Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Bronze Age Double Buttons in Estonia/Kaksiknoobid Eesti Pronksiaegses Leiuaineses

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Bronze Age Double Buttons in Estonia/Kaksiknoobid Eesti Pronksiaegses Leiuaineses

Article excerpt


Among Estonian Bronze Age fords objects of different materials--bronze, amber and antler--occur, which are usually named double buttons. The number of such finds is small, only about ten specimens (Fig. 1, Table 1). Bronze double buttons spread mainly in the Scandinavian centre of bronze culture; the two bronze buttons found from the Joelahtme stone graves in Estonia were probably brought from there. It is interesting that such artefacts have been also made on the eastern shore of the Baltic using local materials--antler and amber. Although they have been named buttons it is not quite clear how they were used. Was their practical function as buttons primary, or was something else more important? Were they ornaments or cult objects, could they possess any symbolic meaning? Deciding by the conspicuous appearance of the buttons they may have been used also for decorative purpose, or as certain symbols in social communication.


Do the replicas made from local material indicate that meanings, notions or tenets symbolised by these artefacts were also adopted together with artefact types? Perhaps the material double buttons were made from also possessed some meaning? The aim of the article is to give a survey of the finds known at the moment, and discuss their possible use and meaning.

Double buttons were usually made from bronze (e.g. Baudou 1960, 87-89; Larsson 1986, 3638, 58-59) but only a couple of bronze specimens are hitherto known from Estonia. These were found from the stone-cist graves of Joelahtme, northern Estonia. Both double buttons from Melahtme have a small lower plate and a larger flat upper plate, which is decorated with relief concentric circles (Fig. 2). The buttons were found in graves IX and XI and dated to the 9th-8th centuries BC: most likely they were brought to Estonia from southern Scandinavia (Kraut 1985, 349, pl. V: 10, 15; Lang 1992, 22, pl. III: 4; see also Baudou 1960, 88-90, pl. XVIII).' The double button in grave IX was found in the cist, together with two spiral temple ornaments and a spade-headed bone pin. According to Valter Lang, the double button belongs to period IV of the Scandinavian Bronze Age; the spiral temple ornaments belong to periods IV-V (1100-900 and 900-600 BC, respectively: Lang 2007a, 22) and on the basis of this he dated this type of spadeheaded bone pins also to the same period (Lang 1992, 11, 22, pl. III: 1-4; 1996, 283-284).


Amber double buttons

From the stone-cist grave of Loona, Saaremaa, a double button made from amber was found. Its lower plate is flat, the other half is conical, with three grooves decorating the tip (Fig. 3: 1). The button was recovered from between the two stone circles, where it was located near the skull of skeleton XVI. Several more artefacts have been recovered from the Loona stone-cist grave, which are supposed to date from the Late Bronze Age, for example a couple of bone discs and bone pendants, a spade-headed bone pin, some amber artefacts and a bronze awl (Jaanits et al. 1982, fig. 120; Lang 1992, 13; Ots 2006, 74; in print, fig. 3: 17; Luik in print, fig. 10). On the basis of the radiocarbon analysis of one human bone from the grave (2) the burial site can be dated to the period 900-590 BC (Lang 2007a, 99). According to Lang, the amber double button, as well as other datable fords from this grave resemble the artefact types of period IV of the Scandinavian Bronze Age (Lang 1992, 24; 2007b, 117).


From the Karuste grave at the southern tip of the Sorve spit, Saaremaa, (3) another presumable fragment of a double button (Fig. 3: 2) was found, which, according to Artur Vassar, was "a round button of amber, with a thick stem" (Vassar 1940/41, 12). In a later writing Vassar (1956, 168) added that it was a button or a knob, which evidently had been a double button. He also alludes to the basic difference between the Karuste knob and double buttons: the transition to the knob is right-angled, not curved as is common with double buttons. …

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