In this Christmas edition of the LVA blog: a Danish December, artefacts around Ribe, and lots of GOLD!
This time last year I travelled to Ribe in South West Jutland on LVA research. Despite the cold, the damp and the grey skies, it was a fruitful and highly enjoyable trip. In fact December is an excellent time to visit Ribe: glowing Christmas lights adorn the already picturesque town, the Christmas market gløgg is strong and warming, and along the roadsides every other farm offers fresh evergreen boughs and wreaths for sale. December 2016 was a particularly special time for Viking-Age archaeologists and metal-detector users in South West Jutland, but more on that shortly.
Ribe was the first stop on the LVA data collection tour. The Sydvestjyske Museer had agreed to provide us with access to their database which holds details on all metal-detected artefacts recorded from the Ribe hinterland. I discuss the practice of recording metal-detected finds in Denmark elsewhere, so for now it suffices to say that the Sydvestjyske Museer’s recording system is comprehensive and very well organised; they include all finds reported to them by metal-detector users, not just those that count as ‘treasure’ according to Danefae. Finds are photographed whenever possible and relations between staff at Sydvestjyske Museer and metal-detector users are overwhelmingly positive. In fact the employee who designed their in-house database and who helped me out as I searched through it, is himself a metal-detector user.
My primary point of contact before arriving was Morten Søvsø, Head of Archaeology. Mette Søvsø, one of the curators, was on site to help get my search underway upon arrival. Once Mette had translated all the necessary Danish words into English for me, I was able to search through the database for suitable LVA artefacts. To briefly go over the criteria we were applying to our search, we wanted details on artefacts that were:
- Found within the Ribe ‘hinterland’ or surrounding area
- Found by metal-detector
- Dated to within AD 650-1100
- Either: a brooch, a coin, a piece of riding equipment, or a strap-fitting
The search was easily restricted to the Ribe hinterland (1) due to the jurisdiction of the Sydvestjykse Museer; metal-detected finds (2) were then easily selected for in the database. They make up the majority of recorded artefacts in South West Jutland in any case. Finding artefacts that fell within the appropriate date range (3) was more of a trick. The dating system used there was slightly different from what I was accustomed to through the PAS.
The PAS applies broad periods (e.g. ‘Early Medieval’ from AD 410 – AD 1066 (check out PAS Controlled Vocabulary to see other definitions). In general, there is little overlap across these periods: the Iron Age runs from 800 BC to AD 42, and the Roman period begins in AD 43 running to AD 410 when the Early Med starts, etc. Within these broad periods, each artefact is assigned a finer date-range, with a ‘date from’ and a ‘date to’. Based on the research question, one could look for all items that are generally classed as ‘Early Medieval’, or could specify a date range to find, for example, all keys dating between AD 230 to AD 1450.
The Sydvestjyske Museer database does have the option to provide a finer artefact chronology with the equivalent of ‘date from’ and ‘date to’ categories. Much more frequently than in the PAS, however, these were left blank. Instead, the dating relied primarily on broader periods, but these were more complex than simply ‘Early Medieval’, and they overlapped. So when narrowing down the chronological framework for my search, I had to tick several boxes, some of which meant I ended up with artefacts that were well outwith the desired date range.
For example, the ‘Young Iron Age’ is assigned a date range from 375-1066, and includes the Viking Age, but there were also narrower sub-periods such as the ‘Viking Age’ (750-1066) or even the ‘Old Viking Age’ (750-899), and broader periods, such as the ‘Viking or Middle Ages’ (750-1535). There are practical reasons behind this, and it’s great to be able to assign some level of periodisation to a given artefact even when its finer date range is difficult to pinpoint. It did mean that either extra time had to be put in attempting to refine some of the assigned dates, or that artefacts that were too broadly dated had to be omitted. At this point I still didn’t know what to expect from our next case study, working with Dutch material, so I simply gathered all the information I could and took notes that would later help with the data-cleaning process. For those interested, this fun process will be covered in a future post.
I also collected records on artefacts that weren’t readily classed as one of the four core types (4). The Sydvestjyske Museer categorises its artefacts by primary material first, and then by function. Collecting records on all silver and gold coins was straightforward. But the copper alloy ‘Jewellery’ category did not include every relevant brooch or strap-end, since I found some in the ‘General Finds’ or ‘Other finds’ categories. Nevertheless, I left confident that I had covered all angles and acquired all relevant records (plus extras).
The VERY best thing about working with this database was that it allowed bulk exports of all images associated with a given search return. With just a few clicks, for example, I could instantaneously export photographs of every silver coin, or if I wished, of every silver object. Although the artefact ID codes are a bit long, each image is titled with its ID, making them easy to search for in an accompanying folder. This step was hugely time consuming and valuable. As a closed database it wouldn’t have been possible to search for a record online after leaving Ribe.
Here are a few examples of the types of finds coming out of the Ribe area. Special thanks again to the Sydvestjyske Museer and its staff for use of these images.
