Tom Christensen, who heads excavations at storied Lejre on Zealand, Denmark, has a paper about the lovely Lejre figurine in ROMU 2009 (full text on-line) and another one in the new issue of Skalk. Here he offers some well-chosen comparative material and presents his arguments for the figurine’s gender and identity. Everybody agrees that the figurine’s throne, with its wolf heads and pair of ravens, must depict Odin’s high seat Hlidskjalf. Everybody also agrees that the piece dates from the 10th century. But Denmark’s foremost experts on 1st Millennium dress (and myself) classify the person on the throne as unequivocally dressed in female garb. Christensen thinks it’s a male – most likely Odin. Here are his main arguments.
1.The upper ridge of what I call a collar or neck-ring is actually a moustache. Only the lower identical ridge is according to Christensen a neck ring.
2.The hanging arcs covering the person’s chest and belly are not, as I have suggested, four bead strings, but a gold collar from c. AD 500.
3.Only a man would wear a brimless hat / helmet.
Christensen then presents a figurine from Højby near Odense to support his case. This figurine has a prominent beard, a moustache and a brimless hat, but is otherwise completely nude, affording us a view of its petite penis. Everyone agrees that the Højby figurine is male. But it dates from before AD 500 and is thus irrelevant here.
My reply to Christensen’s arguments are that
1. Yes, it is funny that the Lejre figurine’s mouth and chin are covered by its neck ring. But it really doesn’t look the way moustaches are depicted in the era’s art. It’s a single object with two parallel ridges that continue round onto the back of the person’s neck, as shown by the eminent photographs published by Christensen.
2. Multiple bead strings were common in the 10th century. Migration Period gold collars are completely unknown from that time.
3. Brimless hats may be somewhat male-gendered today, but they were not in the Viking Period. And nothing suggests that it’s a helmet.
So I am still convinced that the figurine is a female. Christensen gracefully points out that even in the Medieval Icelandic version of the mythology that has come down to us, goddesses are sometimes allowed to use Odin’s high seat. And that’s the sort of scene the Lejre figurine depicts.
Tom Christensen commented here two weeks ago that the debate about the figurine has given him some insights about Swedish archaeologists’ selvforståelse. This term is difficult to translate exactly, but I think I’m not too far off the mark with “high opinion of their own importance”. I assume that I am one (or all) of the Swedes he refers to. The best reply is probably to quote something I wrote back in January: “What I said here on Aard wasn’t controversial. I just happened to be the first to say something that every specialist in the field of Late Iron Age gender studies realises immediately.”