Archaeology of Denmark

The Archaeology of Denmark presents an extraordinary rich and varied abundance of archaeological artifacts, exceptionally preserved by the climate and natural conditions in Denmark proper – including boglands, shallow waters, a cold and relatively unvarying climate.

At the same time, archaeological study in Denmark has continually and fundamentally influenced the young science of archaeology from its very beginnings.

History and excavations

The prehistory of Denmark (Jutland) reveals that (following earlier Clactonian relics) many different cultures were to settle there and leave archaeological footprints since the end of the last ice age. Their discovery parallels the ongoing evolution of Danish archeology itself, which began in the early nineteenth century with the establishment of the National Museum of Denmark, organised by Christian Thomsen. It was he who introrduced the three-age system – Stone, Bronze and Iron ages - to European archaeology, thus for the first time differentiating pre-history into distinct time-scales.[1]

A treasure of medieval coins is being uncovered at the island of Møn.

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae, one of Thomsen's early assistants, set out in 1850 to investigate an interesting find of flint tools linked to a heap of ancient oyster shells at Meilgaard in Northern Djursland. [2] Worsaae surmised that perhaps “this had been a sort of eating-place for the people of the neighbouhood in the earliest prehistoric times”;[3] and further excavations indeed confirmed that the ancient shell heaps were signs of human prehistoric activity, being kitchen middens - Danish term køkkenmødding - and leftovers from their meals.[4][5] A later commission initiated in 1893-1895, executed a large scale, thorough and interdisciplinary excavation at the Limfjord. The site is named Ertebølle and so the rich and defining archaeological find coined the now well-known Stone Age culture of Ertebølle.[6] Apart from archaeology, participating scientific disciplines included botany, zoology and geology, and such kitchen middens has since been viewed as important archaeological sites internationally.[7] Due to land-shift after the melting of the ice, many kitchen midden sites, originally on the coast, were later submerged:[8] The first submerged settlement excavated in Denmark was Tybrind Vig in 1977. The site was excavated over the following decade. 300 m from the shore and 3 m below the surface, divers excavated sensationally well-preserved artefacts from the Ertebølle Culture.

The kitchen midden culture stretched chronologically from c5000 bc onwards. Its immediate predecessor was the mesolithic culture of Maglemose, first uncovered in a Zealand bog in 1900; while from c. 2500 BC the midden culture would gradually come under the influence of the newly arrived neolithic farmer.[9] Later Neolithic arrivals included the Corded Ware culture, whose round barrows scattered the Danish landscape, each including a stone battleaxe: the gradual replacement of these latter by bronze versions over time marked Danish entry into the Bronze Age.[10]

A complex web of trading roots now linked Jutland with the remainder of Bronze-Age Europe. An overland route carried Jutland amber to Mycenaean Greece,[11] while sea-routes also brought it to England,[12] and the Mediterranean.[13]

The Iron Age came relatively late to Denmark, but again the bogs yielded an exciting and dramatic find, Tollund Man. The well-preserved body of a hanged man created intense interest;[14] it was associated by some with the accounts by Tacitus of sacrifices made to the goddess Nerthus.[15] Runes based on the Latin alphabet began to appear, and Roman imports among grave goods also show the increasing influence of the nearby empire by the first centuries AD.[16] For subsequent periods, Danish archaeology has worked alongside, instead of independently of, the historical record, exploring for example the conflicts of the Jutes and the Danes echoed in Beowulf, or the roads, buildings, and runic inscriptions behind the later Viking kingdom.[17]

Notable archaeologists of Denmark

Name Born Died Specialization Achievements
Christian Jürgensen Thomsen 1788 1865 Introduced the universal three-age system
Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae 1821 1885 Played a key role in the foundation of archaeology as a science.
Pioneered paleobotany and archaeological stratigraphy (in relation to the three-age system).
Sophus Müller 1846 1934
Georg F.L. Sarauw 1862 1928 Pioneered fossilized pollen studies and discovered the Maglemosian culture.
Peter Glob 1911 1985 Internationally recognized writer and mediator of archaeology.
Internationally known for his excavations and investigations of bog bodies.
Led several large scale archaeological expeditions to the Middle East.

Continuing Danish influence

Denmark and Danish scientists played an important role in establishing archaeology as a science in the 1800s, and continue to contribute with fundamental methods and discoveries to this science in general. Denmark and Danish archaeologists has a long history of both international collaborations and engagements and public outreach, education and mediation of the results of archaeology. Many Danish museums plays a leading role in public outreach and mediation.

Literary overlaps

See also

Notes and references

  1. Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 24-8
  2. Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 136
  3. Quoted in Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 138
  4. The excavation site of the first køkkenmødding site is located in the forest of Nederskov, just north of the Meilgård manor, near the beach and between the coastal villages of Bønnerup Strand and Fjellerup.
  5. "Meilgård bopladsen fra jægerstenalderen [The Meilgård settlement from the hunter Stone Age]". Danske Fortidsminder (in Danish). Danmarks Kulturarvs Forening, DAKUA. January 2011. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  6. Søren H. Andersen. "Ertebølle - a world famous midden". 1001 stories of Denmark. The Heritage Agency of Denmark. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
  7. A.P. Madsen, Sophus Müller (1900). Affaldsdynger fra stenalderen i Danmark, undersøgte for Nationalmuseet [Waste heaps from the Stone Age in Denmark, investigated for The National Museum] (in Danish). Paris, A.A. Hachette. Retrieved 8 January 2015.. The original publication from The National Museum of Denmark, funded by the Carlsberg Foundation.
  8. Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 139-8
  9. Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 167 and p. 311
  10. Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 280
  11. G. Childe, What Happened in History (Penguin 1954) p. 171
  12. G. Clark, Prehistoric England (London 1962) p. 29
  13. M. Cary, The Ancient Explorers (Penguin 1963) p. 147
  14. W. Bray, The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology (Penguin 1972) p. 235
  15. Geoffrey Bibby, The Testimony of the Spade (Fontana 1962) p. 452
  16. S. Price, The Birth of Classical Europe (Penguin 2011) p. 291
  17. G. Bibby, Looking for Dilmun (London 1970) p. 3-4
  18. M. Parker, Seamus Heaney (1993) p. 105-8
  19. J. Rateliff, Mr Baggins (London 2007) p. 261


External links

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Excavating submerged Stone Age sites in Denmark: the Tybrind Vig example

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