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Praehistorische Zeitschrift 2022; 97(1): 130–158
Helle Vandkilde*, Valentina Matta, Laura Ahlqvist and Heide W. Nørgaard
Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned
helmets: Bronze Age Scandinavia, Sardinia, and
Zusammenfassung: Das Auftreten und die Darstellung
gehörnter Helme im bronzezeitlichen Nordeuropa regt
bis in die Gegenwart Diskussionen darüber an, was davon
lokal und was fremd ist. Abbildungen gehörnter Helme
finden sich in ganz Europa und dem angrenzenden Mittel-
meerraum in einem Zeitraum von 1000–750 v.Chr. Diese
Studie beschäftigt sich detailliert mit einer vergleichen-
den Analyse der Darstellung gehörnter Helme, ausgehend
von der Frage, wie ähnlich sich die verwendeten Materia-
lien, das Medium selbst und die kulturellen Kontexte sind.
Sardinien, das südwestliche Spanien und Portugal (Iberi-
sche Halbinsel) sowie Südskandinavien sind innerhalb
dieser Untersuchung von besonderem Interesse, da hier
anthropomorphe kriegerähnliche Kreaturen mit gehörn-
ten Helmen in der materiellen und ikonographischen Kul-
tur auftreten. Die Analysen enthüllen Ähnlichkeiten und
Unterschiede zwischen den drei Zonen in der Darstellung
dieser gehörnten Figuren, der Art und Weise, wie sie dar-
gestellt werden und der Eingliederung dieses Phänomens
in Rituale und Alltägliches um 1000–750 v.Chr.
Obwohl auch lokale Eigenheiten deutlich heraus-
gearbeitet werden können, ist eine Verbindung dieser
drei Regionen nicht zu leugnen. Übergreifend betrachtet
können die Hörner als Zeichen der Potenz des Helmträ-
gers interpretiert werden. Sie gelten als Inbegriff eines
Kriegers und visualisieren eine begrenzte Gruppe von krie-
gerischen Wesen. Ihre Bedeutung scheint eng verbunden
mit Riten, Orten und Überzeugungen und zeugt auch von
einer engen Verbindung zu politischen Prozessen.
Wir schlussfolgern, dass die ins Auge fallenden Abbil-
dungen von gehörnten Insignien tragenden Männern
eine Kennzeichnung des „Besonderen“ sind. Sie könn-
ten einerseits als ein Ausdruck oder die Verbildlichung
für die lokale Kontrolle von Metallen zu sehen sein und
sollten andererseits als ein Zeichen für die Übertragung
neuartiger Überzeugungen und Kulte, die eine verkör-
perte Gigantisierung beinhalten, verstanden werden.
Darstellungen gehörnter Figuren haben eine komplexe
Geschichte im spätbronzezeitlichen Mittelmeer und ent-
springen der Levante. Der skandinavische Raum nimmt
diese Elemente und teils auch Ideologien vermutlich um
1000 v Chr. auf, zusammenfallend mit der metallgeführ-
ten phönizischen Expansion und Konsolidierung nach
Westen. Dies führt zu einer Etablierung einer Mittelmeer-
Atlantik-Seeroute, während die im 2.Jahrtausend vorherr-
schende transalpine Handelsroute immer inaktiver wird
und schließlich verebbt. Bei der vergleichenden Auswer-
tung von bildlichen Darstellungen, zum Beispiel der Fels-
kunst und plastischen Darstellungen gehörnter Figuren,
zeigte sich, dass diese teils an lokale Riten und Gebräuche
angepasst wurden, auf andere jedoch sparsam oder gar
keinen Einfluss hatten.
Schlüsselworte: Späte Bronzezeit, lokal vs. global, Krie-
ger-Kult, Gigantisierung, Metallhandel und westliche See-
Abstract: Horned-helmet imagery continues to raise ques-
tions about what is local and what is global in Bronze Age
Europe. How similar is the imagery found on Sardinia, in
southwestern Iberia and southern Scandinavia in material
appearance, medium of representation, and sociocultural
setting? Does it occur at the same point in time? Does it
spring from or transmit a shared idea? Analysis reveals
intriguing patterns of similarity and difference between
the three zones of horned-helmet imagery 1000–750 BC.
The results point to actors and processes at the local level
*Corresponding author: Helle Vandkilde, Aarhus University, School
of Culture and Society, Moesgaard Allé 22, DK-8270 Højbjerg.
Valentina Matta, Aarhus University, School of Culture and Society,
Moesgaard Allé 22, DK-8270 Højbjerg. E-Mail:
Laura Ahlqvist, Aarhus University, School of Culture and Society,
Moesgaard Allé 22, DK-8270 Højbjerg. E-Mail:
Heide W. Nørgaard, Moesgaard Museum, Moesgaard Allé 15,
DK-8270 Højbjerg. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open Access. © 2021 Helle Vandkilde, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution
4.0 International License.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 131
while also pinpointing interconnections. Across all three
contexts, horns signify the potency of the helmet wearer,
the quintessential warrior. Horns visualise a defined
group of bellicose beings whose significance stems from
commemorative and mortuary rites, sites, and beliefs– in
conjunction with political processes. We suggest that the
eye-catching imagery of very particular males wearing
horned insignia relates on the one hand to local control of
metals and on the other to the transfer of novel beliefs and
cults involving embodied gigantisation. It is characteris-
tic that the horned figure is adapted into some settings,
but only sparingly or not at all in others. This imagery has
a complex history, with Levantine roots in the LBA Med-
iterranean. The Scandinavian addendum to the network
coincides with the metal-led Phoenician expansion and
consolidation in the west from c.1000 BC. A Mediterra-
nean–Atlantic sea route is suggested, independent of the
otherwise flourishing transalpine trading route.
Keywords: Final Bronze Age, local-global, imagery and
narratives, warrior-cult, gigantisation, sanctuary, cult,
political power, metal-control and western sea route
Riassunto: L’interpretazione iconografica di individui che
indossano elmi cornuti continua a sollevare domande su
cosa sia locale e globale nell’ambito figurativo dell’Europa
dell’Età del Bronzo. Il presente contributo ha lo scopo di
individuare gli elementi in comune e quelli di divergenza
tra tre zone (Sardegna, Penisola Ibérica e Scandinavia)
nel periodo 1000–750 a.C. Quali sono le somiglianze tra
le rappresentazioni di età nuragica, quelle della Penisola
Ibérica e il sud della Scandinavia per quanto riguarda il
repertorio iconografico, il materiale utilizzato e il contesto
socio-culturale? Queste somiglianze hanno origine in
maniera indipendente, oppure sono frutto della trasmis-
sione di idee tra le diverse regioni? Nelle tre regioni a
confronto, la figura dell’elmo cornuto si adatta ad alcuni
contesti, mentre risulta sporadica o del tutto assente in
altri. L’iconografia presenta una storia complessa che ha
origini in area levantina e si diffonde nel resto del Medi-
terraneo ed in Europa almeno dal Bronze Recente. L’ag-
giunta della Scandinavia al network coincide con l’aper-
tura di una nuova rotta atlantica e con la consolidazione
dell’espansione fenicia motivata dalla ricerca di nuove
risorse metallifere nel Mediterraneo occidentale (circa
1000 a.C.). I risultati dell’indagine supportano l’ipotesi
che queste rappresentazioni scaturiscano sia da processi
di tipo locale sia da elementi di interconnessione tra le
regioni analizzate. In tutte e tre le aree, l’elmo cornuto
viene utilizzato per esprimere la potenza dell’individuo
che lo indossa, la quintessenza del guerriero. Le corna
diventano elemento per identificare un preciso gruppo
di individui i cui simboli, spesso legati all’ambito bellico,
vengono esibiti in rituali commemorativi di frequente
legati all’ambito funerario. I valori associati alla parure
bellica vengono celebrati all’interno di contesti nei quali
processi di tipo sociale e politico si mescolano con l’am-
bito rituale del sacro. Tra i gli elementi comuni, la rappre-
sentazione dello sguardo e elementi decorativi somiglianti
di alcuni individui con elmi cornuti potrebbe associarsi a
due fenomeni: da una parte la diffusione di simboli attar-
verso il commercio del metallo tra le tre zone e dall’altra la
diffusione di credenze e culti associati al fenomeno della
Parole chiave: Bronzo Finale, locale-globale, immagini e
narrativa, culto del guerriero, gigantizzazione, santuario,
culto, potere politico, controllo del metallo, rotte maritt-
Introduction to the horned-helmet
The only extant horned metal helmets are those from
Viksø, Denmark. This pair of twin helmets communicates
to the onlooker an extraordinary agency, suggesting that
their wearers wielded power, whether perceived as god,
human, or something in between. The Viksø helmets
are not entirely unique, however. Similar imagery is por-
trayed, in differing media and on differing scales, both
within and outside Denmark. The present contribution
concerns representations of horned-helmet creatures in
the Late Bronze Age and the earliest Iron Age. This spe-
cific figure is usually associated with weapons and gear
calling to mind the concept of the warrior’s beauty, but
the meaning of the figure in several respects transcends
this. The horned-helmet figure is not a standard rep-
resentation of later Bronze Age warriorhood: other helmet
types and human-like figures also occur. Rather, it conveys
specific meanings, both local and overarching, that are
challenging to unveil. The horned figure will be termed
‘warrior’ in what follows, even if this term is not entirely
comprehensive, and our use of the term ‘imagery/image’
1See Norling-Christensen 1943; 1946a; 1946b; Hencken 1971; Thrane
2Different terminologies are in use for the same chronological in-
terval. Early Iron Age (EIA) in the Mediterranean corresponds to Late
Bronze Age (LBA) in central and northern Europe.
132Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
recognises a set of underlying ideas or situations. The
geographical range of the figure reveals three zones– a
southern zone in Sardinia and adjoining parts of Corsica,
a middle zone in southwestern Iberia, and a northern zone
in southern Scandinavia– thus highlighting three seas
and potential movements over vast distances (Fig.1). The
horned warrior occurs in these three settings, but spar-
ingly or not at all in the rest of Europe– except in the
Near East and the east Mediterranean region, which boast
a deep history of horned-helmet figures connected with
divine rulership and with warfare at the time when the
longstanding Bronze Age civilisation there was in rapid
transition c.1200 BC.
