New/Old 6th Century Find on Bornholm

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In early May (I was <this> close to capitalising "Early" because I write about archaeological periods all the time.) metal detectorists on Bornholm, Denmark, rediscovered one of the earliest-documented find spots of guldgubbar. These are tiny embossed gold foils depicting people: usually a single man, sometimes an embracing man and woman, less frequently a single woman. They are a diagnostic artefact type of the Vendel Period's elite manor sites (AD 530-790). A cool thing about the new find is that is contains gold bracteates as well, which suggests that we are dealing with one of the last goldsmith sites of the Migration Period as well as one of the Vendel Period's first. And there is even one of the Migration Period's rare little round-sculpture figurines, famous among Swedish archaeologists since the find of three such at Lunda in Strängnäs.

The identification of the old find spot is plausible both from the scant information in the early publication and through the similar and rare artefact types found. A thorough rescue excavation has now been done to clean the site of gold.

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Friends of the Kaga lady will recognise two such images of high-born wives™ in the new find: one smaller mounted on an iron plaque and one larger, folded over.

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The gold bracteates in the find are weird, having an unusually stylised and small central motif engraved on a square die, when they are almost always larger and round. This is because the goldsmith has used a punch intended for the concentric rows of decorative punch marks on a large bracteate's rim zone instead of a real bracteate die. This too suggests an unusual bracteate production milieu, arguably a very late one. The find of May 2009 will figure largely in future discussions of these things.

Thanks to Finn Ole Nielsen of Bornholms Museum for permission to publish the photographs and to Morten Axboe for explaining the weird bracteates.

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Very exciting finds and a job well done by the hobby detectorists!

The bracteates are clearly pendants, in particularly ostentatious cases worn in big sets with spacer beads.

The foil figures, in well preserved and documented cases, tend to cluster at one or two of the roof-bearing posts of mead halls. They are not particularly decorative as they are too small for anybody to be able to make out their motifs unless in sharp sunlight. Comparisons have been made with Buddhist temple money, where you buy votive money to offer to the cult statue.

Most foil figures depict people in fine clothes, sometimes with sundry attributes of rulership. Gods? Mythical heroes? Is the distinction important from a materialistic point of view? The ones with embracing couples have been interpreted as mythical ancestors of rulers, the god Freyr and his Chaos-Giant wife Gerd.