Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Tollense battle

A few weeks ago someone wrote this comment on my post about knobsticks:

"One of the knobsticks found in the Tollense River is actually made from blackthorn (sloe) wood (Prunus spinosa)! A remarkable resemblance to the Irish tradition. "

I had no idea what this person was talking about. I never heard of Tollense river before. So I decided to investigate the whole thing. It turned out Tollense river was a site of a big battle which took place around 1200 BC. But was this battle a clash of two armies, or an attack on a caravan traveling along the ancient Amber road?

 This is Tollense valley, a river valley located in western Pomerania. 

According to reports in the German media, human remains from the Bronze Age have been found in this region since 1997. Horse bones have also been found in the same archaeological layer. Many human bones showed signs of serious injury and violent death. But then a  humerus (upper arm) bone was found which contained a flint arrowhead firmly embedded into it. 

This pointed to a possibility that this area of the Tollense river valley was a site of an ancient battle and that the bones belonged to the battle victims. A serious archaeological study of the river valley started in 2008 and it narrowed down the possible battle site to an area of two square kilometers. 

As well as the humerus (upper arm) bone with the embedded flint arrow head, archaeologists have found other proofs that other people have also died in the same area of the violent death. Many bones discovered at the site contain lesions which were produced by blows and many were broken. A scull was found with a bronze arrowhead found firmly embedded into it, penetrating the scull and entering the brain. 

Until now 25 socketed bronze arrowheads were detected which occur in clusters especially where human and horse bones also come to light. In conclusion there is little doubt that the remarkable number of these bronze projectile points and the bones belong to the same find.

Also several fractured skulls were  unearthed which have all the characteristics of the impact trauma suggesting that the fractures were made by a massive blows with blunt weapons. 

The archaeologists have found remains of several wooden clubs, of which some were shaped like baseball bats and were made of ash wood, and some were shapes like croquet mallets and were made of sloe (black thorn) wood. 

Both types of these battle sticks are also found in the Irish arsenal of knobsticks. You can see the mallet shaped Irish knobstick, third from the left. It is also made from the black thorn wood.

It is now estimated that about 200 people died in this small area of the Tollense valley. And based on the forensic evidence, it is believed that these people were murdered. Originally it was believed that it was possible that these people were ritually killed and sacrificed, but it is now believed that it is much more probable, considering all the weapons found on the site, that all these people were killed in some kind of a battle. A battle which was fought with wooden blunt weapons (clubs), arrows with flint arrowheads and bronze arrowheads, spears with bronze spear tips, axes with bronze axe heads, bronze swords and knives, all of which were found in the area. 

All these findings were possible due to the preservation of the former swamp ground and the fact that the Tollense has never really changed its course. Since the population density then was about 5 people per square kilometer, this would have been the most significant battle in bronze period Germany yet to be discovered. And one of the earliest battle sites discovered in Europe to date. Based on the radiocarbon dating this battle took place some time between 1300 bc and 1200 bc, but closer to 1200 bc. 

So who fought this battle in which so many people were killed? Well this is still a mystery. The injuries suggest face-to-face combat in a battle. Most archaeologists agree that this battle was fought between two warring tribes. But I have my doubts about this. And this is why. 

Most of the bodies appeared to be young men. This would indeed suggest that the people who were killed were indeed warriors belonging to two warring armies. But not all bodies are those of the young men. Many bones belonged to young women. Fair enough they could also have been warriors. The same can be said for middle aged men whose bones were also found at the site. But the bones were also discovered which belonged to old women and young children. These were definitely not warriors. And armies are unlikely to contain among their ranks young children and old women. What if an army of one tribe attacked a settlement of another tribe. There sure could have been some civilians, even old women and children which were caught and killed in the conflict. But no settlement was found anywhere near the battle scene. So what were all these people doing fighting in the middle of nowhere? What were they fighting over? A swamp? A field? If the population density was really that small at the time of the battle, there was plenty of space for everyone, so what were these people fighting over? The place where the battle took place is a very very unlikely place for a battle between the two armies to take place. 

Does that mean that I believe that there was no battle? No, I believe that there was a battle, but that this was not a war, but a heist, an armed robbery. I believe that what happened in Tollense valley was an attack of an armed gang on a caravan. 

Caravan is a group of people and their transports (Horses, Camels, Mules, ..., Cars, Trucks) which moving together and transfer cargoes. The reason why people would travel in caravans is because they offer protection in numbers. A lone traveler, particularly if he is carrying anything valuable is an easy target for robbers and wild animals. A group of people traveling together is much more difficult to attack particularly if they are armed and or have armed guards traveling with them. The more valuable the cargo carried by the caravan, the more armed guards the caravan would have to insure the security of the cargo. Caravans can be ad hock or regular caravans going along the predetermined route at predetermined intervals. Additional travelers would often attach themselves to caravans for protection. This could make caravans quite large and it they could grow until sometimes hundreds of people would end up traveling together. Caravans have been used for millenniums during which they didn't change much. This is an engraving of a medieval Persian caravan

You can see travelers protected by armed guards, of which some are cavalry armed with spears and probably swords and some are foot soldiers armed with bows and arrows. Travelers are also either traveling on horseback or are walking next to their horses which are carrying saddlebags full of cargo. I believe that this is the exact type of caravan that was attacked by a band of armed robbers in the Tollense valley some time between 1300 bc and 1200 bc. 

Do we have any evidence that the Tollense battle was indeed an attack on a caravan? I believe we do. The archaeological reports say that "the evidence was also found among the human remains of a millet diet, which is not typical of Northern Germany at the time, which may indicate the presence of invaders. Bronze pins of a Silesian design which were also found on the site could suggest contact with the Silesian region 400km to the south-east". So the idea is that invaders came from Silesia and attacked locals in Pomerania. I agree that some people involved in the battle at the Tollense valley were from Silesia, but I don't agree that they were invaders. I believe that they were traders, and more specifically metal, tin and bronze traders. It was these Silesian metal traders who were traveling in a caravan protected by the armed guards, which were attacked by a gang of robbers. And these robbers attacked the caravan precisely because it was carrying the most precious metal of the bronze age: tin. 

