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The Egtved Girl: Social Standing and Wealth in the Bronze Age

Introduction

Throughout history, there have been many significant discoveries of human remains. These findings have an incalculable cultural and historical importance for the countries where they were discovered and the world in general. The remains of the people who died thousands of years ago allow contemporary scientists to uncover the facts about their life and customs and traditions of the time. This essay will discuss the female remains found in Denmark, commonly known as the Egtved Girl. The paper will be focused on the social standing of the buried woman, as indicated by her burial manner, grave goods, and travel experience.

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Description of the Egtved Girl

The Burial Site and Discovery

The Egtved Girl is the name given to female remains unearthed in Denmark. The remains were found near the village of Egtved, the name of which was eventually given to the female. The burial site was found by the local farmer Peter Platz in 1921 (Felding, 2015). Platz removed a hill from his property to develop the land and use it as a farming plot. Underneath the mound, in its eastern part, the farmer noticed a coffin made from the trunk of an oak tree (National Museum of Denmark, n.d.). Stopping the work on his land, Platz contacted the National Museum in Copenhagen, detailing his discovery (Felding, 2015). The site was attended by the museum’s senior archeologist, Thomas Thomsen, who opened the casket at the site for initial examination and later had it transported to the museum via train (Felding, 2015). In Copenhagen, Thomsen investigated the remains, while the conservators of the museum, Gustav Rosenberg and Julius Raklev, helped preserve the remains (Felding, 2015). The Egtved Girl and her coffin are a part of the permanent exhibit at the museum.

There is little information about the burial site itself available. It is known that the burial mound was located near Egtved, west of the city of Vejle. According to Vejle Museum (2020), the mound was estimated to be approximately 4 meters in height and 22 meters in diameter at the time of the discovery. The original burial hill was destroyed by Platz’s development of the land. However, a replica was built in the original location of the finding (Vejle Museum, 2020). The burial mound is considered to signify “the resting places of the ancient local elites,” pointing to the buried woman’s high social status (Frei et al., 2017, p. 16). A second burial mold with a similar oak coffin was found four meters south of the girls’ grave, but it was not well-preserved (Felding, 2015). The adjacent location of the two burial sites indicates the possible close relationship between her and the second person, as mounds can be considered an ancestral claim to the land. Overall, the burial site helps to uncover the social standing of the Egtved Girl and her husband’s or fiancé’s family.

Description of the Remains and the Coffin

The remains of the Egtved Girl were well-preserved, and their conservation by the National Museum helped maintain them in good condition to the present day. The hair, brain, nails, teeth enamel, and remnants of skin were found in the oak trunk, with the bones believed to have deteriorated due to the acidic conditions of the coffin and soil around it (Frei et al., 2015). The girl’s hair was cut at shoulder length and much shorter at the front (Felding, 2015). The analysis of the teeth enamel showed that she was approximately 16 to 18 years of age when she died (Felding, 2015). As the bones disintegrated over time, the young woman’s cause of death could not be established.

The Egtved Girl’s coffin was made from a hollowed-out trunk of an oak tree. The analysis of the tree shows that the burial happened approximately in 1370 BC (Frei et al., 2015). The casket was lined with a cowhide, with its hair turned towards the body, while the body itself was covered by a woven woolen blanket (Felding, 2015). As per the tradition of the time, the woman was buried with various grave goods. They were placed into a small bark container laid next to her head (Felding, 2015). These possessions included a hairnet, a bronze awl, pieces of wood and moss, heather flowers, and a leaf (Felding, 2015). The container also had cremated human bones placed in it, which were identified to belong to a child aged 5 to 6 years (Frei et al., 2015). The connection between the girl and the child buried with her is unknown, but it is unlikely it was the young woman’s biological child. The child’s remains were also wrapped in a cloth located by her side (Frei et al., 2015). The significance of this dual burial and their relationship is unclear.

Furthermore, one more bark carton was placed near the feet of the woman. It previously contained an alcoholic beverage that was likely consumed during the funeral, indicating the ancient tradition of honoring the life of the deceased with alcohol (Felding, 2015). The girl was wearing a woven shirt and skirt and wrapped clothes instead of shoes (Felding, 2015). She was also buried wearing bronze jewelry, including an earring, bracelets, and a belt plate (Felding, 2015). Considering the economic importance of bronze, the grave goods show that the Egtved Girl was from a wealthy clan or married into one.

