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Tracing the Hand that Crafted: How Individual Working Traces make Bronze Age Ornaments Talk

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Indeed, this paper concentrates on those relicts of the
crafting process which can lead directly to the Bronze Age
smith. In this sense, newly acquired facts which deal with
individual technological choices executed by the Bronze
Age metalworker will be presented. In the discussion,
the importance of the knowledge of individual tracks on
prehistoric bronze objects are highlighted and several pos-
sibilities regarding the organisation of metalwork in the
Bronze Age are put forward. Due to the lack of written
sources within the area of the north European Bronze Age,
material culture is the only source for gleaning informa-
tion about metal technology, its organisation and its dif-
fusion. In this case, the individual traces described above
offer a unique opportunity to unpick the secrets of metal
technology starting with that very individual that crafted a
particular item.
Background: a new technology and a Scandinavian
Scholars’ overall opinion holds that the first attempts to es-
tablish independent metal technology in northern Europe
and the British Isles were made by Beaker peoples (Taylor
1979; Vandkilde 1996). In particular, the gold plate orna-
ments of the Irish and British Bell Beakers can be seen as
some of the first material remains of this new technology
and, at the same time, the harbingers of a new style (Taylor
1979; Taylor 1994).
The technology behind this metalwork differs greatly from
the technology which developed during the Middle Bronze
Age (Vandkilde 1996, 263). The most basic difference lies
within the technology itself. In contrast to the early gold
sheet objects of the Beaker cultures (which required ad-
vanced forge work), the richly decorated bronzes of the
Nordic Bronze Age were almost exclusively produced
through casting techniques. The fact that the basic form of
most gold sheet objects was a cast wire (rod) shows that
casting technology had been mastered by Beaker smiths
and that the design of these sheet gold ornaments and the
associated technology was deliberately chosen in order to
satisfy society’s needs (Vandkilde 1996, 262; Taylor 1994,
53; Renfrew 1986, 146). This is additionally supported by
the large amount of cast copper flat axes found at Beaker
sites. This clearly leads to the assumption that people con-
sciously chose one technology over the other after which
point the chosen technology developed. In other words,
technology is dependent upon the social convictions of a
group and those selfsame social convictions can develop
through technology (Dobres 2010, 106; Sillar and Tite
With the full adoption of metal technology in Northern
Europe, the establishment of an independent Scandinavian
style was none too distant (Herner 1989, 129)1. The first
signs of increased local production occurred at the tran-
sition from the Late Neolithic to Bronze Age period 1A.
According to Vandkilde, this process was gradual with a
sequential establishment of forms (Vandkilde 1996, 264).
The development followed a progression from one-sided
flat axe production in many different variations during
LN II up to a developed metal technology at various lev-
els in period 1B (Vandkilde 1996, 265; Rønne 1993, 91)
with the first signs of an established spiral style within
the Valsømagle material (Herner 1989, 127). The technol-
ogy responsible for the development of the spread of this
style throughout the area of the Nordic Bronze Age was
a special casting technique. The lost-wax technique (also
known as cire perdu) developed into one of the most com-
monly used casting techniques in Bronze Age Europe. It
involved the initial modelling of the object in wax (most-
ly a mix of beeswax, talc, rosin and fat). The model was
then packed into a multi-layered clay form. After the wax
1 The first independent metal technologies in Scandinavia can
already be documented in the 4th millennium BC (Klassen 2000: 271-
294) as well as in the Late Neolithic. Additional local metal production
centers could be documented (Vandkilde 1996: 170-190; ibid. 1998:
125f.; ibid. 2004/05: 93-96.).
TraCing The hand ThaT CrafTed: how individual working TraCes
Make bronze age ornaMenTs Talk
Heide W. Nørgaard
Abstract:This paper presents an overview of the results of my doctoral thesis (currently in preparation) and will deal
with the technology used to produce the magnicent decorated objects of the 2nd and 3rd period of the Nordic Bronze
Age. The aims of this article are to prove the dominance of ornaments cast through the lost wax method and to highlight
the importance of model making in certain, specic regions during the Early and Middle Bronze Age. This paper will
concomitantly highlight the differences in crafting that occur in the Nordic Bronze Age in terms of similar decorated
ornaments by virtue of new results from the material sciences.
Keywords: Nordic Bronze Age, metalwork, metal technology, bronze casting, craftsmanship
Chapter published in BAR S2771 Forging Identities. The Mobility of Culture in Bronze Age Europe: Volume 1,
Edited by Paulina Suchowska-Ducke, Samantha Scott Reiter, Helle Vandkilde.
