The helmet itself was uncovered, in 1943, on the Gjermundbu farm, near Buskerud, Norway, in the middle of a grassy field.
Soon after, experts from the University of Oslo were notified, and the subsequent investigation uncovered a burial chamber with numerous Viking Age objects, including chain mail armor, axes, swords, and dice.
So, what makes this find special?
The unique aspects of the Gjermundbu find
Frans-Arne Hedlund Stylegar, archaeologist and heritage consultant for Multiconsult, shared his thoughts on the find with The Viking Herald.
"The Gjermundbu find is special in several respects. The helmet accompanying the deceased is, of course, well-known – and important because it is so rare in Scandinavia. But there is much more to this find. First of all, it's the mound itself. It's very big, almost 30 meters long, and ship-shaped.
"And the way the funeral ceremony was carried out a thousand years ago stands out if we compare it to other known burials: The number of sacrificed horses, the wagons, the way of disposing of the cremated bones, the types of weapons.
"Most Viking Age burials in this region are cremations. But the (all) dominating practice seems to have been depositing the cremated bones in cremation layers. In the Gjermundbu case, the bones were instead put in an iron kettle, which was buried beneath the place where the cremation pyre had been.
"It's obviously a high-status burial, and in some ways comparable to the famous ship graves (number of animals, size of the monument, number of artifacts, etc.). But there's no ship involved in this inland district; instead, we have the wagon(s). There are no close parallels to this type of burial in Scandinavia. There are, however, some parallels with late Viking Age burials in what is today Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. This goes for the helmet, as well.
"It's interesting to speculate that the deceased was involved in the military conflicts going on in the East, in Gardariki, in the late 10th century," Hedlund Stylegar, who runs an archeology blog, stated.
Ringerike in the Viking Age
He also accentuated the importance of several other finds in Norway’s traditional region of Ringerike.
"Well, from an archaeological perspective Ringerike and the neighboring districts are not very well known in the Viking Age, and there have only been very few relevant excavations in recent years. But there are some very interesting finds besides the Gjermundbu burial. The huge royal mound at Stein, a bit further south, is a case in point.
"Written sources indicate that Ringerike, together with the other inland districts of Eastern Norway (north of Oslo), traditionally were oriented towards Sweden and often accepted Swedish rulers as their (formal) over-lords. The coastal districts, however, were often under Danish rule.
"From the sagas, we learn of several men from the inland districts of Norway that went eastwards and served as warriors on behalf of rulers like Vladimir and Yaroslav in Kiev and Novgorod. This kind of activity was probably organized through Sweden.
"There are also a handful of Runic monuments from the same period. One of these, the Alstad stone, was raised in memory of a warrior who fell near the River Dniepr, south of Kiev. I think this Eastern connection is the key to understanding the Gjermundbu find, as well. Some aspects of the funerary ceremony testify to this, as well as the helmet and weapons buried with the deceased warrior: He was dressed and armored in a way more relevant when fighting nomad warriors on the Eurasian steppes than dealing with enemies in Norway," Hedlund Stylegar concluded.
A poster featuring Torkild Waagaard's Gjermundbu sword replica: Photo: Torkild Waagaard
A history enthusiast and his replicas of the Gjermundbu objects
Torkild Waagaard, a 72-year-old history enthusiast, has been making replicas of the Gjermundbu objects for years.
Most recently, the "Viking and the Middle Ages Festivals" project, whose purpose is to promote Viking and medieval festivals in the Nordic region as well as other historical events, commended Waagaard's replicas, describing him as "a man with a great interest in the Gjermundbu find," whose axe and sword replicas are "beautifully crafted."
The replicas themselves are made with great attention to detail and a passion for historical accuracy that has been driving Waagaard's work for decades.
To find out more, The Viking Herald reached out to the 72-year-old Norwegian to find out more about his passion for Viking weapons, culture, and history.
TVH: Can you kindly introduce yourself to our readers and share some thoughts about your passion for Gjerumndbu replicas?
