Kaga Gold Foil Figure Model

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This entry was first published over the cell-phone network on my old site, without pix, on Monday 9 April.

This morning I woke up in an unexpected and not very welcome winter wonderland. Driving the 2.5 hours to Linköping on summer tyres was scary. But the snow was gone by lunch. An icy wind persisted.

I’m writing this from the kitchen of a little house we’re renting at the hostel in Mjölby. Today my crew of six did 27 person-hours of metal detecting at our site in Kaga parish, collecting about a hundred objects, most dating from the past three centuries. Only one can be dated before AD 1100, which would be a big disappointment but for one thing. We have found something extremely rare and unbeatably relevant to my research!

At top-level aristocratic manor sites of the later 1st Millennium in Scandinavia, minuscule gold foil figures are found, guldgubbar. They’re embossed with images of men and women, singly or pairwise, embracing and kissing. When found in situ, they are often associated with the posts carrying the roof of the mead-hall, venue of cultic feasts and political summits (for a particularly fine example from Uppåkra in Scania, see the current issue of Antiquity). The images have been interpreted as gods or heroes, the embracing pairs as mythical divine ancestors of royal lineages, perhaps the god Freyr and his chaos-giant wife Gerd.

Gold foil figures are exceptionally light-weight, replacing the more massive bracteate pendants when the Byzantine gold coin supply dried out at the shift to the Vendel Period c. AD 540. So light are they that they don’t trigger a metal detector. What does trigger a detector is the bronze model on which the figures were embossed. The number of such models found to date in all of Scandinavia is in the single digits. And today team member Niklas Krantz added one to that number!

Unusually, the Kaga model found today depicts a single woman. Looking at the model, she’s facing right, chin held high and proud. Her hair forms a large knot at the back of her head and then cascades down her back. She’s wearing a long dress with a train, a shawl over her shoulders, pointed shoes and indistinct pectoral jewellery an over-sized disc-on-bow brooch under her chin. Her right hand is visible, held close to her chest, thumb pointing rearwards and the fingers upward. A proud sister of Queen Wealtheow!

This is simply a mindblowing find, an instant classic. I am so proud and thrilled to have taken part in its discovery!

Update 14 April: Mats W of the VoF forum has published a tracing of the motif, pointing out that the lady’s feet are curiously far to the right, and that the box with three circles in the lower left-hand corner may be a stool she is sitting on.

Update 2 May: I’ve made a tracing of my own, shown below.

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Mainstream media reactions: Corren, The Local, Sveriges Radio P4 Östergötland, Norrköpings Tidningar, SVT Östnytt, TV4 (dead link).

http://digg.com/tools/diggthis.js

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20 thoughts on “Kaga Gold Foil Figure Model

  1. Excellent find, but I’m having a little trouble with the digg button. I clicked on it and had to go through the whole submission process when someone else already had. The button currently reads zero instead of two.

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  2. Oh, she’s lovely! I can’t imagine the thrill of holding that in ones hand. Makes you wonder how on earth anyone could make something so intricate in such small size. What’s the material of this item?

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  3. RBH, thanks!

    Alun, Digg seems a little erratic, sometimes showing a 0 and sometimes higher figures. Thanks for attempting to digg!

    Christina, the model is made of copper alloy whose corrosion is no different from that of most contemporary small metalwork. Beyond that, I don’t know and I am unlikely to try to find out. I am the kind of archaeologist who is happy to know that people in the past did certain specialised things but doesn’t care much how they did them.

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  4. Nice find!!!

    Isn`t the one from Uppåkra holding a staff AND a cup? (see M Watt in Continuty for centuries…, Uppåkrastudier 10)
    // Pierre

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  5. and indistinct pectoral jewellery an over-sized disc-on-bow brooch under her chin.

    You’re sure that’s not a pair of breasts?

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  6. Dude, I can recognise breasts. I’ve seen pictures, you know.

    But actually there are foil figures of women with more distinct d-o-b-brooches, so I’m sure that’s what it is.

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  7. Yeah, there’s only one person there, facing right and wearing a dress. The paired-figure ones are roughly square in proportion, with two people embracing and pressing their faces to each other in a kludgy representation of what is clearly a warm kiss.

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  8. Okay, I can see it. What I was asking is if there was a line running betwen the eye and the hairknot/ornament that could be interpreted as the margin between two faces. But a single person makes far more sense.

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