British Archaeological Reports Ltd; 9781407314334; £48; 2015. Order Online:
Part 1: Materiality and the ConstruCtion of identity
melted and the mould dried (then hollow because of the
lost wax), the liquid metal was cast in the mould. Once
the cast cooled, the mould was destroyed, revealing the
required item (Born and Hansen 2001, 182; Hundt 1980,
63-79)2. The first proof for the employment of this tech-
nique in Scandinavia is provided by the Skeldal hoard of
which the beehive-shaped box (Figure 1) was doubtless
cast via the lost wax method, due to the irregular thick-
ness of its walls (Vandkilde 1988, 118). The assumption
that the beehive-shaped box was an Únetice import was
posited by several researchers (Vandkilde 1988, 117-120;
Vandkilde 1996, 206; Zich 1997, 237f.) Recent work in-
volving a detailed comparison of the metal compositions
of the Skeldal goods and similar Únetice objects suggests
that this unique object was not an import, but rather a lo-
cal production (Mörtz 2009). However, an earlier use of
this technique might be suggested. Even at such an early
date, the extremely regular and detailed geometric orna-
mentation on some flanged axes from the Late Neolithic
II makes one wonder whether said objects were not made
via the cire perdu method (Vandkilde 1996, 263; Rønne
1993). Occasionally, the Fårdrup type axes are also seen as
products of cire perdu casting. However, previous inves-
tigations of three axes from the Danish National Museum
reveal that the geometrical ornamentation on these objects
was added post casting by means of a punching technique.
However, the importance of the lost wax technique to the
development of metal technology in Northern Europe can-
not be doubted. It was due to the employment of this tech-
nique that the magnificently decorated ornaments (often
with the spiral so characteristic form of the so-called Scan-
dinavian style) could be given form. Already in the 1950s,
a detailed operational sequence had already been created
by Hans Drescher (Drescher 1953) for the neck collars
of the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Some years later,
Preben Rønne added important information concerning
the stamping techniques for spirals (Rønne 1989b; Rønne
1991, Figure 2). However, in recent years, the comple-
tion of several investigations of punching techniques (i.e.
Herner 1989) has cast cast in the shadow of doubt upon
this technique. In summary, the above mentioned research
lead to the assumption that typical spiral decorated arte-
facts (like neck collars, belt discs and tutuli) were crafted
via the wax model into their final forms (Drescher 1953,
69). Additional decorative elements (e.g. ribs and geomet-
ric and spiral ornamentations) were stamped (Rønne 1991,
132-135) or oherwise added to the semi-soft wax.
Method: the information hidden in details
Due to previous experiments and outstanding research on
material culture (Rønne 1989a; Drescher 1953; Drescher
2 The best results are achieved when the whole process is executed
or coordinated by one person (including the possibility of cooperation
and cross craft activity) due to the fact that model making for lost wax
bronze cast requires a knowledge of how metal reacts during the casting
process. In other words, the lost wax method involves a true melding of
‘artistic’ work and metalcraft.
1954), it is possible to define the differences between the
two dominant production techniques (i. e. crafting through
punching and lost wax casting) predominant in the North-
ern European Early and Middle Bronze Age.
In the 1890s, Sophus Müller published goldsmith Boas’
experiment3 in which he crafted an extraordinarily well-
executed belt plate. Müller proved that it is possible to
punch a detailed spiral ornament with bronze tools into
a bronze surface (Müller 1897, 257-258; Rønne 1989a:
129). Comparisons with similar belt plates coming from
casting experiments executed by various researchers made
it possible to create a catalogue of criteria by which to dis-
tinguish the traces left by a punch driven into metal from
the traces left by a stamp4 (Figure 1).
It was possible to determine several typical characteristics
of casting through the lost wax method (Figure 1, right):
a porous and sometimes colourful cast skin, impurities in
the decorative grooves, interruptions in the decoration due
to mistakes in the application of the different clay layers
for the mould, uniform spirals whose deviation from each
other was limited to horizontal or vertical deformation and
recognizable connection points between spirals and their
connective lines.
The main characteristics of punched ornaments (which
also serves to distinguish them from the cast ones) are as
follows (Figure 1, left): clearly distinct lines and sharp
edges on the decorative grooves, variable groove widths,
variation in the imprint form due to the abrasion of the
punch and many individual mistakes and features in the
spirals and the lines which connect them.