Three possible explanatory scenarios for the horns
can be outlined: firstly, that they arose from autono-
mous local processes; secondly, that they were products
of multidirectional culture flows in a phase of globalisa-
4Kristiansen 2014, 342–343.
tion; and thirdly, that they were the product of directional
movements of goods and ideas as they were strategically
appropriated by local culture and society. In the first two
scenarios, the similarities between the figures are random
and not directly connected, while in the third scenario, the
interconnections are concrete and the result of planned
If the figures are interlinked, their distinctly zone-spe-
cific occurrence may reveal relations between the Nordic
Bronze Age, the Atlantic Bronze Age, and the West Mediter-
ranean Bronze Age. This is not unlikely, as demonstrated
by similar-style bronze objects present in parts of or across
this huge area, with threads leading far into the east Med-
iterranean Sea: for example, Herzsprung-type round
shields, Carp’s Tongue swords, swords of Monte Sa’Idda
type, mirrors, Huelva-type elbow brooches, Atlantic type
cauldrons, roasting spits and flesh hooks, British-type
5Compare Appadurai 1996; Vandkilde 2016, 109–111.
Fig. 1: The three geographical zones with horned-helmet representations analysed in this article: Sardinia, southwest Iberia, and southern
Scandinavia, with selected key sites. The distinctly western European focus hints at connections between the western Mediterranean Sea,
the Atlantic sea façade, and the Scandinavian part of the North Sea and inner waters. © V. Matta.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 133
socketed spearheads, and spearheads of Vénat type. Fur-
thermore, it has been suggested that copper from various
ore provenances moved along these pathways. Tin was a
crucial travelling commodity, likely provided especially by
Cornwall, an important hub from early on.
Recent decades of research have strengthened the
view that the Bronze Age was reliant on coveted metals
traded in vast amounts and often long distance, hence
connecting metal-rich tracts with regions poor in metals.
Regular trade was made necessary by the unequal natural
distribution of copper and, in particular, tin. The metals
of gold, silver, and lead followed suit. Recent research
has conceptualised this process, simultaneously local
and global, as bronzization. Other desirable commod-
ities are known to have travelled far and wide, notably
Baltic amber and Egyptian-Mesopotamian blue glass
while exotic spices and cuisine culture have recently been
added to the suite hence matching recent clear evidence of
shared weighing technology from the east Mediterranean
along the Atlantic façade as far as Britain and Scandina-
via. Such commodities were perhaps traded in return for
or transported along with the metals. A shifting panoply of
finished objects also travelled, notably weaponry and cer-
emonial drinking gear. Local production and the serial
spread of material simulacra constitute a further layer of
cultural exchange, if one that is generally less well under-
stood. Several of the war-effective flanged-hilted swords of
the later Bronze Age seem to be locally made, albeit they
suggest an international style among a professional set of
warriors. Similarly, large round shields in bronze appear
in several variants, and protective armour appears across
Europe. In other cases, objects present themselves as
similar to an original in a manner that reveals leeway for
local tradition and taste. Local Scandinavian emulations
of Hajdúsámson-style metal-hilted swords and daggers
were fashionable at an early stage of the Middle Bronze
Age. Beliefs tied to the sun-bird-ship motif likewise trav-
6Harrison 2004, figs 7,7; 7,10–11; 7,20; 7,23; 8,2–4; Kristiansen 1998,
77 figs 72–75; Cleary/Gibson 2019, fig. 4,19.
7Ling et al. 2012; Ling et al. 2014; Ling et al. 2019; Melheim et al.
8Berger et al. 2019; Vandkilde 2017, 142–175.
10Scott et al. 2021; Varberg et al. 2016. Ialongo et al. 2021; cf. Vand-
11For example Hansen 1995; Kristiansen 1998, 161–185; Thrane 1975.
12See Harding 2007; Jung et al. 2011; Kristiansen/Suchowska-Ducke
2015; Molloy 2010, 2018; Stockhammer 2004.
14Mödlinger 2015; 2017.
15Sørensen 2012; Vandkilde 2014.
elled widely across Urnfield Europe, perhaps rooted in
the Mediterranean post-Bronze Age world. The overall
picture suggests that raw materials, ready-mades, and re-
ligious ideas were able to travel long distance, while si-
multaneously demonstrating that there is a crucial level
of local strategies to consider too.
Against this background, this article sets out to
specify how similar the horned-helmet imagery is in ma-
terial appearance, medium of presentation, and sociocul-
tural context. What can be inferred about the chronology?
Do these helmet figures spring from, or transmit, a shared
idea at all? Why was the horned figure adapted into these
three settings, but sparingly or not at all in others? The
puzzling complexity surrounding these representations
led us to perform the empirical comparative analysis pre-
sented below; and the results provide the scaffolding for
a step-by-step discussion of the people and the processes
behind the qualitative data patterns, at the local level as
well as in the cross-linkages.
Research and debates: an overview
While previous studies have readily affirmed linkages
between the imagery found on Sardinia and in southwest-
ern Iberia, faraway southern Scandinavia is often men-
tioned only in passing. Even though the research litera-
ture is vast, the relations between these three groups have
not previously been investigated in a targeted manner to
establish similarities and differences.
Although the Scandinavian horned-helmet rep-
resentations stand out among the crowd of Nordic Bronze
Age products, they are rather understudied as a group
within a group: the Viksø helmets and the Grevensvænge
figurines are often discussed with other similar representa-
tions within a universe of warriors and other figures. In
a recent fieldwork communiqué, Valentina Matta and
colleagues acknowledged a relationship between the
Sardinian and the Scandinavian imagery, drawing on
Helle Vandkilde’s reconsideration of the Viksø helmets.
Close similarities between the rock carvings of Tanum,
16Kaul 1998, 277–284; Kossack 1954; Kristiansen/Larsson 2005,
306–319; Sprockhoff 1954.
17For example Gonzalez 2018, 44–45; Norling-Christensen 1946a;
1946b; Thrane 1975; Vandkilde 2013.
18Glob 1962, 1969; Kaul 1998; Norling-Christensen 1943; 1946a;
19Matta et al. 2020.
134Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
Sweden, and the Iberian stelae have recently been noted
while Alpine and Galician rock art may provide general
matrix-like similarities that transcend these regions.
Richard J. Harrison recognised only a structural simi-
larity between the horned-helmet representations of the
Iberian stelae, the Sardinian bronzetti, and the Monte
Prama sculptures, also in Sardinia. He mentions the Viksø
helmets fleetingly, but argues against their potential At-
lantic-Mediterranean footing and connects them instead
to Central European crested helmets and to an innate
Scandinavian tradition of metalworking. In this respect,
Harrison follows Henrik Thrane, who stated that crested
helmets have a wide distribution in Europe. It is indeed
possible that that the helmets from Viksø were locally
made, or at least reworked to fit local styles.
Several studies deal with either the Sardinian or the
Iberian depictions. Interrelationships are commented on
now and again, recently by Ralph A. Gonzalez in a thor-
ough study. With regard to Iberia, Harrison published
most of the c.140 Iberian stelae. He discussed the local
context and provided a Mediterranean as well as Atlantic
outlook. Several Spanish-language overviews and opin-
ions also exist. In Sardinia, the Nuragic bronze statu-
ettes (henceforth bronzetti) have been intensively studied
and their production, function, and context discussed.
Approximately five hundred bronzetti exist, among which
mostly the Uta-Abini group interests us here. Supple-
menting this, the Monte Prama limestone giants are now
also published, although the site itself is still under ex-
cavation. It is now clear that horns in anthropomorphic
and zoomorphic imagery have a deep ancestry, although
it is accepted among researchers that Bronze Age ver-
sions often depict a cap or helmet to which the horns are
attached, even in cases where this is not clear from the
image, as on the Iberian stelae.
Interpretations of the three geographical groups,
separate or together, tend to follow parallel paths. In his
21Koch 2018; cf. Ling/Koch 2018.
22Sansoni/Gavaldo 2015; Fredell et al. 2010.
23Harrison 2004, 143–144.
24Harrison 2004, 141.
25Thrane 1975, see also Althin 1952, 382ff.
26Vandkilde 2013, 9; First results of a craft-technical investigation
by H. Nørgaard indicate several phases in the design of the helemts
(project in planning).
27Gonzalez 2012; 2018.
29For example Barandiarán et al. 2017, 249–384; Pérez 2001.
30Gonzalez 2012; 2018, 111–128; Lilliu 1966.
31Bedini et al. 2012; Minoja/Usai 2014.
32Brandherm 2008; Gonzalez 2012; Harrison 2004, 46. 143–144.
western Mediterranean opus, Gonzalez pursues a gen-
eralised idea of intercultural communication increasing
over time. Harrison concludes that a connection may
have existed between the Iberian stelae and the hero cults
emerging post-Bronze Age in Greece. Vandkilde like-
wise has touched upon heroes and their cults against the
background of Iron Age veneration of the Bronze Age past,
traceable in Homer’s epics and Hesiod’s writings. There
is a consensus that the Sardinian bronzetti were votive
gifts offered at sanctuaries and were also connected with
the sculptures at the Monte Prama heroön and with social
change in Nuragic society post-1200/1100 BC.
Emerging political power is a recurrent theme in
the interpretations of the three groups, although social
models based on tribal egalitarianism have also been ad-
vanced. Kristian Kristiansen and Thomas B. Larsson
associate bulls’ horns attached to the head of male figures
with divinities and sacred rulership; they find parallels
for the Scandinavian cases in Cyprus (the Enkomi bronze
statuette of a god or prince standing on top of an oxhide
ingot) and in the ancient Near East (the Naram-Sin victory
stela). Marta Diaz-Guardamino with colleagues advo-
cates landscape approaches, using contextual and bio-
graphical analyses of the Iberian warrior stelae to point
to the importance of ‘persistent place’. Such a localisation
approach is the anchor of connectivity studies: the stelae
as memorials and as markers of ritual activities and ter-
ritorial boundaries, as well as their proximity to copper
ore (Sierra Morena) and road infrastructures, all resonate
with Kristiansen’s views. The present contribution now
adds to all this a comparative analysis of horned-helmet
representations in the three zones, in conjunction with a
scalar perspective on analysis and interpretation. Unfold-
ing the horned-helmet imagery may reveal essential char-
acteristics of LBA Europe at the threshold to the Iron Age.
The Scandinavian case, located farthest away and rarely
considered, merits particular consideration.
34Harrison 2004, 118–119; 176–177; compare also Pérez/López-Ruiz
36Depalmas/Melis 2010, 171 Tab. 11,3; Lo Schiavo et al. 2009.
37Cámara Serrano/Spanedda 2014; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b;
Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a; Ialongo 2013.
38Gonzalez 2012; 2014; 2018, 349.
39Kristiansen/Larsson 2005, 330–333.
