A gold locket recently discovered in Denmark bears the oldest known inscription of the Norse god Odin.
archaeologists consider the locket — which is technically known as a bract and is made of thin, stamped gold — dates to the fifth century AD, making it 150 years older than the previous oldest known artifact referencing Norse mythology.
“It is the first time in the history of the world that Odin’s name is mentioned.” Lisbeth Immer (opens in new tab), a runologist and writing expert at the National Museum of Denmark, told Live Science. “This means that Norse mythology can now be dated back to the early fifth century.”
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The inscription, in letters called runes, says, “He is Odin’s man” and the name “Jaga” or “Jagaz” in an early form of the Norse language. It is believed to refer to its owner, an Iron Age chieftain or king who may have claimed the god as an ancestor.
“I think the wording refers to the central motif depicting a man on a horse, depicting the local magnate or king, who is presented as a descendant of the king of gods and god of kings, Odin,” Imer said. “We have other literary evidence that kings liked to present themselves as the offspring of gods.”
Related: 2 Viking swords buried upright may have linked the dead to Odin and Valhalla
Imer and her colleague, a linguist Krister Vasshus (opens in new tab)spent more than a year deciphering the runic inscription on the bract, which was part of an astonishing gold hoard discovered in Jutland, Denmark in 2021. The vault contained nearly 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of gold and is now known as the “Videlev treasure” by a nearby town.
In Norse mythology, Odin was the king of the gods. the god of death, wisdom, magic and runes. and the “All-father” of both gods and mortals. Although the Norse pantheon featured dozens of deities, Odin was one of the three main gods worshiped in Norse religion, along with Thor and Frey.
Odin is often depicted with only one eye, because according to legend, he plucked out his other eye to gain incomparable knowledge. He is also the Norse form of the Germanic god Wotan and the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, although both seem to have had two eyes.
Imer said the runic inscription appeared to be more weathered than the rest of the locket, possibly because it was a sacred inscription that was touched to “gain power”.
“It was a time when religion was more integrated into everyday life,” he said in an email. “The leaders of society were responsible for cultic activities and performing rituals to maintain a good relationship with the gods.”
However, it is difficult to interpret the tiny runes because the words run together without gaps and because the name “Odin” is written as “Wodnas” rather than in the normal form “Wodinas” – possibly because it is written in an early form of Norse that called Proto-Norse, Imer said.
Archaeologists believe that the Scandinavians descended from peoples of northern Germany who migrated to Denmark and other Scandinavian countries from about the fourth to the first century BC. After the eighth century AD, seafarers among themselves became famous as Viking raiders in Europe; they established colonies in parts of Britain, France, Iceland and Greenland for a time. Some The Vikings even reached the Faroe Islands and Newfoundland in what is now Canada.
The Vindelev hoard, however, dates back to the “proto-Viking” era before the Norse were known (and feared) as Vikings.
The discovery of the inscription has already influenced the interpretation of inscriptions on other gold bracts. more than 1,000 have been found in northern Europe and more than 200 of these have inscriptions.
“The inscription on Odin’s bract is actually copied from one of Videlev’s other bracts in a slightly different pattern,” Imer said. “But the engraver who copied the inscription misunderstood the wording, so in many places he just carved some random strokes and lines.”
It also appears that the copied bract was sealed from the same die as another found in 1852 on the Danish island of Funen and given to the National Museum, although its inscription has never been deciphered.
“Well, the National Museum has owned an inscription with the word Odin for 170 years — but we didn’t know about it until recently,” Imer said.