In summary, it can be said that every detail and mistake
documented on an ornament can be related to its crafting
method and contains information about individual choice.
Furthermore an important piece of information hidden
in prehistoric ornaments in general is the operational se-
quence by which a particular ornament was crafted and
decorated. Several theoretical approaches deal with the
interpretation of these sequences. The chaîne opératoire
3 ’It was a craftsman from Copenhagen – the goldsmith Boas – who
solved the problem. He often visited the National Museum, and the cu-
rators were not slow to notice that he had a good eye for ancient metal
technique. He was asked about the execution of Bronze Age ornaments
and was urged to discover how they could be produced using only
bronze tools (i.e. without steel). The next day, the goldsmith brought a
piece of brass on which he had executed the spiral ornament described
by means of a punch of the same metal. This answered the question
posed by both proponents and opponents of the Bronze Age theory: the
ornaments were punched. Bronze can be chased with bronze.’ (Müller
1897, 257-58).
4 In addition to the probable belt-plate done by Boas in the 1880s,
several belt plates crafted via cire perdue were discovered in the archives
of the National Museum in Copenhagen. A critical examination and com-
parison of these items is long overdue, especially given what we now
know of the different traces left by the various production methods. Such
an investigation was completed within the purview of this project and
reveals differences in crafting within the Nordic Bronze Age.
Heide W. Nørgaard:TraciNg THe HaNd THaT crafTed: HoW iNdividual WorkiNg Traces Make BroNze age orNaMeNTs Talk
Figure 1: Some examples out of the a catalogue of criteria by which to distinguish the traces left by a punch which was driven
into metal from the traces left by a stamp in a malleable material (pictures taken by the author with friendly permission by the
Nationalmuseet København).
Part 1: Materiality and the ConstruCtion of identity
approach introduced by André Leroi-Gurham and Marcel
Mauss (inter alia Martinόn-Torres 2002) is mostly applied
to technological inventions with the aim ‘to provide tech-
nology studies with both the empirical rigor they require
and the human face they deserve’ (Dobres 1999, 124). De-
spite not allowing “the conceptual chain [to] finish with
the achievement of the manufactured product” (Martinόn-
Torres 2002, 33), the investigation of the behavioural chain
or the life history of artefacts (e.g. Sillar and Tite 2000) is
a similar alternative. All of these approaches have some-
thing in common; they deal with the choices made during
the crafting of an artefact and aim to understand the social
relations between artefact and community. As mentioned
by Lechtman (1975), the activities used to produce an ob-
ject are stylistic. Those selfsame choices accordingly form
part of the package that creates style (Lechtman 1975, 5-7).
Social and cultural choices (themselves embedded in tradi-
tion) lead to specific sequences and should be addressed
elsewhere. The following first focusses on the individual
choices (Sillar and Tite 2000, 9-11) made during the specif-
ic operational sequences of magnificent decorated bronze
objects with the aim of identifying the individual craftsman
and, over the long term, his or her area of distribution. This
is possible due to the fact that every operational sequence
is made up of several intermediate goals (Roux et al. 1995;
Richard 1990) which themselves leave a variety of traces.
Figure 2: The rib-waves as an result that refer to reparation during the crafting sequence due to the malleability of the model seen
on the collar from Lubmin, Kr. Parchim ALM 94/3/1 (pictures taken by the author with friendly permission by the Archäologisches
Landesmuseum Mecklenburg-Vorpommern).
Heide W. Nørgaard:TraciNg THe HaNd THaT crafTed: HoW iNdividual WorkiNg Traces Make BroNze age orNaMeNTs Talk
These distinctive features within the crafting process can
be seen in the overlap of single imprints (or even ornamen-
tal units) and are the basic building blocks for the recon-
struction of an individual operational sequence. These and
the reactions to mistakes are the residues of the individual
choices made during the crafting process.
It should be assumed that working sequences were adopted
as they were learned and were subsequently developed and
improved. In this case, technical patterns can be related to
the same hand or to the same source.
