Tåby Figurine



Last Thursday I went to Norrköping and checked out the Town Museum‘s collection of prehistoric metalwork. Most of it is decontextualised, but I did manage to collect some useful data on the movements of my 1st Millennium aristocrats across Östergötland.

Among the things I handled was, unexpectedly, the Tåby statuette. It’s a stray find from a field near Tåby parish church. Arthur Nordén published it in Fornvännen 1924 and suggested a Late Medieval date about AD 1400. I don’t know if the piece has been discussed in print since. It looks neither quite like Bronze Age figurines nor Early Iron Age ones. After 84 years it still poses, as Nordén put it, “an archaeological stumper”. When was it made? Where? For what purpose?

Update 20 January 2009: It’s a piece of a Medieval candlestick!

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7 thoughts on “Tåby Figurine

  1. When my husband and daughter carve wooden dolls they look an awful lot like that – especially the eyes.

    It’s pleasing me to imagine the smith taking a bit of time from work to make this for a child.

    Of course, my imagination means nothing. I’m glad you were able to get some good data — maybe someday someone will figure out this little statuette also.


  2. It’s copper alloy, most likely some kind of brass. Very tricky to source due to the continuous re-use of scrap metal. But you’re right, if it turned out to be a really pure basic bronze instead, then we would have reason to discuss a Bronze Age date.


  3. Why not an imported roman votive figurine? The size is right (but you really need to start using a ruler in you photos…) and similar facial features and hair, or head dress, as the case may be, can be found on such figurines. And the romans definitively had files (for those who haven’t read Nordéns article it’s worth to mention that he uses the presence of file marks as one of the indications of a medieval date).


  4. It looks very much like a doll to me, too, and as it has no feet, I suspect it once had clothes covering those skinny legs. It probably had movable arms, too, rather like the ones on a similar doll I once owned. Although it wasn’t necessarily for playing with. Folks back in ancient times put little figurines on altars sometimes to represent deities, I’m sure you know, but also sometimes to represent the dead, which is more what this one makes me think of, since it’s so unique. It’s probably somebody’s little girl, or young wife, I imagine, and she was once dressed in a bit of cloth that the real young miss also wore, perhaps had a bit of hair attached to her head that was cut from the head of the real young miss, and had a little dish of real food placed in front of her in hopes that the real young miss wouldn’t go hungry in the next world. That’s the sort of things people still did into the beginning of the 20th century, even in America on occasion, although you won’t see that in many books. It was very plain and folksy and not according to church rites. But it tended to make the bereaved feel a bit better.


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