A Story Told by Middle Bronze Age
Human Remains from Central Norway
In the Early Nordic European Bronze Age, almost 4000 years ago, people began, more scrupulously than before, to make artefacts specifically designed for warfare. These artefacts were weapons forged in metal, shaped for use in close combat. Swords, daggers, axes and spears became important personal possessions and depositing them in burials and hoards reinforced their symbolic meaning. Despite this fact, archaeologists have traditionally believed the Bronze Age to be a peaceful and prosperous period in our prehistory. One may ask why large investments of energy were put into the weapons if these weapons were not used at all. Did the Bronze Age people live in harmony only driven by the desire to secure agricultural wealth and religious prestige?
As mentioned above, 150 years of research has presented us with the view that the Early and Middle Bronze Age (Montelius’ period II–III) was a time of prosperity and peace and weapons were made for symbolic use hence ignoring the potential of bronze weaponry in war. Or as Øystein K. Johansen put it in his latest work from 2000:
Researchers as a whole agree that the Bronze Age appears to
have been a quiet and calm period. We cannot detect any
major changes in people’s living conditions during the Bronze
Age. Neither violent events, nor migrations or anything simi-
lar can be detected in the material (Johansen 2000: 144, my
I do not claim that this is altogether wrong. However, my point is that the skeletal material tells us stories about a less peaceful and easy life. Kristian Kristiansen’s recent work supports such a more nuanced view. He argues that the inability to recognise warfare in prehistoric societies can be blamed on the academic traditions developed after World War II. Warfare in the past did not fit well with the idea of building a modern welfare society (post-war) and archaeologists were therefore more focused on rituals and religion (Kristiansen 1999b: 175). Additionally, his studies of wear patterns on swords should be taken as strong indications of violent encounters.
In connection with writing my thesis at the University of Bergen, I have analysed extensive Norwegian skeletal material dated to the Middle Bronze Age. The focus has been on an assemblage of skeletons with trauma at Sund, Inderøy in NordTrøndelag, comparing these with the results of an analysis of skeletons from burials, notably cairns, from the same geographical area – at Toldnes. The results of these examinations are presented in this