Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/May 1895/Archaeology in Denmark

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1228629Popular Science Monthly Volume 47 May 1895 — Archaeology in Denmark1895Frederick Starr



A MUSEUM of national history is, in a sense, a symptom of patriotism. No wonder, then, that in Denmark, where every child absorbs love of country with his mother's milk and inhales it at every breath, such museums are in high favor. Two great governmental museums at Copenhagen illustrate the history proper of Denmark; one, the Museum of Northern Antiquities, is chiefly devoted to objects back of history.

Prehistoric archæology may almost be said to have taken its rise in the sturdy little northern kingdom. Here it was that Thomsen in 1836 first proposed the terms age of stone, age of bronze, age of iron, now universally used in the science. Thomsen was a man of profound learning, of most simple and beautiful character, and of immense energy. More than any other single man influential in the establishment of the museum, he shaped its early policy, and his name remains closely associated with its history. Director Thomsen believed in the educational value of Fig. 1.—C. J. Thomsen. the collections, and was ever ready to answer the question of a child or to explain to the common people the meaning and importance of the objects here displayed. This policy has been continued to the present, and the result is that the Museum of Northern Antiquities is known and loved by all good Danes (Fig. 1).

The greatest name in Danish archæology is that of Worsaae. Of keen intellect, thoroughly scientific in his mode of thought, of remarkable executive ability, he gave final shape to the whole subject. Under his direction the museum grew enormously; most important explorations were conducted; steps were taken for the permanent preservation under governmental patronage of important tumuli, dolmens, and other antiquities and monuments both historic and prehistoric. J. J. A. Worsaae was, moreover, a writer of force, and his archaeological books and lesser writings are classical. The prehistoric chronology of Denmark suggested by him is practically that now used by all students; it is about as follows:

Stone age. (a) Earlier 3000 to 2000 b. c.
(b) Later 2000 to 1000 b. c.
Bronze age. (a) Earlier 1000 to 500 b. c.
(b) Later 500 to 100 b. c.
Iron age. (a) Pre-Roman 100 b. c. to 100 a. d.
(b) Later 100 a. d.

Thus fortunate in its early directors, the museum is no less fortunate in having for its present director a worthy follower of

Fig. 2.—J. J. A. Worsaae.

these two great men. Sophus Müller is ably carrying on the work of Thomsen and Worsaae. Assisted by a competent corps of helpers, the museum is vigorously prosecuting the work of field collecting, noting, mapping, and preservation of Denmark's antiquities. Dr. Müller has recently produced two important volumes entitled Ordning af Danmarks Oldsager. Volume I is devoted to the stone age, Volume II to the bronze age. The third volume, upon the iron age, is in preparation. In these works every type of Danish archæology is carefully described and the very great majority accurately figured. The text is Danish, but a résumé in French accompanies it; the pictures, of course, speak all languages (Fig. 3).

In Danish archæology there is no palæolithic period. Glacial deposits abound in Denmark, but so far evidence of man's existence there at that time is lacking. Very shortly after the ice retreated man must have appeared, and from that time on both the islands and Jutland have been occupied by busy, active, progressive men.

The oldest monuments seem to be the shell heaps or kjoekkenmoeddinger. These abound along certain parts on the coast, especially along the Kategat and elsewhere in Zealand and in Jutland. They are heaps sometimes hundreds of metres in length, dozens of metres in width, and as much as three metres in thickness. They consist mainly of the broken or entire shells of marine mollusks—the oyster, cockle, mussel, and periwinkle being the most common. Scattered through, this mass of shells are bones of mammals, birds, and fishes, fragments of rude pottery, Fig. 3.—Sophius Müller. flint flakes, an occasional implement of bone, or a roughly chipped axe or knife of flint. Here and there are to be seen signs of fires. The word kjoekkenmoedden means a kitchen-refuse heap, and that is just what we have. These "kitchen middens" are old camp sites. Here men once lived. These shells and bones are refuse from their meals; these bits of pottery are parts of their dishes; these flint and bone tools were lost or discarded by the earliest Danes. Although living mainly upon mollusks, the man of the shell heaps was also a hunter. We have referred to bones of beasts and birds in the heaps. The eminent zoölogist Prof. Steenstrup, still living though now a very old man, carefully studied the "kitchen middens." He made an estimate of the frequency of bones in the heaps; each cubic foot contains ten to twelve bones of birds and mammals. It will easily be seen that the number of individuals represented in a large heap is really very great. The mammals found most frequently are the stag, reindeer, and wild boar. The relics from the shell heaps are of very rude workmanship. Flint flakes (Fig. 4) are common; a little chipping