It was heartening to recognise the classic Scandinavian-style brooches such as the domed Borre-style brooch shown above. Similar brooches to this have been found in England, and were imported from Scandinavia in the Viking Age.
Other brooch types found around Ribe were less distinctly Scandinavian, such as this enamelled disc brooch. This and other variations were popular throughout western Continental Europe during the Viking Age. The enamel brooches of South West Jutland have been studied by Maria Panum Baastrup.
From an insular perspective we tend to focus on the well-known oval, disc or trefoil brooches when we think about Scandinavian brooch forms. But the number of bird brooches found throughout the Ribe area are a reminder that there were other popular styles. Most of the bird brooches in the area are of copper alloy, but a stunning silver brooch has also been recorded. The bird brooches share a motif and the fan-shaped tail is generally standard, but the brooches themselves can vary widely in size, shape, and decoration.
Brooches made up the majority of the four core artefact types recorded around Ribe.
The coin results for the pre-Viking period were somewhat surprising. Ribe is known for its role as an important hub in early medieval trade networks. Small silver pennies (commonly called ‘sceattas’) were minted locally and formed part of an international currency. Other mints were located throughout England and the Low Countries. I had expected to see a certain amount of this coinage trickling into the nearby hinterland, ideally with a number of ‘imported’ sceattas represented, but in fact only a handful of early pennies were recorded in the area. The penny shown here is known as a ‘porcupine’ sceatta, series E, and was probably produced in the Netherlands.
Most of the other pennies were Arabic dirhams. These silver coins and fragments fall easily into the ‘imported’ category. The numerous cut fragments point to their value as silver by weight.
Strap fittings/Strap ends
This category was not strongly represented, but a handful of strap-ends and strap fittings were recorded, none of which are particularly picturesque.
The equestrian equipment was rather better represented, and as with the brooches, some ‘Scandinavian-style’ items similar to those found in England were immediately recognisable. Harness mounts such as the Borre-style mount shown here were replicated as harness fittings and also as lozenge-shaped brooches in England.
While in Ribe I also had the opportunity to explore the surrounding area and check out some of the finds-rich fields that yielded many of the artefacts we would be working with. I’ll save these details for a future post on the nature of the area and local patterns of detecting. In the meantime, I strongly recommend the article by Claus Feveile, ‘At the geestland edge southwest of Ribe: On the track of a centre of wealth during the 1st millennium AD’, which covers many of these topics.
The trip was a success. It was lovely to meet and work with the Sydvestjyske Museer team, and with over 500 artefact records to add to our dataset it was clear the case study area had been a good choice. But by far the most exciting thing that happened while in Denmark was the excavation of the second part of a Viking-Age gold hoard in the neighbouring jurisdiction of Sønderskov.
Five Gold Rings
(plus two more, plus 223 other pieces of jewellery and coins…)
While I was combing through metal-detected artefact records in Ribe, archaeologists were busy excavating an incredible metal-detected find just half an hour away. Thanks to the persuasive powers of Morten and good timing, on my last day in Denmark I found myself in a small room in the Sønderskov Museum where a handful of curators and archaeologists from Sønderskov and Sydvestjyske marvelled at this brilliant treasure, fresh from the ground but gleaming.
Unfortunately we could not photograph the hoard at the time, but I finally tracked down some decent images at http://www.xpmetaldetectors.com/blog-detection/en/finds/viking-gold-and-oath-rings-part-2-3/. The site also provides a detailed account of the discovery of the hoard in English.
At the museum we were permitted to handle everything but the most spectacular piece — a large gold Jellinge-style brooch-pendant with entwined beasts picked out in filigree, from which was suspended a ring, gold filigree beads, and four delicate gold double-linked chains each with another pendant. At a glance, the hoard is reminiscent of the Hiddensee treasure, with its filigree pendants and central brooch-pendant. In addition to the pure gold jewellery, however, were several glass and quartz pendants — stunning for their size and clarity — and some bits of hacksilver, including several pieces of chopped dirhams. There were also numerous gold arm-rings, some twisted, some plain, and various pieces of hackgold, gold wire, and filigree beads.
The hoard is presumed to be the work of a royal goldsmith, whose skills were honed in the workshop of one of Denmark’s Viking-Age kings. The treasure highlights the wealth of the region and sheds light on how gold was treasured, worn, and finely wrought in an ‘Age of Silver’.
Needless to say, viewing and handling more gold than I’d ever seen before more than made my December. And if you enjoyed the images here, you can now see the real deal at the Danish National Museum. But the opportunity to witness the positive relationship between responsible metal-detector users and the local archaeologists and curators was better than all the Viking-Age gold in the world.
Feveile, C (2014) ‘At the geestland edge southwest of Ribe: On the track of a centre of wealth during the 1st millennium AD’, in Stidsing, E, K Hoilund Nielsen, and Reno Fiedel (eds) Wealth and Complexity: Economically specialised sites in Late Iron Age Denmark. 73-90. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
Panum Baastrup, M (2007) ‘Vikingetidens og den tidlige middelalders emalje-fibler fra Sydvestjylland’, By, marsk og geest 19, 5-16.