Bronze Age embodied 3.2. Jelena’s outfit

In our previous entry we discussed the Early Bronze Age burials discovered at the site of Balatonkeresztúr-Réti-dűlő in 2003–2004 (Honti et al. 2007, 26–29; Fábián–Serlegi 2009). Here, a pit containing the remains of eight individuals was also unearthed, dating to the Middle Bronze Age (Fábián 2007; Köhler 2007; Kiss et al. 2015; Kiss 2019). Archaeogenetic analyses have shown that the bodies of two little girls, as well as little boys and young men, were placed in the mass grave. The examinations carried out on the altogether 20 individuals who were laid to rest during the Early and Middle Bronze Age (11 burials, a pit grave, and the above mentioned mass grave) held many surprises, which will be discussed in details later.

In this section, we would like to ‘re-imagine’ the appearance of a 35-45 year old woman, known to archaeologists as ‘Jelena’, based on contemporary evidence of garments, hair ornaments and jewellery. The only piece of jewellery associated with her burial was a cylindrical bead, bent from a metal sheet. The bead was found on the left side of her skull, leaving a green corrosion mark on the bone due to being under ground for thousands of years.

Pieces of a copper bead found under Jelena’s head and a green spot on the skull caused by metal corrosion of the bead (photo: Viktória Kiss, Dániel Gerber)

Similar metal beads were identified as elements of a headdress or a type of cap during this period. Such items were found in the vicinity of Biatorbány and Solt, and also at the nearby Ordacsehi-Csereföld site from grave no. 400, excavated from the burial of a woman who died at the age of 48-57 (Somogyi 2004, 2007; Mali 2014; Somogyvári 2015). Examinations carried out on the metal tube beads showed that they were not made of tin bronze but of copper, with some arsenic, silver and antimony impurities (93-95% copper, 1-2% arsenic, 1.5-2% silver, 3-3.5% antimony, 0.3% lead; Költő 2004). In the case of the burial of Ordacsehi, a reconstruction drawing demonstrates the possible ways the beads could have been worn.

Ordacsehi-Csereföld, grave no. 400 (photo: Krisztina Somogyi, reconstruction drawing: Csaba Peterdi)

Tube beads twisted from metal sheet or wire were also worn strung into a necklace or sewn onto a garment, as it can be seen at the Bonyhád Biogas Factory site in grave no. 242, in the burial of a 30-35 year old woman. Metal analyses carried out on beads from grave no. 151 at Bonyhád (from the later, Bonyhád phase III of the cemetery) have shown that similar beads were still made of copper in the first part of the Middle Bronze Age after 1900 BC, despite the fact that bronze tools and weapons made of tin bronze had already appeared at that time (e.g. in the burial of the Balatonakali chief; Kiss 2020b). The copper raw material which contained a small amount of arsenic, antimony, and silver, could have been mined from today’s Gömör-Szepes ore mountains in Slovakia, was certainly more suitable for the production of these beads (Kovács et al. 2019).

Bonyhád-Biogas Factory, burial Nr. 242 (Kovács et al. 2019, 2. ábra)

In the second part of the Middle Bronze Age, similar ornaments decorating garments were made of tin bronze. At this time they occur less frequently in graves, but can mainly be found as components of hoards, associated with the Tolnanémedi hoard horizon, containing predominantly jewellery. Similar tube beads known from the hoard of Zalaszabar were cast from bronze with a tin content of 6.7% (Kiss et al. 2013).

Bronze ornaments and tools from the Zalaszabar hoard (photo: Csaba Tétényi)

Clay figurines known from the period suggest the wear of similar bronze ornaments as necklaces, or as decoration on the front of a garment, or as accessories worn on the head or plaited into the hair. Small copper or bronze artifacts occur in the 10-20% of the Early and Middle Bronze Age burials, while gold hair rings were present only in the graves of the elite (Somogyi 2004; Kiss 2020).

Middle Bronze Age statuette from the Lower Danube region, depicting bronze ornaments and embroidered textiles (V. Szabó 2015, III. 84)

Based on these details, it can be assumed that Jelena might have been a higher status individual within the community. She was placed in the grave most likely in a garment woven of plant-based (flax or hemp) materials, as wool textiles could have only been afforded by the highest of the elite of the era. Her attire was complemented by a simple headdress or hair ornament consisting of one or two copper beads, which is simpler than the one shown below in the reconstruction (Neugebauer 1994; Grömer 2016).

Bronze Age costume reconstruction at an event of the Iron Age Danube project

Viktória Kiss


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