A Bronze Age female figurine discovered in the Tollense River in northern Germany may have been a balance weight, a goddess or both. The figurine was found by Ronald Borgwardt, a truck driver who has been scouting the archaeological and watery depths of the Tollense since the 1990s, on July 20th, 2020. He was snorkeling in the river east of Rostock when he discovered a small bronze figurine in the sediments of the bank. He found a bronze arm ring a few feet away.
Just a hair under six inches tall and weighing 155 grams, the figurine has a flat body, an ovoid shaped head with prominent nose and eyes, looped arms, two bumps for breasts, a shallow vertical cut at the crotch indicating female genitalia and legs with protruding knees. The right leg is strongly bowed, the left straighter. She wears a neck ring and a belt. Typology dates the figurine to the 7th century B.C.
About a dozen similar figurines have been found near the Baltic Sea in Zealand, Scandia and one in northern Germany which was then part of the Nordic Bronze Age culture. The other German figurine was discovered in around 1840 just 20 miles from the most recent find; unfortunately its whereabouts are currently unknown. Most of them have been found near rivers or the Baltic coast. The Tollense is a bit of a double-whammy as it is both a river and direct connection to the Baltic Sea.
Researchers have hypothesized that these statuettes may have been used as balance weights based on a weight unit of 26 grams, but with such a limited number of examples it seemed unlikely they could have been quotidian tools as there would be more widespread evidence of them on the archaeological record. The 155-gram weight of this example, however, is an almost exact multiple of 26 grams, which may or may not be of significance given that this is the heaviest of the figurines. The second heaviest weighs 133 grams, which is another almost-multiple of 26.
The Tollense river valley is famed for the great number of archaeological materials and remains from a violent clash (battle? massacre?) that took place there in the early 13th century B.C. It’s possible that the figurine was deposited in commemoration of the conflict that had taken place there centuries earlier.
The female figures with looped arms are related to distinctive places of the Later Bronze Age landscape, and the recently discovered specimens from the Tollense valley supports their close connection to communication routes. The significance of the lower Oder area for Later Bronze Age trade is reflected in a concentration of bronze hoards around the island of Usedom, c. 50 km to the east. The wetland context supports the notion of a deposition in a transitional sphere between the real and the underworld. The figures have been considered as evidence for worship (as epitome of a goddess), as evidence for trade (as balance weights), or both (‘goddesses of wealth’). The distribution over a relatively small area speaks rather against an interpretation as a Nordic goddess of this time.
4 thoughts on “Bronze Age figurine: goddess or weight?”
“Researchers have hypothesized that these statuettes may have had been used as balance weights based on a weight unit of 26 grams”?
The Roman “uncia” (one twelfth, 1/12), for example, started as a Roman-Oscan weight of about 23 grams, with Attic weight issues of about 27 grams. The “avoirdupois ounce” (exactly 28.349523125 g) is 1/16 avoirdupois pound; this is the United States customary and British imperial ounce.
If the earlier battle took place at a crossing over the Tollense river, it would be interesting to know if the recumbent flat bronze girl was found at a similar crossing point, i.e. was simply lost instead of being “sacrificed” to the slain. What do you need for bronze? Of course you need tin, a little more than 1/10 of the final bronze.
The bones from the 1250BC battle had flint arrowheads, but already also bronze ones lodged into them. So far, about 50 bronze arrowheads.
After a golden spiral ring was found on the banks of the Tollense in 2010, a similar ring measuring 2.9 cm in length and weighing just under ten grams followed in 2011. In addition to four bronze spirals, two more rings made of four mm thick wire were found. The material was identified as tin.
The shape of the lower leg from knee to foot appears to be designed as a holder of something. Almost like these were a handle for lifting another object. The cast iron handles used to pick the round plates off old wood cook stoves come to mind.
Is it not more likely that the bronze came in lumps that were weighed using balance weights and objects ended up being made from a multiple of those weights? Cutting small bronze lumps would be a bit tricky whereas a mold doesnt need filling to the top to do the job.
Still no proof, but the linked article “Worship or weight? A Bronze Age ‘goddess with a necklace’ from River Tollense (NE Germany)”, “Praehistorische Zeitschrift”, is also available as free PDF that is worth to have a look at.
There is actually more of those figurines (with pictures!), they all look very similar and the interpretation as weights makes perfect sense. Moreover, they are indeed all almost perfect multiples of 26 grams.
Also, the were found in an almost perfect line from NE Germany to the southern tip (“Scania”) of what today is Sweden. The only difference seems to be that, where you currently take the ferry from Rügen Island north of Tollense to Sweden, people preferred to safely travel via “Zealand” Island in what today is Denmark (there is also a map).
The concentration of those finds is much more dense than an idiot like me would ever have expected it. – Source: “Tab. 2: Length and weight of the Bronze figurines mentioned in the text (see Fig. 11–12)”.
[mm][g] gcd(26 g) Site/Region
147 155 6,0 Weltzin13, NE-Germany
096 104 4,0 Ivetofta, Scania
100 102 3,9 Helsingborg, Scania
101 055 2,1 Malmö, Scania
109 103 4,0 St. Olof, Scania
113 103 4,0 Timmele, Scania
134 106 4,1 Kullaberg, Scania
136 132 5,1 Västra Ingelstad, Scania
137 110 4,2 Kvistofta1, Scania
099 085 3,3 Viksø, Zealand
120 133 5,1 Ølstykke, Zealand
(lost or broken):
130 Klein Zastrow, NE-Germany
108 Kvistofta2, Scania