Researchers have discovered that an ancient gold disc found in southern Denmark includes the earliest written reference to the Norse god Odin, revealing that he was worshiped up to 150 years earlier than previously thought, according to a report.
Piece of jewelry — which dates to the 400s AD — was uncovered in Vindelev in central Denmark in 2020 amidst a treasure trove that included Roman coins. For years it was publicly displayed at a museum near the site before academics had the opportunity to study it, according to NBC News.
A runic inscription with a reference to Odin, one of the primary gods in the Norse pantheon in the pre-Christian Germanic world, has upended academics’ understanding of the pagan religion.
“This is the smoking gun for Odin’s presence in Scandinavia as early as the 5th century,” Simon Nygaard, an assistant professor in pre-Christian Nordic religion at Aarhus University in Denmark, told NBC News on Wednesday. “In the proper sense of the word, it’s historic.”
Nygaard said that the inscription on the disc — known as a bracteate — is nothing short of “spectacular.” The previous oldest reference to Odin was found on a brooch in Southern Germany from the latter half of the 6th century.
“He is Odin’s man,” the disc reads, according to Krister Vasshus, who helped decipher the runes. He told NBC it additionally features a reference to a man named “Jaga” or “JagaR,” believed to be a king or ruler wherever the bracteate was forged.
Odin was worshiped as a deity for centuries before the disc had been made, but the “exciting” discovery “can tell us something about the relationship people had with their gods and possibly even how divine rulership was organized in Scandinavia at this time,” Vasshus said.
“The carver knew exactly how to shape the runes to make them perfect, simply perfect,” he added. “They are exquisite.”
The Prose Edda, a main source for Norse mythology compiled in Iceland in the 13th century, refers to Odin as the “Allfather,” who ruled over man and other Norse gods, known as the Æsir.
The bracteate also includes an inscription of a swastika — an ancient religious symbol found throughout Europe and Asia throughout the Iron Age until it was integrated as a Nazi symbol in the 20th century, according to NBC.
The piece of jewelry, along with the other gold unearthed at the Denmark site, may have been buried to hide it from enemies or as a tribute to appease the gods during a time of plague and famine, Visshus suggested.
“It’s a very large amount of gold, so it must have been a very serious situation that they wanted to improve,” he said.
“We know that in 536 A.D. there was an enormous volcanic eruption and there were at least two more that blocked the light of the sun. There must have been famine in the areas that relied on grains and cereals,” he said. “We also know that in 541 A.D. there was a plague similar to the Black Death.”