Some results: traces of the Bronze Age smith
The ornaments currently under investigation include neck
collars, belt discs, tutuli and pins. All artefacts are related
to the female gender and should be considered extraordi-
nary pieces of craft. They serve as trans-regional social
markers displaying marriage, age or social rank, and were
likely readable by all members of the Nordic Bronze Age
(see Wobst 1977; Sørensen 1997) as purveyors of informa-
tion about regional groupings by means of their stylistic
As discussed above, one main aim of this investigation
was the detection of general production techniques. In
northeast Germany (Mecklenburg and parts of Branden-
burg) as well as the Danish Islands, crafting via the lost
wax technique could be proved to be the dominant casting
method. The material examined within the project shows
traces of imprints in a soft, malleable material. These trac-
es consist of overlapping situations in which material was
moved into the other imprint, resulting in wave-like ac-
cumulations of material. These results also speak to the
presence of reparations which took place during the craft-
ing sequence as a result of the malleability of the model
(Figure 2).
The lost-wax method seems to have been the method of
choice for the casting of richly decorated ornaments, due
to the fact that relatively few casting moulds of collars,
belt discs or highly decorated pins and fibulas have been
found (Jantzen 2008). However, the assumption of any
complete dominance of cire perdu to the exclusion of oth-
ers could be disproven through metallographic investiga-
tion of artefacts in Niedersachsen. The ornaments in this
area are slightly different in comparison to the other orna-
ments in the Nordic Bronze Age in terms of their formal
shape. Neck collars, for example, have a broad, partly dec-
orated hemline (Nørgaard 2011, 52-56). Additionally, they
show distinct signs of post-cast forging. Drescher’s (1953)
postulate that rib decoration was a result of post-casting
punching techniques (Drescher 1953, 70) could be proved
for the majority of the collars examined; the same goes for
the decorative elements on the hem and ends.
Figure 3: The collars from Wildberg, Kr. Ruppin (MM II4381) and Werder, Kr. Zauch-Belzig (MM II6284) in Brandenburg (pictures
taken by the author with friendly permission by Staatliche Museen zu Berlin).
Part 1: Materiality and the ConstruCtion of identity
Within the Northern Bronze Age there were also objects
of the same category as that discussed above which were
covered with ornamentation and which were crafted to a
high degree through forging, even from within those re-
gions in which the lost-wax method appears to have been
dominant. It might be of interest to sketch out what par-
ticular social significance, if any, a primarily forged object
had within a region where most metalworkers made use of
the lost-wax technique. A good example is represented by
the collars from Wildberg and Werder (Figure 3), both of
which were found in Brandenburg. One collar (the piece
from Wildberg MM II4381) is a representative of crafting
through lost-wax (typical for this area). The other collar
is different; it clearly shows the distinct features of forged
items (Werder MM II6284). The obvious solution might
be that the object was imported after having been crafted
somewhere else. However, in this case, the figural design
of the piece is grounded in the style that was commonplace
in northeast Germany. There is no chronological difference
between the objects in question. While it might be possible
that this item represents a foreign object that influenced
the local style it is also possible that the object that was
crafted locally by means of foreign techniques. The latter
solution is based on the fact that, during the Early Bronze
Age, neck collar shapes and their depositional trends in
northeast Germany were strongly influenced by the re-
gions of northwestern Germany (Nørgaard 2011). Due to
the fact that the existing cultural groups in northern Ger-
many developed different technical solutions to craft the
same artefacts (e.g. model design versus punching tech-
niques), there is a high probability that these techniques
were copied, or foreign craftsmen worked in a traditional
manner producing local styles.
Signatures of individuality can be the result of mistakes
made during crafting (i.e. the above mentioned rib-waves),
the imprint of tools or the result of what one might call
individual ‘motor habits’. These residues might reveal
the thoughts and ideas of the craftsman (through repara-
tion), the way in which they used their tools (right or left
Figure 4: The semi-circular imprints which were added in the wax model of the collar from Lübz, Kr. Parchim (A and B) do not
only reveal the working direction in which the decor was applied (from left side to right, detectible by a deeper imprint in the
left part of the form) but also the tool itself, the craftsperson’s fingernail. Similar imprints were also found on the collar from
Poltnitz, Kr. Parchim (C) and Sparow, Kr. Müritz (D) in Mecklenburg (pictures taken by the author with friendly permission by the
Archäologisches Landesmuseum Mecklenburg- Vorpommern).
