Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Stunning Celtic Horse Harness Became Treasured Brooch of Norwegian Viking Woman

Ancient Origins

During the summer of 2016, a beautiful bronze brooch was found opportunely at Agdenes farm, at the outermost part of the Trondheim Fjord in mid-Norway, buried as a status symbol in the grave of a Viking woman. An analysis of the precious artifact revealed that it is a 9th century ornament that was originally a Celtic horse harness and was likely stolen during Viking raids in Ireland.

 The Decorations Imply that the Jewelry Was Designed in Ireland
The well-maintained piece of jewelry is an ornament with a bird figure that has fish or dolphin like patterns on both sides. The decorations suggest that it was probably created in a Celtic workshop, probably in Ireland, between the 8th and 9th century. What’s more surprising though, it’s the fact that it was originally used as a fitting for a horse’s harness. The holes at the bottom and traces of rust from a needle on the back, reveal that it had probably been turned into a brooch at a later stage.

Some of you might wonder now how a fitting from an Irish horse’s harness ended up being brooch for a Norwegian Viking but those who are familiar with Vikings, a successful historical drama television series written and created by Michael Hirst for the channel History, shouldn’t be surprised. As the show clearly shows, Norwegian Vikings took part in relentless raids of the British Isles.

According to Heritage Daily, Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen, a doctoral student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Historical Studies, works with finds brought to Norway during the Viking age and verifies what the popular TV series shows, “A housewife in Mid-Norway probably received the fitting as a gift from a family member who took part in one or more Viking raids to Ireland or Great Britain. When she died, the jewelry was given to her as a burial gift. It has stayed underground until it was found by chance this summer.” She also adds that this is not the first time they have found such pieces of jewelry from that era in a woman’s grave, and speculates that this was a way for Vikings to show their love to their women after they returned from their conquests to the British Isles.

Vikings undertook relentless raids of the British Isles. Thorir Hund kills King Olaf at the Battle of Stiklestad (public domain)

The Visual and Cultural Significance of The Symbols
It looks like love and affection weren’t the only reason Vikings handed such objects to their women, or other female family members. The Vikings who participated in the early raids to the British Isles and made it back alive, gave these objects to female family members not just as gifts but also as trophies that gave them a prestigious status within the Viking societies. The fittings were then transformed into pieces of jewelry, and were worn on traditional Norse clothing as brooches, pendants or belt fittings. Heen Pettersen says about this common practice that became a tradition, “As a result, it became clear to everyone that those women had family members who had taken part in successful expeditions far away. There are traces of gold on the surface of the jewelry, so it was originally covered in gold. It therefore appeared to be more valuable than it actually was. In addition, each piece of jewelry was unique, so the owner did not risk having the housewife next door turn up with the same piece of jewelry.”

An example of how a Viking woman would have worn her brooch.

The Grave Has Been Disturbed
Heen Pettersen claims that the impressive jewelry was discovered by a civilian with a metal detector so it can’t be considered a find from an archaeological site that was officially excavated. Additionally, the fact that the bronze brooch was not found in the original grave, clearly shows that the grave was disturbed at some point. Regardless these misfortunes, Heen Pettersen is pretty satisfied with the finding and says to Heritage Daily that its cultural and historical value is undeniable, “The new find from Agdenes farm shows that the area was populated in the first part of the Viking Age. Even though it is a random find, it is a nice reminder that Mid-Norway was involved in the early contact with the British Isles.”

Top image: The Celtic harness found buried with a Viking woman in Norway (Photo: Åge Hojem / NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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