The Gjermundbo helmet, aside from ships and runestones, stands as arguably the most renowned artifact of the Viking era.

As Torkild Waagaard clarified in his 2023 interview with The Viking Herald, it's correctly called the Gjermundbo helmet, not "Gjermundbu."

This helmet is distinguished as one of the few Viking artifacts discovered in a condition that allows for straightforward reconstruction. 

The 1943 discovery of the Gjermundbo helmet, a rare and complete Viking helmet, along with other artifacts, marked a significant archaeological find on a farm in Norway. Photo: Wolfmann / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Shielded from the Nazis 

"It was my uncle Gunnar Gjermundbo who found it in 1943," says Bjarne Sørensen. 

"My grandparents were building a new house. Since this was during the war, and the SS had an office nearby, my uncle took what he found and hid it in the barn and covered it with sheep's poo until he could get in contact with a Norwegian archaeologist." 

"If the Germans had known what he found, I am sure all these things would have ended up in Germany. They were crazy about Viking stuff." 

The location, near Haugsbygd in the municipality of Ringerike north of Oslo, was not a familiar one, however. 

"Gjermundbo is the farm's name, and all the family members use Gjermundbo," Torkild told The Viking Herald. "It was wrongly spelled when the archaeologists started writing about it in 1945, which has stuck ever since." 

After Oslo archaeologists began investigating the discovery of an iron helmet, which was made from four plates and found in nine fragments, along with other weaponry, museologist Sigurd Grieg published the scientific book Gjermundbufunnet en høvdingegrav fra 900-årene fra Ringerike in 1947. 

Written by the recent administrative manager of the Antiquities Collection of the University of Oslo (today's Museum of Cultural History), this set the erroneous notion that the farmstead was called "Gjermundbu" in print. 

Growing up near the Gjermundbo find, Torkild Waagaard developed a passion for Viking history, leading him to become an accomplished creator of historical replicas. Photo: Torkild Waagaard

Friends and family 

Three years later, Bjarne Sørensen was born. "I grew up on the farm and became aware of the find when I was between eight and ten years old," he says. 

"It was my mother's brother who had found it. My uncle Gunnar, who also lived on the farm." 

"I met Torkild when I was about 13 years old. My other uncle, Arne, taught him woodwork and metalwork at school. He also lived on the farm, and I learned a lot from him." 

Torkild, meanwhile, honed his skills to become an instrument maker and electrical engineer. 

"I remember borrowing Grieg's book from the local library in 1960," he told The Viking Herald. "I studied everything I could find on the topic, but many questions remained unanswered…" 

Later, he recounted, "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." 

What ensued was a longstanding relationship between the Gjermundbo family, who commissioned sword and helmet replicas, and Torkild Waagaard, who crafted them: 

"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 completed in 2010. A family member, Ole Gjermundbu, requested it in black."

"I had some help with the chain mail. Moreover, we don't know if the original helmet had a tip at the top, as my version does. But all these replicas were based on the original drawings from Sigurd Grieg's 1947 book." 

In replicating the Gjermundbo helmet, Torkild Waagaard adhered to the designs in Sigurd Grieg's 1947 book, albeit with the creative addition of a tip at the top, a detail not verified in the historical helmet. Photo: Torkild Waagaard

Could there be more? 

By this time, Bjarne Sørensen was also crafting helmets. 

"I am a qualified mechanical engineer and a mechanic. In 2012, I made a helmet because a friend from school was going to Iceland to speak about Vikings and the Gjermundbo grave," he said. 

Torkild, who grew up just four kilometers from the site, shared with The Viking Herald, "The weapons discovered in the grave included three swords, three axes, three spearheads, seven large arrowheads, a shirt of chain mail, and horse gear…" 

The mound containing this burial treasure was enormous, almost 30 meters long, and shaped like a ship.

However, as the burial was far inland, no vessel was involved. Instead, the burial featured wagons, akin to late Viking Age burials in present-day Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. 

Bjarne added, "We know that when a great man died, a warrior was buried nearby in a fire grave to protect him in Valhalla. The grave my uncle found was a fire grave, filled with ash and coal and devoid of wood or leather." 

"Approximately 30 meters from the grave, there is a symmetrical mound, about 15 meters high and 15 meters in diameter at the base, narrowing to one meter at the top. This mound has never been investigated." 

"We are now trying to get it scanned with an earth scanner, but we need to find someone willing to fund the scanning. Torkild is working on this…" 

Now in their seventies, with their collections of helmet and sword replicas expanding, both boyhood friends are contemplating the future. 

Bjarne has already made a decision: "My grandson Vetle, currently a student in France, will inherit all my Viking artifacts after I am gone." 

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