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Did the Vikings Ever Wear Horned Helmets?

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

Until now, it has been believed that the horned helmets found in Denmark in 1942 were once worn by the Vikings. But radiocarbon dating has revealed something quite surprising.

In 1942, a worker in Denmark cutting peat for fuel uncovered two bronze helmets sporting curved horns that originally sat on a wooden slab covered by a cloth, perhaps placed in the bog as an offering to the Gods.

Since archaeologists cannot reliably date metal, initially they believed the helmets to be medieval, a theory that originated in the late 1800s with the costume design for a production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, where the actors were dressed in Viking garb and horned helmets.

But a few years ago, researchers discovered a small plug of birch tar in one of the horns during a photoshoot. After radiocarbon dating the tar, the researchers were surprised to find that the helmets dated to a far earlier time: the Bronze Age, around 900 BC.

The helmets once were decorated with feathers and horsehair manes. The bull imagery on the helmets, along with the bird feathers, suggests that the helmets may have symbolized the sun, similar to the iconography found with the sun worshippers in the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula at that time.

Since Danes from the Bronze Age rarely wore helmets during battle, researchers now believe that the helmets were transported to Denmark via oceanic trade routes and then were worn by kings or priests for ceremonial purposes, to symbolize their economic and cultural power.

The helmets are currently on display at the National Museum of Denmark.


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