The period from 2000 to 1000 B.C. is marked by the rise of warrior elites in western and central Europe. Distinguished by ritual, wealth, and equestrian culture, these elites collected weapons and precious trinkets, which archaeologists have found buried in their graves.
Rock faces in the Alps, such as Val Carmonica in northern Italy, Monte Bego in France, and Totes Gebirge in Austria, are carved with animals, buildings, and warriors, perhaps engaged in martial rituals.
The Unitice culture, named after a cemetery near Prague, emerges across central Europe. Flat burials with no mounds are the rule. Bodies are frequently arranged according to gender and oriented with respect to the points of the compass.
Builders arrange a variety of megaliths from Wales at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain. Although the exact use and meaning of the structure remains unexplained, it probably served in a ceremony associated with the changing of the seasons.
Impressive mounds in central Germany cover tombs equipped with tools for carpentry and metalwork. The monumentality and wealth of the burials suggest the esteem and power that belonged to artisans skilled in the extraction and working of metal, a new enterprise in central Europe.
Horses and a culture of horsemanship arrive in central Europe from the steppes to the east. With these comes a style of ornament composed of C-shaped scrolls and compass-drawn circles, earlier used to decorate horse trappings.
Goods begin to travel widely between cultures north and south. Spearheads, swords, and imported jewelry appear in European tombs, as do pins with wheel-shaped heads, which may refer to the chariot, a powerful status symbol. Throughout Europe, small groups seek status by controlling metals and other resources and acquiring the outward signs of wealth.
Metalworking, already known in Europe for over a thousand years, increases dramatically. Smiths handle larger quantities of bronze and gold and exploit sophisticated techniques such as lost-wax casting and casting in molds in many pieces.
A shift in funerary practice begins. In place of inhumation burial, cremation becomes the norm; the ashes are interred, usually with a few grave goods, in urns placed in cemetery grounds. The change seems to indicate new religious concepts, which hold the materiality of the body less important and leave precious objects largely to the living.
“Western and Central Europe, 2000–1000 B.C.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=03®ion=euw (October 2000)