Though she died nearly 3,500 years ago, the Egtved Girl tells a surprisingly modern story.
A new analysis of the iconic Bronze Age woman, whose well-preserved remains were unearthed near Egtved, Denmark, in 1921, suggests she was born elsewhere and traveled widely during her lifetime.
Far from being the stay-at-home type, then, the Egtved Girl embodies a certain mobile cosmopolitanism.
“We have a perception of ourselves today as very developed people, like globalization is new,” says Karin Frei, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark and lead author of the new study, published Thursday in Scientific Reports. “But the more we look in prehistory, we can see we’re already global.”
Frei specializes in analyzing subtle variations in the molecular composition of strontium, an element that is widely distributed in Earth’s bedrock and accumulates in plant and animal tissues. The variations differ from place to place, creating telltale local signatures that act, says Frei, “like a geological GPS.”
By comparing strontium traces from the Egtved Girl to place-specific strontium signatures across northwestern Europe, it was possible to determine where she lived at different points in her life.
Strontium signatures in her teeth, which are deposited in childhood, show that she was likely born in what is now southwestern Germany, some 500 miles away.
The precise location is difficult to pinpoint, but wool fibers in the Egtved Girl’s clothing—including a blouse-and-skirt ensemble that wouldn’t look unfashionable today—appear to originate in Germany’s Black Forest.
“She’s such a big figure in the Danish identity, someone kids learn about in school,” Frei says. “And yes, she’s a Danish find—but a hugely international woman.”
Her hair and a thumbnail, which contain strontium accumulated during the last two years of her life, describe two journeys between Denmark and her birthplace.
Life in the Bronze Age
It’s impossible to know exactly why the Egtved Girl traveled, but the Bronze Age was a time of expanding alliances between chiefdoms. Frei thinks the Egtved Girl, who was between 16 and 18 years old when she died, was likely married off to help secure an alliance and perhaps the trade it would foster.
Read More: Here