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ARCHAEOLOGY

Mysterious Stone Age rock shows up on Danish island

A wealth of stones has been discovered during an archaeological excavation on the Danish island of Bornholm.

Mysterious Stone Age rock shows up on Danish island
A Stone Age sunstone found on the Danish island of Bornholm. Photo: arkspedition2014vv

The small stones were covered in motifs carved by Stone Age people some 5,000 years ago, writes ScienceNordic.

The stones could give new insight into life in the Stone Age, researchers say.

A large number of the approximately 300 stones and fragments have been dubbed sun stones, due to their round shape and the circular carvings on their surface, which appear to radiate out from the centre. They also found square stones carved with something that resembles fields and grain, and other pieces carved with patterns. A handful are decorated with spider webs.

The latter are an entirely new discovery, and scientists do not yet know what they were used for.

Were they a religious coinage? Amulets? Or were they used to mark the transition from an old burial tradition to a new one? Or was it something else entirely?

“That is the million dollar question. We see sun motifs in other places, but the square-shaped stones with farming symbols are especially strange. It’s impossible to know precisely what they were used for,” said Lars Larsson, professor emeritus at the University of Lund, speaking to ScienceNordic.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Scandinavia’s oldest cup mark rock carvings discovered on Bornholm

The stones were found in southern Bornholm at a place called Vasagård. This was a gigantic area divided into two by a river valley, and looks to have been used for rituals during the Stone Age.

Archaeologists think that the stones were probably used during the rituals, given their burnt or broken appearance, and because they were discovered in concentrated deposits within the same layer of soil.

Some of the stones even look to have been used as lucky charms by Stone Age Bornholmers.

“Many of the sun stones and one of the field stones are very worn, so it looks as though someone has run around with them in their pocket,” said Finn Ole Sonne Nielsen, lead archaeologist at the Bornholm Museum, who has collaborated with the National Museum of Denmark, Aarhus University, and the University of Copenhagen on the excavation.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Did Stone Age people build a large labyrinth in Denmark?

The Vasagård area exhibits the appearance of a Stone Age society that had been “thoroughly ritualised,” Nielsen said.

In the Stone Age, Vasagård was entirely enclosed by so-called palisade rows—a type of fence constructed from multiple layers of posts, with many entrances. Inside, stood small round “sun temples” which were probably used for rituals.

The construction has been renewed time and time again, and many tons of wood must have been used to maintain the gigantic monument. An “absolutely important” construction project, according to Nielsen.

“When you use so many resources on something, it must have something to do with religion,” he said.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Ancient Roman artefact found on Danish island

The first sun stone was found in 1995 at another cultural site, Rispebjerg, around eight kilometres east of Vasagård. But in the meantime, Vasagård has far exceeded its sister-site in terms of the number of these strange stones.

“We’ve known about sun stones for a while, but the field stones are something entirely new—just yesterday we found four—and the variation among them with spider webs is something we didn’t know existed. It gives us a new insight into life in the Stone Age,” said Nielsen.

But saying they were used in rituals doesn’t tell us much, according to Larsson.

“But it must mean something that they were deposited simultaneously after being burnt and broken. Perhaps it represents a transition between life and death,” he said.

Fire was very important for Stone Age people, who burnt many items, such as axes or animal bones. The fire didn’t represent destruction but a transition, the professor continued.

“A transition to the beyond is perhaps a way to bring objects from our world into the other world. We don’t know how the connection worked, but it has something to do with the gods or ancestors,” he said.

Stone Age people probably had an entirely different relationship to death and their ancestors than we do today, and death was considered as a natural part of life, he added.

READ MORE from ScienceNordic: Items lost in the Stone Age are found in melting glaciers

The sun stones and field stones most likely were located close to each other because they were used in the same ritual.

In a 2016 study, archaeologist Flemming Kaul from the National Museum of Denmark explained why the square stones with corresponding square motifs depicts fields.

On many of the stones, there is something illustrated alongside the fields that resembles a plant covered with some kind of shade. Kaul interprets it as a form of protection for grain in the field.

He thought that the stone could be used in a form of ritual around harvest time or the solstices.

“I imagine that at a certain time of the year you had some magic rituals where you held a sun stone and let them pass over the stones, which by all accounts depict fields. The new stone opens up an entirely different understanding of the Stone Age worship of deities,” Kaul said.

This article was originally published by ScienceNordic

READ ALSO: Who were the first Scandinavians? Ancient DNA sheds light on mysterious origins

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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