Gilded female figurine illuminates Viking garb

Revninge Woman figurine, ca. 800 A.D.A metal detectorist scanning a field near Revninge in eastern Denmark discovered a rare gilded figurine of a woman. Experts from the Østfyns Museums confirmed that the figurine is of Viking manufacture and dates to around 800 A.D. She is a petite 4.6 centimeters (1.8 inches) high and made of solid silver under a top layer of gold. Her hair is pulled back in a tight bun around a three-dimensional head. The body, on the other hand, is two dimensional. This is a very rare combination, as most figures from this period are flattened 2D in their entirety.

It’s the clothing and jewelry on the body that is of particular interest to archaeologists. She wears an ankle-length gown with long sleeves and elaborate decoration. Each part of the dress has a different pattern illustrating different textile-making approaches: nesting V-shapes at the neck, radiating lines or furrows on the torso, horizontal cuts on the sleeves, lines of raised squares on the left and right of the skirt, stamped circles in between them. Around her neck hangs a necklace made out of circles that could represent pearls or a gold chain. Two long strands that may be pearl ribbons fall down the skirt from a three-lobed jewel in the center of the waist.

Trefoil brooch carved with geometric shapes, late 8th/early 9th century A.D.Trefoil shaped brooches have been found before in Viking burials and settlements (see this example from a slightly later period unearthed in Zealand), but they’re usually placed on the chest. The figurine testifies to the fact that these artifacts were worn at the waist during life, or at least worn there on occasion. She holds her hands on her abdomen, thumbs out on either side of the trefoil.

Revninge Woman, side viewSilver valkyrie found in central Denmark in 2013There’s a hole between the ear and the bun which indicates the figurine was worn as a pendant. Her facial features and the piercing underneath her bun are strongly reminiscent of the gilded silver 3D valkyrie found in central Denmark last year. Both figurines date to the same period and feature prominent women, but unlike the valkyrie, Revninge Woman is not carrying any weapons or a shield. It’s possible she’s a representation of Freya, the fertility goddess. The position of her hands at her abdomen and the lobed brooch/buckle may be references to pregnancy or fertility.

Revninge Woman went on display at the Viking Museum of Ladby on May 28th. She will remain on display at least through the end of the summer.


4 thoughts on “Gilded female figurine illuminates Viking garb

  1. I can never read about finds like this without thinking of the panic and tears and dismay that the original owner must have felt on discovering the loss the item in question.

  2. I am inclined to think that the “trefoil” at the waist is a knotted form in a belt, the ends of which hang below. As a spinner and weaver, I am tempted to guess at what fibre-working techniques the various textures might represent, but know better than to try: there are many ways to achieve that kind of texture, and gold cannot replicate (at least at this scale) enough detail to identify techniques used in fibre. Ancient peoples used techniques that have been lost in time, and it is often only the luck of finding an actual textile sample in good enough condition to understand how it was made. Still, it is interesting to conjecture, and I can imagine my fingers working sturdy rovings for parts of this outfit. Beautiful piece in what it suggests about Viking culture, dress, and metalwork of the time. My guess is that a piece like this would have been stolen, not lost. I suspect it would have been worn not as ornament but as ceremony. Not an expert on Vikings by any means, but recently learned that I am of definitive Viking descent and very interested in learning that part of my heritage.

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