Viksø re-investigated: an interdisciplinary biography of the Viksø helmets

The new research project financed by the Ministry of Culture, Denmark (Slots-, og Kulturstyrelsen) investigates the Viksø helmets from a technological and ideological perspective. See more…

Female Mobility in a changing Bronze Age world: Investigating connections between mobility of people and shifting trading networks during the middle Bronze Age in southern Scandinavia.

Research Project, financed by the Cultural Ministry Denmark FORM.2020-0009 2020-2022

In recent years, isotope-related research has changed our view of the Bronze Age. Strontium isotopes have proven a great amount of mobility; regional Bronze Age icons such as the ‘Danish’ Egtved girl were revealed as foreigners (Frei et al., 2015). Lead isotopic investigation of metal artefacts revealed that Southern Scandinavia was not exploiting its copper sources (Ling et al., 2014); instead, it was importing metal via large-scale exchange networks from the establishment of the Bronze Age at 2000BC (Nørgaard et al., 2019 ). Nevertheless, little is known concerning the organisation of these contact networks and the importance of females within, a focal point for this project. A mixed-method approach, using qualitative classificatory mobility markers as quantitative data (LIA, Sr-isotopes) in the comparative and combined manner provided in this project will allow aligning scientifically detected female mobility (Frei et al., 2019) with social hierarchy (via elite-controlled workshops (Nørgaard, 2017) and archaeological evidence of mobility (foreign costumes, styles and techniques (i.e. Jockenhövel, 1991, Nørgaard, 2018b). This will then establish a theoretical model based on spheres of interaction (Vandkilde, 2016), kinship relations (Knipper et al., 2017) and ενία (Kaul, 2017) for determining the motivation behind female mobility in the middle Bronze Age in northern Europe.
Previous research revealed that specific ornaments like the large spiral decorated belt-plates are crafted in elite-controlled workshops with a politically loaded symbolic character (Nørgaard, 2019). Thus, despite recent attempts, this material group remains not satisfactorily investigated concerning the raw-material origins. Many essential artefacts remain to be investigated regarding affiliation to elite-controlled workshops. As such, a very important aspect will link the ornaments of the respective females within the European wide networks.

The main aims of the project are to identify the origins of the raw material used in the crafting of status-related ornaments of the Northern European Bronze Age and to integrate these results in a mixed-method approach to identify the motivation behind female mobility. Beyond being state-of-the-art, this project will:
• Unite different classic archaeological and scientific genres to create a complete biographical picture of female mobility.
• Create an understanding of the organisation of trading and exchange networks between 1600-1300BC.
• Identify the role of female mobility within Europe-wide networks


An interdisciplinary approach to metalcraft allowed defining a connection between the organization of craft and trade networks in the Bronze Age. By combing the archaeological fingerprint of metal artefacts and their technological characteristics, it can be stated that workshops in different regions have different trading partners and trading networks. Here, the organizational form of the workshop itself plays an overarching role. By integrating pattern of human mobility, the idea of ​​trade ambassadors was introduced to explain the increasing long-distance mobility from 1600 BC to southern Scandinavia. However, a general statement about the role of specific individuals in these networks could not be made, mainly due to the character of today´s mobility studies, in which only the individual itself and not their material possessions are the subject of natural scientific analyses. However, the project identified a connection between the direction of metal-trade networks and regions of active incoming mobility (central Jutland and northern Zealand) during the middle Bronze Age. The idea of ​​the ambassador concept, especially the role of women within this concept, will thus, in the future, be part of the research question on Bronze Age mobility

published articles:

The Ølby Woman: A Comprehensive Provenance Investigation of an Elite Nordic Bronze Age Oak-Coffin Burial (by Samantha S. Reiter, Karin Margarita Frei, Heide Wrobel Nørgaard and Flemming Kaul)

An archaeological fingerprint: Isotopes as a key to trace Denmark’s metal supply and routes of transfer in Early Bronze Age (2100-1500 BCE)

IRFD-Sapere Aude postdoc project2016-2019 Aarhus University/ Curt-Engelhorn Centre for Archaeometry/ Heidelberg University
Lead isotope ratios of the 62 artefacts from NBA II, 1500-1300 BC

As early as 2100 BCE, societies in Denmark became metal-using and for the first time-dependent on one exogenous resource. Our knowledge concerning the cross-Europe interconnectivities and dependencies, in the early Bronze Age, were insufficient and formed the base for this project. It was clear, that these intriguing mechanisms that formed the Nordic Bronze Age can only be understood, when we are able to reconstruct the metal trading routes 2100-1600 BC. With led/tin isotope analyses of 550 bronze artefacts, this project was able to radically change the picture, as it presents enough data for reconstructing transport routes, and the social circumstances that formed a society based on long-distance trade.

