The Final Journey

The Wagon Grave of Essenbach: A Bronze-Age Treasure

25.07.2024 - 07.01.2025

This archaeological exhibition takes us on a journey back in time to the Late Bronze Age, or, more precisely, the period of the Urnfield Culture (1300–800 BC).

The exhibition revolves around a wagon grave that was discovered in 2011 at Essenbach (Lower Bavaria). In the early Urnfield period, it became customary for the preeminent rulers of society to be cremated and buried along with a magnificent, four-wheeled wagon. The Essenbach grave and the finds recovered from it demonstrate that the “wagon driver”, who lived in the 13th century BC, must have played an important political, economic, and religious role, and belonged to a network of elite rulers stretching far beyond Europe’s borders.

The exhibition places the Essenbach wagon grave in its cultural and historical context. It begins with an introduction to the central European Urnfield period and its characteristic burial rituals, which included the cremation of the dead. The display then moves on to explore bronze metallurgy and the economic and social relationships which led to the rise of the “wagon-driver” elites. At the heart of the exhibition lies the magnificent four-wheeled wagon itself, which was originally drawn by two horses and played an important role in the ceremonial and cult practices of the Urnfield Culture.

Major loans from museums in Germany and abroad show what the Essenbach vehicle would have looked like before it was destroyed on the funeral pyre, and reflect the conceptual and technical preconditions for its production and use, including the earlier inventions of the wheel and the two-wheeled chariot. The site of the wagon grave and the grave goods found in it, such as a set of bronze weights, provide clues to the political, economic, and religious roles performed by the deceased during his lifetime. The final section addresses a theme which still concerns us today: our final destination on our journey through life. Various religious symbols and ritual implements (including the golden hat of Ezelsdorf/Buch), help us unravel the religious concepts of the Urnfield Culture, which centred on the power of the sun.

The excavated finds from Essenbach were gifted to the GNM in 2019 by the Essenbach municipality.