Archaeologists have made a stunning discovery in Sweden that connects ancient Scandinavian with commerce from the eastern Mediterranean. Archaeologists recently found bronze tools dating from 3,600 years ago made from copper originating from the Mediterranean. In addition, experts also now believe that rudimentary rock carvings of men and ships in Bohuslän, Sweden, serve as visual documentation of ancient trade between the disparate regions. The ships depicted in the carvings may reveal direct trade from Mycenaean Greece.

In Bronze Age Europe, most of the copper in circulation originated in Cyprus, the Iberian Peninsula, Sardinia, and Sicily. There may also have been some copper being mined at Timna, a source in ancient Israel dating to the Bronze Age. The ancient Scandinavians traded amber for copper. The golden, translucent fossil tree sap was as treasured as gold in ancient times in Israel and Mycenaean Greece. In addition to trade in metals and amber, there was also an exchange in religious and cultural influences.

"Oxhide" copper ingot from Crete

Cyprus produced relatively pure copper that was smelted into characteristic "oxhide ingots." These ingots were not made of leather but were shaped with four projecting corners for ease in transportation. These corners made the ingots easier to carry because the ingots could weigh as much as 82 pounds each.

Massive numbers of these ingots have been found in Cyprus, Crete, mainland Greece, and Sardinia. The largest single collection ever found was discovered on the so-called "Uluburun shipwreck" that sank in the late 14th century B.C. near Turkey. Underwater archaeologists have shown that the ship was carrying over 10 tons of ingots, which appear to have originated in Cyprus.

Amber sources in Europe

Copper trade in the Mediterranean Basin began around 1550 B.C. but may have begun earlier in Scandinavia. Gothenburg University researcher Dr. Johan Ling thinks however that Cypriot copper was not brought massively and purposefully into northern Europe, but trickled along the Bronze Age trade routes.  

Isotope analysis of some 70 bronze daggers and axes from Bronze Age Sweden by scientists headed by Dr. Ling showed that some of the material originated in Cypriot copper mines. Most probably, it was traded for amber.

"Bronze was as valuable a raw material as oil is today," says Prof. Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg. Amber and bronze were the two main commodities of exchange in the Bronze Age economy, prompting marriage alliances in ancient Europe in order to secure the amber trade. Along the trade route known as the “Amber Road,” amber from coastal areas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea was traded to customers in the Mediterranean Basin. It would travel overland and by way of the Vistula and Dnieper rivers to Italy, Greece, the Black Sea, Syria and Egypt thousands of years ago, and long after.

Depiction of a ship and, possibly, an oxhide ingot, found at Norkopping, Sweden, dating from 1400 to 1300 B.C.

Amber was used not only to pay for copper, but also for glass beads. A separate study found 290 glass beads recently in Danish Bronze Age graves dated to around 1400 B.C. They were made by the glassmaker of none other than King Tut.

Archaeologists now believe that they recognize the images of the ships that brought the copper north in the rock carvings in Sweden. Thousands of elaborate Bronze Age carvings have been found, mostly in Bohuslän, a region on the Swedish west coast. Recurring frequently in the carvings are depictions of ships, as well as images resembling the above-described Mediterranean “oxhide” ingots.

The Swedish rock art shows what could possibly be oxhide ingots onboard ships, along with depictions of bulls, dating from 1600-1400 B.C. An ingot found at Torsbo is of the same in shape as ingots excavated in Crete, at the palace of Hagia Triada, Tylissos and Mochlos, and is just like the copper ingots found in the Uluburun shipwreck. And a markedly similar depiction of a copper even appears on the Tomb of Rekhmire, an official of the pharoh Amenhotep II who reigned during the 15th Century B.C.

One of the features most notable of the Scandinavian rock carvings is the depiction of bulls and scenes of bull-leaping. Both of these are common in art originating in Minoan Crete and in Hittite Anatolia – modern Turkey. Also featured are horned figures that may depict the Hittite weather deity known as Tarhun. Figures like these have been found in contemporaneous southern Anatolia. There are depictions of warriors and weapons, chariots, omega symbols and also symbolic representations of Mesopotamian sun disks and ornaments on jewelry and sword hilts. These give mute testimony to an exchange between the disparate regions that went beyond commerce in kind.

At the tomb of the “distant traveler,” found at Simrishamn, Sweden, there were found spiral ornaments on a piece of jewelry that are identical to those found at the Asine necropolis at Argolis in Greece. The "Kings Grave" in Kivik, southeast Sweden, dating to the 1st Millennium B.C., has images and religious symbolism also found in the Mycenaean world.

According to a research at a Danish museum, Kaul Flemming, there was a cultural transfer between the Aegean and Scandinavia.  He believes that motifs from the Kivik grave reflect those found in Mycenean Greece. On Mycenaean grave markers, he said, there are chariots depicted that resemble those found in Scandinavia. Chariots were common in the Bronze Age Mediterranean as fast military vehicles and were often depicted in art. War chariots are found marked on the Kivik King's Grave and the Villfarar Stone, from Early Bronze Age Scandinavia, and resemble Mycenaean images, suggesting cultural diffusion.

On the left is a spiral pattern found on an artifact in Sweden, while the artifact on the right is from ancient Greece.

Flemming believes that the spiral patterns may also reveal cultural diffusion from Mycenaean Greece. Other artifacts, such as a single-edged razor with horse head handle, also seems Mediterranean in origin, at least in concept. However, Flemming said these were copies, not imports. He suggested that similar cosmological beliefs were in play among the ancient Scandinavians and Mediterranean peoples, indicating some sort of connection between the two realms.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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