The Gold-Figure Foils ( Guldgubbar ) from Uppåkra - PDF

Continuity for Centuries, pp The Gold-Figure Foils ( Guldgubbar ) from Uppåkra Margrethe Watt Abstract The paper presents the recent finds of gold-foil figures from Uppåkra (House 2). The article

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Continuity for Centuries, pp The Gold-Figure Foils ( Guldgubbar ) from Uppåkra Margrethe Watt Abstract The paper presents the recent finds of gold-foil figures from Uppåkra (House 2). The article gives a short summary of the find context and contains a detailed description of the 115 embossed figures, five patrices (dies) and seven individually made figures, grouped by motif. The second part of the paper is dedicated to the discussion of various iconographic aspects, including the physical appearance of the figures, hairstyle and dress. A section on gesture and posture includes a discussion of the prophetic gesture (also known as the seer s thumb ) exhibited by two figures. It also points to the possible gesture of betrothal shown by one of the male-female pairs. The attributes, mostly associated with single male figures, are dominated by a staff/sceptre, club and different types of neck rings. The possibilities of identifying named gods (or persons) is reviewed against the background of particular gestures and attributes. The problem of dating the gold foils is discussed in the light of some recent finds. The archaeological context points to an early date of deposition of the Uppåkra gold foils to the Migration/Merovingian Period transition or shortly after. The overall impression of the Uppåkra figure foils is that they are strikingly similar to figures from Bornholm, and in several cases made from identical dies. Margrethe Watt, Dyssegårdsvej 71B, DK 2870 Dyssegård, Denmark Introduction Gold figure foils or guldgubbar were among the first archaeological finds to be described and discussed in detail (Sperling 1700; von Melle 1725). In spite of this they are at least from a formal point of view a poorly defined group. The term guldgubbe which has become generally accepted, was first coined by N. J. Sjöborg in 1791, and simply means a lille old man of gold. Subsequent works on gold figure foils by A. Nordén (1938), M. Mackeprang (1943) and M. Watt (1992, 1999b) have established the term as referring to small figures of men or women (single or couples) or occasionally animals embossed, cut out or scratched on gold foil. The terminology will be discussed further in Watt (forthcoming). Since the 1980s the number of figure foils has grown in leaps and bounds from a handful to now exceeding 2900 pieces. Excavations combining modern techniques with systematic field reconnaissance have significantly increased the number of localities with figure foils (Fig. 1). The vast majority of foils appeared as a result of an emergency excavation and subsequent field reconnaissance 167 Fig. 1. Localities with gold figure foils (guldgubbar). With few exceptions they originate from settlement sites. 168 MARGRETHE WATT Fig. 2. Distribution of figure foils associated with House 2. The figures were found in the fill of post holes and wall trenches associated with the building phase of the house (group 50). within the settlement complex of Sorte Muld on Bornholm (Watt 1991, 1999b, Watt forthcoming). The archaeological context The latest and so far second largest find of figure foils was discovered in connection with the investigation of a building complex in the central part of the Uppåkra settlement complex (Larsson, 2002; Larsson & Lenntorp, this volume). The first two figure foils, as well as two dies (patrices) for making figure foils, were recovered from the topsoil as a result of surface and detector reconnaissance at Uppåkra in 1997 and 1998 (Larsson & Hårdh 1998; Watt 1999a). The remaining 120 figure foils and additional three patrices were found in during the excavation of a substantial house structure (Fig. 2) (Larsson 2002; Hårdh 2002, 42; Larsson & Lenntorp, this volume) (1). Two of the figure foils (including one of the die-identical pieces fig. 15) lay in the fill associated with the levelling of the site prior to the building of House 2. Their stratigraphic and find context tie the deposition of these figures to the time around or shortly after the Migration/Merovingian Period transition (Larsson & Lenntorp, this volume). No figure foils were found in contexts earlier than this phase. By far the largest number of figure foils come from the fill of the large post holes and wall trenches of House 2, which was constructed during the early part of the Merovingian Age (Vendeltid) (Larsson & Lenntorp, this volume). Many of the gold foils, including the die-identical pieces shown below as fig. 169 7 and fig. 22 come from the fill of the same large post hole in the north-west corner of the house (Fig. 2). Several figures appeared in the wall trenches. A number of figure foils (including Figs. 12a, 14b, 17d e 24e and 27a) come from layers associated with the demolition of House 2, which took place during the Merovingian Period. Further pieces