While the sword blade itself is gone, experts say the preserved grip has exquisite details, including gilded elements of the typical animal style from the Late Iron Age - about 550 to about 1050 - as well as geometric figures of silver in the so-called niello technique (i.e., a metal mixture was added in as black stripes in the silver). 

The sword is of a rare ornate and heavy sword type from the Viking Age, and somewhat similar examples have been found in Eastern and Western Europe. However, in Norway, only between 15 and 20 such sword finds have been discovered.

The Viking Herald reached out to Håkon Reiersen, associate professor at the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, to find out more information about this exciting find.

TVH: On June 2, the University of Stavanger announced the discovery of parts of a sword with unique details in gold and silver at Jåttå in Stavanger. How were the parts of the sword discovered?

HR: Both sword parts were found by experienced metal detectorists. In accordance with Norwegian law, they had obtained permission from the land owner to perform metal detection there, and there were no known protected cultural heritage sites nearby. According to the law, it is prohibited to carry out metal detecting on cultural heritage sites. All objects older than 1537 belong to the state and must be handed to the regional archaeological museum.

The first sword part was found in 2021. It was an intricately decorated animal head in gilded bronze, and at this time, it was not possible to say which type of object it belonged to. In the spring of 2022, two further parts belonging to the same object were found. The largest part resembled the mid-piece of a sword handle. 

At the end of the smallest part, later identified as the lower hilt, there was an animal head identical to the one found in 2021. When we put the pieces together, we knew that this was a sword handle from the Viking period and that it was unique.

A photograph of the animal head. Photo: Lise Chantrier Aasen / Museum of Archaeology / The University of Stavanger

TVH: The find has been described as "unique." How so?

HR: The whole sword handle is decorated with gilded bronze and silver, making it most similar to Jan Petersen's type D swords. Some 15-20 swords of this exclusive type are known in Norway, and they are assumed to be imported from the Continent or the British Isles. 

The closest parallel yet found is the Eigg sword from Scotland. However, as far as we know, no other type D swords – nor other Viking Period swords for that sake – have this type of animal head attached to the hilt. It is unique!

TVH: Is there any information that points to the owner of the sword?

HR: The sword would not have been very functional, as the decoration would have been damaged during battle. It should rather be seen as a sign of status for a man of high status, a chieftain.

Archaeological conservators cleaned the sword parts with the help of a microscope. Photo: Lise Chantrier Aasen / Museum of Archaeology / The University of Stavanger

TVH: What can you tell us about the location where the sword was found?

HR: It was found in Stavanger, in the district where the richly furnished burial of the Gausel queen was found in the 19th century. Twenty years ago, archaeologists revealed several boat burials and a hall building at Gausel, clearly reflecting that chieftains resided here.

TVH: What will have to the object once the conservation is complete?

HR: After conservation, the sword handle will be exhibited in Stavanger at the Museum of Archaeology.

Conservation work in progress. Photo: Lise Chantrier Aasen / Museum of Archaeology / The University of Stavanger

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