The small piece of silver was found at a Viking fortress in Køge, Denmark
A small silver fitting has been discovered during excavations of the Viking fortress “Borgring” in Køge, east Denmark. It resembles one of the 3 missing parts of a distinctive Gotlandic box brooch previously found at the Fyrkat fortress in Hobro, north of Borgring.
The Fyrkat grave was one of Denmark’s richest female grave from the Viking Age and belonged to a shaman or sorceress who the Vikings would have held in extremely high regard.
If the silver fitting found at Borgring really did originate from the same box brooch it would suggests that the woman had traveled between the castles, which were presumably built by Harold Bluetooth, a king of Denmark between 958 and 987 CE.
“It will be incredible if this fitting is connected with the find from Fyrkat. If this really is where it comes from then it’s like finding a needle in the ocean,” says archaeologists Jeanette Varberg, a curator at Moesgaard Museum, Denmark. Varberg was not involved in the excavation at Borgring.
“One of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had”
The ornate little box brooch was found in Borgring northern gate, which is believed to have been the main entrance to the fortress.
Initially, the Scientists could not work out where it came from, says archaeologist Søren Sindbæk, a professor in Middle Age archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark. Sindbæk helped discover the fortres in 2014.
“In most cases, we say ‘Oh it resembles this or that.’ But we could not figure out what this little piece was and neither could our colleague. We all mulled it over until it suddenly dawned on me where I had seen it before,” says Sindbæk.
“It turned out to be a very unusual piece of jewelry, only one of which had previously been discovered in Denmark: In the shaman’s grave at Fyrkat. It is one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had as an archaeologist,” he says.
Jewelry was probably an heirloom
Female shamans could see into the future and cast spells. Written sources describe their high-standing in society at the time, and they were often treated like royalty.
The Gotlandic box brooch is shaped like a powder box, suggesting that it could have been utilized as part of her rituals.
Earlier analyse suggested that it contained white lead—a type of white coloring that could have been used as make-up for seances.
New analyses suggest that the white lead was actually used as a sealant, enabling the powder box to hold liquid. It could have been used to drink hallucinogenic liquids, says Sindbæk.
The box brooch was already old when it was buried with Fyrkat woman, along with a number of exotics objects, including a bronze bowl, possibly from Iran. She was dresed in red and blue cloth decorated with gold thread and buried in a casket made from a carriage, in a style reserved for the wealthiest of women. But it is still one of the most interesting find in the grave, says Varberg.
“It might have been an heirloom, which the woman inherited from her grandmother. She did not use it as jewelry, but rather as a little cup to store things in or to drink something special from. It was a part of her private things, a well-used and highly treasured piece,” she says.
Decoration fits the shaman’s box brooch
The box brooch is thought to have originated from Gotland in Sweden, where many similar items have been found.
Theoretically, the little silver fitting found at Borgring could also originate from one of these box brooches, where the upper part is often broken off.
But when archaeologists reviewed the literature they could see that the ornamentations on the piece from Borgring could only be found on the Fyrkat buckle.
“We have not found the spiral ornamentation on box brooches from anywhere other than Fyrkat. So it is odd when we only have one item that looks to have exactly the same ornamentation,” says Sindbæk.