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Yesterday me and my buddy Per Vikstrand visited the third site in our little exploration program for fields with highly suggestive names on 18th century maps. We’ve already covered the Field of St. Olaf and the Hall of Odin. This time we went to the Field of Ullr near Gävle, an hour and a half’s drive from Uppsala along the new shiny E4 motorway. (On the way we zipped across sites such as Sommaränge skog, excavated for the roadworks and previously covered in my blogging.)

Ullr is one of the old gods that were semi-forgotten in Snorri’s day, and so doesn’t figure prominently in extant mythological texts. His name probably means “the Shining One”, suggesting that he was a sky god, but Snorri associates him with war, archery and skiing. A very early runic inscription from about AD 200 mentions a man named Wolthuthewaz, which means “Servant of Ullr” (cf. Abdul and Gottschalk, two other names that mean “Servant of God”). The cult of Ullr was a big deal in mid-1st Millennium Scandinavia, as attested by a large number of Ullevi and Ulleråker place names.

Shiny Ullr’s Field turned out to be covered by succulent and rather tall grass, so conditions weren’t ideal. But metal detecting is fun even if all you find is a coin from 1963. (I did find one of those, and I look forward to returning it into circulation.) Otherwise, nine man-hours garnered us only one keeper, but it’s a good one: a piece of a gilded openwork copper-alloy ornament with interlace decoration. It’s certainly from AD 500-1000 and probably from the 10th century, the Middle Viking Period.

We’re done with fieldwork for a while now, and hope to have a joint paper out about our findings in the not-too-distant future. All three sites have given material from the period AD 300-1100. The next time I report from fieldwork, I’ll be back at the Harbour of the Sheaf Kings or the Battlefield of Baggensstäket or a Neolithic site under Botkyrka golf club or a Mesolithic seal hunter’s camp.

Update 21 May: Explains Per; given the find context, Wolthuthewaz is more likely to mean “Servant of Glory” than “Servant of The God Whose Name’s Root Means ‘Glory’”.

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Comments

  1. #1 Pierce R. Butler
    May 20, 2008

    … a piece of a gilded openwork copper-alloy ornament with interlace decoration. It’s certainly from AD 500-1000 and probably from the 10th century, the Middle Viking Period.

    Ullr schmullr – who knew that the iconography of the Flying Spaghetti Monster dated back so far (and so far north)?

    Y’know, you egghead intellectuals would get in all kinds of trouble without us True Believers to set ya straight.

  2. #2 Martin R
    May 21, 2008

    Haha, yeah, animal interlace does look like noodly appendages!

  3. #3 Mattias Niord
    May 21, 2008

    Nice stuff, Martin. A shame it was not an earlier item, 300-600 or something. I mean, from a really interesting period of the iron age, when men where men and sheeps…
    Ah, well, forget about that. I will probably have to turn to you about some questions I have later.

    It seems that Ullr had some followers still, like Skadi, in those late times. It is interesting to see a dude with one hand being god or archery. Skade I understand, for she has two, but Ullr is kind of special.
    But maybe he had a magical hand, like the king of the celtic gods, Nuada Silverhand.
    Those older gods are so much more intriguing than many of the later ones. But Ull has gotten a revival in modern times, with tens of thousand onlooker cheering on the athletes that compete to his honour at Ullevi in Gothenburg! They just don´t understand! :D

  4. #4 Martin R
    May 21, 2008

    Yeah, just think of these people’s mythology, all oral tradition, mutating steadily through the centuries. It would be great to talk to a 5th century lore master!

  5. #5 csrster
    May 21, 2008

    Is Ullevål in Oslo also named after Ullr?

  6. #6 Barn Owl
    May 22, 2008

    His name probably means “the Shining One”, suggesting that he was a sky god, but Snorri associates him with war, archery and skiing.

    Clearly, Ullr was the ancient god of biathlon.

  7. #7 Per Vikstrand
    May 22, 2008

    Is Ullevål in Oslo also named after Ullr?

    Yes, Ullevål in Oslo also contains the name of the god Ullr. The second part of that name is more uncertain, it might be either vål ‘stumps and limbs that remain after clearance by fire’ or Old Norse hvall ‘small mound’.

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