Trundholm sun chariot
The Trundholm sun chariot , is a late Nordic Bronze Age
Nordic Bronze Age
The Nordic Bronze Age is the name given by Oscar Montelius to a period and a Bronze Age culture in Scandinavian pre-history, c. 1700-500 BC, with sites that reached as far east as Estonia. Succeeding the Late Neolithic culture, its ethnic and linguistic affinities are unknown in the absence of...
artifact discovered in Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...
. It is a representatino of the sun chariot, a bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...
statue of a horse and a large bronze disk, which are placed on a device with spoked wheels.
The sculpture was discovered with no accompanying objects in 1902 in a peat bog on the Trundholm moor in West Zealand County
West Zealand County
Vestsjællands Amt is a former county in the west-central part of the island of Zealand in eastern Denmark. The county was abolished effective January 1, 2007, when it merged into Region Sjælland Vestsjællands Amt is a former county (Danish: amt) in the west-central part of the island of Zealand...
on the northwest coast of the island of Zealand (Sjælland) in Denmark, in a region known as Odsherred
Odsherred is a peninsula in the north-western part of the island Zealand in Denmark. Odsherred is stretching from the Sjællands Odde in the north-west to the now drained fjord Lammefjord in the south, covering an area with a wide range of the most typical Danish landscapes such as long sandy...
(approximately 55°55′N 11°37′E). It is now in the collection of the National Museum of Denmark
National Museum of Denmark
The National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen is Denmark’s largest museum of cultural history, comprising the histories of Danish and foreign cultures, alike. The museum's main domicile is located a short distance from Strøget at the center of Copenhagen. It contains exhibits from around the world,...
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...
DescriptionThe horse stands on a bronze rod supported by four wheels. The rod below the horse is connected to the disk, which is supported by two wheels. All of the wheels have four spoke
A spoke is one of some number of rods radiating from the center of a wheel , connecting the hub with the round traction surface....
s. The artifact was cast in the lost wax method.
The whole object is approximately 54 x 35 x 29 cm (width, height, depth).
The disk has a diameter of approximately 25 cm (9.8 inches). It is gilded on one side only, the right-hand side (when looking in the direction of the horse). It consists of two bronze disks that are joined by an outer bronze ring, with a thin sheet of gold applied to one face. The disks were then decorated with punches and gravers with zones of motifs of concentric circles, with bands of zig-zag decoration between borders. The gold side has an extra outer zone which may represent rays, and also a zone with concentric circles linked by looping bands that "instead of flowing in one direction, progress like the steps of the dance, twice forward and once back". The main features of the horse are also highly decorated.
The two sides of the disk have been interpreted as an indication of a belief that the sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...
is drawn across the heavens from East to West during the day, presenting its bright side to the Earth and returns from West to East during the night, when the dark side is being presented to the Earth. A continuation around a globe would have the same result. It is thought that the chariot was pulled around during religious rituals to demonstrate the motion of the sun in the heavens.
DateThe sculpture is dated by the Nationalmuseet to about 1400 BC, though other dates have been suggested. Unfortunately it was found before pollen-dating was developed, which would have enabled a more confident dating.
A model of a horse-drawn vehicle on spoked wheels in Northern Europe at such an early time is surprising; they would not be expected to appear until the end of the Late Bronze Age, which ranges from 1100 BC to 550 BC. This and aspects of the decoration may suggest a Danubian origin or influence in the object, although the Nationalmuseet is confident it is of Nordic origin.
Possible function as a calendarKlaus Randsborg, professor of archeology at the University of Copenhagen
University of Copenhagen
The University of Copenhagen is the oldest and largest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479, it has more than 37,000 students, the majority of whom are female , and more than 7,000 employees. The university has several campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the...
, has pointed out that the sum of an addition of the number of spirals in each circle of the disk, multiplied by the number of the circles in which they are found, counted from the middle (1x1 + 2x8 + 3x20 + 4x25), results in a total of 177, which comes very close to the number of days in six synodic months, only 44 min 2.8 s shorter each.
The synodic cycle is the time that elapses between two successive conjunctions of an object in the sky, such as a specific star, with the sun. It is the time that elapses before the object will reappear at the same point in the sky when observed from the Earth, so it is the apparent orbital period observed from Earth.
He asserts his belief that this demonstrates that the disk was designed by a person with some measure of astronomic knowledge and that the sculpture may have functioned as a calendar.
Norse mythologyDespite the enormous gap in time the temptation to relate the chariot to later Norse mythology
Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology, is the overall term for the myths, legends and beliefs about supernatural beings of Norse pagans. It flourished prior to the Christianization of Scandinavia, during the Early Middle Ages, and passed into Nordic folklore, with some aspects surviving...
from 13th AD century sources has proved irresistible to some. In Norse mythology, Sól is the personified goddess
A goddess is a female deity. In some cultures goddesses are associated with Earth, motherhood, love, and the household. In other cultures, goddesses also rule over war, death, and destruction as well as healing....
of the Sun, the corresponding Old English name is Siȝel ˈsɪjɛl), continuing reconstructed Proto-Germanic
Proto-Germanic , or Common Germanic, as it is sometimes known, is the unattested, reconstructed proto-language of all the Germanic languages, such as modern English, Frisian, Dutch, Afrikaans, German, Luxembourgish, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, and Swedish.The Proto-Germanic language is...
*Sôwilô or *Saewelô. The Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...
Sun goddess is Sunna. Every day, Sól rode through the sky on her chariot
The chariot is a type of horse carriage used in both peace and war as the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two wheeled...
, pulled by the two horses Arvak and Alsvid
Arvak and Alsvid
In Norse mythology, Árvakr and Alsviðr are the horses which pull the sun, or Sol's chariot, across the sky each day.- References :...
. The sun chariot has been interpreted as representing a Bronze Age predecessor to the goddess.
The chariot has also been interpreted as a possible Bronze Age predecessor to Skinfaxi, the horse that pulled Dagr
In Norse mythology, Dagr is day personified. This personification appears in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson...
, the personification of day, across the sky.
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...
also reflects the mytheme of the Sun chariot. RV 10.85 mentions the sun god's bride as seated on a chariot pulled by two steeds.
The relevant verses are the following (trans. Griffith):
10. Her spirit was the bridal car; the covering thereof was heaven:
Bright were both Steeds that drew it when SuryaSuryaSurya Suraya or Phra Athit is the chief solar deity in Hinduism, one of the Adityas, son of Kasyapa and one of his wives, Aditi; of Indra; or of Dyaus Pitar . The term Surya also refers to the Sun, in general. Surya has hair and arms of gold...
approached her husband's, home.
11. Thy Steeds were steady, kept in place by holy verse and Sama-hymn:
All car were thy two chariot wheels: thy path was tremulous in the sky,
12. Clean, as thou wentest, were thy wheels wind, was the axle fastened there.
Surya, proceeding to her Lord, mounted a spirit-fashioried car.
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- Reconstructing the Trundholm Sun Chariot
- Götter und Helden in der Bronzezeit: Europa im Zeitalter des Odysseus, exhibition, Bonn. 1999. Catalogue introduction, wall panel information: http://www2.kah-bonn.de/pr/33/bronzezeit-pressemappe.doc (.doc format)