Danish Razors and Swedish Rocks: Cosmology and the Bronze Age Landscape

By Bradley, Richard | Antiquity, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Danish Razors and Swedish Rocks: Cosmology and the Bronze Age Landscape


Bradley, Richard, Antiquity


Introduction: Cosmology and landscape

Ideas about prehistoric landscapes have changed during recent years as part of a more general concern with studying meaning and experience in the past. Today the term 'landscape' refers as much to the significance of places as it does to the distribution of resources (Bender 1993; Tilley 1994; Ashmore & Knapp 1999; Ucko & Layton 1999). People's attachment to particular landscapes is social as well as economic, and for that reason it is perfectly possible for separate communities to think of the same area of ground in quite different ways (Bender & Winer 2001).

It is not only the features and associations of the topography that give rise to competing interpretations. Every study of the landscape involves some account of its physical features, but cosmologies provide a more abstract interpretation (Barth 1987). They offer a theoretical account of how the world was made and how its different parts are related to one another. They account for the creation of life, the formation of the land and the status of human beings. Such ideas would have been vitally important in the past (Blacker & Loewe 1975), but in the absence of written information they are difficult for prehistorians to investigate.

Visual images supply a possible source for studies of cosmology, and provide the basis for this paper, which compares the characteristic decoration on Bronze Age metalwork with similar designs in the rock art of South Scandinavia. The drawings on razors and other artefacts have been interpreted in terms of an ancient cosmology (Kaul 1998), but the rock carvings have played a more conspicuous role in landscape archaeology (Goldhahn 2002). In fact both approaches overlap. Whilst the decorated artefacts must still be studied on their own terms, the siting and organisation of the petroglyphs suggest another way of working with these ideas.

Decorated metalwork in Bronze Age Scandinavia

The Bronze Age metalwork of Scandinavia was among the first groups of prehistoric artefacts to be studied systematically. The different types were defined during the nineteenth century and the typological sequence worked out by Oscar Montelius remains largely unaltered today. It provides the basis for the chronology of Northern Europe (Graslund 1987). At the same time, some of this metalwork is distinctly unusual, for it includes a number of items with figurative decoration. Most of these are razors but there are also weapons and ornaments (Kaul 1998). Although some of the motifs have parallels in other regions, the closest comparison is with drawings in an entirely different medium. On the metalwork from Denmark there are many pictures of horses, boats and the sun. Between about 1600 and 500 BC the same motifs are more widely distributed in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian rock art. (Figure 1; Glob 1969; Malmer 1981).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

That connection is important. The chronology of the decorated metalwork has been transferred to the drawings of ships, and this has established the dates of some of the petroglyphs (Kaul 1998: chapter 6). At the same time the wider connections of both sets of images have attracted attention and a number of writers have suggested links with the visual culture of central and north-east Europe, as well as more distant affinities in the archaeological records of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Greece and Crete (Larsson 1997; Kristiansen 2004a). Such connections may even commemorate the travels of local chiefs during the Early Bronze Age (Kristiansen 2004b).

Work has also been conducted at a more local scale. The main development has been the publication of a detailed study of the decorated metalwork of Denmark. This has gone far beyond the traditional questions of style and chronology and has involved a new analysis of the images themselves (Kaul 1998). This works builds on earlier research in the same field (Gelling & Davidson 1969) but is notable because it does not depend on anachronistic comparisons with Old Norse religion.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Danish Razors and Swedish Rocks: Cosmology and the Bronze Age Landscape
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.