Old Norse Mystery: What Do the Couples Depicted on Thousands of Miniature Gold Amulets Symbolize?
In 2016, a miniature amulet made of gold was discovered on the Åker farm near Hamar in Eastern Norway – one of many thousands only found in Scandinavia.
About three thousand Old Norse gold miniature amulets dating back to the Merovingian and Viking periods (c. 500 – 1066 AD) have been found in Scandinavia. They show a man and a woman embracing, holding or looking at each other. The researchers do not know who the images portray or for what purpose they were made.
However, a number of different theories have been put forward.
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The gold amulets are extremely tiny, like the size of the little finger nail. (Photo: Vegard Vike and Jessica McGraw / Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)
The stamped and cut-out amulets measure only 8 to 10 millimeters in cross-section and are approximately 0.03 millimeters thick, or thin as leaves.
In Scandinavia the miniature amulets have got the name gullgubber, meaning “little old men of gold”, because it was previously thought they were depicting two men. This has proven to be wrong and they almost exclusively picture a man and a woman.
The woman wears a dress and an apron, but there are several combinations. The man wears a robe and sometimes pants. Both sexes can wear outerwear in the form of a short or long coat.
Both sexes can be pictured with items such as buckles, neck rings, drinking mugs or scepters. The scepter can be in the form of a twig with leaves.
It may seem as the gold amulets are trying to tell us a story, and the stamps used must have been made by extremely skilled goldsmiths.
The details are impressive and can best be seen when enlarged under a microscope.
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Details seen on one amulet when viewed under a microscope (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)
Found in or Near Special Buildings
The biggest discovery was made at the Sorte Muld in Bornholm, Denmark, where more than 2500 gullgubber were found.
The amulets are frequently found in connection with buildings that are often interpreted as houses of worship. It looks as if the miniature images are placed there on purpose, especially around the post holes in the center of the building.
During excavations in 2005 and 2008, in what scientists believe could have been a Norse temple at Vingrom in Eastern Norway, about thirty miniature gold amulets were discovered around one of the post holes.
The building was at least 15 meters long and located at the Hov (Old Norse: Hof) farm not far from the Vingrom church. The farm name suggests that there probably has been a house of worship located on the property.
Surprisingly, there were also found many pieces of iron that together with flint were used as fire starting tools.
The building archaeologists assume has been a house of worship was located not far from the Vingrom church. (Photo: kirkesok.no, author provided)
Archaeologists have concluded that it is a house of worship due to the lack of everyday items like sharpening stones, clay cooking pots, and so on.
Furthermore, the building was strategically located visible over long distances at the end of Norway’s largest lake, Mjøsa.
Freyr and Gerðr
There are proposed as many theories about who are depicted on the miniature amulets and what they symbolize as there are researchers. The only certain thing is that these images did not have a practical function, but a spiritual.
One interpretation is that they are Norse mythological depictions of the “holy wedding” between the Vanir god Freyr and the jötunn woman Gerðr.
Freyr is the god associated with virility and prosperity, with sunshine and fair weather. He falls in love with the female jötunn Gerðr who, after some coercion, eventually becomes his wife. However, Freyr has to give away his magic sword that can fight on its own to get the woman he loves.
However, lacking his sword, Freyr is killed by the jötunn Surtr during the dramatic events of Ragnarök.
Do the miniature images symbolize the marriage between Freyr and Gerðr and their unconditional love? Were the miniature gold amulets offered during wedding ceremonies to show that the married couple was willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives for each other?