Archaeologists from Oslo's Kulturhistorisk Museum have uncovered more small gold items at Hovet, located in Vingrom near Lillehammer, beside the E6 motorway between Roterud and Storhove.

Called gullgubber or "golden old men," these are tiny, thin gold foil pieces, often depicting a man and a woman facing each other with intricate details reflecting the clothing and accessories of their time.

Thought to date from the end of the Migration Age (roughly between 300 CE to 700 CE) to the early Viking Age (spanning from 793 CE to 1100 CE), gullgubber have mainly been found on the Danish islands, Bornholm and Funen, though they are relatively rare in Norway.

The five recent discoveries bring the total found at this site to 35.

Part of the European motorway network, the E6 made the headlines earlier this year when environmentalists forced work to stop on the 23-kilometer section from Storhove, just north of Lillehammer, south to Roterud.

The delay has allowed experts to scan this region of Southern Norway for historic treasures.

Gullgubber, also known as "golden old men," are intricate, tiny gold foil items, with the recent discoveries at this site increasing the total found to 35. Photo: Museum of Cultural History / Kulturhistorisk museum, Universitetet i Oslo

All that glitters

Gullgubber are rare artifacts believed to hold ritualistic or mythical significance.

They might represent the sacred wedding between the god Freyr and the giantess Gerd, serve as offerings in fertility rites, or validate the claims of ruling families.

Some also believe they might be temple money or have associations with buildings, possibly marking significant locations like cult houses.

Often as thin as paper or aluminum foil, gullgubber are small gold pieces, typically square in shape and about the size of a fingernail.

Stamped upon them are figures, with the motif of most preserved Norwegian findings showing a couple facing each other: a man to the left and a woman to the right. This motif is also evident in those now found at Hovet.

Even though these gold nuggets are small, they have strikingly detailed motifs.

Usually, the woman is dressed in a wide dress, often with a cape, and the man wears a shorter skirt, making his feet visible.

He might also wear a cape, and both may have jewelry and different hairstyles. They can hold items in their hands, like drinking cups, wands, or rings, suggesting different gestures.

Gullgubber are actually so detailed and varied that they have become a source for studies of the costume and iconography of the age.

Most of the preserved gullgubber from Norway, including these from Hovet, showcase a distinct motif of a couple, with the man positioned to the left. Photo: Museum of Cultural History / Kulturhistorisk museum, Universitetet i Oslo

In a Norwegian context, the discovery of gullgubber is a rarity. 

Altogether, there are only ten known locations where they have been found. Among them, Hovet has the highest number, today reaching a total of 35.

Other notable finds include 19 pieces discovered beneath the Mære church in the Nord-Trøndelag region, five found during excavations of a hall building in Borg, located on the Vestvågøy island in Nordland.

Additionally, in the Mjøsregionen area near Lake Mjøsa, two were unearthed on Åker in 2016.

What do they mean?

Most interpretations of gullgubber indicate they must have had a mythical or ritual meaning. 

It's also suggested that the gold nuggets featuring couple motifs represent the hierogamy myth – the sacred marriage between the god Freyr and the jotun daughter Gerd.

Alternatively, they might have been used as offerings during wedding celebrations or fertility rituals.

They can also be interpreted as symbolizing mythical ancestors or the descendants of chiefs and first families.

In this context, gullgubber might have served to authenticate the dominant roles and power claims of ruling families.

The detailed attire on gullgubber often depicts women in wide dresses with capes and men in shorter skirts, reflecting the clothing trends of their time. Photo: Museum of Cultural History / Kulturhistorisk museum, Universitetet i Oslo

It is also suggested that the gold items are a form of temple money, as a means of payment in a ritual setting. 

Gold artifacts discovered during this year's investigations are associated with post holes and wall corridors. 

When found in structures and foundational post holes, these artifacts suggest they were used in ceremonial offerings within homes.

Their presence may also indicate places of prominence, either in communal halls or religious structures, as seen with the finds at Hovet.

You can view the Facebook post about the find by archaeologists from the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, here.

Content reproduced with permission from the Museum of Cultural History / Kulturhistorisk museum, Universitetet i Oslo.

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