From the bogs of Schleswig-Holstein

The Angles were on the move again this summer, in their homeland of Angeln, in Schleswig-Holstein. MARC OLIVER OHM emailed from Schleswig to tell us about a re-enactment being held in Süderbrarup during the last weekend of August, commemorating the legendary expedition to Kent of a band of Angles under the brothers Hengist and Horsa in 449.

The two-day Thorsberger Festpiele included three performances of a pageant by Wolfgang Warwel called The Migration of the Angles. It told the story of Hengist and Horsa and also featured the 8th century King Offa, played by ‘Big Harry’ Schmidt, who reappeared in the evening to perform as ‘Big Harry und Band’, having first picked up a guitar at the age of sixteen. An Anglian Iron Age Market and craft demonstrations and a lot of dressing up completed the programme.

The site of the re-enactment was the town’s Bürgerpark, just across the road from Thorsberger Moor, nowadays a tree-lined lake, but in the first half of the 5th century a centrally important sacred site for the Angles. Conrad Engelhardt began to dig the Thorsberg bog in 1858, before turning his attention about thirty miles north and slightly east to Nydam Bog, where in 1853 he recovered the Nydam boat, featured in our last issue.

Archaeologically, these two bogs are complementary, as Michael Gebühr points out in the very useful booklet cited below; for what soil conditions destroyed at one site, they preserved at the other. Nydam produced about 344 spears and at least 378 lances, as well as three dozen or more axes and bows. Sensationally, of course, it also yielded up the Nydam boat, built from timber felled around 320. Whereas Nydam bog preserved iron work, the Thorsberg bog destroyed it; but it substantially preserved unique items of clothing, such as the ‘Thorsberg trousers’ in a diamond wool twill, widely copied by re-enactors. There were also cloaks and a finely woven tunic, and parts of leather shoes, belts and horse harness.

Whereas the Nydam artefacts have been dated mainly to the 3rd and 4th centuries, Thorsberg also produced individual finds from the end of the 1st millennium BC and the beginning of the next. The majority of the thousands of finds have been interpreted as a representative sample of war booty, dedicated to Odin as god of war, in thanks for victory, but there are differences. The Thorsberg material from about 220-240 indicates a southern enemy in eastern Lower Saxony, while the Nydam finds of about 300 might be traced to the northeast in present day Denmark or Norway or Sweden.

Engelhardt’s collection of over four thousand finds has its own history, resulting from 19th and 20th century wars. Professionally, Engelhardt was a teacher at Flensburg High School, where he housed the Nydam ship in the attic of the courthouse. Come the 1864 war between Prussia, Austria and Denmark over the disputed duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, the Danish Engelhardt escaped to Seeland with the Flensburg collection from Thorsberg and Nydam, unsurprisingly leaving the Nydam boat behind. Schleswig was ceded to Prussia, which not only held the Nydam boat, but under the terms of the Treaty of Vienna of 1864, was entitled to the Flensburg collection, by then in Copenhagen. A number of items which, thanks to the patronage of the Danish king Frederik VII, had found their way into the royal collection, are today in the National Museum in Copenhagen. Most of the Flensburg collection, and the boat, were in Kiel by 1877 – but the First World War left its Nydam findspot in Denmark. Negotiations to return the boat failed, and during the second world war it was moved around by low-loader and lighter to escape the bombing of Kiel. Finally in 1947 the Nydam boat arrived at Schloss Gottorf in Schleswig, where it is still on display in the state archaeological museum (Archäologisches Landesmuseum).

Meanwhile, our friends in the Nydam Society are busy building the full-size replica to be launched in August, and planning a permanent exhibition in southern Jutland devoted to the continuing finds from the Nydam bog.

Excerpt from the SAXON Magazine, published by the Sutton Hoo Society (Editor Nigel Maslin January 2013)
Auszug aus dem SAXON Magazin der Sutton Hoo Society von Nigel Maslin Januar 2013 verfasst.

Nydam and Thorsberg – Iron Age Places of Sacrifice, Dr.Michael Gebühr (Verein zur Förderung des Archäologischen Landesmuseums e.V., Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig, 2001)

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5. Internationale Thorsberg-Festspiele in Süderbrarup 13. und 14. August 2022