Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Egtved Girl's Grave, "Egtvedpigen", Egtved, Vejle



The Egtved Girl is one of the best preserved findings from Bronze Age, mostly because of the well-kept dress, which brought new knowledge about Denmark's prehistoric period. A 16-18 year old girl was buried in a hill at Egtved about 3.500 years ago, swept in a cow skin and covered in a woolen blanket.


reconstruction of the oak coffin at Egtved Museum

The Egtved Girl at the National Museum in Copenhagen.

There was only left hair, brain, teeth, nails and a little skin, but her teeth revealed that she was 16-18 years old when she died. She wore a short shirt and a knee-long string skirt. Upon the stomach was a belt-plate in bronze decorated with spirals - this circular plate might have been a symbol of the sun. She also a had a small horn comb fastened to her belt. Around each arm was a bronze ring and she had a slight ring in one ear. At her head was a small box of lime bark with a bronze awl, pins and the rests of a hairnet. At her feet was placed a small bucket of birch bark which had contained a fermented fruit drink. Here was also a small bundle of cloth with the burnt bones of a 5-6 year old child. A few bones from the same child was in the bark box.


Medieval market at Egtved Museum 17 July and Peter Platz's memorial stone

The Egtved Girl was found in 1921. A farmer Peter Platz wanted to remove the last remains of a burial mound "Storhøj" upon his land at Egtved and came across a two meter long oak coffin. "Storhøj" was once a large burial mound, but in the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s much earth was digged up - and the last part of the hill was used for winter store of potatoes - until the farmer reached the coffin. He later raised a memorial stone which is still seen at the hill.

The burial mound has been reconstructed, with a diameter of 22 and a height of 4 - and in connection to the burial place a small museum is furnished with permanent exhibitions and varying activities. The Egtved Girl is today on display at the National Museum in Copenhagen - she is one of the best preserved Bronze Age findings in Denmark, although her skin and body parts have vanished, but the finding is unique since her clothes are very well-preserved.



The yarrow still grows here in the field by the grave.

The Egtved Girl's dress was the cause of much discussion and many theories, since it is different from all other findings from similar periods. The usual dress for a woman at her time was practical and decent,but her clothes refer both to a fille de joie and a slave -and then they would probably not have buried her in a grand mound, let alone sacrifice a child. Examinations have showed that the child could hardly be her own, and it is supposed that the little girl was a burnt offering.

Since the finding the Egtved Girl was the object of various scientific examinations, and the National Museum has established several interesting details.In 1990 was made a dendochronology of her coffin, which told that the oak had been cut down in the summer 1370 B.C.

Everything lay in the coffin like at the funeral about 3500 years ago. Before the Egtved Girl was put into the coffin it was lined in cow skin. She was carefully placed in the coffin upon the soft cow skin with her grave goods. Then she was covered in a woolen blanket before the coffin was closed. When the coffin was opened about 3500 yers later there was not much left from the girl. The cow skin was also crumbled - her skin had rotten away, but her hair was preserved. In this long blonde hair the outline of her body was visible. Still today it is visible how the weight of the dead girl's body has pressed the hair down. A small yarrow flower was placed upon the edge of the coffin before the lid was put on - and the yarrow reveals that the Egtved girl was put in her grave in the summer period. In the bucket of birch bark was a thick brown residuum. When it was analyzed it was clear that it contained a fermented drink - probably honey-sweetened beer. The drink was made from cowberry or cranberry. There were also wheet-corn, rests of sweet gale and large amounts of pollen from lime and other plants.

The string skirt and below a replica of her dress




The belt plate, an arm ring and the bark bucket

A little info from Bronze Age

By adding tin to copper a new alloy was made: bronze. The use of this metal gave name to the period Bronze Age. Bronze is harder than copper, which until bronze arrived was the metal used. Bronze gave tools and weapons sharper edge. Furthermore the melting point of bronze is lower than copper's which made it easier to process. The need of a new metal made it necessary to travel south since these raw materials were not available in Denmark. The lines of communication went across Europe, and the North was connected to a network of contacts, stretching to the sunny world of the Mediterranean. The only traces left from those ancient travels are the goods, which the travellers brought back home.


People of Bronze Age started a magnificent hill-building. The grave hills were protected like the dead person, both at the grave and in the way the burial mound was made visible. At the same time the hill secured the memory about the dead for coming generations. All through Bronze Age the hills were used again and again for burials. The hill or group of hills became a burial site where people came back through centuries.
Women and men had each a dress-fashion in Bronze Age. All their burial places bear witness of the variation of their equipment. Women often had a large belt-plate in bronze around the stomach, while the men's graves often held a razor and a sword. Both sexes had bronze jewels like bracelets, dress-needles and tutuli, and daggers are found in both graves of men and women. It applies to both men, women and children that a great care was taken of the dead at the burial.



The Egtved Girl was dressed in a striking string-skirt, wrapped twice around the waist , and about 38 cm long. This kind of skirt was used during Bronze Age. Small women figures of bronze from Grevensvænge (notice woman figure with string skirt in little photo) at Zealand are also dressed in string-skirts. It has been suggested that the figures display rituals, which was performed by humans at the cult feasts of Bronze Age. Maybe the women with the string skirts were ritual dancers - and maybe the Egtved Girl was also a part of such dance rituals.

The young girl from Egtved has left her grave and now rests at the National Museum in Copenhagen, where she is seen by thousands of tourist each year. Why she died is not known. She was not a burnt offering like the child - maybe she died from accident or sudden illness. Maybe she was a dancer or a priestess. There were many cult traditions in Bronze Age, but we might imagine a young Scandivanian girl with long blonde hair, so much loved and appreciated by her people that they buried her in a grand hill to protect her memory. She is a part of the magical world of ancient times which we want to know more of - but mostly we have to use our imagination. I imagine she was a young priestess, maybe the daughter of a local chief.



NEWS about the Egtved Girl in 2015.
The Egtvedgirl was born and grew up several hundred kilometers from the East Jutland town Egtved New examinations of the strontium in her teeth shows this, and  analyses of her hair and a thumb-nail also show that she travelled long distances for the two last years of her life. She came to Egtved only a short time before her death. Scientists from Copenhaaen University tell us that she was in Denmark only for nine months which was a surprise to the scientists. She was always thought to be a local girl.

Strontium is a substance found in the surface of the soil, but it varies from place to place It might be regarded as some kind of GPS . By analysing strontium in archaeological finds the scientists can find out where a person was has lived. The molars of the Egtvedgirl were pre-formed when she was three-four years of age. Tests from the enamel show that she was born and lived in an area which was geologically different from Egtved. Much indicate that this place might be what is in the southwestern Germany today, the area named Schwarzwald - about 800 kilometer south of Egtved.

 A Danish professor Kristian Kristiansen has via archaeological findings demonstrated close connections between Denmark and South Germany, which dominated the Bronze Age in Western Europe. His guess is that the Egtvedgirl was a girl from southern Germany who was to marry a powerful chief in Jutland in order to seal an alliance between two powerful families.

Source. National Museum, Copenhagen University. 



photo Egtved 17 July 2010: grethe bachmann & stig bachmann nielsen Naturplan Foto
photo Egtved 17 July 2010: grethe bachmann & stig bachmann nielsen Naturplan Foto

1 comment:

Out on the prairie said...

Pretty interesting. Native Americans used burial mounds around the same era.