TW: My name is Torkild Waagaard, I'm 72 years old, and I have been interested in history ever since I can remember. I grew up in Ringerike, Norway, 4 kilometers from Gjermundbo. I'm also an archer and a certified instrument maker. Furthermore, I'm an instrument and electrical engineer – I worked on offshore projects for 35 years.
Let's start with the name of the location in question. The correct name is Gjermundbo - not Gjermundbu - as the farm's name and all family members use Gjermundbo. It was wrongly spelled when the archaeologists started writing about it in 1945, which has stuck ever since.
For context: Archeologists in Oslo started looking at this find, and Sigurd Grieg wrote a scientific book on in 1947 (the title of the book in Norwegian is "Gjermundbufunnet: En høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike").
This book was not widely read upon publication, and the interest around the find - outside Ringerike - started to grow slowly in the 1960s. Today, the situation is different - the Gjermundbu helmet is among the most famous Viking artifacts, and the site is internationally known.
However, at the time, I remember borrowing the book at the local library in 1960. I studied all I could find on the topic, but many questions didn't have answers. Well, I looked at the drawings in the book and started making a helmet in 1998. The first replica I completed was given to Knut Gjermundbo, along with my first sword replicas. That's how it started.
A Viking helmet replica made by Torkild Waagaard: Photo: Torkild Waagaard
TVH: In your opinion, what is the most interesting aspect of the Gjermundbufunnet?
TW: Firstly, the location… with the view, spreading over all the waterways, from the Halingdal valley to Valdres and Randsfjord.
Secondly, the weapons that were discovered in the grave: three swords, three axes, three spearheads, seven big arrowheads, a shirt, chain mail, and horse gear…
Out of all that, one sword had a pattern that caught my eye. Later on, I studied the original photos of the finds and had help from a jeweler and a designer, Alex Toe. It was interesting when I tried to recreate the pattern, as it had a copper inlay, and it was silver-plated.
In the last two years, I have been contacted by the Gjermundbo family - they wanted replicas of swords and a helmet.
The more I studied the original photos, the more I became interested in the subject. One of the spears also had silver and copper bronze décor, but there was no visible pattern.
The next step was to transfer the pattern in the "yelling style" to a 3D drawing.
Waagaard has created multiple sword replicas: Photo: Torkild Waagaard
TVH: How many replicas have you created?
TW: I made three replicas without engravings in a year, in 2000. Then, I took on a bigger project which involved assistance.
The original sword - the inspiration for the replicas - may have been in casted steel and was partly hollow to make it lighter.
The Gjermundbo family paid for the project, and I made six sword replicas.
TVH: How long does it take for you to create a replica of Viking weapons?
TW: It took me 18 months since I started until I had six swords completed, but I had some assistance. When it comes to the Gjermundbo ax replica, it took me a couple of months.
The first helmet I made, the blue one without chainmail, I worked on in short intervals throughout 2000. The other helmet I made - with chainmail – was done in 2010. A family member, Ole Gjermundbu, wished to have it in black.
I had some assistance with the chain mail. Furthermore, we don't know if there was a tip at the top of the helmet - as there is in my version. But all these replicas were based on the original drawings from Sigurd Grieg's 1947 book.
As a side note: Later on, archaeologist Vegard Vike found out that the mask had another line on it.
TVH: In your opinion, why is Ringerike special when it comes to Norway's Viking Age period?
TW: Ringerike is located in the lake district of Norway, with waterways from Hadeland /Randsfjord, rivers passing through it, a big lake (Tyrifjord), and the Valdres Valley.
To put it shortly, I'll paraphrase a member of the Norwegian parliament: "Rinngerike is the gate of Eden" – that's how beautiful it is.
It has been a trade center for a long time, even before the Viking Age, and hundreds of graves here have not been excavated yet. There have been archaeological finds on almost all farms here, which adds to its importance.
All the sword replicas were created with great attention to detail. Photo: Torkild Waagaard
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