David Huggins is a member of the Wulfheodenas Dark Ages re-enactment group. Among mid-1st millennium Scandies, a wulfheoden was a kind of berserker warrior, only one who identified with wolves rather than bears. David recently commissioned Polish master artisan Grzegorz Kulig to make a replica of a display shield from boat grave number 7 at Valsgärde near Uppsala, whose inhabitant was a 7th century petty king among the Swedes. I think this is a thing of astonishing beauty.
All archaeological museums exhibit the modern remains of objects that were once as beautiful as this. They should in my opinion make a habit of commissioning replicas to display along with the originals, showing visitors what the handicraft of the past was like before the iron rusted, the bronze verdigrised, and the leather & wood rotted away.
Looking closer at the shield’s iconography, note first that the quadrupeds surrounding the shield boss have bearded human faces on their upper legs. This human-beast ambiguity is typical for the period’s warrior ideology (cf. berserkers), and has been interpreted to mean that the beasts are actually shamanistic extensions of a warrior or god whose native form lies in a trance. And on the back side we encounter the ubiquitous Vendel Period beast trinity: counting from the top, the wolf, the boar and the eagle. Classic stuff from one of the era’s focal points of politics, religion and art.
Check out Grzegorz Kulig’s web site for more pics of his work! Gracjana Kulig (who is a silver smith specialising in filigreed jewellery) replies swiftly in excellent English to inquiries. And it only gets better when you consider that in Swedish, the word kulig is a common combination of kul and rolig, both of which mean “fun”.