Rare Byzantine Gold Coin Discovered In Norway – Was It Brought By Harald Hardrada From Constantinople
A metal detectorist found a rare gold coin in the mountains in Vestre Slidre municipality depicting two emperors and Jesus Christ.
Archaeologists are now trying to determine how this 1,000-year-old Byzantine gold coin ended up in the Norwegian mountains. Could it have been part of the great treasure that Harald Hardrada brought home from Constantinople?
The coin was introduced in Byzantium around 960 A.D. and is unique in the Norwegian context.
According to May-Tove Smiseth, the county archaeologist for Innlandet County in Eastern Norway, the coin is the only one of its kind in Norway.
On one side of the coin, we “can see Christ holding the Bible, and on the other side, it is probably the emperors Basil II (left) and Constantine VIII (right) we see depicted. The two were brothers and ruled together,” Innlandet County Municipality wrote in a press release.
Presumably, the coin was minted early in the 11th century. The exact date is difficult to determine, but the dotted border suggests that it was late in Basil’s and Constantine’s reign, Smiseth explains.
The coin also bears two inscriptions. In Latin, it says Jesus Christ, King of those who rule, and in Greek, it reads Basil and Constantine, emperors of the Romans.
The treasure of Harald Hardrada
In some way or another, the coin found its way to Valdres in Norway.
Perhaps it was originally part of the treasures Harald Hardrada amassed after serving in the Varangian Guard for the Byzantine emperor in 1034? The Varangian Guard consisted of Scandinavian mercenaries who served as bodyguards and were known as being fearless and strong,” Science in Norway reports.
During his stay in Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey), Harald Hardrada was part of the Varangian Guard and served the Emperor. In older Byzantine sources, Hardrada is referred to as Araltes. At that time, it was customary for the guards to be given the right to loot the palace and take all the valuables they could find when the emperor died. During Hardrada’s time in Byzantium, three emperors had died.
The treasures he acquired during his time as part of the Emperor’s guard in Constantinople, he sent to Prince Yaroslav in Kyiv. The treasures Harald collected were partly used as a dowry so that he could marry Ellisiv, one of the daughters of Prince Jaroslav of Kyiv.
Incidentally, Basil II, who is depicted on the coin, was Ellisiv’s great-uncle.
The sagas also tell us that Harald and his men returned home to Norway with immense wealth in 1046, with ships laden with gold and other valuables.
Harald Hardrada accepted Magnus the Good as co-king of Norway in 1046, as Basil II and Constantine VIII were depicted as co-regents on the coin.
Smiseth explained “three Byzantine gold coins have been found in Sweden, none in Denmark, while 15 have been found in Norway—most of them from various treasure finds made in the 19th century. This includes the recent find in Valdres.
“It’s reasonable to believe that this coin could be from the treasures that Harald Hardrada brought with him. He received a lot of gold in payment from the three emperors in Byzantium who ruled while he was there,” Smiseth says.
“Harald acquired a lot of power by using the gold he returned with to build alliances.”
Scientists will examine the site where the coin was found in 2024. Maybe, archaeologists can unearth something more valuable that can shed more light on the history of the Byzantine gold coin.
An incredible 1,000-year-old Viking burial site found in Norway belonged to ‘Iron Age elite’
A hidden surprise was uncovered by archaeological excavation in Trondheim, Norway – the unmistakable traces of a boat submerged under Torvet, the market square of the city.
In the last available moments, before archaeologists decided to finish their exploration, the discovery came only in the nick of time, so that the market square could be filled in and re-paved for use as the market and meeting place of the city.
The wood had long since rotted away, and it was disturbed by posts being planted in the ground, but the form of a feature in the soil was too normal to be natural – the shape of a boat about 4 metres (13 feet) in length, oriented in a location roughly north-south. There was no real boat to be found.
Careful digging confirmed the find. The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage (NIKU) archaeologists found lumps of rust and nails that indicated yes, the feature was indeed a boat.
It’s believed that Trondheim was founded by Viking king Olav Tryggvason in the year 997, but archaeological evidence suggests that people have been living there for thousands of years.
