Unique jewellery from the British Isles found in Danish Viking grave
A Danish Viking burial site contains a buckle that may have come from Ireland or Scotland.
At just 6 cm in diameter, this little buckle is causing quite a stir in archaeological circles.
The small gilt bronze buckle once held a petticoat together and was buried between 900 and 1,000 years ago with its female owner in a Viking grave in west Denmark.
It is a rare find for Denmark, as the buckle appears to have come from Scotland or Ireland.
But just to determine this has been quite a journey, says project manager and archaeologist Ernst Stidsing, from the Museum East Jutland, Denmark.
The find is described in a collection of articles "Dead and buried in the Viking Age", published by Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Never seen anything like it
Ernst Stidsing knew immediately that he had found something unusual in the small bronze disc.
"I had never seen anything like this before," says Stidsing.
He photographed the buckle and sent the images to a colleague, Emeritus Professor Else Roesdahl, from Aarhus University, Denmark.
"She hadn’t seen anything like it either. And when Else Roesdahl hasn’t seen anything like it, then you know it’s unique," he says.
Roesdahl also sent the images to colleagues to help identify it.
"They could say, fairly reliably, that it was a fitting from a shrine of insular origin--that is, from the British Isles. One thought that the ornamentation looked Irish, another said that it was from the south of Scotland," says Stidsing.
Read More: Archaeological breakthrough could solve the mystery of Greenland’s Vikings.
The object is plunder
The foreign experts all agreed that the little bronze disc had been a decorative fitting on a religious wooden box before it became a clothing buckle. And that it was most likely stolen.
"It’s from a monastery or a church, and not necessarily Christian. But it’s very likely stolen goods--such objects were not traded. The Vikings didn’t come to own this sort of thing by honest means," says Stidsing.
The grave was dated to the 900s AD, while the international experts date the buckle at around 800 AD.
Jens Ulriksen, an archaeologist and curator at the Museum Southeast Denmark, confirms that this is a unique find in Denmark.
"Such buckles are very rare in Denmark. I've never seen this kind of ornamentation before in a Danish context, and to find it in a tomb is very unusual," says Ulriksen.
Possible staging in Norway
How the buckle ended up in west Denmark is anyone’s guess. But Stidsing speculates that it could have passed through Norway on its way.
"It’s not really common in Norway--but there are some examples. It could have been [brought by] a Norwegian woman who came to Denmark with her jewellery, and lived and died there," says Stidsing.
He now hopes that strontium isotope analysis of the woman’s teeth could clear up where she came from.
"I'm pretty excited about the outcome of the analysis,” says Stidsing. “Especially as the Norwegian Vikings were often on expeditions to the north of England. It's exciting that a woman may have come from Norway and have lived part of her life in Jutland [west Denmark]."
"It will confirm the picture that we were already [living] in a globalised world back then," he says.
Read more: A famous Danish Bronze Age icon turns out not to be Danish after all
Confirms Viking mobility
Ulriksen agrees that it is an interesting hypothesis.
"It’ll be exciting if we find some indication that she was raised, married, and settled over greater distances. We know that Danish kings married Slavic princesses from 900 AD," he says.
"It wouldn’t surprise me that there was an exchange, but it’s worth gold to have it confirmed. And you might see some dynastic connections across the Nordic region," says Ulriksen.
Confirming her Norwegian origins would also help archaeologists understand exactly how mobile the Vikings were.
Read the Danish version of this story on Videnskab.dk
Translated by: Catherine Jex