The Åker Belt Buckle – A Prehistoric Mystery

Åkerspenna Hamar

This exact copy of the Åker Belt Buckle is made by goldsmith and designer Truls Grønvold in Ringerike, Eastern Norway. (Photo: Truls Grønvold/ TGDesign.no)

In the period between 1862 and 1912, fifteen items were found on a hill north of the Aker farm near Hamar in Eastern Norway. One of the findings was an extremely beautiful and elaborate belt buckle of gilded silver, bronze, garnets and glass. The most remarkable is that the discovery is dating back to 575 AD, i.e. early Merovingian period, with ornaments showing a compressed comic strip that no one has been able to interpret.

In 1992, it was conducted archaeological investigations in the area and sixty new objects were discovered. In addition to the 11 centimeters (4.33 inches) long belt buckle, there were among other objects found decorated shield fittings, a shield boss and parts of a sword with silver and bronze decorated details.

The objects are of very high quality and must have belonged to one or more persons at the end of the 500’s who held a lot of power and wealth. The Åker Belt Buckle (Norwegian: “Åkerspenna”) is unique in the European context and must have been created by an artist and master of his trade.

The researchers lack knowledge about the Merovingian period that lasted from about 570 AD until the start of the Viking Age in 800 AD, but we know that the Åker farm is one of the oldest in the region. The name comes from the Old Norse “Akr” and tells that the place was a religious center long before the Viking Age.

Compressed Comic Strip

What makes the Åker Belt Buckle exciting is the decoration: The buckle ring is formed by two long, curved bird necks that end up in a raptor’s head with curved beak. The bird’s eyes are filled with red garnets and the curved necks sparkle from red glass inset in a gilded framework.

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Storhouses Aker Farm Hamar Norway

These old storehouses on the Åker farm illustrates the farm’s long history. (Photo: Torstein Frogner/ Wikimedia Commons)

On top of the belt plate it sparkles in a field of red glass, and under it is told a story with images: We see a man wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. He wears a crown, the hair is combed and his mustache is well groomed, but his face shows some days old beard. The man holds his hands against his cheeks and he is surrounded by a bird with curved beak on each side of the head. Below there are two wild boars with sharp tusks.

It is like a prehistoric comic strip, which instead of being divided into a series is compressed down to one picture. The precondition for being able to read and understand the “comic strip” is that we know the story behind – something we do not.

Many Interpretations

The story that forms the background for the Åker Belt Buckle is lost. Was it a petty king or a god? Do the raptors and the wild boars symbolize a won battle or an old legend?

Do we see a battle between two ruling families and their totem animals? The first coat of arms we know from Europe often contain wild boars or raptors.

Could one explanation be that the Åker family, symbolized by four raptors with sharp beaks, has won a victory over another family, here symbolized by two boars – and that the family head is showing signs of surrender – and thus looks beaten and unshaved?

The truth is that we do not know, and may never know the story behind the most beautiful belt buckle ever found in Norway. This unique item clearly shows how little we know about the past and our ancestors.

 

Editor’s note: Part of the Åker discovery is on display at the Museum of Culturl History in Oslo and at the Hedmark Museum.

 

 

Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Sources: Norges Historie/ Bind 1/ J.W. Cappelens Forlag AS 1976, Hedemark Fylkeskommune: Utvalgte tema og verneområder /pdf

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Categories: Culture, History

1 reply

  1. When I saw what they call boars, I first thought they were elephants. Maybe tales of Alexander the Great reached them? 🙂 Could be Odin with his ravens, Hugin and Munin, too. Well, whatever it depicts, it’s an exquisite piece.

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