Do we have any proof that the people who fought the battle in the Tollense valley carried with them tin ingots? Yes we do. Among the bones and weapons archaeologists have also found several gold spiral rings and bronze spiral rolls,  a small bronze finger-ring, a bronze arm ring and most importantly tin spiral ring ingots. 

Gold rings:

Tin spiral ring ingots and bronze spirals:

These are extremely unlikely things to be found in the equipment of a warrior belonging to an invading army. But they would be exactly the kind of things that you would find in the saddle bags of a metal trader. Archaeologists are extremely excited about these finds. Because preservation of prehistoric tin is very difficult, the raw material remains more or less invisible in the archaeological find record. There are no comparable tin objects available from northern Germany.

In the Bronze Age tin was a raw material of fundamental importance. Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12% tin and often with the addition of other metals (such as aluminium, manganese, nickel or zinc) and sometimes non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or silicon. But the most important element in this mixture is tin. No tin - no bronze, no bronze - no bronze weapons. Copper itself is too soft and mixed with other elements too brittle. But copper mixed with tin will give you the bronze alloy which is just right for making blades. So to make bronze you need copper and tin. Copper is not a problem. There are huge copper deposits all over Europe. But tin is another story. Tin is an extremely rare raw material in Europe. This is why tin was during the Bronze Age more valuable than gold. This is why we don't find more bronze age tin objects. All the tin was used to make bronze. The most important prehistoric sources of tin were  Brittany in western France, Cornwall in south western England and the northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula. And Erzgebirge (Ore Mountain) area in eastern Germany. And guess what is just next to the Ore Mountains, the most important continental European source of Tin and Copper? Silesia. 

This is the position of the Ore Mountains in South of Germany. You will see that they are located right next to Silesia.

The Ore Mountains area played an important role in contributing Bronze Age ore, and as the setting of the earliest stages of the early modern transformation of mining and metallurgy from a craft to a large-scale industry. This is because the Ore mountains are extremely rich in both tin and copper as well as silver and led ores. No wonder this area was the place where as early as 2500 BC we find highly developed mining industry. Tin mining knowledge spread to other European tin mining districts from Erzgebirge and evidence of tin mining begins to appear in Brittany, Devon and Cornwall, and in the Iberian Peninsula around 2000 BC.

Not only that but the Ore Mountains were rich in ore necessary for making bronze, but the surrounding mountain area was covered in ancient forests which provided endless easily obtainable fuel for smelting the metal, while the river valleys just south, north and east of the mountains were ideal for growing cereals. Everything a metallurgical culture needed to develop was there concentrated in this one small area. No wonder that just after the 2500 BC in this area we see emergence of the Unetice culture. The Unetice culture is the most important archaeological culture of the Central European Bronze Age, dated roughly to about 2300–1600 BC. The eponymous site for this culture, village Únětice, is located in Central Czech Republic, northwest of Prague, just under the Ore Mountains in the fertile cereal growing country. The culture quickly spread to all the areas surrounding the Ore mountains. Today this archaeological culture is known from Czech Republic and Slovakia from approximately 1400 sites, from Poland (550 sites, Silesia) and Germany (approximately 500 sites and loose finds locations). The Unetice culture is also known from north-eastern Austria (in association with the so-called the Böheimkirchen Group), and from western Ukraine. This is the map of Unetice culture sites and their relationship with the Ore Mountains and Silesia.

Here is another map of the distribution of the Unetice culture from Eupedia website which might give even better idea how central the Ore Mountains were for the development of this culture:

The Únětice culture is commonly associated with Nebra Sky Disk.

But Unetice culture is also associated with another type of artifact: ingot torcs. Ingot torcs are torcs made from tin and bronze intended for trading as raw metal. This is an example of Unetice ingot torc from Silesia:

And here is a bronze bracelet from Unetice culture which looks exactly like the Tollense tin spiral rings:

The Únětice culture had trade links with the British Isles. A gold lunula of Irish design has been found as far south as Butzbach in Hessen (Germany). Amber was traded as well. But the most important trade item I believe was tin, copper and bronze. The tin from the Ore Mountains was traded north to the Baltic Sea and south to the Mediterranean following the Amber trading route.

Amber trading route was an ancient travel and trade rout which connected Balkan and Baltic from at least early Neolithic. It mostly fallowed the river valleys radiating north and south from the area between the Ore Mountains and Silesia. This area is very peculiar. It is a watershed. Just above it we have three major rivers, Laba (Elbe), Oder and Visla (Vistula) flowing into the Baltic and North sea. Just below it we have river Danube which flows into the Black sea and whose tributaries start at the watersheds with Adriatic and Aegean sea (Sava, Morava, Drina) and from which we can follow Neretva river into Adriatic sea and Vardar river into the Aegean sea.

Please note that on the above map the territories of Unetice culture and Lusatian culture are very similar. This is not a coincidence. They both cover the same area defined by the three major Baltic rivers Laba (Elbe), Oder and Visla (Vistula). This shows that both cultures were oriented towards the South Baltic and the North sea as their main Maritime trade gate. The control over these three rivers was crucial to ensure the movement of goods and people from the area around the Ore Mountains and the South Baltic and North sea coast.

So this trade route connected Balkan and Baltic. And it didn't stop at the coast of Balkans either. It continued from north Italy to Corsica and Sardinia, and from the Balkans across the Dardanelles to Asia Minor and then to Middle East and Egypt. But this trade route did not stop at the coast of the South Baltic and North Sea. From there it continued over the sea to Britain and Ireland and further down to Brittany and Iberia.

