Glass beads link King Tutankhamun and Bronze Age Nordic women
Scientists working in Denmark have unearthed glass blue beads crafted in an ancient Egyptian workshop for King Tutankhamun that made its way north to Europe 3,400 years ago. The find helps prove there was contact between the two regions long ago and suggests possible ancient trade routes.
Danish and French archaeologists analyzed some beads buried with women’s bodies from Bronze Age Denmark and found they originated in the same workshop that made beads for the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun, who died in 1323 BC. It is also the same glass chemical composition found in Tutankhamun’s gold death mask, io9.com reports. The solid gold death mask contains blue glass in the stripes of the headdress, as well as in the inlay of the plaited false beard.
Tutankhamun’s death mask contains the same blue glass that was found recently in Danish graves. Credit: Carsten Frenzl / flickr
ScienceNordic.com reported on the findings: “Twenty-three glass beads from Denmark were analyzed using plasma-spectrometry. Without destroying the fragile beads, this technique makes it possible to compare the chemical composition of trace elements in the beads with reference material from Amarna in Egypt and Nippur in Mesopotamia, about 50 km (31 miles) south east of Baghdad in Iraq. The comparison showed that the chemical composition of the two sets of trace elements match.”
It is the first time that archaeologists have found glass cobalt beads from Egypt outside the Mediterranean. One of the beads was unearthed in a wealthy woman’s grave in Ølby, about 40 km (24.8 miles) south of Copenhagen. The woman had been buried in a hollowed-out tree trunk and was adorned with a skirt consisting of bronze tubes, and various jewelry items, including a bracelet made with amber beads and a single blue glass bead. The same type of blue bead was also found in a necklace in another nearby grave.
Blue bead found in Denmark. Credit: Denmark National Museum
The researchers speculate that glass and amber, which have been found together in burial sites in the Middle East, Turkey, Germany, Greece, Italy and north to the Nordic regions, may be evidence of a link between Nordic and Egyptian sun religions. Indeed, one property that both glass and amber have in common is that they can both be penetrated by sunlight.
“When a Danish woman in the Bronze Age took a piece of jewelry made of amber and blue glass with her to the grave, it constituted a prayer to the sun to ensure that she would be reunited with it and share her fate with the sun's on its eternal journey,” writes ScienceNordic.com. “The old amber route to the countries in the Mediterranean thus now has a counterpart: the glass route to the North.”
The research, published in the Danish journal SKALK, shows that the ancient Egyptians, who were well known for their glass technology, operated trade routes that supplied Northern Europe with Egyptian-made glass at least 3,400 years ago. The researchers intend to continue investigating to determine if the trade route continued later in the Bronze Age, which ended around 600 BC in Europe.
Featured image: One of the newly-discovered graves in Demark containing a blue bead matching glass from an Egyptian workshop. Credit: Videnskab.dk
By Mark Miller