The archaeological records of the European Bronze Age are dominated by settlement finds, hoards and evidence of funeral sites. However, the site at the river Tollense in Northern Germany is very different and is the first European evidence of a prehistoric battlefield. Over 12,000 pieces of human bone have already been recovered from the valley and osteoanthropologist Ute Brinker (from the State Agency for Cultural Heritage in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) has identified more than 140 individuals – young adult males in good physical condition. Their bones showed signs of recent trauma – the result of close and long-range weapons – and healed lesions, which probably indicate they were accustomed to combat. Isotopic results suggested that at least some of the group were not from the local area, but it is not yet clear how far they travelled.
The discovery of a new set of artefacts from a previous battlefield provides important new clues. The divers were able to document a number of bronze finds in their original position on the riverbed, among them a decorated belt box, three cloak pins and also arrow heads. Surprisingly, they also found 31 objects (250 g) tightly packed together, suggesting they had been kept in a container made of wood or cloth that has since rotted away. The items include a bronze tool with a birch handle, a knife, a chisel and fragments of bronze. Radiocarbon dating of the complex shows that the finds belong to the battlefield layer and they were probably the personal equipment of one of the victims. The new results make increasingly clear that the Tollense Valley was the setting for a violent conflict in the earlier Nordic Bronze Age (2000–1200 BC). In fact, recent evidence suggests that it is likely to have been on an even larger scale, clearly stretching beyond regional borders.
Professor Thomas Terberger, from the Department of Pre- and Early History at the University of Göttingen, says, ‘This is the first discovery of personal belongings on a battlefield and it provides insights into a warrior’s equipment. The fragmented bronze was probably used as a form of currency. The discovery of a new set of artefacts also provides us with clues about the origins of the men who fought in this battle and there is increasing evidence that at least some of the warriors came from southern Central Europe.’
Original publication: Tobias Uhlig et al. Lost in combat? A scrap metal find from the Bronze Age battlefield site at Tollense(2019), Antiquity. DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2019.137
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Professor Thomas Terberger
University of Göttingen
Department of Pre- and Early History
Nikolausberger Weg 15, 37073 Göttingen, Germany
Tel.: +49 551 39 33868
PD Dr. Joachim Krüger
University of Greifswald
Department of History
Chair of General History of the Middle Ages and Historical Ancillary Sciences
Domstraße 9a, 17489 Greifswald
Tel.: +49 3834 420 3302