Monday, January 7, 2013

A New Valkyrie

Today, in his blog Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist features a good-quality photograph of yet another "Valkyrie" figure. This one, according to Rundkvist, was found late last year by a metal detectorist at Hårby on Funen.  His post, which you can read here, includes three close-up photographs of the figure from different angles, along with photographs of other, similar figures from other finds.  

The Hårby figure, which is a small sculpture in the round, is being held in a human hand in the photographs.  If you compare the person's thumbnail with the figure, it seems clear that the figure can't be more than about 5 cm tall. Rundkvist notes that the figure almost certainly belongs to the Vendel or Viking era, and that seems clear from the style of the figure.

Rundkvist also notes that "[s]he wears a floor-length dress and has her hair in the typical knot we’ve seen for instance on the Lady of Sättuna, and she’s armed with sword and shield." On this figure, unlike many of the Valkyrie figures, it is clear that we are seeing hair pulled back with a knot--lines indicate where the hair on the top of her head has been parted in the middle, in front, and then pulled back, away from her face and into a long pony tail.

Unfortunately, the angle of the photographs and the shadows on the figure make any other details of her clothing difficult to discern. The center bottom of her clothing falls into numerous narrow folds or pleats, suggesting the pleated linen underdresses of Birka or possibly the pleated apron dresses of Denmark, and there appears to be a strap going over the shoulder of the arm that is holding the shield, but the other details on the figure are ambiguous, at least from this photograph.  

If any of you see clear costume details on the figure, please say so in the comments!

EDIT (1/9/2013):  Jennifer Bray (Rannveig, from the Norsefolk_2 list on Yahoo) posted the following additional information on the list about this figure:
  • "It was found in the same field in Funen as some gold jewellery. 
  • [The] [o]ther finds are from Germanic Iron Age and Viking Age. 
  • The figure is solid at the top but the skirt is hollow at the bottom. 
  • There is a hole behind the hair so it could be used as a pendant. 
  • There is little sign of wear on the back, so the finder believes it was lost when quite new. 
  • The finder believes the damage seems to come from its time in the ground: the field it was found in was newly ploughed." 
Most of this information doesn't help much with deducing costume details from the figure.  However, the fact that the figure is hollow in the skirt suggests that the dress depicted is meant to be floor-length, though that can't be confirmed because the bottom part of the figure is broken off irregularly.   Hopefully information dating the other finds from the same field will help pinpoint the age of the figure more closely.

EDIT:  (1/12/2013):  Edited to correct my incorrect identification of the country in which the find was made, as per Jakob's comment below.


  1. Probably unconnected, but the dating of that figurine reminded me that Charlemagne - Emperor from AD 800 to 814 - supposedly had several female knights in his court.

    There's even a story - written centuries later - about one named Bradamante:


    1. I'm not sure, but I think the whole valkyrie tradition predated the legend about Charlemagne's knights.

      Anyway, as Rundkvist's article notes, there are other valkyrie figures, of which the Hårby figure is the latest discovery. I'm interested in them as evidence for the form of Vendel/Viking era women's clothing.

  2. I can't make out any more details than you can.

  3. Yeah -- I kept trying to send this to you the other day, and it never went through. :-(

  4. Just a minor correction: It was found near Haarby on the island Fuen (Fyn) in Denmark, not Sweden. The legislation in Sweden makes detector finds extremly rare.

  5. Thank you, Jakob, for the correction. I'd tried earlier to pinpoint the location and I must have either failed to zoom in enough or misspelled something.

  6. Update with excellent photos:

  7. Thanks so much for the link, Jakob! There is excellent information in that article. I may well blog about it as a follow-up.


    Much better picture.

    1. Thank you. I referred to this article and its picture in my latest (Feb. 28) post.