Heide W. Nørgaard:TraciNg THe HaNd THaT crafTed: HoW iNdividual WorkiNg Traces Make BroNze age orNaMeNTs Talk
handed) or transferred specific ideas onto objects (differ-
ent techniques). However, operational sequences are first
and foremost the result of traditional behaviour (e.g. Sillar
and Tite 2000). The collar from Weitgendorf, Kr. Priegnitz
in Mecklenburg (1550-1300 BC) reveals at least two suc-
cessive working steps. When interpreting the marks left
in the wax model, it can be assumed that the decoration
on the ribs was placed following that of the spirals, and
that the connecting dot-lines were punched after the spi-
rals were put in place. A similar working-sequence can be
documented on several collars in the broader vicinity. This
specific sequence shows a regionally specific tendency for
the way in which these kinds of objects were crafted and
underlines the impact of traditional behaviour on individ-
ual actions. On the contrary, the dominance of forging in
Niedersachsen in the area of the Lüneburg group was pres-
ent at a similar time, representing, therefore, a different
technological tradition.
In technique and technology research, the term ‘hand’ is
occasionally used as a synonym for a person. Here, it is
possible to determine the hand as a part of the body of the
individual that actually held the tool or struck the punch5.
5 However, the fact that the physical and chemical requirements of
crafting today are similar to those in prehistory (i.e. the melting point of
copper alloys) enables us to correlate specific traces with specific hand
Figure 5: The different traces pictured above show innovative actions by the craftsman during a crafting sequence: a) the end-spirals
close differently than those more towards the middle of the pattern on the collar from Mecklenburg (ALM 26); b) due to the limited
space at the sides of the collar from Lübz, Kr. Parchim in Mecklenburg (ALM 2000, 1277/3), the shape of the spirals had to be
reduced; c) the limited space at the sides of the collar from Sparow, Kr. Müritz in Mecklenburg (ALM LII Q,3) forces the craftsman
to reduce the size and changes the close of the spiral; d) the clearly visible extensions at the end of one single spiral within the spiral
decoration from the collar from Weitgendorf II, Kr. Priegnitz (MM II8302); e) the unique connection that occurred due to a mental
mistake in combining the spirals on the endplate of the collar from Heitbrack in Niedersachsen (LM Han 148/81); f) the repaired
spirals within the spiral decoration from the collar from Weitgendorf (MM II8269).
Within the investigated material, the semi-circular im-
prints which were added to the wax model of the collar
from Lübz, Kr. Parchim are worthy of particular notice
(Figure 4). These imprints do not only reveal the working
direction in which the decor was applied (from left to right,
as shown by the presence of a deeper imprint in the left
part of the form) but also the tool itself: the craftsperson’s
fingernail. The unique form of this semicircular decorele-
ment, together with characteristic flattening on the inside,
makes it very likely that the traces visible today are those
of the craftsman’s hand.
Another example proving individual hand action is aptly
illustrated by the disc-pin from Sparow, Kr. Müritz (Schu-
bart 1972) in Mecklenburg. The bulges on the disc-pin
show distinct, repeated punches (and the resulting destruc-
tion in the direction of the strike). The orientation of the
crack in the bulge suggests that the direction of the punch
came from the right. This would indicate, therefore, that
the tool was handled with the left hand.
The choices made by the craftsmen to unexpected situa-
tions during the crafting process are purely intuitive ac-
tions and end in unique patterns. Therefore, they can be
considered innovative actions. In addition to the rib-waves
described above (Figure 2), other intuitive and uncon-
scious actions could also be documented: the spirals on
a Mecklenburg type neck collar from 1550 to 1300 BC.
However, the latter are vastly different from previous ex-
amples. Due to the limited space at the sides of the piece,
Part 1: Materiality and the ConstruCtion of identity
the shape of the spirals was reduced. For this reason, the
end-spirals close differently than those in the middle of
the pattern (Figure 5a-c); the extensions at the end of one
single spiral within the spiral decoration from the Meck-
lenburg type neck collar from Weitgendorf II are clearly
visible (Figure 5d) and occur only within a specific region.
A mental mistake in combining the spirals on the endplate
of the collar from Heitbrack in Niedersachsen resulted in a
unique connection that needed to be repeated on the other
side for aesthetic balance (Figure 5e). A similar situation
occurred with the collar from Weitgendorf, Brandenburg
were spirals were repaired during the crafting sequence
(Figure 5f).
Conclusion and perspectives
The detailed examination of ornaments from the Early and
Middle Bronze Age in Northern Europe can reveal a great
amount of information about the individuals behind the
crafting. The documented mistakes inform the attentive
observer about the choices that were made during produc-
tion and repair. In particular, these distinctive features can
be used to identify workshops, due to the fact that they
point out the hand that crafted. Conducive to the sharing
of techniques and (possibly) even tools in one workshop6,
the results of this investigation characterize and refine the
locations of possible workshops.
