i-27bb6d01f994be93b317688b16773cbe-West Swedish figurines.jpg

My dynamic colleague Bengt Nordqvist, for whose project I volunteered a few days in the summer of 2009, believes that contacts of his have found two Classical figurines of Venus (above) in the Gothenburg area. It looks like a fun possible case of misidentification. I don’t know Classical Mediterranean sculpture, and I don’t know neo-Classical 17th century sculpture either, so I can’t really comment except to say that the bearded praying guy below definitely looks post-Reformation to me. But here’s what my correspondent John Kvanli tells me (and I translate).

Us in Rygene Detektorklubb have also found similar 5-6 cm tall figurines. And many others have found them in Denmark. I actually found references to these as 17th century cutlery handles at the National Museum of Copenhagen the last time I went there.

Sure, it may be Venus who’s being depicted here. But isn’t it likely that these hollow handles belong to knives and forks of the 16th or 17th century? As [Nordqvist] writes in his blog entry: both of the figurines have been broken off at the ankles. So why then? Well, that’s where the brass was fastened to the iron, and where the cutlery’s weakest point was…

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I append a picture of a male figurine of the same kind that us in the club have found in Norway. 5-6 cm tall too… Same general style… Hollow… Indeed, the same-colour verdigris…

i-b575f67adb29c61a1c8f64a074608401-Bronzefigur.jpgHere’s another detectorist that I got in touch with a few years ago. I suggested that he contact the National Museum to check his brass figurine, and they concluded that it’s a cutlery handle.



  1. #1 Deborah
    April 18, 2011

    Very interesting. All I can say is … I want that cutlery!

  2. #2 Birger Johansson
    April 18, 2011

    More than 300 years of corrosion, and just about everything looks like “Venus from Willendorf”.
    Are there any specific ratios of metals in the alloys that are time-specific? Maybe they preferred a slightly different hue during different centuries.

  3. #3 stripey_cat
    April 18, 2011

    *If* the bronzes of the different periods were made from different metal deposits then trace element contaminants may well be distinguishing, even if the ratios of the main metals are too similar to call. Of course, if the same mineral resources were in use in both periods, it won’t work.

  4. #4 Martin R
    April 19, 2011

    Yes, alloys are time specific to a certain extent. Also they are dependent on ore sources. But it’s a tricky field due to re-cast scrap metal and other confounding factors.

  5. #5 Tobias
    April 19, 2011

    Very interesting development on these items, which I also saw recently on the Finnestorp blog. Cutlery handle seems like a very probable origin, not the least due to the similar examples shown here and elsewhere, but I guess we need to find an intact example with the same figurine, to be absolutely sure. Nice work, John!

  6. #6 Martin R
    April 19, 2011

    To me, the fact that they have all been broken off the same way suggests that they are of the same date and the same function. And as I said, the praying bearded guys are post-Reformation, probably 16th century.

    To find an intact example though, we can’t look at metal detector finds, because the iron bits will have rusted and broken off long ago in the plough soil.

  7. #7 Phillip IV
    April 19, 2011

    Well, I guess the Solomonic solution would be to just label them: “2 brass statuettes depicting the Goddess Venus, of unknown origin, ca. 400 BCE – 1800 CE” (That’s not that long a span of time – in geological terms).”These statuettes were intended as sincere devotionals from followers of the Goddess – or, alternatively, served as slightly pornographic cutlery handles in the 17th Century” (I’m pretty sure the cutlery’s hypothetical 17th Century owner used a different set of cutlery when he had his pastor or the parents-in-law visit).

  8. #8 Martin R
    April 19, 2011

    Remind me to hire you when I become a museum boss, Phil. (-;

  9. #9 Jette
    April 19, 2011

    Interesting! Although i kind of like the idea of a prehistoric Venus-cult around Gothenburg, i am with you on the cutlery so far. The slightly pornographic nature of the handles is probably a modern perception. This may be “noble nudity”, the well-known early modern concept, and identification: the rather modest position of the arms and hands may suggest Eve rather than Venus…

  10. #10 Nigel
    April 19, 2011

    “Oh, you are talking about FORK HANDLES!”

