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Role of Bronze Age Women

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has taught high school history in several states with a master's degree in teaching.

Women in the Bronze Age made significant contributions to society through their travels and role in spreading culture, technology and ideas. In this lesson, learn how Bronze Age women shaped their own societies and the world.

Women on the Move

The Bronze Age, a time period beginning around 3000 BCE, followed the Neolithic Age and designates the time period when people began to use bronze and other metals. Since this time period happened so long ago, you would think that historians and researchers had discovered everything there was to know about the Bronze Age; however, it is simply not true. In fact, new information about the role of women in the Bronze Age is still being discovered in the 21st century! Let's look at some important (and surprising!) facts about Bronze Age women and what research into the lives of women says about society during this time.

Context of the Bronze Age

The Bronze Age was a time of great cultural exchange between societies. This was the first time in history where ideas from one culture were regularly spread to other cultures. Studies of bodies from the Bronze Age show that women were responsible for this exchange! In fact, one study looked at 84 men and women who were buried between the end of the Neolithic Era and the beginnings of the Bronze Age. Two-thirds of these women traveled and lived in different places during their lives, but the majority of the men stayed close to home. How do historians know this from looking at bodies? When you spend time in different places, your teeth and hair pick up the strontium isotopes that are associated with certain places. So, it is by examining the hair and teeth that they made this discovery! Researchers assume that the women who traveled did so to spread technology, culture and start families.

The Egtved Girl

The remains of the Egtved Girl. What is the circular object still intact?

The most studied example of a Bronze Age woman is referred to as the Egtved Girl. Her body was discovered outside of Egtved, Denmark. She died around 1370 BCE and is estimated to have been between 16 and 18 when she died. Looking at the minerals in her hair and teeth, researchers have concluded that she traveled over 500 miles between the place she was born and the place she died. Now, this doesn't seem like too great a distance to travel in a lifetime, does it? However, looking at her hair, researchers concluded that within thirteen months of her death, she traveled from the place she was born, to an area near the Jutland Peninsula in Demark. She stayed there for about 9 months, then went back to her place of birth and then to England. This is a lot of travel for one person!

Although there are no written records about why the Egtved Girl traveled so frequently, there are two schools of thought today. The first group of historians believe that she was married away to secure an alliance. During the Bronze Age, we see the growth in alliances between different states. The other school of thought paints the Egtved Girl in a much more powerful light. This group of historians think that her frequent back-and-forth travel shows that she had political power. In other words, this would indicate that the women of the time were the ones who had political power.

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