Metal Detectorist Tattoo #5 – Klee

René Lund Klee's tattoo

René Lund Klee’s tattoo

In our series of metal detectorist tattoos, where people put pictures of their best finds on themselves — usually on their detector arms — we now pay a visit to René Lund Klee. His tattoo depicts an Urnes brooch that he found on the Danish island of Lolland. The needlework was done there by Sandra’s Ink in Nakskov.

Urnes brooch from Lolland

Urnes brooch from Lolland

The Urnes style of c. AD 1050-1125 forms the end of the Scandinavian animal art tradition, which produced astonishing artistic riches during the Late Iron Age (c. 375-1125). Named for a Norwegian wooden church from the 1070s, the Urnes style is certainly no degenerate afterthought, but is instead like the final, spare and lucid collection of verse from an old poet who never lost the touch. René’s brooch, which dates from about AD 1100, show’s the art tradition’s centuried main motif: the great beast. Sadly it is missing its head.

The Urnes style is also known as the Runestone style because it coincides with the great final bloom of the runestone tradition in Uppland and on Gotland. It has emphatic Christian connotations and usually occurs along with crosses and runic prayers. Yet everyone must have understood that this was the same distinctively Scandinavian art tradition that had been part of paganism until just a few generations previously. After Urnes comes a local version of a pan-European style: Romanesque art with its beautiful architecture, its murals, its woodwork, and, in Scandinavia, a school of charmingly inept figural sculpture.

The words next to the image on René’s arm read “Life Is History”. I think it’s a good example of how keen and interested many detectorists are about the past. Thank you René! And any detectorist who would like me to feature a tattoo of a find — please get in touch!


Metal Detectorist Tattoo #4 – Mortensen

Jan Mortensen's tattoo

Jan Mortensen’s tattoo

Another metal detectorist tattoo! This time it’s Jan Mortensen who has decorated the arm with which he brandishes the detector. The object is a 10th century trefoil brooch that Jan found in Holbæk municipality, northern Zealand. Hugo Tattoo in Holbæk did the needlework.

Trefoil brooches were worn by South Scandinavian women as a third brooch, to close their cloaks. But the overall shape descended from high-end acanthus-decorated silver mounts for the bandoliers worn by Charlemagne’s vassals around AD 800. Their trefoils joined the strap from the scabbard to the ends of the strap worn over your shoulder. Viking Period art and design is eclectic in its influences.

10th century trefoil brooch from Holbæk municipality, Zealand

10th century trefoil brooch from Holbæk municipality, Zealand

I’ve discussed 123 metal detectorist tattoos here before.

Tuna and Nävragöl: Harness Mounts

As I blogged about in late May, a recent find from Blekinge has cast light on an enigmatic oval mount that my team collected in Östergötland in 2007. We can now say fairly confidently that the object type belongs to the 19th century. And yesterday Karin Tetteris of the Swedish Army Museum came through with evidence that strengthens this dating and suggests a function for the mounts: horse harness.

Specifically, we’re dealing with cruppers, Sw. svanskappor, “a soft padded loop under the base of the tail, to keep the harness from slipping forward” as Wikipedia explains. None of the mounts in Karin’s photographs are exact parallels, but they’re close enough in my opinion. Case closed! Thank you, Karin! Though I’d love to see an oval, gilded mount still on its harness, too.

19th century crupper in the Swedish Army Museum. Photo Karin Tetteris.

19th century crupper in the Swedish Army Museum. Photo Karin Tetteris.

Mount from Tuna in Östra Husby, Östergötland, April 2007

Mount from Tuna in Östra Husby, Östergötland, April 2007

Ritual Depositions In A Future River

I’ve linked before to Christina Fredengren’s ground-breaking paper in Fornvännen 2015:3 about human and animal remains found in wet contexts in Uppland province (the area around Uppsala). The study’s empirical base is solid and eye-opening. I don’t find find the theoretical superstructure that the author briefly sketches onto it (the titular ”water politics”) convincing. But that’s not my main complaint about this otherwise excellent piece of research.

Look at the map above, covering a small part of the study area. Bear in mind that due to the relieved pressure of the inland ice, land rises and the shoreline recedes quickly here. The finds from the site and environs of the town of Uppsala map the current channel of River Fyris. Out in open water, during periods when the river mouth was hundreds or thousands of meters upstream of these find locations. Did people really go out in boats and sink remains of humans and animals exactly along a stretch of river that didn’t exist yet? No, they couldn’t do that. I believe there are two other main possible explanations for this distribution.

1. The reconstructed shorelines on the map are not coeval with the depositions’ radiocarbon values. Quaternary geologists have grossly misled Fredengren about the shoreline displacement’s timing. (Not likely in my opinion.)

