'Completely surreal': Metal detectorist unearths 1,500-year-old gold ring in Denmark

A gold ring with a red stone
The gold ring’s red stone offers clues to its ownership. (Image credit: The National Museum)

An amateur metal detectorist in Denmark has unearthed a rare gold ring that may have belonged to a previously unknown royal family with ties to the Kingdom of France.

Lars Nielsen discovered the large, ornately decorated gold ring, set with a red semiprecious stone, while exploring Emmerlev, a parish in Southern Jutland, Denmark, according to a translated statement. The ring dates to the fifth or sixth century.

"Such a unique and one-of-a-kind find is completely surreal," Nielsen said in the statement. 

Researchers at the National Museum of Denmark determined that the piece of jewelry has much "historical significance" and may have belonged to local royalty connected to the Merovingians, a dynasty of Frankish kings who ruled over parts of what is now France, Belgium and Germany between the fifth and eighth centuries. 

"The gold ring not only reveals a possible new princely family in Emmerlev, but also connects the area with one of Europe's largest centers of power in the Iron Age," Kirstine Pommergaard, an archaeologist and curator at the National Museum of Denmark, said in the statement. "The gold ring is probably a woman's ring and may have belonged to a prince's daughter who was married to a prince in Emmerlev. Gold is typically [a] diplomatic gift, and we know that people have married into alliances."

Related: Denmark's oldest runes inscribed on ancient knife

Researchers based the ring's royal connection on its exquisite craftsmanship, which includes "well-executed spirals on the underside and trefoil knobs" where the ring and stone setting meet — a characteristic often associated with Frankish craftsmanship, according to the statement.

"It is an impressive level of craftsmanship that is difficult to imitate today," Pommergaard said.

The ring's red stone also offers clues to its ownership, since similar stones are well-known symbols of power in the Nordics, "while the elite gold rings of the Merovingians are typically set with a coin or a plaque, like a signet ring," the researchers said in the statement. "This shows that the ring was to serve as a symbol of power in the Nordics."

"Perhaps the princely family in Emmerlev had control over an area between Ribe [a town in Southwest Jutland] and Hedeby [a Danish Viking Age trading settlement in what is now Germany] and thus secured trade in the area," Pommergaard said.

The ring's location was a few miles away from previously found artifacts — including a collection of gold and silver coins, pottery and first-century golden horns — leading experts to think the item wasn't lost but rather intentionally placed in the area.

"The person who had the ring probably also knew about the people who had the golden horns," Anders Hartvig, a medieval archaeologist at Museum Sønderjylland, said in the statement. "Maybe they were related. Together with other recent finds, it paints a picture that Southern Jutland has had a greater influence than previously thought, and that the Wadden Sea was not closed in on itself, but had an aristocratic presence with important trade links to the south."

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.

  • Iceni
    admin said:
    A metal detectorist unearthed an ornately decorated gold ring in Denmark.

    Completely surreal': Metal detectorist unearths 1,500-year-old gold ring in Denmark : Read more
  • Iceni
    That's a lot of conjecture for only one ring, which easily could have been stolen and then buried. There could be many reasons for why it was where it was.
  • bolide
    This wasn't a piece of cheap jewelry that might have been easily stolen, or casually lost.

    But I don't know what to make of this--"leading experts to think the item wasn't lost but rather intentionally placed in the area." This sows confusion. Is the author raising the question of whether it appeared to have been deliberately buried, rather than simply found where it had fallen? The report doesn't address that; but it does imply that the ring was found in the same area where it had been worn. The original report, via Google Translate, seems to be saying simply that.