The people of the Nordic Bronze Age were actively engaged in the export of amber, and imported metals in return, becoming expert metalworkers. With respects to the number and density of metal deposits, the Nordic Bronze Age became the richest culture in Europe during its existence.
Oscar Montelius, who coined the term used for the period, divided it into six distinct sub-periods in his piece Om tidsbestämning inom bronsåldern med särskilt avseende på Skandinavien ("On Bronze Age dating with particular focus on Scandinavia") published in 1885, which is still in wide use. His absolute chronology has held up well against radiocarbon dating, with the exception that the period's start is closer to 1700 BC than 1800 BC, as Montelius suggested. For Central Europe a different system developed by Paul Reinecke is commonly used, as each area has its own artifact types and archaeological periods.
A broader subdivision is the Early Bronze Age, between 1700 BC and 1100 BC, and the Late Bronze Age, 1100 BC to 550 BC. These divisions and periods are followed by the Pre-Roman Iron Age.
The west coast of Sweden, namely Bohuslän, has the largest concentration of Bronze Age rock carvings in Scandinavia; and Scandinavia has the largest amount of Bronze Age rock carvings in Europe. The west cost of Sweden is home to around 1,500 recorded rock engraving sites, with more being discovered every year. When the rock carvings were made, the area was the coastline; but it is now 25 meters above sea level. The engravings in the region depict everyday life, weapons, human figures, fishing nets, ships, the sun, deer, bulls, horses, and birds. By far, the most dominate theme is human figures and ships, especially ships — 10,000 of which have recorded. The typical ship depicts a crew of six to thirteen. Rock carvings in the late Bronze Age, and even the early Iron Age, often depict conflict, power, and mobility.
Settlement in the Nordic Bronze Age period consisted mainly of single farmsteads, with no towns or substantial villages known - farmsteads usually consisted of a longhouse plus additional four-post built structures (helms) - longhouses were initially two aisled, and after c. 1300 BC three aisled structure became normal. Evidence of multiple longhouses at a single site have been found, but they are thought to date to different periods, rather than being of the same date. Settlements were geographically located on higher ground, and tended to be concentrated near the sea.
Associated with Nordic Bronze Age settlements are burial mounds and cemeteries, with interments including oak coffins and urn burials; other settlement associations include rock carvings, or bronze hoards in wetland sites.
In the Nordic Bronze Age, both agriculture (including wheat, millet, and barley) and husbandry (keeping of domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs) were practiced, and fishing and shellfish were also sources of food, as well as deer, elk, and other wild animal hunting. There is evidence that oxen were used as draught animals, domesticated dogs were common, horses were rarer and probably status symbols.
Even though Scandinavians joined the European Bronze Age cultures fairly late through trade, Scandinavian sites present a rich and well-preserved legacy of bronze and gold objects. These valuable metals were all imported, primarily from Central Europe, but they were often crafted locally and the craftsmanship and metallurgy of the Nordic Bronze Age was of a high standard. The archaeological legacy also comprise locally of crafted wool and wooden objects.
During the 15th and 14th centuries BC, southern Scandinavia produced and deposited more elaborate bronzes in graves and hoards than any other region of Europe. With respects to the number and density of metal deposits, the Nordic Bronze Age became the richest culture in Europe.
The art of the Nordic Bronze Age is very similar to that of Mycenaean Greece. The similarities are so striking that archaeologists have referred to the Nordic Bronze Age as "a specific and
selective Nordic variety of Mycenaean high culture". These similarities can not have come about without intimate contacts, probably through the travels of warriors and mercenaries. It might also reflect and common Indo-European tradition. Such similarities are not detected between Mycenaean Greece and other European Bronze Age cultures.
There is no coherent knowledge about the Nordic Bronze Age religion; its pantheon, world view and how it was practised. Written sources are lacking, but archaeological finds draw a vague and fragmented picture of the religious practices and the nature of the religion of this period. Only some possible sects and only certain possible tribes are known. Some of the best clues come from tumuli, elaborate artifacts, votive offerings and rock carvings scattered across Northern Europe.
Many finds indicate a strong sun-worshipping cult in the Nordic Bronze Age and various animals have been associated with the sun's movement across the sky, including horses, birds, snakes and marine creatures (see also Sól).
A pair of twin gods are believed to have been worshipped, and is reflected in a duality in all things sacred: where sacrificial artifacts have been buried they are often found in pairs. Sacrifices (animals, weapons, jewellery and humans) often had a strong connection to bodies of water.
Boglands, ponds, streams or lakes were often used as ceremonial and holy places for sacrifices and many artifacts have been found in such locations.
