Thirteen mysterious bronze statuettes dubbed the “Goddesses of Wealth” have been found in or around rivers near the Baltic coast. Hundreds of years earlier, what could be Europe’s earliest battle took place in the area, the Tollense Valley Battle, around 1300-1200 BC.
The first figurine was found in 1840, while the latest is a recent discovery. Nevertheless, all are similar, generally with oval or round heads and female attributes.
Found Snorkeling the River
Two years ago, a truck driver snorkeling in the German Tollense River marsh along the Baltic coast discovered the heaviest of the statuettes. For a century, a theory has suggested they are goddesses. However, a recent study suggests that may or may not be the case.
The strange-looking six-inch-tall sculpture weighs about 5.5 ounces. She’s the second of the figures found in Germany. These pieces join three statuettes from Zealand, seven from Scania, and one further north from Västra Götaland.
In a paper entitled, “Worship of weight? A Bronze Age’ goddess with a necklace’ from River Tollense,” Ronald Borgwardt, 51, who found the bronze and a group of archaeologists present findings on the figure. According to their findings, this figure dates to the seventh century B.C., making her 2,700 years old. At the time, it was the Late Nordic Bronze Age.
As you can see below, the figure has female attributes, with lines on the neck and abdomen. She has a large egg-shaped head, enlarged eyes and nose, and notches on the chin. A tall, gangly figure, she cannot stand on her own. Curiously, knobs like heels of feet point forward.
“It is unlikely that the cuts on the chin indicate a beard and their meaning remains unclear,” the authors write.
Like most similar figures, she has short looped arms connecting beneath her breasts and a vertical cut indicating the female sex.
What Do These Goddesses Represent?
So, what do these figures represent? First, it’s noted that the figures are distributed near the swampy site of a large-scale mysterious early battle. As many as 5,000 fighters may have been involved in an otherwise scarcely populated area.
Most of the battle’s victims were young men, with some women and children. One unlikely theory suggested it was the site of a mass human sacrifice.
Amazingly, Ronald Borgwardt’s father found the battle site 24 years before his son found the figurine in the same area.
“Remarkably, 24 years earlier, while paddling through the same swamp, Mr. Borgwardt’s father had spied a bunch of bones jutting from a bank. He fetched his son, and together they scavenged in the muck. Among their finds were a human arm bone pierced by a flint arrowhead and a two-and-a-half-foot-long wooden club that resembled a Louisville Slugger,” wrote Franz Lidz for the New York Times.
The Tollense Valley Battle
Further discoveries determined the Tollense Valley in north-eastern Germany was a Bronze Age battle site over 3,200 years ago. Today, nobody knows who the combatants were or why the battle ensued. Written accounts wouldn’t become common in these parts for another 2,000 years.
However, thousands of human and horse bones offer clues. Perhaps, local clans were trying to hold off outside invaders on horseback. Then, the victors may have piled the bodies in the river while others sank in the peat bogs.
See more from History Time, which mentions the Borgwardt’s discovery:
an Offering to the Dead?
It seems this battle became forgotten within centuries since there are no written records. However, the goddess statuettes may have been placed in the area to commemorate the battle.
Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist and head of research at the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage in Germany, suggests this possibility:
“The unanswered question is why the figurine wound up in a river valley along a trade route hundreds of years after a large battle took place there,” Dr. Terberger said. “Did this happen by accident, or was the setting a place of commemoration for a 13th-century B.C. conflict still present in the oral history of the Late Bronze Age people?”
Another long-standing idea is the goddesses were part of a weight system used in trade along “the amber road.” Notably, 500 years before the battle, the Tollense Valley was once a trade route for distributing amber with a 400-foot stone-and-wood causeway. Notably, people began using weights and scales for trade in 3,000 B.C. in ancient Egypt.
An Early Weight System?
In the early 90s, Swedish archaeologist Mats Malmer determined the weights of each of the Goddesses of Wealth. When expressed in grams, the numbers are multiples of the common denominator, 26 indicating a standardized weight system in Bronze Age Scandinavia.
Another hypothesis from the time suggested the statuettes were “cheap mass products, owned by poor people as household gods.”
Now, researchers suggest so few statues wouldn’t indicate such use as weights. Also, they cast doubt on the notion of poor man’s gods or goddesses in general. Thus, it’s questionable they could be a combination of both as Goddesses of Wealth.
“All in all, 13 figures of this type do not support the idea that the statuettes were cheap household gods,” said Dr. Terberger. “In the past, they were interpreted as goddesses, but they don’t match any deities widely worshiped at that time.”
Rather, it seems these figures may have been offerings, a way to pay respect to the lives lost in the battle hundreds of years before.
Norse Goddess Freyja
Later, in the Iron Age, figures of Freya, the Norse goddess of love, fertility, battle, and death, are often found. She is compared to the Egyptian goddess Isis and the Greek Aphrodite (Roman Venus). Notably, she wore a necklace called Brísinga men, translating to “fire” or “amber” in Old Norse, a fitting tribute, it seems, along the Amber Road.
Meanwhile, figures of Venus goddesses date back to Paleolithic Europe, such as the famous Venus of Willendorf, Austria, from 25,000 years ago.