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The small Thor’s hammer amulet was carved out of sandstone.

Rare Thor’s Hammer Amulet Found in Iceland Casts New Light on Viking Life

In archaeology, anything from the past can be of great importance, including artifacts that may seem rather small and unremarkable at first glance. For example, archaeologists have just announced the discovery of a small Viking era item in Iceland that is a first of its kind – it  has real historical significance.  During some routine work, the archaeologists uncovered a stone amulet that represents the hammer of the Norse God Thor. This small artifact is going to help experts to better understand Viking society at a critical stage in its development.

A Lucky Find

The find was made by chance and it is one of many fortuitous finds in Iceland in recent years. Another item discovered by accident was a warrior’s sword discovered in 2016. The site where the amulet was found is in the south of Iceland in the breath-taking Þjórsárdalur valley. A team of experts was registering sites in the valley when they made the discovery. A local man directed the team to an area where he claimed to have found some Viking artifacts.

The experts went to the location and as they were recording the previously unknown site, they uncovered a number of artifacts, that were, according to the Iceland Magazine ‘lying on the surface of the soil’’. There were several small artifacts also recovered with the amulet. Bergur Thor Bjornsson,  who made the discovery, is the descendant of an archaeologist who located many important Viking sites in Iceland in the early twentieth century.

The Thor’s hammer amulet. (Fornleifastofnun Íslands)

The Thor’s hammer amulet. ( Fornleifastofnun Íslands )

A Unique Thor’s Hammer Amulet

The most important item discovered while exploring the site this time was the amulet of Thor. Inside Edition website has declared the Thor’s hammer amulet ‘the first of its kind found’.  It is so special because it is the first Thor’s hammer amulet to be found that is made from stone. All the other examples of this ornament have been fashioned from metal or bone.  After a preliminary investigation, the style of the amulet is unusual and it appears to offer evidence that the Norse cults had come under the influence of Christianity. It is now being studied and analyzed to determine its origin and age.

Who was Thor?

Thor is a well-known figure in the movies and comics and is very well-known in modern popular culture. To the Vikings, he was the God of Thunder and second only to Odin in the Norse Pantheon. His hammer Mjollnir had magical properties and made him near-invincible and with it, he, slew his enemies and many monsters. Thor appeared very often in Norse myth and he is often portrayed as a somewhat comical figure, nevertheless, he was much-loved by the common Norse people.  

An 1872 representation by Mårten Eskil Winge of Thor wielding his famous hammer, Mjölnir, against the giants. (Public Domain)

An 1872 representation by Mårten Eskil Winge of Thor wielding his famous hammer, Mjölnir, against the giants. ( Public Domain )

 It is only in recent years that experts have been able to definitively identify a large number of amulets as representing the hammer of the God of Thunder ; after finding one with an inscription, bearing the name ‘Thor’ in Denmark. These amulets were buried with people such as warriors . For example, one amulet was found in a mass grave of two Vikings who were part of the Great Heathen Army that invaded England in the 9th century AD.

A Major Discovery

The discovery of the amulet has also led to the identification of a new Viking site. It seems that early Norse settlers lived in the area until a volcanic eruption in 1014 AD forced them to leave. But the amulet was not the only important artifact found in the valley;  a portable whetstone, which is extremely rare, was also discovered. This stone was used to sharpen tools and implements and according to the Inside Edition website , it is ‘’now named Bergsstadir after the local that discovered it’’.

The whetstone. Whetstones are among the most common finds at Viking era archaeological sites. (Fornleifastofnun Íslands)

The whetstone. Whetstones are among the most common finds at Viking era archaeological sites. ( Fornleifastofnun Íslands )

This chance find is significant because it is helping experts to understand the importance of the Thor cult in Norse society. The design of the Thor’s hammer amulet is also suggestive of Christian influence and this may force researchers to rethink how the Vikings became converts to Christianity. Moreover, the find has helped to provide an insight into early Icelandic settler society and its relationship to the wider Norse world.

The Stenkvista runestone in Södermanland, Sweden, shows Thor's hammer instead of a cross. (Berig/CC BY SA 4.0)

The Stenkvista runestone in Södermanland, Sweden, shows Thor's hammer instead of a cross. (Berig/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

Top image: The small Thor’s hammer amulet was carved out of sandstone. Source: Fornleifastofnun Íslands

By Ed Whelan

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