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The bronze bucks from Hadeland

In 1924 ̶ 1925, a large ritual deposit – a metal hoard – was ploughed up on the farm of Vestby in Hadeland. Since 2000, this event has been the subject of the open-air play “The Bronze Bucks”, in which Ragna, the girl who found the spectacular objects, plays the main role. A play could equally well be written about the life history of the two strange bronze figurines buried there in the sixth century BCE together with some very unusual pieces of jewellery.

Bronze bucks from Vestby, Lunner K., Oppland. Photo: Ørnulf Hjort Sørensen.

The two animal figurines have a fascinating history. When they were made as an offering at Vestby, they were at least 200 years old, and had already journeyed far. Not only have they crossed the Skagerrak, they have also crossed the boundary between two archaeological periods: the Bronze Age (lenke) and the Iron Age (lenke). Moreover, considered as animals, they are hybrids – a mix of two species.

X-ray photographs show that the heads have a socket in the neck end. They were only equipped with bodies at a later date, with the help of small iron pins. A Danish find of similar heads from Fårdal on Jutland provides the explanation. They are horse heads with horns. The Vestby horse heads have originally, like the Fårdal figurines been fastened to an object. Perhaps they have been placed in the stem of a miniature ship of the kind often depicted in rock carvings.

X-ray photograph showing how the socket of the head is cast inside the body. Photo: Museum of Cultural History.

In all likelihood it is the mythological Bronze Age sun-horse that appears here in two versions – a stallion and a mare. Other finds from Hadeland show that this pan-Scandinavian sun myth was rooted in the local community. It is approximately a 15-minute walk to Velo Vestre from Vestby. In a burial cairn on this farm, a pair of tweezers and a razor were found. The motif illustrating a ship, a sun and a fish on the razor was central to Flemming Kaul’s interpretation of the Bronze Age sun myth in his book, “Ships on Bronzes” from 2009.

When bodies were mounted on the Vestby heads using the technique of lost-wax casting, the horses were transformed into what has been conceived of as two bucks, but which are rather one male and one female of some hybrid species, perhaps intended to look like goats or deer. The smith who did this not only mastered advanced casting techniques and iron technology, he must also have been very familiar with the sun-horse myth and aware of the original meaning of the figurines. The original duality of the symbols has been maintained by shaping the animal bodies as male and female.

The Fårdal find dates to the period 900–700 BCE and in all likelihood the Vestby horse heads go back to this era too. Thus, they were probably in circulation for several generations before being transformed into bucks and buried in the ground on the top of a slope at Hadeland. Here they lay for almost 2000 years before ending up as museum exhibits.

The jewellery - worthy of a goddess

In addition to the unique animal figurines, the ritual deposit included an exquisite necklace with 353 tin-plated bronze beads, an uncommon pin, three more ordinary – but exceptionally large – neck rings with ship ornaments and a finger ring, now lost.

When Anathon Bjørn described the find in 1929, he believed that the objects had been offered as a votive gift to a pan-European goddess, whose chief attribute was a neck ring and a wagon. Traces of this goddess can be found in a wide range of Scandinavian Bronze Age finds, and she is described as the forerunner of the Iron Age goddess, Nerthus.


Gallery

Gallery

References

Bjørn, Anathon (1929): Vestbyfundet. Et yngre bronsealders votivfund fra Hadeland. Universitetets Oldsaksamlings Skrifter II: 35–73.

Hagen, Anders (1954): Europeiske impulser i østnorsk bronsealder. Viking XVIII: 97–125.

Kaul, Flemming (1998): Ships on Bronzes. A Study in Bronze Age Religion and Iconography. Publications from the National Museum Studies in Archaeology & History 3. København.

Melheim, Lene og Julie Lund (2011): Heads and tails – minds and bodies. Reconsidering the Late Bronze Age Vestby hoard in light of symbolist and body perspectives. European Journal of Archaeology 14 (3): 441-464.

Rosenqvist, Anna M. (1954): Studier av bronseteknikken i Vestbyfunnet [med engelsk resumé]. Viking XVIII: 125-155.

Varberg, Jeanette (2005): Resenlund og Brøndumgård bronzedepoter – Kult og samfund i yngre bronzealder. Kuml 2005: 75-119.


By Lene Melheim, Department of Archaeology
Published Oct. 9, 2017 1:00 PM - Last modified Oct. 9, 2017 1:00 PM