THE HAMMER OF THOR

Thors hammer
Both sides of the Hammer Amulet (runes on left hand). Image: National Museum of Denmark

A small hammer dating to the 10th century was found recently on the Danish Island of Lolland. Over 1000 of these amulets have been found across Northern Europe but the pendant from Lolland is the only one with a runic inscription.

This particular torshammere (Thor’s Hammer Amulet) was found at Købelev and reported to the Museum Lolland-Falster archaeologist Anders Rasmussen by detectorist Torben Christjansen.

 Worn for protection

Hammer pendants are interpreted as amulets shaped like Mjölnir, the hammer owned by the Norse god, Thor. Viking men and women often wore Thor’s hammer for protection.  “It was the amulet’s protective power that counted, and often we see torshammere and Christian crosses appearing together, providing double protection”, said Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark.

This object is cast in bronze and has traces of silver or tin plating as well as gold plating, and is the first ever to be found with runes inscribed. Pentz is grateful to the unknown rune writer who is at last confirming that these amulets actually do depict Thor’s hammer. Over the years there had been doubt cast on whether these small amulets indeed represent a hammer. Some believe that the shaft is too short, while others believe that the hammer would not have had a symmetrical head such as this one. Perhaps this find will place this particular debate to rest, as the runic inscription clearly reads: “Hmar x is” (“This is a Hammer”).

However, the person who inscribed these runes was not a skilled writer, as the proper spelling should have been Hamar. Also the S-rune was reversed.

 Less formal

The find is also interesting, because Viking age written culture is dominated by the approximately 260 rune stones found throughout Denmark and southern Sweden. Other inscribed items although quite rare can give a different impression of the writing culture than the often rather formally bound runic texts found on monuments.

The small Thor’s hammer from Købelev has interlacing ornament on one side of the hammer head and the short runic inscription on the other. The runes range in height from 3 to 7 mm, so it required precision to inscribe them onto the object. It took some time to comprehend the actual meaning of the inscription; partly because the runes are so small, partly due to surface corrosion on the 1100 years year old amulet and also because of the imperfect runic inscription itself.

The runes translate into modern English as ‘Hammer is‘ where the x indicates the separator between the two words. This translates more properly into ‘This is a hammer‘.  This could indicate that the inscriber wasn’t totally literate, but nevertheless still managed to make an inscription fit into a tiny space.

This find does point to a society where written literacy was respected, so the fact that the creator of the amulet was able to write at all probably provided him/her with extra status.

In addition to the torshammere, the detectorist also recovered  fragments of silver needles and a mould for making brooches.- These additional findings indicate that there may have been a workshop producing jewellery nearby and Anders Rasmussen does not rule out that the hammer was made by a local craftsperson.

Museum Lolland-Falster has no plans to excavate the Viking site at Købelev, but instead are working with the finder to continue detailed detector surveys on site.

Source: National Museum of Denmark  – The Hammer of ThorPast Horizons. June 29, 2014, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/06/2014/the-hammer-of-thor

Did you know:

  • There are over 1000 amulets shaped like Thor’s Hammer found in across Scandinavia, the British Isles, Russia and the Baltic.
  • The vast majority of Thor’s Hammer amulets are simple undecorated pieces made of iron or silver,  although 100 decorated ones are known.
  • The Amulet served to protect the wearer.
  • The hammer Mjolnir was forged by the dwarves Brok and Sindri and had the magical property to always hit what it was thrown at and then return to Thor’s hand.
  • According to the “Trymskvadet” the giant Trym stole the hammer of Thor and would only give it back if he got Freyja as his wife. Thor disguised himself as Freyja by wearing her clothes, and during the wedding reception he took back Mjolnir and then killed Trym and his whole family.

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