Villestofte: Danish Bog Booty

i-62064b849b545f1b92df95ee002ed28c-Villestofte funnsted.jpg

Long-time Dear Readers may remember that I’ve written in the past about the wonderful Danish war booty sacrifices. Victorious defenders dunked the equipment of foreign armies they had beaten into sacred lakes, mainly during the Late Roman Iron Age c. AD 150-400. The lakes soon silted up into bogs, whose anaerobic conditions preserved the weaponry and other gear perfectly. Bee-youtiful stuff.

(Also, it’s a very good blogging topic if you want heavy traffic, because any mention of booty, particulary Danish bog booty, will attract porn surfers like you wouldn’t believe. Server logs show that a lot of these one-handers mistype “big booty” and inadvertently google “bog booty”, O being next to I on the keyboard.)

i-615994d0273fda67dcb2ad0dc7be99f9-villestofte funn.jpg

The Vimose find from Funen is one of the biggest Danish bog finds, known and loved by all Early Iron Age scholars. Less known is a find from nearby Villestofte, which currently comprises only the above five objects that surfaced in 1849. My eminent colleagues Mogens Bo Henriksen and Xenia Pauli Jensen have just published a paper about the find. They’ve located the original find spot through painstaking archive research, reevaluated the artefacts and given them their first full publication. The finds date from the glorious phase C1b (c. AD 210-250) and may have belonged to a single warrior, possibly one who fell in the same battle that produced the main sacrificial horizon at Vimose. Strangely though, the Villestofte comb belongs to a local two-layered type that is only known from Funen itself and its immediate surroundings. The type occurs in the Vimose deposit as well, and fits poorly with the prevalent idea that all the sacrificed gear belonged to people who came by boat from somewhere else.

As it turns out, the site has not seen heavy peat extraction but still looks pretty much like it did in the 19th century. Who knows what may still lurk under the peat? Let’s hope for another Vimose, excavated to modern standards by Mogens and Xenia!


Bo Henriksen, Mogens & Pauli Jensen, Xenia. 2007. Krigsbytteofferfundet fra Villestofte. Fynske Minder 2007. Odense Bys Museer.


Site photograph by Mogens Bo Henriksen, finds photograph by Pia Brejnholt. Below the fold, the paper’s English summary.


The war booty sacrifice from Villestofte
– a small find with major implications

Archaeologists know of around 25 war booty sacrifices containing weapons, tools and personal effects deposited in the bogs of southern Scandinavia from the period between c. 350 BC and 500 AD. Some of these contain thousands of objects, but others – among them the Villestofte find from Funen, comprise only a few archaeological artefacts.

The Villestofte find came about through peat digging in 1849 and it has not been possible to pinpoint the precise spot of the find until now.This has now been accomplished using archival studies and the find has, therefore, been presented in its entirety – for the first time with a description of all the objects.

The circumstances surrounding the find are very poorly documented, but the place of sacrifice has been found to be a wet meadow near the southern edge of a small 100 m. broad river valley.Whether the objects were deposited in water or buried in the valley cannot be ascertained. Nor it is possible to determine whether in 1849 – or on other occasions – other finds have been made on the site.The conditions for interpreting the find are, therefore, not the best! The Villestofte find consists of only five objects:

  1. A so-called “two-layered comb” made of antler. Only 30 examples of this type of comb are known from the Funen archipelago, southern Jutland and the adjoining parts of northern Germany, and it dates from the end of the early and beginning of the later Roman Iron Age (B2-C1 a, c. 100-250 AD)

  2. A square bronze buckle from a horse’s headgear.
  3. A double button made of bronze, used in a leather sword-belt.The type dates from the late 2nd and early 3rd century AD.
  4. A bronze scabbard suspension.These sword fittings belong to the period after 200 AD.
  5. A circular ferrule of antler. This unornamented piece is worn in a way that shows that the sword was probably carried on the right side.The date is 3rd century AD.

