The Winged Man of Uppåkra


Uppåkra near Lund is Scandinavia's largest 1st millennium settlement site and may (for some definitions of "town") have been the first town north of Germany. Its finds are absolute top-quality and occur in vast numbers. For many object types, there are now more specimens from Uppåkra only than we used to have from all of Sweden. I've had the pleasure of working with some 7th/8th century brooch types from the site, and I always read news about the ongoing investigations at Uppåkra with great interest.


Now they've found something unique again. Rolf Petré calls it a mount, possibly for a small exclusive box. The style is in my opinion definitely 8th century (not late-10th as Petré suggests). The piece is unlikely to depict a Judaeo-Christian angel as Christianisation hadn't come very far in Scandinavia at the time. But as the Uppåkra team notes, Norse mythology offers two immediate interpretations: either a god wearing Freya's magic falcon cloak, or Wayland the Smith wearing the feathered cloak he made to escape from his captivity with King Niðhad. The second option is attractive, I'd like to add, as we actually have a small exclusive 8th century box bearing Wayland's image: the Franks Casket.

Congratulations (and huge envy) to the colleagues who get to dig at Uppåkra for a living! Note that thanks to them, this find has an exact, undisturbed stratigraphical context.

More like this

And so, yet again, a member of the entrenched elite rehashes their boring old interpretations and refuses to see or acknowledge the obvious brilliance and lucid insights of Erich von Däniken.

(I could almost stay serious while writing that...)

This is just some guy with a feathered cloak. Obviously, when we find 8th century objects depicting people in interstellar space ships we always hide them away carefully in the federal warehouse with the Ark of the Covenant etc.

Fantastic! I've never seen anything like it. Parts of it are reminiscent of the gripping beast motif. Do you know anything about the context in which it was found?

By Heather F (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

Except perhaps for the man's hands holding on to the wings, I don't see anything gripping-beastish (which if present would date the thing after 790). As for context, all the project's blog says is "in the exciting stone pavement outside the lavish buildings".

I should have clarified that I meant specifically the hands holding the wings. Thanks for posting about this!

By Heather F (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

Actually, everyone knows that the Ark of the Covenant is in "Area 51," or did you on see that movie? tsk,tsk,tsk...

As for the winged-man object, I agree on the lack of grippy-beasty stuff, but how, then has it been dated?

By Steven Blowney (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

I don't know what sort of dating evidence there is for the deposition of the piece. But its design, with the way the man's body interlaces with the feather cloak/harness, is very similar to the decoration on certain medium-size domed oblong brooches. These brooches in turn are securely fixed in the grave chronology to the mid-8th century.

Might I suggest: the Mothman! a guy wearing a wood frame covered in feathers danced around a mead hall like the devil dancers in Tibet,kids peeked under the door flap and the women sat in the back.
someone with high standing had a brooch made up,seems straight forward,everyday object to me.

In terms of the Wayland narrative, surely the closest parallels to this are the two Wayland images from the 10th century Leeds cross-shafts in West Yorkshire? Much more similar than Ardre in the way the flying-suit knots around the body.

By Victoria Thompson (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

Another piece in that genre was found by Hjalmar Stolpe in the Black Earth of Björkö - though it is of course a lot less elaborate than the Uppåkra mount.

I have examined it closely and it is with great certainty the cut-out centre of a scabbard chape, fitted with a pin arrangement to act as a brooch. Ambrosiani's team also found a complete chape in a similar style during their Black-earth excavations back in the 90's.

By Ny Björn (not verified) on 28 Sep 2011 #permalink

Even if Christianization had spread that far at that point, I thought the "winged angel" motif was invented by Renaissance artists as shorthand for, "this person is an angel." They couldn't just give them halos since saints had those. I'm not sure the wings have any basis in any religious text, though I could be wrong.

The Cristian angel concepts were much more weird-looking than this "wingman"; they invented a whole bestiary of angels, metatrons etc with differing numbers of arms and legs...

I would say this is an uncloaked alien of the kind Mel Gibson was wrestling in "Signs" (during the struggle he suffered brain injuries later manifesting as asshole behaviour). Cloaking technology is obviously widespread, but should not be confused with the much simpler "somebody else's trouble field".

More Scandinavians: "Riot Police Resign: Iceland Leads the Way, Again"…

By birger Johansson (not verified) on 29 Sep 2011 #permalink

Magic cloak? Need one...

By Need Magic (not verified) on 29 Sep 2011 #permalink

Frustratingly, I can't find an online image of Leeds - good, bad, or ugly. It's illustrated by W.G. Collingwood and in the W. Yorks volume of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. It has smith's tools in one of the bottom corners and a female figure, like Ardre. I've just posted my own (not great) photo on my Facebook profile - help yourself!

(BTW Winged angels long predate the Renaissance - they appear to develop from Roman Victory iconography)

By Victoria Thompson (not verified) on 29 Sep 2011 #permalink

This proves that the Vikings smoked strong tobacco more than thousand years ago. Changing your body and fly away like that is Hippie stuff ;-)

Very nice pictures and an amazing find.

