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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”.

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Comments

  1. #1 Ingvild Tinglum
    February 16, 2011

    Wow! Archeo-bling!

    I couldn’t agree more about the replicas in museums. Of course you should have some sort of realistic presenatation of what archaeologists actually find (we’ll never get rid of the “have you found any gold yet?” question anyways…). One of my lecturers once said that in “the past tends to be very beige in people’s imagination”, and I think he’s right. And that rust and dirt-colored artefacts are partly to blame. More shininess!

  2. #2 Nick Dvoracek
    February 16, 2011

    I’d be really curious to see the original shield. Google searches find lots of hits for a helmet, but none for the shield.

  3. #3 Phillip IV
    February 16, 2011

    I think the general problem with reconstructions/replicas (both physical as well as virtual) is that the reconstructor lacks the luxury of vagueness – wherever the archeologist can write ‘possibly’, ‘probably’ or ‘assumedly’ in a description, the reconstructor has to make a definite decision.

    And the worse the shape the original artifact is in, the more influence will the reconstruction have on public perception – yet at the same time, the more likely it is to contain mistakes.

    A beautiful piece, though.

  4. #4 Deborah
    February 16, 2011

    Agree! Agree! Agree! This is stunning. And we wants it.

  5. #5 Vanessa Lighton
    February 16, 2011

    That really casts the Sutton Hoo shield into the shade: it’s gorgeous. However, nothing will ever surpass the gold buckle.

  6. #6 Martin R
    February 16, 2011

    Nick, the original shield exists only as corroded metalwork and small samples of severely degraded wood.

    Phil, a replica is similar to a reconstruction drawing or a descriptive piece of text. It is a hypothesis. It can be evaluated against the evidence.

    Vanessa, let’s allow buckles to compete against buckles and shields against shields. (-;

  7. #7 blf
    February 16, 2011

    let’s allow buckles to compete against buckles and shields against shields.

    I suspect the Bloody Berserker Buckles of BOOM! would deal in quite short order with any shields stupid enough to get in their way. Before breakfast. Which, traditionally, is an adult polar bear. Swallowed sideways. Without pealing.

  8. #8 Birger Johansson
    February 16, 2011

    I love replicas that can give the public an idea what the items originally looked like. This might actually get the schoolkids to take an interest!
    I also wish the museums would provide virtual reconstructions of sites and buildings where people could alter POW, zoom etc. Something I would like is reconstructions where people (in coastal towns) can see how the coastline has changed with time. Realising you are living in (for instance) a former sea bay is a humbling lesson of impermanence.

    PS. mabus is off his meds again. Watch out for trolling.

  9. #9 Phillip IV
    February 16, 2011

    Martin R @ #6:

    Phil, a replica is similar to a reconstruction drawing or a descriptive piece of text. It is a hypothesis. It can be evaluated against the evidence.

    That’s the point were I would beg to differ, though – in my opinion, a replica is similar to a reconstruction drawing and both are completely different from a descriptive piece of text, and I think that the descriptive text (with visual aids) is the most appropriate medium for a hypothesis precisely because it can fully reflect uncertainties and gaps in knowledge.

    A descriptive text can state that a shirt “was possibly worn with a belt”, but an artist can’t depict a “possible” belt – they’ll have to either depict a belt or not (I’m an illustrator myself, so I know the problem from experience, although not in the field of historical reconstructions). And if a belt is depicted, it is depicted with many specifics regarding dimensions, color, material, type of belt buckle etc., because in contrast to a text, a depiction or reconstruction is inevitably comprehensive and specific – you can’t easily leave out things just because you don’t know them. And if no belt is depicted, the museum visitors will not think “Ah, they’ve drawn him without a belt because they’re not sure whether that shirt was worn with one” – they’ll just think “Ah, this was worn without a belt.”

  10. #10 Martin R
    February 16, 2011

    True, good point. Not all gaps in our knowledge will ever be sealed by evidence.

  11. #11 aerichar@gmail.com
    February 16, 2011

    mmmm, replicas are minus the energy and original intention of the original….for me it is the authentication and awe …….and even the mystery.

    The recreation is more about the artist than the piece…it is a response.Saying this tho ,the response is valid and engages the audience and adds to the story so……good idea !!!

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    February 17, 2011

    Damn! I sent a message warning about upcoming spam from you-know-who, but the filter apparently grabbed it. Anyway, if you have programmed the system to delete posts with that name, the warning was unnecessary.

    Anyway, I am all in favor of replicas, this way even bored schoolchildren will get interested. Maybe in the future we can get virtual reconstructions of buildings and sites where people can change perspective, zoom etc. Anything to make the past less abstract.

  13. #13 Steve Blowney
    February 17, 2011

    Wow. I’ve spent some time years ago studying this shield and others from the same period and place. Good to see it in reproduction.

  14. #14 John Toomey
    February 21, 2011

    Are we looking at the same shield? I’m examining the excellent picture of the boss, with its intricate patterns and I don’t see anything that looks like a human or animal. Is it necessary to drink some mead before being able to see them???

  15. #15 Martin R
    February 21, 2011

    Don’t feel bad. 1st Millennium animal art is extremely intricate, and even at the time most people probably didn’t understand it. It was an elite skill, sort of a visual shibboleth.

  16. #16 Derek Tomes
    February 21, 2011

    So, the question on everyone’s lips is… “how much does it weigh?”

  17. #17 eleanora.
    February 25, 2011

    Derek, my question was going to be “how sturdy is it?” The metal work is gorgeous, but only runs in one direction. If that’s across the grain of the timber, I guess it should be pretty strong. Given that Martin says it’s ceremonial, I suppose both questions are moot.

    I think the more replicas, the better, and not just beautiful things sitting behind glass with the original, but stuff that people can pick up and try out. I guess that’s why I’ve been hooked on the SCA for so many years.

  18. #18 Bruce
    May 20, 2011

    Hi All, I’m in the same group as the owner Dave and the maker Greg, Wulfheodenas. I recently took the shield to a documentary shoot, with Daves kind permission. Unfortunately, as we were moving around locations, I didn’t dare unwrap it from its packaging, its TOO nice, and you know the old adage, “Break it, you bought it!” In my opinion it is very heavy, I can guarantee, even Schwarzenegger would be struggling after 5 minutes of combat with this shield, Also, the shield has a tendency to wobble (Think, Rolf Harris), both of which do suggest a more ceremonial role. On the other hand The Sutton Hoo replica owned by our other group member Paul Mortimer, is very substantial and would stand up to combat, but of course you’d have to be as rich as a King before you allowed anyone to hit it with metal things! But it is lovely.

  19. #19 Dave
    May 21, 2011

    As Bruce comments the shield is extremely heavy, and the grip within the boss is small, the hand would become quite literally melded after carrying it around for some time, but both observations can be said for The Sutton Hoo shield replica of Paul’s. The shield does have a slight ‘wobble’ effect but this effect could be desired as I suspect this flexibility allows some ‘give’ if struck as opposed to the unyeilding effect of a rigid board. Further the shield has an extremely large diameter surface and it may potentially be a shield for a mounted warrior covering the body from shoulder to knee. We know from the scenes on the helmet pressbleche that mounted combat was known in the area, and may not have been as uncommon as is often considered.

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