The New Face of Old Uppsala

This little guy is the new face of Old Uppsala. Most likely a religious amulet, being too small for a gaming piece, he showed up as a corroded lump in a cremation grave of the Late Vendel Period, early-8th century. The same grave also yielded a lovely millefiori glass bird gem, glass beads, and very unusually for its time, molten remains of silver objects. To my knowledge this is the richest female Vendel Period grave found to date at the old nucleus of Svealand, that is, the best candidate for the grave of an 8th century Queen of the Swedes.

Read more at the Old Uppsala project blog kept by my friend, noted author Kristina Ekero Eriksson! Photographs by Sophie Nyström, Acta konserveringscentrum AB (metal dude) and Bengt Backlund, Upplandsmuseet (bird gem).


  1. #1 Eric Lund
    April 8, 2014

    I visited Old Uppsala once in the mid-1990s, as a side trip from a conference in present-day Uppsala. I don’t remember Old Uppsala being quite that old, but this may have been a part of the site that they weren’t showing to tourists back then.

    As I understand it, Uppsala was moved several kilometers south to its present location sometime in the Middle Ages, so it could retain its status as a sea port (much of Scandinavia has been rising in elevation due to post-glacial rebound). That was only a temporary measure; while access to Lake Mälaren via the Fyris River is still possible for small boats, you can’t get a modern ocean-going ship anywhere near Uppsala today. Do I have this part right?

  2. #2 John Massey
    April 8, 2014

    “you can’t get a modern ocean-going ship anywhere near Uppsala today”

    I could fix that, if deemed desirable.

    The glass bird is exquisite. That’s not a word I use often.

  3. #3 Jane
    April 8, 2014

    Speaking as one who still uses imperial measurements for *some* things, the scale made me scratch my head somewhat given the lack of units, but on the project blog site it’s clear that it’s metric. Nice finds.

  4. #4 Kevin
    April 9, 2014

    Wow not what I expected. He looks like a billiken. What an amusing expression.

  5. #5 Martin R
    April 9, 2014

    Eric, yes, you remember it all correctly!

  6. #6 Birger Johansson
    April 9, 2014

    I wonder if Old Uppsala was mainly a political center or a cult center? Did the kings arrive first?

  7. #7 Martin R
    April 9, 2014

    Sacral kinship. People were horrified when in the 11th century King (St.) Olaf refused to partake of the national horse sacrifice. See Olof Sundqvist’s 2000 book Freyr’s offspring : rulers and religion in ancient Svea society.

  8. #8 Birger Johansson
    April 10, 2014

    (OT) Martin, here is something for your musical friends.
    “Superhuman cyborg drummer plays his first live gig”

  9. #9 Birger Johansson
    April 10, 2014

    (OT) Another sign of royal influence, Egyptian this time.
    “Rare sarcophagus, Egyptian scarab found in Israel”
    (OT) People in North America will see a lunar eclipse next week. But in 11 months, March 20, 2015 northern Europe will be able to see a partial solar eclipse. The druids in Britain should be out in force 🙂

  10. #10 Anthea Fleming
    Melbourne, Australia
    April 11, 2014

    I would definitely class the bird as a swan. How would it have been worn, a brooch perhaps? Definitely a beautiful find.

  11. #11 Martin R
    April 11, 2014

    Yes, I agree, it looks swanny. I haven’t seen the back side of the thing, or indeed a single similar find, so I don’t know how it may have been worn.

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    April 12, 2014

    (OT) “Drones Reveal Hidden Ancient Village Buried In New Mexico”
    -Get a UAV with a thermal camera! Pronto! If the archaeology departments can’t afford them, try sponsoring from local companies who want stuff that will interest tourists. “Cowpatch, the 3000-year-old town”.

  13. #13 Birger Johansson
    April 12, 2014

    Continued from # 12: ” We are bloody older than bloody Jerusalem!” (the slogan could work for British towns as well)
    — — — — — —
    “a cremation grave” -I suppose there is no hope to extract DNA from the teeth, but what about layering in enamel to deduct health?

  14. #14 Martin R
    April 12, 2014

    I like the archaeology drone! Tooth enamel tends to pulverise at cremation. Tooth roots survive well.

  15. #15 Birger Johansson
    April 14, 2014

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