The Egtved Girl is one of the most famous figures from prehistory. She was a young woman who lived in the Nordic Bronze Age, around 3,400 years ago. Her well-preserved remains were discovered in a burial mound near Egtved, Denmark, in 1921. She was buried in an oak coffin, wrapped in an ox hide, and accompanied by a cremated child and various grave goods. Her outfit, which consisted of a short tunic and a corded skirt, was remarkably preserved and is considered a rare example of Bronze Age fashion. But how did she die? And what can her death tell us about her life and culture?
The Mystery of the Egtved Girl’s Death
The Egtved Girl’s death has puzzled researchers for decades. Her body showed no signs of injury or disease, and she seemed to be healthy and well-nourished. She was only 16 to 18 years old when she died, which was not unusual for the Bronze Age, but still raises questions about the cause and circumstances of her death.
One possible explanation is that she died of natural causes, such as an infection, a parasite, or a genetic disorder. However, none of these could be confirmed by the available evidence. Another possibility is that she died of unnatural causes, such as an accident, a murder, or a sacrifice. However, again, there is no direct proof of any of these scenarios.
Some clues about her death can be found in her burial context. She was buried in a prominent location, in a large mound that was visible from afar. She was buried with valuable items, such as bronze jewelry, a belt plate, and a comb. She was also buried with a child, who may have been related to her or may have been part of a ritual. These suggest that she was a person of high status and importance in her society, and that her death may have had some symbolic or religious significance.
Another clue about her death can be found in her isotopic analysis. Isotopes are variants of elements that have different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. By measuring the ratios of different isotopes in human tissues, such as teeth, bones, hair, and nails, researchers can infer information about the origin, diet, and mobility of ancient people.
According to Wikipedia, isotopic analysis of the Egtved Girl’s teeth, fingernails, hair, and clothing revealed that she had likely come from the Black Forest region of Germany, but married and moved to Denmark, subsequently traveling back and forth between the two areas. This indicates that she was part of a complex network of trade and exchange that connected different regions of Europe during the Bronze Age.
However, this interpretation has been challenged by more recent research. According to Forbes, Thomsen and Andreasen demonstrated in 2019 that the strontium isotopic data obtained from the area surrounding the grave and used by Frei et al for comparison against the remains had been contaminated by additional strontium contained in the agricultural lime used in modern farming in the Egtved area. This means that the original data may have been skewed and unreliable, and that the Egtved Girl may have been a local rather than a foreigner.
The Significance of the Egtved Girl’s Death
Regardless of the exact cause and origin of her death, the Egtved Girl’s death is significant for several reasons. First, it provides a rare glimpse into the life and culture of the Nordic Bronze Age people. The Egtved Girl’s burial reveals aspects of their social structure, gender roles, religious beliefs, artistic expression, and technological skills. The Egtved Girl’s outfit also shows their sense of style and identity.
Second, it illustrates the diversity and complexity of human history. The Egtved Girl’s death challenges the stereotypes and assumptions that we may have about prehistoric people. She was not a primitive or isolated person, but a sophisticated and connected one. She was not a passive or submissive person, but an active and influential one. She was not a forgotten or anonymous person, but a remembered and celebrated one.
Third, it inspires curiosity and imagination. The Egtved Girl’s death invites us to wonder about her life story. Who was she? What did she do? What did she think? What did she feel? What did she dream? The Egtved Girl’s death also invites us to reflect on our own mortality and legacy. How will we die? How will we be remembered? How will we live?
The Egtved Girl’s death is not only a historical fact, but also a human story. A story that connects us to our past, present, and future. A story that deserves to be told and heard.