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Bronze Age Teenager Was Well-Traveled, Held High Status, Her Preserved Remains Show

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The remains of a Bronze Age teenager discovered in Denmark reveal she came from far away, and artifacts found buried with her suggest someone of high status, researchers say.

A new analysis of the well-preserved remains of the so-called Egtved Girl, discovered in Denmark in 1921, suggest she was born in the Black Forest of southwest Germany, they report.

Analysis of strontium isotopes in her teeth shows her birthplace was outside the borders of modern Denmark, and similar analysis of her hair and fingernails are evidence she traveled a great distance in the last 2 years of her life, a study appearing in Scientific Reports says.

Strontium in the Earth's crust, an alkaline earth metal which is absorbed by humans and animals through food and water, varies in amount from one geographical location to another, so analysis can show where a person lived at different times in their lives. It's a kind of archaeological GPS.

Such an analysis of Egtved Girl shows she had undertaken a long journey in the years just before her death and burial in Denmark at around age 18 in 1370 BC.

She may have come to Denmark to be married into a powerful Danish family, perhaps as a way to forge an alliance with a similarly powerful German one, the researchers say.

Denmark at the time was rich in amber, which it traded for bronze from Greece and the Middle East through middlemen in southern Germany.

"Amber was the engine of Bronze Age economy, and in order to keep the trade routes going, powerful families would forge alliances by giving their daughters in marriage to each other and letting their sons be raised by each other as a kind of security," explains Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg.

Bronze was as valuable during the period as oil is today, and the metal flowing into Denmark made it one of the richest areas in Northern Europe, he notes.

"In Bronze Age Western Europe, Southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centers of power, very similar to kingdoms."

The findings about Egtved Girl raise new possibilities about the scale of social systems and the kinds of long-distance travel and political contacts existing during the Bronze Age, the researchers say.

"We have a perception of ourselves today as very developed people, like globalization is new," says study lead author Karin Frei, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen. "But the more we look in prehistory, we can see we were already global."

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