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 29 Sep 2011 #permalink

I don't know if anyone else sees this: a man strapped into a bird shaped object, as if ready to be sacrificed. Held down very tightly by bars across arms and legs in a very painful position.

Human sacrifice?

Just when did shamanistic influences die out among the farmers? If this had been a wooden object in say, North America instead of a metal object in Scandinavia I might have assumed it depicted a shape-changing animistic spirit, or possible a "trickster" god switching between human and avian appearences.
But as the Romans testify, germanic peoples had already adopted more typical iron-age religious beliefs.
Could this be some kind of animistic belief relic, the same way Odin still retained some qualities of a shaman?

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 29 Sep 2011 #permalink

There are at least two images on "picture stones", one of which is the Stora Hammars III stone from Gotland, that show a male figure wearing a very similar type of wings. The images aren't nearly as detailed, being mostly outlines, but the position of the human legs intertwined with the birdlike tail seems very similar to me:…,_Suttungr_and_Gunnlöd.jpg

The picture stone images are supposed to show Odin winning Odroerir, the mead of poetry. This figure has both eyes, so he may not be Odin, although I'm not sure whether the iconography of Odin being one-eyed was always adhered to at this time. Still, it might be worth looking into. . .

Birger, I'm no expert, but I would be careful about using what little we know about Germanic religions in Roman times to interpret Norse art 500 years later. I'm sure there are all sorts of problems with the Norse Christian sources on what people used to believe, but they are much closer in space and time.

It´s obvious: A 8th century skydiver in a Birdman Blade-II wingsuit

Do you know any stylistic parallels for the face? It has an Irish look to me, but then I know very little about 8th-century Scandinavian metalwork. (I'm not suggesting in any way that it IS Irish, BTW).

By Victoria Thompson (not verified) on 30 Sep 2011 #permalink

Head; grooved hair parted in the middle, beard but no mustache. Big open eyes pointed upward, pointed chin, no ears, but stubs of horns? Head is in awkward, if not impossible position.

Two arms and two legs with ribbed surfaces; boots with square toes. Overall impression of some type of suit or armor.

No body. Center design covering the figure's "back" looks possibly like a crest composed of a cross and two outward facing eagle heads with a hide shaped shield with "donuts" on it.

Wings shaped like those of a moth that has eye markings at the top curve.

All in all, I'd say it's a pagan version of a Christian angel (St. George?, archangel Michael?) rendered more realistic, by having the figure descend head first from "heaven" like an actual bird.

They've posted some new photos over at the Uppåkra blog:

I wonder if it isn't a late relative of the bird from the Vendel XIV-helmet..?
Try to imagine it attached to the brow-mount from Tjele.
-Styles came and went during the Scandinavian Iron Age, but the motives they depicted were often quite conservative in their basic outlines.

By Ny Björn (not verified) on 02 Oct 2011 #permalink

You're right, there is a similarity to the Vendel nose-guard. Can you tell me where I can see a pic of this Tjele mount?

Not having seen the original yet, to me the closest parallels seem to be the 10th century swordchapes mentioned in this thread before. There are some more winged "bird-men" from the middle Viking Age, though not very many and quite heterogeneous both in style and carrier material. They could be related to the Wayland-story, but even some gods could take the shape of birds, e g Freya and Loki. Some depictions are unclear. I should say this is kind of a missing link that explains a lot! It'll be interesting to read more about the dating on stratigraphical grounds.

By Michaela Helmbrecht (not verified) on 03 Oct 2011 #permalink

Martin: The Tjele "helmet" was first recognized by Elisabeth Munksgaard back in the early 80's or so - by then it had been on display as scrap for decades in the museum (-after all it WAS deposited as scrap...). She published it in Skalk in 1983 and in OFFA in 1984. I think it's included in the catalogue of Tweddles "The Anglian Helmet from Coppergate" as well.

By Ny Björn (not verified) on 03 Oct 2011 #permalink

It looks to me like a guy lying head-first on a skeleton sled. He's even wearing a helmet.

Dear Martin,

do you still believe this mount to be of a 8th century manufacture, even though it was found in a late 10th century layer and dated as thus?
Stylistically it has too much in common with the oblong brooches for it to be a coincidence.

On a side note, I would like to use this opportunity to show my gratitude towards your work on the oblong brooches. Your paper has been a real pleasure to read through, and is a most useful tool!
So thank you ever so much for your work on the oblong brooches, it has made my study on 8th century garments much more solid.

So far the date of the layer rests on the assessment of the winged man's date. Glad you found use for my work!

Dear Martin,

I see, so it is Rolf Petré's dating of the mount that has dated the layer to the late 10th century. In your view, what part of the mount do you believe has most in common with the oblong brooches?