One of the major achievements of the current study is
proving that several regionally-specific communities de-
veloped their own distinct technologies for the creation
of items whose meaning was recognized trans-regionally
within the cultural framework of the Nordic Bronze Age.
The regionally specific particularities might just be visible
for the social group from which they originated (Dobres
1999, 136-137) and add an extra layer to the artefacts’ em-
bedded meaning which was visible only to a special group
of people (Wobst 1977). As wrote Ingold (1993):
‘The very practice of a technique is itself a statement
about identity: there can be no separation of communica-
tive from technical behavior’ (Ingold 1993, 438). Keeping
this in mind, the first technological statement in the area
under investigation might include the innovative use of the
lost-wax method in Jutland (Mörtz 2009), a direct contrast
to the methods typical of surrounding regions. The next
technological statement can be seen in the intensive use of
spiral decoration leading to the ‘Scandinavian style’ (after
Herner 1989). Despite stylistic unity in the Nordic Bronze
Age, technological differences could be documented and
can be aligned with known regional groups. Furthermore,
in case of the rib-waves (a local pattern in northwest Meck-
lenburg of which four items could be documented) might
signalize a workshop with its own stylistic features (ongo-
ing research awaits further evidence of local workshops).
6 Even if there the workshops consist of several individuals, small
family businesses are quite conceivable (Lüning 2005), were due to the
type of knowledge transfer similar features in production.
Furthermore, through the knowledge of workshops (inves-
tigated from the object’s point of view), the organisation
of metalworking within the Nordic Bronze Age should be
examined in more detail.
The itinerant craftsman (Childe 1930; Childe 1940) is
more than just a relic of archaeological research; the con-
ditions under which he or she operated are described by
several ethnographic studies7. In several instances, the ma-
terial under investigation demonstrates features that could
be explained by the presence of foreign craftsmen (e.g. the
Wildberg/Werder case or the identical spiral construction
on the Krasmose type collars (Nørgaard, in prep.). How-
ever, it might be assumed that the craftsmen were itinerant
in the same way as was posited by Childe (1930); they
were more likely to have been attached to prosperous parts
of society (Zaccagnini 1983) or forced to travel due to the
lack of sufficient work and resources (Torbert 1988; Nea-
her 1979). Also, the fact that knowledge is enhanced by
experience and intellectual exchange could have pushed
people to leave known circles and to seek the unknown.
Research to date categorizes metalwork into a two-tiered
organisational model (Vandkilde 1996, 264; Levy 1991,
70; Rønn 1993, 91) in which a ruling elite supported spe-
cialized crafts in opposition to ordinary housecraft.
This investigation supports the idea of different craft di-
rections: one in which different skilled metalworkers pro-
duced items for daily use (in later periods, this direction
might be associated with blacksmiths) and others who pro-
duced a different sort of object which one might qualify as
a ‘symbol’. There is no doubt that some of these artisans
were highly skilled and were provided with raw material
and time in such a way as to indicate full time profession-
alism (as evidenced by the creator of the belt plates from
Frankerup, Sorø Amt, for example). However, the diver-
sity present in the material leads to the assumption that, in
addition to these (possibly attached) specialists, a goodly
quantity of regionally-located and skilled metalworkers
existed as well. They crafted extraordinary pieces based on
the same traditions of the ‘Scandinavian style’ with their
own technological traditions as detectable by archaeolo-
gists. Furthermore, it seems that these craftsmen passed
on their knowledge through teaching by doing. Many ar-
tefacts throughout the Middle Bronze Age reveal traces of
skilled work as well as the work of novices (e.g. the belt
plate from Sludstrup, Hjørring Amt in Jutland or the collar
from Heitbrack, Kr. Ülzen in Niedersachsen).
However, we might go even further than the potential over
arching organisational forms of metal craft. The majority
of the investigated items have one thing in common which
also divides them from most tools and weapons: namely,
that they were produced through the cire perdu method
and, therefore, were mainly crafted in wax. The question
7 For a broad overview over ethnographic studies to itinerant crafts-
manship see Nørgaard (in prep.) and Neipert (2006).