There are large gaps in Trondheim’s history, though, because of a great fire that ravaged the predominantly wooden city in 1681.
The city has been undergoing major excavation work over the past few years to try and find out some of its history. In September of last year, NIKU archaeologists uncovered an 11th century church under Peter Egges plass, where Olav Haraldsson, former Viking king and patron saint of Norway, was first enshrined as a saint.
They also found a graveyard containing hundreds of graves, and a well-preserved bronze crucifix.
The boat dig is from even earlier, probably dating back to around the 7th-10th century, if a piece of spoon and broken key found in the excavation belong to the burial.
Other items found in the boat were a small piece of sheet bronze, objects that were probably personal effects, and two long bones, also oriented north-south.
These bones are quite dilapidated, so DNA tests will need to be conducted to confirm that they are human.
The location of the burial away from the harbour and fjord dates the burial back to the late Iron Age or early Viking Age, when the Scandinavian Viking started exploring the northern hemisphere by sea.
“It is likely a boat that has been dug down into the ground and been used as a coffin for the dead. There has also probably been a burial mound over the boat and grave,” said NIKU early boat expert Knut Paasche.
He added that the boat was very similar to Åfjord boats, often seen in burials along the Trondelag coast. This, however, is the first time one has been found within the city of Trondheim.
“This type of boat is relatively flat in the bottom midship. The boat can also be flat-bottomed as it is intended to go into shallow waters on the river Nidelven,” he said.
More research will be required to confirm that the find is, indeed, a burial, but its presence further confirms the existence of a settlement older than Olaf Tryggvason’s Trondheim.
Family Looking For Lost Gold Ring Finds Viking Age Artifacts In Their Garden On The Island Of Jomfruland
While searching for a missing gold ring with a metal detector, a family in Norway found, to their big surprise, something entirely different in their garden on the island of Jomfruland.
Jan Erik Aasvik has a metal detector he almost never uses, but he thought he would try it to search for his mother’s missing gold ring.
After finding a couple of different objects, the detector began beeping distinctly louder than on previous finds. Aasvik suspected this was a sign that something bigger was hidden beneath the soil, but what could it be?
“I took the spade and started digging. I think I was probably no further down than about 20-30 centimeters. I didn’t understand what it was, but it looked old.
I am a member of a 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”, Aasvik told Kragerø Vestmar.
The Aasvik family had discovered a bowl-shaped buckle and a round buckle. Both objects have been there since the 8th century and were used together with clothing in the Viking Age.
Archaeologist Vibeke Lia in Vestfold and Telemark County Municipality, who has seen the buckles, says it is an incredible find, and 1,200-year-old artifacts are in good condition.
“As far as I know, it is the first secure find we have from the Viking Age on Jomfruland,” Lia told the NRK Vestfoldogtelemark, adding this is an exciting archaeological find.
It is possible there may be a Viking Age grave belonging to a woman at the site, the Cultural Heritage Department in Vestfold and Telemark County said in a press statement.
The find is significant to the history of the region. It was previously assumed people lived on the island in Kragerø during the Viking Age, but scientists have been unable to confirm it until now.
Lia believes there may be more objects in the ground at the site but says digging for more is inappropriate.
“If it is a grave, it is protected. We will rather try to find out more in other ways,” she said.
Viking Age Horse Bridle Found Under The Ice 2,000 Meters Above Sea Level
Glacial archaeologists working in Norway have once again discovered fascinating ancient artifacts under the ice. Near a mountain pass, not far from Norway’s highest mountain, Galdhøpiggen, archaeologists have found traces of horse travel.
A metal bit and parts of the leather straps that fasten around the horse’s head have emerged from under the ice.
“The bridle has a shape that suggests it could be from the Viking Age,” Espen Finstad, a glacial archaeologist at Innlandet County Municipality told Science In Norway.
Viking Age People And Horses Crossed The Tall Norwegian Mountain
Galdhøpiggen is the highest mountain in Norway, Scandinavia, and Northern Europe. The 2,469-metre-tall (8,100 ft) mountain is located in Lom Municipality, and the Jotunheimen Mountains within Jotunheimen National Park. The view from the top is spectacular and Galdhøpiggen is today a popular tourist attraction, but one has to be careful and have good knowledge of climbing to get to the top.
