About 2 1/2 years ago, archeologists in Sweden unearthed a cache of whisper-thin gold foil figures at the Aska archeological site in Hagebyhöga. The delicate specimens, which depict embracing couples and date back about 1,300 years, were found at the bottom of post holes in the remains of a great hall at the historic site.
No larger than a finger nail and thinner than a piece of paper, the Swedish finds (above, right) are remarkably similar to the specimens (above, left) just salvaged from a site in Hov, a village in southern Norway. Two of five new artifacts were pulled from the bottom of post holes of a small structure dating back 1,400 years.
The Swedish team in Hagebyhöga speculated that the foils were once affixed to the upright posts that supported the great hall at the Aska archeological site. Many of the foils were found at the bottom of seven post holes. Of the 15 foils found in Sweden, every one of them depicted an embracing couple, hinting the the building may have been used for wedding celebrations.
Norwegian archeologists from the University of Oslo noticed there were no drill holes in its specimens, so they were likely not worn as jewelry. Instead, they may have been presented as an offering — sacrificed within the walls and post holes during construction to ensure the safety of the building and its inhabitants. The structure measured 15 to 16 meters in length and was likely used for ritualistic functions.
The researchers believe the gold foil figures were stamped from a bronze die, similar to the way coins are made. The newly found Norwegian specimens depict a man dressed in a short robe with his feet visible. He is facing a woman embellished with bold jewelry and wearing a long gown with a train.
In Sweden, there were a number of theories regarding the identities of the couples stamped into the foil. Some speculated that they may depict princes and princesses who were about to get married, but others were convinced that the embracing couples represented the mythological union of the god Freyr and the giantess Gerdr from Norse mythology.
The Norwegian researchers agree that the figures on their foils are Freyr and Gerdr, dating back to the Merovingian period in Norway, which began in the year 550 and continued into the Viking Age, according to Science Norway.
The diminutive gold stamps are distinctly Scandinavia, with the first one discovered in 1725. At that time, they were called “gullglubber,” which means “golden old men” even though many of the depictions are of female characters. The gullglubber from Norway and Sweden most often feature couples, while the ones found in Denmark usually highlight a single figure.
The gold stamps offer an idealized picture of what the elite inhabitants of Scandinavia looked like 1,300 to 1,400 years ago. The stylish characters of the Merovingian period sported fine clothing and hairstyles, while enjoying beads, brooches, drinking cups and drinking horns.
The archeological site in Hov was discovered during a project to upgrade the E6 highway between Mjøsa Bridge and Lillehammer.
Credits: Image of Norwegian specimen courtesy of The Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Swedish foil image by Björn Falkevik via Academia.edu.; Image of multiple specimens by Nicolai Eckhoff/Kulturhistorisk Museum, Oslo;Archeologist Kathrine Stene image by Nicolai Eckhoff/Kulturhistorisk Museum, Oslo.