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Danish Bronze Age girl may have been German

One of Denmark's proudest relics may not be Danish after all, researchers have found.

Danish Bronze Age girl may have been German
Photo Bo Tornvig/Scanpix
In a feat of laboratory sleuthing, scientists on Thursday provided a background to a mysterious Bronze Age teenager who died in modern-day Denmark 3,400 years ago.
 
The “Egtved Girl,” uncovered at a village in the Jutland peninsula, was probably born in southwestern Germany and may have been married off to cement ties between powerful families, they said.
 
One of Denmark's proudest relics, the Egtved Girl was found in 1921 at a burial mound, inside an oak coffin that dates her interment to a summer's day in the year 1370 BC.
 
 
She was aged between 16 and 18 at the time of death and would have been around 1.6 metres (five feet three inches) tall. Her bones had dissolved in the acidic water in the coffin, but her blond hair, teeth, well-trimmed nails and parts of the brain and skin were extraordinarily preserved, along with her woollen garments and a disc-shaped bronze belt plate symbolising the Sun.
 
Buried alongside her head was a small container with some cremated bones of a five- to six-year-old child.
 
The site and her clothes clearly pointed to a person who was cherished and of high rank. But who was she? And where did she come from?
 
Seeking an answer, researchers led by Karin Margarita Frei from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research analysed the precious find for levels of the radioactive element strontium.
 
Strontium exists naturally in the Earth's crust, with its radioactivity varying in strength according to location. In humans and animals, the element becomes absorbed through local water and vegetables.
 
Thus by measuring levels of the isotopes in ancient remains, scientists can gain a useful clue of where that individual or animal had lived.
 
Black Forest
One of the girl's first molars, a tooth that was fully formed when she was aged three or four, had a strontium signature in the enamel that showed she had not grown up in Jutland, the study said.
 
Instead, it matched a “geologically older” region — most probably the Black Forest area of southwestern Germany, a whole 800 kilometres (500 miles) to the south.
 
Strontium levels in the girl's 23-cm (10-inch) -long hair and her nails were also revealing.
 
Around 13 to 15 months before her death, she stayed in a place with a strontium signature “very similar” to where she was raised. She then likely moved to another location — possibly Jutland — and after spending nine or 10 months there travelled back home. She stayed there for four to six months before travelling to what is now Egtved, but died about a month later.
 
There are other candidates for the girl's home region, including Sweden and Norway and the geologically old Danish island of Bornholm.
 
But southwestern Germany is by far the best bet, according to the study, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports.
 
The wool in her clothing has strontium levels that vary greatly from thread to thread, said Frei.
 
“This proves that the wool was made from sheep that either grazed in different geographical areas or that they grazed in one vast area with very complex geology,” she said. “Black Forest's bedrock is characterized by a similarly heterogenous strontium isotopic range.”
 
Other clues also help to build an identity for the enigmatic girl, said Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
 
“In Bronze Age western Europe, southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centres of power, very similar to kingdoms,” he said.
 
Trade between Jutland and southwestern Germany at the time was lucrative.
 
An alloy of tin and copper, bronze was the wonder metal of the age, made by metallurgists in Greece and the Middle East.
 
In return, these regions in Mediterranean coveted Danish amber, valuing the mineral as much as gold. Middlemen in Germany acted as the go-between in the trade.
 
“We find many direct connections between the two (regions) in the archaeological evidence,” said Cristiansen. “My guess is that the Egtved Girl was a southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families.”
 

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VIKING

How a Viking king inspired one of our best-known modern technologies

A Swede and American tell the story of how they hatched the idea for the moniker 'Bluetooth' over beers.

A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth
A Danish 16th-century paining of Viking king Harald Bluetooth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

At the end of the 1990s, Sven Mattisson, a Swedish engineer working at telecom group Ericsson, and Jim Kardach, an American employed by Intel, were among those developing the revolutionary technology.

In 1998, at the dawn of the “wireless” era, the two men were part of an international consortium that created a universal standard for the technology first developed by Ericsson in 1994.

But prior to that, they had struggled to pitch their wireless products. Intel had its Biz-RF wireless programme, Ericsson had MC-Link, while Nokia had its Low Power RF. Kardach, Mattisson and others presented their ideas at a seminar in Toronto in late 1997.

“Jim and I said that people did not appreciate what we presented,” Mattisson, now 65 and winding down his career at Ericsson, recalled in a recent interview with AFP.

The engineer, who had travelled all the way to Canada from Sweden for the one-hour pitch, decided to hang out with Kardach for the evening before flying home.

“We received a lukewarm reception of our confusing proposal, and it was at this time I realised we needed a codename for the project which everyone could use,” Kardach explained in a long account on his webpage.

‘Chauvinistic story’

To drown their sorrows, the two men headed for a local Toronto bar and ended up talking about history, one of Kardach’s passions. “We had some beers… and Jim is interested in history so he asked me about Vikings, so we talked at length about that,” said Mattisson, admitting that his recollection of that historic night is now somewhat foggy.

Kardach said all he knew about Vikings was that they ran “around with horned helmets raiding and looting places, and that they were crazy chiefs.”

Mattisson recommended Kardach read a well-known Swedish historical novel about the Vikings, entitled “The Long Ships”.

Set in the 10th century – “a chauvinistic story” about a boy taken hostage by Vikings, says Mattisson – one name in the book caught Kardach’s attention: that of the king of Denmark, Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson.

A Bluetooth adapter from 2004. Photo: Stefan Gustavsson/SvD/TT

Unification

An important historic figure in Scandinavia in the 10th century, the king of Denmark’s nickname is said to refer to a dead tooth, or, as other tales have it, to his liking for blueberries or even a simple translation error.

During his reign, Denmark turned its back on its pagan beliefs and Norse gods, gradually converting to Christianity.

But he is best known for having united Norway and Denmark in a union that lasted until 1814.

A king who unified Scandinavian rivals – the parallel delighted those seeking to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.

And the reference to the king goes beyond the name: the Bluetooth logo, which at first glance resembles a geometric squiggle, is in fact a superimposition of the runes for the letters “H” and “B”, the king’s initials.

Low-cost and with low power consumption, Bluetooth was finally launched in May 1998, using technology allowing computer devices to communicate with each other in short range without fixed cables.

The first consumer device equipped with the technology hit the market in 1999, and its name, which was initially meant to be temporary until something better was devised, became permanent.

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