Sacrificial Sites: Sorunda and Turinge


Spring is late this year in Sweden, and the weather has been dreary. But now things have perked up, and suddenly I felt the itch to get out and check out some sites before the leaves and grass sprout in earnest and ruin visibility. So Sunday night I hurriedly checked through my database of Bronze Age sacrificial finds and picked out two nearby sites where the find spots are known to good precision. I printed out maps from the sites & monuments register and checked for coeval rock art & burnt mounds nearby. And I got the 1000 BC shoreline map for each site from the Swedish Geological Survey's web site. So I was set for a field trip Monday.

My first stop was at Rangsta in Sorunda parish on Södertörn, the large peninsula on whose north-eastern corner I have lived for most of my life. A small bronze spearhead was found there during tree planting in about 1955. It's similar to spearheads from Lilla Härnevi and the Pukbergsgrottan cave where I did fieldwork last year. The type isn't well dated as it rarely occurs in combination with anything else, but it's certainly Late Bronze Age (1100-500 BC) and probably after 900 BC or later.


The Rangsta find spot is on a rather steep westward slope towards a field that was dry land already in the LBA (note the collapsed elk hunting tower to the left). Across the valley floor is a hill top with a flat burial monument of similar date. Burnt mounds, cupmark sites and further stone settings are only 200-300 m away. That the spearhead has been sacrificed is not entirely clear - it may conceivably have been lost during combat - but the slope gradient is too steep for settlement or burial. And I'm seeing this funny recurring affinity between BA spearheads and hills. There's the one from the Pukberget cave, on a dramatic scarp, and one from a crevice on Oxbroberget Hill in Helgesta parish near Lake BÃ¥ven. They're centuries apart, but this is one of the site types for which I'm keeping my eyes open. Finally, in this part of Sweden, BA spearheads only have one of two kinds of find context: apparent sacrifice or simply decontextualised. They do not show up at settlement or grave excavations.

Roger Wikell actually happens to be re-surveying this very area for rock art right now along with S-G. Broström and K. Ihrestam. There's a major roadworks going on at Rangsta, and Roger & Co found some cupmarked outcrops just in time to document them but too late to save them from getting dynamited. After checking out one of the previously known nearby cupmark sites I drove down to Rangsta jetty and logged a geocache, and then drove to Södertälje for a quick lunch.

From Södertälje I drove west to Turinge and found the entrance to a network of narrow part-paved roads through an desolate area of pine woods interspersed with great big gravel quarries. I was on my way to a classic site, that of one of the Lake Mälaren/Hjälmaren region's largest Bronze Age hoards.

The hoard from Ekudden in Turinge parish consists of 58 bronze objects: axes, chisels, saws, a spearhead, various dress accessories and arm rings (pic above). It is extremely large not only for the region, but also for its EBA period III date (1300-1100 BC). The second-largest EBA hoard from the region has only seven objects (Tullinge in Botkyrka, also per. III). The Ekudden hoard was found in 1885 when a farmer dug a whole near the shore of Lake Yngern to bury a calf. The surface sheen of the bronze shows that the hoard was buried deeply enough to be sitting below the water table. A 1931 investigation of the site only turned up some flint - interesting given that the material does not occur naturally in the region, but not much to write home about compared to the hoard.

When I arrived at the site I found that it is currently the lakeside yard of a summer house. So I knocked on the door to ask for permission to wander around the property and take some pictures. The charming owners were very interested to learn about the hoard, about which nobody had ever told them in any detail. Not only did they readily give me access to their garden, but they also showed me around their house and asked if I wanted some Jerusalem artichokes, straight from their patch! Which of course I did.*


The hoard site is in a former field with clearance cairns along the edges. A rosehip bush sits in the approximate spot of that long-ago calf burial. A hill to the east has something the register classifies as a burnt mound at its apex, but the stones are not actually cracked, and the siting is odd, so I think it is more likely to be the beginnings of a burial cairn. A cool thing about Ekudden is that Lake Yngern (38 m a.s.l.) retains approximately the same shoreline as it did when the hoard was buried. And so its close relationship to open water is much easier to appreciate than at sites that were near the sea back in the day.

* I told them the tubers make a nice soup with cream and sherry or rice wine, and they told me they had a bottle of the most awful Chinese rice brandy, the infamous bai jiu, which had been given to them as a present. My buddy Magnus Reuterdahl, a wine connoisseur, has done some fieldwork in China. He tells me that when small-town Chinese bars offer a Western drink list, they don't actually use Western spirits, but bai jiu and flavoured syrups. The results are invariably disastrous, since bai jiu is very far indeed from a flavourless vodka.

