22 Gold Foil Embracing Figures Uncovered At Aska: Lovers, Gods or Giants?
A collection of rare ancient gold foil figures have been discovered at the archaeological site of Aska, approximately 36 kilometers (23 miles) from Sweden’s capital city, Stockholm. In 2014 archaeologists announced that they had unearthed a huge feasting and drinking hall at the Aska burial mound which they believed was “probably ruled by a royal family” during the Viking Age (793 AD to 1066 AD). Now, nearly two dozen delicate gold foil figures have been discovered in the hall with engravings of couples embracing. The experts are trying to decipher if they are human, divine or “giant” in nature.
Unearthing Norse Royal Treasures: Gold Foil Figures at Aska
Martin Rundkvist is an archaeology professor at the University of Lodz in Poland and in a new paper on ACADEMIAhe estimates that the golden treasure, in the form of gold foil figures, are around 1,300-years-old. The professor explains that “about 22 foil figures have been excavated to date,” although he continues to say that the precise number is currently eluding his team of researchers because most of the gold tokens were fragmented.
he Aska platform mound in week 1 of excavations. Only the W half of the trench has been deturfed atthis point. Drone photo from the NW (Cheyenne Olander / Academia)
The archaeologists excavating at Aska also discovered a small piece of embossed silver foil and two whalebone fragments from game pieces, and three iron pendants, or “omega pendants,” decorated with spirals.
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An article in Live Science says a professional goldsmith, Eddie Herlin, carefully unfolded the golden figures for the team of archaeologists and it was his handy-work that ultimately revealed that “all” of the golden figures bore depictions of couples embracing each other.
Image showing the 22 foil figures retrieved from the Aska mound. (Björn Falkevik /Cheyenne Olander/ Academia)
The new paper says that without taking into account the tiniest of “gold crumbs” which have been disregarded, the team has so far discovered “52 pieces ranging from small to complete.” Their combined weight comes to a total of 0.75 to 0.76 grams (about 0.026 ounces). The gold pieces range from tiny fragments to complete artifacts with 15 of the figures perfectly preserved to their full original heights. What’s more: all of the figures have been classified as belonging to the “embracing couple type.”
Foil Figures as Spiritual Anchors for Iron Age Kings
In the new paper doctors Axel Löfving and Margrethe Watt explain that most of the gold figures represent “previously unknown dies,” with two exceptions. Foil figure GG5+GG8 is die-identical to a gold figure discovered in Borg in Lofoten, northern Norway and gold foil figure GG7 is identical to a figure unearthed in Bodaviken-Svintuna in Krokek, Östergötland. Furthermore, several of the Aska figures are die-identical to each other.
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On the left, the folded foil figure 1 after having been unfolded by a professional goldsmith. On the right foil figure 1 before unfolding.(Björn Falkevik - Cheyenne Olander/ Academia)
Dr. Rundkvist said archaeologists typically find such figures “around postholes in large feasting halls,” because they were originally glued to the posts supporting the roof, and they also served to “anchor the king's high seat.” Regarding what the embracing figures might have represented, Rundkvist wrote in his report that one possibility is that they are princes and princesses who were about to get married. However, he favors the idea that they represent gods and goddesses since late Iron Age kings often, if not always, claimed divine descent.
Could it be that the golden foil figures represent the Hieros gamos, or cosmic union, between the gods Freyr and Gerdr. (Public domain)
Questioning the Nature of the Embracing Couple
When you read about this discovery in every other media outlet, the description of the “embracing couple” depicted in the foil figures sticks strictly to the speculations provided in the new paper. However, we here at Ancient Origins like to see things in much higher resolution. So let’s look closer at what the “embracing couples” might have represented to the man who commissioned them.
According to Marianne Hem Eriksen's Architecture, Society, and Ritual in Viking Age Scandinavia, gold foils depicting the “embracing or kissing couple” has always been a point of scholarly debate in Sweden. While many archaeologists believe they represent royal weddings, other historians maintain they depict the mythological union, the hieros gamos, of the god Freyr and the giantess Gerdr from Norse mythology.
This cosmic-union was one of the most important underlying seeds in the emerging royal blood lines of Norse noble decent in the late Iron Age in Sweden and it is suggested that the burial of “embracing couple” gold foil figures was a way of spiritually “binding the union of the mythological couple with the kings feasting hall.”
Top image: The most complete of the gold foil figures discovered at Aska in Sweden. Source: Björn Falkevik / Academia
By Ashley Cowie