Detectorist John Kvanli is the chairman of Rygene detektorklubb and one of Norway’s most prominent proponents of collaboration between amateurs and professionals in field archaeology. Of course he has a tattoo! It’s an Urnes brooch from c. AD 1100, in the final exquisite Christian style of Scandinavian animal art.
John tells me he has found several fragments of these fragile objects, but the one inked onto his upper right arm is a settlement excavation find from Lindholm Høje, across the fjord from Aalborg in northern Jutland. The needlework was done by the Martin Tattoo Studio in Bangkok, Thailand.
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.
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!
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.
I’ve discussed 1 – 2 – 3 metal detectorist tattoos here before.
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!
Metal detectorist Steffen Hansen has kindly given me permission to show you his tattoo sleeve. He found the strap-end at Øvre Eiker in Buskerud fylke, Norway, and had it tattooed along with other Norwegian examples of the Borre style. I haven’t got a picture of his find, but you can see what they look like in the accompanying picture of a piece from the eponymous find at Borre in nearby Vestfold fylke. The tattoo was done by Mikael “Kula” Jensen of Radich Tattoo in Mjøndalen.
The Borre style is the Viking Period’s second and most long-lived style of relief decoration, c. AD 875-975. Its frontal animal heads, often with Mickey Mouse ears, marks it as animal art and as a descendant of the Gripping Beast style, but the interlace that covers the objects’ surfaces isn’t animals. Instead it’s abstract ring braids with characteristic saw-toothed ridges, mimicking metal filigree or cord passementerie. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson has pointed out in a 2006 paper that the Borre style never occurs on offensive weaponry, but is common on jewellery, belt fittings and mounts for defensive weaponry. Thus she interprets the Borre style as a form of magical protection for the wearer.
Borre itself is a royal site with many major barrows. In all likelihood, the ship burial from c. AD 900 that gave the style its name contained a king of the Vestfold lineage. I was there in 2013, gave a talk and took a lot of pictures.
The previous instalment in our series of metal detectorist tattoos was from Hugo Falck. 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!
Yesterday I learned about a cool new tradition among metal detectorists. They’re having images of their favourite finds tattooed, often on the arm with which they hold the detector! Note that in Scandinavia these are generally objects that the finders have handed in to museums – they keep them only as tattoos. This is in line with the Danish way of regulating metal detectors: there the submitters of each year’s ten best finds are invited to the Finds Oscars in Copenhagen and are publicly honoured by my colleagues.
Hugo Falck found this beautiful brooch in 2014 while collaborating with a colleague of mine over an important new site in Østfold, SE Norway. It belongs to type J1 which I have defined and dated to some time in the 7th century in a 2003 paper. (I didn’t know of any find combinations that would let me narrow the date down.) It is probably an import piece from nearby Jutland. Many thanks to Hugo for letting me show his photos.
I can feel a blog series coming on! Dear Reader, have you got a tattoo of an artefact that you’ve found? I’d love to show it here!