had been incorporated in layers belonging to a later levelling of the area (late Merovingian or Early Viking Age?). Finally a couple of figures were found near a sacrificial weapon depot to the north of the house (the single figure 8d and the double figure 28c). The find context of these figures shows no direct link between the gold foils and the deposition of the weapons, of which the majority are dated to the Migration Period (Helgesson, this volume). The Uppåkra fi gure foils The number of figure foils from Uppåkra now totals 122 to which may be added four complete bronze dies (patrices) as well as a worn fragment of a fifth. In order to distinguish individual dies and figures they are referred to by their find number (fnr). The more than 430 figure types (dies) from Sorte Muld, which constitutes the bulk of the relevant comparative material, are referred to by a running die number (e.g. Sorte Muld 180). The 115 embossed figure foils and 5 bronze dies from Uppåkra represent at least 58 different dies. While the majority of figures occur in one copy only, thirteen of the foils are represented by between two and fifteen die-identical pieces. Seven figures are made individually. The majority (including all those cut out individually) depict single figures. Six gold foils show a pair (male and female), two of which appear to have been made with the same die. Nearly all the figure foils from Uppåkra are complete and most of them well preserved. Some have been slightly crumpled, but in contrast to the figure foils from Sorte Muld very few appear to have been deliberately folded. The figure foils from Uppåkra vary considerably in size from 9 to 26 mm in height, the largest being the patrix fig. 20 and one of the at least seven figures cut out individually (Fig. 30a). Individual figures have not been weighed, but based on a general similarity to the figures from Sorte Muld and Helgö an average weight of grammes would be a fair estimate of the weight for the embossed figures and a little more for those made individually (Gullman 2004; Watt forthcoming). Most of the embossed figures from Uppåkra are made to a high technical standard with a good finish. Several of the finest of the stamped figures from Uppåkra are made on dies or patrices with an unusually high relief, a trait which sets them apart from many figures from other localities. The figure fnr 2053 (Fig. 11, bottom right), shows that the gold foil slipped sideways across the patrix during the manufacturing process, leaving a double imprint on the lower half of the figure. Other examples of double pressing have been recorded from Sorte Muld, Svintuna (Bodaviken) and Helgö (Watt forthcoming; Lamm 2004:113). Another figure (Fig. 5a) is embossed on thin gold foil with a fine honeycomb pattern of the type normally used as underlay in garnet jewellery. Even this peculiarity has a parallel on Sorte Muld. So far none of the figures from Uppåkra have been analysed for gold content, but the colour as well as the lustre suggest that the majority are made of almost pure gold or at 170 MARGRETHE WATT least from an alloy with a high gold content. A small number are speckled with brownish stains, probably caused by the break down of the silver or copper components in the alloy. A similar spread in gold quality has been documented for other Swedish gold foils (Lamm 2004:115 p). Description of the fi gures The figures were all studied under the microscope, and although in most cases they are only shown from the front, the descriptions are based on information gleaned from both the front and back. The distinction between front and back is clearly demonstrated by one of the figures from Uppåkra where the excess gold foil, instead of being cut away, has been folded round to the back side (Figs. 17a b). Several other figures from both Sorte Muld, Bornholm and Bolmsö, Småland, have (or have had) a backing and suspension loop of gold or bronze covering the back or patrix-side of the figure (Lamm 2004; Watt forthcoming). As far as possible the figures are grouped according to sex and general motif: single figures (male, female (including one patrix), figures of uncertain sex) and pairs (male and female together). Within these groups the figures are arranged to allow for easy comparison of common features: dress, gesture, attributes etc. The cut-out figures are described as a group at the end. The figure foils and the two dies (patrices) found in have been published earlier (Watt 1999a) and are not described in this article, but are included in the discussion. Two complete dies found in 2003 are described in the sections Single male figures and Single female figures. A further fragment of a die, presumably representing the upper arch-shaped portion, is too worn to allow even a guess as to the motif (Hårdh 2003:Fig. 10). Single male fi gures (Figs. 3 18) One of the finest gold-foil figures from Uppåkra is also the only known specimen from this die (Fig. 3a). It shows a man embossed on relatively thick rectangular gold sheet with a high lustre. The figure is depicted with the head and feet in profile