‘Acorn-shaped’ Chain Rein Link from Gulb in the Iława Lakeland
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Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego
Publication date: 2020-01-28
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2019;LXX(70):239–245
In the collection of the Museum of Warmia and Masuria in Olsztyn, there is an oblong chain rein link in the shape of joined double acorns made of copper alloy (Fig. 1). The object was discovered about 500 m to the north-east of the main intersection in the village of Gulb, Iława County, in northern Poland. The link from Gulb corresponds to type Z4 acc. to S. Wilbers-Rost (1994), which is one of the main components of bridles of the Vimose I subtype. Vimose I bridles are found in vast areas of Barbaricum, with several more pronounced concentrations in Sambia and the Middle Danube basin (Moravia and Upper Austria), on the Main and Middle Rhine, and on the south-western shores of the Baltic Sea (Jutland, Skåne, Mecklenburg and Hither Pomerania). A few specimens are also known from Masuria and Mazovia (Fig. 3). The earliest assemblages with Vimose I bridles come from Sambia, from graves dating to phase B2b; they become more numerous in the subsequent phase B2/C1. The artefacts from the Middle Danube are stray finds either from settlements or without a known context of discovery, exceptionally from aquatic environments. A chronological analysis of the use of settlements in this region indicates that the components of the Vimose I bridles should be associated with phase B2/C1, i.e. the times of the Marcomannic Wars or the period immediately after them. The youngest examples of Vimose I bridles from phase C1b come from the only better-dated assemblage in the south-western Baltic zone, namely the votive deposit from the Thorsberg moor (Fig. 2) at the base of Jutland. The chronology of bridles of the Vimose I subtype indicates that the oblong linking piece from Gulb should be attributed to the people of the Wielbark Culture, who inhabited the Iława Lakeland from at least phase B2 to C3–D. Despite the stray nature of the find, this assessment is of paramount importance, as so far no elements of horse tacks with chain reins have been found in a context that would clearly indicate the Wielbark Culture. Only two water finds could possibly be linked to this cultural unit, although their cultural affiliation is not clear: the bridle of the Vimose I subtype fished out of the Bug near Kamieńczyk and the Illerup-type harness found in a swamp near Żabin, Drawsko Pomorskie County, in north-western Poland (Fig. 4). The uneven distribution model of horse tacks with chain reins in the eastern part of Barbaricum reflects the funerary customs of communities within particular cultural groups. In the West Balt Circle, components of horse tacks are typical elements of grave-goods and often occur in the burials of the horses themselves. However, the tradition of depositing horse tacks in graves and burying horses at cemeteries from the Roman Period is almost unknown in the Przeworsk and Wielbark Cultures. On the other hand, in the basins of the Oder and Vistula Rivers, horse tacks were votively deposited in aquatic environments. In this zone, metal elements of bridles should also be expected at settlements, as demonstrated by the example from the Przeworsk Culture settlement in Jakuszowice, Kazimierza Wielka County, in southern Poland, and also suggested by more numerous finds from the Danube Zone. Therefore, it seems more likely that the find from Gulb comes from a settlement or a votive deposit, although an unequivocal solution to this research problem seems unlikely due to incomplete information on the context of the discovery.