40See also Dikaios 1962; Schaeffer 1966; Thrane 1975.
41Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a.
42Kristiansen 1998, 157–160 figs 80–81.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 135
imagery in outline
Apart from the two normal-sized helmets from Viksø
(Sealand) and a horn from a similar helmet found in Gre-
vinge (Sealand), the Scandinavian repertoire of horned-
helmet expressions consists of three sets of two figurines
from Grevensvænge (Sealand), Fogdarp (Scania), and
Kallerup (Thy, Jutland). Additionally, there are a pair of
figures on a razor (Vestrup Mark, Jutland) and about forty
images on rock in Bohuslän, western Sweden (SHFA). In
total, fifty horned-helmet images have been recorded for
this study in southern Scandinavia, either made in bronze
or carved on rock, mostly the latter (Tab. 2). The motif
favours iconically represented horned twin warriors.
Weaponry (especially oversized battle-axes with a dis-
tinctly splayed blade) and the horse-drawn ship are man-
datory ingredients in the archetypal theme of the horned
warrior twins. Variations are especially visible on the
rock-carved scenes: a sheathed sword is obligatory, bat-
tle-axe, round shield, and spear are commonly depicted,
and archery is sometimes present. The twin warrior figures
are presented alone or, more rarely, among a group of
warriors. Special females are affiliated and portrayed as
powerful sacred beings (with large gold eyes, accentuated
calf muscles), kneeling or shown as acrobats jumping the
43Norling-Christensen 1943; 1946a.
44For example Djupedal/Broholm 1953; Glob 1962; Thrane 1999.
45Larsson 1974; 2017.
46Photos of the Kallerup figurines are available on the website of Thy
Museum. The website also describes basic find circumstances http://
47Ahlqvist 2020b; Bradley 2006.
48Ling/Bertilsson 1994. https://www.shfa.se/
length of a ship, or otherwise engaged, for example, in
scenes of hieros gamos. The oversized standing figure
behind the twins on the Vestrup Mark razor is probably a
woman. The association of these various figures with the
night and day of the solar cycle is evident. The entire en-
semble was apparently attached to a wooden ship model
with the stallions at the ship’s bows.
Importantly, similar horns also occur attached to
snakes and horses (in the Fårdal setup of figurines at
Viborg, Jutland, for example) and to horse-headed gold
bowls. Similarly, the blowing horns or lurs, always in
doubles, can essentially be perceived as a parallel way of
portraying the horned twins, who are in fact sometimes de-
picted playing the lur. These representations multiply the
actual number of horned creatures, evidently sharing in
a context of sacredness. In many cases, just the parapher-
nalia of the twins occurs as an offering or imaging, with
the rest of the assemblage likely implied, as pars pro toto.
Comparing chronology: coinciding
trends towards politico-religious
power (Tab. 1)
The chronology may possibly be less secure than some-
times claimed, and details are therefore debated. Much
knowledge is still based on typo-stylistic series and assem-
49Kristiansen/Larsson 2005, figs 106; 160; 163.
51Kaul 1998, 2004.
53Kristiansen/Larsson 2005, 318.
54Fontijn 2020, 123 fig. 6,2; Kaul 2004.
55See for example Harrison 2004, 13.
Tab. 1. Outline of the chronology. Light grey denotes a first phase of motif exchange; dark grey denotes a phase of expansive motif transfer
in tandem with ritual consolidation.
C. EUROPE S. SCANDINAVIA SW IBERIA SARDINIA GREECE appr. BC PHOENICIANS in the west
Ha C-D NBA VI EIA EIA Late Geometric-Archaic
Ha B NBA V FBA EIA Early-Middle Geometric entrepts
Ha B NBA IV/V FBA Proto-Geometric
Ha B NBA IV FBA Sub-Mycenaean westward trading
Ha A NBA III late LBA FBA LH IIIC
Br D-Ha A NBA III LBA LH IIIB
136Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
blage combinations; 14C ranges might be more robust. This
applies, to differing degrees, to all three regions. Current
knowledge nonetheless allows a number of chronological
The Scandinavian horned-helmet figures date to the
Late Nordic Bronze Age, NBA IV–V. Each period is dis-
tinct regarding style and object types, albeit 14C indicates
a degree of overlap. The combined range of NBA IV and
NBA V is 1100–750 BC, as demonstrated by good radio-
carbon coverage among burials that have otherwise been
dated typologically to one of these periods. NBA IV,
then, covers c.1100–900 BC, and NBA V c.900–750 BC. A
period of transition 1000–900 BC should nonetheless be
inserted. Most horned-helmet figures in bronze belong
typologically to NBA V, as especially made clear by the
markedly splayed cutting edge and the sometimes rolled-
edge corners of the large shafthole-axes.
The Vestrup Mark razor (cf. Fig. 3) with two horned
warriors is often dated stylistically to NBA IV, but the
axes the warriors wield and the wavy snake-horse seem
transitional to NBA V c. 1000–900 BC. Finally, in the
Tanum rock art area, most images with horned figures are
associated with NBA V ships, in accordance with Ling’s
ship typo-chronology. An exception is the horned figures
near an NBA IV ship at Bro Utmark 3 (SHFA). Horned
figures on rock often carry round shields of Herzsprung
type, or derivatives very similar to the pile of boss-deco-
rated shields at Fröslunda, near Lake Vänarn, Sweden,
which have a 14C date around 800 BC.
Organic material from inside the horns of one of the
Viksø helmets (B13552) was recently radiocarbon dated.
The 20mg sample (laboratory sample identifier: MAMS-
42233) was pre-treated by the ABA-method (Acid/Base/
Acid) using washes of HCl, NaOH and again HCl in order to
remove contaminations caused by carbonates and humic
acids. The remaining sample material was combusted in
an elemental analyser and reduced to graphite using a
commercially available graphitisation system (IonPlus,
AGE3). Radiocarbon determination was performed at
CEZA (Mannheim, Germany) using a MICADAS-type accel-
57Olsen et al. 2011; Vandkilde et al. 1996.
58Olsen et al. 2011, 268.
59For example Ahlqvist 2020b.
60Ling 2008, 99–105, fig. 7,35.
61Ling/Bertilsson 1994. https://www.shfa.se/
62Hagberg 1988; Larsson 2011.
erator mass spectrometer (AMS). During measurement,
the isotopic ratios of 14C/12C and 13C/12C from the sample,
standards (Oxalsäure-II), blanks (phthalic acid) and con-
trol-standards (various IAEA standards) were measured.
The dating results are reported as conventional 14C dates,
normalising to the standard delta-13C value of –25‰. The
14C age of the organic remains inside the horn of helmet
B13552 (years before present, i.e. 1950) was measured to
2791 +/– 21 years BP, which results in possible calibrated
calendar date ranges from 1006–857 BC (with 95,4% prob-
ability) and 976–907 BC (with 68.2% probability), respec-
tively. The terminus ante quem for the helmet’s use before
deposition is therefore 857–907 BC. Compared to the radi-
ocarbon dates from cremated bones used by Jesper Olsen
and colleagues (who defined the phase transition from
period IV to V) the Viksø helmets should be placed at the
end of NBA IV– or, more precisely, within the transition
period to NBA V (Fig. 2).
In summary regarding the Scandinavian chronology:
Most of the horned-helmet imagery of this region dates
to traditional NBA V, 900–750 BC. However, an onset
c.1000 BC in late NBA IV is likely now supported by the
AMS date of the Viksø helmet. A further factor is that the
Nordic horned-helmet imagery coincides with most of the
region’s rich hoard depositions and rock art images, and
also with the emergence of what we may term sanctuaries:
in this case, open-air sacred places with institutionalised
cults serving a larger area. The NBA V metalwork is dis-
tinguished by emblematic traits that can probably be in-
terpreted as the brand of a new social regime backed by a
mixture of political and religious power.
Following Gonzalez, the Uta-Abini group of bronzetti were
produced 1200–950 BC and their deposition at sanctuaries
probably extended beyond 950 BC into the EIA. This first
bronzetti tradition was succeeded by the so-called Medi-
terraneizzante group, 950–750 BC, which shows much
less attention to warriorhood, while the horned-helmet
figure disappears. There are few, if any, 14C dates to rely
on. The head of a horned-helmet archer was found in a
LBA twelfth/eleventh-century BC stratum at Funtana Cob-
63Kromer et al. 2013.
64Based on Stuiver/Polach, 1977
65Olsen et al. 2011.
66Ahlqvist 2020a; Ahlqvist/Vandkilde 2018; Kristiansen 1998.
67Gonzalez 2012, 2018.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 137
erta-Ballao. Gear affiliated with the Uta-Abini bronzetti
supports the suggested date, and the gamma-hilted dagger,
pistilliform sword, votive sword, and so-called Philistine
crown support the LBA–FBA dating of the Uta-Abini group,
68Gonzalez 2012, 89; Manunza 2008, 250–257.
which in its early appearance seems similar to so-called
‘Sherden warriors’ at Medinet Habu, Egypt, dated to 1176
BC. Statue menhirs erected at south Corsican sanctuar-
ies belong in the same category, even if such Bronze Age
69Gonzalez 2012, 90; 102; Jung 2009.
Fig. 2: Probability distribution of dating for the Viksø helmet (B13552) compared to radiocarbon ranges for bone and cremated bone from
burial assemblages (Olsen et al. 2011) typologically dated to NBA IV and NBA V. The modelled multiple plot shows NBA IV as distinct from
NBA V, but separated by the transition period also identified by Olsen et al. 2011. Horizontal black lines indicate the identified periods: NBA
IV is presented by the 14C dates of samples AAR-8788 to AAR-9514, while the transition period NBA IV/V is presented by the 14C dates from
samples AAR-8112 to AAR-8111. Here the Viksø helmet’s AMS date shows the best fit. NBA V is presented by 14C dates from samples AAR-
8786 to AAR-9518. Calibration was performed using the IntCal13 dataset (Reimer et al. 2013) and software OxCal 4.2 (Bronk Ramsey 1995).
138Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
menhirs are peculiar to Corsica. In a limited number of the
Corsican cases, notably at Filitosa and Cauria, horns seem
to have been attached to a cavity on each side of the stone
warrior’s head/helmet, often dated c.1300–1100 BC and
sometimes coupled to Sardinian warriors.
