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Trending Science: Danish researchers reveal long-held secrets of a Bronze Age teenager

Thanks to strontium isotope analyses, a team at the National National Museum of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen has reconstructed the story of the Egtved Girl, a Bronze Age teenager.

The Egtved Girl from 1370 BC, discovered in 1921, is one of best known Danish Bronze Age finds. Although she was discovered almost a century ago in a 3 400-year-old oak coffin, it was not until recently that archaeologists, led by senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen, have learnt more about her life. Discoveries include the revelation that the Egtved Girl is not from Egtved in Denmark at all — strontium isotope analyses of the girl’s hair, teeth and nails show that she was in fact born and raised hundreds of miles away, most probably in the Black Forest in south west Germany. Analyses also show that she arrived in Egtved shortly before she died after travelling great distances during the last two years of her life. The Egtved Girl was buried on a summer’s day in 1370 BC in wool garments including a blouse and a short, corded skirt, and she had a disc-shaped bronze belt plate, which symbolised the sun. Iflscience.com reports that she may have been a priestess of the Nordic sun-worshipping cult. The discovery of her origin in Germany is thanks to a combination of the different provenance analyses of her remains, her clothing, and the oxhide she was laid to rest in come from – as well as the cremated remains of a six-year-old child who was buried with her. Senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei traced the last two years of the Egtved Girl’s life by examining the strontium isotopic signatures in her 23-centimetre-long hair. The analysis shows that she had been on a long journey shortly before she died, and this is the first time that researchers have been able to so accurately track a prehistoric person’s movements. Ms Frei notes, ‘If we consider the last two years of the girl’s life, we can see that, 13 to 15 months before her death, she stayed in a place with a strontium isotope signature very similar to the one that characterizes the area where she was born. Then she moved to an area that may well have been Jutland. After a period of ca. 9 to 10 months there, she went back to the region she originally came from and stayed there for four to six months before she travelled to her final resting place, Egtved.’ The discovery that Egtved Girl in all probability came from the Black Forest region in Germany comes as no surprise to Professor Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg who collaborated on the study published in the online journal Scientific Reports. The archaeological finds confirm the theory that there were close relations between Denmark and Southern Germany in the Bronze Age. Professor Kristiansen notes, ‘In Bronze Age Western Europe, Southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centres of power, very similar to kingdoms. We find many direct connections between the two in the archaeological evidence, and my guess is that the Egtved Girl was a Southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families.’ A great number of Danish Bronze Age graves contain human remains that are as well-preserved as those found the Egtved Girl’s grave. According to the University of Copenhagen, Karin Margarita Frei and Kristian Kristiansen plan to examine these remains with a view to analysing their strontium isotope signatures. For further information, please visit: http://www.nature.com/srep/2015/150521/srep10431/full/srep10431.html

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