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Forging Identities: The Mobility of Culture in Bronze Age Europe

Final Report Summary - FORGING IDENTITIES (Forging Identities: The Mobility of Culture in Bronze Age Europe)

Forging Identities: The Mobility of Culture in Bronze Age Europe (FI) has explored how European Bronze Age societies became linked in new ways with the introduction of the new pliable alloy of ‘bronze’. The main aim of the project was to enhance knowledge of Bronze Age mobility, including cultural responses and socio-economic backgrounds. Much has previously been assumed, but little has actually been known about mobility in this protohistoric period (c. 2000-700 BC). By unpicking the nuances within this major theme, employing an interdisciplinary approach combining archaeology, bio-chemistry and geo-chemistry, and by initiating a number of linked case studies on the doctoral and postdoctoral levels, the ITN project has made a breakthrough in current knowledge. Also, cooperation with outside research teams has been fruitful.

In the first half of the project progress was made in the recording of data, both archaeological and scientific, while the aims of individual projects became adjusted and refined. Also, the first analyses were run showing promising results. During the second half of the project two research phases have been successfully accomplished through fellows’ individual research and their teamwork with each other, supervisors, and laboratory staff. These phases involved 1. data-analytical work combining archaeology with science (geo/bio chemistry: isotopic ‘fingerprints’ in bone/teeth and in metals to detect migratory patterns) and 2. interpretative perspectives based upon the data patterns.

Using these research procedures, answers were provided to the questions:

- How did people, animals, plants, things, ideas, and knowledge travel and on what scale?
- How did increased cultural mobility impact social and economic life?
- How were European and regional identities forged through interaction?

The combined result of 10 ESR projects, 4 ER projects and senior contributions demonstrates that the mobility of culture was of fundamental importance in the European Bronze Age. The mobility of culture was of such importance primarily because of the increasing and pan-Europe dependence on bronze to sustain everyday life and to stimulate the forging of identities through social interaction. There are numerous data now showing that people, ideas, techniques, and materials moved small-scale over short distances and within confined areas but also large-scale over great distances connecting distant parts of Europe. Strategic responses to cultural movement range from sheer resistance and creative translations to close copying of the exogenous material. The project has amply demonstrated how different strategies were at work in coping with mobility and exogenous culture in Northern and Central Europe.

At certain times, c. 1600 BC and c. 1300-1200 BC, northern and southern Europe became directly connected. In this historical process, new regional and super-regional identities formed while previous formations ceased to exist and even collapsed. Two such periods of movement-related radical change stand out in the record:

1. The period prior to 1600 BC saw upheaval, violence and war over much of Europe while also exemplifying new forms and routes of long-distance connectivity and innovations in bronze metallurgy, weaponry, and in wheeled vehicles and horses. Shortly after 1600 BC, new socio-cultural configurations had been established, including the emergence and expansion of the remarkable Nordic Bronze Age. The sword-carrying elite warrior now became a powerful and celebrated figure in most European societies, while new plank-built ships emerged together with the transmission of reformed ideas of the constitution of the cosmos.

2. The 13-12th centuries BC once again saw signs of changing socio-cultural units while belief systems were under pressure. Some societies in temperate Europe seem to have reacted to new transcultural trends by emphasizing regional particularities, and some thrived on this strategy. In the Aegean, the 13th century BC was a flourishing period of commerce and colonial expansion. Towards 1200 BC, however, the wealthy palace-organised centres disappeared in a blast of raids, social upheaval and violence; a forerunner of this phenomenon was described by Homer in the epics of the Trojan War. At the same time, a new ‘contact culture’ formed across temperate Europe, the so-called Urnfield Culture, in part through migrations and military campaigns. Urnfield mercenary warriors from the north seem to have joined forces with the military gangs which shaped the destruction of the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean. A new historical era emerged through these mobility-driven events that eventually would lead to the Iron Age.

The SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSION of the FI project is that encounters and mobility were both peaceful and warlike, went over land and across seas, and included people of all ages and genders. These encounters were negotiated through a variety of materials and on a plethora of different stages: metals and metallurgy, weaving tools and techniques, amber and flint, swords and ideas of fighting, etc.

The mechanisms of cultural movement in Bronze Age Europe, and indeed the manifold responses to a world literally in motion, recall our own globalised era despite the differences in scale. In particular, it is worth noting that Bronze Age people in Europe continually coped with strong exogenous influences in varied, and often highly creative, ways. The knowledge provided by the FI project is indeed relevant to citizens all over Europe. It addresses cultural heritage in a tale of how mobility can engender great technological and social achievements but also propel hardship-periods of war and radical change.

The project and its results have been communicated to the public in blogs, our website, the Danish Agency of Culture website, in radio, television, printed media, and during the summer schools: an archaeological excavation attracted more than 300 visitors one evening, and fellows have mediated their results in posters which will be transformed into the exhibition of the new world museum to open in 2014 at Moesgård in Denmark. Throughout the project, fellows have been exposed to the private sector of museums and heritage organisations and concrete training actions were taken to broaden their career possibilities. Some are already in postdoctoral positions, while others have been approached informally by research institutions and museums regarding future employment. As dissertations are completed this year, the prospects are very good for jobs within the broader field of archaeology, museums and heritage management.