Fig. 4.—Flake. Flint.

makes one of these into an axe, a knife, a saw, or an adze (Figs. 5 and 6). Occasionally little broad-edged chipped flints are found (Fig. 7). The type is one found in other parts of Europe, and it has given rise to considerable discussion among archæologists. There can be little doubt, however, that they are really blunt-point arrowheads; one Danish specimen has been found still attached to its slender shaft. The pottery fragments from the shell Fig. 5.—Knife or Scraper. Flint. heaps are usually small, plain, and very rude and coarse. Bone piercers and combs are found occasionally. All the relics and the conditions of life hinted at by the food supply indicate that the primitive Danes were a low and savage people. Sir John Lubbock reproduces a picture of their life, no doubt very similar to that of the modern Fuegians. He says: "On the low shores of the Danish archipelago dwelt a race of small men, with heavy, overhanging brows, round heads, and faces probably much like those of the present Laplanders; living in tents of skin, they had weapons and implements of stone, bone, horn, and wood. Their food, consisting mainly of shellfish, comprised also fish and game. Probably eating was gorging and marrow was a delicacy. They were not summer visitors, but may likely enough have migrated frequently." (Not literal quotation.)

Yet this savage or barbarous man was not entirely without Fig. 6.—Axe. Flint. brute helpers. Among the mammalian bones in the heaps are those of the dog. Of course, the question arises whether these are the remains of wild dogs hunted as food, or those of domesticated or semi-domesticated dogs living about the settlement. Steenstrup's attempts to answer the question are sufficiently well known. He observed that nearly all the long bones of animals and birds were reduced to shafts, the heads or extremities having disappeared; he observed also that short bones were rare or almost lacking—there being fully twenty or twenty-five long bones for every short one. Struck by these facts, he experimented with dogs, giving them bones to gnaw. He found that they devoured short bones and gnawed the heads off the long bones, leaving the shafts in precisely the condition of those from the shell heaps. He concluded that dogs, at least half tamed, lived around the village and gnawed the bones thrown upon the refuse heaps.

The Danish shell heaps are old. Worsaae estimates that they date to 3000 to 2000 b. c. It is certain that since they were heaped up important changes have taken place in Denmark—changes in geography, in fauna, in flora. The sea line has changed; these heaps were formed at the water's edge—to-day many of them are at a considerable distance from the sea. The Baltic has become so fresh that oysters, once abundant and very large, have abandoned its waters. The hollows in the glacial deposits, during the centuries that have elapsed since the ice sheet withdrew, have gradually filled with Fig. 7.—Blunt Arrowhead. Flint. peat formed by the decay of successive generations of plant life. The peat tells its own story to the geologist and declares that Denmark was clad in coniferous forests after the Glacial period; later it was covered with oak growth; at present, and for centuries past, beech has been the main arboreal product. Ah, well! the "kitchen middens" go back to the time of the evergreen forests. Bones of the capercailzie or blackcock are found in the shell heaps; this bird dwells no longer in Denmark, and it lives only on the buds of certain conifers. When these old gatherers of shellfish and hunters of stags lived here the Urus still inhabited Jutland, and game of many kinds was abundant.

Fig. 8.—Unpolished Celt.
Fig. 9.—Polished Celt
or Hatchet.

A year since we visited a shell heap in West Jutland that was being excavated under the direction of Mr. Neergaard, assistant of the museum. Located at the edge and on the slope of a terrace, at some little distance from the sea, it extended for many metres along the terrace, presenting a width of several metres and a maximum thickness of 1·75 metre. It had been cut across by a trench two metres wide and about eleven metres in length; this section was being removed carefully, a single cubic metre at a time. Every bone, potsherd, flint, or other relic as it was removed was

Fig. 10.—Saw. Flint. Fig. 11.—Axe. Stone.

at once labeled, and a complete record regarding it entered in a note-book. The commoner shells at this locality were species of the genera Ostrea, Cardium, Littorina, Nassa, Tapes, and Mytilus. Bones of various birds, mammals, and fish were rather common. The day we were there two diggers removed about three cubic metres of material, and the yield of relics was four rude flint Fig. 12.—Dagger.
axes, one fishhook, and some bits of pottery. The upper level area of the terrace proper is sprinkled with flakes, knives, and hatchets of flint, plain evidence of an old village site.

