(Chapter V, section 10)


The Bronze Age in the North

During the Early Bronze Age, Scandinavia and the eastern Baltic countries had been unable to obtain enough metal for tools and weapons, and hence had enjoyed the Late Neolithic efflorescence which we have already studied. Their first real metal period, therefore, was the Middle Bronze Age, later than the first Beaker settlement in England, or the Aunjetitz development in central Europe.

The Scandinavian Bronze Age probably began about 1500 B.C., and lasted for nearly a thousand years. It was a period of great prosperity, for Jutish amber brought bronze and gold objects to the north in trade. The limits of this cultural center, however, were restricted. Most bronze has been found in Denmark, since in Sweden and southern Norway metal was dear, and seldom discarded in graves. North of the sixty-eighth parallel of north latitude, the Arctic stone age prevailed throughout this period on the coasts of the Arctic Ocean and in the forests and mountains86 of Norway and northern Sweden, as well as in Finland.

During the Middle Bronze Age, cremation, which had begun elsewhere as early as Danubian Neolithic times, gradually crept in as a major substitute for the earlier inhumation, and by the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, it had become the only method of disposing the dead. For this reason skeletal material from the five hundred year stretch of the Middle Bronze Age becomes progressively scarce.

In Sweden we are limited to some twenty-one skulls, of which thirteen are those of males.87 They belong to types already familiar to us from the Neolithic, and show no change of population. If anything, however, the long-headed elements are even more in evidence, and the head form is prevailingly dolichocephalic. In Denmark again, twenty seems to be the limit;88 and here the old Neolithic population survived without perceptible alteration. The Bronze Age men were as tall as their predecessors, with a mean stature of 172 cm.; and the blend of long- and round-headed types struck the same high mesocephalic mean.

There is evidence that some of the Danes of this period were blond, since the hair, teeth, and clothing of a young woman, buried at Egtved, Jutland, were perfectly preserved by the tannic acid from the oak coffin in which she lay, under a mound. This hair, cut short on the forehead and hanging in a long bob at the rear, was apparently straight as well as fair. Unfortunately, the bones were not also preserved, and it is impossible to tell to which of the prevalent Neolithic and Bronze Age Danish racial types she belonged.89

On the whole we may be reasonably confident that the Middle Bronze Age in Scandinavia involved no important racial change. The same blend of at least three peoples, who had combined to create a brilliant Late Neolithic, were carried over into the age of metal.

In the far north of the Scandinavian Peninsula, out of reach of all but the most remote Bronze Age influences, we are led, on archaeological grounds, to believe that the older peoples continued to lead their simple existence. Although there is as yet no direct skeletal evidence of their survival, a body of collateral evidence from across the Baltic makes this, by parallel inference, certain.

At various points near the Esthonian coast of the Gulf of Finland, a remarkable group of skeletons has been found in cists under tumuli, probably dating from about 1200 B.C., near the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, although they may possibly have been as much as seven hundred years later.90 (See Appendix I, col. 30) Ten male and five female skulls belong to one homogeneous racial type, extremely dolichocephalic, with a mean cranial length of 195 mm. The faces are very long, and also wide; the nose is of great height. The browridges are in many cases heavy, and the nasal bones high and projecting, but deep-set under a strong glabella. These skulls are similar in many respects to the Corded racial type, especially as exemplified by the dolichocephalic element in the Britsh Bronze Age population. Like the latter, they are associated with long bones which indicate tall stature. The males, in fact, averaged 172 cm.; the females 165.

Unlike the Corded group, however, these Esthonian skulls are as large in vault and face size as the Upper Palaeolithic group from central Europe, and equal the latter in a number of telltale dimensions, including cranial length, orbital width, and bizygomatic diameter. In the height dimensions of the vault and face, the Esthonian crania exceed all known European groups of any age.

This is a clear case of the blending of Upper Palaeolithic survivors, who had preserved a hunting life in their northern forest, with Corded horsemen and cultivators who had penetrated their fastness, bringing them their first direct contact with food-producing civilization. If the Upper Palaeolithic group survived in Esthonia, it could have done so in Norway as well. It is worth noting the exaggeration of the Corded facial and cranial heights in the Esthonian mixture, along with the Upper Palaeolithic retention of gross vault size and of face breadth. This will later be encountered in several living North European populations.


86. Shetelig, Falk, and Gordon, pp. 170-172.

87. Arbo, C., FVO, 1901.
Hillebrand, B. E., ATS, 1864.
Retzius, G., Crania Suecica; Ymer, 1900.

88. Nielsen, H. A., ANOH, II, vol. 21, 1906; III, vol. 5, 1915, pp. 360-365.
Virchow, R., AFA, vol. 4, 1870, p. 55.

89. Coutil, L., BSPF, vol. 27, 1930, pp. 187-189.

90. Friedenthal, A., ZFE, vol. 63, 1931, pp. 1-39.