And bang in the middle of this most important European trade route we find a rich copper, tin and wood deposits right next to the fertile agricultural land. It is then no wonder that in the 3rd millennium BC this area underwent technological, economic, political and population boom and the emergence of the Metallurgical Unetice culture.

The new study of the Únětice Culture done by Dalia Pokutta aimed to produce a ‘bioarchaeological portrait’ of the Únětice culture in Poland (Silesia). The study presents the subject from a palaeodemographic perspective based on the results of isotopic analysis of human remains dating back to the Early Bronze Age (2200-1600 B.C).

‘It is the biggest isotopic project undertaken in Poland so far. Hundreds of samples were analysed, not only human bones, but also animals. Total of fifty human remains were analysed. The author focused on the Early Bronze Age lifestyle, medical knowledge and diseases, occupations and professions, as well as chosen subgroups of the Silesian prehistoric society, such as the tribal aristocracy, children and elders. The study provides information regarding diet and subsistence, transportation, human migrations and territorial mobility as well as the impact of these factors upon Úněticean society, expansion of metallurgy and commerce, forms of rulership and collective identity.

One of the leading conclusions is a very high level of territorial mobility of the prehistoric population in Silesia, with presence of immigrants from Germany, Czechia, Hungary and Sweden. This confirms that the area around the Ore mountains, became due to its economic prosperity, a magnet for traders, soldiers and all sorts of other people from along the Amber trading route.

This movement of people along the Amber trading route only intensified in the following millenniums during the Bronze Age. Unetice Culture was replaced by the Tumulus Culture and then by the Urnfield Culture. When the Tollense battle happened, the whole area above Silesia and between the rivers Laba (Elbe) and Visla (Vistula), Including the Tollense valley, was part of the Lusatian culture (pink on the map), which is regarded as part of the Urnfield culture.

The Lusatian culture existed in the later Bronze Age and early Iron Age (1300 BCE – 500 BCE) in most of today's Poland, parts of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, parts of eastern Germany and parts of Ukraine.

The Lusatian culture was heavily influenced by the west-alpine and Hallstatt cultures. Metalwork technologies were imported from the South via the Laba (Elbe), Oder and Visla (Vistula) river. From where? From the area of the Ore Mountains and Silesia. Numerous archaeological findings of imported Scandinavian products prove contacts to Nordic Bronze Age peoples. So we can see that the Amber trading route is still operational. 

And here is something that beggars belief:

The archaeologists agree he spiral rings like those from Tollense valley have general parallels in younger context (Unetice) and this long-lived type of objects supports the idea that they may have functioned as ingots. The archaeologists believe that the Tollense valley tin rings provide evidence for the trade and transport of tin in small standardised units suitable for ad hock small scale use.  So the archaeologists agree that these are trade ingots. But guess what? Archaeologists "don't know where these tin ingots came from" !?

They know that at least some people involved in the Tollense battle came from south of Germany, more precisely from Silesia. They know that Silesia has been for at least 1000 years an important metallurgical center. They know that Silesia is located next to the biggest tin mine in continental Europe. They know that the Tollense river valley is located between Laba (Elbe) and Oder rivers, bang on the Amber trading route, which was used for transporting tin and bronze from the area of the Ore mountains to the South Baltic coast for at least one thousand years. And the archaeologists still don't know where did the tin come from?

What do you think is the most probable source of tin ingot torcs found on the Tollense valley battlefield?  And do you still believe that this was a battle between the invading Silesians and the locals? 

This is what I think happened in Tollense valley. A caravan transporting large quantities of tin and other metals was moving from Laba (Elbe) valley, probably from a harbor or a large settlement. The metal came from Silesia, the area around Ore mountain. The caravan had many people, traders and other travelers and many pack animals. It moved along Tollense river, then along Peene river towards Oder river, probably towards another harbor or a settlement. Of it could have been moving in the opposite direction. The caravan was protected by armed guard which consisted of both horsemen and infantrymen. These soldiers were either traveling with the caravan from Silesia or were assigned to the caravan at a port somewhere in Laba (Elbe) valley. This was a normal practice since the first caravans started crisscrossing the world. One of the most important duties of any country was always to protect its roads and in this way allow free movement of people and goods. These guards were armed with bronze weapons: arrows with bronze arrowheads, bronze spears, axes, swords, daggers...In Silesia bronze was common and cheep so it is to be expected that the Silesians were armed with bronze weapons. The caravan was attacked by a gang or even a small marroding army which probably came from the north west, probably from the Jutland peninsula or even further north or from across Laba (Elbe) river. These people were armed with more primitive weapons, arrows with flint arrowheads, wooden spears and wooden clubs. Denmark and Sweden have huge flint deposits so it is quite possible that the attackers came from there. The attackers, who probably outnumbered the people in the caravan, waited hidden for the caravan to appear and launched a surprised attack from the forest which surrounded the river. They first pelted the caravan with arrows, targeting the mounted soldiers first. This is why we have dead people mixed with dead horses. Remember the clustered bronze arrowheads mixed with human and horse bones? Were they the arrows which the horsemen never got to take out of their quivers? I believe that the arrows with the bronze arrowheads were fired by mounted archers. The  proof for that is the bronze arrowhead which was found embedded in a scull. This arrowhead could only have been fired from a position above the head, which would indicate that the archer was on a horseback. Also the flint arrowhead which was found embedded in a humerus (upper arm) bone is embedded under such angle that the shot must have come from below, meaning that the arrow was fired by a foot soldier shooting a mounted warrior. Anyway what happened then was the attackers sprayed all the other people from the caravan with arrows. The arrows were fired from the other side too. Then the frontal assault ensued which resulted in hand to hand battle. Who won? That is difficult to say. It is most probable that the attackers won. The number of dead would suggest that this is what happened. The attackers killed all the people from the caravan, collected all the metal, metal armor and weapons and other valuables and remaining pack animals and returned back to wherever they came from. Whatever was left on the scene is whatever they missed. They left all the dead Silesians where they fell. They maybe even left their own dead at the scene if their losses were great, or they could have carried their dead with them or burned them and carried the ashes or buried the ashes somewhere in the area. 