Based on earlier excavations, scientists have been able to determine the traffic through a mountain pass on Lomseggen was at its peak during the Viking Age.
Snow and ice melting in the area have previously exposed hundreds of ancient artifacts in the region, revealing that Norwegians used this mountain pass for more than 1,200 years.
However, as reported by Science in Norway, “the bridle that archaeologists have found this year suggests that it wasn’t just people who walked here.
Horses have also been part of the journey, almost 2,000 meters above sea level.
“We have never made such a discovery before. It essentially completes the picture that this is an ancient travel route,” Finstad says.
Carbon-14 Dating Will Reveal The Age Of The Bridle
The strap, or halter, which is attached to the bit, is especially exciting for the archaeologists.
It actually makes it possible to date the horse bridle.
Through carbon-14 dating, the archaeologists will find out if the find really is from the Viking Age.
Finstad estimates it will take a few months to get the final answer, but they are fairly certain that it originates from the Iron Age or the early Middle Ages.
Horse Manure And Horseshoes
The horse bridle is just one of the discoveries archaeologists have made on this year’s expedition.
They also found horse manure, textiles, horseshoes, leaf fodder, part of a horse snowshoe, a knife, and a variety of small wooden objects. Altogether, around 150 items.
Even though the mountain pass is like a gold mine for archaeologists, the finds are extremely rare in the grand scheme of things, Finnes points out.
The most special thing is that organic materials like wood, leather, textiles, and faeces have been preserved.
The ice has functioned as a freezer for hundreds of years. But now it’s melting.
“The fact that the ice is now melting due to man-made climate change is tragic. The paradox is that new and exciting knowledge about our common past is emerging,” Finnes says.
A remarkable ancient world is hidden beneath the ice, and now we are slowly learning more about it.
Five 1,500-Year-Old Gold Foil Figures Unearthed in Norway
The pieces are tiny, about the size of a fingernail. They are flat and thin as paper, often square, and stamped with a motif. Usually, they depict a man and a woman in various types of clothing, jewellery, and hairstyles. They are from what we call the Merovingian period in Norway, which starts around 550 and goes into the Viking Age. A time of turbulent climates and turbulent power relations.
In previous excavations, archaeologists have found 30 such gold foil figures here at Hov, connected to what the archaeologists believe was once a temple where people worshiped and made sacrifices to the gods. The archaeologists had talked about how they should not be disappointed if they did not find more gold foil figures this time.
But then something sparkled in the ground.
“It was incredibly exciting,” archaeologist Kathrine Stene says.
She is the project leader for the excavation, which has been ongoing along the road here all summer and into autumn, due to the upgrade of the E6 highway between Mjøsa Bridge and Lillehammer.
A religious offering?
Archaeologists have found five gold foil figures in the last couple of weeks. Three of them were found where the wall of the temple once stood. Two of them were found in separate post holes.
Finding a gold foil figure is spectacular and rare in itself. But the five gold foil figures that were found at Hov this time offer something extra: They were found and excavated where they were most likely originally placed. Knowing where something was once placed helps archaeologists understand more.
“It’s extra special that we can link the gold foil figures to the various parts of the building’s construction,” Stene says.
The many gold foil figures found here earlier were discovered in and around another post hole in the old temple, on the opposite side of the two that recently appeared.
It’s possible that some of the gold foil figures they found here earlier were also placed in the wall, but there’s uncertainty about exactly where they were once found. Now, with these three that we found under the actual structure of the wall, it’s clear that they were intentionally placed there before the wall’s construction,” Stene says.
One of the theories about what the gold foil figures were used for is that they may have served as a form of admission ticket to a temple like the one that once stood here at Hov.
But an admission ticket doesn’t lie under a wall.
“Modern excavation has provided more knowledge about this,” Stene says. “The gold foil figures in the post hole were not visible to people. Those we found in the wall would also not have been visible to others. So this doesn’t appear to be an admission ticket, but rather an offering or a religious act to protect the building.”
