Pawel Bednarski made a momentous discovery using a metal detector on December 21, 2021. It was rather fortuitous that he headed out that day. The weather had been horrible for quite some time, but the forecast predicted better weather in a few days. He decided to investigate the Kongshaug plateau in Stjørdal, Norway.
A Viking treasure trove of silver objects, including coins, silver jewelry, and silver wire, was found just two to seven centimeters beneath the surface. Clay covered the objects, making them difficult to see. Only after rinsing off one of the bangle pieces did Bednarski realize it was an exciting find.
It was subsequently confirmed by municipal archaeologists that the discovery was of significance and dated to the Viking era. It was only after Pawel contacted researcher and archaeologist Birgit Maixner at the NTNU University Museum that he understood how significant the discovery was.
46 silver objects
The discovery is quite exceptional, according to the archaeologist Birgit Maixner. In Norway, a big treasure from the Viking Age hasn’t been discovered for a long time. 46 silver objects were found, almost exclusively in fragment form. Two simple finger rings and several bracelets and chains are included, along with Arab coins, braided necklaces, and hacksilver, all of which were cut into small pieces.
This is one of the earliest finds of the weight economy, which was in use during the transitional period between the earlier barter economy and the subsequent coin economy, Maixner explains. It is a weight economy in which silver pieces were weighed and used as a means of payment.
Coins have been in use in Western Europe and on the Continent since the Merovingian period (550-800 CE), but coins weren’t minted in Norway until late in the Viking Age (late 9th century CE). Until the Viking Age, a barter economy was common in the Nordic countries, but by the late 8th century, a weight economy was gaining ground.
According to Maixner, the weight economy was much more flexible than the barter economy. In the barter economy, you had to have a sufficient quantity of sheep to exchange them for a cow. It was simple to handle and transport, and you could purchase whatever you wanted when the time was right,” he said. Forty-six pieces of silver, weighing 42 grams in all, were found.
Exactly how much silver was required to purchase a cow in the Viking era? We can’t know for sure, but we can get some clues from the Gulating law. According to that law, this treasure was worth about six tenths of a cow,” he says. According to Maixner, this treasure amounted to quite a lot of money at the time, especially for one person, and it wasn’t long ago that medium-sized farms with five cows were common. Why, then, was this fortune buried?
Hidden or sacrificed?
Were the artifacts buried as sacrifices or gifts to gods, or were they safeguarded by the owner? Maixner isn’t sure. “We don’t know if the owner hid the silver for safekeeping or if it was buried as a sacrifice or gift to a god,” he says. It’s also possible that the pieces of silver, which weigh less than one gram, were used repeatedly as a currency. Was the owner a local trader or a visitor who would resell his goods?
Danes on a trip to Trøndelag?
Typically, Scandinavian treasure troves from the Viking Age include a fragment of each item. There are, however, several pieces of the identical artifact type in this find. For example, the find includes an almost complete arm ring, divided into eight fragments. These wide bracelets are thought to have been made in Denmark in the ninth century.
According to Maixner, a person who prepared himself for trade would have divided the silver into appropriate weight units. The owner, therefore, may have been in Denmark before travelling to the Stjørdal region.
It is uncommon for there to be such a high concentration of Islamic coins in Norwegian Viking Age finds. Typically, Muslim coins from Norway from this era are mostly minted between 890 and 950 CE. The seven coins from this discovery have been dated, but four of them date from the late 700s to the early 800s to the late 9th century.
Maixner says that the relatively old Islamic coins, the broad armbands, and the large amount of fragmented artifacts found in Denmark are more typical than those found in Norway. These characteristics also lead us to believe that the artifacts date from around 900 CE, he says.
Viking Age landscape
The Stjørdalselva flowed peacefully in a wide, flat loop past Værnes, Husby, and Re farms in the Viking Age. A broad plain was located on the inside of the curve where the Moksnes and Hognes farms are now situated. On the south side of the plain was the Kongshaug (King’s Hill) ridge, which was only accessible from the south at a narrow elevated strip of land. On the opposite side of the plain, there was a ford across the Stjørdalselva. A medieval road ran through this area, connecting east and west. Viking Age coins and weights have been found in this location.
Around 1,100 years ago, the owner of the silver treasure may have felt that the Kongshaug trading post was an insecure place to store his fortune, and thus buried it in a furrow in the plain’s entrance area. Pawel Bednarski unearthed it there 1,100 years later, in a furrow. How does it feel to rediscover the treasure horde after more than a thousand years? “It’s fantastic,” says Bednarski. “Only once in your life will you experience something like this.”