Bronze Age Double Buttons in Estonia/Kaksiknoobid Eesti Pronksiaegses Leiuaineses

By Luik, Heidi; Ots, Mirja | Estonian Journal of Archaeology, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Bronze Age Double Buttons in Estonia/Kaksiknoobid Eesti Pronksiaegses Leiuaineses

Luik, Heidi, Ots, Mirja, Estonian Journal of Archaeology


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. It is also possible that it was a knob belonging to a perished artefact made from some other material (e.g. from wood). The find was located in the soil immediately beneath the sod layer, where it fell in the course of the destruction of the grave (Vassar 1940/41, 12). Vassar (1956, 169) dated the grave of Karuste to the 1st-2nd centuries; besides amber, pottery was also found, as well as some bronze bracelets (Lougas 1970, 389-390). Valter Lang (1996, 297) has expressed an opinion that the grave of Karuste was established already in the Late Bronze Age, which is suggested by the amber button, but it was still used in the Pre-Roman Iron Age and perhaps even later.

Antler and bone buttons

Five or six double buttons have been found from the fortified settlement of Asva (Indreko 1939, 43-44, fig. 19: 1; Lougas 1970, 127, pl. 35: 9-12; Jaanits et al. 1982, fig. 99: 7-10). Five buttons were carved from elk antler, mostly from tine tips, but they vary greatly by the care and level of working (Fig. 4). Their general tutulus shape is the same: one half of the button consists of a plain disc, the other half is conical, mostly with a slightly widening tip. The finest button is very regular, with a groove engraved at the lower edge of the conical part (Fig. 4: 7). Another button, similar by shape but smaller (Fig. 4: 6) is evidently unfinished, since its sides are sporadically faceted, bearing cutting traces, the surface has not been polished. The third button (Fig. 4: 5), smaller than others, is not very regular, its lower half is oval rather than disc-shaped; the surface is polished--probably by use. The fourth button (Fig. 4: 4) is made from antler palmate, not tine tip, and therefore a zone of porous tissue runs through the artefact, being visible also on the surface. At this porous tissue the object is partly crumbled. The fifth button has a relatively long intermediate "stem", the conical upper part is short and ends with a round knob, and porous antler tissue is visible on the greater part of the surface (Fig. 4: 1). The sixth artefact (Fig. 4: 2) is different from the others. It is very small, with one end broken. In the find list (Lougas 1966) it has been marked as double button but probably it is a broken tip of a bone pin's head (Fig. 5; compare e.g. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1967, pl. VIII: 7, 11, 14, 15; Grigalaviciene 1995, fig. 96). It is also conspicuous that, unlike other buttons, the artefact is made of bone--like most pins from Asva. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that for example in Kivutkalns, Latvia, amber and bone artefacts of similar shape have been found, which have been interpreted as double buttons (Graudonis 1989, pls X: 5-7, XXV: 17, 18). A rather small, worn and broken button of elk antler was found from Kaali (Fig. 4: 3; Lougas 1978, 328). It resembles the smallest antler button from Asva (Fig. 4: 5).



Richard Indreko (1939, 44) and Vello Lougas (1970, 127-128) have dated the antler buttons from Asva to period IV of the Scandinavian Bronze Age. According to Valter Lang the double buttons from Asva belong to periods III-IV of the Bronze Age (1300-1100 BC and 1100-900 BC, respectively; Lang 2007a, 22; Lang & Kriiska 2001, 98-99). And yet Lang (1996, 306) suggests also the possibility that double buttons of antler may be later than those of bronze. Uwe Sperling also supports this suggestion: according to him double buttons were found in excavation F (1965-66) of Asva from the earlier (9th-8th centuries) as well as the later (7th-6th centuries) settlement layers. Sperling has expressed an opinion that, notwithstanding certain similarity, direct examples to the antler buttons of Asva cannot be found among the Scandinavian bronze buttons, and, according to him, none of the find groups supports the dating of the beginning of the settlement of Asva to the III and IV periods of the Bronze Age (Sperling 2006, 106-107, 129 ff.). The fortified settlement of Kaali was used in the Late Bronze Age and the early Pre-Roman Iron Age (Lang 2007a, 47).

Analogous finds from the Baltic countries, Scandinavia, etc.

