At the end of 2021, archaeologists working on the "The Medieval Park" project in Oslo made a stunning find – a carved figurine of a person wearing a crown with a falcon on their arm.
"I was about to finish up. It was snowing heavily, I was cold and a little tired of digging the refuse layer", Ann-Ingeborg Floa Grindhaug, one of the archaeologists working on the project, said at the time. She was the one who pulled the figurine from the ground. Initially, she thought it was a large fishbone, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) writes on its website.
"I thought it had a strange shape," she added. But when she turned the "bone" around, she was surprised to see an intricate figurine.
Important visual representations of falconry – made in Oslo
"There is no doubt that the figure wears a crown," Kjartan Hauglid, art historian and researcher at the NIKU, stated at the time.
"But it is harder to decide if it is a king or a queen.
"The design of clothing shows that it is from the middle of the 13th century. The hair or head linen also fits the date. Head linen was fashionable for married women at this time.
"This is among Scandinavia's earliest visual representations of falconry.
"It was probably made at a workshop in Oslo and is among the most important artifacts found in Oslo in recent years…
"We only know a handful of similar finds with falcons from Northern Europe, several depicting women."
Initially, archaeologist Ann-Ingeborg Floa Grindhaug thought the object was a large fishbone. Photo: Solveig Thorkildsen / NIKU
Intricate carving and details
The figurine is 7.5 centimeters long. It is made of organic material, and it is decorated on both sides. The person has a crown on top of their head and wears a robe. There is a falcon on the figure's right arm, which seems to be gloved.
The lower part of the figurine is hollow, which could mean that the figure was potentially a shaft or cover for a tool or weapon, according to the NIKU.
A relatively similar (knife) shaft was found in Oslo in the 1920s.
Furthermore, as the new discovery was located close to the royal residence (Kongsgården), which was used until the start of the 14th century, it could have belonged to a member of the elite.
The importance of falcons as gifts
While it is unsure whether the figure depicts a man or a woman, several potential candidates fit the depiction, according to the NIKU website.
The date of the figurine coincides with the reign of Håkon Håkonsson, who ruled over Norway from 1217 to 1263. King Håkon was very active in falconry.
He was also known to gift falcons to important figures of the time in order to forge diplomatic bonds, in Europe but also beyond the European continent. Such alliances were often forged and maintained through marriages and the exchange of valuable gifts.
Among such gifts, a falcon was the most precious gift that a Norwegian king could give to someone.
Falconry was a widespread and popular noble practice during the Middle Ages, so it is hard to determine with certainty whether the figurine depicts King Håkon.
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