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Book Release November 2019: Gold foil figures in focus

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 Book Release November 2019: Gold foil figures in focus


Pesch/Helmbrecht (Eds.) 2019:
Alexandra Pesch, Michaela Helmbrecht, Gold foil figures in focus. A Scandinavian find group and related objects and images from ancient and medieval Europe. Papers presented at an international and interdisciplinary workshop organized by the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA) Schleswig, October 23rd to 25th, 2017.
Advanced studies in ancient iconography 1. Schriften des Museums für Archäologie, Ergänzungsreihe 14
(München 2019).
ISSN 2364-4680,
ISBN 978-3-89937-249-6.
€ 68,00.

Nearly four thousand tiny gold foil figures were found at significant archaeological sites in Scandinavia: a fascinating material from the 6th to 8th century AD. They show anthropomorphic figures, both male and female and some with unclear gender, clothed and unclothed, singly or in pairs, very rarely animals. Some are elaborately designed, others are roughly cut. Despite abundant research during the past decades, the function and meaning of the tiny foils is in many respects still an enigma. However, their decipherment is of key importance for the understanding of the northern European cultures of their time. This book contains state-of-the-art contributions from scholars in multiple fields of research, elucidating several different perspectives on these intriguing archaeological objects and searching for new approaches and new interpretations. In addition, the most important results are summarised in a synthesis.
The appearance of the flimsy gold foil figures, as beautiful as they may be, is the result of a terrible climate catastrophe in the first half of the 6th century AD. This led to crop failures, famine, distribution struggles and wars in northern Europe. In consequence, a decidedly martial society was established. However, also pictorial representations were created, e.g. decorative panels on helmets and other weapons, which apparently depict the warriors themselves in highly stylized form. The gold foil figures, on the other hand, show the very same people, but now worshipping the gods or conducting religious rituals: apparently another major reaction to the climate crisis. It became clear that many ancient features of Germanic art and especially from the Migration period animal styles have been transformed and further developed into the stylistic features of the Vendel era. Thus, the pictorial representations are also evidence of cultural survival and social reorganisation. Nevertheless, impulses from outside were integrated, too: last not least, unlike in the epochs before, images of women were among the frequent representations.
The volume is an important intermediate result of the long-duration ZBSA research project "Gold foil figures in focus". The mostly anglophone book is about 450 pages, all in colour, and it bundles the contributions of a workshop which took place in October 2017 in Schleswig. The individual contributions of the book were written by outstanding scholars from seven countries and several different fields of research. Authors are – in alphabetical order– Jennifer M. Bagley, Charlotte Behr, Svante Fischer, Manuel Flecker, Axel Chr. Gampp, Michaela Helmbrecht, E. Siv Kristoffersen, Bente Magnus, Sonja Marzinzik, Kyrylo Myzgin, Sigmund Oehrl, Alexandra Pesch, Yvonne Petrina, Olof Sundqvist, Egon Wamers, Margrethe Watt and Torun Zachrisson. They all consider the tiny gold foils with their figurative representations each from the own area of expertise, bringing together the facts known so far, and contributing new, intriguing insights.

> Table of contents and the summarizing chapter

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