and the body shown en face. The facial features are clear with a large bulging eye, a V-shaped mouth and narrow strands of hair flowing down over the shoulder. The right hand holds a short pointed sword. The grip and triangular sword pommel seems attached to a narrow band ending in what looks like a loop behind the figure. The asymmetric sword blade suggests that the sword (drawn from its sheath?) may be a single edged seax. The left arm is bent upwards in front of the figure. Although the hand is largely hidden and some of the details obliterated in connection with the attachment of the narrow gold collar at shoulder level, the marks of the die on the back suggest that the fingers are pointing upwards with the thumb close to or below the chin. Several similar figures from Sorte Muld are seen to hold a beaker in the raised hand, but a careful examination of the back reveals no trace of this attribute. The meaning of the gesture is discussed below (see Gesture and posture ). The figure is dressed in a long caftan with a fine overall pattern and trimmed with broad ribbed borders and cuffs. Stylistically the details of this caftan are almost identical to those depicted on one of the plates from the Sutton Hoo helmet (Fig. 3d). A neck ring in the shape of a slightly irregular gold strip is placed across the neck and shoulder region 171 a b c d Fig. 3. a b: Caftan-clad figure (fnr 6360, front (a) and back (b)); c: Sword-carrying gold foil figure from Sorte Muld (die 185). Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM; drawing: E. Koch (scale 4:1); d: Caftan-clad figure from a helmet plate from Sutton Hoo (after Bruce-Mitford 1978). 172 MARGRETHE WATT a b c Fig. 4. The slightly damaged figure fnr 6407 (b) from Uppåkra is die-identical with Sorte Muld 3 (a). The figure fnr 6332 (c), surrounded by an arch-shaped frame, is unique to Uppåkra. Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM; drawing: E. Koch (4:1). and the ends folded round onto the back in the same manner as on fig. 14a. The figure is similar to the slightly fragmented Sorte Muld 185, which is the only other figure foil holding a single edged sword (Fig. 3c). The somewhat buckled, incomplete piece fig. 4b shows a male figure in semi-profile (the feet are missing), surrounded by a beaded rectangular frame. The figure, which is die-identical with Sorte Muld 3 (Fig. 4a), is dressed in a long caftan trimmed with broad zigzag bands along the edges. The ring-like cuffs suggest that the caftan had long sleeves. In his right hand the figure holds a long narrow staff, while the left hand is placed in front of the abdomen. The die Sorte Muld 3 represents what is considered to be the primary figure in a diechain (see below: Die-copying and die-families ). Like all fourteen die-identical specimens from Sorte Muld the single representative from Uppåkra is made of fine gold alloy. Fig. 4c shows a figure standing in profile, surrounded by a beaded arch-shaped frame. A smooth rim seen outside the beaded frame marks the edge of the likewise arch-shaped die. The head is disproportionately large with a big round eye. The nose and strands of hair at the back form a continuous band across the top of the head. The left arm is bent in a sharp angle and the hand is shown holding a narrow shoulder-length staff. The figure is dressed in a medium length plain garment (tunic). The figure is so far unique to Uppåkra, but is iconographically and stylistically related to some common figure-types from Sorte Muld. Fig. 5a and the large fragments figs. 5b c represent two different but very similar dies. Although a close study of the die markings shows that both dies are unique to Uppåkra, they clearly belong to an extended family of interdependent dies well represented at Sorte Muld (Figs. 5d f) (Watt forthcoming). The figures within this family are all shown standing in semi-profile facing the right. They are dressed in long caftans trimmed with a wide striped border. Well preserved figures are seen holding a club-like staff in one hand and lifting a cup or beaker in the other. 173 a b c d e f Fig. 5. Uppåkra fnr 2058 (a) and two die-identical fragments 6353 (b) and 6356 (c) are all closely related to a large family of figures including the dies 178, 179 and 339 from Sorte Muld (d f). Note the colour difference reflecting the quality of the gold alloy and also the original honeycomb pattern of the foil used for fnr 2058 (a). Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM (4:1). Drawings: E. Koch (d e), M. Watt (f) (4:1). Fig. 5a (fnr 2058) is made of high quality gold foil with traces of a honeycomb pattern which was probably smoothed out during the embossing process. The other two figures are made of a much paler and more brittle goldsilver alloy. Fig. 6a shows a 2.4 cm high arch-shaped bronze patrix, found by metal detector reconnaissance in The surface is strongly corroded and covered by a brownish-black coating blurring the details of the motif. The male figure is shown in semi profile, dressed in a long 174 MARGRETHE WATT a Fig. 6. The bronze patrices from Uppåkra (fnr 38435) (a) and Smørenge, Bornholm (b) belong to the same extended family as the gold foils on fig. 5. Although both patrices are corroded, they appear to differ only in details of the hair and the pattern of the dress border. Photo: B. Almgren (a), Bornholms Museum (b) (4:1). b caftan with a broad border, holding a short thick staff or club in his right hand and lifting a cup or beaker(?) in his left. The figure type bears a close resemblance not just to the gold foils in fig. 5 but also to an almost identical patrix, found recently on the extensive settlement site at Smørenge, Bornholm (Fig. 6b). No gold foils have been identified as products of the Uppåkra-patrix, while a somewhat crumpled gold foil from Sorte Muld and a fragment from a settlement site at Møllegård, Bornholm, both appear to match the Smørenge-patrix (Watt 1992:Taf. XIX). The 15 figures shown in fig. 7 comprise the largest number of die-identical figures from Uppåkra. Most of them are complete, and nearly all appear to be made from the same pale gold-silver alloy. The somewhat coarse figure is shown in profile facing right. The head is disproportionately large with a small eye, pointed nose, large V-shaped (open?) mouth and a few strands of shoulder-length hair at the back. The horizontal arm holding a long staff divides the head from the rest of the short body and slightly bent legs. There is no indication of whether the figure is dressed. All the pieces made with this die are finished off in the same manner by any excess gold foil being cut away in a broad arch around the head. Although the figures from this particular die are so far only represented at Uppåkra, 175 Fig. 7. The largest number of die-identical figures from Uppåkra is 15 (fnr 4141, , 4186, 6322, 6408, 6415, 6417, 6421 and (fnr 6322 not shown)). Nearly all the figures are made from the same debased gold. Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM (2:1). stylistically they match a large group of simple staff-carrying figures from Sorte Muld (Watt forthcoming). The small gold foils shown as figs. 8b d belong to a group of simple staff-carrying figures common at Sorte Muld. All three have long hair and are dressed in knee-length tunics framed by a plain border. The smallest of the figures (Fig. 8b), which has been found in three die-identical copies at Uppåkra (only one shown), seems to match Sorte Muld 89 (Fig. 8a). Fig. 8c is unique to Uppåkra and exists in two pieces, which appear to be made from slightly different alloys (only one shown). The long club-like staff carried by this figure seems considerably wider at the base than at the top end. The slightly damaged figure (8d) is very similar to the other two and also unique to Uppåkra. The six die-identical pieces fig. 9 depict a male person standing in a frontal posture, but with the feet and upturned head shown in profile. The figure holds a long staff obliquely in front of the body. A horizontal line below the hands indicates that the figure wears a knee-length garment. The figures are die-identical to a further eight figures from Sorte Muld (die 47), which belong to a family of interdependent dies otherwise restricted to Bornholm (Fig. 9 left). The Uppåkra figures like those from Sorte Muld all appear to be made of goodquality gold foil, though with slight variations in colour. The excess gold foil is neatly cut away along or slightly inside the edge of the arch-shaped die. The similarity in gold quality, as well as the sharpness of detail and general finish, suggest that the die-identical figures from both Uppåkra and Sorte Muld may belong to the same batch, made while the die was still fresh. One of the finest gold foils from Uppåkra, fnr 6339, depicts a male figure standing en 176 MARGRETHE WATT a b c d Fig. 8. The figure Uppåkra fnr 6188 (b) seems to be die-identical with Sorte Muld 89 (a). Fnr 3426 (c) and 3883 (d) belong to the same stylistic group. Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM; drawing: E. Koch (4:1). Fig. 9. The six figures fnr 3838, 3882, 4140, 6325, 6326 and 6330 (photographs) are all made with the same die as Sorte Muld 47. The middle figure in the bottom row is photographed from the back. The figures on the left show two other members of the same die-family: Sorte Muld 50 (top) and 49 (bottom). Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM; drawings: E. Koch (4:1). 177 a b c d e f g h Fig. 10. The caftan-clad figures from Uppåkra with a staff or sceptre attribute, fnr 6339 (a) and 3425 (b), belong to the same die-family as five figures from Sorte Muld (c, e h). The figure fnr 4144 (d) is closely related to the group of die-identical figures shown on fig. 11. Photo: B. Almgren, LUHM; drawings: E. Koch (4:1). face, but with the feet turned sideways (Fig. 10a). The bald head is excessively large with clear facial features but no hair. The figure holds a long sturdy staff in one hand while the other arm hangs down along the side of the body. The figure is dressed in a mediumlength caftan with ribbed borders and a belt around the waist. The figur
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