A 2,700-Year-Old Figurine Revives a Weighty Mystery

A 2,700-Yr-Previous Figurine Revives a Weighty Thriller

Two summers in the past, whereas snorkeling within the marshy streams of the Tollense River on Germany’s Baltic coast, a 51-year-old truck driver named Ronald Borgwardt made a startling discovery.

Poking round within the peat, he picked up a six-inch-tall bronze figurine with an egg-shaped head, looped arms, knobby breasts and a nostril that will make an anteater envious.

The statuette, sporting a belt and a neck ring, was solely the second of its sort unearthed in Germany, although the Thirteenth discovered close to the Baltic Sea. The primary turned up round 1840. All are related in form and proportion.

“The newest statuette poses an archaeological riddle,” mentioned Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist and head of analysis on the Decrease Saxony State Workplace for Cultural Heritage, in Germany. “What was it, how did it get there and what was it used for?”

Remarkably, 24 years earlier, whereas paddling by means of the identical swamp, Mr. Borgwardt’s father had spied a bunch of bones jutting from a financial institution. He fetched his son and collectively they scavenged within the muck. Amongst their finds had been a human arm bone pierced by a flint arrowhead, and a two-and-a-half-foot-long picket membership that resembled a Louisville Slugger.

Extra exploration of the world yielded the skeletons of a half-dozen horses, scores of navy artifacts and the stays of greater than 140 people, most of them males between the ages of 20 and 40 who confirmed indicators of blunt trauma. Just about all of the relics have been traced to round 1,250 B.C., suggesting that they stemmed from a violent episode that will have performed out over a single day.

A 2013 geomagnetic survey revealed that this slender stretch of the Tollense Valley was as soon as a part of a commerce route bisected by a 400-foot stone-and-wood causeway that had been used to move amber to factors on the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea. The amber street predated the bloodshed by at the least 5 centuries.

At present the world is taken into account Europe’s oldest battlefield website. “Though the area was sparsely populated 3,270 years in the past, upward of two,000 individuals had been concerned within the battle,” mentioned Dr. Terberger, who helped begin a collection of excavations primarily based on the Borgwardts’ authentic discoveries.

In a paper printed Feb. 12 in the archaeological journal Praehistorische Zeitschrift, Dr. Terberger and 5 colleagues suggest that the statuette discovered by the youthful Mr. Borgwardt dated to the seventh century B.C. and was both a steadiness weight, an object of worship or a mixture of each.

“The unanswered query is why the figurine wound up in a river valley alongside a commerce route lots of of years after a big battle happened there,” Dr. Terberger mentioned. “Did this occur accidentally, or was the setting a spot of commemoration for a Thirteenth-century B.C. battle nonetheless current within the oral historical past of the Late Bronze Age individuals? And if the statuette depicted a goddess, did she play a task in a primitive weight system?”

Lorenz Rahmstorf, a professor of Prehistoric Archaeology on the College of Göttingen and a co-author of the research, mentioned weights and scales first got here into use round 3,000 B.C. as commerce developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia; the primary weighing units had been a easy system to evaluate the worth of products, consisting of two plates hooked up to an overhead beam mounted on a central pole. Sumerian texts function the earliest mentions of a weight unit, the mina, which tipped the scales at about 500 grams, or 18 ounces.

Stability scales unfold to the Aegean within the west and to the Indus Valley tradition of South Asia within the east. By the center of the second millennium B.C., weight methods turned up in Italy, and, by 1,350 B.C., north of the Alps.

“Units of small bronze weights and steadiness beams in bone had been combined collectively in baggage, and positioned subsequent to the lifeless in quite a lot of graves from Jap France and Southern Germany,” Dr. Rahmstorf mentioned. “We don’t but have clear proof for when weighing gear was launched to North Germany and Scandinavia.”

No historic civilization hooked up stronger symbolic and religious significance to scales than the Egyptians from the second millennium B.C. to the Roman Interval. Their most solemn otherworldly second was the Weighing of the Coronary heart.

It was the Egyptian perception that after an individual died, Anubis, the jackal-headed god of embalming, led the deceased to the judgment corridor of Osiris, the place the lifeless coronary heart was weighed towards a feather of Maat, the personification of reality, justice and the cosmic order.

