"This is the gold find of the century in Norway. To find so much gold at the same time is extremely unusual." These are the words of director Ole Madsen of the Archaeological Museum at the University of Stavanger.

Madsen's colleagues are among the experts currently assessing the unique discovery hit upon by Erlend Bore, a 51-year-old Norwegian who only recently invested in a metal detector. 

Bore had been advised by his doctor to spend less time lazing on the sofa, so he decided that a hobby such as metal detecting would get him out of the house.

Worth its weight in gold

What he didn't expect was nine coin-like gold pendants with rare horse symbols, as well as ten gold pearls and three gold rings. The gold value of such a find is significant even today – 1,500 years after it was buried. The find weighs just over 100 grams.

Sola resident Bore only bought his first metal detector a few months ago: "I first looked around the shore but only found scrap and a cheap ring." 

"Then I chose to go a little higher up in the terrain, and then the metal detector beeped immediately."

He picked up a lump of what looked like gold coins: "At first, I thought I had found chocolate money or Captain Sabertooth coins from the cartoon series. It was completely unreal." 

Bore then described how his pulse was racing at record speed when he realized what he had found.

The discovery was made on private land with the approval of the landowner. The Cultural Heritage Act provides that finders of loose cultural heritage can receive a finder's fee, which must be shared equally between the landowner and finder. 

It is the National Antiquities Authority that determines the finder's salary, and this assessment has not yet been made.

Encouraged by his doctor to pursue a more active lifestyle, Erlend Bore took up metal detecting, a decision that led him to an ancient gold treasure. Photo: Erlend Bore / NTB

No similar finds since the 19th century

According to associate professor Håkon Reiersen at the Archaeological Museum at the University of Stavanger, the gold pendants date from around 500 CE, the migration period in Norway. 

Such gold pendants look like gold coins but are called bracteates. They were not used to buy or sell goods but were decorative.

"The nine bracteats and gold pearls would have formed a very showy necklace," Reiersen continued.

"The jewelry was made by skilled craftsmen and would have been worn by the higher members of society."

"It is very rare to find so many bracteates together. In Norway, no similar discovery has been made since the 19th century, and it is also a very unusual discovery in a Scandinavian context."

Many of the large bracteate finds that have been made in Scandinavia were hidden in the ground towards the middle of the fifth century, right at the end of the Migration Period. 

This was probably a time of crisis, with lean years, climate deterioration, and plague. The many abandoned farms in Rogaland from this time may indicate that the crisis hit particularly hard here.

"Based on the location where the find was made and experiences from similar finds, it is probably a question of either hidden valuables or sacrifices to the gods in such a dramatic time."

Bracteates, such as those found by Erlend Bore, resemble gold coins but were primarily used as decorative pieces rather than for commercial transactions during their time of origin. Photo: Erlend Bore / NTB

Motifs and symbols

His colleague, Professor Sigmund Oehrl, is an expert on bracteates and their symbols. Approximately 1,000 gold bracteates have been discovered in Scandinavia.

According to Oehrl, the gold pendants from Rennesøy are of a specific type that is very rare. They show a horse motif in a hitherto unknown form.

"The motifs differ from most other gold pendants that have been found so far. The symbols on the pendants usually show the god Odin healing the sick horse of his son Balder." 

"In the Migration Period, this myth was seen as a symbol of renewal and resurrection, and it was supposed to give the wearer of the jewelry protection and good health."

On the Rennesøy bracteates, however, only the horse is depicted. 

A somewhat similar horse, depicted together with snake-like monsters, is also found on a pair of gold bracteates found in Rogaland and southern
Norway.

"On these gold pendants, the horse's tongue is hanging out, and its slumped posture and twisted legs show that it is injured." 

"Like the Christian symbol of the cross, which spread across the Roman Empire at exactly this time, the horse symbol represented illness and distress, but at the same time hope for healing and new life."

Weighing just over 100 grams, the discovery consists of nine coin-like gold pendants adorned with unique horse symbols, ten gold pearls, and three gold rings. Photograph: Anniken Celine Berger/ NTB / Arkeologisk museum

Praising the detectorist

"This is a completely unique discovery. None of the archaeologists in Rogaland County Municipality have experienced anything like this, and it is difficult to describe the excitement when we got to see these," says Marianne Enoksen, section manager for cultural heritage in Rogaland County Municipality.

All objects from before the year 1537 and coins older than the year 1650 are considered state property and must be handed in. The county municipality is the first line of contact for archaeological discoveries made by private individuals. 

The finds are registered by the county council before they are delivered to the Archaeological Museum.

"We would like to praise the detectorist for doing everything right when he found this unique gold find. He marked the spot and did not search further. He contacted us at the county council, and we then informed the Archaeological Museum."

"This meant that shortly afterward, we could go back to the discovery site to conduct further investigations," Enoksen concluded.

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