Whoever visits the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen will find themselves in the presence of a large vitrine containing some of the strangest objects ever found at an archaeological site. They are elaborate, over-man-high bronze horns, wound up in a 2-meter curve. It seems that whoever played those horns must have been a giant. The place they were discovered in is even stranger than their shape. They were found in the peat of the Danish bog landscape, along with many other objects, such as axes, weapons, and even almost 600 dead bodies to this day.
Scientists have found that the rivers, lakes, and swamps of the Nordic countries were preferred sacrificial sites for the Germanic tribes, who often broke and sacrificed the arms of the defeated after victory and placed them together with other sacrificial objects in watery locations. The most well-known of such offerings is certainly the famous hoard of the Nibelungs.
Due to their tranquil setting and chemical composition, bog swamps have particularly well-preserved the objects deposited within them. Among their intriguing contents are not only musical instruments and weapons, but also astonishingly well-preserved bog bodies. Bog bodies have been found in Denmark dating back to the Mesolithic age, with the approximately 10,000-year-old Koelbjerg Woman being the oldest known example. It is believed that many of the human beings found were sacrificed to the gods or punished.
As for the Lurs, these bizarre musical instruments were first discovered in 1797 in the Brudevælte Mose bog in northern Zealand. While digging peat, a farmer named Ole Pedersen found six of these large curved brass horns. One end of the tube had a mouthpiece, while the other end, where the blown air exits, had an ornamental plate decorated with six to ten round depressions, with eight being the most common number. Some Lurs that have been found since have small rattling plates at the mouthpiece or the ornamental plate, and some have a carrying chain.
A total of 56 Lurs have been discovered to date: 35 (including fragmentary ones) in Denmark, four in Norway, 11 in Sweden, five in northern Germany, and a single one in Latvia. These Lurs mostly date from the Bronze Age, which means they were created around 1,200-700 BC and were specific to the North, used for Bronze Age rituals. Swedish rock carvings indeed show men in horned helmets playing such Lurs. After use, the Lurs were apparently sacrificed in the bog. None have been found in burial mounds, suggesting that all of them were sacrificed in the low-lying swamps.
The earliest references to an instrument called the Lur come from Icelandic sagas, where they are described as war instruments used to marshal troops and frighten the enemy. These specific Lurs, several examples of which have been discovered in longboats, were straight, end-blown wooden tubes around one meter long.
Bronze Lur are to be seen separate from the wooden Lurs. They are most probably unrelated and were named by 19th century archaeologists after the 13th century wooden Lurs mentioned by the historian Saxo Grammaticus.
Bronze Lurs seems to have had a greater ritualistic meaning and date back to the Nordic Bronze Age, probably to the first half of the 1st millennium BC. They are roughly S-shaped conical tubes, without finger holes. They are end blown, like brass instruments, and sound rather like a trombone. The opposite end to the blown one is slightly flared, like the bell on a modern brass instrument but not to the same degree.
The word “Lur” is still very much alive in the Swedish language, indicating any funnel-shaped implement used for producing or receiving sound. For instance, the Swedish word for headphones is “hörlurar” (listening-lurs), and a mobile telephone might be referred to as a “lur” in contemporary Swedish (derived from “telefonlur”, telephone handset).
May be these mystical instruments can also lure you to the North and persuade you to visit the Danish National Museum and its spectacular finds from under water…