Last year, an amateur treasure hunter in Norway made a small but important discovery. Well, half a discovery, at least: a small piece of metal with no obvious use, which he had found on a farm on Norway’s western coast.
Then, this spring, the rest of the puzzle was revealed. Another amateur enthusiast (actually a friend of the first) happened upon another archeological find. This one was more clear: it was a massive, ornate, and complex sword.
The most surprising thing about the two artifacts was yet to be revealed – as it turned out, they were actually parts of the same discovery. Now reunited after approximately 1,200 years, the sword is being celebrated by local archeologists as a particularly unusual and beautiful example of Viking metalwork.
“The sword is probably what we call a D-sword,” said Ann Zanette Glørstad, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, in a statement. In other words, she explained, it’s “one of the richest ornamented, and heaviest sword types from the Viking Age.”
Only the hilt has been recovered, but just that is enough to sense the immense work that went into the sword's creation.
“It is still difficult to see all the details,” Glørstad said, “but the decor includes elements of the typical animal style from the Late Iron Age, as well as geometric figures of silver with so-called niello technique – that is, a metal mixture was added as black stripes in the silver.
“The lower helmet is decorated in the same way as the grip, and at each end the helmet is shaped like an animal head,” she added.
The sword joins around 20 similar artifacts which have been found in Norway – though many of those were probably imported, Glørstad said. While you might expect that a Viking sword, found in one of the ancient homelands of the Vikings, would have been forged close to where it was discovered, it likely came quite a distance to its eventual home: “the decoration may indicate that the sword was originally made in the Frankish Empire or England,” explained Glørstad.
Similar swords have been found across Europe, with the closest example being discovered in a ninth-century tomb on the Scottish island of Eigg. That means that the discovery “will be of great interest also to specialists from other parts of Europe,” said Glørstad – and indeed, once the sword has been properly preserved, the University “will then contact researchers abroad to bring more clarity to the sword's origins and parallels,” she said.
For now, much of the sword’s provenance remains a mystery – though there are a few clues. A big, highly decorated sword from a relatively far-off land would have been hard to come by without quite a lot of social status, so evidently, the owner was somebody important. Then there’s the fact that the sword was discovered very close to the grave of a rich Viking woman – the “Gausel Queen” – who was found with treasures hailing from as far away as Ireland.
“We knew that this area was of special importance, but that we should find something like this was very unexpected!” said Håkon Reiersen, acting head of the Norwegian Archeological Museum’s collection department.
The sword is currently being preserved at the museum, and will be displayed there once the process is complete – sword enthusiasts can follow the preservation on the museum’s website and social media accounts.
This is "without a doubt a completely unique discovery,” said Glørstad. “We are now very much looking forward to seeing the sword completely preserved.”