Double buttons of antler are also known from Latvia ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1967, pls VII: 12, VIII: 9; Graudonis 1989, pl. XXV: 20, 21; Vasks 1994, 115, pl. IX: 18, 19) and Lithuania (Volkaite-Kulikauskiene 1986, fig. 39: 1; Grigalaviciene 1995, fig. 100: 1-4). One antler button from Narkunai has the upper end decorated with three cut lines placed as spokes of a wheel (Bliujiene 2007, fig. 140: 16). In Latvia amber double buttons have been found, some of them with a plain convex upper part but some have the upper part shaped like tutulus ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1967, pl. XIX: 6-8, 10; Graudonis 1989, pl. X: 2-5; Bliujiene 2007, fig. 132). From Lithuania amber buttons have been found, which, with certain concessions, could be called double buttons. These are different by shape, with a short middle part and flat convex ends (Klebs 1882, pl. I: 17-19, 21-27; Rimantiene 1999, fig. 47; Butrimas 2001, figs 6: 5; 7: 4-6; Bliujiene 2007, fig. 141). In Latvia blanks of antler and amber buttons or unfinished specimens are also known (Graudonis 1989, pls X: 1, 7, XXV: 19). A tine tip with working traces, probably an unfinished double button, was found from the fortified settlement of Kereliai, Lithuania (Grigalaviciene 1992, fig. 5: 2). Amber double buttons are known also from Denmark, but bone double buttons have not been found in Nordic countries. The latter were, however, used for example in Germany (Baudou 1960, 87). In Scandinavia, as has been mentioned already, mainly bronze double buttons were spread, different types of which were represented by dozens and even hundreds of specimens (e.g. Baudou 1960, 87-89, pl. XVIII; Lundborg 1972, figs 42, 85, 111b; Stromberg 1982, 142, figs 78: c, g, 80: h, 84: e, 86: c, 92: c; Damell 1985, figs 8, 10, 12; Larsson 1986, 36-38, 58-59, fig. 32; Randsborg 1996, fig. 1). A few bronze double buttons have been found also from Finland (Meinander 1954, 49, fig. 36, pl. 12: c, d; Salo 1984, 144, 146).

Find context of double buttons

From Estonia 9-11 double buttons (Table 1) are known at present. (4) All these finds except the two bronze buttons from the Joelahtme graves come from Saaremaa (Fig. 1). All antler buttons have been found from fortified settlements, most of them from Asva; the few bronze and amber buttons have been found from graves. According to Richard Indreko (1939, 44), double buttons in Denmark and Germany occurred mainly in male burials and only seldom in female graves. According to Evert Baudou (1960, 87), they are found both in male and female burials and also in hoards. For example in the Ingelstorp cemetery, southern Sweden, they are also found in male as well as female graves (Stromberg 1982, 116 ff.). About the few buttons found in Estonian graves it is mostly impossible to establish to whom they belonged. In the grave of Loona the remains of at least 17 skeletons were established (Lang 2007a, 99); the gender and age of skeleton XVI, near which the double button was discovered, were not determined and the skeleton is not preserved. The bronze double buttons of Joelahtme were, according to Valter Lang, evidently deposited with children's burials. In the cist of grave IX, where one of the double buttons was found, a woman over 50 years of age, a juvenile of 12-13 and a child of 4-6 had been buried; in the cist of the grave XI only children's bones were found (Lang 2007b, 116-117).

Used materials and their possible meaning Thus double buttons are rare among Estonian Bronze Age finds. Their occurrence in the context of fortified settlements (which were centres of that time) and stone-cist graves (which were burial places of elite) seems to define them as possible prestige items or status symbols, belonging to the elite. Their material also suggests their being highly valued objects. Bronze artefacts of the period are not numerous in Estonia. They are mostly weapons and tools, but some ornaments have also been found, for example decorative pins, fragments of neck-rings, temple ornaments (Jaanits et al. 1982, 151 ff., fig. 105; Lang 1996, 46-48, 283, pl. VII; 2007b, 86 ff.; Sidrys & Luchtanas 1999, 175, fig. 7). It has been supposed that bronze artefacts played an important role in the Bronze Age society, the bronzes constituted one of the ways through which society communicated and reproduced itself (Selling 2005, 41; Earle 2002, 294 ff.). Bronze artefacts as objects imported and/or made by specialised craftsmen were thus prestige items (Selling 2005, 45 ff.; Merkevicius 2005, 48; 2006, 36). Bronze as metal with golden hue is supposed to have been a symbol of the god of sun (Larsson 1999, 14). Amber was also regarded as very valuable material, often possessing symbolic meaning and expressing prestige (e.g. Bliujiene 2007, 532). Compared with the Stone Age it can be observed that amber as material for ornaments gradually lost its importance here in the Baltic countries, but its importance as substance for barter increased and it played a significant role in the Bronze Age trade with central and southern Europe (Kristiansen 1998, 233 ff.; Harding 2000, 187, 189 ff.; Merkevicius 2006, 36, fig. 6; Ots 2006, 105 ff.; in print; Palavestra & Krstiac 2006).

