Birds of Paradise Pecking the Carolingian Lion

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Here’s a fun find, courtesy of my buddy Claes Pettersson. As detailed on Jönköping County Museum’s blog, a funny little cast-brass trinket came to light during fieldwork at Odensjö (“Odin’s Lake”), where recently a very fine Roman era weapon burial has also been unearthed. From a functional point of view it’s hard to say what the thing has been used for (no surviving pin arrangements on the back side to identify it as a brooch), but Annika Jeppson’s analytical drawing allows us to date it firmly to the Early Viking Period, probably the later 9th century.

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Two birds are pecking a round-eared beast on the head. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Johnson has pointed out that similar motifs are common on protective weaponry but not on offensive arms. Thus she suggests that the Borre style beast was seen as apotropaeic, magically protective. Is the beast taking life’s pecks to the head and kicks to the back-side here to protect its wearer from them?

As Egon Wamers has shown, both the birds and the gripping beasts enter Scandy art in the mid-8th century from Continental Christian sources, with missionaries as intermediaries. We’re dealing, at their roots, with birds of paradise and a Carolingian lion. The fact that the ex-lion or “gripping beast” has no limbs to grip with here suggests that we’re probably past AD 850. And why is the piece rare or unique? Probably because Odensjö is in thinly populated SmÃ¥land province were we know less about the regional archaeological record.

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12 thoughts on “Birds of Paradise Pecking the Carolingian Lion

  1. Interesting peice. I’ll have to look up Egon Wamers. Scandinavian contact and/or trade with the Carolingians,etc. is an interest of mine.


  2. We’re dealing, at their roots, with birds of paradise and a Carolingian lion.

    Probably started out as a covert dig at the marital life of Charlemagne.


  3. Steve, check out Wamers’s paper in the 1999 volume Völker an Nord- und Ostsee und die Franken. I’m sure he’s written more on the subject since as well.


  4. During the field season of 2010 two large excavations took place in the former Odensjö village. The RIA weapon burial mentioned above was actually part of a large cemetery, dating from ca 200 BC to 200 AD. It turned out to be a very complex site with a hall-like three aisled longhouse situated on the highest part of the ridge. It was surrounded by more than 50 burials, both cremations and inhumations where the skeletons had perished completely in the acidic soil. There were also wooden structures in connection with some high status graves, interpreted as small houses for the dead; more weapon burials and large stone settings. A remarkable site!
    The farm we excavated a month later dated from the 17th century and was far more ordinary. Although not just an agrarian settlement, because there were connections to the nearby manor and the Royal Chartered Arms Factory in Jönköping (about 10 km to the north of Odensjö). We also found the remains of early medieval charcoal burning and fragments from an iron smelting furnace on the site. But the Viking Age finds appeared when we did some metal detecting in the area east of our trench. And that’s where we will continue looking for the oldest part of the village!


  5. How do you identify the birds as “birds of paradise”? This seems impossibly early for birds of paradise (restricted to New Guinea and vicinity) to be known in northern Europe.


  6. “Birds of Paradise” originated as a motif in Christian art. Later the Europeans discovered the real-world birds you refer to and applied the name to them as well.


  7. Also, apples are not indigenous to the middle east, so apples and talking serpents were never in close proximity… another example of associating stuff with a paradise/Persian garden (“paradise” is a persian word no one in the middle east would have heard before Cyrus arrived, so here are two separate cases of retrofitting words).

    — — —
    (OT) Skeptic heading off story running through media. It is claimed that the planet Gliese 581 d may be habitable for life on account of having enough carbon dioxide to keep warm.
    Unfortunately, if it has kept hold of carbon dioxide, it has likely also kept hold of too much water. Since surface area grows slower than volume (and thus mass), the oceans are likely too deep for volcanoes to reach the surface and build continents, especially with twice the surface gravity as an obstacle for mountain building.


  8. This Gliese 581 is a real exoplanet, I take it?

    I don’t see why a world ocean would preclude the existence of life. And twice the surface gravity would be less inconvenient for aquatic life, anyway.


  9. Riman, bacterial life might flourish in a super-ocean (I am ignoring the role the coast may have played in the origin of life) but the transition to multicellular life is believed to have taken place at the coast where there was water with differing oxygen content, pH value et cetera. A monotonous super-ocean will not favour diversity.

    Of course, if you postulate advanced aliens of aquatic/amphibian origin, they would be able to make their homes anywhere, but I am thinking of indigenous life forms.

    John S. Lewis and others have dwelled on the subject of super-Earths. In the worst case, the oceans get so deep you get a high-pressure high-density form of ice covering the ocean floor and cutting off access to the kind of hot vents (black smokers) providing minerals and chemical energy sources in our deep oceans.


  10. You don’t necessarily need shorelines if you have algal mats to make floating masses. But I thought it was still up in the air whether Gliese 581 really exists or is just a glitch in the data. And if it has kept its carbon dioxide, wouldn’t the atmosphere be too dense, as well?


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