Alsengems are little multilayered button-like discs of coloured glass with incised human stick-figures on one side. Archaeology became aware of them in 1871 when one was found on the Danish island of Als. These gems are pretty coarse and ugly compared to the exquisite agate and intaglio ones of Classical antiquity, but they nevertheless have their place in an archaeologist’s heart.
On the Continent, Alsengems are found as part of church art of the 11th through 13th centuries such as reliquaries, book covers and altar crosses. Their core area is the Netherlands, Lower Saxony and Frisia. In Scandinavia, they occur very sparingly in various archaeological contexts, suggesting that they were imported here on their own, not as part of larger objects. Perhaps they were kept as exclusive amulets. In Sweden, Alsengems are known from early towns such as Lund and Sigtuna and a few other places. Through their four-century floruit, the gems appear to have moved gradually from strictly ecclesiastical milieux into the era’s markets and towns.
An Alsengem with two figures was found in June at Skogaby Kattarp in Halland, south-west Sweden. The site is being excavated for a road development by the Halland County Museum under the direction of Anders Håkansson. He reckons that he has found the remains of a magnate’s farm.