The Modern Life of a Bronze Age Woman

SCIENCE

The stunningly well-preserved remains of a 3,500-year-old woman reveal her travels as a high-status woman of her day. (Nat Geo News)

Learn more about the Egtved Girl and her “bog body” cousins with our video.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s MapMaker Interactive map, in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Still a teenager when she died, the remarkably fashionable Egtved Girl was laid to rest about 3,500 years ago. She was buried dressed in a cropped wool bodice with flowing sleeves, a short skirt, and bronze bracelets and earrings. The large bronze disc on her woolen belt probably represented the sun. The Egtved Girl was buried with a birch-bark box containing an awl, bronze pins, and a hairnet. A bark bucket in her coffin revealed traces of Bronze Age beer—made with wheat, bog myrtle, berries, and honey. Illustration by FinnWikiNo, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

Still a teenager when she died, the remarkably fashionable Egtved Girl was laid to rest about 3,500 years ago. She was buried dressed in a cropped wool bodice with flowing sleeves, a short skirt, and bronze bracelets and earrings. The large bronze disc on her woolen belt probably represented the sun. The Egtved Girl was buried with a birch-bark box containing an awl, bronze pins, and a hairnet. A bark bucket in her coffin revealed traces of Bronze Age beer—made with wheat, bog myrtle, berries, and honey.
Illustration by FinnWikiNo, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

Click here to appreciate the travels of Egtved Girl, and experiment with layers to discuss Bronze Age travel, land-use, and climate.

Visit today’s MapMaker Interactive map to better appreciate the travels of Egtved Girl, and experiment with layers to discuss Bronze Age transportation, land-use, and climate.

Discussion Ideas

The Egtved Girl was carefully buried in a barrow, or burial mound, like this one in Egtved, Denmark. Photograph by Einsamer Schütze, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

The Egtved Girl was carefully buried in a barrow, or burial mound, like this one in Egtved, Denmark.
Photograph by Einsamer Schütze, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY SA 3.0

 

The Egtved Girl was buried in a coffin—the carefully hollowed-out trunk of a large oak tree. She was covered with a woolen blanket and lying on a cowhide sheet. A yarrow flower was placed on the coffin at the time of its burial—revealing that the Egtved Girl was buried in summertime. An analysis of the coffin using dendrochronology (study of tree rings) was used to date the remains. Only the girl's hair, brain, teeth, nails and little skin were preserved. The cremated remains of a 5- or 6-year-old child were also buried with Egtved Girl. Given Egtved Girl’s age, the child was almost certainly not her’s. Photograph by Roberto Fortuna, with kind permission of the National Museum of Denmark

The Egtved Girl was buried in a coffin—the carefully hollowed-out trunk of a large oak tree. She was covered with a woolen blanket and placed on a cowhide sheet. A yarrow flower was placed on the coffin at the time of her burial—revealing that the Egtved Girl was buried in summer. An analysis of the coffin using dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) was used to date the remains. Only the girl’s hair, brain, teeth, nails, and skin were preserved. The cremated remains of a 5- or 6-year-old child were also buried with Egtved Girl. Given Egtved Girl’s age, the child was almost certainly not her’s.
Photograph by Roberto Fortuna, with kind permission of the National Museum of Denmark

 

 

  • How do scientists know Egtved Girl was such a cosmopolitan traveler?
    • They measured strontium present in the remains. According to Nat Geo, “strontium [is] an element that is widely distributed in Earth’s bedrock and accumulates in plant and animal tissues. The variations differ from place to place, creating telltale local signatures that act, says [Karin Frei, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark], ‘like a geological GPS.’”

