Gold Foil Amulets (gullgubber)
The so-called “gullgubber” are made of tiny, thin sheets of gold. As a rule, they are no more than 1 to 2 square centimetres in size and have motifs in relief.
These gold foil amulets are traces of Scandinavian traditions associated with chieftain’s halls and centres of power. They date back to the end of the Age of Migration, the Merovingian Period and the early Viking Age. All of the five gold foil amulets found at Borg were located in the northern corner of the hall.
Most of the other high status finds were also made in this same area. The chieftain’s throne was probably located there and this was probably the site for feasts and rites. The biggest of the gold foil amulets was found in 1983, at the top of the northernmost pillar socket in the mead hall. The smallest one turned up during the screening of ploughed soil outside the northern wall of the mead hall. Two others were found beneath a stone lower down in the same pillar socket.
The last one was found in the near vicinity of the pillar socket. All of these gold foil amulets date back to the final stage of the Chieftain’s House. The three gold foil amulets not found at the exhibition are in storage at Tromsø Museum. What was the meaning of these gold foil amulets? Why were they buried where the supporting pillars of the Chieftain’s House stood? We do not know with any degree of certainty. We assume that they were buried in connection with rituals marking the high status of the dynasty.
Perhaps as some kind of symbolic “foundation stone” when the house was built? Possibly the amulets were part of a fertility rite, or the ceremony when a new chieftain was inaugurated? Maybe the gold foil amulets indicate the mystical and divine origins of the chieftain’s dynasty. The gold foil amulets found at Borg display two figures facing each other and embracing.
A common interpretation of the amulets’ motif is that it symbolises the holy wedding between the Vanir god Frey and the Jotun woman Gerd. From historical sources we know that the Yngling dynasty considered this couple as their origins. The Háleygjatal, the myth of the origins of the mighty earls of Trøndelag, tells us that this dynasty originated in Northern Norway. They were descendants of the god Odin and the Jotun woman Skade.
We believe that the chieftain’s lineage at Borg was linked to the Håløyg earls who settled at Lade, and thus that it is probably Odin and Skade who are depicted in the gold foil amulets. The Jotun woman on the amulets was probably a personification of the land that the chieftain acquired from the holy wedding.
The gold foil amulets may have been a reminder to the people about the mystical origins of the chieftain’s dynasty, justifying his right to the land and to be the Chieftain. We know of about 3000 gold foil amulets found at about 30 different sites in Scandinavia. None have been found outside of Scandinavia. At Sorte Muld on the island of Bornholm, 2350 were found, indicating that Sorte Muld may have been a place where they were manufactured.
Only a relatively small number have so far been found in Norway. Here, we know them from places like Klepp in the Jæren region, Mære in Trøndelag and Borg in Lofoten. The most recent gold foil amulet find in Norway is from Oppland, where 29 of them were found in a hall which was probably also a place of worship.