The dating of the sword mountings – and for that matter that on the horse’s headgear – make it likely that these objects belong to a single deposit made in the early part of the later Roman iron age (C1b, c. 210-250 AD.) – and the items may even have belonged to a single warrior. The question is whether the comb is entirely contemporaneous with the other objects or whether it is older. If this is the case, the objects must represent two separate deposits, but unfortunately the scanty information about the find prevents clarification of this important question.

The ancient objects from Villestofte are familiar from burial finds, but not least from several of other offerings of spoils of war found in southern Scandinavia.This find has particularly close similarities with material from Vimose, which lies just 4 km. northwest of Villestofte. Analyses currently in progress of the more than 5500 objects from there have shown that this find represents at least six different deposits, of which the largest – called Vimose 3 – is contemporary with the Villestofte find.There can scarcely be any doubt that these two finds are to be looked at in conjunction, and it would be make sense to interpret the objects to have originated from the same battle. Both Villestofte and Vimose lie on the western periphery of the dense Iron Age settlement, which is known from the area west and north-west of Odense. Is it possible that these war booty sacrifices were deposited in these particular spots to mark the outer boundary of the territory of the “Odense settlement”?

Comments

  1. #1 esben
    August 11, 2007

    Hello Martin

    By reguest of Mogens Bo Henriksen my wife and I have been working a bit with Krogsbølle, a war booty find a few kilometers to the north of Villestofte. It is the largest war booty find from Pre-roman Iron Age in Denmark after the Hjortspring find. It was found 1895 when a local farmer was removing a stone-built prehistoric road that runs through a meadow near Krogsbølle on Northern Funen. It contained 7-8 swords and knives, 25 lance heads and 20 bone javelins and some other stuff.
    We were able to locate the precise find place, and from studying the old report we are quite sure that, that only a small portion of the have been recovered. Although a lot peat and gravel extraction in the area, it looks like the site is in a good wet condition. So a lot of weapons should be there still.
    We have been talking about maybe using geomagnetic survey to test our hypothesis, so during the autumn we will try get some financing.

    You can see an aerial photo of the site here: http://www.oldtid.dk/krogsboelle.JPG
    I have marked the prehistoric road with read colour, and the find area with blue.

    Best regards,
    Esben

  2. #2 Martin R
    August 11, 2007

    How exceptionally cool, Esben! But shouldn’t you test-pit before you spend a lot of money on geophys? All you need is basic excavation equipment, a hand-GPS and a portable gasoline-driven pump.

    There’s a British road site in a bog with rich pre-Roman weapon sacrifices, Fiskerton, published by Field & Parker Pearson in 2003.

  3. #3 esben
    August 11, 2007

    I think the geophysics has some benefits over test pitting. It can be performed in only one day, and we will (if lucky) get a total coverage of the find area and the road itself. We can also jump over a lot of bureaucracy. The only permission we need is from the land owner, since it is a non-invasive investigation. And also we don’t take the risk of actually finding something, which then would have to be preserved at incalculable costs. The downside is that we can’t tell the difference between for instance bend swords and not so old horse shoes that got stuck in the mud! But after all I think there should be a fairly good chance to nice result.

    Esben

    PS. I have just put a nice photo from the old excavation report on http://www.oldtid.dk/krogsboelle2.JPG

  4. #4 Mary
    August 11, 2007

    The Villestoft find sound more like an individual (placed as grave/sacrifice or died in the water) than a purposeful post-battle deposit. I have the impression from British/Irish archy that plenty of other sorts of things (a find of balls of butter springs to mind) might be deposited in similar locations; is this indeed the case? I haven’t read much about this sort of stuff in 20 years, but I was facinated by it as a kid, as a result of Glob’s books on bog finds and the oak-log coffins. Are the weapons deposits consistently “killed” or as you say “vandalized”? I’ve seen photos somewhere of swords that look like “Sherman’s neckties” or vandalized rails bent all the way around on themselves.

  5. #5 Martin R
    August 12, 2007

    People sacrificed all kinds of stuff in lakes, rivers and wetlands all over northern Europe from at least the Mesolithic to the High Middle Ages. Fascinating indeed!

    There’s as story from the cemetery I wrote my thesis on about farmers carting away wagon-loads of “barrel hoops” — most probably ritually damaged Vendel Period swords. /-;

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.