The so-called ‘Round-Eye Artist’ is particularly asso-
ciated with the giant Monte Prama sculptures of warrior
archetypes. The Uta-Abini bronzetti, especially those made
by the Round-Eye Artist, can plausibly be regarded, fol-
lowing Gonzalez, as the prototypes of the Monte Prama
sculptures, a development that can be dated to the ninth/
eighth centuries BC because the cist burials beneath were
constructed 941–838 cal. BC (sampled on bone and other
materials). Sardinian bronzetti of the Uta-Abini type occa-
sionally occur outside the island of Sardinia on the Italian
mainland in tombs, for instance at Vulci c.800 BC.
In summary, regarding the Sardinian chronology: The
horned-helmet figure materialises prominently among the
bronzetti 1200–750 BC; from c. 900 BC, it is additionally
made in stone. The sequence of horned-helmet representa-
tions is consistent with long-term changes beginning
c.1200 BC as the Nuragic culture entered its final stage. The
precise development is debatable, but may be described as
follows: An altered demography and trends towards cen-
tralisation seem to be indicated and these trends may be
visible in the now fewer and often enlarged Nuraghe set-
tlements that commemorate the central Nuraghe towers
as ancestral. These hubs seem intricately connected
with the central sanctuaries that were on the rise during
this period, when Sardinia emerges as a crossroads for
metal production and trade in the greater Mediterranean
between the Levantine east and the Balearic and Iberian
west. At the end of the ninth century BC, Sardinia saw the
first Phoenician entrepts; these had been preceded by Le-
vantine (Philistine or early Phoenician) quests for silver as
early as 1100 BC.
The Iberian stone stelae form a long chronological line.
The question that interests us here is the chronological
position of the horned-helmet figure occurring on some
70Gonzalez 2012, 100–102; 2018, 276; 284–290; Leandri et al. 2015
(refers only to the Medinet Habu relief).
71Gonzalez 2012, 95–96.
72Lai et al. 2014; Tronchetti 2014; Usai 2015, 110.
73Gonzalez 2012, 98.
74For example Perra 2017; Ugas 2014; Usai 2015.
75For example Bartoloni 2017, 33; Ben-Yosef 2019.
of the warrior stelae. Differing interpretations may be
attributable to difficulties posed by matching the gear on
the images with extant object types. Additionally, object
assemblages like that at Ría de Huelva include early as
well as later types, with quite a wide 14C range between
1100 and 900 BC. Herzsprung and other round-shield
types, also depicted on the stelae, have a long production
and circulation time, beginning c.1250/1200 BC and con-
tinuing post-900 BC.
There is a consensus on major developments here, in-
cluding placing anthropomorphic stelae in the later part of
the sequence: the first stelae only depict the warrior’s gear,
but over time the warrior himself is allowed into the scene
and gradually grows in size and centrality. Following Di-
az-Guardamino and colleagues, warrior stelae groups A,
B and B+O develop simultaneously during the twelfth to
tenth centuries BC; but only group A, with human figures
depicted together with weaponry and accessories, contin-
ues into the ninth to eighth centuries BC (EIA). This ap-
proximate range is supported by a few stratified finds on
stelae, and by 14C sequences of mortuary monuments at
sites with stelae (i.e. not directly by the stelae). A Huel-
va-type sword (1130–1050 BC) was also found near the
anthropomorphic warrior stela at Almargen. Within
the total span of 1250/1200–750 BC, Harrison considers
horned figures to be a historically late development. Dirk
Brandherm likewise argues that the stelae with human
figures, some of them horned, represent the final stage
of Iberian stelae; based on object chronologies, he states
that horned headgear was added to the repertoire no later
than the end of the eleventh century BC. By comparison,
Sebastián C. Pérez and Carolina López-Ruiz favour
the ninth to eighth century BC for several of the anthropo-
morphic stelae with horned-helmet warriors, basing this
on a number of new-found stelae with secure context.
Bronze figurines in Iberia are a very late phenomenon
800–500 BC, ‘oriental’ in style and lacking horns.
In summary, regarding the Iberian chronology: Stelae
with horned-helmet warriors are specific to southwestern
Iberia. The first stelae with horned-helmet images may
have appeared around 1200/1100 BC, but continued in
76Brandherm 2008 versus Pérez/López-Ruiz 2008.
77Diaz-Guardamino 2019b, 13–14 fig. 8; Harrison 2004, 14.
78Harrison 2004, 124–134; Uckelmann 2012.
79Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b, 12.
80Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a.
81Brandherm 2008, 482.
83See also Murillo-Redondo et al. 2005.
84Gonzalez 2018, 259–261.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 139
production and use until c. 800–750 BC. Importantly,
the sequence coincides with the emergence both of what
might be seen as political landscapes in the region and
intensified metal-led activities, these last in part tied to
Phoenician activities from 1000 BC. Notably, the anthro-
pomorphic warrior stelae of group A occur distributed on
either side of the ore-rich Sierra Morena mountain range.
Some sites with stelae boast stone hammers, for metal
crushing, as well as slags.
Comparative chronology according
to current knowledge
Contemporaneity can be observed between the dates of
horned-helmet representations in Scandinavia (1000–750
BC), Iberia (1200/1100–750 BC), and Sardinia (1200–750
BC). The appearance and evolution of these representa-
tions are contingent on societal change and, arguably,
rising political forms of power in all three zones. From
1200/1100 BC, the focus of metal-trading had started
moving westward in the Mediterranean Sea, highlighting
Sardinia and the Iberian southwest, two zones that are
naturally rich in metals. Scandinavia by comparison was
completely dependent on imported copper.
In all three zones, the horned-helmet motif was long-
lived, probably with shifting meanings over time but with
the 900–750 BC period especially formative. When consid-
ering this motif, current chronological data suggests that
Sardinia and Iberia were especially connected 1200–1100
BC at the transition to the FBA and onwards. The Scandi-
navian zone was a latecomer, perhaps joining the network
1000 BC at the earliest, then more substantially from
c.900 BC. At the time Monte Prama was built, the Phoeni-
cians were consolidating their silver-led trading activities
by establishing entrepts throughout the western Medi-
terranean, with the Atlantic metal trade blooming corre-
spondingly. This is the period when Scandinavian and
Sardinian imagery in particular show similarity.
85Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b, fig. 9; Diaz-Guardamino et al.
2019a, fig. 16.
86Cleary/Gibson 2019, 105–109 fig. 4,19; Kristiansen 1998, 144–160,
Comparing appearances and media
The comparative analysis rests on a semi-quantitative
analysis of the figurative components in the three zones,
including details of helmets, horns, and immediate sur-
roundings. In total, 31 major figurative traits have been
identified (Fig. 3, Tab. 2). These results are discussed and
contextualised below through detailed qualitative com-
parison. Central features in the three zones have been
evaluated in search of a shared or even systemic structure
or carrying idea, as well as local foundations. Key aspects
of the material appearance of the horned-helmet imagery,
as well as its associations and the medium of representa-
tion, serve as a platform for further explorations into the
characteristics and their associations.
The analytic procedure followed seeks to bring to the fore
similarity and difference for the major figurative traits in all
three geographical zones. Component variables comprise,
first, material appearance– horns and helmet details, ren-
dering of eyes, oversizing, twinness, phallic state, fellow-
ships (groups), narratives/archetypes, weaponry, vehicles,
animals/hybrids. Component variables also comprise,
second, the media of representation– bronze figurines,
stone sculpture, and images on stelae and rock. A simple
quantitative scoring has been combined with observations
stating whether a particular trait is absent (0) or recorded as
merely present (1), well-known (2), or dominant (3). While
this may lack absolute precision, it provides a visual over-
view of degrees of similarities and difference when com-
paring the three zones pairwise (Fig. 4A-C). Thereby, we
gain insight into local as well as shared characteristics. It
should be noted that the chosen medium of representation
influences how horns, eyes, and warrior height are techni-
cally mediated by the artist to the onlooker. Thus stone and
bronze are opposed from the outset. Some systemic traits
are shared across the regions, notably oversize in whole
bodies, body parts, and in weapons. A further systemic
shared feature is that horned-helmet warriors seemingly
form part of a community and a narrative, and that the
horned-helmet warrior is represented as the central actor
in this narrative. Various weapons, vehicles, and animals
appear across the zones, with local preferences. Sword and
round shield, however, are fully shared.
140Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
Scandinavia and Sardinia (Fig. 4A) share miniature fig-
urines in bronze as well as large figures made in/on stone.
The way in which helmets and horns are represented is also
similar. There are, furthermore, close similarities in how
eyes are rendered as round and protruding, or drawn as a
circle with a central circle or dot. The eye is often shown
inside a recess in the face. Both areas have a preference for
animal-headed ships. Among the 31 traits, 15 compare as
dominant or present/well-known in both areas.
Scandinavia and Iberia (Fig. 4B) share horned-hel-
met figures on stelae/rock, with notable similarity in how
the horns are shown standing upright and turned. Other
helmet types occur in the vicinity of the horned-helmet
figure. Furthermore, horned-helmet figures occur mostly/
often as pairs (conceptualising the twin motif), and the
spear, together with horse (chariot), is a favourite. Among
the 31 traits, 12 compare as dominant or present/well-
known in both areas.
Sardinia and Iberia (Fig. 4C) mostly share overarching
features that glue all three zones together. Archery is a fa-
vourite in both zones. In this case, the analytic outcome
has been impacted by the lack of bronze miniatures in
Iberia and lack of stelae in Bronze Age Sardinia. Among
the 31 traits, nine compare as dominant or present/well-
known in both areas.
The analytic result demonstrates patterned similarity
and difference between the three zones with horned-hel-
met imagery. Observed interrelationships are visualised as
a network (Fig. 4D), serving to examine the degree of con-
nectivity between the three zones’ imagery. It is evident
that the similarity between Scandinavia and Sardinia is,
87Chalcolithic menhirs depicting horned headdress and weapons
are well known https://www.menhirmuseum.it/fine-del-mondo-dei-
Fig. 3: Collage of horned-helmet presentations. A. Iberia: 1. El VisoI, Cordoba, H. 121cm (H. Vandkilde photo, Museo Arqueológico Nacional,
Madrid), 2. Esparragosa de Lares, Badajoz, H. 176cm (Pavón Soldevilla/Duque Espino 2010, Fig. 4); B. Scandinavia: 3. Lövsåsen Tanum
SHFA id 164 (Ling/Bertilsson 1994), 4. Vestrup Mark razor with miniature image of the twins and female (after Ahlqvist 2020b, fig.10),
5. Viksø helmets, Sealand (courtesy of the National Museum of Denmark, picture: Lennart Larsen under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license), 6. two
preserved statuettes from Grevensvænge, Sealand, horned twin and female acrobat, probably originally attached to a wooden model ship
(courtesy of the National Museum of Denmark, picture: Lennart Larsen under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license); C. Sardinia: 7. Sculpted horned-helmet
warrior from Monte Prama, originally c.2m tall, horns removed in antiquity (H. Vandkilde photo, Museo Archeologico Nazionale diCagliari),
8–9. Bronzetti made by the so-called Round-Eye Artist of the Uta-Abini tradition (Lilliu 1966). Not to scale.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 141
overall, strong. However, the Scandinavian rock carvings
share common features especially with the Iberian stelae.
