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  • Camille Basso

Mysterious pagan amulets discovered in a Norwegian temple

During preventive excavations in the village of Vingrom, Norway, archaeologists from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo discovered 35 gold amulets in a Merovingian temple. Dating back 1,400 years, these objects were probably used as sacrificial offerings in the temple of Hov, between the 6th and 9th centuries.

Photographie de cinq des amulettes découvertes à Vingrom, en Norvège
Photograph of five of the amulets discovered at Vingrom, Norway

The 35 gold amulets discovered in the temple at Hov, almost 200km north of Oslo, are known as seagulls (literally "little golden old things"). Extremely fine and perfectly crafted, these objects are decorated with motifs depicting a couple dressed in elegant costumes. According to specialists at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, these individuals could be Gerd, the giantess who symbolises the Earth in Norse mythology, and Freyr, the god of fertility. These two deities are featured in the famous poem Escarmisme from Scandinavian mythology. They were particularly venerated in the Merovingian period in Norway, between 550 and 800, and were regularly represented in religious buildings.


In fact, the amulets unearthed by the team of archaeologists in Oslo are neither pierced nor fitted with fastenings, which suggests that they were not jewels used in religious ceremonies. Instead, the archaeologists believe that they had a ritual or symbolic function in the temple. They could have served as an entrance fee to the sacred site or as sacrificial offerings to the gods. According to Kathrine Stene, director of the preventive excavations at Vingrom, two amulets were found in the temple columns and three others in the wall structure. The amulets were intentionally placed there when the building was constructed, no doubt to protect it.


However, Ingunn Marit Rostad, another Oslo archaeologist, has another hypothesis concerning the figures engraved on the amulets. In her opinion, they were individuals belonging to a divine lineage. During the Merovingian period, many powerful Scandinavian families claimed to have divine origins. "This claim enabled them to legitimise their power. These families ruled others because they were directly linked to the gods, according to their claims. So these gulls may have been part of a ritual building in which a local lord or jarl (editor's note: a great Scandinavian nobleman or ruler inferior to the king) sat," explains the specialist.


Having recently discovered the amulets, the Oslo archaeologists estimate their dating on the basis of the style of dress of the individuals engraved in the gold and their representation. Nevertheless, official carbon-14 dating will determine precisely whether they were indeed carved between the 6th and 9th centuries. This will also enable specialists to date the structure of the Hov temple and its investment by the local communities, currently estimated at up to the 11th century. "It is not unreasonable to think that the building remained the same for several centuries. If it was maintained and the supporting posts were replaced, it was probably in use until the end of the 11th century," explains Kathrine Stene at Science Norway.


When the Hov site was discovered in 1993, two amulets were found by archaeologists at the time. A few years later, 28 other ceremonial objects were unearthed during excavations. However, Kathrine Stene explains that this is the first time that such gulls have been found in the structure and foundations of such a building. "We normally find them in more imposing buildings, which had greater religious functions. We were surprised by such a discovery", she explained in an article on the subject in Science Norway. In fact, this find has given researchers a better idea of the size of the original Hov temple. According to their analyses, the building was around 15 metres long, almost half the length of most temples from the same period in Norway.


Since the first archaeological digs in Scandinavia in the 18th century, more than 3,000 gold amulets have been discovered. According to Ingunn Marit Rostad, these finds should continue to multiply in the years to come: "More and more of these gulls are appearing in Norway. Both during official excavations and by private individuals. In the future, other similar objects will probably be unearthed by specialists in various parts of the country.

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