 

This fantastic drawing depicts the sampling strategy used to reconstruct the life-mobility of Egtved Girl. Scientists sampled tooth enamel to reconstruct the first years of her life, segments of scalp hair to reconstruct, at least, the 23 final months of her life, and segments of one of her fingernails to reconstruct the final approximately 6 month of her life. Drawing by Marie Louise Andersson, with kind permission of the National Museum of Denmark. CC BY SA 4.0

This fantastic drawing depicts the sampling strategy used to reconstruct the lifetime travels of Egtved Girl. Scientists sampled tooth enamel to reconstruct the first years of her life, segments of scalp hair to reconstruct, at least, the 23 final months of her life, and segments of one of her fingernails to reconstruct the final approximately 6 month of her life.
Drawing by Marie Louise Andersson, with kind permission of the National Museum of Denmark. CC BY SA 4.0

  • How did scientists measure strontium levels in Egtved Girl?
    • Soil: Soil from the burial site provided a local baseline by which to judge any variations in the strontium levels in coffin.
    • Human remains: Scientists analyzed a sample from one of Egtved Girl’s teeth, three samples from her thumbnail, and four samples from her hair. They also analyzed the cremated remains of the child buried with her.
    • Clothes and other textiles: The strontium in Egtved Girls’ blouse, skirt, belt, and slippers were measured. Scientists also analyzed the woolen bundle in which the child’s ashes were wrapped, three samples from the wool-and-oxtail cord buried with the child, the oxhide sheet on which Egtved Girl was lain, and three samples of the blanket that covered her body.

 

This map of Germany and Denmark depicts the patterns of inter-chief alliances during the Bronze Age,. The map shows the distribution of characteristic octagonal-hilted swords from the Bronze Age (black dots) combined with homelands of local elite groups/polities (circles) and with intermarriage patterns with foreign women (arrows pointing to the respective women’s origin). The red star marks the Egtved site. Map courtesy Karin Margarita Frei, Ulla Mannering, Kristian Kristiansen, Morten E. Allentoft, Andrew S. Wilson, Irene Skals, Silvana Tridico, Marie-Louise Nosch, Eske Willerslev, Leon Clarke, and Robert Frei

This map of Northern Europe depicts the patterns of inter-chief alliances during the Bronze Age,. The map shows the distribution of characteristic octagonal-hilted swords from the Bronze Age (black dots) combined with homelands of local elite groups/polities (circles), and with intermarriage patterns with foreign women (arrows pointing to the respective women’s origin). The red star marks the Egtved site.
Map courtesy Karin Margarita Frei, Ulla Mannering, Kristian Kristiansen, Morten E. Allentoft, Andrew S. Wilson, Irene Skals, Silvana Tridico, Marie-Louise Nosch, Eske Willerslev, Leon Clarke, and Robert Frei

  • Why do researchers think Egtved Girl was such a seasoned traveler?
    • According to Nat Geo News, “It’s impossible to know exactly why the Egtved Girl traveled, but the Bronze Age was a time of expanding alliances between chiefdoms. Frei thinks the Egtved Girl . . . was likely married off to help secure an alliance and perhaps the trade it would foster.”
    • According to Nat Geo News, Jonathan Last, a Bronze Age scholar at Historic England, says “‘I wonder if evidence for back-and-forth movement implies this woman had rather more autonomy?’ Scandinavian women of the era sometimes had political power . . Flemming Kaul, a Bronze Age specialist at the National Museum of Denmark, says, ‘It’s possible that women of the northern Bronze Age were able to make negotiations and establish friendships by themselves, and not necessarily through marriage connections.’”

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: Bronze Age Woman Had Surprisingly Modern Life

Nat Geo: Bog Bodies

Nat Geo: Travels of the Egtved Girl map

National Museum of Denmark: The Egtved Girl

(extra credit!) Scientific Reports: Tracing the dynamic life story of a Bronze Age Female and the article’s Supplementary Information

4 responses to “The Modern Life of a Bronze Age Woman

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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  4. Reblogged this on Brain Popcorn and commented:
    I love it when I run across someone who’s assembled an Ideabox-style post for me! National Geographic’s done a brilliant collection of interdisciplinary resources (geography, chemistry, archaeology, etc) surrounding the Egtved Girl (and bog bodies in general!)

    I have pretty vivid memories of the Museum of Science in Boston’s Bog Girl exhibit, including a wobbly platform you could walk on that mimicked the consistency of a peat bog, so maybe you’re not as excited about bog bodies as I am, but you should be! Check out Nat Geo’s links below:

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