2. The shorelines on the map are coeval with the deposited bones, but these have been flushed way, way downriver in recent centuries before getting picked up, and their find spots are thus not where they were originally deposited.

In either of these cases, Fredengren’s discussion of the Uppsala area becomes moot. The map does not show the true situation at the times she discusses. And the concentration of finds in urban Uppsala is an artefact of the town’s location.

Anyway, I highly recommend reading the paper.

Fredengren, C. 2015. Water politics. Wetland deposition of human and animal remains in Uppland, Sweden. Fornvännen 110. Stockholm.

Stensö Castle 2015 Fieldwork Report

Myself, Ethan Aines and Mats G. Eriksson are proud to present our report on last year’s fieldwork at Stensö Castle, Östra Husby parish, Östergötland. Lots of goodies there, and with an added meaty report on the bones by Rudolf Gustavsson! It was a very fruitful two weeks at the site, during which we found the missing half of the perimeter wall, abundant fine pottery from around AD 1300, a runic inscription by a certain Helgi, the bones of a skinned cat, and more.

Here on Sb: Stenso 2015 Report (High-res, single-sided print)

And on

See also the report for 2014, the first documented excavations at the site.

Tuna and Nävragöl — New Light On An Old Find

In April of 2007 I directed a week of metal detecting at sites in Östergötland where there was a potential for an elite presence in the period AD 400-1000. These investigations were part of a project that I published in my 2011 book Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats.

One site that proved a dud for the project’s exact purposes was Tuna in Östra Husby parish. But my friend and long-time collaborator (and these days, colleague) Dr. Tim Schröder found something pretty damn cool anyway: a gold finger ring from AD 310–375, the last phase of the Roman Iron Age. It had been twisted up and thrown into a long narrow inlet of the Baltic, apparently as a sacrifice. The find got us all energised and we put extra time into the site, hoping to find more from this era. But in the end the second-oldest datable finds were mounts for 15/16th century table knives. Tim and I published a paper on the ring and the site’s wider significance in 2008.

There was one intriguing object though from Tuna that I could neither classify nor date: a gilded oval mount for a strap or a wooden object. The gilding and the bevelled edge might place it in the 6/7th centuries. But it might also be from a piece of 18/19th century furniture or horse harness. In the journal paper and the book we illustrated the find and admitted defeat as to its classification. And nobody has contacted me about it since.

Finds from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, May 2016

Finds from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, Blekinge, May 2016

But now there’s been a development. As so often with these enigmatic metal detector finds, it’s the amateurs who have, if not the classification, then at least the parallels. My friend and collaborator Tobias Bondesson (a detectorist and banker who deserves an honorary doctorate for his encyclopaedic knowledge about small finds, his academic publications and his services to archaeology) pointed me to a group of finds made this week by Thomas Hasselberg at Nävragöl in Fridlevstad parish, Blekinge. This all looks like 18/19th century to me: note the 1801 coin. And in the middle of the collection sits another one of those oval mounts.

Mount from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, Blekinge, reverse

Mount from Nävragöl in Fridlevstad, Blekinge, reverse

Nävragöl’s front is an exact match for Tuna, and the back side has had fastening rivets in the same places as Tuna though Nävragöl has had loose rivets, not tangs cast with the mount. Thomas has wisely been careful with the cleaning, but he reports that his piece is also gilded. Tuna measures 33 x 22 mm. Nävragöl measures 38 x 30 mm. I’m convinced that both mounts have served the same purpose and are of a very similar age.

But what age? Well, neither find is from a closed context. And at Tuna there are ample cemeteries and finds that prove intensive settlement at least from AD 1 onward. But Nävragöl is a very different deal. Thomas tells me the land he’s been detecting is the site of a farmstead established in about 1800. It’s on the edge of the parish, in the woods near the Småland border, an area that has never been densely settled and probably had very few inhabitants before AD 1100. Fridlevstad parish itself isn’t even documented in writing before 1349, though the church dates from c. 1200. And finally, due to our unfortunate legislation, Swedish daylight detectorists like Thomas only get permits for land judged to have a very low archaeological potential. The Nävragöl find has convinced me that the Tuna mount is Late Modern, not Late Iron Age.

In 2007 I asked around a little with people who know about antique furniture, to no avail. I’m trying again now. Stay tuned!

Big thanks to Thomas Hasselberg for information and permission to publish his photographs. A similar case of eventual find identification was the one with the bodice-lacing pin from Skamby in Kuddby.

Update 22 June: The Swedish Army Museum’s staff found pretty good parallels to these mounts on objects in their collections!