The later neolithic of Denmark presents a magnificent development. Flint of the finest quality is found everywhere. In no part of the world did its chipping attain greater perfection. Material for other implements of stone was not rare, and was fully utilized. The consequence is that throughout the country beautiful relics of the later stone age are found; they lie on the surface; they are dug up in plowing and in excavations of all kinds; they are picked out by peat cutters; they are discovered in tumuli or old graves. Lubbock says: "Many of these barrows, indeed, contain in themselves a small collection of antiquities, and the whole country may even be considered as a museum on a great scale. The peat bogs, which occupy so large an area, may almost be said to swarm with antiquities, and Prof. Steenstrup estimates that, on an average, every column of peat three feet square contains some specimen of ancient workmanship."

This part of the stone age was marked by the curious habit of erecting great monuments of stone and earth—dolmens, giant chambers, etc. Such monuments are sometimes called Flint. megalithic monuments, from the great size of the stones used in their construction. Erection of megalithic monuments was by no means peculiar to Denmark, but was practiced throughout western Europe during the later stone age and on into the bronze age.

Fig. 13.—Spear Point. Flint.

It is stated that there are upon the islands of Denmark and in eastern Jutland about 47·5 of these monuments to every square myriameter, or one to about two kilometres square. In a single afternoon's drive from Olstyke around by Roskilde Fiord to Roskilde, a distance of but a few miles, we examined fully a dozen of different types. Three of these will illustrate their character, (a) Dolmen: Near a long and narrow strip of water, on a little mound of earth; consisting of five great granite rocks; four stood upright on edge, set firmly in the ground, and inclosed a nearly rectangular space six feet or more in length, more than three feet wide, and some five feet high. Three of these stones are of equal height, and bear a great cap-stone; the fourth one is not so high, and serves as a sill or threshold to the chamber. The whole structure is now free and exposed, but it was probably originally covered with a mound of earth, (b) Giant's Chamber: Externally, Fig. 14.—Miniature Hammer. Amber. a simple plain mound of earth about fifteen feet high. As it is one of the monuments preserved by the Government, it is supplied with a little door on one side. Passing through this, we found our way through a short passage into a great chamber at right angles to it; the passage enters this chamber at the middle of one of its long sides. Both chamber and passage are walled with great bowlders, and are roofed with slabs of large size. The chamber is about twenty-one feet long, seven feet wide, and over six feet in height, (c) Badly denuded by the weather; a large part of the covering mound is gone; there are no roofing slabs, but the stones are carefully set on edge so as to inclose a space forty feet in length and more than twenty feet in width; there is no sign of a passageway. In the middle of this inclosed space is an admirably made rectangular chamber about four feet deep, six feet in length, and perhaps four feet in width.

It is probable that all these structures were burial places.

In those which have remained intact skeletons are often found, together with objects of use or decoration. The dolmen type is generally considered the older; the jattestue, or chambers with passage, are later; the rectangular stone coffins, or cists, with no approach are still more recent. The later stone-age man in Denmark cared well for his dead. He apparently believed in a future Fig. 15.—Garments of the Bronze Age. life, else why should he so carefully bury with his dead such beautiful and valuable objects? In some cases a tumulus might be erected for a single dead man; very commonly, however, several dead were buried in one mound; occasionally scores were thus companions in a common grave.

The man of the later stone age in Denmark was not ill equipped. Implements and tools and ornaments of stone, bone, horn, wood, etc., were his. His list of weapons and tools included beautiful celts or hatchets of flint finely polished, war clubs, lances, arrows, poniards of flint chipped to the most graceful forms, axes, chisels, saws, knives, scrapers, hammers (Figs. 8-13). This is but a part: wonderful samples of chipping, of polishing, of drilling; beautiful in form and finish. Nor were they useless objects. The weapons were perfectly adapted to their purpose. As for the tools, we may be sure that they were serviceable. In the little town of Broholm, in Fünen, is a small wooden house containing a fine collection of stone implements. These were found on the estate of a nobleman, who, after gathering the series, ordered carpenters to build for him a house for their display, stipulating that they should only use the old stone tools in its construction. A book has been written giving the full details of the work, and we can see that a carpenter of our day might be in a worse plight than to be supplied only with a neolithic kit of tools.