A small but prominent pagan temple
The temple at Hov was discovered by pure chance in 1993. County conservator Harald Jacobsen drove along the E6 and noticed the soil. He thought it looked like what archaeologists call cultural layers, meaning soil where traces of humans are found. A small investigation proved that he was right, and the finding of two gold foil figures indicated that this was no ordinary place.
Smaller excavations during the 2000s led to the discovery of 28 gold foil figures, and what is referred to as a temple, a house for pagan religious practices.
One of the reasons archaeologists believe this was a temple, besides the gold foil figures, is the absence of other finds that would be natural if people lived there, like cooking pots and whetstones.
A proper excavation of the area had to wait until this year, in connection with the E6 Roterud-Storhove road project. Throughout the autumn and winter, C14 dating will finally determine if it is true that the temple has stood here since around the year 600 – and right up to the 11th century.
“Based on what we have interpreted as post holes, it’s not unreasonable to think that a building has stood here that has looked the same for several hundred years. That’s not a problem, as long as you maintain the building by replacing the load-bearing posts as they rot,” Stene says.
With its 15–16 metres in length, the house is small. Residential homes of the time could easily be 20-30 metres long.
“Because it’s relatively small, we believe the structure served a solely ritualistic function,” says Stene. “It probably wasn’t where they had their feasts. Those were likely held in a larger hall, but maybe they had drinking ceremonies here. Maybe it was just the select circle in society, the elite, who were allowed to enter.”
The archaeologists also believe the building was fairly tall.
“It probably stood out in the landscape. If you came to Mjøsa by boat, it was probably clearly visible,” Stene says.
Out looking for gold foil figures?
In Norway, findings of gold foil figures are rare. The 35 from the temple in Vingrom represent the largest collection we have found in this country.
In a similar temple in Uppåkra in Sweden, archaeologists found 100 gold foil figures.
On the Danish island of Bornholm, over 2,500 gold foil figures were found in a field.
Were there not so many gold foil figures in Norway at that time, or have we just not found them?
“There must be more of them here,” Stene believes.
But most archaeological excavations today are commissioned.
“We dig when new roads and buildings are going to be built, this limits what we can investigate. It’s about being lucky and getting the opportunity. A lot of coincidences are involved here. They are so small, but they shine when you find them. There are probably more out there,” she says. Archaeologists may have found a Viking house the length of almost two tennis courts
Gold foil figures in buildings
Ingunn Marit Røstad, archaeologist at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, is an expert on the Merovingian period in Norway and gold foil figures. She also believes there are more gold foil figures out there.
“Bornholm is very special, even in Denmark. There aren’t that many other find sites there,” Røstad points out.
There are also other regional differences: In Denmark, there are more individual figures, whereas in Norway and Sweden, it is mostly couples that are depicted.
“But more of these small pieces of gold keep appearing. Either through excavation or with metal detectors. So, more could pop up in various places in Norway as well,” she says.
Due to the continuous new finds, the number of gold foil figures must be regularly updated. The latest numbers Røstad has from 2019 indicate that a total of 3,243 gold foil figures have been found in Scandinavia – 2,708 of them on Bornholm.
Røstad also points out that what’s especially unique about the new gold foil figures from Hov is that they were found in the ground, where they lay. Archaeologists call it context – the place where something is found is part of the story.
“Of all the thousands of gold foil figures we have, only a few have been found on-site and excavated,” Røstad says. “So, it’s extremely valuable that we get good context for the finds from Hov.”
What stands out when gold foil figures are actually excavated – as opposed to just being randomly found in a field – is that archaeologists find them in association with buildings.
Pictures of the elite
Røstad does not place much stock in the theory that the gold foil figures were admission tickets to the temple. They do not have holes suggesting that they were sewn onto clothing, and apart from a few exceptions from Bornholm, they do not have fastenings suggesting they are jewellery. They are dated to the Merovingian period due to the style of clothing and jewellery depicted on the men and women.
“People assume that they’re showing the elite’s clothing during this period,” Røstad says. “A sort of idealised depiction of elite clothing, featuring the elaborate hairstyle that the women have with a distinctive knot. You also see beads, special types of brooches, drinking cups, and drinking horns, which date them to the Merovingian period.”