Heide W. Nørgaard:TraciNg THe HaNd THaT crafTed: HoW iNdividual WorkiNg Traces Make BroNze age orNaMeNTs Talk
here should rather be whether we can assume the exis-
tence of a separate branch of production (model making)
or whether this portion of the process was merely an ad-
ditional skill these craftsman had, as is common in Indian
Bronze manufacturing (Levy et al. 2008, 52-54). Without
doubt, the crafting of these models deserves more atten-
tion in archaeological research. More recent theoretical
research concentrates on cross-craft studies (Miller 2009,
237-239) and it is in situations like these that such ideas
are born.
The research leading to these results has received funding
from the European Union Seventh Framework Program
(FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement no. 212402. Ad-
ditional special thanks go to the Archäologisches Landes-
museum Mecklenburg and the National Museum in Co-
penhagen for their permission to investigate the objects as
well as to Samantha Reiter for correcting the English ver-
sion of this paper and to the Forging Identities members,
especially Helle Vandkilde, Svend Hansen, Constanze
Rassmann, Samantha Reiter, Maikel Kuijpers, Marie-Lou-
ise Stig Sørensen and Joanna Sofaer for many inspiring
discussions and their motivation during this project.
Born, H. and Hansen, S. 2001. Helme und Waffen Alteur-
opas. Mainz, Philip von Zabern.
Childe, V. G. 1930. The Bronze Age. Cambridge, Cam-
bridge University Press.
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... Stylistic or technical differences in prestige objects are often seen as indicative of chiefly workshops at regional centres (Ottenjahn 1961(Ottenjahn , 1969Levy 1982:93, 100;Larsson 1986;Rønne 1986;Kristiansen 1987:33-34;Herner 1989;Kristiansen & Larsson 2005:35-37;Nørgaard 2016). Specialised production has been envisaged as taking place not only in centralised workshops (Oldeberg 1960:50;Stenberger 1971:204;Jaanusson 1981:21-22;Levy 1982;Vahlne 1989;Björhem & Säfvestad 1993:79;Weiler 1994;Kristiansen 1998:67-68;Nørgaard 2015Nørgaard , 2016, but also at ritual or liminal sites such as cult houses or enclosures (Levy 1991:66;Kaul 1998:43-44;Prescott 2000;Goldhahn 2007;Melheim 2012), or at central places for assemblies and ceremonies (Thedéen 2004:156;Agersnap Larsen et al. 2015;Melheim 2015;Melheim et al. 2016). ...
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Traces of bronze casting – fragmented moulds and crucibles - frequently occur at Late Bronze Age settlements. These traces are often assumed to represent utilitarian domestic production, in contrast to more specialised workshop production at ritual or elite locations. Moreover, settlements have often been reduced to overall production units, while actual arrangements of bronze casting within sites has remained unexplored. The aim of this paper is to provide new insight into the organization of metalworking from an empirical and ‘bottom up’ perspective by examining the spatial and social contexts of bronze casting. The analysis draws on ten excavated sites in south-eastern Sweden and addresses three spatial levels: site, setting and framing. The study shows that domestic arenas often hosted varied and complex metalworking staged at various indoor and outdoor hearths located in the core areas of settlements. Rather than being conceptualized as levels, the organization of Late Bronze Age metalworking was a multifaceted, communicative and user-oriented practice. These insights have consequences for excavation methods as well as for the interpretation of the role of metalworking in society
... Within a FP7-financed project, several metal workshops were detected from the early and middle Nordic Bronze Age-namely in southern Scandinavia, Denmark, and North Germany (see Nørgaard 2014aNørgaard , 2014bNørgaard , 2015bNørgaard , 2015c. ...
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Two different scientific analyses—one destructive and one non-destructive—were conducted on two separate groups of bronze ornaments dating from 1500–1100 BC to investigate, amongst other traits, the metal composition of their copper-tin alloys. One group of artefacts was sampled, and polished thin sections were analysed using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Results from the corrosion crust of copper-tin alloys, and the change measured within the elemental composition from the bulk metal to the surface, greatly influenced the interpretation of the second data set, which was measured using a handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) device. The surface of corroded bronze ornaments consists mostly of copper carbonates, oxides, and chlorides. Chemical processes, such as decuprification, change the element composition in such a manner that the original alloy cannot be traced with a non-destructive method. This paper compares the results of both investigations in order to define the possibilities and limits of non-destructive XRF analyses of corroded bronze artefacts.
