Viking Jewelry Unearthed in Denmark: Page 2

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A copper alloy piece of jewelry found at a Viking-age site in Denmark shows an animal figure with a beadlike chain around its neck.
Ole Kastholm/Roskilde Museum

Rich jewelry at a modest site

These discoveries leave researchers with a mystery. What is such rich jewelry doing at a modest agricultural settlement?

The answer may lie in a legendary site, named Lejre, which is located about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south-southeast of Vestervang, no more than three hours away by foot and boat.

"Legend has it that this was the place where the first Danish dynasty, the Scyldings, had its royal seat," writes Tom Christensen, also of the Roskilde Museum, in an article published in the book "Settlement and Coastal Research in the Southern North Sea Region" (Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2010). He notes that some members of this dynasty even appeared in the famous poem "Beowulf."

Archaeological research has revealed that Lejre appears to be a rich site. In 1850, a hoard consisting of "four silver vessels, a whetstone, a weight, a necklace and a disk-shaped silver ingot" was found in the nearby hills, Christensen noted. A monument 282 feet (86 meters) long made of rocks arranged in the shape of a ship was also reconstructed in later excavations.

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The presence of this elite site close to Vestervang may explain the presence of the newly found rich jewelry, Kastholm writes. In the 1960s, there was vast residential development in the area of Vestervang, but maps that predate the development show two villages near the site with "Karleby" in their name, something that may signify that the area was given to retainers of Lejre's ruler.

"The old Scandinavian term karl, corresponding with the old English ceorl, refers to a member of the king's professional warrior escort, the hirð," Kastholm writes in the journal article.

Together, the rich jewelry finds at Vestervang, the site's proximity to Lejre and the presence of two nearby villages with the names "Karleby" reveal what life may have been like at Vestervang.

It "seems probable that the settlement of Vestervang was a farm controlled by a Lejre superior and given to generations of retainers, i.e. to a karl of the hirð," Kastholm writes. "This would explain the extraordinary character of the stray finds contrasting with the somewhat ordinary traces of settlement."

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