Update 10 January 2017: Thomas lent me the piece so I could collect som extra information. It measures 37.9 x 30.3 x 8.4 mm and weighs 9 g.

Metal Detector Rally

Last Saturday I attended a rare event: a Swedish metal detector rally. At their worst, in some countries these are like pick-your-own strawberry plantations: pay to loot. But Swedish heritage law is uniquely restrictive around metal detectors, and Swedish daylight detectorists oppose looting, so this rally was an event where any archaeologist could feel at home. It was organised by the Swedish Metal Detector Association (SMF; founded in 2012) in collaboration with the Östergötland County Archaeologist’s office. The latter has issued me many a research fieldwork permit involving volunteer amateur detectorists since 2003. SMF had booked me and my colleague Håkan Svensson to give talks to the rally. Mine largely consisted of a typology of professional archaeologists: what the various kinds do, how we think, what values we share, what our attitudes to the metal detector hobby are.

The rally was held at Skårsjö farm near the town of Valdemarsvik, a facility that usually houses parties for organised hunting. Because of a bad cold I was only there for eight hours and didn’t do any detecting of my own. But I had a very good time and met a lot of really friendly people. Here are some impressions.

  • There were about 50 participants, all but three of them men, average age about 40.
  • Only one participant knew an archaeologist personally – I opened my talk by asking this.
  • They are really keen to learn about finds.
  • They are extremely passionate about their hobby. I heard several say over dinner that they couldn’t wait to get out in the damp drizzly fields again until sundown.
  • I examined all the several hundred finds made from Thursday to Saturday dinner. All (except several boxes and buckets of obviously recent junk) carried GPS coordinates.
  • Apart from the dominant junk, the finds were overwhelmingly 18/19th century buttons and copper coins of low denominations.
  • Only five finds definitely dated from before 1520: a Late Mesolithic trindyxa axe (found by eye on the surface), a Late Medieval decorative mount depicting a knight’s helmet, a Middle Viking Period four-ribbed ring, a casting cone (metalworking debris) and a frost nail for a horse’s hoof.
  • In accordance with Swedish law, every find datable before 1850 will be offered to the State to possibly be taken into a public collection in exchange for a finder’s fee.
  • The organisers were in continuous phone contact with the County Archaeologist’s office, apprising them of new finds.

I was pleased and impressed by everything I saw. Congratulations to SMF and the Östergötland County Archaeologist’s office for this forward-looking, constructive, culture-building event!

Landsjö Castle 2015 Fieldwork Report

Myself, Ethan Aines and Mats G. Eriksson are proud to present our report on last year’s fieldwork at Landsjö Castle, Kimstad parish, Östergötland. Lots of goodies there! Construction on the castle seems to have begun between 1250 and 1275, and the site was abandoned halfway through an extension project some 50-75 years later. We also found a Middle Neolithic fishing site and an Early Modern smallholding among the ruins.

Here on Sb: Landsjo 2015 Report (single-sided print-web, high res)

And on

See also the report for 2014, the first documented excavations at the site.


Metal Detectorist Tattoo #3 – Thomsen

Torben Thomsen's tattoo

Torben Thomsen’s tattoo

Torben Thomsen found this relief-decorated and gilded pendant in Hjørring municipality, northernmost Jutland. It was his first really old piece. Knight Ink Tattoo in Frederikshavn did the tattoo work on Torben’s lower left leg. Torben’s pendant is missing its loop, but his workmate Daniel Bach Morville has found the complete piece below at a nearby site.

The motif is a pair of antithetical sea horses. To date them, let’s look at the animal art — the two objects, not the tattoo. The tattoo artist has classicised the motif and gotten rid of a lot of specifically Scandy detail. Considering the shoulder spiral, the cross-hatched body and the scythe-like element across the neck of each sea-horse, I want to place these things in the Jelling/Mammen phase in the late 10th century, and in a very high-status environment. So that’s my bid: these are Middle Viking Period pendants, and damn fine ones too.

Big thanks to Torben and Daniel for allowing me to show their photographs on the blog. The previous instalment in our series of metal detectorist tattoos was from Steffen Hansen. Us archaeologists love to see people engage with the archaeological heritage, and you don’t really get more personal about it than this. Dear Reader, have you got a tattoo of an artefact that you’ve found? I’d love to show it here!

A similar pendant, also from Hjørring

A similar pendant, also from Hjørring

Fornvännen’s Autumn Issue On-Line

14th century pilgrim's badge of St. Bridget found in the River Fyris at Uppsala.

14th century pilgrim’s badge of St. Bridget found in the River Fyris at Uppsala.

Fornvännen 2015:3 is now on-line on Open Access.