And this is it. This is my interpretation of what happened in Tollense valley. It is based on archaeological data currently available from the site. This can of course all change in the future with new discoveries and my story could become just a failed speculation. But for now I believe that this is much better interpretation of the events than the official one. What do you think? 


  1. Yes! Excellent reconstruction. The movement of peoples and caravans along rivers is so ancient, I think we can take it as an anthropological given. An ambush, as you described, is the most likely explanation.

    I would like to know more about the makers of the ingots.

  2. Excellent work. A great crafting of a narrative that makes sense from a variety of evidence to make the forces behind that society make sense.

  3. Thank you all guys for your kind comments.

    This comment was posted on a wrong post. It should have been posted here, so I will copy it here and reply to it.

    Q:That's an interesting and well told story, Andrew. I was unaware of this blog until now but it looks like you're doing a good job here. One question: if the metal comes from the Ore or Herz Mountains, why do you emphasize Silesia so much? I fear I did not understand that part

    A: Bronze pins of a Silesian design were found in Tollense valley among the bones and bronze weapons. The millet diet was characteristic not only for Southern Germany at the time but for the whole region around the Ore Mountains. Including Silesia. Silesia was a major part of both Unetice and Lusatian culture. I believe that metal objects were made not on Ore mountains but in settlements which were located around the mountains, like in Silesia. Silesia lies on all three main Baltic rivers wich positions it as the most logical trade gateway to South Baltic from the Ore mountain area...

    The people I call Silesians could have been, and probably were a mix or many people from around the Ore mountains and maybe even from far afield, as the population migration study shows. But I had to call them something... :)

  4. Hi
    "...Laba (Elbe), Oder and Vistula"
    Vistula is the Latin name of Wisła (pol.) river.

    1. And the German name is 'Weichsel' ...

  5. "The proof for that is the bronze arrowhead which was found embedded in a scull. This arrowhead could only have been fired from a position above the head, which would indicate that the archer was on a horseback. Also the flint arrowhead which was found embedded in a humerus (upper arm) bone is embedded under such angle that the shot must have come from below, meaning that the arrow was fired by a foot soldier shooting a mounted warrior."
    This is one possible explanation.
    I do not know if you shoot with a bow, but it is also a weapon for shooting at long range.
    We do not know what arches were used, but these were not longbows ;-), so the effective range of destruction was not too big, probably 30-40 meters. It is therefore possible that fired on such a distance, and then the flight path is pointed arch. Then you get an arrow in the head just from the top. At a short distance you would have been hit rather facial part of the head. Especially if you have to look up to strike the rider, because I do not think that you looked at the horses' hooves ;-). Take a broomstick and try to attack the ceiling lamp, and you'll see what I mean ;-) .
    If the escorts shot also shows that it was impossible to kill all at the first attack, and it shows, however, the distance between the two sides.
    There is also the possibility that fired also from "cars", which is a better " protection than the horseback. Especially since it was attacked by the river, and so probably from one side, from the forest.
    Rogue attack was not a duel, or rather slaughter, and then counts the effectiveness of the attack, and not sublime art of striking. A blow from the bottom to the top is not necessarily equivalent to an attack on the cavalry. If you want to blow from the top down, somebody else can blow to your raised arm.
    These events are dynamic, so there are many possibilities, but your text is very, very good. Congratulations.

    1. Jarpol thanks for your comment. I did think of these scenarios. First the carts or chariots theory. This is possible. But the terrain along the river is said to be swampy so not really the place for wheeled vehicles. Also carts are normally pulled by oxen and no oxen bones were found, but horses. If any form of transportation would have been used in this area that would have been dugout boats...But the problem is that there were so many dead on land....

      I did do some messing with arrows both when I was a kid and later when I was researching hafting of flint arrowheads. My bows were probably as primitive as the one used in Tollense valley, and I can tell you you need to be quite close to the target to be able to inflict any real damage. And you have to shoot straight at the target, particularly moving target, particularly moving target which is going towards you if you want to hit it. Shooting up in the air and arrows hitting target while in a downward curve is a Hollywood invention. This is real archery in battle situations:

      As for the angle of the bronze arrow, you are right, it should have been embedded into a face if the arrow was shot at the attacker who was attacking the archer. But I believe that the archer was behind the first line of defense shooing at attackers fighting other infantry defenders. This is why the entry point is at the side of the scull.

      The flint arrow is much better proof of the elevated position of the bronze archer. Again this is an arrow shot from the side, from the blind angle, and from a lower position, and this is why the arrow entered the bone where it entered...Again the bronze archer could have been on a cart, but because of the terrain I doubt it...

    2. Jaropl. I don;'t think you ever shot a composite bow or did horsearchery didn't you? I have a composite bow that does 250 yards with an 800 grains arrow. It massively outguns a longbow. So i think your 30-40 meters effective destructive range is a bit underrated to my opinion. In Horse archery however, in most cases you don't make long shots, but make a sweep, relying on the speed of your horse, and shoot from quite up close, perhaps even up to point blank. The level of penetration on the skull indicates that this was a shot from close up. Not a longrange shot from way up into the sky. I go for the horse archery option. The guy might already have been down.. And in battle, it is a wise decision to make sure that he stays down.

    3. The horse archer rides by.. Blasts his opponent from closeby into the head , and rides on. That is to me the most probable scenario.

