The metal detector beeps very faintly as 54-year-old Frants Fugl Vestergaard guides it across a field near Bøvling in western Jutland. The sound is so faint that many would go on without hesitation, but not Frants. For 10 years he has been metal detecting – even several times in the field in question. Frants scratches the ground a little and crushes a clod of earth in his hand. He reveals a small, beautiful enamel earring. “Hey, that looks like gold,” he thinks, as his brain tries to make sense of what’s in his hand. “Wow I think, and then time stands still for me,” says Frants Fugl Vestergaard, handing the find to his partner, who is walking a little further ahead. He walks around himself to get some air before turning to look at the find again.
“I’m very humbled and puzzled as to why I should find that piece, and even in West Jutland, where there are such long distances between finds. It’s like getting a text message from the past. You always want to find something beautiful, a great find, and then suddenly you have it in your hands. It’s unbelievable,” he says.
An Exceptional Byzantine Earring in Denmark
“The find is a beautiful and quite unusual gold earring from the 11th century”, says Peter Pentz, curator at National Museum of Denmark.
“It seems completely unique to us, we only know of 10-12 other examples worldwide and we’ve never found one in Scandinavia before,” says Peter Pentz, explaining that the Vikings brought back thousands of silver coins from their travels, but almost never art jewelry.
The earring consists of a crescent-shaped gold plate set in a frame made of gold threads adorned with small gold balls and gold ribbons. The crescent-shaped plate is covered with an enamel created by a special technique of crushing and pulverizing glass, then fusing it with metal to make it opaque. The enamel motif is two stylized birds around a tree or plant, symbolizing the tree of life.
This type of jewelry is known mainly from Muslim Egypt and Syria and from Byzantium and Russia. The jewelry found is most similar to Arabic examples from Egypt.
Earring is the Same Type as Dagmar Cross
In terms of style and craftsmanship, it is made like the Dagmar cross. They are the only two pieces of this type that have been found in Denmark. They both date from the Viking Age or the earliest Middle Ages and are prestigious pieces of jewelry that were probably not traded but typically donated by kings and emperors.
This explains why the Dagmar Cross was found in a queen’s tomb. In contrast, the new gold find was made in a field in Bøvling with no known Viking sites nearby. How it ended up there is therefore something of a mystery.
“We expected to find such a fine and priceless piece of jewelry as this alongside a large gold treasure or in a royal tomb, and not in a random field in Bøvling,” says Peter Pentz in amazement.
Such jewelry is usually found in the finest tombs, for example in the tomb of Canute the Holy in Odense, where textiles and pillows from Byzantium in the 10th century have been found – incidentally with the same motif: two birds around a plant or tree.
A Personal Gift from the Emperor of Byzantium?
“One explanation could be that many Vikings went into military service for the Byzantine emperor, who had a bodyguard consisting of warriors from Scandinavia. We know from the Icelandic sagas that mercenaries returned from the East with silk and weapons, and there are also stories of the emperor occasionally donating fine gifts to his bodyguard. So, it is possible that the earring was personally given by the emperor to a trusted Viking bodyguard. And so it must have been lost under unknown circumstances in Denmark,” says Peter Pentz.
Another possibility is that a pilgrim brought the jewelry home. It could be King Erik Ejegod, for example, who travelled to Jerusalem with his wife Bodil. The king himself died on the journey.
The earring was probably originally part of a pair, but no similar earring has been found in the area.
Exhibited in the Viking exhibition “The Raid”
At Holstebro Museum there is enthusiasm and praise for the detectorist, who has shown “great care” with the object, explains archaeologist and curator Astrid Toftdal Jensen.
“The find confirms that West Jutland has always had strong connections abroad,” she says, adding that she hopes the earring can be loaned to the museum at a later date so it can be seen in the area where it was found.
The earring is placed in a secure display case at the National Museum, where it will be part of the current Viking exhibition “The Raid,” which focuses on the Vikings’ travels to the Middle East. Visitors can study it alongside other Viking treasures.
It’s great company to be in, says Frants Fugl Vestergaard, who will be writing himself into the history books with this find:
“I am proud and happy to have found it, also in relation to local history, because it shows that we up here from the outskirts can also do a little – even 1000 years ago, when there must have been some in this area who had influence and status. I’ll probably never finish thinking about that.”
The earring has been inserted directly into the current exhibition where it can be seen now.
On the website of the National Museum of Denmark you can find further information about the Viking exhibition “The Raid”.
In 2021 a unique Viking era gold hoard was discovered in Denmark including bracteates and Roman medaillons.
Do you already know the coin cabinet of the National Museum of Denmark?