There are many rock carving sites from this period. The rock carvings have been dated through comparison with depicted artifacts, for example bronze axes and swords. Many rock carvings are uncanny in resemblance to those found in the Corded Ware Culture. There are also numerous Nordic Stone Age rock carvings, those of northern Scandinavia mostly portray elk.
Ritual instruments such as bronze lurs have been uncovered, especially in the region of Denmark and western Sweden. Lur horns are also depicted in several rock carvings and are believed to have been used in ceremonies.
Hunting scenes. Reindeer, hunters and fishing boats. Alta in Norway.
Agriculture. Ploughing with bulls. Petroglyph depiction from Tanum, Sweden.
Boats and sun symbols. Bardal Rock carvings, Steinkjer, Norway.
Metallurgy and tool making. Bronze saw mold, Sweden.
Wool clothing. Trindhøj man, Denmark.
Bronze combs. Gotland, Sweden.
Bronze razor knife for shaving. Scania, Sweden.
Bronze swords. Rørby, Denmark.
Thousands of rock carvings from the Nordic Bronze Age depict ships, and the large stone burial monuments, known as stone ships, suggest that ships and seafaring played an important role in the culture at large. The depicted ships, most likely represents sewn plank built canoes used for warfare, fishing and trade. These ship types may have their origin as far back as the neolithic period and they continue into the Pre-Roman Iron Age, as exemplified by the Hjortspring boat. 3,600-year old bronze axes and other tools made from Cypriot copper have been found in the region.
The Nordic Bronze Age was initially characterized by a warm climate that began with a climate change around 2700 BC. The climate was comparable to that of present-day central Germany and northern France and permitted a fairly dense population and good opportunities for farming; for example, grapes were grown in Scandinavia at this time. A minor change in climate occurred between 850 BC and 760 BC, introducing a wetter, colder climate and a more radical climate change began around 650 BC.
A June 2015 study published in Nature found the people of the Nordic Bronze Age to be closely genetically related to the Corded Ware culture, the Beaker culture and the Unetice culture. People of the Nordic Bronze Age and Corded Ware show the highest lactose tolerance among Bronze Age Europeans. The study suggested that the Sintashta culture, and its succeeding Andronovo culture, represented an eastward migration of Corded Ware peoples. Numerous cultural similarities between the Nordic Bronze, the Sintastha/Andronovo culture and peoples described in the Rigveda have been detected.[a]
In the June 2015 study, the remains of nine individuals of the Northern Bronze Age and earlier Neolithic cultures in Denmark and Sweden from ca. 2850 BC to 500 BC, were analyzed. Among the Neolithic individuals, the three males were found to be carrying haplogroup I, R1a1a1 and R1b1a1a2a1a1. Among the individuals from the Nordic Bronze Age, two males carried I, while two carried R1b1a1a2.
^ abc"European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures such as Corded Ware, Bell Beakers, Unetice, and the Scandinavian cultures are genetically very similar to each other... The close affinity we observe between peoples of Corded Ware and Sintashta cultures suggests similar genetic sources of the two... Among Bronze Age Europeans, the highest tolerance frequency was found in Corded Ware and the closely-related Scandinavian Bronze Age cultures... The Andronovo culture, which arose in Central Asia during the later Bronze Age, is genetically closely related to the Sintashta peoples, and clearly distinct from both Yamnaya and Afanasievo. Therefore, Andronovo represents a temporal and geographical extension of the Sintashta gene pool... There are many similarities between Sintasthta/Androvono rituals and those described in the Rig Veda and such similarities even extend as far as to the Nordic Bronze Age."
Dabrowski, J. (1989) Nordische Kreis un Kulturen Polnischer Gebiete. Die Bronzezeit im Ostseegebiet. Ein Rapport der Kgl. Schwedischen Akademie der Literatur Geschichte und Alter unt Altertumsforschung über das Julita-Symposium 1986. Ed Ambrosiani, B. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Konferenser 22. Stockholm.
Davidson, H. R. Ellis and Gelling, Peter: The Chariot of the Sun and other Rites and Symbols of the Northern European Bronze Age.
K. Demakopoulou (ed.), Gods and Heroes of the European Bronze Age, published on the occasion of the exhibition "Gods and Heroes of the Bronze Age. Europe at the Time of Ulysses", from December 19, 1998, to April 5, 1999, at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, London (1999), ISBN0-500-01915-0.
Demougeot, E. La formation de l'Europe et les invasions barbares, Paris: Editions Montaigne, 1969-1974.
Douglas Price, Theron (2015). Ancient Scandinavia: An Archaeological History from the First Humans to the Vikings. Oxford University Press. ISBN0190231971.