Image from National Museum of Denmark

Image from National Museum of Denmark

One of the most amazing things I saw on a recent trip to Copenhagen was the coffin of the Egtved Girl, on display in the National Museum of Denmark. Miraculously preserved for over 3500 years, her grave gives us an idea of what Bronze Age Europe was like.

The coffin was made from a hollowed-out oak tree trunk, and in the museum, the two halves of the trunk are separated. Visitors can look down into the lower half and see the grave, with the top part of the trunk above. Inside is an amazingly well preserved group of objects and textiles. The girl’s body has all but disappeared – all that remains are her hair, teeth, nails, and a little skin, which is a bit gruesome if you think about it too hard! Scientists have been able to use her teeth to place her age at about 16-17 years old. Her clothes also survived, which indicate she was wearing a brown tunic and skirt when she was buried, with a bronze plate at her stomach and some other jewellery.

Interestingly, Egtved Girl was found to have been buried with the cremated remains of a 5-6 year old child. Given the girl’s probable age, the bones are unlikely to be those of her own child, so whose were they, and why were they there? Archaeologists suspect that the bones may indicate a human sacrifice, something that has been found in other early Bronze Age burials. Perhaps the child was sacrificed to honour the Egtved Girl, or the Egtved Girl’s god.

Most interesting is that scientists have managed to use Egtved Girl’s teeth, fingernails and hair to identify that she was not local to the area where she was buried. In fact, chemical analysis revealed that she was probably from what is now southern Germany, and even more incredibly, that she travelled back and forth between Denmark and southern Germany multiple times throughout her life.

I was stunned by the beautiful presentation of the coffin in the museum, as well as the discovery that the Egtved Girl travelled around 1,000km multiple times in her life. It really brought home to me how incredible human beings are, and have always been!

-Jocelyn Anderson-Wood
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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