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Personal equipment from Thorsberg bog (completed)

Dr. Ruth Blankenfeldt

Thorsberger Moor

A dissertation completed in September 2009 addresses the finds of personal equipment from the Roman Iron Age war booty site of Thorsberg Moor, Schleswig-Flensburg district, which between 1858 and 1861 was archaeologically investigated by the then director of the Flensburger Sammlung (Flensburg Collection), Conrad Engelhardt. Revisiting the findings of this early excavation has had the aim of assimilating them into present state of research relating to war booty offerings. In addition to the personal equipment, the harnesses from this find site were examined by N. Lau and the militaria by S. Matešić. Through integration of the studies of Thorsberg Moor into the international project ‘Jernalderen i Nordeuropa – 400 f.Kr. til 600 e.Kr.’ (Iron Age in Northern Europe – 400 BC until AD 600) funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, close links with other current projects were forged, which proved of great relevance for the interpretation of the finds dealt with here. In addition, there are close professional links with Dr A. Abegg-Wigg, Archäologisches Landesmuseum Schleswig, who is engaged in research into the Roman Iron Age cemetery of Neudorf-Bornstein, Rendsburg-Eckernförde district.

In addition to costume elements, in the form of fibulas and belt ornaments, everyday items, body jewellery and various small personal items were also included in the definition of personal objects. These artefacts, the style of which was strongly dependant on the tastes and fashions of the time and the technical skill of the craftsmen, were subjected to extensive archaeological-historical analysis.

The aim was to obtain as precise information as possible concerning the number and extent of offerings performed here, and their date. As further indications of the deposition of individual artefacts during the Early Roman Iron Age a total of three depositions of war booty can be defined at Thorsberg Moor. The first offering took place at the beginning of the Late Roman Iron Age, in which the warriors represented originated from Continental European areas comprising both the Elbe-Germanic and the Przeworsk regions. The most extensive amount of war booty reached Thorsberg Moor at a time corresponding to weapon combination group 6, i.e. the period around AD 220-250. In this, the Elbe-Germanic provenance is very prominent, but also Northern German and Jutlandic influences, as well as elements from the Danish islands, are to be noted in the finds. These observations can be explained through the existence of alliances between social units of different origin but also through various cultural parallels, as can be attested with respect to the repeatedly observed coincidences in the Funen and Holstein form spectra. The final offering took place at Thorsberg Moor in the first half of the 4th century AD. Here, a Scandinavian element prevails in the findings, suggesting an origin for the warriors in Southeast- or Southern Sweden or the Danish islands.

Fund aus Thorsberg

With the inclusion of two gold-plated ornamental discs and a gold-plated sheet, exceptional items of luxury equipment were also involved in the analyses of personal objects from Thorsberg Moor. These provide few indications of chronological and chorological relationships but do constitute the starting point for a consideration of Germanic art during the Roman Iron Age, its motivation and the range of its available motifs during the first centuries AD. Collectively, early evidence of Germanic art represents a conglomerate of various influences. Traditions from the Pre-Roman Iron Age elements or borrowed from, for example Celtic art, are slender. In contrast, links with Roman images stand out clearly. These attain a tangible form in the quadruple image of the war god Mars seen on one of the two ornamental discs. Roman roots are indirectly apparent in animal friezes such as those seen on the second ornamental disc and the curved sheet. Furthermore, the ornamental discs and the curved sheet cannot merely be interpreted, on the basis of the valuable material used in their manufacture, as figuratively decorated status symbols. These pieces communicate a message of supra-regional recognition, coupled with the individuality of the person who commissioned them and the craftsman or craftsmen who made them.

Between 2005 and 2008 the research presented in this dissertation formed part of the project ‘Zwischen Thorsberg und Bornstein. Historische Archäologie im Landesteil Schleswig als Instrument für Weiterbildung, Forschung und Präsentation’ (Between Thorsberg and Bornstein. Historical archaeology in the province of Schleswig as an instrument for further education, research and presentation) and was integrated in the funding from the European Social Fund.

The dissertation will be subjected to editorial revision and published as a monograph in the series on Thorsberg Moor (volume 3).

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