    4. I think this is perhaps from an era before true compositing techniques had penetrated that far into Northern/NW Europe. The technique(s) had been long since developed in N. Africa and Asia but off the top of my head I cannot recall the first instances of such in the territory in question.

  6. Hello
    1.Even the best "toy" will always less efficient than the simplest, but the true weapons. If guards to protect the caravan was professional, certainly used the professional weapons. Perhaps the best of the available on the "market". If the riders were using bows, bows probably need to "be handy", and therefore shorter, which does not mean that less effective.
    What the arrow flight path ?
    Take also into account that an effective wound is one that eliminates from combat, it is not necessarily be shot in the head. I think that during the violent struggle not have the time to measure to the head, the body is more surface area, which is easier to hit.
    If you are a good archer at the time of minutes you can shoot a few times, each time changing the trajectory of the arrow depending on how far away are your target.
    But everything depends on the distance and time to react.
    2.It seems to me that on this table ( you checked Warta river (second from right) not Odra.If you mean on the river Oder, then you probably to do a small correction.
    Best Jarek
    Sorry for my english, but I'm already too old to learn now :-)

    1. Thanks Jaropl. I agree with you. You would target the body not the head. The head shot was probably a chance hit.

      As for the river Oder here is the map of pomeranian rivers. Oder is marked:

      And don't worry about your English...It is great.

  7. Cześć
    I live here, so I know which river on the map is Odra and which is Warta ;-) .
    Your blog is professional and this is only an particular, but if you to write in the main thread about the Oder river, and on (the only this one map) is checked Warta, it can be confusing. Check it at an atlas with maps.
    Warta is a tributary of Odra, however, it is also third in terms of the length the river in Poland and flows between the Wisła and Odra.
    Best Jarek

    1. Ok so that is where the confusion lies. Thanks Jarek.

  8. It's very good and interesting blog, and this post is particularly! Thanks for your study! But I want to ask you. Why do you refuse a version of invasion? I suppose the attackers could be invaders. 13th century BC is the final stage of Bronze Age. After 1200 BC happens the Bronze Age collapse. The Iron Age starts. The large changes come over the life of the people. At this time Egypt is subjected the Sea Peoples' numerous invasions. At this time Hittite Empire has fallen. These days are time of Dorian invasion in Greece, and time of vanishing of other Mediterranean states and nations. All of these ancient states used bronze, and therefore they were in need of tin. Egyptian traders bought the tin of persian deposits. But at 13th century many peoples of ancient Middle East were at enmity with each other, that made much more difficulties to trade the tin. But there were another tin sources - it's in Europe. Thus, european tin mining became much more important for all metallurgical centers of Mediterranean sea area. Therefore, some folks were be forced to fight for tin deposits or tin trade routs. Quite perhaps, some of peoples or tribes went along the routes to capture control of sources and commercial relations in region. I want to remind that about 600 BC arose the Jastorf culture, which admittedly is proto-germanic culture and the center of expansion movement of germanic tribes. I suggest this culture were developing during some centuries before it became what it became. So, maybe did these attackers were a pre-Jastorf migration group? For example they were from Balkans, or from Danube valley, or from Illiric region, or another area which would be dependent on tin, or bronze, or tin/bronze trade. What do you think about? Could they be the invaders?

    P.S. thank for post again. =)

    1. Hi Aleksandar

      Thank you for your comment. Yes it seems that most people see this as a proof of an invasion. The main theory is that this was a battle between the two armies. However the demographics of the victims and the presence of trade goods are against this hypothesis. It is possible that this could be a beginning of the movement of the Northerners into the central Europe. As you say the power of the late Bronze Age empires was waning and it is possible that the northerners saw their chance to plunder the rich area controlled by the same people who controlled the ore mountains. All invasions start with opportunistic raids and only develop into full blown invasions if the resistance is deemed week enough. I thought that there was a possibility that it was not a caravan that was attacked, but a raiding party which attacked one of the nearby settlements. It would have been going home carrying loot and slaves when it was attacked by the army on a rescue mission. But the fact that there were old women and young children among the dead is against this hypothesis. These are not your typical "valuable slaves" worth dragging along. So again I believe that the only explanation so far that fits the archaeological data is an attack of the raiding party on a caravan.

      I also believe that the attack definitely came from the north. If the attackers came from the south they would have had to go through the densely populated territory controlled by the same people who controlled the tin mines in the ore mountains. These guys had a well equipped army at their disposal and the attackers would have been spotted and faced much earlier. Also if this was an invasion that was directed at capturing tin resources and which came from the south, it would have no reason to go all the way up to the South Baltic. All they had to do was capture the rich Silesia and the mines district. The south Baltic was only important if you were transporting goods via Baltic and North Sea to Scandinavia, France or Britain and Ireland or to Volga basin. South Baltic was strategically important but not rich.

      Also Bronze age didn't really end in the second millennium. Depends which territory you are looking at. The north of Europe was very late to enter both Bronze and Iron Age compared to the South of Europe and Middle East.

      So I believe that this is still an open discussion. Until more data arrives.

    2. I must turn your attention to some problmes - 1) till this moment only 3-5 % of area of Tollense Valley Batlle was discoverd, so You couldn't say that only 200 people were killed during this battle. 2) After Unietic Culture was Prelustitian Culture and that was the time of Tollense Valley batlle 3) One of the biggest tin mines was on the area of Rudawy 4) Wenedian people controled market of tin during the ages (and maybe their ancesors till the time of the Unietic Culture... (look on the map of Bronze Age) 5) This is a hipotese that The Tollense Valley Battle was a Troy Battle,9989/k,3. Sincerelly Your Herkimer

    3. There are publications hinting to genetic background of the Tollensetal battle victims. I wonder if the victims of flint projeciles differ from the victims of bronze tipped wapons.
      Also, I did not find any data about the horse bones found there. At that time no saddle, no stirrups were known yet, so were these mounts, chariot animals, pack carriers or sacrificial objects? The battle was contemporary to Kadesh, did the horses differ?