Below, the matrix expressed in Figure 4 is elaborated by an
in-depth comparative analysis contextualising the obser-
vations. A scalar dialectic has been revealed, which calls
for further analysis and explanation.
Horned-helmet warriors among
other archetypes in an ideal
In all three zones, the distinct appearance of the horned-
helmet warriors communicates exclusivity, above all
through the horns, but also through other traits. The appar-
ent gender of our figure is male, as expressed sometimes
by phallic imagery (i.e. intersecting with biological sex) as
well as by associated material culture depicted alongside
the anthropomorphs on stelae and rock panels. Within
and across the zones, the horned-helmet figures refer not
only to one another, but also to a wider community.
The 40 Scandinavian horned-helmet warriors reside
within a wider community of anthropomorphic figures,
both in bronze and on rock, including other males without
horned insignia, females, and smaller, more ordinary-look-
ing figures– all affiliated with the perpetual nature of the
solar cycle indicated by circular imagery. A specific corpus
of weapons, symbols, and vehicles is added.
Similarly, in Iberia, 41 horned-helmet figures are iden-
tifiable on warrior stelae in a total record of 140 stelae so
far. In addition to horned-helmet warriors, the anthro-
Tab. 2. A. Overview of data collected for the purpose of this article. B. Selected empirical traits.
HORNED-HELMET FIGURES min. number of
Remarks about H-H background Key references
Scandinavia (S ) Kaul , , ; Kristiansen &
Viksö helmets () no other metal helmets (however one
horn from Grevinge)
Norling-Christensen ; Vandkilde
Vestrup Mark razor several non-anthropomorphic picto-
rial razors from (male) cremations
Bradley ; Ahlqvist b
Figurine anthropomorphs – other-type anthropomorphs
Glob ; http://museumthy.dk/
Rock-carved figures Tanum several anthropomorphic images on
Ling ; SHFA– Svenskt Hällrist-
Sardinia (S ) Lilliu
Uta Abini bronzetti with
c. Uta Abini-type figurines in total Gonzalez , ;
Monte Prama warriors/males aligned Bedini et al. ; Minoja et al.
Iberia (S ) http://www.estelasdecoradas.es/
Horned-helmet warriors on
stelae recorded of all variants
Harrison ; Diaz-Guardamino
, a-b; Gonzalez
HORNED-HELMET FIGURES transport vehicles population & gender therianthropic/zoomorphic
Scandinavia ship, horse, chariot warriors, females, unspecified others common/common
Sardinia ship (navicelle) warriors, multiple gendered identi-
ties, roles, situations
Iberia cart, horse, chariot warriors, females, unspecified others rare/common
142Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
pomorphic group of stelae includes warriors wearing a
crested or pointed conical helmet (sometimes combined
on the same stela with the horned individual highlighted)
in addition to smaller, anonymous-looking figures, includ-
ing children and (it is assumed) women wearing a diadem
or crown headdress. Like the Scandinavian figurines and
rock carvings, some of the Iberian scenes appear as a nar-
rative. Both zones depict the horns in the same manner,
88Harrison 2004: 57–58; Ledesma 2007.
and from the scenes depicted it also appears that horned
figures occur as the central and dominant component and
that they are sometimes staged within a well-known nar-
rative, a repetitive prescribed scheme.
In Sardinia, of the 200 Uta-Abini anthropomorphic
figurines, about half are warriors, most of whom wear
horned helmets. To these can be added 12 warriors/
archers with horned headgear among the Monte Prama
89Gonzalez 2012, 86.
Fig. 4A–C: Cross-zone comparison between horned-helmet imagery
employing semi-quantitative scoring of 31 component variables
in the three zones: Variable absent 0, variable present 1, variable
well-known 2, and variable dominant 3. The matrix of similarity and
difference is visualised through colours. Yellow shows consist-
ent systemic traits shared by all three zones; blue shows distinct
features shared between Scandinavia and Sardinia (A), between
Scandinavia and Iberia (B), and between Sardinia and Iberia (C)
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 143
crowd of 29 males, accompanied by 16 Nuraghe models
of limestone. The bronzetti in particular represent a rich
world of several archetypal identities, signified through
specific material appearances– female and male genders,
children, and subdivisions of warrior males– along with
a standard panoply of objects and vehicles for transport.
Monte Prama, by comparison, depicts a world of exclu-
sively male archetypes, already known en miniature in
bronze, and all of them participants in one or several in-
Although the number of horned representations per
region differs, with the largest number of specimens in
Sardinia (Tab. 2), it is striking that in all three zones, the
horned-helmet warriors stand out within a population
of female or male companions. Both locally within each
zone and transversely across them, the horns signify the
potency of the helmet wearer, the quintessential warrior.
90Gonzalez 2018, 133.
In addition, there are vehicles for transport, chariots or
ships, various kinds of gear for war, and several species
of animals. Altogether, it seems we are presented with an
ideal society composed of archetypes. Both within and
across zones, the horned-helmet figures refer not only to
each other, but also to a community of human-like and
animal beings, as well as a familiar panoply of objects. The
Sardinian community is the most complex and varied of
the three cases of an archetypal narrative.
Helmets, weaponry, and other items
In the medium of bronze, helmet appearance is strikingly
similar in Sardinia and Scandinavia, with a similar var-
iation range in terms of length, turn, and the position of
the horns on the helmet. Frequently occurring are short,
91For example Gonzalez 2012; Ialongo 2013.
Fig. 4D: Degree of connectivity of the variables presented in Figs. 4A–C. Network Analysis (NA) is a useful tool for
visualising common traits among the three regions at distinct levels. In the NA diagram, the elements common to all
three areas are located in the centre of the network, while the less common, or variables shared by only two of the three
regions, are located at the periphery of the network. The intensity of the connections is expressed through different
shades of grey. Darker (thicker) lines indicate strong connections or shared elements, whereas lighter (thinner) lines
means few elements in common, i.e. weak ties. The software used for the NA is Gephi (Force Atlas the algorithm).
144Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
stubby horns with a forward cline close to the head, long
horns standing erect, and the ends of horns sometimes
sealed with distinct knobs. Stubby, forward-pointing
horns occur on several of the Sardinian bronzetti and on
the Scanian Fogdarp twins. Sardinia has the largest vari-
ation range of the three zones, including unique versions
with longhorns pointing in different directions (Fig. 5).
The Iberian stelae and the Tanum rock imagery of horned
creatures are not devoid of similarity, however: horns
always stand erect and may turn in various directions, and
their more stereotypical appearance seems to have been
dictated by the stone medium rather than stylistic prefer-
ence. It is notable that the combination of crest and horns
on the Viksø helmets matches the Sardinian bronzetti
helmets (Figs 3;5; 7). The Sardinian helmets of Uta-Abini
style, which usually incorporate horns, sometimes sup-
plement the horns with special effects that point forwards
or backwards. This compares with bird feathers inserted
92As for example shown in Gonzalez 2012, fig. 2a–c.
on the Viksø helmets on either side of the crest. Turned
horns occur across all three zones.
Body aesthetics are priorities in all three zones, al-
though only in Iberia are the warrior’s grooming tools
depicted in addition to jewellery and even weights and
lyres. While all weapon types are associated with the
horned-helmet warriors, the sword is ubiquitous across
all three zones. The extra-large battle-axe is seemingly
standard gear for the figurine Nordic twins; on the rock
carvings, round shield and spear are frequent in addition,
and even archery is mastered by the horned warrior. This
matches very well with Sardinia and Iberia, although in
those two regions the imagery of archery and archers is
much more frequent than in Scandinavia. The weaponry
of the LBA world is often classifiable into types of suprare-
gional coverage, although localised types and preferences
are also on the agenda.
93E.g. Vandkilde 2013.
Fig. 5: Ways of representing the helmet horns in the three zones. Upper row: Sardinian bronzetti (photo: H. Nørgaard photo with permission
by Museo Archeologico Nazionale diCagliari). Middle row: Scandinavian figures from left: Viksø reconstructed (Kaul 2010; drawing Thomas
Bredsdorff, National Museum of Denmark), Kallerup, Thy (photo: H. Nørgaard by courtesy of Museum Thy), rock carvings from Hede Kville,
Tanum (SHFA: Ling/Bertilsson 1994, picture Åke Fredsjö 1973 under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license) and Fogdarp in Scania (after Larsson 1990).
Lower row: Iberian horned helmets from stelae (based on Harrison 2004). Not to scale.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 145
Armour and leggings are common in Iberia and Sar-
dinia, but evidently absent in Scandinavia. On rock, the
warriors appear to be naked, and now and again phallic.
The latter feature sometimes also appears on Iberian stelae
to indicate the sex of the horned figure, e.g. Esparagosa de
LaresII, Extremadura (see Fig. 3).
The ship is conspicuously absent from the Iberian
representations, which favour chariots and horses. In Sar-
dinia, it is the horse that is absent; instead, the 146 bronzetti
boats– navicelle– often have bull- or deer-shaped sterns,
sometimes reinforced by birds (Fig. 6). This matches the
ever-present horse-prowed ship in Scandinavia, where a
swan or monstrous beings sometimes substitute the horse,
as exemplified by the two ships (one for each twin) de-
picted on the Viksø helmets. Overall, the pre-eminence
of the bronzetti boats underlines the sea-going domain in
Nuraghe society, comparable to the numerous ship carv-
ings in maritime Scandinavia (where, however, chariots
also occur on rock). The Nordic materialisations of the
twins are, as mentioned, almost inevitably associated with
a horse- or swan-pulled ship.
94However, see Lundström 2009.
95Pavón Soldevilla/Duque Espino 2010, fig. 4; Ledesma 2007.
96Depalmas 2005; Salis 2014.