The Egtved Girl’s Origins

Although few remains were found, the condition of the teeth, hair, skin, and brain tissue allowed a significant number of analyses to be performed to establish the age of the Egtved Girl and her origins. According to Frei et al. (2015), the strontium isotope analysis of the body’s hard tissues and the soil at the burial site suggests that the young woman was born and raised outside modern-day Denmark. Similarly, the analysis of hairs revealed a predominantly terrestrial diet with long periods without protein endured by the girl (Frei et al., 2015). The strontium isotope signature found in the teeth enamel and the nails indicate that she was possibly born in Germany, close to Black Forest (Frei et al., 2015). The analysis of the clothing also showed a foreign origin, only with pieces of wool placed into a bark container originating in Denmark (Frei et al., 2015). It is assumed that the buried woman often traveled between the two territories during the last years of her life.

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The Egtved Girl’s ability to travel long distances during her life indicates that she was of high social status. Bronze was highly valued at the time, but to produce it, copper and tin were required. These materials were imported in Denmark during the Bronze Age. According to Felding (2015), copper found in bronze produced in the country at the time was brought primarily from Britain, Sardinia, the Iberian Peninsula, and the Alp region, close to modern-day Germany. It can be presumed that the young woman was born in a region of Germany rich with copper and her clan was affluent. A trade deal with a tribe near Egtved is possible with the girl being offered as a bride, as inter-clan marriages often occurred to secure trade deals and alliances (Felding, 2015). The Egtved could have been of strategic importance to her family, and her clan had valuable goods to offer as trade.

In addition, the bronze jewelry and high-quality wool found in the coffin indicate the girl’s high social standing. They were placed in the oak trunk as her personal belongings, suggesting that she could obtain bronze goods for herself or receive them as gifts from her clan or a Danish one. The bronze awl set in the coffin also reveals that the girl had a domestic skill or a craft (Felding, 2015). Thus, she either learned to be a housekeeper or could produce various goods, for example, clothes, and trade them for the commodities she needed. Overall, due to her access to bronze and travels between Germany and Denmark, it can be assumed that she was of political importance to her clan.

Conclusion

In summary, the discovery of the Egtved Girl was of great cultural and historical significance to the country of Denmark. The burial revealed a possible trade agreement and alliance between a clan near Egtved and a clan located near the Black Forest in Germany. The young woman’s travels between the two territories indicate she was of political importance in that agreement, most likely, promised as a bride to the Danish clan. How the girl was buried and the grave goods laid in her coffin also suggest the Egtved Girl was of high social standing in her society.

References

Felding, L. (2015). The Egtved Girl: Travel, trade, and alliances in the Bronze Age. Adoranten, 5-20.

Frei, K. M., Villa, C., Jørkov, M. L., Allentoft, M. E., Kaul, F., Ethelberg, P.,… & Lynnerup, N. (2017). A matter of months: High precision migration chronology of a Bronze Age female. PLoS One, 12(6), 1-20. Web.

Frei, K. M., Mannering, U., Kristiansen, K., Allentoft, M. E., Wilson, A. S., Skals, I.,… & Frei, R. (2015). Tracing the dynamic life story of a Bronze Age Female. Scientific reports, 5(1), 1-7. Web.

National Museum of Denmark. (n.d.). The Egtved Girl’s grave. 2020, Web.

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Vejle Museum. (2020). The Egtved Girl’s grave. vejlemuseerne.dk. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, February 28). The Egtved Girl: Social Standing and Wealth in the Bronze Age. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-egtved-girl-social-standing-and-wealth-in-the-bronze-age/

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StudyCorgi. "The Egtved Girl: Social Standing and Wealth in the Bronze Age." February 28, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-egtved-girl-social-standing-and-wealth-in-the-bronze-age/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Egtved Girl: Social Standing and Wealth in the Bronze Age." February 28, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-egtved-girl-social-standing-and-wealth-in-the-bronze-age/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The Egtved Girl: Social Standing and Wealth in the Bronze Age'. 28 February.

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