If a coronary heart was pure, it could be as gentle because the feather, and the deceased was deemed worthy to enter the afterlife. Thoth, grasp of information and patron of scribes, stood by to document the ultimate verdict, and underneath the steadiness, Ammut the devourer — head of a crocodile, forepart of a lion, hindquarters of a hippopotamus — sat able to devour the damned.

“Stability needed to be reached in order that your coronary heart didn’t get eaten by expensive Ammut,” mentioned Kara Cooney, a professor of Egyptian artwork and structure on the College of California, Los Angeles.

The primary definitive weights are pebbles from the Second Dynasty of historic Egypt, which lasted from 2,890 B.C. to 2,686 B.C. “Among the stones had been engraved with parallel incisions, some with hieroglyphic inscriptions,” Dr. Rahmstorf mentioned. “Metallic weights turned widespread solely within the following millennium.”

A majority of the 13 bronze collectible figurines had been recovered in or round rivers close to the Baltic coast — six turned up on the Öresund, a strait that separates the Danish island of Zealand from the Swedish province of Scania. The statuette discovered within the Tollense by Mr. Borgwardt is the most important and, at 155 grams, or about 5.5 ounces, the heaviest.

It was lengthy believed that the economic system of northern Europe throughout the Bronze Age had been primarily based on reward alternate quite than commerce. The concept the bronze collectible figurines represented measurements of an early Scandinavian weight system was superior in 1992 by the Swedish archaeologist Mats Malmer.

After figuring in erosion and weight reduction, Dr. Malmer analyzed the 12 current “Goddesses of Wealth” for weight consistency and proportionality. His calculations indicated that the burden of the statuettes may very well be expressed in grams as multiples of a typical denominator, 26.

On a latest afternoon in his workplace on the College of Göttingen, Dr. Terberger reeled off the weights of among the collectible figurines: 55 grams, 85 grams, 102 grams, 103 grams, 103 grams, 104 grams, 106 grams, 110 grams, 132 grams, 133 grams. From throughout the room, his departmental colleague Dr. Rahmstorf mentioned, “Not each figurine match the scheme completely, however most had been fairly shut.”

Though the models of weight appear to have been standardized, Dr. Rahmstorf doubts that the statuettes had been used as weights. “It’s potential that they had been weight-regulated,” he mentioned. “By which I imply the quantity of metallic used could have been weighed out.”

Nonetheless, the pattern of collectible figurines is small. And up to now, unambiguous weights and scales from Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia are lacking. However some objects from the Late Bronze Age in these areas are potential candidates for weights: stone discs with a horizontal groove.

Dr. Rahmstorf’s preliminary analyses together with his colleague Nicola Ialongo are promising, however he cautioned, “these could be heavy weights of over 100 to a number of thousand grams.” As a result of there aren’t any texts and inscriptions from that period of northern Europe, “at the moment, the existence of weights and scales in that space is probably going however nonetheless solely hypothetical.”

Again when Dr. Malmer got here out together with his principle, the statuettes had been extensively dismissed as artistically inferior to different collectible figurines from the Late Bronze Age. “The speculation has been put ahead that these statuettes are low cost mass merchandise, owned by poor individuals as family gods,” he wrote within the journal Antiquity.

Dr. Terberger demurs. “All in all, 13 figures of this kind don’t assist the concept that the statuettes had been low cost family gods,” he mentioned. “Previously they had been interpreted as goddesses, however they don’t match any deities extensively worshiped at the moment.”

Alternatively, Flemming Kaul, a senior researcher on the Nationwide Museum of Denmark, just isn’t persuaded that the statuettes had been weight-regulated. “For me, the gram numbers appear a lot too random, and the ‘statistical materials’ too low to attract any such conclusion,” he mentioned.

Dr. Kaul speculated that the statuettes had been divinities, though not essentially a part of an outlined pantheon. “These collectible figurines could have possessed magical powers tied to the power to supply offspring,” he mentioned. “They may very properly be seen as charms or votive items associated to childbirth — probably the most harmful time in a lady’s life.”

How may the Borgwardt figurine have ended up on the backside of the river? “On the Tollense commerce route, with Nordic amber, a traveler provided up her amulet to the native water nymphs for additional good luck on the voyage,” Dr. Kaul mentioned. “Maybe she parted with the talisman as a token of friendship or maybe to advertise life, fertility and cosmological order within the — for us — mysterious world of Bronze Age faith.”

For now, the riddle stays unsolved.

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