Twin or double representations
The iconic Nordic identical twins appear to be deeply
entrenched in locally or regionally rooted cosmology and
beliefs. It is thought-provoking, however, that doubles
or mirror-images of warriors with and without horned
helmets are depicted in all three zones. Representation in
doubles (four eyes, four arms, and a double-up of weap-
onry) occurs among the Sardinian bronzetti (Fig. 3) and
is also often found on Iberian stelae, although in neither
region as consistently as in Scandinavia. There, even rock
carvings highlight the horned twins, but sometimes also
depict what look like small warbands of horned warri-
ors fighting bird-faced warriors (Fossum, Tanum SHFA
255:1). This latter appearance is interesting because the
bird-like beaked faces or masks call to mind the horned
Viksø helmets, which have a crest as well as a frontal per-
egrine-like beak. From these depictions, supernatural in
disposition, we may infer mythical stories of amiable or
hostile connections between classes of particular warriors.
Distinct therianthropic traits are visible among the
Scandinavian depictions and depositions. This could res-
onate with the animistic shape-shifting components of
the sun-cycle NBA religion, which differs from the Sar-
99For example Kristiansen/Larsson 2005; Vandkilde 2013; 2014.
100Gonzalez 2012, fig. 2b; Lilliu 1966.
101Ling/Bertilsson 1994. https://www.shfa.se/
102See Goldhahn 2019.
103Goldhahn 2019; Vandkilde 2013.
Fig. 6: A. Sardinian bronzetto boat (navicelle) with bull/ram-headed bow and birds onboard (photo: V. Matta; Museo Archeologico Nazionale
diCagliari), 1000–700 BC. B. Nordic horse-headed ship from Sotetorp in Tanum (SHFA; Ling/Bertilsson 1994, picture G. Milstreu 2006 under
a CC BY-SA 4.0 license), 900–750 BC. Note the aggrandised horned twins, female acrobat, and anonymous crew (of newly dead?). Not to
146Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
dinian and Iberian cases. As a result, the horned warrior
twins of the North can be found in disguises that deviate
radically from their anthropomorphic appearance.
From mini in bronze to maxi in
Common to both Sardinian and Scandinavian horned-hel-
met imagery is the occurrence of bronze figurines along
with translations into stone/rock. Both bronze and rock,
moreover, show elements of aggrandisement. In the
Tanum rock panels, the entire warrior figure sometimes
appears in giant format, in all his might. This mighty
creature is often shown by oversized feet, hands, or calves,
in addition to enlarged weaponry (e.g. Bro Utmark 3 at
Tanum: SHFA). In the Scandinavian context, the choice
between metal and rock is impacted by differing geologies
in the north and south of the NBA hotspot area. In Sar-
dinia it should be taken into account that Monte Prama
is archaeologically unique so far. It is nonetheless strik-
ing that, in both zones, miniature bronze representations
are connected with corresponding larger presentations in
Sardinia and Scandinavia, then, share an interest in
bronze miniatures suitable for votive offerings. Some of
these figurines are also quite similar across both regions
in select stylistic features, size and– it seems – innate
idea. The statuettes in bronze seem en miniature to con-
ceptualise giant beings. This gigantisation in two modes
105See Ling 2008, figs 8,30; 8,33; 10,20–10,22; 11,3; 12,6; 11,3.
106Ling/Bertilsson 1994. https://www.shfa.se/
of representation, in bronze and stone, follows partly par-
allel tracks whereby the full-blown size in or on stone ulti-
mately materialises at a particular point in time. The stone
medium can accommodate the giants in perceived actual
size– in entirety, or through chosen body parts. Enlarged
or distinct hand signs, with four fingers tightly pressed
together and kept separate from the accentuated thumb,
is a widespread LBA–EIA symbol (of divine presence?).
This symbol recurs both on the Grevensvænge figurines
and on several of the Sardinian bronzetti and on S. Scan-
dinavian rock carved slabs– in one case forming part of a
Oversized round eyes are another aggrandising trait
in the bronze miniatures that recurs in both regions,
with the eye rendered either as protruding or encircled.
A case in point is the bronzetti produced by the Round-
Eye Artist, who designed a major group among the Uta-
Abini bronzetti in Sardinia and seems to have inspired the
Monte Prama sculptures (Fig. 7). Similarity is particu-
larly salient when the recessed circular eyes with a dot or
inner circle depicted on the Grevensvænge twins are com-
pared with those on the giant warriors of Monte Prama. Do
these accentuated eyes signify supernatural sight? If so,
they could be thought of as the eyes of divine creatures,
as interestingly suggested by Joakim Goldhahn in a Nordic
context. Miniature-making and simplification enable a
population to understand and control both the items and
what they represent. Similarly, aggrandisement can
visualise what is beyond human control– or beyond the
107Compare here Gonzalez 2012, fig. 2g–l. See also Kaul 1987; Dam
108Gonzalez 2012, 95; Rendeli 2014, 188.
109Goldhahn 2019, 129ff.
Fig. 7: A. No.5 Hede Kville (Tanum): two horned creatures, one bigger than the other (SHFA; Ling/Bertils-
son 1994, picture Ellen Meijer 2013 under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license). B. Monte Prama giant with encircled
eyes and crested horned helmet, horns destroyed in antiquity (photo: H. Vandkilde, Museo Archeolog-
ico Nazionale diCagliari). C. Grevensvænge horned creature with similar recessed and encircled eyes,
though in statuette format (photo: H. Nørgaard). Not to scale.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 147
control of ordinary human beings. Overall, the likeness
between Sardinian and Scandinavian imaging is striking.
In Iberia, the horned-helmet figure is depicted only on
stelae, most of which are 130–150 cm tall, which means
that they depict human-like figures at less than normal
size. Oversized body parts reappear nonetheless. The
shape of the Iberian horns varies in a manner also found
on the Tanum rock carvings. Big hands with spread fingers
and large feet are also similar, and the horned-helmet
figure is shown significantly larger than other human-like
beings, including his twin. Thus, while the aggrandising
tendencies are not systematically present in Iberia or rep-
resented by the accentuated calves often seen in Scandi-
navia, weapons do occur in aggrandised form, notably as
spears of exaggerated length (Fig. 8).
In partial conclusion, the above comparison reveals
similar traits in appearance, associations, scenes repre-
sented, and medium of representation. This is consistent
with an indication that directional movements underlie
the observed resemblance. While general similarities are
revealed, likeness also resides in small details. Interest-
ingly, the imagery embeds ambiguity, in that humanness
and otherworldliness are depicted intertwined. Taken to-
gether, the observed congruence is too great to be gener-
111As for example Harrison 2004, fig 3,2.
ated purely from local processes or randomly from multi-
directional culture flows in a phase of globalisation. The
latter scenario would likely show as a geographically scat-
tered dispersal, rather than a detached triple distribution
with a western cline (cf. Fig. 1). Distinct local traits never-
theless exist in each zone, entrenched in local tradition.
Comparing the sacred places of hor-
ned-helmet warriors and associates
We have identified horned-helmet imagery belonging
within an array of archetypes that was probably well
known to a wide public. The appearance of these images
is anthropomorphic, rendered divine. Below we will show
that horned-helmet imagery in all three zones is tied to
sanctified places exhibiting mortuary and commemora-
tive characteristics. As expected, local trends materialise
strongly in these ritualised contexts, but Scandinavia and
Sardinia in particular share a structural similarity that is
interesting in light of the material likenesses revealed in
Fig. 8: Aggrandised spears and horned or unhorned creatures of various sizes. A. Jeres de los Caballeros, Badajoz (Ledesma 2007).
B. Kville Hede 124, Tanum (SHFA; Ling/Bertilsson 1994, picture Åke Fredsjö 1973 under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license). Not to scale.
148Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
The Vestrup Mark razor, depicting the characteristic
ensemble led by the horned-helmet warrior twins, stems
from a burial (cf. Fig. 3). This establishes a connection
between the mortuary domain and the wetland depo-
sitions that, notably, include the Viksø helmets and the
Grevensvænge archetypal setup of male and female figu-
rines. In recent years, a number of special dry places have
emerged dating to c.1000/900–750 BC. Fogdarp exempli-
fies this innovation in place: the two horned male and two
female heads on yokes were deposited with lurs and horse
gear in elevated dry terrain near water.
On the one hand, these places were used ritually, pos-
sibly relating to venerations of the sun, setting in motion
the figurines of horned twins, their entourage, and/or af-
filiated gear, normally sized or oversized. Before deposi-
tion, these items may have been presented in ceremonial
processions, perhaps as a way to connect with and vener-
ate godlike beings or imagined ancestors from a distant
past. On the other hand, mortuary or commemorative
activities were probably interwoven with the procession.
Such sites may deserve the label ‘sanctuary’, ‘sacred land-
114Larsson 2017; Lindblad 2019.
115Kaul 1998, 20–30; cf. Whitley 1995, 13–18.
scape’, or ‘ceremonial gathering site’. The Tanum rock
panels may be understood in a similar light.
These sacred sites attracted extraordinary deposi-
tions of gold and bronze items, as well as other ritual ac-
tivities involving few or several people. Generally, the rich
wetland depositions of NBA V should be understood as
integrated parts of particular sacred landscapes, notably
comprising ceremonial activities reflected in multiple fire
pits. The Mariesminde hoard (Funen) exemplifies such
a linkage between wet deposition and fire pit rows nearby.
The metaphorical twins are conceptually present as golden
bowls with handles shaped like the horned sun-horse, all
deposited inside a bronze cauldron adorned with the sun-
bird-ship motif. Such offerings and affiliated rituals
likely refer to the horned-helmet warrior twins, often
represented by their paired gear, as well as respectively
to their broader community of male and female compan-
ions through their markers. Borgbjerg Banke (west Seal-
and), Fårdal (central Jutland), and Voldtofte (southwest
Funen) are prominent sacred landscapes and special sites
for cult activities, and perhaps should even be thought of
as central sanctuaries appearing around the time of the
horned-helmet imagery. Funerary or commemorative rites
are rather distinct at Fårdal and Voldtofte.
Five km from the coast at the sacred place of Voldtofte,
pairs and collections of gold ornaments– perhaps linked
to the horned-helmet twins and associates pars pro toto–
were deposited on the so-called Gold Mound presuma-
bly worshipping a claimed descendant buried there in
the midst of other dynastic mounds. Rich ritual depo-
sitions of gold and bronze objects furthermore mark the
landscape surrounding the Voldtofte site. The Lusehøj
mound pinpoints the uppermost social stratum that such
lavish worship may have targeted. Two cremation graves
of prominent males were retrieved: a bronze-adorned
wagon grave, and another grave centred on an imported
bronze cauldron containing cremated bones and a series
of items in gold, bronze, and amber carefully wrapped in
cloth. The tight cluster of giant mounds at Voldtofte are
statements of power that link up with the nearby wealthy
116Henriksen 1999; 2005; 2019; Mikkelsen 2011.
