Photography that brings the past to life: the metal ages

Frank Wiersema. Frambozenmeisje

We traditionally devide prehistory into stone age, bronze age and iron age. In recent years, the picture becomes more and more clear on the cultural shifts that have been taking place around the transition from stone age to bronze age and iron age. Not only marks the late neolithic a change in cultural habits, the latest DNA research also shows that this is the time that light skin and blond hair make their appearence in this region, as opposed to the darker features of the population before, see the previous photoseries of the updated stone age pictures.

In this series of photos, we show various aspects of life in the metal ages.

Frank Wiersema.

Typical for the bronze age are the burial mounds, that give this culture it’s name “single grave culture”. These mounds are initially erected over a single grave (hence the name), presumably of an important figure. Burials could later be added. But cremations also started to come into fashion, ashes gathered in urns could for instance be placed in previously made burial mounds.

Archaeologists who excavated cremation sites have, through the way the burned bones were spread, been able to determine that people were cremated in a crouched position with the pyre being built up around them, much in the way that you see in this photographic rendering.

Frank Wiersema.

These burial practices give us important information about the social structures of this culture. Some persons getting an elaborate burial and others not, suggest a strong hierarchy within this society. This is quite the opposite of how it was in the preceding culture in the late stone-age. The Funnelbeaker people built impressive Hunebedden (dolmen) that served as communal graves; lots of people were buried in there over a long period of time – upto several hundred years. This suggests a more egalitarian clan-based social structure.

Frank Wiersema.

Winter is the time to make it cozy indoors. I read once in an ethnographic account from early last century about people up north in Scandinavia who still lived the traditional farmhouse lifestyle. They described winter as a season that they particularly enjoyed. You spend the rest of the year working hard to prepare, and in winter times you benefit from your hard labor by making yourself comfortable at home by the fireplace, telling each other stories while doing some handiwork, like weaving – yes, they had wool producing sheep from bronze age times on. Though far a apart in both time and place, this did rather change my perspective of getting through the harsh winter.

These farms in the bronze age are considerably larger in size then the farms in the stone age, with half of the farm compartmentalized for the cattle to live in and the other half for the family.

Frank Wiersema.

Lots of bronze age objects are deposited in wet places, like marshes, likely as offerings. This does not necessarily mean elaborate rituals. In this artistic rendering we chose to show an offering as an intimate and private affair.

Paths out of wooden planks were made through marshes, likely to give access to votive places. We suspect this, because a lot of objects are found clustered in specific places, suggesting that these places were meaningful. The structure in the background is Hunebedcentrums replica of a find that is named “temple”, found near Barger-Oosterveld, in Drenthe (NL), originally placed in marshland, that slowly turned to peat, preserving the wood. The original can be seen at Drents Museum.

Frank Wiersema.

There is a common theory among scholars that axes in the bronze age might have been used for chopping wood.

Frank Wiersema.

Typical for the iron age, is using the land in a rotational field system, meaning you farm a small (up to 50 x 50 meters) patch of land, next year moving to a next patch etc, leaving a patchwork of squares in the land that we can still recognize today. Even though the Celts were never in these parts, these typical patchworks are known as “Celtic fields”.

Frank Wiersema.

Check out this guys spiffy modern quern stone! Must have been a prized possession.

Frank Wiersema. Frambozenmeisje

Famous for the iron age are the so called bog bodies (veenlijken). People that ended up in the marshes were sometimes remarkably well preserved when the swamp turned to peat over the centuries. These bodies offer a rare window into the past, often raising even more questions than that they answer. Bog bodies often represent high status persons who met a violent death and were pinned down into the bog, hinting that there might have been truth to the rumors of the Romans about human sacrifice.

The preservation can in some case even allow for stomach contents to be analized. For instance a woman found near Zweelo, a ca 35 year old lady, elegantly dressed in linnen with a woolen shawl, had a last meal of porridge and had eaten a lot of berries shortly before death.


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