Photos: Vikings accessorized with tiny metal dragons



(Image credit: Photograph by Lena Holmquist; Antiquity 2018)

Archaeologists discovered a Viking dragonhead pin made out of lead in Birka, a Viking archeological town in Sweden, in 2015.

Amazingly, the newfound pin nearly matches a soapstone mold of a dragonhead found by a Swedish farmer in 1887.

[Read more about the Viking dragon]

3D dragonhead

3D Dragonhead

(Image credit: Lena Holmquist, Sven Kalmring and Mikael Lundin/Archaeological Research Laboratory, Dept. of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University; Antiquity 2018)

A 3D scan of the newfound dragonhead, which weighs just 0.4 ounces (13.5 grams). Notice the dragon's sharp teeth, the tongue and curly mane.

Viking town

Viking town

(Image credit: Antiquity 2018)

An aerial view of the Viking town Birka, which sits on the island of Björkö. Notice the defensive works (green) and excavated (dark blue) areas. The unexcavated graves (light blue) and the recorded excavation trenches (yellow) are also marked.

The dragonhead pin was found in the sediments of the harbor during an excavation called "Birka’s Black Earth Harbor."

Dragon mold

Dragonhead mold

(Image credit: The Swedish History Museum; Arbman 1939: 123; Antiquity 2018)

This is the dragonhead mold found by the farmer in 1887. It's now housed at The Swedish History Museum.

Ladby ship grave

Ladby ship

(Image credit: Sørensen 2001: fig. 10.1; Antiquity 2018)

The Vikings often made dragonhead pins modeled after dragon figureheads on ships. The dragonhead pin found in Birka is similar to the Ladby ship, which was excavated from 1934 to 1937. Note the iron curls on the decayed wooden figurehead of the boat.

Dragon map

Dragon map

(Image credit: Kalmring & Holmquist, Antiquity 2018)

This map shows where archaeologists have found dragonhead dress pins, molds and iron curls from ships’ figureheads. Notice how dragonheads from different regions have different styles.

[Read more about the Viking dragon]

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.