A large hoard of finely worked and decorated golden medallions, dating to the 6th century AD, has been uncovered in Denmark. Found at Vindelev, the hoard contains 22 gold objects: decorated gold discs called bracteates, Roman coins that had been worked into pendants, and gold jewellery with an ornate granulation design. The find was made by a metal-detectorist, and the site was then excavated by archaeologists from the Vejlemuseerne, working with the National Museum of Denmark.
Bracteates are known from the Migration Period of northern Europe (c.AD 400-550), but there are also older coins in the hoard. One heavy gold coin dates from the reign of Constantine (r. AD 306-337), about 200 years before the assortment of gold objects are thought to have been buried. Some of the large bracteates are adorned with runic inscriptions and images including bands of birds. One has a man’s head in profile on its face, with a bird and a horse below him, and a runic inscription that has been preliminarily translated as ‘the High One’, possibly in reference to the ruler who may have buried this collection of wealth. The epithet ‘the High One’ is also given to the Norse god Odin.
Investigations so far, the researchers say, have revealed that the hoard was originally buried in a longhouse in the village of Vindelev. Vindelev lies just 8km away from Jelling, an important royal site where Harald Bluetooth built a wooden church in the 10th century, after introducing Christianity to Denmark. The size of the find, weighing nearly 1kg, suggests that nearby Vindelev was an earlier power-centre in the 6th century. According to Mads Ravn, the Head of Research at Vejlemuseerne, the person who would have been able to amass such remarkable wealth must have been at the top of society, and although it was known there was a site at Vindelev, there was previously no indication that someone of this status would have been present there before the rise of the kingdom of Denmark and the importance of Jelling in the 10th century.
It is hoped that further research, including analysis of samples obtained at the site, will help build an understanding of why this hoard was buried in the 6th century. It may be associated with a catastrophic volcanic eruption in AD 536, which produced a large ash cloud leading to famine and economic turmoil. A number of other hoards from Denmark are thought to date from the period after this climatic event, perhaps concealed for safekeeping in the turbulent aftermath in which old rulers were spurned, or even to placate the gods.
The Vindelev treasure will go on display at the Vejlemuseerne in February, as part of a planned Viking exhibition. Check www.vejlemuseerne.dk for updates.