A common interpretation of the gold foil figures is that they have some sort of ritual significance. Many believe that the couple depicted is the god Frøy and the goddess Gerd. Perhaps the gold foil figures were part of a symbolic act when people celebrated weddings?
Of divine lineage?
Another interpretation deals with the idea that the most powerful families of this time claimed they could trace their lineage back to the gods, and that the gold foil figures in some way signaled that they were of divine lineage.
“This was used to legitimise ruling; you were a leading family because you were descended from the gods,” Røstad says. “Even though they’re tiny, the gold foil figures could have been very significant. Not as jewellery worn visibly to show status, but perhaps they were part of some kind of ritual placement at the high seat where the king or jarl sat.”
The first gold foil figures were found in 1725. In a text from 1791, they were referred to as ‘gullgubber’ (golden old men), and the name just stuck. Even though the vast majority of them actually depict both a man and a woman.
Archaeologists in Norway found an arrow that was likely trapped in ice for 4,000 years
Archaeologists in Norway discovered an arrow shaft that appears to be from the Stone Age, meaning it is approximately 4,000 years old.
The discovery was made on the side of Mount Lauvhøe, which stands at just over 6,500 feet in Norway’s Lom Municipality. Archaeologists had found arrows from the Iron and Middle ages when they last surveyed the area in 2017.
However, this arrow shaft was found after ice at the site melted away in recent years, according to Lars Holger Pilø, co-director Secrets of the Ice, part of Norway’s Department of Cultural Heritage.
He said the discovery predates earlier finds by more than 2,000 years, which adds a lot more “time depth” to the site. Researchers can determine the age of the artifact by its shape, but will submit a sample of the wood for carbon dating once the field season is over.
The find is likely evidence of ancient hunters stalking reindeer, which made their way onto the snow and ice in summer months thousands of years ago to avoid clouds of botflies.
“Sometimes, when an arrow missed its target, it burrowed itself deep into the snow and was lost,” Pilø posted. “Sad for the hunter but a bull’s eye for archaeology!”
The area where the arrow shaft was found is one of 66 ice sites in Norway, which have preserved more than 4,000 archaeological finds over the years, Pilø said.
Since the arrow shaft was broken at both ends, it was difficult to date, according to a Secrets of the Ice post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Archaeologists initially thought the artifact was from the Iron Age, but after removing glacial silt, experts determined it was far older than they initially thought.
“The arrowhead is likely to have been a pressure-flaked stone projectile, meaning that the arrow is probably around 4,000 years old,” the post reads.
In another post, archaeologists described how the preserving power of ice over time: “The ice is a time machine: It brings precious objects from the past to our time in an unaltered state, like sleeping beauties.”
1500-year-old gold treasure discovered by metal detectorist: “This is the gold find of the century in Norway”
A Norwegian man had barely unwrapped his new metal detector when he discovered what experts have described as the “gold find of the century.”
Erlend Bore, 51, told NBC News by telephone Thursday that he took up the hobby after his doctor advised him to get some exercise.
But he stumbled across the unique treasure trove which is more than 1,500 years old when he was using his new gadget on Rennesoey, a picturesque island to the north of the Norwegian city of Stavanger.
Bore, who lives in Sola, a small seaside resort near Stavanger, said that hours of detecting only yielded “trash like aluminum foil and a very small fem ore,” a more modern coin that is no longer in use.
On the verge of going home, he said he tried a nearby hill and it took seconds for him to get a hit.
Initially, Bore said, he thought he’d found toy gold coins or chocolate money. But experts at the university’s archaeological museum later determined he had come across nine gold pendants, three gold rings and 10 gold pearls that someone might have worn as showy jewelry centuries ago, all lying barely 5 inches below the ground.
Not seen since before the Viking Age, the pendants were bracteates: thin, flat, single-sided gold discs that once formed an amulet.
The find weighs just 3.5 oz but has huge historical significance for the understanding of the period. There has been no similar find in Norway since the 19th century.
“There was a terrible period in the middle of the 6th century when both plague and climate deterioration came at once,” Håkon Reiersen, associate professor at the museum, told the Norwegian broadcaster NRK. He added that at the time, the region of Rogaland “had a large population, and many died.”