117Goldhahn/Ling 2013; Ling 2008.
118See i.e. Henriksen 2005
119Jensen 2011; Thrane 1989.
120Jensen 1981; Kaul 2014: at the foot of the gold-rich hill of Borg-
bjerg Banke there is a sacred well known for its curative powers in
121Henriksen 2014; 2018; 2019; Mikkelsen 2011, 47–59.
122Henriksen 2014; 2019; 2021.
Fig. 9: The horned headdress of bronze with gold foil from a bog at
Hagendrup, west Sealand, NBA II c.1400 BC. Width 12–16cm (after
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 149
settlement at Kirkebjerget, where swords, lurs, and or-
naments were manufactured and where red-painted clay
lining for walls was retrieved. The Voldtofte rulers ev-
idently networked with metal-trading partners both near
and far in the period 1000–750 BC.
In sum, the traditional emphasis on the medium of
water in ritual depositions and cults has a chthonic ambi-
ence, hinting that underground water was the imagined
place of afterlife for particular creatures of the past.
Numerous outstanding objects, often in pairs, ended up
in wetlands. It emerges that in NBA V an ancestral tradi-
tion was renewed by further institutionalisation, namely
major cults on dry land, which seem to maintain a mor-
tuary connotation. This may be termed a tomb or ances-
tor cult. This Scandinavian development, moreover,
resonates with what we can extract from the Sardinian
Bronzetti in the form of anthropomorphs and zoomorphs
were produced at the Sardinian sanctuaries and exhibited
there as votive offerings at monumental sacred wells (pozzi
sacri). Fixed in lead, bronzetti were placed in groups along
the dromos of the well that led underground. The subter-
ranean water that sourced these wells may point to a con-
nection with chthonic forces. Perhaps each sacred well
was thought of as a monumental temple accommodating
powerful ancestors. Bronzetti offerings would then be a
way to connect with and venerate these imagined ances-
tors of a past age. The models of nuraghi towers located
in the middle of the Nuragic villages of the FBA–EIA would
similarly become objects of commemoration and collective
memory, as reminders of a mighty past.
It may well be that when Monte Prama was built
c.900 BC, this mortuary connotation was maintained: the
warrior sculptures were erected on top of the cist graves
as if to protect and honour the ancestral dead with a
divine or semidivine presence in a traditionalising setting
of Nuraghe ‘towers’. The heroön character of the Monte
Prama sanctuary is unique in Sardinia, and its coastal po-
sition, near the Phoenician entrepȏt of Tharros at the tip
124Thrane 1984; 2015.
125For example Hansen 2008; Vandkilde 2014.
127Fadda 2013; 2014; Gonzalez 2012, 98; Lilliu 1988.
128Ialongo 2013; Vella Gregory 2017; Whitley 1995, 13–18.
129Perra 2017; see also Whitley 1995, 17.
130Rendeli 2014, 190.
of the Sinis peninsula, points not only to a further institu-
tionalisation of ancestral cults, but also to an exogenous
impact, given the easy access from the sea.
The warrior stelae were erected in densely settled LBA–EIA
landscapes, with small stelae groups across a region. There
were fortified hillforts, with conspicuous ritual deposi-
tions made in the same landscapes. A few warrior stelae
have an archaeologically attested mortuary affiliation,
which can be generalised into assuming that they were ini-
tially grave markers and thereafter were commemorated
in a manner difficult to specify due to sparse information
about primary contexts. It is likely that at least some stelae
were originally associated with burial mounds. A stela
at Cortijo de la Reina (Andalusia) was found in a ditch cov-
ering an LBA urn, and the stela at Gomes Aires (Portu-
gal) reportedly covered a cremation pit.
Consistent with most interpretations, we suggest that
the stelae were raised to honour special male deceased,
likely an active warrior, whose body was presented on the
stone slab together with a collection of his gear. The arche-
typal character both of each individual element and of the
group is striking, as is the way the main character seems to
have been praised by the use of simple codes of supreme
warriorhood. This paper rephrases some of these codes
as aggrandisement, or gigantisation. Diaz-Guardamino
and colleagues emphasise the commemorative role and
the mortuary dimension of the warrior stelae in a proxi-
mate landscape with settlements, burial mounds, drove-
ways, fords, and water resources. In this setting of the
everyday, stelae would have been important as durable
and visible landmarks. Weapon deposition and warrior
imagery may, as in Scandinavia, have had interchange-
able meanings related to the element of water. Unlike
Sardinia and Scandinavia, however, no sanctuaries have
so far been retrieved in southwest Iberia prior to the ap-
pearance of sanctuaries in Phoenician entrepts in the
eighth and seventh centuries BC in the EIA. The long-
131Tronchetti 2015; Tronchetti/Van Dommelen 2005.
132Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a;
Harrison 2004, 35.
133Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a, 6126.
135Harrison 2004, 310.
136Harrison 2004, 59–65 fig. 4,5.
137Diaz-Guardamino 2014; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b, 21.
138Gonzalez 2018, 246; Harrison 2004, 25.
139Gonzalez 2018, 177.
150Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
term production of stelae including aggrandising elements
and special gear may suggest ongoing ancestral commem-
oration or even heroisation among peers, but perhaps not
institutionalised cults as in Scandinavia and Sardinia.
In brief: Each of the three cases demonstrates ritual-
isation aligning with local practices and traditional beliefs
tied to particular local landscapes. The pictured weaponry
and other gear are well known from burials and hoards,
both locally and in the LBA supraregion. Sun worship
interfused with animistic notions seems to be a Scandi-
navian speciality. There are, at the same time, broad cor-
respondences across the three ritualised contexts, which
may indicate that ideas about cults, sanctuaries, and nar-
ratives moved along with material exchanges and entered
local environments from the outside. An underlying po-
litical drive emerges still more persistently. Sardinia and
Scandinavia in particular share exhibition and deposi-
tion of figurines and associated gear in dry as well as wet
settings, and both seem to undergo a development from
deeply anchored ancestral veneration to institutionalised
cults of geographically broader reach. This may have pro-
gressed in tandem with local political processes. This cele-
brated warriorhood and ample depositions of arms points
to a professionalised fighting force, conflict and violence
in Final Bronze Age Europe, as several reports indicate.
Indigenous roots, innovation, and
Our three zones adopt, invent, or reinvent the horned
figure– unlike other regions at this time. In asking the
question ‘why’, it is relevant at this point to outline the
local traditions and how they evolved prior to the appear-
ance of the horned anthropomorphs. In general terms,
the horned armed figure signals both bellicosity and a
preoccupation with bulls/cattle. All three of these regions
thrived on animal husbandry among other economic
niches, and they flagged warlike material culture and
values. However, professionalised warriorhood and mixed
economies of agriculture and husbandry were universal
across much of LBA Europe. Local preferences and rooted
tradition may nevertheless be a factor in the decision to
embrace the horned-helmet imagery. Which relics of the
past in the three zones might have facilitated the inclusion
of the horns?
140See for example Dolfini et al. 2018; Kristiansen/Horn 2018; Uck-
Over time, Nordic Bronze Age tradition underwent change
roughly in accordance with the rhythms of those parts
of Europe that were delivering metals to the North in
exchange for amber. The cyclical solar framework of
the belief system in this region, with Neolithic roots, is
innately resilient, and thanks to Flemming Kaul’s detailed
studies and several other contributions is well under-
stood. The tripartite cosmological scheme remained
fixed. The gradual implementation of cremation, c.1400–
1100 BC, does not seem to have altered belief in the sun
cycle, but rather to have reinforced belief in its mortuary
significance, now shared by a broader group of people
than previously. In Kaul’s interpretation, the sun cycle was
believed to require assistance from a collegium of animal
and human-like helpers, who pulled the sun nightly
through the watery underworld into the sky-covered day-
light, while they underwent bodily transformations along
the way. It is possible that people understood their own
life/death cycle in a parallel manner throughout this long
period, and that burials and depositions retained an
ancestral and commemorative core.
The twins and other figures leading the sun’s journey
were likely paramount throughout the Nordic Bronze Age.
They occur, implicitly for the most part, in the numerous
depositions of multiple or paired objects in wetlands, pars
pro toto in the sense that these godlike characters are
usually not rendered present as persons but imagined or
performed by human deputies (shamans/priests, commu-
nity heads). For this reason the human ritual actions, social
obligations, and political strategies behind the depositions
should not be underestimated. During key periods of
NBA II and NBA V, this principle of imagined or performed
presence during depositional acts becomes reinforced,
with the sacred agents themselves emerging ‘personified’,
that is, conceptualised in the form of bronze figurines or
depicted on stone as persons. In NBA II a few person-like
beings occur, notably in the hieros gamos scene on a stone
slab at the Sagaholm monumental mound (Småland)
and with the twin male figurines in the Stockhult deposi-
tion (Scania). Kristiansen and Larsson add horns to the
141Nørgaard et al. 2019; 2021.
142Kaul 1998; 2004; 2005.
143For example Bradley 1998; Bradley/Nimura 2013.
146Fontijn 2020, 112–129.
147Goldhahn 1999; 2016.
148Kristiansen/Larsson 2005, 312 fig. 143.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 151
twins’ hats, but despite small holes in the brim, a horned
reconstruction is doubtful. Horned helmets are absent in
NBA II. However, both the Hagendrup headdress (Fig. 9)
and the Wismar drinking horn in bronze may indicate
a partiality towards horned creatures, which might help
to explain the later adoption of innovative horned-helmet
imagery from abroad.
This was a twofold innovation dating around the
transition to NBA V, c.1000–900 BC. Firstly, we see a new
embodiment of the twins, now wearing horned helmets
and staged within the archetypal community of anthropo-
morphic beings and their zoomorphic translations. These
are now conceptualised as ‘gigantic’, whether rendered
as miniatures in bronze or blown up much larger on rock.
Secondly, special places of commemoration now emerge
(see above), in which the sun-cycle narrative merges with
large-scale mortuary and commemorative activities, often
involving gear of gold and bronze of unprecedented flam-
boyance. Both these instances may well have been moti-
vated by political ambition for control, as evident espe-
cially at Voldtofte.
The changes undergone by the Bronze Age Nuragic tra-
dition were sensitive to the rhythm of its neighbours.
