Here’s a fun find, courtesy of my buddy Claes Pettersson. As detailed on JÃ¶nkÃ¶ping County Museum’s blog, a funny little cast-brass trinket came to light during fieldwork at OdensjÃ¶ (“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.
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 OdensjÃ¶ is in thinly populated SmÃ¥land province were we know less about the regional archaeological record.