That neolithic man in Denmark was an artist is shown by these wonderful stone objects; it is also shown by the beautiful forms and neat decorations of his pottery and by his ornaments. Of these last the most interesting certainly are those of amber. This brilliant yellow fossil resin early attracted his attention. At first he strung the rough pieces, just as he found them, on to strings or thongs, or rounded the bits into rude beads; later on amber was worked carefully into various pretty or curious forms. A favorite pendant was a miniature axe (of the same shape as the stone ones in actual use) in amber (Fig. 14). Curious questions are suggested by these. Neolithic man in Europe seems to have had superstitious ideas or even reverence toward the stone axe. It is possible that these miniatures in amber were amulets or charms.

This rich development of the stone age which we have been considering is generally referred to the period from 2000 to 1000 b. c. It is considered as an outgrowth from the ruder conditions

Fig. 16.—Razor of Bronze.

of the kitchen middens. It is but fair to state that a bitter controversy has been carried on over the matter. Some—among them Steenstrup—have argued that this high culture and the savagery of the shell heaps were contemporaneous; that the men of the kjoekkenmoeddinger and of the megalithic monuments were neighbors; that poor, primitive, backward fisher folk lived side by side with rich, advanced, more civilized agriculturists of the interior. We have not space to present the argument; we follow Worsaae.

The bronze age in Scandinavia was a marvelous development. Probably the knowledge of bronze was brought to Denmark from the Orient; perhaps the amber of the northwestern country was bartered to the cultured people of the East. However that may be, bronze reached Denmark. Nor were the skillful chippers and polishers of stone slow in learning how to use the new and precious material. Those who had been the best lapidaries of Europe became the best metallurgists. Nowhere are there so many peculiar, beautiful, and artistic types in bronze as in Denmark and Sweden. Bronze was made into implements and weapons; it was also fashioned into ornaments. Gold, too, was known and widely used.

We have emphasized the fact that the dead were buried during the neolithic. At the beginning of the bronze age inhumation

Fig. 17.—Band of Bronze.

was also practiced. Stone cists of full size were constructed in many cases; in others very curious coffins, made by splitting oaken tree trunks and then hollowing the two pieces, one into a trough and the other into a cover, were constructed. As time passed cremation was practiced; the ashes were buried in stone cists, which gradually diminished in size until at last they were only about a foot square. In these latter cists the ashes were frequently placed in a vessel of clay. Finally, the cists disappeared, and the clay urn containing the ashes might be simply covered with a flat stone and buried in the ground. As cremation gained and the grave cists diminished in size, the gifts placed with the dead became fewer and less important; real objects were replaced by inferior ones or miniature make-believes. Had we only the Fig. 18.—Gold Cup. relics from the graves we would be led to think that art degenerated during the bronze age; but the contrary was really true. The objects found in the peat bogs and elsewhere show an improvement and progress in artistic work.

Certain grave mounds in Jutland have informed us as to the dress of the people of the bronze age. In them were found oaken coffins such as we have described above. In these, wrapped in cow-skin shrouds, have been found the remains of men and women, more or less preserved, with garments and funereal objects almost intact. High woolen caps, with knotted cords all over the outside for ornamentation; wide mantles cut round; mantles of mixed wool and hair; waistbands bound around with a tasseled girdle; sleeved jackets—all well made and of good material—are among the garments (Fig. 15).

To describe even a tithe of the types in bronze would require more space than we may use. Of weapons we may mention Fig. 19.—Bronze Battle Horn. swords and daggers, beautiful in form and decoration, lance and spear heads, battle-axes; of tools and implements, hatchets, axes, knives, razors (so called) of quaint shape and frequently with engraved patterns on the blade (Fig. 16); of ornaments, every conceivable variety of rings for fingers, arms, neck, and head. The ornaments may be either of gold or bronze. Some of the neck or head bands are elaborately twisted (Fig. 17); finger and arm rings may be simple rings or may be spirals; fibulæ or safety pins are worked out in many curious and attractive patterns. Vessels, too, of gold or bronze have been found, and these, reproduced by modern workmen, delighted many visitors to the Exposition in 1893 (Fig. 18).

