Annual Meeting Emblem

 

The Bronze Age shield of Sun and Crescent

Jan Turek & Marion Uckelmann

The true pride and enigma of the West Bohemian archaeology is the bronze shield from Pilsen Jíkalka, a copy of which is kindly loaned by the Museum of West Bohemia (MWB) and can be seen in the foyer of Building 1 at the University Campus – Bory. The original artefact is on display in the recently-opened main exhibition in the MWB. There are many yet unsolved questions about the Jíkalka shield, such as its precise date, its profane and sacred context and the symbolic meaning of its decoration. The shield represents an important artefact of social and cosmological significance connecting European Bronze Age communities from Ireland to the Near East. It is also presented as the main logo of the 19th EAA Annual Meeting.

DISCOVERY

It was found in 1896 during the house construction on the then outskirts of Pilsen (near the present day Bus Station) right next to another early Urnfield (Reinecke B C2 / B D) hoard that became eponymous for the Plzeň Jíkalka horizon of hoard deposits (Kytlicová 1986). The shield belongs to the group of Herzsprung type shields (named after 1844 discovery at Herzsprung in Brandenburg region).

STYLE AND DISTRIBUTION

With the end of the Middle Bronze Age and the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, shields made of a single piece of bronze sheet come into use. About 86 of these metal shields are recorded from all over Europe, as well as two wooden and one leather shields and two wooden shield formers from Irish bogs. The main distribution is in the British Isles and Ireland, followed by a larger group in southern Scandinavia and more scattered finds from Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and the Carpathian basin but in similar forms known in depictions as far as in southwest of the Iberian Peninsula in the west and Cyprus and Assyria in the east.

Original round shields of organic material were part of the Atlantic warrior panoply already since the mid Second Millennium BC. The Herzsprung type probably developed in Iberia and Ireland and spread eastwards between 1300–900 BC.

Marion Uckelmann (2012, 73 ff., nos. 86.–88.) classified the find as belonging to the Plzeň group, which is closely related to the Herzsprung type of shields characterised by similar decorative motifs on the three currently known shields. Another two shields are unprovenanced, but come most likely from Denmark. The shields are of oval form, and through decoration related to the Herzsprung Type. The diameters are between 51 × 48 cm and 68 × 61 cm. The metal thickness is 1–1.3 mm which explains the relatively heavy weight of 2.4–3.4 kg for the shields. The integrating element in the decoration with the shield from Pilsen is the circular notch in the central shield boss, the rest of the shield body is rather plain, and adorned only with ribs or boss rows. The handle and tabs are all fitted in different ways. The Plzeň-Jíkalka shield shows at least in this aspect some resemblance to the Nipperwiese Type shields. The U-notch of the Jíkalka shield creates a very specific, almost crescent shape, similar to that of the horseshoe/crescent-like razors of the Urnfield period. It may be well possible that the shaping of both artefacts has something to do with the representation of the Moon and its role in the Bronze Age Cosmology (cf. the Nebra Disc).

CHRONOLOGY

The dating of the shields was till recently quite problematic, since most of them are isolated finds or they were found in association only with other shields. The fragments of shields found in the Carpathian hoards are well dated through their associations and belong to the 13th century BC (BzD/HaA1/2). A late date of such shield comes from a hoard in Skydebjerg, Denmark (Period V. c. 925–800 BC), where a fragment of a Type Herzsprung shield was found, but it seems most likely that this piece was deposited already old. The close resemblance with some of the shield images on the Iberian stelae and the early dating of the Irish organic shields (with new dates: eg Uckelmann 2012, 158 ff. Fig. 27) make it possible that the Type Herzsprung origins are as early as the late 13th century BC. The long discussion on the Plzeň-Jíkalka shield can now be seen as resolved since a new radiocarbon determinations for the shield (from pieces of wood in the bronze handle) dates it to: 1387–1127calBC (GR-40666: 3005±40BP). This suggests a position near the beginning of metal shield production, as its form and technology might also imply (Uckelmann 2012, no. 86). Combined with the evidence of the Carpathian hoard associations, it therefore appears that the small number of metal shields known from Central Europe belong somewhere within the mid-14th to mid-11th centuries BC, essentially the earlier half of the Urnfield period.

INTERPRETATION

The evidence of Iberian rock art emphasizes the ritual and social meaning of shields in the warriors’ symbolism (Harrison 2004; 124–134). Some shields are so thin and delicate that they could hardly be used as defensive armour, some other exemplars are more substantial and the show clear lozenge-shaped perforations made by a weapon and perhaps inflicted in a combat. Such symbolism may be connected with ceremonial warfare as it is presumed for the early prehistoric society (Neustupný 1998, 27–30). But some of the shields clearly were used in combat and were able to protect the bearer. One of those shields was the heavy shield from Pilsen even though it does not show weapon inflicted damage.
The decoration motifs and shape of shields are related to the Sun and Moon symbolism that was the centre point of European Bronze Age cosmology (Kristiansen – Larson 2005).

References:
Bouzek, J. 1965: Štít z Plzně Jíkalky, Archeologické studijní materiály 2, Archeologický ústav ČSAV, Praha, 93–95.
Harrison, R. J. 2004: Symbols and Warriors. Images of the European Bronze Age, WASP, Bristol. Kristiansen, K. – Larson, T. B. 2005: The Rise of Bronze Age Society. Travels, Transmissions and Transformations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Kytlicová, O. 1986: Der Schild und der Depotfund aus Plzeň-Jíkalka, Památky Archeologické 77, 413–454.
Neustupný, E. 1998: Structures and events: The theoretical basis of spatial archaeology, in: Evžen Neustupný (ed.): Space in Prehistoric Bohemia, Institute of Archaeology, Praha, 9–44.
Uckelmann, M. 2012: Die Schilde der Bronzezeit in Nord-, West- und Zentraleuropa. PBF II, 4. Steiner, Stuttgart.

Author of the emblem graphics: Hana Ovesleová, University of West Bohemia in Pilsen

 

What's on your T-shirt? The Venus of Vochov

Jan Turek

The Neolithic ceramic figurine depicting a female figure was discovered in Vochov (Pilsen-North District). The figure is 8.1 cm high, with emphasized breasts and buttocks. Her arms and face are schematically modelled and the lower part of the figure is smooth without any details of the lower limbs. This simple representation of the female body looks very natural and aesthetically and is one of the finest examples of the Neolithic figural art in Bohemia (Böhm 1950). The original artefact is on display in the recently opened main exhibition in the MWB.

The Venus is dated to the period of Stroke Pottery Culture (4900–4500 BC) and she is probably related to a cult place at which were gradually discovered two roundels. The partly excavated structure consists of three concentric circular ditches of maximum diameter 23.5 meters (Pavlů – Zápotocká 2007). Such ditch shrines of circular layout are typical of the late Stroke Pottery / Lengyel horizon. There are over twenty such monuments currently known in Bohemia.

References:
Böhm, J. 1950: Neolitický ženský idol z Vochova u Plzně, Obzor praehistorický 14, 329–332.
Pavlů, I. – Zápotocká, M. 2007: Neolit, Archeologie pravěkých Čech 3, Institute of Archaeology, Prague.