Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae bigraphy, stories - Danish archaeologist

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae : biography

14 March 1821 - 15 August 1885

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae (14 March 1821 – 15 August 1885) was a Danish archaeologist, historian and politician, who was the second director of the National Museum of Denmark (1865–1874). He played a key role in the foundation of scientific archaeology. Worsaae was the first to excavate and use stratigraphy to prove C. J. Thomsen's sequence of the Three-age system: Stone, Bronze, Iron. He was also a pioneer in the development of paleobotany through his excavation work in the peat bogs of Jutland. Worsaae served as Kultus Minister of Denmark (the cultural and education minister) for Christen Andreas Fonnesbech from 1874 to 1875.

Early life and education

Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae was born in Vejle, Denmark in 1821. He was the fifth of eleven children born into a wealthy, educated family. His father was a civil servant (a county treasurer) for the County of Vejle and also a member of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquities.

Worsaae's archaeological interests began in 1832 when his father gave him two stone axes, one which had been found on his land and the other having been found in the dredging of Vejle harbour. Hermansen, 1934 Worsaae was inspired; he began to search in on the east coast of Jutland before expanding his search area to include central and southern Jutland as well.

In 1835 whilst at school in Randers Worsaae was invited to participate in an excavation of a grave at Bygholm, outside Horsens. Worsaae was also included in excavations near Jellinge the following year.

In 1838 he started studies at the University of Copenhagen, graduating in 1841.

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Career and contributions

While in Copenhagen for college, Worsaae began to work as a volunteer with Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, the first director of the National Museum of Denmark. He learned Thomsen's methods of dating artifacts and controlled archaeological excavation.

The Primeval Antiquities of Denmark Danmarks Oldtid oplyst ved Oldsager og Gravhøie

Worsaae was working in a context of nationalist striving. In the mid-19th century, amid Danish-German political tension, the Norwegian scholar and nationalist Peter Andreas Munch provided the Germans with arguments for invading Denmark by suggesting that Denmark had originally been settled by Germans. But, Worsaae argued that the prehistoric peoples of the archaeological records could not be identified with any modern peoples because of the sheer timescale involved. Still, his work on Danish antiquities was taken to mean that natives had a long history in the area.Rowley-Conwy 2006

Similarly, when the Haraldskær Woman, a peat-bog mummy was found in southern Denmark in 1843, she was exhibited as the legendary Queen Gunhild of the early Mediaeval period. Worsaae disputed this view, arguing that the body was Iron Age in origin, like most from the bogs, and predated any historical persons of the chronicles by at least 500 years.P.V. Glob (1969). The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved. London: Faber and Faber Limited, pp. 69-73. Gjerløff 1999

King Christian sent him on a research trip to Britain and Ireland in 1846 and 1847, to study evidence of Vikings. He did research into antiquities and histories to develop an account of the culture around the North Sea. Worsaae wrote An Account of the Danes and the Norsemen in England, Scotland and Ireland (1852).

In 1847 Worsaae was appointed the Inspector for the Conservation of Antiquarian Monuments. He worked to preserve areas and directed excavations across the country. By controlled excavation and analysis of stratigraphy, he found artifacts that supported Thomsen's Three-Age System, formerly based on the museum collection. Using Nilsson's studies of prehistoric subsistence and the Danish geologist Johannes Japetus Steenstrup's studies of changes in prehistoric forestation, Worsaae began to explore the limits of what can be known about prehistory. In that period of scholarship, those who could grasp the concept of prehistory were hard pressed to imagine that cultural developments could be discerned within the three ages. Through excavations of stone-age sites, Worsaae saw that there were distinct trends of coöccurrence: a period with simple tools, signs of hunting and fishing, and with dog bones as the only evidence of domestic animals. This period was associated with the discovery of “kitchen middens”: enormous piles of waste produced by oyster-eating foragers. The middens were sometimes as large as ten meters high and a hundred meters long. Worsaae commented in his diary that ”these enormous piles of oyster shells must represent the remains of meals eaten by stone age people.” diary entry september 1850 - Gräslund 1987

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine