Gold medallions, coins, and jewelry comprise an Iron Age hoard that a rookie metal detectorist recently discovered in Denmark.
  • A man discovered 1,500-year-old buried treasure in Denmark using a metal detector.
  • It contained gold medallions, coins, and jewelry - one of the largest hoards ever found in the country.
  • An Iron Age chieftain may have buried the gold to appease the gods after a volcano eruption.
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Ole Ginnerup Schytzlast had never used a metal detector before. He first gave it a shot on a former classmate's land in Vindelev, Denmark in December.

Within hours of turning his detector on, Schytzlast stumbled across one of the largest treasure hoards ever found in the country.

"Well, that's the epitome of improbable luck," the rookie detectorist said in an interview with Danish outlet TV Syd earlier this month. "Denmark is 43,000 square kilometers, and then I happen to choose to put the detector exactly where this find was."

A golden bracelet found among the hoard.

Over the last nine months, archaeologists from the Vejle Museums have carefully excavated Schytzlast's find. They've uncovered more than 22 golden medallions, coins, and pieces of jewelry that date back at least 1,500 years.

Added up, that's more than two pounds' worth of gold. So whoever buried the hoard was wealthy and powerful.

"Only a member of the absolute cream of society would have been able to collect a treasure like the one found here," Mads Ravn, head of research at Vejle Museums, said in a statement announcing the finding to the public earlier this month.

Ravn and his colleagues think the gold most likely belonged to an Iron Age chieftain who attracted skilled artisans to the area.

Medallions the size of saucers

Ole Ginnerup Schytz, a rookie metal detectorist, discovered the hoard.

Schytzlast didn't initially recognise the collection of gold - nicknamed the "Vindelev hoard," after where it was found - for what it was.

The first artifact he discovered resembled a small piece of bent metal, he told TV Syd.

"It was full of scratches and covered in mud," he said. "I had no idea, so all I could think of was that it looked like the lid of a can of herring."

One of the gold medallions discovered in the hoard.

But then he sent a photo of one of his finds to the Vejle Museums nearby, where Ravn took a look. The researcher told CNN that he nearly fell out of his chair.

"I told him he might as well just sell the detector now because he already peaked," Ravn said. "It doesn't get better."

Ravn sent archaeologists to the site, where they found numerous decorated medallions the size of saucers. These medallions, which are thicker than coins, are called bracteates.

They also uncovered bracelets, coins, and coins that had been made into pendants.

Possible ties to the Norse god Odin

The hoard dates back to the mid-6th century - suggesting an Iron Age society occupied the area before the Vikings arrived a few centuries later. Some of the pieces had embossed symbols that museum archaeologists didn't recognize.

Two pieces of gold in particular caught experts' eyes.

One bracteate depicts a braided man surrounded by a horse and a bird, with which the man seems to be communicating. Above his head are runes that roughly translate to "houar," or "the high one."

A medallion, known as a bracteate, featuring the face of a man and runes.

According to Ravn's team, the term could refer to the chieftain who buried the treasure. Myths also associate "houar" with Odin, the Norse god of wisdom and warfare.

A medallion depicting the Roman Emperor Constantine.

Another coin depicts the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, who ruled almost 1,700 years ago. So the coin's presence in the hoard suggests people in this Iron Age group traded with other societies.

Burying gold to appease the gods

Experts aren't sure why the chieftain buried so much gold.

It's possible he hid the treasure to keep it safe from invaders during war. But more likely, Ravn said, the hoard was an offering.

A 2015 study found evidence that an ash cloud from a large volcanic eruption in 536 AD cooled the Scandinavian climate, causing crop failures and resulting in widespread famine. That's right around the time the hoard was buried. Archaeologists have also found other gold hoards in the nearby area that date to the time period following the eruption. Together, this suggests Denmark's occupants during the late Iron Age may have buried gold as a means of appeasing their gods during a chaotic time, according to museum experts.

Researchers are prepping the hoard for display in the Vejle Museums' Viking exhibition in Denmark, which will open in February 2022.

The Vejle Museums in Jutland will exhibit the unprecedented find starting in February 2022.

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