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New study about the Viksø helmets

A team of researchers from Aarhus University and Moesgaard Museum in Denmark have, based on new radiocarbon dating’s from the famous Viksø helmets from Zealand, Denmark, investigated the phenomenon of horned helmet warriors in Late Bronze Age Europe

Horned-helmet imagery continues to raise questions about what is local and what is global in Bronze Age Europe. The only extant horned metal helmets are those from Viksø, Denmark which recently could be AMS dated to 1006–857 BC (with 95,4 % probability) and 976–907 BC (with 68.2 % probability) placing them at the end of NBA IV – or, more precisely, within the transition period to NBA V. The Viksø helmets are not entirely unique, however. Similar imagery is portrayed, on differing media and on differing scales, in three major zones: a southern zone in Sardinia and adjoining parts of Corsica, a middle zone in southwestern Iberia, and a northern zone in southern Scandinavia.

Questions addressed in the article are:

  • How similar is the imagery found on Sardinia, in southwestern Iberia and southern Scandinavia in material appearance, medium of representation, and sociocultural setting?
  • Does it occur at the same point in time?
  • Does it spring from or transmit a shared idea?

Analysis reveals intriguing patterns of similarity and difference between the three zones of horned-helmet imagery 1000–750 BC.

The results point to actors and processes at the local level while also pinpointing interconnections. Across all three contexts, horns signify the potency of the helmet wearer, the quintessential warrior. Horns visualise a defined group of bellicose beings whose significance stems from commemorative and mortuary rites, sites, and beliefs – in conjunction with political processes.

We suggest that the eye-catching imagery of very particular males wearing horned insignia relates on the one hand to local control of metals and on the other to the transfer of novel beliefs and cults involving embodied gigantisation. It is characteristic that the horned figure is adapted into some settings, but only sparingly or not at all in others.

This imagery has a complex history, with Levantine roots in the LBA Mediterranean. The Scandinavian addendum to the network coincides with the metal-led Phoenician expansion and consolidation in the west from c. 1000 BC. Metallurgical and archaeological evidence has shown a flourishing transalpine trading route and the here presented interconnections highlight and independent Mediterranean–Atlantic sea route.

Statement from Helle Vandkilde, professor at Aarhus University

Popular culture has long associated the twin horned helmets from Viksø in Denmark as a Viking Age brand.  The new C14 date - made on organic material hidden deep in one of the horns -  proves without doubt the helmets to be Bronze Age, some 2000 thousand years before the Viking era. Our study shows that Scandinavian depictions of horned warriors occur at the same time as very similar images in Sardinia and southwest Spain. This testifies to the tight connections between the great civilisations of Bronze Age Europe; the first globalisation based on long-distance trade in metals, ideas and luxuries. The horned warriors in Scandinavia, Sardinia and Spain all associate with new political regimes backed by control of metals and new religious beliefs.
- Helle Vandkilde, archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark. 

Press photos

Contacts

Helle Vandkilde
Professor (interview in Danish and English)
School of Culture and Society - Department of Archeology and Heritage Studies
Lead author
Mobil: +45 21727240
Mail: farkhv@cas.au.dk

Heide Wrobel Nørgaard
Lektor (interview in German)
Moesgaard Museum
Mobil: +4521315323
Mail: farkhw@cas.au.dk

Valentina Matta
Ph.d, Aarhus Universitet
Mail: valentina.matta@cas.au.dk

Laura Ahlqvist
M.A. Aarhus Universitet
Mail: laura.ahlqvist@cas.au.dk