Kaga Gold Foil Figure Model


This entry was first published over the cell-phone network on my old site, without pix, on Monday 9 April.

This morning I woke up in an unexpected and not very welcome winter wonderland. Driving the 2.5 hours to Linköping on summer tyres was scary. But the snow was gone by lunch. An icy wind persisted.

I’m writing this from the kitchen of a little house we’re renting at the hostel in Mjölby. Today my crew of six did 27 person-hours of metal detecting at our site in Kaga parish, collecting about a hundred objects, most dating from the past three centuries. Only one can be dated before AD 1100, which would be a big disappointment but for one thing. We have found something extremely rare and unbeatably relevant to my research!

At top-level aristocratic manor sites of the later 1st Millennium in Scandinavia, minuscule gold foil figures are found, guldgubbar. They’re embossed with images of men and women, singly or pairwise, embracing and kissing. When found in situ, they are often associated with the posts carrying the roof of the mead-hall, venue of cultic feasts and political summits (for a particularly fine example from Uppåkra in Scania, see the current issue of Antiquity). The images have been interpreted as gods or heroes, the embracing pairs as mythical divine ancestors of royal lineages, perhaps the god Freyr and his chaos-giant wife Gerd.

Gold foil figures are exceptionally light-weight, replacing the more massive bracteate pendants when the Byzantine gold coin supply dried out at the shift to the Vendel Period c. AD 540. So light are they that they don’t trigger a metal detector. What does trigger a detector is the bronze model on which the figures were embossed. The number of such models found to date in all of Scandinavia is in the single digits. And today team member Niklas Krantz added one to that number!

Unusually, the Kaga model found today depicts a single woman. Looking at the model, she’s facing right, chin held high and proud. Her hair forms a large knot at the back of her head and then cascades down her back. She’s wearing a long dress with a train, a shawl over her shoulders, pointed shoes and indistinct pectoral jewellery an over-sized disc-on-bow brooch under her chin. Her right hand is visible, held close to her chest, thumb pointing rearwards and the fingers upward. A proud sister of Queen Wealtheow!

This is simply a mindblowing find, an instant classic. I am so proud and thrilled to have taken part in its discovery!

Update 14 April: Mats W of the VoF forum has published a tracing of the motif, pointing out that the lady’s feet are curiously far to the right, and that the box with three circles in the lower left-hand corner may be a stool she is sitting on.

Update 2 May: I’ve made a tracing of my own, shown below.

i-b78adb174b3a9c8b5e54a79156bc2638-Kagadamen renritn lores.jpg


Mainstream media reactions: Corren, The Local, Sveriges Radio P4 Östergötland, Norrköpings Tidningar, SVT Östnytt, TV4 (dead link).

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  1. #1 RBH
    April 14, 2007

    That’s a beautiful piece. Congratulations to your team!

  2. #2 Alun
    April 14, 2007

    Excellent find, but I’m having a little trouble with the digg button. I clicked on it and had to go through the whole submission process when someone else already had. The button currently reads zero instead of two.

  3. #3 Tobias
    April 14, 2007

    Excellent find! Very similar to the one found in Uppåkra, although that one is reversed and the woman is holding a cup (commonly assumed to represent a Valkyrie welcoming a fallen warrior to Valhalla).
    A big congrats to this fantastic find!

  4. #4 Christina
    April 14, 2007

    Oh, she’s lovely! I can’t imagine the thrill of holding that in ones hand. Makes you wonder how on earth anyone could make something so intricate in such small size. What’s the material of this item?

  5. #5 Martin R
    April 14, 2007

    RBH, thanks!

    Alun, Digg seems a little erratic, sometimes showing a 0 and sometimes higher figures. Thanks for attempting to digg!

    Christina, the model is made of copper alloy whose corrosion is no different from that of most contemporary small metalwork. Beyond that, I don’t know and I am unlikely to try to find out. I am the kind of archaeologist who is happy to know that people in the past did certain specialised things but doesn’t care much how they did them.

  6. #6 Martin R
    April 14, 2007

    Tobias, many thanks! Lovely deep relief on the Uppĺkra piece. I wonder if it’s a cup or a staff she’s holding there.

  7. #7 Tobias
    April 14, 2007

    Martin – I agree that it can be interpreted as a staff. However, in addition to the website identifying it as a cup, counterparts can be found on Valkyrie fibulae. On the following link, which depicts a Valkyrie fibula found at Tissř, Denmark, the cup is readily identifiable. http://www.detekt.dk/sdf/funddatabase/albums/userpics/10108/Valkyriefibel-Tiss%C3%B8.jpg

  8. #8 Martin R
    April 14, 2007

    Oooh, pretty!

  9. #9 Pierre
    April 14, 2007

    Nice find!!!

    Isn`t the one from Uppĺkra holding a staff AND a cup? (see M Watt in Continuty for centuries…, Uppĺkrastudier 10)
    // Pierre

  10. #10 Diane
    April 14, 2007

    Congratulations! It’s beautiful and your team looks very happy! A very good day!

  11. #11 Martin R
    April 16, 2007

    Thanks friends!

    Yes, Pierre, you’re right, I believe the Uppĺkra lady does hold two separate objects.

  12. #12 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 18, 2007

    and indistinct pectoral jewellery an over-sized disc-on-bow brooch under her chin.

    You’re sure that’s not a pair of breasts?

  13. #13 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    April 18, 2007

    Eureka! I’ve discovered a modern version of this figure with the same basic message.

  14. #14 Martin R
    April 18, 2007

    Dude, I can recognise breasts. I’ve seen pictures, you know.

    But actually there are foil figures of women with more distinct d-o-b-brooches, so I’m sure that’s what it is.

  15. #15 CCBC
    April 19, 2007

    You certain that’s one woman and not a couple, faces in profile? She has her arm around him, those are his feet at the bottom, etc.

  16. #16 Martin R
    April 19, 2007

    Yeah, there’s only one person there, facing right and wearing a dress. The paired-figure ones are roughly square in proportion, with two people embracing and pressing their faces to each other in a kludgy representation of what is clearly a warm kiss.

  17. #17 CCBC
    April 20, 2007

    Okay, I can see it. What I was asking is if there was a line running betwen the eye and the hairknot/ornament that could be interpreted as the margin between two faces. But a single person makes far more sense.

  18. #18 Frans-Arne Stylegar
    April 22, 2007

    Nice one, Martin, congrats! How many bronze model finds are there now – three or four?

  19. #19 Martin R
    April 22, 2007

    Many thanks, F-A! The latest info I have is from autumn 2002: ten dies from 5-8 sites. I believe some have turned up at Uppĺkra since.

  20. #20 Tobias
    December 7, 2008

    More to read about illustrations of cupholding women: http://home3.inet.tele.dk/evakoch/drik-dk.htm

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