Norwegian metal detectorist hits the “find of the century”

The 6th-century gold treasure discovered by metal detectorist Erlend Bore in Rennesøy. (Image by Erlend Bore, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger).

A metal detectorist recently discovered nine coin-like gold pendants engraved with rare horse symbols, along with 10 gold beads and three gold rings that were buried 1,500 years ago on the Norwegian island of Rennesøy.

“I had been searching along the shore but only found scrap metal and a small coin. So, I decided to explore the higher ground, and the metal detector immediately started beeping,” Erlend Bore (51), who purchased his first metal detector before the summer, said in a media statement. “At first, I thought I had found chocolate coins or plastic pirate treasure. It was surreal.”

Researchers at the Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger, deemed this as “the find of the century in Norway.” Discovering such a significant amount of gold – about 100 grams – at once is extremely rare in the Nordic country.

According to Håkon Reiersen, associate professor at the Museum of Archaeology, the gold pendants date from around AD 500, during the Migration Period in Norway. These gold pendants, known as “bracteates,” resemble gold coins but were used primarily as jewellery, not for buying or selling goods.

“The nine bracteates and the gold beads would have formed an exceptionally splendid necklace, which was crafted by skilled goldsmiths and worn by the most powerful individuals in society. Finding so many bracteates together is exceedingly rare. This is the first such find in Norway since the 1800s, and it’s also an uncommon find in a Scandinavian context,” Reiersen said.

The expert pointed out that many of Scandinavia’s major bracteate finds were buried in the ground during the mid-500s, towards the end of the Migration Period, which likely marked a crisis with crop failures, worsening climate and plagues.

“Based on the location of the discovery and findings from similar contexts, these were most likely either hidden valuables or offerings to the gods during that dramatic time,” Reiersen said.

Hardship and healing

The gold pendants from Rennesøy belong to a specific type that is considered extremely rare. They depict a horse motif in a previously unknown form.

“These motifs differ from those on most other gold pendants found so far. Typically, the symbols on the pendants depict the god Odin healing the sick horse of his son Balder. During the Migration Period, this myth was seen as a symbol of renewal and resurrection, believed to offer protection and good health to the wearer,” said Sigmund Oehrl, an expert on bracteates and their symbols at the Museum of Archaeology.

The Rennesøy bracteates, however, only depict the horse. A somewhat similar horse motif, along with serpent-like creatures, can also be found on a couple of gold bracteates discovered in Rogaland and South Norway.

“On these gold pendants, the horse’s tongue hangs out, and its slumped posture and twisted legs suggest that it is injured. Similar to the Christian symbol of the cross, which was spreading in the Roman Empire at the same time, the horse symbol represented illness and hardship, but also hope for healing and new life,” Oehrl noted.