Lejre Excavator Publishes His Views on the Figurine


Tom Christensen, who heads excavations at storied Lejre on Zealand, Denmark, has a paper about the lovely Lejre figurine in ROMU 2009 (full text on-line) and another one in the new issue of Skalk. Here he offers some well-chosen comparative material and presents his arguments for the figurine's gender and identity. Everybody agrees that the figurine's throne, with its wolf heads and pair of ravens, must depict Odin's high seat Hlidskjalf. Everybody also agrees that the piece dates from the 10th century. But Denmark's foremost experts on 1st Millennium dress (and myself) classify the person on the throne as unequivocally dressed in female garb. Christensen thinks it's a male - most likely Odin. Here are his main arguments.

1.The upper ridge of what I call a collar or neck-ring is actually a moustache. Only the lower identical ridge is according to Christensen a neck ring.

2.The hanging arcs covering the person's chest and belly are not, as I have suggested, four bead strings, but a gold collar from c. AD 500.

3.Only a man would wear a brimless hat / helmet.

Christensen then presents a figurine from Højby near Odense to support his case. This figurine has a prominent beard, a moustache and a brimless hat, but is otherwise completely nude, affording us a view of its petite penis. Everyone agrees that the Højby figurine is male. But it dates from before AD 500 and is thus irrelevant here.

My reply to Christensen's arguments are that

1. Yes, it is funny that the Lejre figurine's mouth and chin are covered by its neck ring. But it really doesn't look the way moustaches are depicted in the era's art. It's a single object with two parallel ridges that continue round onto the back of the person's neck, as shown by the eminent photographs published by Christensen.

2. Multiple bead strings were common in the 10th century. Migration Period gold collars are completely unknown from that time.

3. Brimless hats may be somewhat male-gendered today, but they were not in the Viking Period. And nothing suggests that it's a helmet.

So I am still convinced that the figurine is a female. Christensen gracefully points out that even in the Medieval Icelandic version of the mythology that has come down to us, goddesses are sometimes allowed to use Odin's high seat. And that's the sort of scene the Lejre figurine depicts.

Tom Christensen commented here two weeks ago that the debate about the figurine has given him some insights about Swedish archaeologists' selvforståelse. This term is difficult to translate exactly, but I think I'm not too far off the mark with "high opinion of their own importance". I assume that I am one (or all) of the Swedes he refers to. The best reply is probably to quote something I wrote back in January: "What I said here on Aard wasn't controversial. I just happened to be the first to say something that every specialist in the field of Late Iron Age gender studies realises immediately."

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But... but... Well, I would like to counter to Tom Christensen that his reply has given me some insight into his, and maybe some other danish archaeologists "selvforståelse". I get the feeling it simply MUST be Odin in his mind, because otherwise it does not fit perfectly with the written records, penned down in a later age.

And I might just as well interpretate that so-called brimless hat as a cloth tied thightly around the head, that besides 17th-18th century pirates are something usually applied by women.

By Mattias Niord (not verified) on 03 May 2010 #permalink

I'd say it's a clear case of trying to kill the messenger. You being Swedish probably just ads to it.

Hopefully this will serve as a good example of the simple fact that a jumped conclusion is often a regrettable one

By Ny Björn (not verified) on 03 May 2010 #permalink

Everyone seem to agree that this person is placed on a throne. I don't see any specific reason to disagree with that. It migth even be that there is a low foot-stol (illuded) at the front of the chair - just under the persons feet.

What most people - historians included - associates with a throne-chair is a royal person. So it would be a bit peculiar to overlook that simple fact. All the more so as the ornaments at the back of this chair have a clear parallel on the throne-chair of the most famous king from chess-set of ivory from the Lewis Islands, today at Brittish Museum. The ivory-piece is (by most experts)thougth to be made in the Trondheim around 1100 AD, after the model of "a late viking king".


Consequently it would be natural to start with the question whether this is made after the model of a danish royality - from the early part of the viking-time. There's actually no need to start with mythological figures - although it's neccesary to include the possibility. Thus it's a bit funny that a presumably scientific aproach starts with the airy-fairies of norse myths. (Perhaps that's why the Danish expert starts to wonder about the "self-awareness" of his contemporaries?!)

