As recently reported in The Viking Herald, a young metal detectorist hit upon a rare find of nearly 300 silver coins from the Viking era in a cornfield in Denmark. The site was near where Danish ruler Harald Bluetooth built one of his fortresses, Fyrkat.

"I knew right away that something exciting was going on," says local archaeologist Torben Trier Christiansen, in an exclusive interview with The Viking Herald.

"The metal detectorists called me on a weekend, and they never do that unless it's something special."

The sign of the cross

A Museum Inspector at the Aalborg Historical Museum, where the coins are expected to go on display to the public this July, Christiansen is familiar with the territory in this part of northwest Jutland.

"We've always had good communication with them," he explains, describing the high level of trust between the two parties. 

"They also know not to brag about the discovery to everyone around them. It's especially important for a basic recording of the whole scene as it was found."

"When I got to the site, they had already set up guidelines around it preventing anyone else from entering. They showed us around 20 pieces they had found close to the surface. I hardly had to brush off the dirt to see what they were."

"Within a few hours, we had found more with our special shovels. We like to keep the metal detectorists involved as much as possible and help educate them more."

Hundreds of silver items have been uncovered near Hobro in northern Jutland, Denmark. Photo: Nordjyske Museer

The coins are of Danish, Arabic, and German origin, along with hacksilver – pieces of silver cut to a certain weight for use in trade and bartering – and jewelry originating from Scotland or Ireland. The ones of Danish origin are of particular interest as they feature the sign of a cross, indicating attempts by Harald Bluetooth to Christianize Denmark.

"The Danish ones were easy to determine as they were paper thin, about 0.2 or 0.3 grams each. Even without being able to read the inscriptions, you could tell right away what they were."

Upon closer inspection, the coins date to the 980s, when Harald Bluetooth was not only trying to win Danes over to Christianity but building forts around the country

"Harald Bluetooth was very foreseeing. Tactically, he was a brilliant strategist. He used different techniques of communication, and important details" – such as the cross on these thin coins – "for the public to become aware."

Buried treasure and sunken villages

At the time, he was also facing a rebellion from his son Sweyn Forkbeard, and their forces would have clashed several times. 

"Sweyn persuaded a lot of local chiefs to join his side. Harald Bluetooth always had to try and keep people on his side. He can't have been that popular. He must have had a national military strategy, aimed at some kind of control of the country."

"The remains of Harald Bluetooth's fort of Fyrkat are about 8 kilometers from the discovery site. The treasure was found in two spots, about 30-40 meters apart. With a civil war happening, it cannot have felt that safe. Presumably, somebody was splitting the haul to lessen the risk – it's human instinct; it's like putting money in different pockets. There were no banks in those days. There was nowhere to hide your fortune. If one lot got found, perhaps they won't find the other."

A metal detectorist pictured working at the discovery site. Photo: Nordjyske Museer

The site, an open farmer's field, is both a blessing and a curse. 

"This was a village, but there's nothing left of it now. Other villages dating back to this time still exist today but have been built up since – the buildings cover anything that might be of interest below ground. But we have to wait until the farmer allows us back to dig around some more, which won't be until the autumn."

Obviously, the question remains if there's any more treasure to be found here. Christiansen sees it from a different point of view:

"We want to open up a larger area. There's a small part that's slightly higher from the rest of the landscape. This may have been the communal hall. From aerial photography, we also know that there was some kind of pit-house here, as deposits indicate fire-cracked stone."

"With a little luck, my hope is that we'll find out more about how the setting near the fortress affected the surroundings, and how did the surroundings react to the situation?"

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According to the coins’ inscriptions, the treasure, buried in two spots a few meters apart, dates back to the 980s. Photo: Nordjyske Museer

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