We love a good fluke treasure discovery here at IFLScience – and even better when it’s at the hands of somebody completely unexpected. A recent story out of Denmark is no exception, as a hoard of nearly 300 Viking coins has been discovered by a young girl using a metal detector in a cornfield last Autumn.
Along with the ancient coinage, the trove contained a number of pieces of silver jewelry – likely broken up on purpose to act as payment by weight. Two of the items discovered are “particularly interesting,” noted experts at the local Historical Museum of Northern Jutland, where the items are being investigated: two ornately braided decorated balls on a small piece of cut silver rod – both clearly once part of the same unusually large silver ring pin.
It's so big and high-quality, in fact, that it was likely taken from a bishop or a king, the museum staff said – likely on a raiding expedition, and potentially from a high-society individual in Ireland, some 1200-plus nautical miles away from where the treasure was found.
For the Vikings who originally plundered the treasure, however, it wasn’t the artistic merit of a piece that mattered, or even the authority that minted a currency – in fact, many of the coins are not Danish, but German or Arab in origin – it was all about the weight of the silver they could retrieve from it.
The treasure hails from more than 1,000 years ago – the Danish coins have been dated to the 970s or 980s CE, during the later period of the reign of Harald Blåtand, or “Bluetooth” (and yes, that is where we get the modern term “Bluetooth”). Researchers investigating the find are able to date it so accurately thanks to King Harald’s famous mid-life conversion to Christianity: the coins feature a cross on one side, which would not have been present before the mid-960s or so.
On top of that, the location of the discovery provides an upper limit on the potential dates. The silver was found tantalizingly close to what was once the Viking fortress of Fyrkat – a castle that was only in use for a short time around the year 980. While researchers aren’t sure exactly why it was abandoned, evidence from other sites suggests it may have been due to an intergenerational power struggle for the throne.
If that’s the case, it may explain why such an opulent collection was left in the first place. “Perhaps the castles were not given up entirely voluntarily, and perhaps it happened in connection with the final showdown between Harald Blåtand and his son Svend Tveskæg,” suggested Torben Trier Christiansen, an archaeologist and museum inspector at the Museum.
“If there were disturbances at Fyrkat, it makes good sense that the local magnate here at Bramslev would choose to hide his valuables out of the way,” he added.
Thanks to this upheaval – although much more thanks to the centuries of agriculture that followed it – the hoards of silverware were discovered not in the two (or more) separate collections they were originally deposited in but spread throughout a larger area.
And while that makes it difficult for experts to say for certain which trove any individual item came from, it does come with an upside: a follow-up investigation, not just in the hopes of further riches, but in order to better understand where, and why, the items were buried in the first place.
“These two silver treasures constitute a fantastic story in themselves,” Treir Christiansen remarked. “But to find them abandoned in a settlement only eight kilometers from Harald Blåtand's Viking fortress Fyrkat is incredibly exciting.”