Two ancient helmets that were found in Denmark were believed to have belonged to the Vikings, but new analysis has revealed that they are much older and instead came from a different group of people.
The pair of bronze helmets, which had curved bull-like horns, as well as “eyes”, and “beaks”, were initially discovered back in 1942 when a worker unearthed them in a bog close to the town of Viksø (it is also spelled Veksø), Denmark. Some archaeologists had theorized that the helmets dated back to the Nordic Bronze Age (around 1750 BC to 500 BC), but a new study that involved radiocarbon dating of birch tar found on one of the horns has revealed a more precise date.
The researchers concluded that the helmets date back to approximately 900 BC. This means that they were from numerous centuries prior to the region being dominated by the Vikings. “For many years in popular culture, people associated the Viksø helmets with the Vikings,” stated Helle Vandkilde who is an archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, adding, “But actually, it's nonsense. The horned theme is from the Bronze Age and is traceable back to the ancient Near East.”
When one of Vandkilde’s colleagues was preparing to take pictures of the helmets in 2019 at the National Museum of Denmark, she noticed the birch tar on one of the horns which was then radiocarbon dated. Additionally, a wooden slab was found in the bog which indicated that the helmets were placed there on purpose.
In addition to the horns, the helmets contained symbols that appeared to depict the eyes and beak of a preying bird. The birch tar may have been used to attach plumage to the ends of the horns. A mane of horsehair might have also been attached to the helmets. It is believed that the bird symbols and the horns were added to the helmets as sun symbols.
As for what the helmets were used for, they were surprisingly no signs indicating that they were for war. In fact, those who were involved in Bronze Age Scandinavian battles normally wore either basic helmets or none at all. It is believed that they were instead worn by people in power.
“There are many signs of this, and our new dating of the Viksø helmets actually suits this very well — this picture of centralization and the importance of political leadership,” Vandkilde explained, “And those leaders must have used religious beliefs and innovative traits, like the horns, to further their power.” Pictures of the helmets can be seen here.
The study was published in the journal Praehistorische Zeitschrift where it can be read in full.