“From that period immediately after, we have almost no finds,” he said.
“So many people died, and some had to put down their most precious things in hopes of either getting better times or to hide their treasures,” he added.
Buried around 500 A.D. when Norway was ruled by rival kings and the Roman Empire had not long collapsed, the museum’s experts believe the intricate craftmanship shown in the gold suggests the jewelry was made in a nearby workshop controlled by political and religious elites that may have held sway over much of southern Norway.
The motifs on the jewelry are unusual and have excited archaeologists. The 1,000 bracteates found in Scandinavia typically show the Norse god Odin healing the sick horse of his son, Balder — but the new pieces show just a horse, an image with important cultural symbolism in pre-Christian Norway.
“On these gold pendants the horse’s tongue hangs out, and its slumped posture and twisted legs show that it is injured,” Sigmund Oehrl, an archaeologist at the museum, said in a press release.
“Like the Christian symbol of the cross, which spread in the Roman Empire at exactly this time, the horse symbol represented illness and distress, but at the same time hope for healing and new life,” he said.
The museum plans to put the items on public display.
“I didn’t sleep much for several nights after the find, I was so high on adrenaline,” Bore said, adding that his more recent searches had yielded more normal results.
On a recent search he said he found “a sheep’s ear tag and the lid of a teapot.”
Under Norwegian law, Bore could be entitled to a finder’s fee of the gold’s minimum value plus 10%, which he would have to share equally with the landowner. But Bore said this has yet to be decided.
The plan is to exhibit the find at the Archaeological Museum in Stavanger, about 200 miles southwest of Norway’s capital, Oslo.
Face Of Norwegian Boy Who Lived 8,000 Years Ago Reconstructed
Using DNA analysis and modern forensic techniques, scientists have reconstructed the face of a Stone Age boy who lived in Norway. The Vistegutten – the boy from Viste died at only 14 years old. Why he passed away so early is unknown because it seems he was healthy.
“The young boy was buried in the small Vistehola, a cave located a little north of Stavanger in southwestern Norway. The same little cave that his parents may have lived in.
He is the best-preserved person from the Stone Age in Norway,” Science in Norway reports.
“I spend most of my day working with skeletons of ancient people,” archaeologist Sean Denham at the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger says.
“But seeing a living person in front of me in this way is something completely different. Oscar Nilsson has done a fantastic job with this new reconstruction.”
“Denham is also happy about the increased interest in the Stone Age in Rogaland and Norway that the museum, in collaboration with sculptor and archaeologist Nilsson, has now managed to achieve with this reconstruction.
Fish and nuts
During an archaeological excavation of Vistehola in 1907, researchers found the boy’s remains.
He was only 125 centimeters tall.
With the help of new research methods, the researchers know that the boy has eaten as much food from the sea as from land. Cod, seal, and wild boar were on the menu for those who lived near the beach at Jæren. So were shellfish and nuts.
Even for a Stone Age man, Vistegutten was small in stature. Adult men from the Stone Age in Norway were probably 165-170 centimeters tall. The women may have been 145-155 centimeters tall.
Both sexes had strong physiques, the signs of which can be seen in Vistegutten as well. Eyes and cheekbones were often quite prominent in people in Norway at the time.
The boy was probably fairly dark-skinned.
Face shape, skin and hair
“For a while, there was some doubt about whether this was a girl or a boy. But with the help of DNA analysis, we can now say with certainty that Vistegutten was a boy,” Denham says.
The reconstruction Oscar Nilsson has made is based on DNA analysis. It also builds on a project from 2011, where researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland scanned the skull of Vistegutten with a laser, and created a 3D model of his head.
“The DNA analysis that was carried out later, tells us more about the shape of his head,” Denham says. “We are a little more uncertain about his skin color, hair color, and the color of his eyes. So here we rely on the other finds we have of Stone Age people in Norway.”
The average lifespan in the Old Stone Age was not very high. This was largely due to the fact that so many young children died. When people first reached adulthood, living to be over 50 years old was not unusual.