Bone and antler artefacts are not rare, elk antler as raw material was easily attainable; from Asva nearly 800 bone and antler artefacts and pieces of production refuse have been found. But in bone and antler artefacts the level of their working was important--whether the artefact was a plain utilitarian object for which a bone of most suitable shape was chosen, or it was a carefully crafted product (Choyke 2005, 131, fig. 2; Luik in print). Antler double buttons undoubtedly belong among the latter. Algimantas Merkevicius has presented a classification of Bronze Age artefacts, in which material occupies an important part. Bone (as well as stone and flint) "copies" of metal artefacts belong to the third group of this classification. He supposes that these artefacts were owned by persons whose social status was higher than the average but lower than the elite; presumably they were not wealthy enough to own metal artefacts, or perhaps they could not use them on account of their status (Merkevicius 2005, 48-49). Antler double buttons imitating Scandinavian bronze ones also belong to this group.

Carefully elaborated bone and antler artefacts could have been valued because of their dazzling white colour, which made a showy contrast against dark fabric or any other material the artefact was attached to (Fig. 6; Becker 2005, 169-170; Luik in print, fig. 6). Possibly rules also existed about who may or may not make or use certain objects and materials (Dobres 1995, 27, 40; 2000, 104; Caple 2006, 10); the making and exploiting of certain artefact types carved from bone or antler could be also limited to a certain group of population. For example Alice Choyke has presumed on the basis of the composition of finds (completed artefacts vs. production refuse) and the location of production refuse (mostly recovered from the central mound) of a Hungarian Bronze Age tell settlement of Jdszdozsa-Kapolnahalom that in the socially differentiated society of the place people of different social strata could have had different access to antler as valuable raw material, and rules existed about who had the right to gather and store antler, manufacture objects and trade in them; gradually this tendency increased (Choyke 2005, 144). But Timothy Earle (2002, 221, 363) has accentuated that the use of local materials is always more difficult to control than the use of imported ones, and therefore making artefacts from them cannot be monopolised.


According to Colin Renfrew "value" is always, to some extent, "agreed value", it has been determined by people and thus is a social concept. Nothing can be "of value" without being "valued". Although different societies have valued different materials, the latter have been always outstanding for some feature--sufficiently to be noticed and admired (Renfrew 1986, 158; 2002, 133-134). The quality "to be noticed" is certainly characteristic to all three substances used for making double buttons: shiny metal, yellow-orange-red-gleaming amber and dazzling white antler. In the Bronze Age artefacts made from substances brought from afar (bronze, amber) or imitating foreign artefacts became important markers of status (Earle 2002, 51). All double buttons here can be classified to the same category.

Function and meaning of double buttons

Although the function of an artefact itself is also a form of meaning, there could be also meaning as the structured content of ideas and symbols (Hodder & Hutson 2003, 162 ff.; Caple 2006, 6 ff.). What was dominant in double buttons--their practical use or something else?

What were such double buttons used for? One of the suggested possibilities is that they were used to fasten sword belts (Lundborg 1972, 84-85; Harding 2000, 400; Earle 2002, 315), and sometimes, indeed, they occur in the same set with a bronze sword or dagger (e.g. Lundborg 1972, 127-129, figs 23, 82 ff., 95; Stromberg 1982, 116-117, 126, 136, figs 78: a, c, 86: a, c). If this is true, they would also indicate persons of high status. Thomas Larsson, however, suggests that if the function of double buttons was to fasten sword belts, high correlation between double buttons and sword finds should be observable in burials, but in Late Bronze Age Scandinavia burials containing both double button and sword are quite rare (Larsson 1986, 59). In Estonia the few found double buttons are not connected with sword finds. (5) This field of use would be certainly unsuitable for amber buttons, which are too fragile and would break. Naturally, double buttons could have the function of fastening, i.e. be used just as buttons. But the tutulus shape (6) of the buttons seems to indicate a certain symbolic as well as decorative function. For instance in Lithuania buttons which have one conical half are called tutulus (see Grigalaviciene 1995, fig. 100: 1-4, compare also fig. 101: 9). An artefact could have been also shaped as a double button just to attach it to a costume as an ornament and/or symbol. Especially some Scandinavian bronze double buttons seem very impractical because of their length (e.g. Lundborg 1972, figs 18: 2, 111: b; Larsson 1986, fig. 32, on the right; Kristiansen 1998, fig. 85, on the right). (7) The conical shape of tutulus was used on several artefacts in the Bronze Age (e.g. Randsborg 1996, fig. 1; Kristiansen 1998, fig. 86) and evidently it had some symbolic meaning.

