Viking 'Hammer of Thor' Unearthed

An inscription on a 1,000-year-old amulet confirms that small Viking charms do represent Thor's hammer. Continue reading →

Danish archaeologists have solved the mystery over the significance of the Mjöllnir amulets worn by the Vikings. Indeed, they represented Thor's hammer, the researchers said.

More than 1,000 intricately carved pendants shaped like hammers have been found across Northern Europe since the first millennium A.D.

Although it was widely believed these amulets were hammers, a debate remained over their true meaning. The objects's unusual shape, featuring a short handle and a symmetrical head, raised doubts whether they represented something else entirely.

Now a 10th-century Viking amulet unearthed in Købelev, on the Danish island of Lolland, has provided a definitive answer.

"Hmar x is," runes inscribed on the tiny amulet stated. Translated into modern English, it reads: "This is a hammer."

"This is the only hammer-shaped pendant with a runic inscription. And it tells us that (the pendants) in fact depict hammers," Henrik Schilling, a spokeperson at the National Museum of Denmark, told Discovery News.

Cast in bronze, and likely plated with silver, tin and gold, the 1,100-year-old pendant shows that Thor's myth deeply influenced Viking jewelry.

A warrior god of thunder, Thor appears throughout Norse mythology holding the powerful hammer Mjolnir, which he uses to protect Asgard, the celestial fortress of the gods, from giants.

It is now clear that Viking men and women wore Thor's hammer for protection.

"It was the amulet's protective power that counted," Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark, said.

"Often we see torshammere (Thor's hammer) and Christian crosses appearing together, providing double protection," he added.

Featuring an interlacing ornament on one side of the hammer head and the short runic inscription on the other, the newly discovered Mjöllnir amulet was probably produced by a local craftsmen.

Fragments of silver needles and a mould for making brooches indicate that the jewelry was produced in a silversmith's workshop on Lolland island.

He was a skilled artisan - the runes range in height from 3 to 7 mm, requiring great precision to inscribe them onto the object - but not a skilled writer.

According to the archaeologists, he left out the letter ‘a' in the word hammer and reversed the S-rune.

Image: The rune-inscribed Mjöllnir amulet. Credit: National Museum of Denmark

This tunic was found randomly bundled up in an hunting area on the Norwegian Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet above the sea level. Radiocarbon dating established it was made between 230 and 390 A.D.

Relatively short and constructed from a simple cut, the greenish-brown tunic would have fitted a slender man about 5 feet, 9 inches tall. It featured a boat neck, had no buttons or fastenings, but was simply drawn over the head like a sweater.

The pre-Viking tunic showed hard wear and tear and had been mended with two patches on the reverse side.

The tunic is woven in a weave called diamond twill that was popular over large parts of northern Europe at that time. The image shows a detail of the sleeve fabric (left) and the pattern of a section of the irregular diamond twill (right).

The tunic is not the only textile item recovered from the Norwegian ice patches. Approximately 50 fragments await dating and analysis. As global warming progresses, more can be expected.