The Textile Revolution in Bronze Age Europe - edited by Serena Sabatini November 2019
The phenomenon of depositing various types of goods was practiced in Europe across the annals of all time. Known from the Bronze Age and in some regions of the continent, also from the Early Iron Age, metal object hoards are one of the most spectacular and easiest for identification as well as the most often recorded and analyzed illustration of this phenomenon. In being a specific category of archaeological finds in many respects – as far as the meaning of these practices in the culture of prehistoric communities, as well as the circumstances of their discovery – they were for many decades investigated in a particular way. In this context, unusually high emphasis was placed on typological analysis and the dominant forms of research were regional monographs. The resulting impasse of using limited data for the purposes of argumentation in favour of one of the hypotheses (sacral or profane) was underscored in the literature many a time. Both the development of archaeology and the significant growth of the number of newly discovered metal artefact assemblages, leads one to considerations over the appropriate means for conducting research on these enigmatic finds. The past few years have brought a series of new research propositions in respect to the means of investigating and interpreting this very phenomenon. The hoard from Rosko one could argue is not only worth exemplification on account of the significant research information it brings, but also as a means of indicating how research on hoards may be conducted.
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From ornaments originating in the Nordic Bronze Age (1470-1300 BC) residues of the crafting process were collected and compared, in order to detect the individual in metalcraft, their workshops and the dissemination area of each workshop. Specifically on Zealand the material revealed high-quality work combined with a large amount of time invested in crafting. Three workshops could be defined on Zealand with the help of stylistic and technological peculiarities. In addition, the combination of identical tool traces, similar technological behaviour, the appearance of skilled and unskilled work, and traces of knowledge exchange, made a determination of the organisational structure of each workshop possible.
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The first ethnoarchaeological study of the famous hereditary bronze casters of the village of Swamimalai, Tamil Nadu, in south India. They trace their lineage back more than 1,000 years. The book provides an overview of the chaine operatoire (operational chain) of traditional bronze production from market forces of demand for religious bronze icons (such as the Nataraja or Dancing Shiva), though all the steps of the lost-wax method of casting, to re-cycling of metal, to the final presentation of these master works.
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The focus of this study is the early part of the Late Neolithic Period in Denmark with particular emphasis on impact from the European Bell Beaker culture in the fi nal centuries of the third millennium BC. The history of research is briefl y reviewed and the published evidence of domestic and ritual practices and of material expressions are discussed in some detail. The underlying intention is to provide a preliminary conclusion useable as a framework for describing future research potentials and aims. Flint daggers and various other things and materials enriched with symbolic meanings, culture and knowledge were exchanged over northern central Europe and Scandinavia, but were diff erentially received locally. The specifi c cultural and social situation in northern Jutland – associated with a marked concentration of Beaker elements – can best be understood as dependent on a series of internal conditions such as rich sources of high quality fl int as well as on interaction with a wider Late Neolithic realm in southern Scandinavia and with late Bell Beaker and affi liated groups in western Europe. A scenario of competing social identities is presented in which strategies were closely coupled to appropriation of new kinds of material culture and in some measure also new cultural and social practices. External impulses were continuously translated into a local cultural language. Future research into Beakers may benefit from an interpretive approach that combines analyses of archaeological data with social theories about the role of material culture in social practices, identifi cation strategies and cross-cultural connectivity.
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Childe´s theory about the organisation of metalworking in prehistory (Childe 1930; 1952) is one of the most cited and discussed theories in archaeology (Trigger 1980; Pigott 1965; Rowlands 1971). Childe concludes that Bronze Age metalworkers were highly specialised, full-time craftsmen, and, due to the technical demands of their work, were also accorded high social status (Childe 1930, 4). However, theoretical and investigative developments over the past two decades have proved his model unlikely. Ethnographic sources in particular do not support the fundamental pillars of his model, such as that of full-time 2 craftsman (Rowlands 1971, 213-214; Neipert 2006, 51-73). This study will show, that an intensive investigation concerning the crafting of decorated bronze ornaments allows to identify individual craftspeople. And further more, these individual traces were found on items deposited fare away from each other. Based on these traces of individual craftspeople, the topic of mobile craftspeople is again in focus.
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Eine Umfassende typologische Gliederung der Halskragen von der Periode I bis zu ihrem Verschwinden in der Periode VI. Neben einem vollständigen Katalog (inklusive der aktuellen Museumsnummern) sind auch die meisten Stücke als Zeichnung oder Foto abgebildet. Eine umfassende Quellenkritik zeigt die Stellung dieses prächtigen Schmuckstückes im Fundgut der Nordischen Bronzezeit und hinterfragt sein Nutzen. Eine ausführliche englische Zusammenfassung ist angeschlossen.