Compared to the number of kings Lewis chess-sets it is quite obvious that the figurine from Lejre is a woman, i.e. a QUEEN. Consequently it would be plausible to start by asking which queen it could be.

The stature, style and ornaments of a throne-chair will always reflect the symbols (heraldics) of its time and culture. Thus it would be strange if this throne-chair would not use any royal or exclusive symbols as described in the north-european mythologies. Consequently we may find an idol among the Norse pantheon - in that case a queen.

So, if we need to align this queen with the norse sagas we'd better find the "Queen of the Gods". In that case we might have to look at others female deities than Frigga (the mother of the Aser) and Freya (the fertile, pregnant=princess). Thus I have suggested a look at the "prioress" of the Aser, who Snorre named Idun - the one with the golden apples, associated with the eagle. The two apple-eating eagle-heads of the throne-chair should be close enough for consideration.

European mythologies call her Eostra, Asteia, Artio, Artemis, Kybele,etc. Some associates her with crane/eagle, some with the bear. In the Muri statuettes from Bern (ca. 200 AD) we have a close parallel in the figurine "Deae Artioni Lignis Sabini" ("Dignified Artione, Legality of the Sabini").

Here the characteristics of the above mentioned figurines from Scandinavia are combined; throne-chair, stool, head-band/tiara, snoot, open mantle, full-length dress - and the horn-of-plenty to symbolize the six rows of pearls...


Her headgear is a snood, a highly normal, hair-collecting head-gear for women, since iron-age on.


In viking-time figurines from Sweden we have explicit examples of royalities/deities with the same headgear. Here's a swedish example of the deity from Lejre, where she appears with arms - and the horn-of-plenty;


The Lejre-queen has her snood is docorated with a head-band with a small, tiara-like front. A decorative headband, often with a tiaralike "fountain-symbol" in front, is well known from viking-time and mideval queen-suits.


The two birds on the armrests are definitly not ravens - if ornitology have anything to with this. Have a look from behind and it should be clear that both birds have crossing wing-tips. Now, that excludes most arctic birds and singles out only a couple of falcons, a swallow and the terns. Since the nebb exclude the falcon we could safely focus on the terns.


From the time of Arthur and Parcival to the royal houses of today we hear about the knigths of a king and the maids of the queen - also called maids of honor/ladies-in-waiting.

In the Scandianvian languages these maids are called "terner" or "tärnor". Danish bride-maids are called "brude-terner", while the swedish write "brud-tärnor".

The exactly same word is used for the bird tern. Thus we can view the terns at each chaiarm of the throne as maids of the enthroned queen.

Further discussions in Swedish at:

Self-regard might be the closest English equivalent.

kai: The book doesn't specifically contradict a relationship between the norse pronounciation or stem of the word. In fact the old Icelandic and the old Anglo-Saxon would also call both maid and bord "tern", alternatively "s-tern". When all the Scandinvanian languages as well as the Islandic and the English - still - name the bird by the exactly same word it would be obvious that the word has old roots.

When the same name is found on both the bird and the maid it could be out of the very simple fact that they have parallell features, like grace, feminine beauty, vitality, prudence...

Style is a matter of choice. Ornitology isn't.

âSelf-importanceâ is a perfectly ordinary word, in my experience, and expresses selvstÃ¥else pretty well, but I think Martinâs explanation is as good as can be given.

'selvforståelse' can not be translated as 'self-importance'
It is rather 'self-understanding' - how you see yor role in any given context.

By Søren Larsen (not verified) on 06 May 2010 #permalink

Funny, then, that Tom Christensen would react with surprise when a fellow specialist in Late Iron Age studies voiced an opinion.

This "Astonishing archeological discovery" is just a tiny silver figurine, perhaps coated with some dusts of gold. How come then, that this tiny item could give even experts an almost chocking experience?