In the Bronze Age religion in Scandinavia, the cult of sun occupied an important place. According to Kristian Kristiansen and Thomas Larsson, the bronze discs found in Scandinavian Bronze Age burials could symbolise the sun; women who have bronze discs (which may be also in a shape of tutulus or wheelcross) placed upon their stomach in the grave are regarded as sun priestesses (Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 294 ff., figs 135-137). The earlier Scandinavian flat bronze double buttons are often decorated with patterns of relief concentric circles, spiral and star motifs (e.g. Baudou 1960, 87, pl. XVIII; Lundborg 1972, figs 42, 61, 85, 95; Larsson 1986, 37; 1999, 9-10), which probably can be also related to the sun (e.g. Kristiansen 1998, fig. 89; Harding 2000, 324; Larsson 1999; Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 303). Here it should be recalled that the pattern of a wheel or spokes is engraved on an antler double button found from Narkiinai, Lithuania--the wheel or wheel-cross motif is also related to the sun, it has been presumed that it might symbolise the chariot of the sun god travelling across the sky (e.g. Larsson 1999, 10 ff.; Randsborg 1999, 29; B4be12000, 181, fig. 4: a-g; Bouzek 2000, 346, fig. 1; Hanse12000, 334 ff., fig. 1 ff.; Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 294 ff.). Tutulus-shaped buttons could also express sun symbolism, as well as decorative pins of bronze, with disc-shaped heads decorated with concentric circles, and spiral-headed pins (e.g. Baudou 1960, pls XVI, XVII; Damell 1985, figs 29, 35; Grigalaviciene 1995, fig. 101: 3, 11; Sidrys & Luchtanas 1999, fig. 1: 4; Dabrowski 2004, fig. 10); sometimes decorative pins with tutulus shaped heads are also found (e.g. Grigalaviciene 1995, fig. 101: 2; Dabrowski 2004, fig. 10). On Estonian Bronze Age ornaments concentric circles and spirals can be observed as well. From Asva and Kaali some decorative pins of the Harnev type, with large disc-shaped head decorated with concentric circles, have been found (Jaanits et al. 1982, 151 ff., fig. 105: 7; Sperling 2006, 118, pl. V: 1); in stone-cist graves, generally poor in finds, bronze spiral temple ornaments are one of the few represented find types (e.g. Lang 1992, 22, pl. III: 2, 3; 2007b, 173). As mentioned already, bronze, being metal of golden hue, could have symbolised the sun god. Amber can be also related with sun symbolism, owing to its particular colour and gleam. In this connection an amber disc attached to a handle and found from Denmark should be mentioned. When looking at the sun through this disc, the wheel-cross--symbol of the sun--on it, otherwise hardly detectable, becomes clearly visible. It has been suggested that this disc symbolises the sun (Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 302-303). Eduard Sturms (1956, 15) has suggested the relating of amber to the sun already earlier; his supposition is based on amber discs spread in the area of the Globular Amphora Culture, which are ornamented with wheel-cross motifs. He regarded the wheel-cross as well as the dotted zigzags and lines, etc., as symbols of the sun and confirmation of the existence of the sun cult. Later this idea has been expanded to all amber discs and sometimes also to amber in general (Ots 2006, 127 and references there, 137-138; Bliujiene 2007, 532).

