Skip to comments.Viking treasure hoard yields astounding finds
Posted on 06/28/2002 5:47:42 PM PDT by vannrox
It had been lying there for about 1,100 years.
The Spillings hoard, described by archaeologists as a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, includes 14,295 silver coins, 486 silver armlets, and dozens of other artefacts, weighing a total of 85 kilograms.
"It was totally crazy," said Bjorn Engstrom, the farmer who owns the land. "I was there for five days when they dug up the treasure. I didn't leave the field," he told reporters.
"The first night we camped there in a tent so nobody could come and take it."
Engstrom, 42, whose family has owned the land since only 1966, was not able to keep any of the silver himself.
Dragons and the law
Buried treasure was believed to be guarded by dragons in the days of old, but nowadays Sweden's law on historical monuments sets strict penalties for anyone searching for treasure with metal detectors, or failing to report any buried gold, silver or copper to the police or local museums.
Anyone discovering and dutifully reporting treasure gets a reward in line with the value of the find. Engstrom is still waiting for his, as archaeologists have studied only a fraction of the Spillings hoard, named after his farm.
The complete hoard, including some bronze relics also discovered at the same site, will be on show in Stockholm's Museum of National Antiquities until September 1 before returning to Gotland.
Archaeologists believe the treasure was buried in about AD 870.
The site appears to have been a farm even then, said Majvor Ostergren, project leader at the County Museum of Gotland.
"But this treasure is too big to be on a traditional farm," she told reporters. "People there must have been something special."
The site's proximity to one of Gotland's main natural harbours, may be one clue.
Traders and raiders
As well as their fearsome reputation for plunder, the Vikings were also great traders.
They penetrated to Constantinople, now Istanbul, but then the capital of the Byzantine empire and one of the world's richest cities, providing soldiers for the emperor and trading with the Greek merchants.
The extent of their trading links was revealed in 1954 on the little island of Helgo near Stockholm, where a sixth century Buddha from northern India was found in a Viking site.
Although Gotland had few resources of its own, its position in the middle of the Baltic between Sweden and Latvia made it an ideal base for trade. The Vikings could bring in furs and amber from Scandinavia and the Baltic coast, and ship them along rivers into Germany or down to Constantinople.
That explains why of the 1,400 coins from the hoard that have been examined so far, four are Nordic, one from Byzantium, 23 are Persian, and the rest are Islamic.
In the ninth century, the silver money of the Arabs was the most common coinage in Scandinavia. The first Swedish coins were not struck until about AD 995.
The earliest coin in the hoard dates from AD 539 and is Persian, before the Islamic conquest. The latest is from AD 870.
Coins of the khazars
One of the most important coins in the hoard, dating from AD 830 to 840, sheds light on a place far away: Its markings show its provenance is the kingdom of the Khazars, a realm in southern Russia between the Black and Caspian seas.
Its Arabic inscription reads ''Moses is the messenger of God" - apparently a Jewish variant on the Islamic credo "Mohammed is the messenger of God."
Only four other coins are known to have this inscription.
The Khazars were believed to have converted to Judaism - possibly the only nation to do so - after their ruler invited Christian, Islamic and Jewish theologians to demonstrate the merits of their different faiths to his court.
Although many written sources describe the Khazars as Jews, few objects have been found in excavations in Russia to confirm these reports. The Khazar coin is thus important evidence.
But for visitors to the exhibition who are neither numismatists nor historians, the most fascinating exhibits are the hundreds of silver armlets.
The armlets are linked in bunches, indicating that they were used as money with a set weight, rather than jewellery.
Agencies via Xinhua
Wi not trei a holiday in Sweden this yer?
See the loveli lakes ...
Islamic coin, eh?
the Swedish government has already confiscated the treasure that was found on the farmer's property! To my way of thinking the government STOLE the treasure from its rightful owner. Damn socialists.
Lice? First time I ever heard of crops getting lice.
Very cool find indeed. We seem to be getting a lot of very cool finds lately.
This policy of confiscation may hurt historical research. If I could keep everything found on my property I would have no problem loaning it to museums or historians. If I were in this farmer's place with those laws, I would have hid it and slowly auctioned it off on ebay.
Why make it illegal to search with metal detectors? Sounds like a stupid socialist regulation to stiffle individual initiative.
>They are saying "Jews", I am thinking Israel instead. Perhaps tribe of Dan?
Good Morning Blam.
Anything "in southern Russia between the Black and Caspian seas" is fodder for discussion about The Lost Tribes of Israel. They were certainly there by the Millions after they escaped the Assyrian Captivity ~600 BC.
However there's not a lot of evidence to suggest they stayed around to see how it was all going to play out. These 6+ MILLION people, now known as The CELTS, moved out quickly in waves to the West and Northwest, to become the Europeans and Americans of today.
This Viking article talks about 830 AD, so I think any members or relatives of the original Tribe of Dan (or any other tribe) were long gone, long before. But since the Vikings (especially Swedish Vikings) are known to have come to this region during their explorations and trading with the Mediterranean area, it is quite possible some of the Lost Tribe Israelites (not Jewish) returned.
Some people believe all Scandinavians came from the Tribe of Dan (as in Danmark and many other good examples based on Dan). But there are also other good theories as to which of the Tribes spawned which Europeans.
I guess it WAS before the "Islamic conquest", since 539 AD is over a hundred years before Islam....
Otherewise, great article. I LOVE these archeological treasure finds.