The Dispersal of Gold : Material and Figural Traits of the Gold Foil Figures from Västra Vång

University essay from Södertörns högskola/Arkeologi

Abstract: Gold Foil Figures or guldgubbar (henceforth GFFs) are precious metal artefacts from the Scandinavian Late Iron Age. This master's essay offers a new approach to GFFs. As opposed to the established understanding of GFFs as representational images with real or mythic referents, belonging to an aristocratic milieu, this essay instead attends to GFFs in terms of their material and Figural traits. The material for this study consists if 42 GFFs from the find site of Västra Vång, Blekinge, Sweden. A comprehensive presentation of this artefact material is a secondary aim of this essay. With the aid of a neomaterialist theoretical apparatus that draws heavily on the work of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Wilhelm Worringer, the 42 GFFs undergo two separate analyses. In the first, the material traits expressed in the sequence of GFF production and deposition is studied in terms of a chaîne opératoire. In the second, I attend to the non-significatory expressive qualities of form and expression, or Figural traits, belonging to these 42 GFFs within the wider artistic milieu of Animal Style Ornamentation. I conclude that GFFs were as a rule artefacts made for purposes of immediate disposal, not display, as a mode of dispersing gold. Västra Vång’s GFFs offer several indications that handling between the cutting operation and deposition was minimal, such as the fresh, unworn edges. The thin, brittle foils are ill suited to display. Approaching the designs on these artefacts as various sets of Figural traits being expressed allows me to contextualise the GFFs within the wider artistic milieu of Animal Style Ornamentation. New territorial rhythms can be established only as certain elements are freed from a settled state, and made to act together with new elements, in new terrains. GFFs bring about new territorial rhythms of form and expression to gold matter, gold made to circulate as it becomes deterritorialised from a monetary function within the Roman economy. A flow of gold is extended as gold is brought to Scandinavia from continental economies. The influx of this flow of gold is not contained to an élite social stratum. Individuals in possession of minute amounts of gold returned to Scandinavia, having acquired gold as payment for involvement in military operations on the continent. This ownership of gold may have hindered their harmonious reintegration into a society based on other economic principles. The GFFs emerge as a vector of dispersing gold. The artistic expression of Figural traits is equally energised by movements of de- and reterritorialisation. Understanding that the Figural traits expressed on the GFFs from Västra Vång are part of a wider artistic milieu of Animal Style Ornamentation, alongside other systematised expressions making up parts of a collective assemblage of enunciation, makes their appearance on artefacts that were deposited immediately upon their manufacture easier to grasp. The particular procedures of miniaturisation allowed for an acceleration of the expression of variation in the conjunction of a flow of artistic expression onto a flow of gold matter. The dispersive handling of gold must be traced to both the material premises and the expressive artistic ones. Gold is not chosen because it is precious, or because of what it connotes, but because it is available, because the artisan smith is attendant to its traits as a metal matter.

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