In the Late Bronze Age, Scandinavia prevailed among the foreign contacts of Estonian coastal inhabitants, the influence of which appears mainly in the bronze artefacts found here; the unequal mutual dependence between centre and periphery could have induced changes in the society, ideology and economy of the latter (see Lang 2007a, 81; 2007b, 191, 198). The double buttons found here are apparently either brought from Scandinavia (bronze buttons) or manufactured in the Baltic countries following Scandinavian patterns (antler and amber buttons). Double buttons are not the only artefacts coming from Scandinavia as a Bronze Age centre, which were imitated on the eastern shore of the Baltic. There are, for instance, bone pins the shape of which resembles Scandinavian bronze pins of the same period (Lougas 1970, 129 ff., table 5, pl. 34; Lang 2007b, 191). Some Scandinavian artefact types have been replicated in the Baltic countries also in bronze, e.g. decorative pins of the Harnev type (mould fragments for which have been found in Asva) and axes of the Malar type (moulds for which occur in eastern Lithuania, for example in the fortified settlement of Narkiinai) (Volkaite-Kulikauskiene 1986, 33, fig. 49; Lang 2007b, 89-90). Undoubtedly the occurrence of such finds indicates frequent contacts between these districts and one may presume that together with shape and style of material objects notions, meanings or tenets connected with such objects may have been adopted as well. (8) As Ian Hodder and Scott Hutson put it (2003, 140), objects and styles taken over from other groups are given meaning in their new context; these meanings may be relied on meanings from the old context and also may bring these meanings with them.

Double buttons may probably reflect the sun cult, which was widely spread in Scandinavia--presumably it played an important role also in Estonian Bronze Age religion (Jonuks 2005, 90). The formation of the sun cult has been related to the spread of cultivation (Lougas 1996, 101; see e.g. AaHH.noB 1982) and in Estonia the connection of stone-cist graves with sun symbolism has been supposed. Vello Lougas has suggested that the orientation of the central cist in the stone-cist graves, where the deceased were buried with their heads towards North--facing the sun--was connected with the worshipping of the sun (Lougas 1996, 102 ff.). Valter Lang (2007b, 181; compare also Lougas 1996, 143) has also presumed that the shape of stone-cist grave--a circle with a cist in the centre--could have been regarded as a symbol of the sun. (9) Lang suggests that this presumable sun cult had regressed or transformed already by the end of the Bronze Age. This possibility is indicated for example by the changes in the construction of stonecist graves (Lang 2007b, 180-181). Kristiansen and Larsson have expressed an opinion that the sun cult, which occupied an important part in the Bronze Age religion and cosmology, particularly in northern Europe, remained basically unchanged until about 600 BC, or perhaps a little longer, when social and economic changes in central and northern Europe led to the decay of the Bronze Age cosmology and institutions (Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 319).

As was already mentioned, the bronze sun discs were attributes related to sun priestesses. Maybe double buttons in Scandinavia, where they are found in large numbers, were also connected with sun symbolism--although not as markers of very special persons like the large bronze discs were, but nevertheless demonstrating the relation or connection of the wearer with religion. But what was the meaning of Estonian double buttons? Owing to their rarity they could have had a more particular role and meaning here. Maybe the few specimens here marked persons whose status was high in some religious context. However, the opposite is also possible--that an artefact type adopted from abroad acquired a completely different meaning here. Double buttons as imported artefacts or their imitations could have externalised primarily the status and influence of the owner, through his ability to acquire such an artefact. But in regard of the religiousness of people of that time (Lang 2007b, 179) status and position connected with power and religion could have been entwined.

As mentioned before, the find context of double buttons--stone-cist graves and fortified settlements--also indicates their possible belonging to the elite. In Melahtme both buttons were found in a central cist of a grave. Their belonging to children has been presumed (10) but in the cist of one of the graves a woman over 50 had been buried alongside with a child and a juvenile. The possibility must also be considered that grave goods were not the possessions of the buried persons but gifts given by the mourners (Bruck 2006, 77). In the Loona grave the skeleton near which the amber button was found evidently belonged to an adult; two star-shaped amber artefacts were also found near the same skeleton (Ots 2006, 74), which suggests his/her special position, or a special attitude towards him/her, although the person was not buried in the central cist. The Loona grave is outstanding for its rich find material, in contrast with the general scarceness of finds in the graves of that period; the same can be said about the graves of Joelahtme (Lang 2007a, 59, 99). The fortified settlement of Asva was evidently one of the most important centres in Estonia in the Late Bronze Age, which is primarily indicated by the numerous fragments of bronze-casting moulds found there; the Kaali settlement with its relatively few finds and unusual location has been regarded as a cult site rather than a common settlement (Lang 2007a, 44-45, 47-48, 89; 2007b, 44-45, 55-56).