In realizing the amount of symbols and decorations on this tiny surfaces one could only be impressed. And - we are still a bit in awe - and wondering how such a small item can become a HUGE piece of art, as soon as its magnified through a proper lens - or a photo-shop-viewer. Decorated with a magnitude of symbols with exclusive details, the level of masonic handcraft does not only impress our contempary gold-smiths, it even makes them silent when asked to make us a good copy...

Most important, though, are the recognintion of a magnintude of symbols that decorates the figure of the enthroned deity. Combining unrecognized symbols from the viking-time with known aspects from historic heraldry this piece of art are rare in more than one aspect. Moreover, the context of the symbols used are well known from the norse litterature. Found on site at the famous premises of the Viking Kings in Lejre, this figurine contains a set of symbols and signs of vital interest to the anthropolgy of our European past. The small piece of rare art can actually give us a new and hereto unknown source of insigth into the founding mythos of the North Eurasian cultures.



A simple comparision of the queen-figurine from Lejre with the queen-figure from the Chessmen of Lewis Islands are attesting that the gold-coated Lejre-figurine have a historical background rooted in traditions of handcraft, artistery, science and academy. Still, as the symbols are made in the old, pre-christian culture - the values of the various symbols - as well as their cosmologic context - are not understood. Since we think the iron-aged Scandinavians so very different from the present, we can't seem to allow their "legends and myths" to be anything but "fairy-tails" or "religious images" based on "unstubstantiated theories", "mere fantasy" or "borrowings from IE contacts".

Thus a complete set of the "Asgard Chessmen" would be unvaluable to our understanding of the figures and motivs that formed the lives of Iron-Age-Scandianvia and their bronze age ancestors. Since we have problems understanding the cultural values of this time we refrain from discussing the levels of civilization attributed to our closest ancestors. Moreover we tend to characterize their "heathen culture" as something unimportant or irrelevant to us. Thus the Norse myths have been taken out of the tool-kit of modern archaeology and placed among the litterature called "folklore and fantasy", as in "myths and legends".


The backside of that, turning unconscious, is that we stop processing the saga-litterature with new facts. Today we have archaological, climatical and genetical data-bases that makes it possible to check any myths and sagas against proven parameters. Today we may check if the wheather-repports given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are true or not. As long as we keep debunking the information of the sagas, we may also overlook important potentials when new projects are to be budgetted.

Contrary to Greece and Rome the northern part of Europe have not been able to recover statues or mosaic images of the old deities ("gods") that formed the constitution of our first civilizations. Though, as the chronicles still refer to the cosmology of a Norse Pantheon, one should expect to find some norse parallells to the statues, mosaics or paintings of Hera, Zevs or Demeter. But, for some reason we have actually never been getting to see a genuine statue from Norse antiquety, that resembles a clear-cut example from the Norse pantheon. Not before now...


Luckily, Scandinavian as well as English, Dutch, German, Polish and Russian archaology have collected a number of profiles and symbolized figures that alligns with the mythological figures found in the German, Norse and Uralian myths. Then there are endless numbers of Scandinavian stone-carvings that we still don't understand can be connected to these legends.

A number of iron-age and bronze-age items - in metal, amber, bone and stone - associates with symbols known to mideval heraldic. We just do not know what most of these figures are about, since we are out of clear-cut links between the antique mythology and present day history. Thus the recent scoop - from viking-time archaeology - may have broken the vacuum of understanding that have existed between the northern sagas and contemporary historians.


Today the door-opener at the Roskilde Museum in Copenhagen the issue of analyzing and identifying the figurine from Lejre is still a hot topic. Specialists with various majors have various opinons to which 'God' or 'Godess' this is. One and a half year after the discovery we still have no satesfactory explanation to the identity of this figurine. The confusion seems massive and not even the most simple of questions are agreed on - as to which sex this person has...!

Since the knowledge is scarce we tend to trust the small amount of points we have know as the whole story. And, even if we know that we don't know much, we still stick to what we do know. Finally we hold on to that and reject the questioning and reflecting to solve the puzzle. This way even a royally decorated and seated deity can be presented with the wrong sex. The reason for this embarassing situation is not a matter of genus-perspective, but simply a lack of insigth and perspective on the cosmology of the Norse sagas.


