venerdì 23 gennaio 2015

Worldwide Business

Note added by Left, D115 Hesselager and B2209-Ölby, Denmark. Beads made of Egyptian cobalt-blue glass from the 14th century BC. Right, B7328 from Sövigaarde, Denmark, is a Mesopotamian bead with three yellow, amber and white-colored stratified eyes; 14th century BC.Photos: A. Mikkelsen, National Museum of Denmark. From: Jeanette Varberg, Bernard Gratuze, Flemming Kaul, Between Egypt, Mesopotamia and Scandinavia: Late Bronze Age glass beads found in Denmark, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2015, 54: 168-18. (See also figgs. 3 and 4 below)

by Siziliano

Tutankhamun and a woman from Bronze Age, buried in the Danish city of Ölby – what do they have in common? Both were given amber and pearls of blue glass into their tomb as a grave furniture (1).

Story began in the basement of Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus (Denmark). Curator Jeanette Varberg searched for items to be presented at a exhibition to be set-up and found a small gray carton, containing three pearls, one big of turquois color and two small ones in dark blue. Documents indicated "found in an urn in a grave mound in Tolstrup". The finder was a farmer called Christoffersen in 1892, having received 26 Danish Crowns (Kroner in Danish). Curator Varberg searched and found more pearls of similar shape (fig.1).

Fig. 1: The chain of blue glass pearls was found in 1885 in Kongehoj in an urn together with golden Spiral arm-bracelets, now found by chance in the repository of the Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus.

Against light the pearls were transparent, so they had to be made of glass. However, production of glass of such quality was beyond the skills of artisans in bronze-age Denmark.

"These pearls should not exist", colleagues being asked gave confusing answers (Italy, Switzerland?). So, Varberg approached the French glass specialist Bernard Gratuze. His first response was "Impossible, must be much younger!" However, Gratuze looked more carefully, and now it was the Danish Curator who could not believe the result: these pearls originate from Mesopotamia (the story on a total of 23 glass pearls is now published in the archaeological journal "Skalk"). The solution: Denmark had been part of wide-spread commercial net, with the "global players" located at the other end of the –then- known world.

Gratuze applied  plasma-spectroscopy and identifed the fingerprints  and thus the origin of the pearls, as the composition of trace elements is indicative and unique (fig. 2). All pearls stemmed from only two places: 21 pearls were made in Nippur in Mesopotamia (today located ca. 50 km SE of Bagdad). The two remaining pearls were made in Egypt. The famous and best known place in Egypt for this technique is at Amarna, the workshop that made also the pearls  of  the death mask of Tutankhamun.

Fig. 2: Identical Origin: left, Using plasma-spectroscopy scientists identified the "fingerprints" and thereby the origin of the glass pearls from the tombs in Denmark and from the tomb of Tutankhamun (2). Right, Location of the two places to which the glass pearls were assigned.

One of the two Egyptian pearls was found in the tomb of a woman buried during Bronze age in Ölby. She was buried in a hollowed trunk of a tree (fig.3). A beautiful belt buckle, a skirt decorated with small bronze pipes and a bracelet were found in the tomb. The bracelet was combined of amber and the blue pearl, by this being very similar to the grave furnitures of the Egypt pharao. Also him was given pearls and amber (from the coasts of the Baltic Sea). A similarly dated tomb, also from Denmark, is shown  in Fig. 4. 

Fig. 3: woman buried in a 14th century BC grave (a trunk of tree) at Ölby, Denmark. From this page. Bead B2209 (see note at the beginning of the post) was found in this grave (2). 

Fig. 4: woman buried in a rich 14th century BC grave (a trunk of tree) at Hesselager (island of Funen), Denmark. From this page. Bead D115 (see note at the beginning of the post) was found in this grave (2). 

The scientists speculate that the both materials were seen more similar by the people of the Bronze age than we see them nowadays. The combo Amber-pearls was really popular, it is found in tombs of the Near East, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, and in Scandinavia. The beautiful color of both materials let the scientists suggest that it played an important role in the cults and adoration of the Sun God.
What remains clear is that both materials travelled world-wide: amber to the South and blue glass pearls to the North.

This text refers to an article in German from Spiegel-Online:
Archaeology in S.-Online is cured by Dr. Angelika Franz:
Here is the link in Danish:
A short summary of the original article in English:

Original publications: 
1. Jeanette Varberg, Bernard Gratuze, Flemming Kaul, Glasvejen: Skalk, 2014, nr. 5
2. Jeanette Varberg, Bernard Gratuze, Flemming Kaul, Between Egypt, Mesopotamia and Scandinavia: Late Bronze Age glass beads found in Denmark, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2015, 54: 168-181 

To learn more about: 
a. ancient glass beads in Sardinia, see this publication: BELLINTANI P., USAI A. 2012, Materiali vetrosi protostorici della Sardegna: inquadramento cronotipologico e considerazioni sulle relazioni tra mediterraneo centrale e orientale, in Atti della XLIV Riunione Scientifica dell’Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria, III, pp. 1121-1130 
b. ancient glass beads in Italysee this publication: P. Bellintani, Le perle in materiale vetroso dall’antica età del Bronzo all’inizio dell’età del Ferro in Italia. Indicatori di scambio su lunga distanza e prime testimonianze di produzione locale, Atti delle XVI Giornate Nazionali di Studio sul Vetro, Adria (RO), Museo Archeologico Nazionale, 12-13 maggio 2012, pp. 15-24