Friday, April 21, 2017

The Egtvedgirl / Egtvedpigen

Egtvedpigen is a famous Danish grave-find from Bronze Age and one of the best preserved,especially for her wellkept dress, which brought new knowledge about Denmark's past. She was considered a Danish girl from the beginning, but new knowledge and analyses have shown that she was born and grew up in south western Germany.
Egtvedgirl, National Museum.

yarrow from the hill, july 2010/gb
A Jutland farmer wanted in 1921 to remove the rest of a great hill, named "Storehøj", in his fields to make room for sowing, but while he was digging he hit a two meter long oak coffin. "Storehøj" was at that time outdigged and almost flat , but the wellkept grave with the oak coffin and a young girl's  body was placed in the eastern part of the hill. The coffin was an outhollowed barked oak trunk, one half was the coffin, the other a lid. The oak coffin is dated to year 1370 BC. Everything was found placed in the coffin as it were almost 3500 years ago. The coffin was lined with cow skin and the body of a young girl was placed carefully on the soft skin surrounded by her grave goods and covered with a woolen blanket -  and the coffin was closed . A little yarrow flower was put on the edge of the coffin before the lid was put on. The yarrow reveals that she was buried on a summer's day.

Storhøj in july 2010/gb

The region of Egtved was at that time of Bronze Age a power center in Jutland. Southern Germany and Denmark were two dominating power centers in western Europe. The archaeological material reveals that there are many direct connections between the two regions. One theory 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 strong families. She was buried in a hill of her own, she was a person of high status. On a summer's day in 1370 BC her body was carefully buried in an oak coffin and covered by a grave hill, later named "Storehøj", close to Egtved village west of Vejle city. Her story is a fascinating tale from Bronze Age, and only because of her early death and burial in the grave hill at Egtved we are now able to discover more about the Bronze Age people. 

bronze belt plate(from Langstrup)/ wikipedia
The Egtvedgirl's teeth tell us that she was about 16-18 years old when she died. Although her skin and body parts are gone the find is still exceptional, since her dress and grave goods are very well preserved. She was carefully wrapped in a cow skin and covered by a woolen blanket. Her dress was a short-sleeved blouse, a kneelong cord skirt and a woven belt, mounted with a circular bronze belt plate , decorated with a spiral pattern. The belt plate symbolized the sun, the most important element of the Bronze Age religion. Fastened at her belt was a comb made of horn,  and her feet were wrapped in pieces of cloth. She had a bronze arm ring on borth arms and a fragile ear ring in one ear. A little wooden bowl beside her contained the rests of a fermented fruit drink - some kind of beer - and in a small box made of linden barch were a bradawl and the rests of a hair net. At her feet was a bundle of cloth with the burnt bones of a 5-6 year old child, and at her head a small box of birch-barch bones from the same child.

In the coffin was a wooden bowl, which in the bottom had a layer of thick brown precipitation. When the content was analysed it was obvious that it had contained a fermented drink, probably honey-sweetened beer. The drink was made by lingonberry or cranberry. Besides this were wheatgrains, rests of sweet gale and large amounts of pollen from the lime tree. The Egtvedgirl's brew is now put into production after 3.300 years. 
National Museum /Egtved girl/wikipedia
The grave hill "Storehøj" is reconstructed today, and in attachment is a small museum with permanent exhibitions and alternate activities. The Egtvedgirl is considered one of the best kept Bronze Age finds i Danish history and she is one of the most famous persons from antiquity.  She is today at exhibition at the National Museum in Copenhagen, and she is one of more than 20 Danish grave finds from Bronze Age which is unique worldwide.

New knowledge.
Schwarzwald, wikipedia/gb
The Egtvedgirl was not born in Egtved. She was from the start considered a Danish girl but today we know that she was born and grew up many hundred kilometers from Denmark. Analyses by help of the isotope strontium of her hair, teeth and nails show that she was born and grew up , probably in southwestern Germany -  and that she came to Egtved shortly before her death. The analyses of her hair and a thumb nail show that she travelled back and forth during the two last years of her life. This new knowledge tells us that the Bronze Age people travelled long distances in a relatively short time. The people of Bronze Age lived in a cosmopolitic and dymamic world.

the small museum/wikipedia
belt plate and arm ring/museum/gb
barch box/ july 2010/ museum/gb
The wool from her dress, the blanket and the cow skin come from a region outside Denmark. The wool comes from sheep which grass in various places or in a relatively big area with a complex geology  - and this is found in South West Germany. A combination of various analyses point to that the girl, her dress and the cow skin come from Schwarzwald (800 km south of Egtved). The same goes for the cremated rests of a six year old child, who was buried with her.

medieval market, Egtved july 2010/gb
landscape Egtved, july 2010/gb
The dating of the Egtvedgirl's coffin is a summer's day year 1370 BC. It is possible that the Egtvedgirl left Germany and went to Jutland to marry a great man's son, but after a few months she went back home to fetch a child from her home region, maybe a little brother or little sister who should be fostered in Egtved.  The child got sick and died underway, and the body was burnt, which made it easier to transport. The Egtvedgirl's hair shows that she has either suffered from starvation or been sick on the tour. Maybe she was still sick when she arrived at Egtved where she died shortly after and was buried with the child. She is the only person from Bronze Age, who was buried with the burnt bones from a child. The child was too old to be her own, but it might be her brother or sister whom she brought to Denmark to be fostered by her family in law. The analyses say that the child and the Egtvedgirl came from the same region. 


Human sacrifice?
In the grave was a bundle with the burnt bones of a 5-6 year old child. The child was too old to be the girl's own child.  Maybe it was her little brother or sister or maybe a child who was sacrificed. From another woman grave in Bronze Age from the southern part of Jutland  is known a possible human sacrifice. The grave was examinated in the 1980s. Here was the body of a woman with a very rich grave equipment. At her feet were the burnt bones from a grown human, maybe her personal slave who was killed and burnt when she died? Possible human sacrifices are known from some contemporary graves in Bronze Age.

Dance rituals?
The Egtvedgirl was dressed in a significant cord skirt which reached her knees, it was wrapped twice around her waist and was about 38 cm long. That kind of skirt was used through Bronze Age. Some small women figures in bronze, found at Zealand, are also dressed in cord skirts. It has been suggested that the figures depict rituals which was made at the cult-feasts. Maybe women dressed in cord skirts danced ritual dances, and maybe the Egtvedgirl took part in these dance rituals.

Storhøj july 2010/gb


Source:  Det Natur og Biovidenskabelige fakultet, Københavns Universitet. .
professor Karin Margarita Frei,  Københavns Universitet
professor Kristian Kristiansen, Gøteborg Universitet. 

photo: wikipedia
photo: grethe bachmann, july 2010.

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