Experts say the cache is one of the largest and most significant of its kind ever found in Denmark. Vejlemuseern
First-time treasure hunter Ole Ginnerup Schytz had only been out with his new metal detector for a few hours when he stumbled onto an astounding discovery: a stash of 1,500-year-old gold artifacts dated to the Iron Age. Now, experts have deemed the find—made in a field near the town of Jelling in southwestern Denmark last December—one of the largest and most important in Danish history.Schytz recalls hearing the device activate, then moving aside soil to uncover a small, bent piece of metal.
“It was scratched and covered in mud,” he tells Steffen Neupert of Danish broadcast station TV Syd, per a translation by Sarah Cascone of Artnet News. “I had no idea, so all I could think of was that it looked like the lid of a can of herring.”
The amateur metal detectorist had actually unearthed what turned out to be the first of 22 pieces of sixth-century gold jewelry. In total, the trove weighed just over two pounds.
Months after Schytz’s chance discovery, the Vejlemuseerne in Jutland has finally revealed the ancient treasures to the public.
“This is the biggest find that has come in the 40 years I have been at the National Museum [of Denmark],” archaeologist Peter Vang Petersen tells TV Syd, per Artnet News. “We have to go back to the 16th and 18th centuries to find something similar.”
According to a statement, the haul consists primarily of bracteates—medallions that were popular in northern Europe during the Migration Period (roughly 300 to 700 C.E.). Women would have worn the pendants, which were often inscribed with magical symbols or runes, for protection.
Many of the symbols seen on the newly unearthed bracteates are unfamiliar to experts, Mads Ravn, director of research at the Vejle museums, tells Agence France-Presse (AFP). Interpreting them will help shed light on the little-understood societies that inhabited the region prior to the Vikings.
“It is the symbolism represented on these objects that makes them unique, more than the quantity found,” says Ravn.
One of the medallions depicts the Norse god Odin and appears to be based on similar Roman jewelry that celebrated emperors as gods, reports TV Syd.
Many of the symbols seen on the bracteates are unfamiliar to researchers. Konserveringscenter Vejle / Vejlemuseerne
Older artifacts found in the cache include gold coins from the Roman Empire that were converted into jewelry. One depicts Constantine the Great, who ruled between 306 and 337 C.E. The coin’s presence suggests that Jelling, known to be a cradle of the Viking civilization between the 8th and 12th centuries, was a center of power with trade links across the European continent, according to Artnet News.
The objects’ immaculate craftsmanship points to their original owner’s probable high status.
“Only one member of society’s absolute top [would have] been able to collect a treasure like the one found here,” says Ravn in the statement.