From the old norse gods most Scandinavians have heard of Oden or Wodan. Some even remember that in the middle of evry week we still have a day for Oden/Woden, called "Onsdag" or 'Wednesday'. (The first form is still the official name of the day in all Scandinavian countries, while the second variation is still used in all English-speaking countries.) So the impact of Wodan/Oden is still alive.

Since it is common to adress the histories of the Norse sagas and the antique goods, most Scandinavians have learned that Wodan was sitting on a throne and was always surrounded by two Ravens, 'Hugin' (Desire) and Munin (Memory), which makes him updated on "all news from the whole world..." The symbol of the two ravens is obviously present as a demanding factor when the official status of the figurine was to be published. Thus the Roskilde Museum have identified the figurine as Oden with his two ravens.

Sadly, the museum fails to understand that there are other birds present - as symbols and heraldic figures - in the Norse mythology. One of them is the Swan, another is the Eagle, signifying the King and Queen of Asgard. Both of them are represented on the figurine. Then there are two terns, flanking the enthroned dignity.


The symbol of the eagle is well known in royal heraldics, all along cental and eastern Eurasia. On the Lejre-figurine the double-headed eagle - as the head of a serpent helix - is clearly symbolized at the top of the throne-chair. So the figure should be Tor/Perun or Siv/Idun. But not Wodan. There¨s no lance, sword or horses in the picture. Moreover, the serpents decorating the upper back of the throne are recognizable as the feminine Lax-serpent ("laxormen"), contrary to the masculine Midgard-serpent.

The deities resembling the pantheon of Asgard is known. Wodan is the old man, the old Sun - as creator and father of the rest. Thus he is the "heavenly god". His wife is called Jord/Njord/Earth - and their first son is called Thor - who will reflect his father as the moon reflects the sun. He have a number of names. Some are according to his different duties - as host (Brage) or residing king (Forseti, Ers).

Wodans fist daugther is called Siv/Idun/Ostara/Maja. Some oral traditions even call her Frigga - repending Snorre Sturlasson that make Frigga Odins wife, rather than his daugther and female representative (qvin).

Thor, who gave us Thursday, are also famous to the Scandinavian layman. His symbols are a flashing hammer and two bucks - that pull his chariot. None of them are present in the figurine. So we're left with his consort - Siv with the golden hair, resembling Idun with the golden apples and Frigga with the golden shoes.



In all Scandinavian dialects the word for maid is still "tern". The word also appear in a variety of combinations such as "bride-tern", "chamber-tern" and "court-tern". The exactly same word is still used as a name for the more gracious of sea-birds, called "tern" - in Scandinavian as well as English and German.

In the figurine from Lejre we see two birds flanking a female gracia on a throne-chair. The physical features of the birds are unmistakenly close to the bird we still call tern. Thus we may suggest that the figurine constitutes a Queen on a Throne, attended ny her two court-maids. In Snorre Sturlassons mythologies we can read about the maids like Hnoss and Hlin, both connected to the residing queen of the Aser family. She was called Fricka/Frijja/Frigga and known to master the wheel that spin the very threads of life.

Looking closer into the figure one find the two birds called "terns" - meaning maid - watching the Queen of Asgard. The the question remains to her most correct names. In old European mythologies we find her as Ostara, Antiona, Fortuna, Kybele and Selene - as a Queen (virgin) and moon-godess. Note also that one Swan is profiled, resting on the left arm of the Eagle's chair. The Swan was a mother-ideal, related to the Valkyria, also known for their beuty and natural skills as caretakers.


90 years ago another figure of south-eastern Sweden - sofar the only known, northern presentation of the same deity. Also the Swedish apparence are clearly connected to the dimensions of time, scales and chronology. Here she is represented with the late, the new, the half and the full moon - at one and the same plate.


Note that both figurines were made of silver with inlays and specific parts coated in gold.

In the various sagas of the north she is called Siv, Idun, Frigja or Fricka - from which Frickas profile is the stronger. Whatever name is the more correct, the specifik positure and the symbols of the figurine clearly profiles a queen, from the realm of the Norse pantheon. Since a female can't be a king we may safely adress her "The Queen of Asgard".