    4. Olivander raised really important questions. Does anyone know about any publication on haplogroups found on this battlefield?

    5. Scandinavian (Danish and Swedish), Polish and southern Europe (Italians and maybe Greek) according to some sources.

      Maybe lack of Germanic traces prevents a proper revealing of the results? (joke)

  9. Thanks for an answer! I’m absolutely agree with you. Bronze Age begins in Central and Northern Europe some later than it begins on Southern Europe and Mediterranean Sea areas. But there bronze finds is not such frequently unlike it is in Mediterranean Sea area. It means that all social and civilizational processes were developing slower including a changing of Bronze and Iron ages. Nevertheless, a fall of ancient Mediterranean states had impacted on other metallurgical centers of Europe. This had changed life of whole continent.
    About the caravan. Yes, I'm agree it was the trade caravan of Ore mountains natives. But they could just flee from invaders who have destroyed their settlement. The thing is this. Somewhen I studied distribution of haplogroups of population of pre-historic Europe. Now I'm meaning Y-chromosome DNA haplogroups only. There is some group - haplogroup I, which is divided into two groups - I1 and I2. I1 there is in Scandinavia. I2 there is in Balkan mountain area. If you look at map of distribution of these groups you will see this.

    ( )

    It seems like these two related groups were cut off from each other by something sort of an another group migration wave. The wave from East or South-East. Remains of people of haplogroups I1 and I2 are found among burials of some metallurgical cultures. One of such finds is grave of Lengyel culture (5000 – 3400 BC). Lengyel's remains was of the I2 group. Lengyel culture area there is on territory of Silesia and Ore mountains:

    ( )

    Further on this territory arises Corded Ware Culture(3400-2800 BC). This does have a really large area! Just like you said about the social, trade and other activities.

    ( )

    Then this area becomes an area of Unetice culture (2300 - 1600 BC)

    ( )

    Meanwhile, between 2500 BC and 1700 BC peoples of R1 haplogroups had passed through out these lands. It was a final significant migration. But then, exactly at 13th-12th century, new processes begun. Peoples started moving. We don't see new haplogroups and that means it was the same peoples. Evidence of this is Dorian invasion in Greece (13th-12th c. BC) and emergence of Proto-Villanovan culture in Italy (12th-11th c. BC). Proto-Villanovan is related to Urnfield culture which placed in Europe, including in Silesia, at period 14th-8th c. BC.

    This is why I think that the attackers quite could be invaders, and the caravan was really caravan. The caravan of people who tried to survive after aggression of invaders. It's just my guess.

    1. Aleksandar, you are right. Something happened that caused a collapse of the Bronze Age Europe around the year 1200 bc. I believe that there was a huge movement of people coming from the north and moving south. I believe that this could have been triggered by a catastrophic climatic event which affected agriculture in the north of Europe the most. People started moving down south to escape famine. I will write about it one of my future posts. And i agree this could have been a refuge caravan. As for the genetic data, it seems that I2 and particularly I2a haplogroup is popping up in all the early metallurgical centers. I believe that this is very significant and can lead us to the determining of the identity of the Vinca people...But more about this in another post. :)

    2. Yes, it's probably that I-haplogroups belonged to people of ancient civilization discovered the bronze secret. I will be await your new posts, thanks! :)


  11. Nice interpretation of the findings but I think meanwhile it has become clear that the dimension of the battle has been much too large for a simple raid of a tribal group against a more or less randomly passing by trade caravan.

    1. The problem is that caravans are not necessarily small or random. Caravan routes are closely controlled and organized. Caravans are escorted and particularly large caravans, and particularly the ones which carry precious goods like metal, have a lot of armed guards among its members. Not to mention that at that time there were no civilians really. Every man and woman who was able to carry a weapon probably did carry one. A lot of times multiple groups would band up together in order to maximize the protection. So the group which was attacked could have been a very large caravan including merchants and or migrants. So I would not discount caravan interpretation because of the size of the battle.

    2. I find your explanation lacking of presence of bronze age sword manufacturing in Denmark area. There are findings of bronze swords NaueII type and they show that Denmark was at that time big producer/buyer of them (NaueII findings distribution map
      So the assumption of organized caravans of tin to that (production?) center is very feasible. However, attack and slaughter - not so really. It would make the trade route dangerous and against interest of Danish settlers, we can assume, biggest organization in the area. The numbers of victims show that the battle was quite big - with hundreds of victims and with 1/10 fraction of them in battle it makes thousands of participants.

      So Danes as attackers - I am doubtful.
      I'd rather suggest third party robbing Silesia-Denmark annual tin delivery :)

  12. New article about the battle:

  13. Very interesting. I enjoyed this thoroughly, but I have to agree with the anonymous comment earlier. I fear that the scale is too large to be explained by caravan raiding. It's not that I don't think caravans or raids could be quite large, but the the estimate of this battle places the totals in the thousands now. Even assuming a lopsided engagement of 3 to 1, of a large raiding force against a smaller caravan force, that would put the caravan at over a thousand people and the raiding army at nearly three thousand. Especially for the time period in which even large settlements would have less than a thousand occupants. This would mean that a caravan the side of the entire settlement of Vráble would have to have been on the move and been assaulted by a force three times the size of the large Bronze Age European settlements. While not impossible, I think this to be an unlikely explanation for such a massive clash of people on a Bronze Age scale.

