(Chapter V, section 12)


The Final Bronze Age and Cremation


The two or three centuries immediately preceding the 1000 B.C. mark in central Europe, and a little later in more backward parts, witnessed several cultural innovations which mark the beginning of the Late or Final Bronze Age. To the physical anthropologist, the most important of these was cremation, on account of which our knowledge of race during this most important period is nearly at the zero point. This hiatus is especially unfortunate, since the findings of the archaeologists make it clear that the Late Bronze Age was a time of considerable shifting and expansion of peoples.

In most of Europe, the Sub-Boreal climate gave way to the Sub-Atlantic, which brought an increase in cold and dampness, and fostered the growth of forest on former grasslands. The area of soil suitable for cultivation grew smaller, while the number of people had increased; these factors alone were enough to cause displacements of population. Across the plains of Asia as well as of Europe, large movements took place; the migrations of the Aryan ancestors into northern India through Afghanistan, and into the Iranian plateau, were Late Bronze Age phenomena.

Cremation had begun in Europe as an alternate funeral rite, early in the Bronze Age, and had gradually increased in popularity in the plains north of the Alpine mountain barrier. Its chief center of expansion seems to have been the central and eastern grasslands, from eastern Germany over to Russia, where it was particularly useful for nomadic peoples faced with the problem of disposing of their dead on frozen ground.

The vehicles which diffused this trait over most of Europe during the Late Bronze Age are called Urnfields cultures, which arose on the plain north of the Carpathians, from Silesia to the Ukraine. From this center they spread in all directions. Some went southward over the Alps to Italy, while cremation was introduced into Greece before the time of the Trojan war. From a secondary center of expansion in the Alpine highlands, a special Urnfields diffusion entered the British Isles as a major invasion.

For obvious reasons, the skeletal remains associated with the Urnfields cemeteries may be disposed of very briefly. Cremated bones which have survived the rite are usually so fragile that little in the way of racial identification has been attempted, although it has been shown by experiment that they shrink little or none in the fire.100 Those from the British Isles indicate in general that the invaders of this time may have been smaller and slighter than their predecessors. A small series of crania from southern England which escaped cremation were those of Alpines of the brachycephalic Lake Dwelling type,101 brought from the secondary Urnfields center in Switzerland. On the other hand, eight Late Bronze Age skulls from northwestern France102 are all meso- or dolichocephalic; and may have come directly from Germany with the vanguard of the Keltic migrations. Eight other skulls, from the Ukrainian Urnfields,103 are long headed, and similar to the immediately preceding "Nordic" type of the same region.

Some of the south Russian and Caucasian remains already studied are of Late Bronze Age date, as are those from Siberia, both having escaped cremation. The general time scale of cultural phenomena in central Asia as compared with Europe would indicate that important ethnic movements were not passing from east to west at that time. By the end of the Middle Bronze Age, the ethnic elements which were to form the population of Europe at the beginning of the Iron Age had all arrived; during the period of cremation, no new ingredients were added, but those already there participated in a considerable readjustment and recombination.


100. Movius, H. L., Jr., PRIA, vol. 61, 1934, pp. 282-283.

101. Keith, Sir A., JA, vol. 11, 1931, pp. 410-418.

102. Bouchet, Dr., Anth, vol. 16, 1905, pp. 309-316.
Piroutet, M., Anth, vol. 38, 1928, pp. 51-60.

103. Debetz, G., AntrK, vol. 4, 1930, pp. 93-105.