The project involved lead isotope and chemical data and novel tin-isotopy to detect a possible deviating origin of copper and tin, hence exploring the possibility of unknown trading routes. These interdisciplinary analyses allowed to add a reliable amount of data to identify and model major changes in the transfer routes that sustained the initial phases of societal formation in the NBA.

Final conclusions:

On-and-off presence of copper characterised the Neolithic. At 2100–2000 BC, a continuous rise in the flow of metals to southern Scandinavia begins. First to arrive via the central German Únětician hubs was high-impurity metal from the Austrian Inn Valley and Slovakia; this was complemented by high-tin British metal, enabling early local production of tin bronzes. Increased metal use locally fuelled the leadership competitions visible in the metal-led material culture. The Únětice downfall c.1600 BC resulted for a short period in a raw materials shortage, visible in the reuse of existing stocks, but stimulated direct Nordic access to the Carpathian basin. This new access expedited innovations in metalwork with reliance on chalcopyrite from Slovakia, as well as opening new sources in the eastern Alps, along an eastern route that also conveyed Baltic amber as far as the Aegean. British metal plays a central role during this period. Finally, from c.1500 BC, when British copper imports ceased, the predominance of novel northern Italian copper coincides with the full establishment of the NBA and highlights a western route, connecting the NBA with the southern German Tumulus culture and the first transalpine amber traffic.

Published articles:

Shifting networks and mixing metals: Changing metal trade routes to Scandinavia correlate with Neolithic and Bronze Age transformations (by H. Nørgaard, E. Pernicka and H. Vandkilde)

On the trail of Scandinavia’s early metallurgy: Provenance, transfer and mixing (by H. Nørgaard, E. Pernicka and H. Vandkilde)

Craftsmanship, Production and Distribution of Metalwork in the Early and Middle Northern Bronze Age.

PH.D.-project within the FP7 Marie-Curie ITN network “Forging Identities” at Aarhus Unviersity 2009-2014 (FP7/2007-2013 no.212402).

Workshops and their sphere of influence is an important factor in the identification of social groups who are contained within and related to what we term workshop. Here the specialization within the workshop based on certain forms and behaviors can be linked to the education and knowledge of social groups. Statements about the origin of foreign objects can help to clarify social interaction in Bronze Age Europe, as described in theories of traveling ideas or moving cultures. The project aims not only to find the centers of production and their distribution areas but also to examine their role in the creation of social identities. The aim is furthermore to examine the techniques used by the Bronze Age smith of magnificent decorated bronze objects from period II and III in Scandinavia, Northern Germany and Poland.

Final conclusions

The overall combination of regional patterns, individual traces and theoretical models concerning the organisation of craftsmanship allow a concluding statement regarding how metalwork might have been organised during NBA II and III in Scandinavia and northern Germany.

Craft in prehistory was organised in various categories, which include domestic activities producing goods for internal use as well as for a more extended market, specialised craft, and attached craft. Furthermore, craft organisation is closely related to social complexity, and the appearance of workshops itself can be seen as an indication for specialised craft.

Open Access publications:

Bronze Age Metalwork: Techniques and traditions in the Nordic Bronze Age 1500-1100 BC, Archaeopress 2018

Metalcraft within the Nordic Bronze Age: Combined metallographic and superficial imaging reveals the technical repertoire in crafting bronze ornaments, JAS 2015

Use your eyes – the identification of individual craftspeople, their habits and networks within the Nordic Bronze Age, UISPP 2018.

The Nordic Bronze Age (1500–1100 BC): Craft Mobility and Contact Networks in Metal craft, PZ 2018.

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