    1. Hi Jasperi. Thank you for your comment. I agree with you that the number of people involved indicates a big battle. But then you have to ask yourself: what were these people fighting over? Are there any precious resources nearby? Any large cities? Any mines? People don't just decide to gather in their thousands in a field in the middle of nowhere and have a battle for fun. So what were these people fighting over? If you look at some of the comments above you will see that we have discussed the possibility that this could have been an attack on a refuge caravan. A tribe migrating from the north to escape famine caused by a catastrophic climatic event. This caravan was then attacked by the local tribes. But for this to be plausible, we need lots of women's and children's bones. Do we have such finds? If we only have a small number of women's and children's bones, then they are either members of an ordinary caravan or slaves, captured somewhere and dragged along by a retreating intruder army, armed band. This caravan was then attacked by the army of the land whose village or town was sacked, basically by the relatives of the slaves. Where are the women and children from? Maybe that will give us the clue what happened. But full frontal battle of two armies is not likely, unless there is yet undiscovered large bronze age city nearby. Which would be exciting...

    2. "what were these people fighting over? Are there any precious resources nearby? Any large cities? Any mines? People don't just decide to gather in their thousands in a field in the middle of nowhere and have a battle for fun." ------------------------funny to read

    3. There is a reason the article is titled 'Slaughter at the bridge'. Let's see:
      'In 2013, geomagnetic surveys revealed evidence of a 120-meter-long bridge or causeway stretching across the valley. Excavated over two dig seasons, the submerged structure turned out to be made of wooden posts and stone. Radiocarbon dating showed that although much of the structure predated the battle by more than 500 years, parts of it may have been built or restored around the time of the battle, suggesting the causeway might have been in continuous use for centuries—a well-known landmark.

      “The crossing played an important role in the conflict. Maybe one group tried to cross and the other pushed them back,” Terberger says. “The conflict started there and turned into fighting along the river.” '

      A bridge that large was expensive to build, maintain, and guard. There must have been a source of income related to this, like a toll or a trade monopoly. Seems to be reason enough for a fight.

      Look at the geographical situation. South of this there were mostly lakes, woods, and swamps. To the north you have river Peene and probably some wetlands, too. Gives you an idea of the importance of this route.

      P.S.: I think invaders from the north might have used ships going along the coast line as they did in later centuries. But that's just me speculating.

    4. And this is why I was asking what were these people fighting over. As I said in my article, the fight was probably linked to the amber trading route of which the bridge was part. It possible, if this was indeed a battle over the control of the bridge, that the women and children were caught in it by chance, part of a caravan at wrong place at the wrong time. But it could have been an ambush on the bridge, a band of robbers attacking a large caravan and the bridge guards...

      It is difficult to say. I think we need to wait for more data in order to be more certain about what really happened at Tollense Bridge...

      But I am glad that this article has provoked such an interesting debate.

    5. About the invaders from the north. You are right about coming to the coast by ship, but maybe they were coming from somewhere inland back to the coast or going somewhere inland when they were attacked if we consider this as possibility.

    6. I also think the weak point of this hypothesis are the numbers of participants and children and women among them.

      But... the tin caravan is very viable idea - it is on the Ore Mountains - Jutland route where Jutland was Nordic Bronze Age black-smithing centre. And tin spirals are good evidence for that.
      There are 2 hints to estimate number of participants with caravan assumption.
      1. The finding are on 1,5km stretch. If not drifted, that would be the stretch of the caravan. Could it be so long?
      Yes it could - tin deposits were very rare in Europe (Ore, Brittany, Wales, Galicia) with high demand all over Europe so it is possible that caravans were not frequent but large.
      2. If you estimate annual demand of metals from Jutland black-smithing you can estimate the quantity of metals. With that, pack animals needed, and so number of traders/warriors. We can even imagine specialized tribes of traders/warriors providing tin transports all over Europe.
      If we assume specialized, trained warriors with bronze weaponry and horses attacked in ambush by local tribes with flint weapons we can easily assume 1:3-5 multiplier

      However, I don't know any ancient nomad traders that travel with all their goods and families. Traders need safe places for surplus of goods ie. for purchase. So if there are remains findings of more women and children than needed as travelling servants/slaves it would suggest more of migration than caravan.

    7. I back the possibility of the invaders from the north.

      I still think it was third party to trade route Ore Mountains-Nordic Bronze Age centres, however... around 1200BC there was significant change - previous Jutland centre had probably new rival: Mecklenburg, also Nordic and alleged convoy was certainly on route to the latter.
      Excessive wear of swords in Jutland is found which indicates scarcity of metals thus longer use of single weapons. So it could be that this third party were not some Pomeranian tribes but Jutland Nordics seizing transport of goods to new amber traders from Mecklenburg.

      It should be noted that soon after this route was damaged and trade link collapsed. The new Southern Germany sword type Riegsee never arrived to Nordics. Instead, they are commonly found in large burial deposits in Carpathians area (Slovakia, Transylvania)

    8. I got another pieces of jigsaw to my previous hypothesis.

      First one - confirmation of Mecklemburg centre Late Bronze Age black-smithing. There is a paper focused on finding individual traits of each smith work. I will not go into considerations if it is sound and correct because the most important for me is placement of the findings - Mecklenburg.

      Second one brings another party in consideration - in Late Nordic Bronze Age there was in fact 3 centres: Jutland (with 4 subgroups), Mecklenburg and... Luenenburg. While Jutland and Mecklenburg are specified as stratified societies (based on complexity of burial practicies), Lueneburg is specified as egalitarian with less items included in burials. What is interesting for the battle topic - Lueneburg warriors are mostly percieved as archers with bows and arrows in mounds whereas Scandinavians (and Mecklenburgians) prefer axes, daggers, swords and miniswords. It could be a hint when we discuss differences in weapons used.

      Therefore Lueneburg warriors fit better than Jutland Scandinavians to the picture of convoy attacker however I think the genotype analysis would be decisive if the attackers came from west or were local or more east pPomeranian tribes.

