It was in December 2020 that two amateur archaeologists went on a metal detector hunt in a field in Jelling in Denmark.
Suddenly they came across what has later been named the Vindelev treasure, 800 grams of real gold.
“Most difficult task”
In a chronicle published by Danish Videnskab.dk, runologist Lisbeth M. Imer and language expert Krister SK Vasshus write that the find fascinates, because of the bracteates (gold medallions) with runes.
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Gold bracts are small, round and richly decorated gold jewelery from the migration period (years 400 to 570). They are made of a thin gold plate, and have a diameter of between three and 12 centimetres, according to Store norske lexikon.
– Everyone has a gold hempe and was worn around the neck as jewellery. It is believed that they have had a function as amulets, the encyclopedia states.
The discovery should give the researchers the most difficult task they have ever faced, write the two researchers.
Two of the gold medallions have long texts engraved, and what arouses attention is that the name of the Æsir’s supreme god Odin is mentioned.
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The medallions are dated to the fourth century, which makes them the oldest known example of the use of the god Odin’s name – in the whole world.
One of the gold bracts from Vindelev is designated by the researchers as special and very valuable. It has a long and “particularly well-formed” runic inscription, which gives linguistic meaning.
In the center of the medallion is shown the face of a king seen in profile. Around there again runs the runic inscription.
In front of the king, you can see a swastika (swastika) and a semicircle, which researchers believe may symbolize the sun and the moon.
Difficult to decipher
The runes on the medallion are described as well-shaped and easy to read, but it is still not so easy to decipher the text.
First, the researchers write, the medallion is very worn. Secondly, the text is written without a pause between words. Third, the language is more than 1,500 years old.
It is especially the first part of the text that is difficult to decipher. According to the linguist, the first word may be hosts, which may be a Latin loanword for (several) sacrificial animals.
Furthermore, the experts interpret the runes to be a declaration that someone is helping – either a hunt or a hunter. A person, or a nickname, Jaga is also mentioned.
Copied the inscription
The researchers are more confident about the last part of the runic inscription on the gold bract. Because it says there from Wōd[a]us together.
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It can be translated as “he is Odin’s man”.
In the valuable Vindelev hoard was another bracteate which attracted attention, because it appears to be a copy of the first. Some of the signs are runes, while others just look like – or are indistinct lines.
The researchers believe that the person who made the inscription did not fully understand the text, but nevertheless copied the signs as well as possible.
What is so startling is that the medallion cannot be a direct copy of the first Odin Bracteat: the name Odin is spelled differently, and it looks as if the scribe has swapped two runes.
The key to puzzles
The researchers interpret this to mean that there once existed a third inscription with exactly the same content as on these two gold medallions.
– It must have been a very important and perhaps sacred text that many people have been interested in copying. There could be many good reasons for a king to allow himself to be filled with Odin’s power and magical abilities, they write.
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According to the two researchers, the long, complete inscription on the bracteate from the Vindelev hoard is the key to a number of unsolved Iron Age mysteries.
– It shows that Odin is a very old divinity who was already known in the 4th century, and that the images of the bracteates should rather be interpreted as kings than as the god himself, they write, and add:
– So that is the key to understanding how illegible engravings on bracts originally gave meaning.