Looking Sharp. Dutch Bronze Age razors and tweezers in context
Keywords:Razors, tweezers, tattooing needles, toilet sets, warriors, Bronze Age, Early Iron Age, Western Europe
Discussions on the presence, nature and apparel of (presumed) European Bronze Age warriors has traditionally focused on weapon graves, armour and rock art – the latter two regrettably absent in the Low Countries. This means that for this area, warrior identities need to be reconstructed on the basis of funerary assemblages that may even lack actual weapons.
Since Paul Treherne’s seminal (1995) paper, particularly razors and tweezers have been recognized as reflecting the personal care typical of the warrior life-style.
In this paper, Bronze Age and Early Iron Age razors and tweezers from the Netherlands are discussed as part of their wider West-European distribution. Razors of different shapes (pegged, tanged, symmetrical and asymmetrical) can be shown to date to different phases in the period of c. 1600 – 600 BC. Moreover, in variations in handle and blade shape, regional groups and supra-regional contact networks can be identified. Tweezers too show ample diachronic and regional variations: in addition to presumably local types, Nordic and Hallstatt imports are discernible.
Razors and tweezers were part of toilet sets that differed in meaning and composition within the time-frame of 1600-600 BC. We argue that the short-hafted awls frequently found in association may represent tattooing needles. In the Hallstatt period, nail-cutters and ear-scoops complement the set (now often suspended from a ring and worn in leather pouches closed with rings or beads).
Contextual analysis of the objects shows that razors could be placed in hoards, yet most originate from graves. Several urnfield razors (and some tweezers) originate from funerary monuments that must have stood out for their age, shape or dimensions (e.g. older tombs, long-bed barrows), hinting at a special status for those interred with the toilet sets.
Remarkably, the association of razors and tweezers with weapons is infrequent for the Low Countries during most phases of the Bronze Age. Associations with swords are limited to the Ploughrescant-Ommerschans dagger from the famous Ommerschans hoard and the Gündlingen sword from the Oss chieftain’s grave. This means that in the Low Countries, a pars-pro-toto approach to the expression of warrior identity prevailed – one in which the interment of toilet sets instrumental to the expression of warrior identity took precedence over the interment of weaponry.