  11. #11 Birger Johansson
    April 20, 2011

    (Completely OT)
    As a living antique who watched Doctor Who long ago, I found some sad news:
    “Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith…” http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2011/04/goodbye_sarah_jane_smith.php

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    April 20, 2011

    (More OT just found at Scienceblogs)
    The Allure of Gay Cavemen; Third genders, two spirits, and a media without a clue http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/04/the-allure-of-gay-cavemen/
    This most be difficult to reconstruct from merely skeletal remains (Ötzi being anomalously well preserved).

  13. #13 wackyvorlon
    April 21, 2011

    You know, a google search for “mindphoque” is very telling.

  14. #14 Birger Johansson
    April 21, 2011

    Damn. I found an article about using cave bear DNA for dating some associated breathtaking cave art, but I cannot find it again. Anyway, a clever way for confirming dating arrived at by other means.
    — — —
    Wackyvorion: “You know, a google search for “mindphoque” is very telling”
    The name “chriss angel/mindphoque” turns up a lot…Yup, that is French Canadian Dennis Markuze AKA David Mabus. Now, if he stays on facebook the rest of us can have peace and quiet.
    BTW, Happy Easter, everyone!

  15. #15 Martin R
    April 22, 2011

    Aha, so they know a little about what the cave bear genome looked like during various millennia?

  16. #16 Birger Johansson
    April 22, 2011

    They know roughly when cave bears died out, and the DNA in bear remains left by people in the painted caves show the populations were already small and inbred. This puts the cave painters at the same period +_ a few thousand years of what the previous dating of the paintings say.
    I would know more if I manage to re-locate the €Z@$¤! link!

    Martin, maybe you can get an opportunity to ask Svante Pääbo and his team if paleogenetics can contribute even more to archaeology, and what methods archaeologists should do to avoid DNA contamination during their digs? Uncontaminated Cro-Magnon remains should be worth their weight in gold, even if it is just coprolites.
    — — —
    Question to the Americans: Is there any more progress with the skeleton that was first interpreted as showing caucasian features, and then re-interpreted as showing Ainu features?
    The White Supremacy nutters are already incorporating the skeleton in their mythology as “whites were first” (see the thread about the appalling novel “White Apocalypse” on Scienceblogs).
    Good luck with nailing down the timing of the fork handles -at least there are no politics involved 🙂

  17. #17 Martin R
    April 22, 2011

    The skeleton you refer to is known as Kennewick Man. Google the guy!

  18. #18 Birger Johansson
    April 22, 2011

    Gothcha! “Bear DNA is clue to age of Chauvet cave art”
    Off to Google “Kennewick Man”!

  19. #19 Birger johansson
    April 23, 2011
  20. #20 dustbubble
    April 24, 2011

    Here’s some more.

    “One 16th Century brass knife and two 17th Century knives all with figurative handles.”

    This lot have still got their kit on, (even, is it) Eve?. Or Atalanta??, on the left.
    Or are they just generic renaissance figures, maybe cod-mythological? Can’t work out what’s happened to the guy in the middle’s right arm, either.

  21. #21 dustbubble
    April 24, 2011

    Ooh look, they did rude ones too.
    But you have to upgrade to ivory.


    “… each figure with a movable panel revealing their genitalia; very minor shrinkage cracks and staining …”

  22. #22 Lars
    October 5, 2012

    Broken of ankles has also a roman figurine at the Historiska museet in Stockholm


  23. #23 Lars
    October 8, 2012

    Now they also discuss these figurines on the Swedish Arkeologiforum:


  24. #24 Lars
    October 25, 2012

    I Gräsgårds sn på Öland hittades en venusfigurin i brons på 1800-talet.


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