A treasure trove of 5 gold foil pieces, the size of fingernails, have been found near the roadside in southeast Norway, dated to 1,400 years ago. Described as not getting “more spectacular than this”, they are flat and thin, mostly square, and stamped with motifs. Linked to the Merovingian period in Norway, which starts around 550 and goes into the Viking Age, a time of turbulent climate and power relations.
Gold Foil Pieces Emerging Out of the Soil: Found Where Placed!
The motifs on these foil pieces predominantly feature depictions of individuals, specifically a man and a woman, showcasing a rich tapestry of clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles. In a previous excavation at Hov farm in Vingrom, 30 of these foil pieces were unearthed in close proximity to what experts believe was once a sacred pagan temple, a place where people gathered to pay homage to the gods and offer sacrifices, reports Science in Norway .
“Usually, the woman is dressed in a side dress, sometimes with a tow and a cape, and the man has a shorter skirt so that the feet are visible. He can also wear a cape, and both can wear jewelry, different hairstyles and hold different things like drinking cups, wands or rings in the hands or have hands to point to different gestures. The goldfinches are actually so detailed and varied that they are the source of studies of the time’s costume and iconographic studies.”
Tiny pieces were found under the structures of ancient temple. ( Nicolai Eckhoff /Facebook)
Anticipating the unpredictability of archaeological finds, the archaeologists had tempered their expectations, cautioning themselves against disappointment if they failed to uncover additional gold foil figures this time. However, fate had other plans, as a brilliant glimmer caught their attention, emerging from the earth below.
Three from the current excavation were found near where the walls of the temple were believed to have stood. Two of them were found in separate post holes. This time the finds offered something extra – they were found and excavated where they were most likely originally placed!
Prior discoveries of numerous gold foil figures in the vicinity had left some ambiguity regarding their initial placements. It was known that some had been unearthed in and around a different posthole within the old temple, situated on the opposite side of the recently discovered ones.
The uncertainty about the exact origins of these earlier finds has now been clarified by the three specimens unearthed beneath the actual structure of the temple wall. This unequivocally suggests that they were deliberately positioned there prior to the wall’s construction, reports The Jerusalem Post .
A detail of the gold foil pieces unearthed near a farm in Norway. (Nicolai Eckhoff/ Facebook)
One intriguing theory posits that these gold foil figures may have functioned as admission tickets for entry into a temple similar to the one that once graced the grounds of Hov. However, this hypothesis raises questions, as admission tickets are not typically found concealed beneath the foundation of a wall.
“Modern excavation has provided more knowledge about this,” lead archaeologist Kathrine Stene told Science in Norway . “The gold foil figures in the post hole were not visible to people. Those we found in the wall would also not have been visible to others. So this doesn’t appear to be an admission ticket, but rather an offering or a religious act to protect the building.
She added that what had earlier been interpreted as post holes, could be questioned, as it would not be unreasonable to envisage a building standing here for several hundred years.
The Discovery of the Pagan Temple: A History of Gold Finds
The discovery of the temple at Hov in 1993 was serendipitous, thanks to County Conservator Harald Jacobsen’s keen observation while driving along the E6 highway. He noticed soil that appeared to contain cultural layers, indicating human activity. Further investigation confirmed his hunch, and the presence of two gold foil figures hinted at the site’s extraordinary significance.
Subsequent smaller excavations in the 2000s led to the revelation of 28 gold foil figures and the identification of what experts refer to as a temple, a structure dedicated to pagan religious practices. One of the compelling reasons supporting the theory that this was indeed a temple, apart from the gold foil figures, is the absence of typical household artifacts such as cooking pots and whetstones that would be expected if people lived there.
The presence of gold foil figures in Norway is uncommon, making the 35 discovered in the Vingrom temple the largest collection in the country. In contrast, a similar temple in Uppåkra, Sweden, yielded an astonishing 100 gold foil figures, while on the Danish island of Bornholm, an astounding 2,500 were unearthed in a field.
The continuous emergence of new finds necessitates regular updates to the count of gold foil figures. The most recent figures from 2019, according to Ingunn Marit Røstad, an archaeologist at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, and an expert on the Merovingian period in Norway and gold foil figures, indicate a total of 3,243 gold foil figures discovered in Scandinavia, with the majority (2,708) found on Bornholm.
The question arises: were there genuinely fewer gold foil figures in Norway during that era, or have they simply not been uncovered yet? Røstad believes there are more of these artifacts waiting to be found. Subsequent research and study will likely show us the way.
Top image: 5 gold foil pieces found in the dig in Norway. Right; Kathrine Stene, the archaeologist and project leader, proudly displays one of the five newly unearthed gold foil pieces. Source: Nicolai Eckhoff/ Facebook
By Sahir Pandey