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Encyclopedia > Urnfield culture numerals
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During the beginning of the Urnfield culture, around 1200 BC, a series of votive sickles of bronze with marks that have been interpreted as a numeral system, appeared in Central Europe. The Urnfield culture of central European culture is dated roughly between 1300 BC and 750 BC. The name describes the custom of cremating the dead and placing them in cemeteries. ... Using a sickle A Adam is a curved, hand-held agricultural tool typically used for harvesting grain crops before the advent of modern harvesting machinery. ... Assorted ancient Bronze castings found as part of a cache, probably intended for recycling. ... A numeral is a symbol or group of symbols, or a word in a natural language that represents a number. ... Central Europe The Alpine Countries and the Visegrád Group (Political map, 2004) Central Europe is the region lying between the variously and vaguely defined areas of Eastern and Western Europe. ...



In 1946 a deposit with more than 250 sickles corresponding to the period 1500-1250 BC was discovered in Frankleben (in the region of Merseburg-Querfurt). This discovery was part of a series of deposits from the Urnfield culture found close to the Saale, where some 600 sickles and other objects have been retrieved. The sickles are thought to have been created and buried in deposits with ritual ends, due to the lack of signs of use. Merseburg is a city in the south of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. ... Querfurt a town in Merseburg-Querfurt district (Kreis) in the south of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, situated in a fertile country on the Querne, 18 miles west from Merseburg, on a branch line from Oberroblingen. ... Length 413 km Elevation of the source 728  m Average discharge  ?  m³/s Area watershed  ?  km² Origin  Germany Mouth  Elbe Basin countries Germany Saale is the name of two rivers in Germany: the Saxonian Saale (German: Sächsische Saale) and the Franconian Saale (German: Fränkische Saale). ...

On the sickles, a series of marks in two positions called attention: simple strokes, under the button that sticks out, near where a handle ought to be, and more complex signs, in the corner of the blade or on the base. The basic strokes have been interpreted as a numeral system.

Other objects that show these marks have been discovered, like the Ruthen stamp (from the end of the Bronze Age), which shows the symbol //// and the Coswig vessel (between 1200-1000 BC), which also shows the symbol ////, accompanied by other symbols. In the case of the Coswig vessel, it gives the impression that it was made by a trained hand which wrote a complex series of signs on the fresh clay surface. The Bronze Age is a period in a civilizations development when the most advanced metalworking has developed the techniques of smelting copper from natural outcroppings and alloys it to cast bronze. ...

The numeral system

The discovered numeral system is in base five, i.e. quinary. The units digit are written with a stroke from the top-right to the bottom-left «/» and the fifths place with a stroke from the top-left to the bottom-right «». The numbers from 1 = / to 29 = //// have been found. The radix (Latin for root), also called base, is the number of various unique symbols (or digits or numerals) a positional numeral system uses to represent numbers. ... Quinary (base-5) is a numeral system with five as the base. ...


These embossed marks, unique in objects from the Bronze Age, were introduced in cast-iron molds and were not created on finished objects. The the marks on the clay molds were done sometimes by hand, others with stamps, and corrected wrong symbols indicates an intention and a previous planning. The marking system for the clay on the cast is similar to Mesopotamian cuneiform. Mesopotamia refers to the region now occupied by modern Iraq, eastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and Southwest Iran. ... Look up Cuneiform in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...

That the numbers past 29 have not been found, when theoretically the system can be used to write unlimited numbers, has been interpreted to be because of the lunar cycle of 29.5 days. The cultures that use a lunar calendar habitually decide between 29 and 30 days for their calendar and correct the annual difference in various ways. If this interpretation is accepted, each ravine represents one day of the lunar cycle. In astronomy, a phase of the Moon is any of the aspects or appearances presented by the Moon as seen from Earth, determined by the portion of the Moon that is visibly illuminated by the Sun. ... It has been suggested that lunar year be merged into this article or section. ...

The shape of the sickle is similar to a crescent moon, which explains the significance of this object in the worship of the Urnfield culture. Apparent magnitude: up to -12. ...

With this, the symbol found on the Ruthen stamp and the Coswig vase has been interpreted, 29 = ////, as a symbol of the lunar cycle. In general, it is believed that the writing encodes the lunar cycle as the agricultural cycle linked with the moon and the Sun. The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. ...

Other symbols

Another series of symbols exists which appears around the scythes and still has not be interpreted. However it is clear that these symbols follow determined rules that are valid in all the influential territory.

Some of those symbols can be put in groups from one to four by what has been proposed as a type of base five numeral system.

56 57 55 53 52 54 44 58
66 67 63 62 64 ●● 68
76 77 73 72 74 ●●● 78
86 87 85 82 84 ●●●● 88

There still exist some symbols that have not been put in any group:

16 22 25 26 33 36 42 43 69

The numbers 22, 25, 33, 36, 43 and 69 and the 24, 52, 53, 54, 56, 62, 63, 64, 66, 73, 74, 84 and 86 appear on the base of the scythe. The numbers 16, 26 and 42 and the 44, 52, 54, 55, 57, 58, 62, 64, 67, 68, 72, 74, 77, 78, 82, 84, 85, 87 and 88 appear on the angle of the sickle. The numbers 52, 54, 62, 64, 74 and 84 appear in both places.

Hypothesis of the runes

This writing has been related to the German runes, not only due to the geographic but also the agricultural and lunar character that the two possess. It has been affirmed that the runes often appear together with other non-runic symbols, even in combination on the same object. Also, ᛃ j, ᛜ ng and also ᚷ g do not have connections to the Etruscan alphabet from which the Runic alphabet supposedly comes. On the other hand, the letters ᛃ j, ᛜ ng y ᚲ k are distinguished from the rest of the runes by their smaller size. The runes are also characterized by possessing names in addition to representing a sound. A rune can mean a single character in the Runic alphabet as well as an inscription of several runic charcters or symbols. ... Old Italic refers to a number of related historical alphabets used on the Italian peninsula which were used for some non-Indo-European languages (Etruscan and probably North Picene), various Indo-European languages belonging to the Italic branch (Faliscan and members of the Sabellian group, including Oscan, Umbrian, and South... Younger Futhark inscription on the Vaksala Runestone The Runic alphabets are a set of related alphabets using letters known as runes, formerly used to write Germanic languages, mainly in Scandinavia and the British Isles, but before Christianization also on the European Continent. ...

Under the hypothesis that the names of some runes were taken from previous symbols, the names of those runes could give clues about the meaning of the symbols. In this way, if the symbol that has more combinations with others , the one that appears most frequently and the most characteristic are selected, you can make the following equivalence:

Symbol Rune Equivalence Meaning
22 jera year
69 ingwaz god
36 gebô present

This is just an interesting hypothesis that perhaps can never be confirmed.

External links

  • Image of the Frankleben sickles.
  • Image of the Coswig vase.


  • This article draws heavily on the corresponding article in the Spanish-language Wikipedia, which was accessed in the version of December 16, 2006.
  • Meller, Harald (Ed.), Der geschmiedete Himmel, Ed. Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt (2006)

ISBN 3-8062-1907-9



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