Viksø re-investigated

An interdisciplinary biography of the Viksø helmets.

A project financed by the Ministry of Culture Denmark FORMW.2022-0039 and executed at Moesgaard Museum 09/2022-06/2025.

The Viksø helmets, found in 1942 in Brøns Mose near Viksø, have inspired writers and artists over decades in creating images of past warriors with horned helmets.

As a goldsmith, I was 2018 able to have a first look at the helmets and, as part of an investigation into the origins of Bronze Age metallurgy. Here new organic- and metal samples were obtained and questions arose related to the technical and material origin of the helmets and their network relations.

Project aims

… to create a complete artefact bio-graphy, including:
• A thorough craft-technical investigation of the helmets from a biographical perspective, answering questions regarding origin, import, transformation, and lifespan.
• An examination of the organic remains, from the inside of the helmet horns, to shed light on the questions of additional adornment.
• A comparison of the AMS radio-carbon dates with European Bronze Age armour to allow a well-founded classification of the find in the LBA material culture.
• A comparative provenance inves-tigation of the helmet’s metal to identify or exclude local manufacture (by comparison with contemporary cast debris) and define related net-works.

Questions…
The project aims are related to open questions concerning the appearance of the slightly twisted horns, as asked in 1943 if it is “conceivable that the horns were made in this country and fitted with foreign helmets?” Also, assumptions concerning the crafting were made, by non-craftspeople, and they resulted in severe critique.

Publications

2021 –VANDKILDE, H., MATTA, V., AHLQVIST, L. & NØRGAARD, H. W. 2021. Anthropomorphised warlike beings with horned helmets: Bronze Age Scandinavia, Sardinia, and Iberia compared. Prähistorische Zeitschrift, aop, 1-29.

Background

In 1942, turf workers found two helmets in Brøns Mose near Viksø in north-eastern Zealand. A subsequent rescue excavation, supported by workers’ willingness to return memorabilia to the museum, enabled the nearly complete reconstruction of two large horned metal helmets likely placed on a wooden tray.

Technologically, the Viksø helmets are two-sheet helmets with the closest relatives in the small crested cap hel-mets that appeared from 1200 to 1100 BC in West and Central Europe, as this type combines a rounded helmet structure and top crest as seen at Viksø. The crest is attached through rivets and extends towards the sides. A beak-like extension is added at the front accompanied by attached eyebrows and large round eyes. Protruding humps cover the helm sheets, and round fittings holding a hol-low bronze horn sit on each side. Norling-Christensen’s initial description, the helmets are “provided with horns, and other strange things”, highlights the artefacts’ uniqueness. Only one comparable item, the bronze horn from Grevinge, Zealand, is known today.

 32 cm long horn from Grevinge, Odsherred, Denmark ©Heide Nørgaard
@National Museum Denmark MS, archive drawings of the helmets

Despite their uniqueness, the helmet’s decorative style reveals parallels to the Central and East European Urnfield culture. Both the S-shaped hump decoration and the beak-like terminus of the helmet crest are frequent decor-ative elements in the Scandinavian LBA. Similarities to some technical features seen in Italian and French crest helmets were in one of the first comparative ex-aminations of the helmets identified by Henrik Thrane, like eyebrows on the piece from Corneto, Italy, or attached oval tubes at ear height on helmets from Bernières-d’Ailly. However, none of these helmets are fully comparable with Viksø. They are, as Marianne Mödlinger states, not within the technological tradition of the “western European helmets with crest and bivalve cap, nor with the eastern European cap helmets“. Their closest relatives are found in figurative art. In the 2nd millennium BC, bronze figures and rock art illustrations across Europe and the Mediterranean depict horned helmets on humans.

Horned helmets on Sardinian figurines. Picture ©Heide Nørgaard

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