Double buttons made from different materials are rare finds in Estonia. The find context as well as the appearance of these objects suggest their having belonged to the elite and possessed a certain symbolic value. Probably their material also had a certain meaning. Both bronze and amber were imported goods in Estonia; antler was local raw material but since it was considered valuable, its use has been sometimes regulated. Without precluding the possibility that double buttons could have had the function of a button, i.e. means of fastening, their symbolic meaning was apparently more important. Regarding the shape, material and motifs used for their decoration we presume that it could have been connected with the sun cult of the Bronze Age.


The research was financed by the Estonian Science Foundation (grant No 6898). We are grateful to Valter Lang for his comments and advice on the preliminary version of the manuscript. The authors wish to thank Jaana Ratas, who made the replica, Liis Soon, who translated the text, and Kersti Siitan, who prepared and elaborated the illustrations.


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Heidi Luik, Institute of History, Tallinn University, 6 Ruutli St., 10130 Tallinn, Estonia;

Mirja Ots, Institute of History, Tallinn University, 6 Ruutli St., 10130 Tallinn, Estonia; mirja.ots@aixe

(1) Three toggle-shaped bronze buttons, dated to the same period as the double buttons, were also found from the Joelahtme cemetery (Kraut 1985, 349, pl. V: 1, 2, 4; compare Baudou 1960, 89-90, pl. XV111). Two more bronze buttons were found from the hillfort of lru, but these have not survived. Deciding by the description they were not double buttons but convex, with a loop on the rear side (Lougas 1970, 128; Lang 1996, 48).

(2) 2620 [+ or -] 75 (Ua-4823) BP (Lougas et al. 1996, table 11).

(3) The excavations were carried out on archaeological sites of the Karuste village; the grave under discussion was excavated by Vassar under the name of Kahusaadu, or Kahuste.

(4) The fragmentary bone artefact from Asva is, more likely, not a button, and the interpretation as a double button of an artefact found from Karuste is also disputable.

(5) In Estonia only two bronze sword fragments are known from the Tehumardi hoard (Jaanits et al. 1982, fig. 106: 1, 2), which was an assemblage of scrap metal meant to be recast, and one whole sword, the circumstances of discovery of which are not known (Lang & Jonuks 2001).

(6) Tutuli occur in quite large numbers e.g. in southern Sweden (Larsson 1986, 38 ff., fig. 16). In Estonia a bronze tutulus was found from Tuula near Keila (Jaanits et al. 1982, fig. 106: 8).

(7) Kristiansen and Larsson have accentuated that the costume and decorations of the Bronze Age Scandinavian elite were rather uncomfortable, whereby even the most grotesque ornaments were used daily, which is suggested by wear traces observable on them (Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 351).

(8) About adoption or rejection of foreign cultural elements see e.g. Lang 2007b, 196-197.

(9) About sun symbolism in Scandinavian Bronze Age graves see e.g. Kristiansen & Larsson 2005, 242, 246, fig. 111.

(10) According to Lang (2007b, 119) children's burials occur, which, relying upon the deposited grave goods (e.g. imported artefacts, including also double buttons) seem to indicate a somewhat higher social status of some children, or particular attention paid to them for some reason during the funeral.

Table 1. Double buttons in Estonia

Tabel 1. Kaksiknoobid Eestis

          Location    Site   Find number

1.        Joelahtme   sg     AI 5306: 26
2.        Joelahtme   sg     AI 5306: 28
3.        Loona       sg     AI 4210: 1421
4. (?)    Karuste     sg     AI 3882: 10
5.        Kaali       fs     AI 4915: 157
6.        Asva        fs     AI 3658: 500
7.        Asva        fs     AI 4366: 132
8.        Asva        fs     AI 4366: 614
9.        Asva        fs     AI 4366: 663
10.       Asva        fs     AI 4366: 1591
11. (?)   Asva        fs     AI 4366: 1111

          Location    Material     Size *, cm

1.        Joelahtme   Bronze       1.7 x 1.2
2.        Joelahtme   Bronze       1.9 x 1.0
3.        Loona       Amber        1.7 x 3.2
4. (?)    Karuste     Amber        1.9 x 1.7 **
5.        Kaali       Elk antler   1.8 x 1.7 **
6.        Asva        Elk antler   2.2 x 4.2
7.        Asva        Elk antler   2.5 x 3.8
8.        Asva        Elk antler   1.7 x 3.3
9.        Asva        Elk antler   1.6 x 2.9
10.       Asva        Elk antler   2.0 x 2.0
11. (?)   Asva        Bone         1.0 x 1.8 **

sg - stone-cist grave; fs - fortified settlement.

* Size gives the largest diameter and height of the artefact.

** Height of the preserved fragment.

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