Rare box-shaped Viking brooch found in Estonia

A rare early Viking brooch has been found in the village of Varja, northeastern Estonia. The box-shaped brooch is one of only two of its kind ever discovered in Estonia, and the other one has not been handed in to heritage authorities yet. The other one is also of later date.

The Varja brooch was made of bronze cast in a single piece. It is in excellent condition, intact with only minor damage to the surface, likely from agricultural activity disturbing it when it was underground, and its steel pin missing.

The decoration is of the Broa or Oseberg style, characterized by sinuous animal figures and “gripping beast” motifs (creatures grasping the borders around them in their paws, usually their own serpentine bodies or another animal). The Boa style dates the brooch to between the late 8th century and the mid-9th.

The brooch was unearthed at the site of an ancient wetland which is believed to have had a single farm during the Viking era.

Kiudsoo explained that the village of Varja is situated in the northeastern part of the ancient parish of Askälä, and that this region on Estonia’s northern coast, between Purtse River and the present-day city of Kohtla-Järve, stands out for its exceptionally rich archaeological find material. The Eastern Route, an important Viking-era trade route, ran along Estonia’s northern coast.

The archaeologist said that he believes that the brooch found at Varja belonged to a woman born on the island of Gotland, who took up residence in the Viru region of Estonia later in her life. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that similar decorative items were in widespread use in Gotland during the Viking era, but are not common elsewhere. Kiudsoo said that hundreds of box-shaped brooches like the one recently found in Estonia have been found in Gotland.

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