the Pannonian Plain and the Po Valley, just as the settlement networks in those areas were rapidly transforming, and ideological borrowings from the Aegean world and metal resources from Britain attest to external connections of the mid to late second millennium BC (Kaul 2013;Ling et al. 2014;Melheim et al. 2018;Vandkilde 2014;. By 1500 BC, "an original Nordic culture emerged, linked to a new more hierarchical organization of society and landscape" (Earle and Kristiansen 2010, p. 23). ...
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The globalizing connections that defined the European Bronze Age in the second millennium BC either ended or abruptly changed in the decades around 1200 BC. The impact of climate change at 3.2 ka on such social changes has been debated for the eastern Mediterranean. This paper extends this enquiry of shifting human–climate relationships during the later Bronze Age into Europe for the first time. There, climate data indicate that significant shifts occurred in hydroclimate and temperatures in various parts of Europe ca. 3.2 ka. To test potential societal impacts, I review and evaluate archaeological data from Ireland and Britain, the Nordic area, the Carpathian Basin, the Po Valley, and the Aegean region in parallel with paleoclimate data. I argue that 1200 BC was a turning point for many societies in Europe and that climate played an important role in shaping this. Although long-term trajectories of sociopolitical systems were paramount in defining how and when specific societies changed, climate change acted as a force multiplier that undermined societal resilience in the wake of initial social disjunctures. In this way, it shaped, often detrimentally, the reconfiguration of societies. By impacting more directly on social venues of political recovery, realignment, and reorganization, climate forces accentuate societal crises and, in some areas, sustained them to the point of sociopolitical collapse.
... This region became a well-known centre of innovation in metalworking in the 2nd mil. BC (Vandkilde, 2014). The progression from prestige to more commonplace use of metals in the Carpathian Basin occurred in the context of complex tell-centred polities, which were at their height (ca. ...
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The Carpathian Basin was a highly influential centre of metalworking in the 2nd mil. BC. Nevertheless, despite the abundance of metal objects from the Late Bronze Age, the scarcity of contextually associated metalworking remains representing distinct phases of the metalworking cycle from this region is striking. Here, we explore Late Bronze Age metalworking through the lens of a uniquely complete metalworking assemblage from the site of Șagu from contexts spanning the sixteenth to early thirteenth century BC. This material provides insights into changes in craft organisation following socio-political change after the collapse of Middle Bronze Age tell-centred communities. Our approach combines analytical and experimental data together with contextual analysis of technical ceramics (crucible, mould, and furnace fragments) to reconstruct the metalworking chaîne opératoire and place Șagu in its broader cultural context. Analyses demonstrate clear technological choices in ceramic paste recipes and strong interlinkages between metallurgy and other crafts practised on site, from domestic pottery production to building structures. Experimental replications reveal important intrinsic and experiential aspects of metallurgical activities at Șagu. Evidence on the spatial organisation of metallurgical workflows (routine sequence of actions and decisions) suggests they incorporated a high degree of visibility, which marks a distinct change in the use of craft space compared to the context of densely occupied Middle Bronze Age tells nearby. Combined, our archaeometric, experimental, and contextual results illustrate how changes in metalworking activities in the Late Bronze Age Carpathian Basin were deeply embedded in an ideological shift in the aftermath of the breakdown of Middle Bronze Age tells and the emergence of new social structures.
... Sicher aber ist, dass mit dem Untergang der Aunjetitzer Gesellschaft der nordische Bronzekreis enorm an Bedeutung gewann -auch da nun eine direkte Kommunikation mit dem Süden ohne »Blockade« durch die Aunjetitzer Kultur möglich war (Meller 2013, 521-523;Vandkilde 2014). In diesem Kontext entstand und verbreitete sich die Idee der Sonnenreise, die mit der Himmelsscheibe ihren Anfang nahm, wobei die generelle Sonnenverehrung wesentlich länger zurückreicht, wie die verzierten Schalen der Schönfelder Kultur, die Orientierung neolithischer Gräber oder die Kreisgrabenanlagen belegen (Bertemes 2009). ...
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In: H. Meller/A. Reichenberger/R. Risch (Hrsg.), Zeit ist Macht. Wer macht Zeit? 13. Mitteldeutscher Archäologentag 2020. Tagungen Landesmus. Vorgesch. Halle 24 (Halle [Saale] 2021) 149–163.
... Inland, the significance of the Carpathian Basin has been emphasised as a junction of cross-continental communication corridors, an epitome of cultural diversity and a cradle of increasing social hierarchy (Fisch et al. 2013). Farther to the north, in the regions assigned to the Nordic Bronze Age, one finds the start-and end-points of long-distance routes of trade of amber and metals respectively (Bergerbrant 2013;Vandkilde 2014;Kristiansen and Suchowska-Ducke 2015). Because rivers and river valleys connected regions, they also served as home to centres emerging along these routes and at crossroads, which initiated or boosted In the archaeological scholarship on Bronze Age interaction in Europe, the main focus has been on the socio-political and economic connectivity in the context of the development of complex societies and regional hierarchies, and the concentration of power in the emergent political centres (e.g. ...
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"The spread of millet is a spectacular display of the power of human interaction. The adaptability and resilience of the plant may have been the main reasons for its successful integration into pre-existing farming systems. This innovation was a cog in the wheel of the economic, political and social transformation in Bronze Age Europe."
... Reaching and crossing a mountain pass during a seasonal displacement not only represents a geographic shift but also a symbolic transfer from one state to another. I wonder whether this aspect could be related to the concept of liminality and funerary transition associated with natural places explored elsewhere in central Eurasia or western Europe (Argent 2013; Aubrey 2019; Bradley Rozwadowski 2017;Vandkilde 2014). Significantly, in several Turkic and Mongolian languages, the funerary transition is linked to an ascension to the sky or to high mountain pastures (Ragagnin 2013). ...