Bronze Age Priestess Found in 1921 Traveled Far

The teen, found in Denmark, likely came from southern Germany
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2015 8:00 AM CDT
Bronze Age Priestess Found in 1921 Traveled Far
The Egtved girl's grave.   (National Museum of Denmark)

The remains of a Bronze Age cultic priestess found in Egtved, Denmark, in 1921 belong to a teenager who'd likely traveled all the way from southern Germany—a great distance for the year 1370BC, researchers report in a press release. They now know this is because her oak coffin was buried in a peat bog burial mound that let water in but not out, so while her bones had long since decayed, her clothing, hair, and nails were well preserved, the team notes in the journal Scientific Reports. This enabled them to analyze strontium isotopes, where differences in the number of neutrons in atoms of that element reveal the region where she spent time. The analysis suggests that her woolen skirt came from somewhere near southwestern Germany's Black Forest.

What they also employed to re-create her movements: her hair, which was 9 inches at its longest point (it grew about 0.4 inches a month, so the hair housed roughly two years of information), as well as a molar tooth, which holds geographical secrets of the first few years of her life. Their analysis suggested she'd gone on several long trips during her last two years, probably spent much of her last six months far from Denmark, and likely died shortly after getting to Egtved. Researcher Karin Margarita Frei tells LiveScience, "She looks, in a way, very modern, in this kind of miniskirt and a kind of T-shirt." (It's a look some have re-created. Seriously.) In fact, her remains suggest she was a cultic priestess who may have been married to a Danish chieftan. What's particularly notable about the findings: The researchers say it's the first time a prehistoric person's movements have been charted with such accuracy. (Closer to home, archaeologists have resurrected a key Pocahontas site.)

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