Especially after 1300 BC, local metalworking developed a
high level of sophistication that was dependent on both
its own and imported metal sources. As in Scandina-
via, the belief system appears to have been resilient into
the long term. The tradition-bound obsession with cattle
horns is archaeologically conspicuous. Indeed, Sardinia is
often understood specifically in terms of bulls’ imagery,
creatures around which the religion pivoted, as amply
expressed in the rock-cut bucrania that frequently adorn
the Neolithic tombs. This tomb imagery in stone may have
had multiple functions and meanings, even if the mor-
tuary setting points to an ancestral coupling. Cattle were
also central to the Nuragic economy. For Lilliu, Nuragic
society was strictly embedded in pastoralism, as expressed
in the ‘king–shepherd’ title he gave to the so-called Capo-
tribu of the bronzetti at Uta-Abini. Horned animals
including bulls, stags, and rams are frequent in the Uta-
150For example Giumlia-Mair/Lo Schiavo 2018; Lo Schiavo 2014.
151For example Lilliu 1958; Minoja et al. 2015.
153Usai 2014, 49–50.
Abini group of bronzetti; these probably embody a refer-
ence to an ideal society of the past, predating the social
changes that set in around 1200 BC.
At this time, the warrior bronzetti with horned metal
helmets materialise on the scene. Their distinctly hu-
manised embodiment en miniature is a completely new
addition to Sardinian metalwork production, though con-
sistent with rooted tradition. One might speculate that a
proximate inspiration for this turn could perhaps have
been Sardinian military troops with their horned caps.
Although no such horned headgear has been preserved,
the pharaonic imagery at Medinet Habu (1165 BC) holds
similar headgear. No certain evidence however exists that
connects those warriors with Sardinia. The south Corsican
anthropomorphic menhirs may point in the direction of a
regionally shared tradition of horned caps among warriors
and leaders. Such ‘Sherden’ warriors may have inspired
the votive bronzetti, which despite their small size may
have been perceived as gigantic (see above). Oxhide ingots
were traded into Sardinia from Cyprus, so Cypriot horned
figurines like those from Enkomi (LC III) could have been
a parallel source of inspiration.
The grandiose format of armed males at Monte Prama
indicates a consolidation of institutionalised cults c.900
BC and calls to mind colossal figures in the Near East and
the Levant. The Monte Prama development of ancestral
commemoration may also tie in with Levantine activities
along the western coasts of the island. Although emerg-
ing in negotiation with local tradition, the de facto gigan-
tisation of entire bodies in stone seems in tune with cults
of divinities, rulers, or special ancestors.
The warrior stelae here belong to the Atlantic–West Med-
iterranean Bronze Age region. The local antecedents are
Neolithic anthropomorphic portable idols and menhirs,
as well as earlier Bronze Age stelae depicting weaponry
in much the same way as the earliest series of warrior
stelae. Hence the chosen medium for the large group of
Iberian later Bronze Age stelae merely continues, or rather
reinvents, a rooted tradition for commemoration through
the erection of stone memorials in the landscape.
155Leandri et al. 2015.
156See Gonzalez 2018, 43 fig. 3.
157Usai 2014, 56–57.
158See Ángeles Del Rincón 2017, figures 3,4; 3,9; Diaz-Guardamino
2014; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a; 2019b; Koch/Palacios 2019, fig.
3,9; Martí 2017, fig. 2,11.
152Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets
The horned-helmet figure, however, is an outsider to
the region. Its first appearance was likely due to LBA con-
nections with Sardinia– perhaps fleeing military units in
the course of the twelfth century BC, or brought by trading
partners. The subsequent Phoenician expansion in the
west could have further reinforced the significance and
centralised position of the horned-helmet motif, as well
as its aggrandising effects, which are consistent with the
mortuary or commemorative dimension noted by several
authors. Overall, the Iberian warrior stelae are embed-
ded in a strong local tradition, while the horned-helmet
warrior and his companions are intruding characters,
whose appropriation locally may connect to ongoing ter-
ritorialisation and control of copper and other minerals,
notably in Sierra Morena, which attracted stelae on the
settled plains to either side.
The animated headgear of the horned helmet advertises
the personal muscle of the wearer, and perhaps even cohe-
sion among a group of peers. This is apparent in all three
of our zones. Warfare and warriorhood, however, do not
suffice as explanations. In addition, local traits pre-exist
in the three zones that help to explain the adoption of
horned-helmet imagery. The imagery appears self-con-
sciously Nordic, Sardinian, and Iberian, if only because
innovative exogenous traits were merged into a syn-
cretic product suiting local culture, beliefs, and political
climate. Such a reinvention of tradition may be associated
with crisis or post-crisis consolidation of a new regime.
Even so, of the three zones, the Sardinian development
has the clearest local foundation, and it may well be the
main source of the other two zones’ preoccupation with
the horned-helmet warrior and novel ideas of gigantisa-
tion. The link between Sardinia and Scandinavia seems
especially clear-cut, reinforced by comparable political
processes, in which cults played a role.
The horned symbol of Near Eastern origin likely ap-
peared attractive to elites in need of legitimisation. Horns
attached to the head were associated with divinity, ruler-
ship, or both; the motif underlined mastery both of war
and of chthonic powers. Key meanings – including
martiality, exclusivity, superpowers, authority, and divine
descent– seemingly diffused into Sardinia, Iberia, and
159Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019b; Diaz-Guardamino et al. 2019a.
161For example Gonzalez 2012, 102.
Scandinavia. Ideas of a glorious past with horned warri-
ors, gods, or rulers may have circulated in ways that made
sense locally as a unifying collective memory, aligning
with cultural tradition in each zone.
The ambiguous status of the horned-helmet figure
with his entourage– not quite human, not quite divine–
may perhaps point towards some form of hero cult. Found-
ing ancestors may over time have been elevated to a cult of
heroes, as argued by Kristiansen and Larsson. However,
a hero cult in the Greek sense is difficult to apply, even if
attached to mortal male warriors believed to dwell under-
ground and to be able to transcend worlds owing to semi-
divine descent. In Greece, hero cults per se did not gain
ground until the eighth/seventh century BC. Coinciding
as they did with the very beginning of Greek expansion
in the western Mediterranean, this periodisation seems
too late to have influenced the developments described.
Whitley’s broader ‘ancestor-tomb cult’ is a better fit: it
is not restricted to Greece, and encompasses commem-
orations of the long-gone or recent dead, posthumously
heroised to establish a genealogy of divine origins or terri-
torial rights. Post-Mycenaean examples of ancestor-tomb
cult notably include the Toumba heroön at Lefkandi of the
tenth century BC, which concurs with the development
witnessed in the three zones.
The above analysis has demonstrated that horns were
used emblematically in Sardinia, Iberia, and Scandina-
via to visualise an exclusive group of anthropomorphised
warlike beings whose significance was tied to commem-
orative or mortuary rites, sites, and beliefs, in tandem
with political trends. This is true for all three of the zones
investigated. Each case portrays a localised version of a
narrative intended for collective sharing about an arche-
typal community including human-like beings, their
animal helpers, vehicles, and gear relating to war as well
as peace. The imagery of very particular warriors wearing
horned insignia relates on the one hand to the transfer of
novel beliefs involving embodied gigantisation and on the
other hand to local control of metals that were still in high
demand. The three zones stand out as metal-rich, either
through natural resources or through trading.
162Kristiansen/Larsson 2005: 210, fig. 95; compare also Harrison
2004, 176–178; 143–146.
163Albersmeier 2009; Whitley 1995, 54–57.
164Whitley 1995, 53–61.
Helle Vandkilde et al., Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets 153
Otherworldly products can be strategically designed
as support for an ongoing political process aiming to le-
gitimise and consolidate power and to unite rather than
separate; they can be a statement of deep anchorage in
situations where it was convenient to draw on the past
to legitimise a changing present. It may be that our three
cases can be boiled down to political domains in need of
legitimisation through claimed genealogical relations to
the archetypal narrative. The horned figure was appropri-
ated very selectively, together with its narrated values of
exclusivity, gigantisation, and community. The pasts of
the three zones give hints of receptiveness to such a novel
package in conjunction with local tradition.
These correspondences in horned-helmet imagery
and the transfer between three separate zones with a
distinct western cline refute one-sided explanations that
privilege local processes or random culture flows. Simi-
larities have been shown to occur on several levels, from
minuscule details to the content of ideas and coincid-
ing with politico-religious processes. The analysis has
revealed a distinct core of similarity, and thus connect-
edness, despite long distances of transportation. Given
the particular geographical spread, the most plausible
link between the three zones is directional movements
through a western maritime route. Association with met-
al-trading post-1200/1100 BC is consistent with recent re-
search. The Scandinavian addendum to this network
from c.1000–900 BC coincides with the metal-led Phoe-
nician expansion and consolidation in the west. The
Phoenician capacity for sea travel and trading should be
kept in mind although of course other actors such as the
Scandinavians and Sardinians could have contributed.
A Mediterranean–Atlantic sea route emerges; the other-
wise flourishing transalpine trade route seems to have
been inactive in disseminating the image of the horned
warrior hero. In this connection, it is significant that large
quantities of Baltic amber reached Sardinia and were
transported along the western sea route, the transalpine
route, or both. Overall, our findings tally with recent
reviews of the Bronze Age as a globalisation-like assem-
blage of multiple communities, glued together by a desire
for, and dependence on, coveted metals.
165Earle/Kristiansen 2010, 15; Earle 1997, 150–155.
166Ben-Yosef 2019; Thompson/Skaggs 2013; Eshel et al. 2019; Wood
et al. 2020; Ialongo et al. 2021.
168Compare Ling et al. 2018; Cunliffe 2001.
169Bellintani 2010; 2016.
Acknowledgment: The research presented in this article
is based on the results of two projects: We are grateful
for funding granted by the Ministry of Culture Denmark
FORM.2019-0032 and FORM.2020-0009. We thank the
National Museum of Denmark and Flemming Kaul for per-
mission to sample one of the Viksø helmets. We also thank
Ronny Friedrich and Susanne Lindauer at the Curt-Engel-
horn-Centre for Archaeometry in Mannheim, Germany, for
the preparation of the radiocarbon sample, for the analy-
sis and for the analytical assistance provided. We further
wish to thank Dr.Manuela Puddu in the National Museum
of Cagliari in Sardinia for the support and the permission
to study the exciting Nuragic figurines. We are also grate-
ful to Niels Algreen Møller and Marie Vang Posselt from
Museum Thy, for showing us the Kallerup find while it
was under conservation at Moesgaard Museum, for com-
menting on the manuscript and for permission to publish
a photo of the twin figurine. The anonymous peer review
provided valuable suggestions, which helped to improve
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