Jomfruland Detectorist Unearths Viking Relics During Lost Earring Hunt
A family living on the island of Jomfruland just off the southeast coast of Norway recently made a most notable historical discovery. While searching for a lost golden earring with a metal detector in their garden, the Aasvik family dug up two fascinating artifacts that have been dated to the eighth or ninth century, which places them squarely in Scandinavia’s most famous historical period, the Viking Age.
A First for Jomfruland: Decorative Viking Artifacts Unearthed on Island
The artifacts were two decorative pieces that at one time would have been worn on someone’s clothing. The largest of these items was an oval-shaped metal belt-buckle, while the second piece was a small circular object that may have been a belt buckle, medallion or pendant.
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Each of the items unearthed on Jomfruland was somewhat rusted and corroded on the surface, as might be expected of metal objects that had been buried in the moist ground for more than 1,000 years. But the carved features on the surface are still visible and overall the two pieces are in remarkably good condition.
While archaeologists had long believed the tiny island was already settled more than 1,000 years ago, this is in fact the first time artifacts from the Viking Age have ever been recovered on Jomfruland.
Experts believe that the belt buckle encountered on Jomfruland dates back to between 780 and 850. (Vibeke Lia Vestfold and Telemark County Municipality)
Metal Detectorists Uncovering Historical Treasures on Norwegian Islands
The unexpected discovery has served to prove that Norway’s islands are home to hereto undiscovered historical treasure which are now being unearthed by enthusiastic metal detectorists. Amazingly, this Jomfruland discovery occurred just a few weeks after a 51-year-old amateur metal detectorist named Erlend Bore found an entire collection of gold jewelry buried on the island of Rennesoy just off Norway’s western coast. This cache of buried objects was so valuable that it has been labeled Norway’s “gold find of the century.”
In the recent Jomfruland find, 39-year-old Jan Erik Aasvik was not actually looking for archaeological treasure. He got the idea to use a metal detector to find his mother’s lost golden earring, which the family believed had probably fallen off when she was working in their garden.
After poking around for a bit Aasvik found a few nondescript items, before suddenly getting a strong hit in a particular location. Scanning the ground, he realized that whatever had triggered the detector’s reaction was buried beneath the earth’s surface.
“I took the spade and started digging. I think I was probably no further down than about 20-30 centimeters [when I found the belt buckle],” Aasvik told the Dagbladet. “I didn't understand what it was, but it looked old. I am a member of a [Facebook] group of people who use metal detectors, so I posted a picture there. I am a beginner, but in that group, there are many who have more experience than me.”
Jan Erik Aasvik did not know what he had unearthed on Jomfruland until he asked a community of metal detectorists on Facebook. (Vibeke Lia Vestfold and Telemark County Municipality)
Crowdsourcing Helped Identify the Jomfruland Discovery
As fortune would have it, one of the people who saw Aasvik’s post was archaeologist Vibeke Lia, who is from Kragero and works as a consultant with the Vestfold and Telemark County Council. She traveled to the island to see the belt buckle, plus the second similar object that Jan Erik Aasvik dug up, and was able to confirm what the artifacts were and how long ago they were likely made.
After examining the two metal objects closely, Lia estimated that they were made between the years 780 and 850 BC, and likely in Ribe, Denmark, where items of this style were produced during that time period. This dates them to Scandinavia’s Viking Age, making them the oldest artifacts ever found on the island of Jomfruland.
If in fact they were manufactured in Ribe, this would connect them clearly to the Viking Age of trade and exploration. Ribe is located in southern Denmark to the south of Jomfruland across the North Sea, separated from the island by a distance of more than 300 miles (500 km) as the crow flies.
The belt buckle and the other item would have arrived on the island onboard long-distance Viking trading ships. They would presumably have been purchased by wealthy people able to afford fine items imported from so far away.
The artifacts were uncovered in the garden of the Aasvik family on the Norwegian island of Jomfruland. (Vibeke Lia Vestfold and Telemark County Municipality)
Tracing the History of the Jomfruland Artifacts
So how did the two decorative pieces come to be buried in a 21st century garden? “We think this is a woman's grave that is preserved in the family's garden, and think she was laid there well into the 8th century,” the Cultural Heritage of Vestfold and Telemark County Council stated, in a September 25th Facebook post announcing this discovery. “We congratulate the family who found the first secure Viking Age find on Jomfruland!”
According to Lia, it was common practice in the eighth century to bury jewelry and other valuable personal items with the deceased in this region. This raises the possibility that an expansive cemetery might be hidden beneath the Aasviks’ land of Jomfruland. Alternatively, if the woman was buried on a private plot behind the house where she lived, it could mean there was a Viking Age settlement on the island and that further digging in the surrounding area might uncover some incredibly important artifacts from that time.
What Else Did the Vikings Leave Behind on Jomfruland?
Jomfruland is a small, elongated North Sea island located adjacent to the village of Kragerø in Vestfold and Telemark County. The island is just a bit over a half-mile (1 km) wide and 4.5 miles (7.5 km) long, and while less than 100 people live there full-time it is more heavily visited in the summer during tourism season.
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Previous archaeological discoveries on the island proved that it was occupied during the early Middle Ages. But there was never any proof that settlers had made their home there during Norway’s Viking Age, which officially lasted from 793 to 1066. That’s why the discovery of these two small Viking items by family looking for a lost piece of jewelry has created so much excitement in Norway’s archaeological community.
As for the Aasvik family, they were clearly delighted to be involved in such an historically important find. While they haven’t revealed their intentions, it seems likely that the family’s metal detector is going to get plenty of usage in the months to come, as they search for more Viking artifacts right in their own backyard. And if they’re really lucky, maybe they will eventually find Mother Aasvik’s lost golden earring as well.
Top image: The Aasvik family discovered the Jomfruland artifacts while hunting for their mother’s earing in the garden. Source: Vibeke Lia Vestfold and Telemark County Municipality
By Nathan Falde