‘Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age’ at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany

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The Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum is presenting an exhibition featuring archaeological artifacts from the Bronze Age, many of them found on the site of a battle which took place in the Tollense Valley, in the northeast of Germany.

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Plunderers thoroughly looted most of the bodies following the battle, but they 
missed these gold rings [Credit: DW]

The exhibition documents a violent period of the Bronze Age, 3,300 years ago, a bloody battle by the Tollense River near the Baltic Sea, in the present-day Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region.

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
The archaeological site by the Tollense River [Credit: DW]

Several hundred men, mostly between the ages of 20 and 25, died on this battlefield. Over 10,000 human bones have been found, the largest series of human remains from this period in this region.

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Over 10,000 human bones have been found at the site [Credit: DW]

A whole series of bronze weapons, such as lances, arrowheads and knives, were also found, as well as a few wooden clubs which were used in the battle. Remarkably, the remains of about five horses that died on the battlefield were also discovered.

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Excavation of the remains [Credit: DW]

Only about 10 percent of the battle site has been excavated until now – but that has already revealed enough finds to fill a special exhibition at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, called “Blutiges Gold – Macht und Gewalt in der Bronzezeit” (Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age).

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Selection of bronze arrow tips that have been discovered on the site [Credit: DW]

Detlef Jantzen, the chief archaeologist behind the exhibition, notes that hardly any gold found on the battle site has been recovered because the bodies of those killed were apparently thoroughly looted.

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Jantzen examines a skull found on the site which has a bronze arrow tip is still lodged in it [Credit: DW]

“They had almost no metal left on them – although they must have been wearing metal, since bronze was also part of men’s dress during this period,” he says. “The remains of those who fell in the river are different, as we’ve found metal objects on them, which could either have been part of their dress or items of trade. We have found, for example, two tin rings; this metal provided the raw material which is essential to create bronze. Among the accessories we found in the Tollense River were several gold rings, which were worn by powerful people at the time. We presume they were worn in their hair.”

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
The arrow pierced the back of the young man’s skull [Credit: DW]

The exhibition combines gold and metal artifacts found on the battle site with other spectacular archaeological finds from the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region.

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
This image shows an interesting mixture of symbols of both beauty and violence: a sword, a bracelet, 
a tutulus and two sickles from the Tollense River Valley [Credit: DW]

“Up to quite recently, we imagined the Bronze Age as a relatively peaceful period, something of a ‘Golden Age’, explains Jantzen. “A striking aspect of the period is the large quantity of gold that was in circulation and the richly furnished burial chambers. Gold clearly played a role in society; people had access to gold and there were wide interregional networks allowing people to gain access to this material. This abundance of gold has always fascinated researchers.”

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
The four little bronze spirals were parts of garments people wore over 3,000 years ago. Researchers 
identified the two metal rings as merchandise that was traded [Credit: DW]

“Then suddenly, the discovery of this battlefield in the Tollense Valley provided a new aspect to consider. Massive violence accompanied the power represented by gold. It wasn’t just random violence; rather, the Tollense battle demonstrates a clearly organized form of violence, as it was obviously required to be able to assemble such a large group of young men and issue orders. It demonstrates that power was conditional for such a large violent conflict.”

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
This ‘Horn of Wismar’ is not an artifact from the battle on the riverbanks of the Tollense River, but it was manufactured 
around the same time. This magnificent specimen has metal fittings on which soldiers are depicted who are carrying 
spears and shields. The horn was discovered more than 100 years ago near Wismar [Credit: DW]

“It was fascinating to realize that this peaceful image of the Bronze Age clearly wasn’t true, but rather that we were dealing with power structures that would also resort to organized violence with such large groups to reach specific goals. We didn’t expect this to be the case for the Bronze Age society of our region. We now assume that such large conflicts also took place in other locations. These conflicts contributed to the breakdown of an until then well-functioning trade system within a few generations.”

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Gold bracelet found in a man’s grave in Promoisel [Credit: DW]

“The gold artifacts are obviously the main highlights of the exhibition,” says Jantzen. “We have the gold rings from the Tollense Valley. We also have other gold rings that were found in burial chambers. We are displaying the entire inventory of richly-furnished tombs, such as the so-called ‘Chieftain’s Grave from Crivitz’, which was discovered a few years ago. His burial equipment included a sword, a gold brooch and several gold rings. This hadn’t been shown to the public until now.”

'Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age' at the Gross Raden Archaeological Open Air Museum, Germany
Gold brooch, part of exhibition Bloody Gold – Power and Violence in the Bronze Age [Credit: DW]

“We are also showing fragments of a gold-encrusted sword, which was found a few years ago near Güstrow, as well as complete fashion accessories of two rich women. They didn’t contain gold but polished bronze. When the women wore this heavy bronze jewelry, they must have been shining from head to toe.”

The exhibition at the Gross Raden Archeological Open Air Museum runs through September 18, 2018.

Source: Deutsche Welle [October 02, 2017]

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