Among the masterpieces of the bronze-worker which have come from that olden time to us are great bronze battle-horns, called by the Danes lur. These are truly gigantic. Twenty-three specimens have been found in Denmark, all in peat bogs, and most of them in pairs (Fig. 19). For years a dozen of these lurs hung in the museum silent. Recently Dr. A. Hammerich secured permission to study them as musical instruments and to test them. Finally, these were played upon

Fig. 20.—Miniature Boat of Gold.

before a large and enthusiastic audience, the king himself being present. Only a few times since have these old horns been sounded, but on one of these occasions we had the good fortune to be present. Two players from the opera were the performers; the court of the museum was filled with hearers. Wonderful, is it not, that horns two thousand years old, buried for long centuries in peat bogs, should, after this long silence, still be capable of giving out clear, ringing—even sweet—tones?

The conditions in which these lurs are found are most suggestive—always in peat bogs, usually in pairs. This could not be the result of accident. Other objects are found purposely laid away in the same manner: thus ten bronze hemispherical plates were found at one spot; nine fine bronze axes, all of one form, at another. Similar clusters of celts, spears, etc., are not uncommon. On one occasion about one hundred miniature boats of thin beaten Fig. 21.—A. P. Madsen. gold were placed in a vessel and buried; such occurrences are not completely understood. Dr. Sophus Müller believes that such purposely buried or sunken objects are ex votos (Fig. 20).

The early iron age presents interesting problems and wonderful relics. Still prehistoric time in Denmark, it is historic time in much of Europe. The Danes now disposed of their dead both by inhumation and cremation; with those who were buried relics are found. Near Tistrup, in West Jutland, with Captain A. P. Madsen, of the museum, we were present at some excavations. Captain Madsen has long been engaged in studying the archæology of Denmark. He is an artist of no mean ability, and has sketched and painted many of the old monuments. His Bronzealderen and other works (one of which is now appearing) are important and especially valuable for their illustrations. He is an indefatigable field explorer (Fig. 21). The spot was a level field overgrown with heather in bloom. Only the practiced eye would have detected aught there of archæological interest. The whole area, however, was covered with low, flat, round mounds several metres in diameter and less than half a metre in height. Digging revealed at the center of each, only a little below the surface, a single pottery vase. The forms were simple, but characteristic of the age. In them were mixed earth and ashes (the remains of a cremated corpse). Iron fibulæ, fragments of bronze rings, and the like were found with some of these.

In such cases the bronze is usually fairly preserved, while the iron is deeply rusted and frequently quite fragile.

The best preserved iron objects come from certain peat mosses. In some of these enormous deposits have been found. The famous localities are Nydam and Thorsbjerg, now, unfortunately, no longer Danish possessions. At Thorsbjerg the articles were found mainly in a layer of soft dark peat, about five feet thick, which was under eleven feet of peat of a different character. The objects were apparently placed here intentionally and at one time. Several layers of wooden shields, one above the other, with javelins

Fig. 22.—Commemorative Bronze Tablet in Museum Court.

thrust through them; in another spot, pieces of chain mail; elsewhere, bundles of iron spearheads or arrowheads wrapped in chain mail, a cluster of objects of gold, vessels of clay sunk by stones placed in them. Everything had been destroyed or rendered worthless before it was placed here. Of course at that time the upper eleven feet of peat had not formed, and there was probably a pond of water above the antiquities-bearing layer. At Thorsbjerg, for some reason, the iron has not been well preserved; at Nydam it is in excellent condition. Here the relics lay at a depth of some four to seven feet on a sandy and clayey bottom; as at Thorsbjerg, the objects are clustered and grouped together as if sunken in bundles; here, too, the objects have been rendered useless before deposition. Spears and swords were thrust violently, perpendicularly through the stratum containing the relics. At this locality, too, were found two or three boats; the largest, of oak, some seventy-seven feet long and about ten feet wide, was a fine piece of work. These were intentionally sunk. Some of the iron objects were magnificent pieces; certain sword blades were handsomely damascened. Roman workmanship or influence is shown by some of the objects from these mosses. A number of Roman coins from here range from about 60 to 217 a. d. Thus we may fix the age of the deposit.

We have but glanced at a few of many interesting matters which are fully illustrated in this great museum, of which Denmark is so justly proud (Fig. 22).