Vikings in BC – keys (and brooches part 3)

Beautiful key from Sweden

Beautiful key from Sweden

In my last post you might have noticed a key in among the brooches as part of a larger display. While there are brooches in this post, this really is all about the keys from the Vikings in BC display, which came to Victoria, BC from Sweden. I visited the exhibit in summer 2014, but there have been so many things to blog about, that I still haven’t been able to post everything!

This will be another image-heavy post, so watch-out mobile users!

The key above seems to have been suspended using loop-in-loop chain.


This display was entitled “Keys for the Lady of the House”

The display stated:

“Keys are a very common find in Norse graves. Many iron keys show signs of being functional and well-used, but female graves frequently contain unused, bronze keys. Women were in charge of their households and their farms and the keys would have been worn as a sign of their power.

Being responsible for the home instead of having public duties may be seen as a sign of women’s limited power, but the farm was the centre of Scandinavian society and of vital importance.”

The display also included a poem:

“Home the maid went
with hanging keys
and a goatskin kirtle
and was married to Karl”

-from Rigstula verse 23

This display included the following:

  • a bronze key for a barrel padlock from a grave in Gotland
  • a copy of a pendant shaped like a bowler chair made of silver. The original is a grave find from Birka
  • a bronze key from a Gotland grave
  • the ornate bronze key from the top of this post, from Gårdby, Öland, Sweden
  • a copy of a drinking horn, made of horn, decorated with silver-plated openwork rim fittings. The original is a grave find from Birka (SHM 29750:406)
  • a hook key of bronze from Gotland
  • a silver pendant in the shape of a female figure, interpreted as a Valkyrie from Sibble, Södermanland, Sweden
  • a bronze hook key from a grave find in Gotland
Animal-head brooches with a multi-strand necklace of beads, a drop-spindle, chains, a key, and a box brooch

Animal-head brooches with a multi-strand necklace of beads, a drop-spindle, chains, a key, and a box brooch

You might recognize the photo above from my previous post. Below are some close-up photos from that display.

This display was listed as “Evidence from a wealthy woman’s grave” and the display stated:

“This collection of brooches, bracelets and beaded decorations indicate that the woman buried in this grave was wealthy, perhaps part of the aristocracy.

Archaeological finds like this reflect the complex role played by Norse women – especially in the aristocracy. The key, worn on a chain, was a visible symbol of her power as the Lady of the House – who controlled all aspects of house and home. The knife, in it’s shining bronze sheath, tells us that she could defend herself if necessary.

Textile instruments, whorls and weaving tables, probably reflect her ability to influence fate. Aristocratic women were associated with the Norns – mythical weavers of fate who could spin or cut off, the threads of human life and destiny. Women were also linked to the Valkyries, and to the Völur – female prophets who could predict the future.”

This display, from Gotland included:

  • bone/antler weaving tablets
  • a bronze bracelet
  • a bone ring
  • a pair of gilded bronze bead separators
  • a gilded bronze box-shaped brooch
  • a stone spindle whorl
  • a petrificated bead
  • a wooden spindle stick
  • 80 beads made of glass, seashell, and carnelian
  • a bronze tool brooch with chain and a key, hung from the brooch worn at the chest
  • a pair of animal-head shaped bronze brooches
  • a bronze object listed as a “spiral for beads set”
  • a bone/antler spindle whorl
  • another set of beads made of glass and carnelian
  • and a knife and scabbard of iron, bronze and leather

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