chapter  11
17 Pages

A Bronze Age Ornament Network? Tracing the Herzsprung Symbol across Europe


This chapter examines shields made from different materials, originating from different regions and used for differing functions, but all are connected through the same symbol. The family of shields of Type Herzsprung dates to the Late Bronze Age (c. 13th-9th centuries BC) and comprises a leather shield from Ireland, shield depictions in stone on Iberian steles and bronze sheet shields from southern Scandinavia. In addition, there are further ‘relatives’ in wood in Ireland, more depictions on stelae and younger versions in bronze and ceramic in the eastern Mediterranean, mostly found in ritual places. The name derives from the eponymous findspot Herzsprung, in Saxony-Anhalt, Northern Germany, where two bronze shields were found together in 1844 (Uckelmann 2012: 59-60). The Herzsprung symbol is a shield boss, round or oval in form, which is encircled by three ribs or rings. The inner ring has a gap and the two outer rings each have a U-or V-shaped notch located in the same position ( Figure 11.1 ). In this chapter, the evidence for the Herzsprung symbol is reviewed systematically across Europe according to the material, manufacturing technique, organisation of the decoration and archaeological context. The purpose is to explore the degree of coherence in the organisation of the Herzsprung symbol across space and time. This chapter will demonstrate that the Herzsprung symbol was probably invented in Ireland before the 13th century BC and was subsequently transmitted south to Iberia and north to Scandinavia. The symbol has a distinctive meaning which was known to the makers or bearers of the shields but is lost today for us. It is only later, during the 8th century BC and onwards, that the final echoes of the Herzsprung symbol can be seen in the Eastern Mediterranean; here the symbol is more abstract and has most likely lost the connection to its specific meaning.