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Warning: *Jerusalem artichokes* should be prepared alongside some specific herbs (I forgot which) to prevent flatulence. Herr Doktor Wiki quotes the reason for this as the presence of the substance inulin, which humans cannot easily metabolize.
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Will bronze be corrosion-proof even in contact with the present, more acidic groundwater?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 01 May 2012 #permalink

I believe the important thing about the bronze is the absence of oxygen. What happens if you place metal in an acid without access to oxygen?

I have always been lucky with landowners myself. Only once have I run into a hostile one. And that was kind of understandable: I had become confused about who owned a particular piece of land and sent a gang of metal detectorists onto his rapeseed field without asking his permission.

I have the idea that bronze was expensive 3 500 years ago so it could never have been the metal that organized armies. It was first when the iron came(1000 BC - 500 BC?) that we saw big armies and professional soldiers.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 01 May 2012 #permalink

Not all equipped with bronze armory? If true, I would like to learn more abot the logistics behind that.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 01 May 2012 #permalink

I think the officer class -or the private armies of feudal bigwigs- had bronze armour, the expendable posses called up for war probably had to make do with leather armour (I saw a documentary reconstructing Egyptian bronze-age armour). Bronze spearheads would have been necessary when facing well-organised opponents with bronze armour otherwise simple wooden spears might have been used. Bronze swords would probably have been out of reach for most. Late mycaenean paintings show soldiers in full body armour, like bronze-age hoplites.

Chronologically, the Assyrian expansion coincided with the early iron age, so I assume once iron became available it was cheap enough to equip the whole army. Overheating prevented "southerners" to don full hoplite armour, however.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 01 May 2012 #permalink

Interesant the relation between spears and hills

About descontextualized Weapons you would be interested in this slide-presentation, which compares this with some ancient & medieval sources, mostly legal:…

I've written some articles on the subject (also avaliables on academia) but unfortunately at this time still only in Spanish language (the slide-talk is the only translated version of that)

it is only a hypothesis, difficult to prove, but a hypothesis at less ;-)

A comment to comment 1 and 2:
What you need is a porbaix diagram, it will show you the likelyhood for the metal to corrode. In chemistry, a Pourbaix diagram, also known as a potential/pH diagram, maps out possible stable (equilibrium) phases of an aqueous electrochemical system. For bronze that would have to be a pourbaix diagram for a copper-tin system, if that is the alloy, (there can be other stuff in it too). Complicated redox reactions involved - both acidity and oxygene plays a role in them, (though the oxygene is "secondary"; oxidisation can create a protective layer on the metal - passivation). From wikipedia:
"A simplified Pourbaix diagram indicates regions of "Immunity", "Corrosion" and "Passivity", instead of the stable species. They thus give a guide to the stability of a particular metal in a specific environment. Immunity means that the metal is not attacked, while corrosion shows that general attack will occur. Passivation occurs when the metal forms a stable coating of an oxide or other salt on its surface, the best example being the relative stability of aluminium because of the alumina layer formed on its surface when exposed to air."

By Sara Fritsch (not verified) on 03 May 2012 #permalink

Thanks, Sara.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 03 May 2012 #permalink

My pleasure :) !! It´s the first time I`ve commented on a blogg, I´m still unused to this kind of information chanels - I´ve been a Mum the last 5 years - but it seems to be a great, and prestigeless, way to communicate. Feel free to contact me regarding questions about conservation, material decay etc. (At the moment I´m working at RAÃ, UV Väst, Mölndal). See you later!!

By Sara Fritsch (not verified) on 04 May 2012 #permalink

Welcome, Sara!
"great, and prestigeless" in SOME blogs. Beware of troll-infested waters!
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(OT) -Now, can we pleeease put the Heyerdahl ideas to rest?
"Blonde hair evolved more than once"
Alongside the Zimbabwe ruins, the blonde hair of various non-european peoples have triggered a lot of speculation about ancient visitors from The North.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 04 May 2012 #permalink

How can the rest of you ignore the most important information hinted at here?

There is a herb that can stop the farting from Jerusalem artichokes?

Though anything that potently antibacterial is probably a bad thing. Jerusalem artichokes are probiotic, meaning they feed your beneficial bacteria with that inulin carbohydrate that we can't digest.

Pat, here we go: "The Edible Garden - Fartichokes". How to cook Jersusalem Artichokes
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However, in regards to the problems of diet this pales to insignificance next to the troubles faced by shapeshifters from the Uberwald region.
"...Being vegetarian in daytime is nothing compared to the challenge of not becoming a humanitarian at night".

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 07 May 2012 #permalink