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Two-horned helmets uncovered by a peat cutter in Viksø, Denmark

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These Horned ‘Viking’ Helmets Are Actually 3,000 Years Old And Come From An Entirely Different Civilization

Horned helmets have dominated the popular image of Vikings for as long as anyone can remember. However, new research indicates that this intimidating headgear predated the Norse warriors by nearly 2,000 years — and that the Vikings most likely never wore horned helmets at all.

When a peat cutter unearthed a pair of horned helmets from a bog in 1942, they were assumed to be from the Viking era, which began around 800 A.D.

This assumption, however, was only held in the popular sphere, as scholars quickly dated them to the Nordic Bronze Age, which lasted between 1750 and 500 B.C. Scientists have only recently established a more precise date. However, Danish archaeologist Helle Vandkilde has now officially dated them to between 907 and 857 B.C., according to CNN.

"People associated the Viks helmets with the Vikings for many years in popular culture," said Vandkilde of Aarhus University. "However, our research shows that the helmets were deposited in the bog around 900 B.C., nearly 3,000 years ago and many centuries before the Vikings or Norse ruled the region."

Nonetheless, the dating of the Viks helmets has left experts scratching their heads. According to LiveScience, historians and archaeologists have already begun to reconsider how closely linked Bronze Age civilizations truly were — and how the imagery of horned helmets spread across Europe.

During World War II, the two-horned helmets were discovered in a bog near Brns Mose in the town of Viks. A farmer digging peat found metal about two feet below the surface, prompting a closer look by his foreman. The two workers realised they had discovered fragments of a decorated bronze object at that point.

The remnants were quickly identified as parts of two helmets by researchers from Denmark's National Museum. They also recovered the remains of a wooden slab from the bog, which was thought to have served as a stand for the helmets to be ritualistically placed in the bog.

The helmets, on the other hand, were a mystery. The metal of the helmets could not be dated using radiocarbon techniques, leading experts to believe that the ancient wooden slab was placed in the bog much earlier than the helmets. Surprisingly, one of Vandkilde's colleagues only discovered new clues in 2019.

"She noticed primary organic material in the horns and spoke with a colleague at the National Museum responsible for the collection, and they agreed to send a sample for absolute dating," Vandkilde explained.

According to the study, which was published in the journal Praehistorische Zeitschrift, this material was birch tar stuck to one of the horns and can be carbon dated. Before this study, the helmets were dated by analysing their style and symbology.

"Typology is quite often a good first step, chronologically speaking," Vandkilde said, "but it is very important when we can have absolute dates, as we can with carbon 14." "We now know, thanks to this new date, that the helmets were deposited in the bog around 900 B.C., possibly by someone standing on a wooden platform."

These helmets, according to Vandkilde, are strikingly similar to depictions in rock art and figurines from the same era found in Spain, Sardinia, and Scandinavia.

According to the study, these helmets, which featured fittings for attaching feathers and horsehair, were worn for symbolic displays of power rather than battle. Scandinavian cultures were transitioning from Sun worship to deities associated with animals at the time. And the design elements of the helmets highlight this transition.

The front of the helmets has two large eyes and a beak, symbolizing a bird of prey, and the top crown of the helmet used to have horsehair cut like a mane. And the two massive horns are meant to represent a bull.

"Our research shows that Scandinavian depictions of horned warriors occur concurrently with very similar images in Sardinia and southwest Spain," she said. "This demonstrates the close links that existed between the great civilizations of Bronze Age Europe; the first globalization based on long-distance trade in metals, ideas, and luxuries."

According to The Smithsonian, the current theory holds that Phoenician travellers crossed the Mediterranean by sea from the Levant to Europe. According to the study, the Near East and the Mediterranean "boast a deep history of horned-helmet figures associated with divine rulership and warfare."

Due to the scarcity of metal resources in Scandinavia, their civilization welcomed the exchange of copper and tin with cultures from Southern Europe. Furthermore, the absence of imagery of horned helmets along land-based trade routes across the Alps suggests that these cultures were seafaring in their dealings.

"These [helmets] are new evidence that metals were traded further than we thought," Vandkilde said. "Ideas were travelling companions."