Hoards and Offerings

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Härnevi vicarage, Uppland. Large collection of bronzes, c. 600 BC. Packed into a belt box, wrapped in a leather garment and deposited in wetland. Found in 1902 during drainage digging.

In my work, I really prefer writing over reading, and in order to profit as much as possible from my reading while I remember it, I like to write while I read. Otherwise I just get sleepy and feel like I’m not really getting anywhere. So although I am still just getting acquainted with the research background of my Bronze Age project, I wrote the first couple of paragraphs for my next book today. (Note that I’m already writing in the past tense…)

Sacrificial finds form a fuzzy category that is at heart defined in negative terms: not found in graves, not found as part of the general culture layers at settlement sites. Attempts have been made to distinguish retrievable hoards from irretrievable offerings, the idea being that dry-land hoards are buried secretly and temporarily for mundane rational reasons, while wetland offerings are disposed of permanently to communicate with the gods and often for reasons of ostentatious display. While this dichotomy is an empirical reality in some areas (Levy REF), it is doubtful if the two classes of find should really be seen as exponents of two different modes of thought when we are dealing with a pre-monetary prestige economy (Karsten 1994:30-31). In other words: it is true that some of these finds could have been retrieved, and it is true that we often see different object types in those contexts than we do in bogs and rivers, but it is uncertain (and possibly untestable) whether the two classes of find were really deposited for very different reasons.

Studies of Bronze Age sacrifice have usually focused on bronze and gold metalwork. I have cast my net wider, seeking to identify sacrificial sites from the period and area in question regardless of what sort of materials have been collected from them. For example, the fen at Rickebasta in Alsike has yielded only domestic animal bones, radiocarbon placing them at about 800 cal BC. With a secure Bronze Age date in place, the main criterion for inclusion in this study has been the quality of contextual information, not what was sacrificed. It is not enough here to know on what farmstead’s land a find was made. We need to know precisely from what hill, field or bog the objects and/or bones were collected in order to seek common traits in the landscape location of the sacrificial sites.

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15 thoughts on “Hoards and Offerings

  1. what makes you think these were sacrificial offerings, could they have been votive? Is there a substantial difference? Also, they remind me of some of the artifacts found in Hallstatt, which I thought were iron age, but from approximately the same time. Would you care to elaborate? I’m not challenging, I’m merely an interested amateur.


  2. Hi Martin!

    Thanks for a great blog, I read it regularly. I have a question about one of the artefacts on the picture: The little cone-shaped object to the left of the spearhead, what is it called and what was it used for?
    I have a home-brewn theory of course, but I won’t reveal it until I know yours 🙂



  3. Tassilo, AFAIK “sacrificial” and “votive” are synonyms. The late Hallstatt culture in Central Europe has iron while the Bronze Age still lingers in Scandinavia. The innovation travelled north as a wave of advance.

    SR, the cone-thing is not very small, it’s a decorative disc of about 15 cm diameter, worn in front on the belt by women.


  4. Sorry to be a nag, but do you know any fids of those found in situ? The only one i know of, the egtved girl, were significantly flatter, more of a disc than a cone.


  5. Tomas, haha, yeah, that was a good one!

    SR, sorry, I don’t know much about Bronze Age inhumation graves. There’s a huge literature about them in Swedish and Danish. I can tell you, though, that the function of the belt plate was known long before the Egtved barrow was excavated.


  6. The inhumation graves are all Early Bronze Age. The Härnevi find is Final Bronze Age, when there are no inhumations. There is an unbroken typological sequence from the early belt plates to the last ones like at Härnevi. Also, the size of the object is wrong for a helmet.


  7. Maybe I’m over tired and not looking at the right object but I’m totally failing to see how that thing could be worn on a belt. If it’s 15cm wide then it’s also about 15 cm high. No matter which way you attatch it, it’s going to be sticking into you, or sticking out and getting in the way.

    Hmm… Re-reading I think I am looking at a different thing. I though SR meant the object at the very top, adjacent to the spear head. In your reply, Martin, you used the term disc, which makes me think you are refering to the thing to the immediate right of the spiral pin, (which would look great on a belt). This leaves me wondering what that thing at the top is.

    Also what are those toothed things between the spearhead and the disc?

    eleanora the confused.


  8. They’re called belt discs because the first ones in the typological series are discs. Then they grow more conical until lthey reach the extreme seen in Härnevi. Yes, they must have been completely unwieldy, and probably worn only for special occasions.

    The toothed things are bronze saw blades, designed to be mounted in a wooden handle.


  9. i think it’s a spindle. that may have been ornamental and may have been more commonly (like eg. in live people) utilitarian even when worn as an ornament.


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