What is it?
This small female figurine made of bronze is 14.7cm tall and weighs 155g. The figure has an egg-shaped head with a prominent nose, and a flat body with looped arms, two knobs on the chest signifying breasts, an indication of a vulva, and two slightly differently shaped legs. Ridges on the figure’s neck and waist indicate the presence of a necklace and belt respectively. The typological evidence dates the figurine to the Late Nordic Bronze Age, most likely to the 7th century BC. Its function is currently uncertain, although it has been suggested that it may have been an object of worship or commemoration, part of an early measurement system, or a combination of both.
Where was it found, and when?
The figurine was found in the Tollense Valley, in north-east Germany, in 2020. It was identified during a snorkelling survey of Weltzin 13 – a known Bronze Age river-crossing site – by Ronald Borgwardt, who has been carrying out regular surveys in the river since the 1990s. The Tollense Valley is a site of archaeological significance as the location of a violent conflict in the early 13th century BC. The figurine dates to several centuries later, but the causeway where it was found appears to have been in use at multiple points since its original construction in the late 19th century BC, including at the time of the 13th-century conflict and when the figure was deposited later.
Why does it matter?
This is the 13th figurine of this type discovered in or close to rivers near the Baltic Sea since 1840, but only the second example found in Germany. There is some variation among the 13 known figurines, making a single origin unlikely, but their distribution points to close interaction between these regions around the Baltic Sea in the Late Bronze Age.
The purpose of the figurines has been the subject of debate for many years. The figurine from Weltzin 13, like many of the others, was found in a former wetland area. Deliberate deposition in these watery places, which were probably seen as transitional spaces between the real world and the underworld, was typical of the Bronze Age, and it has been suggested that the deposition of the Weltzin 13 figurine may be connected to the earlier conflict in the Tollense Valley, although is not possible to say for certain. Nonetheless, it does indicate that the site was still considered significant several centuries later.
It has also been suggested that these female figurines may have been weight-regulated artefacts, offering evidence of an early Scandinavian measurement system. All of the figurines with known measurements have mass values that are approximate multiples of 26g – the suggested weight unit of the time – and at 155g the new find fits into this system. However, more evidence is needed to confirm the hypothesis.
SEE FOR YOURSELF The recent research has been published in Praehistorische Zeitschrift (https://doi.org/10.1515/pz-2022-2035). It is hoped that the figurine will be placed on display at the Landesmuseum (State Museum) of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which is currently being built in Rostock, Germany.
TEXT: Amy Brunskill.