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Gold collars: The power of beasts

Dr. Alexandra Pesch

Goldhalskragen Färjestaden, AusschnittThe three Swedish gold collars found at Ålleberg, Färjestaden and Möne bear rows and rows of golden animals, mythical creatures and human figures. Every single figure has been meticulously engraved in sheet gold and elaborately covered with small spheres in filigree work. But what did these images signify to their makers in the 5th century AD? What specific intent was associated with them? Within which religious, social or political contexts can they be deciphered? And what role is played by the beings depicted in the development of the Germanic animal style between the receipt of Roman models and the creation of their own imagery?

Goldhalskragen Alleberg

The three gold collars were found back in the 19th century. They are among the most valuable and highest quality products of Early Medieval metalworking in Europe. Their complicated construction, their fine filigree ornamentation and, most of all, their applied animal and human figures, fascinate the observer and prompt scientific preoccupation with the objects. However, although the gold collars have been a focal point of archaeological and religio-historical research for more than 150 years, and prestigious researchers such as Johannes Brøndsted, Wilhelm Holmquist, Karl Hauck and Jan Peder Lamm have dedicated numerous investigations and publications to them, there are still several completely unanswered questions concerning their manufacture, the society which employed them as well as their iconographic programme. Similarly, no consensus has been reached regarding the function and significance of these enigmatic objects, nor have they been made available to science and the public in a publication which corresponds to their complexity.

Goldhalskragen Bearbeitung

But now, new information obtained through examination and the production of casts of the three gold collars at the Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseum in Mainz provides a basis for the presentation of these objects in a comprehensive and interdisciplinary work, comprising text, catalogue and illustrations (photographs and detailed drawings), which is planned for 2010-13. In a joint project involving the RGZM (Maiken Fecht, Dieter Quast) and the ZBSA in Schleswig, in addition to collaboration with Jan Peder Lamm (Stockholm), new discoveries and insights into the imagery of the Migration period of Northern Germania will be presented and attempts to the deciphering of the gold collars within the context of their own time will be achieved.

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