In a stunning discovery that made national news across Norway, metal detectorist Jan Erik Aasvik hit upon two unique Viking finds while searching for his mother's gold ring.
The nature of the items – a pair of clasps or buckles – was not the only unusual aspect of the treasure.
Its location was Jomfruland, an island in the Kragerø archipelago south of Oslo, until now only known for its beaches and lighthouses.
First confirmed Viking finds on Jomfruland
According to Rune Nordseter, spokesman for the Cultural Heritage department of the local Vestfold and Telemark County Office:
"On Jomfruland, there has been settlement for many years, but evidence for this only stretches back to the early Middle Ages – although it was believed that it was also inhabited in the Viking Age."
"We congratulate the family who found the first confirmed Viking-Age find on Jomfruland. They did everything right and contacted us first!"
Archaeologist Vibeke Lia was the expert who was immediately dispatched to the find site. She confirmed that Viking items such as this one had never been found on Jomfruland before, making the Aasvik discovery particularly special.
"Based on the decorations and types of brooches, these are artifacts from the ninth century," said Lia, after having had time to analyze the items and interpret them.
She has also been able to assess where the clasps may have come from – and what's missing from them.
"One is an oval-shaped brooch, typically used on a woman's halter dress in the Viking Age, to fasten the straps to the front piece of the dress. They come in pairs, one for each strap, so there should be another one there. This is quite a staple find in female Viking-Age burials, and the decoration style dates this to the ninth century."
"The other artifact took us another day to properly interpret. We are now quite certain that it's a circular brooch of a type we know has been produced in Ribe, Denmark."
"We know this because archaeologists there have excavated molds to make very similar brooches. These molds have been found in contexts dated between 780 and 850, which matches well with the style of the ornamentation on them, suggesting the ninth century."
"This would likely belong to a woman's garment, and I think it's fairly probable that this is from the same grave."
While searching for his mother's gold ring on Jomfruland, local resident Jan Erik Aasvik stumbled upon two significant Viking Age artifacts. Photo: Vibeke Lia
A shallow grave
Lia continued in her assessment: "To comment further on why we believe this is a grave, I would repeat that dress brooches are typical findings from an Iron Age grave."
"Finding two of them so close to one another, with no indications that any soil has been added to the site, and in reasonably good condition after being found in such a shallow spot, makes the burial interpretation by far the most probable one."
The discovery has broader implications for the historical perception of Jomfruland as a whole.
"This is the first confirmed Viking Age find from Jomfruland," Lia continued.
"There is a collection of cairns on the southwest of Jomfruland that has been listed as burial cairns from the Viking Age, but their dating has always been a bit uncertain. We are now more convinced that these are truly Viking Age cairns."
"The earliest evidence, of which we have been fairly certain, suggests people lived on Jomfruland during the early Middle Ages, based on historical sources."
"To be fair, we still don't know if they lived there during the Viking Age or if their settlement was elsewhere."
"Land rise suggests that Jomfruland would have been much smaller during the Viking Age. Perhaps the building of cairns and the establishment of aristocratic graves like this were more about controlling the landscape, trade routes, and so forth. This remains unknown."
- READ MORE: A Viking history of Norway: Part 1
The close proximity of the two brooches, common in Iron Age graves, and the undisturbed soil around them indicate a likely burial site. Photo: Rune Nordseter
As always, there was a significant element of luck involved in the find, especially since the discovery did not occur on farmland.
"The brooches are made of bronze, and there are traces of gold on them, suggesting they were gilded. They are in relatively good condition compared to most metal detecting finds we receive because this site has never been plowed."
"However, both have parts missing; the circular brooch is in two pieces, and a third piece is clearly missing."
The fact that Jomfruland is scantily populated and mainly dotted with holiday homes also helped keep the items away from prying eyes.
The island, accessible by ferry, water taxi, and private boats, is believed to have only 75 permanent residents, including Jan Erik Aasvik and his family.
As the items he discovered undergo further examination by the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, it could well be that more specialists will take the boat across the strait of Skagerrak to Jomfruland for further investigation.
As for local islanders inspired by Aasvik's discovery, they should be aware of the protocol for such finds, notifying the appropriate authorities and refraining from disturbing the site any more than necessary.
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