A Bronze Age Battlefield? Weapons and Trauma in the Tollense Valley, North-Eastern Germany

Article excerpt



From c. 2200 BC onwards, the material culture of Central Europe saw an increase in the production of weapons such as axes, halberds, daggers and--later on--swords. Without doubt these were prestigious objects, but at the same time wear-traces on swords indicate their true use as weapons (Kristiansen 1984, 2002). Further information on the belligerent nature of Bronze Age society is provided by settlement structure. In Central Europe, the first hillforts and fortified settlements were constructed in the Early Bronze Age (Czebreszuk et al 2008; Kneisel et al. 2008) with increasing evidence for hillforts from the later Lusatian and Urnfield cultures (e.g. Rind 1999; Abels 2002). In northern Germany and southern Scandinavia, reliable evidence for fortifications seems to be unavailable before the Late to Final Bronze Age (e.g. Kuhlmann & Segschneider 2004: 70) with a possible exception in north-western Germany (Veit & Wendowski-Schunemann 2006). A similar situation is reflected in the evidence from Britain (Thorpe 2006: 157).

These various lines of evidence indicate an increasing incidence of interpersonal violence and conflict. But while some authors characterise the Bronze Age in the north as a stratified order with a warrior aristocracy (Vandkilde 1996: 259; Fyllingen 2003: 40), until now skeletal remains have not shown a significant frequency of injury or violent death (PeterRocher 2006, 2007). Here we present new evidence from a river valley in north-eastern Germany, where human bones and weapons can be interpreted, for the first time, as signs of Bronze Age group conflict.

The finds

Since the 1980s, the Tollense Valley in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has produced a remarkable number of bronze objects (c. 70), recovered mainly from dredged river sediments in a section c, 3km long (Figure 1). Among the finds are tools and weapons such as knives, several arrowheads and spearheads, adzes, a dagger blade and a small sword fragment. Ornamental objects are also represented by two fibulas, various pins and a decorated box (Gurteldose) (Figure 2).

From time to time, human remains have also been found in the valley and by the 1990s numerous skulls had been registered by the heritage service. Among the human remains, recovered in 1996 by amateur archaeologist R. Borgwardt, was a right upper arm bone with a Bronze Age flint arrowhead embedded in the shoulder joint. Borgwardt also identified a wooden club in its original position close to the bones. Soon afterwards, test trenches at the site documented a consistent layer c. Im below the ground surface, containing clusters of human and animal bones in fine-grained, fluvial sediments (Figure 3). Most of the animal bones were identified as horse, representing a minimum of two individuals. A human skull with a large fracture in the frontal bone provided additional evidence for heavy violence (Figure 4). In 1999 Borgwardt also recovered human remains in connection to a second wooden weapon.

In 2008 D. Jantzen and T. Terberger initiated a research programme at the site, carrying out investigations by test excavation and diving, and obtaining data on human pathology and the geological and botanical sequence (from 50 cores). This was supported by a series of AMS radiocarbon dates.






The most unusual finds so far are two wooden clubs found only a few metres apart. The first weapon is c. 0.73m long, it has a thickened end and looks similar to a baseball bat (Figure 5.1). The second club is also made of a single piece of wood (c. 0.65m long) and has a carefully smoothed and slightly bent handle. The head (length 175mm, diameter 50mm) is of a similar shape to that of a croquet mallet (Figure 5.2). The first artefact is made of ash wood (Fraxinus excelsior), which is well known for its strength and elasticity. …