The British Museum's collections, £16.99
Length: 75.500 cm (long
Length: 75.500 cm (long horn)
Transferred from the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1956
M&ME 1885-160a & 161a
Enlightenment: Ancient scripts
Reproductions of the Gallehus Horns
19th-century electrotypes of two gold horns
from Gallehus, near Tønder, southern Jutland,
The originals were Germanic, early 5th century AD
The gold horns of which these are reproductions were a spectacular symbol of Denmark's ancient past. Their runic inscriptions demonstrated to scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth century that the early peoples of northern Europe had their own form of writing and could therefore be considered a civilized society.
The horns may have been either musical instruments or drinking horns, and were probably buried as votive offerings or loot. Each weighed over 3 kg. The first (complete) horn, was found in 1639 and sent to Ole Worm (1588-1654), professor of humanities and medicine in Copenhagen, Denmark. Worm had a famous collection of natural and artificial curiosities and was also a scholar of runic inscriptions. The second horn was found in 1734.
Sadly, both horns were stolen from the Danish royal collections in 1802 and were melted down by the thief. But good engravings had been made, which allowed replicas to be made in 1861. These electrotype copies were made from the replicas.
The runes on the short horn are in an early Germanic dialect. They read 'ek hlewagastiz holtingaz horna tawido', which translates as 'I, Hlewagastiz, son of Holt, made the horn'. The enigmatic animal, human and geometric designs on the horns have not been explained, although they probably represent scenes from religious rituals, seasonal festivals or myths.
D.M. Wilson, The Vikings and their origins (London, Thames & Hudson, 1999 reprint)
M. Todd, The early Germans (Oxford, Blackwell Publishers, 1995)