Stone Ships Give Clues To Bronze Age At Baltic Sea
March 21, 2013

Stone Ships Give Clues To Bronze Age At Baltic Sea

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Towns that revolved around their shipping industry in the Bronze Age immortalized their backbone to survival by creating stone ship monuments along the Baltic Sea region.

A new study suggests Bronze Age stone monuments in the form of ships were built by maritime groups as a symbol of their practices at sea.

Archaeologists have long thought these stone ships served as graves for one or several individuals, and have even been viewed as "death ships intended to take the deceased to the afterlife," says Joakim Wehlin from the University of Gothenburg and Gotland University.

However, Wehlin wrote in his thesis that these ships may have served another purpose, altogether.

"My study shows a different picture. It seems like the whole body was typically not buried in the ship, and some stone ships don't even have graves in them," Wehlin says. "Instead, they sometimes show remains of other types of activities. So with the absence of the dead, the traces of the survivors tend to appear."

He believes the stone ships and the activities that took place there point to people who were strongly focused on maritime practice. Details found within the stone structures show they were built to represent real ships. He says the stone ships offer up clues about the ship-building techniques of the time and about the ships that sailed on the Baltic Sea during the Bronze Age.

"These consist of areas that resemble hill forts and are located near easily accessible points in the landscape — that is, near well-known waterways leading inland," Wehlin said. "While these areas have previously been thought to be much younger, recent age determinations have dated them to the Bronze Age."

He says in the thesis that the importance of the Baltic Sea during the Scandinavian Bronze Age has been underestimated in previous studies.

Archaeologists have believed that bronze was imported to Scandinavia from the south, and recent analyses have helped confirm this notion. However, the people who distributed the bronze objects are rarely addressed in these thoughts.

"One reason why the meeting places of the Bronze Age are not discussed very often is that we haven't been able to find them," Wehlin said. "This is in strong contrast to the trading places of the Viking Age, which have been easy to locate as they left behind such rich archaeological material."

Findings published last year in the journal Scientific Reports have given more details about the trade connections in the Bronze Age. Researchers wrote about a piece of nettle cloth retrieved from Denmark's richest known Bronze Age burial mound, and found it may have derived from Austria. Discoveries like this help scientists today get a peek into what life was like thousands of years ago.