Metal detectorist Dennis Fabricius Holm made a pretty sweet find yesterday: the third known Birka crucifix.
These little wonders of 10th century goldsmith work are named for the first find, made in 1879 when Hjalmar Stolpe excavated in the cemeteries of Birka near Stockholm. In addition to the crucifix grave 660 contained, among other things, two other fine silver filigree pendants and a bronze-capped iron wand that may have served pagan religious purposes.
In 2012 Silke Eisenschmidt identified fragments of a second Birka crucifix among the finds from a wagon burial at Ketting, excavated by Jens Raben in 1927. This is on the island of Als on the south-east coast of Jutland, just across the sound from Funen, and the new find is from Nyborg municipality on the east coast of that island. (I was there for a castle conference last August.) The two Danish sites are less than a day’s sailing and rowing from the town of Hedeby, which suggests to me that this is where all three crucifixes were made. They’re too similar for more than one or two people to have been making them. Birka and Hedeby seems to have shared an itinerant population of craftspeople and traders.
Many thanks to Dennis for letting me publish his photographs! Note that by not cleaning the find thoroughly, Dennis is doing the right thing: this is a job for the finds conservator.
Update 13 March: My friend and collaborator Tobias Bondesson alerted me to a piece of filigreed hack silver from the Omø hoard that looks a lot like the right hand of a fourth Birka crucifix. It’s different from its siblings in being decorated on the reverse and having no thumb, but to my eye there’s little else this fragment could be from. The hoard was buried during the reign of Sweyn Forkbeard, 986–1014. It was found by detectorist Robert Hemming Poulsen in September of 2015. Omø is a small island between Funen and Zealand, not far across the water from Nyborg, which neatly reinforces the distribution we have begun to discern for the type.