This week: Danish treasure

A silver hoard discovered in Terslev, Zealand. It includes 1751 coins. The latest-dated coin was minted in AD 944. The hoard was buried sometime during the second half of the 10th century. IMAGE: Nationalmuseet/WikiMedia

No written records exist to explain why people in early medieval Europe chose to bury collections of their most valuable objects or artefacts – known to archaeologists as ‘hoards’ – though logic suggests that burying your treasures at moments of danger may have seemed like a sensible precaution at the time.

Other reasons put forward for the preponderance of hoards dating from the Viking Age and earlier include the need for warlords, chieftains and other leaders to stockpile valuable items – especially those made of silver and gold – so that they could be used in future to reward allies, or bargain with rivals, or simply to impress the neighbours.

As we learn this week on The Past, another possibility is that burying hoards of gold and silver may also have served a religious purpose – perhaps as an offering to the pagan gods in times of desperation, or because it was believed that a man might have the use of his buried treasures in the afterlife.

In the latest issue of our sister magazine Minerva, Mads Ravn investigates a spectacular cache of gold discovered in 2020 by a metal detectorist in Denmark.

Buried during the 6th century near to the later Viking centre of Jelling, the Vindelev hoard is now recognised as being among the most precious finds in European archaeology – but what does it tell us about power and belief at the time? And what part did a disastrous volcanic event play in the decision to inter this unique collection of golden objects?

Elsewhere this week, we have also been delving into the archive for more about early Danish history: we wondered at the extraordinary magnificence of the famous Trundholm Sun Chariot; we explored the Viking fortresses of Trelleborg and Borgring; we visited the country’s National Museum to study its rich holdings of antiquities; and we even went searching for evidence of the Iron Age sacrifice of enemy warriors.

And finally, if all that leaves you wanting more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around Danish history and culture. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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