How a looted Irish horse harness fitting ended up as Viking brooch
When a female Norwegian Viking died some time during the 9th century, she was buried wearing a status symbol: a beautiful piece of bronze jewellery worn on her traditional Norse dress.
|In 2016, this piece of jewellery was found in the soil at Agdenes
farm, situated at the outermost part |
of the Trondheim Fjord in Mid-Norway [Credit: Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum]
The decorations suggest that the jewellery was made in a Celtic workshop, most likely in Ireland, in the 8th or 9th century. It was originally used as a fitting for a horse's harness, but holes at the bottom and traces of rust from a needle on the back show that it had probably been turned into a brooch at a later stage.
But how did a fitting from an Irish horse's harness end up as a brooch for a Norwegian Viking woman?
Took the jewellery to her grave
Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen is a doctoral student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Historical Studies and works with finds brought to Norway during the Viking age. She will now study the bronze brooch more closely, which is has been curated and preserved by the NTNU University Museum.
|Doctoral student Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen at the Department of
Historical Studies at NTNU will conduct more |
research on the bronze brooch, which is preserved and maintained by the NTNU University Museum
[Credit: Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum]
"A housewife in Mid-Norway probably received the fitting as a gift from a family member who took part in one or more Viking raids to Ireland or Great Britain. When she died, the jewellery was given to her as a burial gift. It has stayed underground until it was found by chance this summer," Heen Pettersen says.
She adds that almost all of the similar finds from this era that have been discovered in Norway have been found in women's graves that date from the first half of the 9th century, when the Vikings began to plunder the British Isles.
Visual status symbols
Being part of the early Viking raids brought status and prestige to the individuals who participated, but also to their families. The men who returned alive from the dangerous journeys gave the objects they had stolen as gifts to female family members who waited for them at home. The fittings were then turned into jewellery, and were worn on traditional Norse clothing as brooches, pendants or belt fittings.
from harnesses were popular among the Norwegian Vikings who
participated in the first looting expeditions|
to the British Isles, at the beginning of the Viking Age [Credit: Arkikon]
Jewellery of this kind has typically been found in women's graves with relatively few other burial gifts. This suggests that many of the Vikings who took part in raids far away did not represent the top layer of the social hierarchy. Instead, they were "nouveau riche" farmers and fishermen who got the opportunity to climb the social ladder by taking part in Viking raids.
Agdenes is strategically located at the south end of the mouth of the Trondheim Fjord, where it meets the Trondheimsleia Strait. The place is mentioned several times in the Norse sagas as a gathering place where ships with warriors met before their journey continued.
Traces of King Øystein's Harbour, which was established for military and defense reasons early in the 12th century, are found just next to Agdenes farm, where the bronze brooch was discovered. The harbour validates the strategic location of the place. It is possible that the area served as a natural gathering or stopping place for ships sailing from the Trondheim Fjord to the British Isles.
From Mid-Norway, ships probably followed the coastline southwards before they crossed the open ocean across the North Sea. If the weather was nice and the wind came from the right direction, they could sail from the southwest of Norway to the east coast of England or Scotland in just a couple of days.
If they were surprised by bad weather, the journey could be fatal.
According to Heen Pettersen, the bronze brooch was found by a private individual with a metal detector, so it is not a find from an archaeological site. The jewellery was not found in the original grave, which indicates that the grave at some point had been disturbed -- for example during ploughing or other farming activities.
"The new find from Agdenes farm shows that the area was populated in the first part of the Viking Age. Even though it is a random find, it is a nice reminder that Mid-Norway was involved in the early contact with the British Isles," says Heen Pettersen.
Author: Grete Wolden | Source: The Norwegian University of Science and Technology [December 19, 2016]