COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Scandinavian scientists said Wednesday they had discovered the oldest known inscription referring to the Norse god Odin on part of a gold disc found in western Denmark in 2020.
Lisbeth Imer, a runologist at the National Museum in Copenhagen, said the inscription represents the first solid evidence of Odin being worshiped as early as the 5th century, or at least 150 years earlier than previous oldest known reference – to a brooch found in the southern part. Germany and dated to the second half of the 6th century.
The disc discovered in Denmark was part of a trove containing about one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of gold, including large saucer-sized medallions and Roman coins made into jewelry. It was excavated in the village of Vindelev, central Jutland, and is called the Vindelev Hoard.
Experts believe that the cache was buried 1,500 years ago, to hide it from enemies or as a tribute to appease the gods. A gold bracteate, a type of thin, ornamental pendant, with an inscription that reads, “He is the man of Odin,” probably referring to an unknown king or overlord.
“This is one of the best executed runic inscriptions I’ve ever seen,” Imer said. Runes are symbols used by early tribes in northern Europe to communicate in writing.
Odin is one of the main gods of Norse mythology and is often associated with war as well as poetry.
More than 1,000 bracteates have been found in northern Europe, according to the National Museum in Copenhagen, where the trove discovered in 2020 is on display.
Krister Vasshus, an ancient language specialist, said that because runic inscriptions are rare, “every runic inscription (is) important to how we understand the past.”
“If an inscription of this length is found, that in itself is remarkable,” Vasshus said. “It gives us some interesting information about the religion of the past, which also tells us something about the society of the past.”
During the Viking Age, considered to be from 793 to 1066, Norsemen known as Vikings carried out large-scale raids, colonization, conquest and trade throughout Europe. They also reached North America.
The Norsemen worshiped many gods and each of them had different characteristics, weaknesses and traits. Based on the sagas and some rune stones, details emerged that the gods had many human characteristics and could act like humans.
“That kind of mythology might even lead us to re-examine all the other 200 bracteate inscriptions we know,” Imer said.