As I mentioned in my last comment, I am working on a 8th century male garment, and I would like to convert this mount to a brooch. However, as the dating seems to be uncertain, despite of Rolf Petré's suggestion, do you think it is too bold to make a replica of the mount for a 8th century garment?

or it could be the Albanian winged warrior - Drangue :)

By praetorian (not verified) on 09 Oct 2011 #permalink

Its really impressive how 'scaffolding like' the wings are, didn't realize at first that the man was holding on to them or that it was mounted on to him.

Didn't the germans do some crazy 'spread eagle' sacrifice like this, they'd split the ribcage open and toss the lungs about?

If its Wayland Smith, does the fact that its metal take on significance? Also, is it possible that what you have hear is a confusion between Wayland Smith and Daedalus/Icarus? I wonder if Icarus/Vikarus to Wayland/Vayland is too much of a linguistic stretch?

What is the matter, are digital photos of these articles too expensive? how can we form any adequate opinion without being able to see these things in all possible aspects; top, bottom, side, front, and back. Why show the thing upside down, is it that you just don't give a phuck?

I suggest you check the web site of the project that made the find, linked to above. That's where I got the pictures I posted. You see, I'm nowhere near the site or the museum where the Uppåkra finds are kept.

Varför inte en kvinna. det är kanske inget skägg eller polisonger figuren har? Min släkting Ãjlis, tycker det är kul att titta in pÃ¥ Arkeologiforum. Hon har gett mig tillstÃ¥nd att citera henes inlägg: "Ãmne: Man, kvinna eller Oden i kvinnokläder? (läst 16355 gÃ¥nger)


SV: Man, kvinna eller Oden i kvinnokläder?
« Svar #180 skrivet: september 23, 2011, 12:30 »
Jag tror att Oden är en senare skapelse modellerad på kvinnofigur, en "Mistress of Animals".

Från den artikel jag hänvisar till så är den första bilden (eg Figure 2), s 233 en kvinna som rider på ett kattdjur, från Baktrien ca 1800 fKr.

Nästa bild har en liknande figur vingar, från Mitanni ca 1450 - 1360 fKr.

Några bilder senare en relief, Artemis as Mistress of Animals, med två vilda djur och vingar, 550 fKr.

Ytterligare senare har vi en silverphalera med en kvinna med två fåglar en på varje axel, ca 200 eKr, Trakien. Arbetet liknar mycket tekniken på Gundestrupkitteln i Danmark.

Ãr man intresserad av DNA i arkeologiska utgrävningar sÃ¥ ser man att det finns en väg som människor kan ha burit dessa föreställningar frÃ¥n öst till väst (om man sÃ¥ vill). De Y-DNA alt. mt-DNA som fanns i öst finns numera ocksÃ¥ i väst.

Artikeln: "Enarees and Women of High Status. Evidence of Ritual at Tillya Tepe (Northern Afgahnistan)" J Davis-Kimball, Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads. Berkeley, California."

PS. Efter att ha DNA-testat min svenske man så tror jag att det kan finnas något samband.:-p

Hej igen Martin!
Ãjlis och jag har diskuterat detta ovanstÃ¥ende och jag hävdar att artikeln ""Animal Style" and Shamanism. Problems of Pictorial Tradition in Northern in Central Asia" av Burchard Brentjes är intressantare, och dÃ¥ särskilt bilderna pÃ¥ sidan 265. Titta tex pÃ¥ vingarna pÃ¥ fig 13! Samma volym som ovan).

Jag köpte ett litet hängsmycke vid en föreläsning som hölls av Ambrosianus. En liten örn av silver. Tydligen användes den symbolen av någon kungaätt i Uppsalatrakten (600-700 talen(?)). Vingarna var mycket lika dels, fig 13 och dels Uppåkra"fågelns".

Bengt Nordkvist med Finnestorp har liknande figurer som man funnit i mossen, han tolkar dem som Oden.

Jag tror att vår överklass(?) i Skandinavien kom från det som idag kallas Ryssland.

En annan historiker visade att guldbleckens männens kläder såg ut som persiska krigarjackor, samma modell som man än idag ser på folk i Mongoliet etc...
(Jag minns inte namnet på den historikern/arkeologen just nu men något på A...)

Can it be that this is the in german called "wild Hunter"?

By RainerBln (not verified) on 16 Oct 2011 #permalink

I was at the Uppåkra exhibition, at the Historical Museum in Lund this Friday and the Winged Man was not there yet. The conservation of this object will probably take some time. Each year there is a book published about the excavations so I will expect to see moreinformation about this object later this year or early next year(I guess).

By Thomas Ivarsson (not verified) on 16 Oct 2011 #permalink

i am an archaeology student, I just finished a working at Uppakra for a month, in summer 2012 the Wayland the Smith is still at the site being cleaned. If you want to see the site first hand they do tours several times a day. We would love to see you out there when we reopen.

By Stephanie f. (not verified) on 18 Sep 2012 #permalink