  14. Here is something on why Bronze Age long-distance traders could be more than just merchants
    The caravans looked more like "moving enterprises" - with traders/merchants and
    smiths/craftsmen (such as metal-working, architecture, and shipbuilding), warriors and mercenaries, migrants and diplomats. Mycenaenan ship cargos held up to 500 tons - I think it is justified to think that land caravans had few tons of goods and raw materials either (1 ton makes ca. 20 pack animals). Long-distance trade was a necessity but safety on trade routes was unachievable with no such power existing. So small army tactics were just adequate.

  15. 1. The only means of transportation through narrow, shallow and curvy rivers is a raft. They can go downstream or be pulled by bulls upstream.
    2. Rivers of that kind often change their courses, esp. over 3 thousand years.
    3. People did not have to sit in rafts, rather, the'd have walk nearby to command bulls and horses.
    4. The scene might have happened in winter, when rivers were the only course (and winter used to be the best time for traveling as the rivers are covered with snow and sleds slide better and are more maneuverable than rafts.
    5. If you are an archer, you have 10 new bronze arrowheads, would you throw away the remaining 90 flintheads? I don't believe that. Besides, we don't see much of bronze or high-level craftmanship.
    6. Would locals in remote areas know what to do with metal and how to make bronze? I doubt that.
    My version: in winter, a caravan of metal traders, who have sold almost all it had, with guarded by its own armed escort, was attacked (at night? - from a short distance anyway, otherwise you cannot explain short-distance killings with inferior weapons and flint) by a random group of locals who have annihilated everyone inside. It was an attack-and-retreat act, that's why you see some shot in the back. Why they were attacked? Unsuccessful trade - attempt to enslave and take away a bunch of locals for sale - revenge? Did sly competitors bribe a local chieftain?

    1. I don't expect such details like winter/summer or detailed tactics to be revealed (although some of the clothes Ötzi had should have survived, ie. shoe soles) - it is more of a movie/reconstruction scenario.

      What I expect most is pointing out the sides of the conflict - especially attackers of alleged caravan. Some estimates could be misleading - if there was an convoy ambush (with one party slaughtered) not a battle (with parties withdrawing or surrendering in case of big losses), then estimates should take account of that non-symmetrical allocation. Then estimates of one side (caravan) would be lowered.
      High number of attackers is puzzling though - there was powerful and advanced culture of Nordic Jutland that would be able to gather thousand(s) of warriors (ie. to seize convoy to their rivals - Mecklenburg). The same number of warriors from local tribes... it is becoming more interesting as it would suggest strong organization without any material traces in fact. Like coming from nowhere.

  16. "The proof for that is the bronze arrowhead which was found embedded in a scull. This arrowhead could only have been fired from a position above the head, which would indicate that the archer was on a horseback. Also the flint arrowhead which was found embedded in a humerus (upper arm) bone is embedded under such angle that the shot must have come from below, meaning that the arrow was fired by a foot soldier shooting a mounted warrior."

    These are really limited and shaky assumptions.
    A wound at the top of the skull from an above angle could mean many things - an archer shooting down from elevated terrain, from a tree, or the victim bending down and lowering their head before getting shot. (or lying down and getting shot up close)
    Similarly, a wound on an arm "from below" could also mean an archer shooting up hill, or simply shooting into someone's raised arm.

    1. There are no hills in the battle area. It is possible that the shot into the head came from a tree, but it is also possible that it came from a horse. The Angle is too sharp, so the shot had to come from almost overhead, possible if the person was under a tree, but unlikely. Shooting arrow at someone lying on the ground is not an option again because of the angle. And also you would use a dagger, a spear, a hammer, axe or a club, something you can reuse to finish someone off, not an arrow, which is lost when used. It is possible that someone was leaning forward so much that the arrow hit him in the top of the head, but again unlikely...Similarly, for the shot from below, no hills. It is possible that someone was shooting an arrow on someone who was on a tree, but again he could also be shooting someone on a horse...Battle in a forest with so many people involved is unlikely...

    2. Forensically, we can't know the position of the body, and therefore the head, when the arrow hit it. The remains at the site had been moved, the bodies thrown into the river. So the skeletal remains are not where the victim fell.

      I like the caravan hypothesis because of the presence of millet at the site, a southern crop. The connection of Baltic to Balkans was an old one given the presence of amber in Mycenean graves. If there was an environmental change that forced mass migrations, the migrants would follow the paths they knew led to "greener pastures" so to speak. Down the amber road to their rich trade partners in the Mediteranean.

      This is probably the most interesting bronze age discovery since the late 1800s. Anything that could shed light on the cause for Bronze Age collapse circa 1200 is going to help get closer to answers for many of the riddles for that chaotic time.

  17. There's was preliminary genetic study on the bones and the study only only revealed that the groups involved in the conflict were related genetically to Germanic, Polish and southern European. They didn't provide any information on haplotypes, but they will likely disclose them when the study becomes finalized. I suspect the so called southern element are the ancestors of Serbs and other folks(mostly Slavs) who belong to haplogroup I2a Dinaric. It's been speculated that I2a Dinaric originates in north near the Oder river and migrated east around 300 BC where they eventually mixed with R1a tribes and formed the Slavs. From this event I think the proto population that gave rise to I2a Dinaric folks was hanging around western Pomerania and came into constant conflict with proto-Germanics. Eventually the proto-Germanics pushed them south (north of the Czech border) where the I2a Dinaric formed the Gubin culture of the Jastorf complex. Around 300 B.C. they are on the move again and head east, the migration is likely similar to their first eviction, the Germanic tribes are too tough to deal with. These people appear in historical record as the Bastarnae tribe. Later after mixing with the population of the east, they form the Slavs.

    1. There were no Germanic people mentioned in Science article. It said Southern Europeans, Polish and Scandinavians. Thus, I would speculate they found I1, I2 and R1a haplogroups.

  18. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.