An 11th-century Viking bronze stamp found by a metal detector in Norfolk earlier this year put up for auction with a presale estimate of £16,000 to £24,000 ($21,000 to $31,000). Its size, excellent condition and depth of relief make it one of the finest examples of a Pressblech stamp found in England.
The thickness, strength, and high relief of these objects indicate that they were used as stamps for the rapid manufacture of decorated foils. The cube is placed on a hard surface (such as an anvil) face up, and metal foil is placed on top of the die. This is then covered with a flexible buffer and hammered hard to push the foil deep into the relief and pattern it. The smooth curve of the Norfolk stamp suggests that the stamped foil was intended for a curved surface, such as to protect the cheeks of a Viking helmet.
Jason Jones discovered the matrix in January while searching for metal in a field in Norfolk. He scanned the place before and found two silver coins, so he returned hoping to find more. Just two inches from the surface, he found a bronze stamp instead. He didn’t know what it was or how old it was until he posted the photo on Facebook and was bombarded with speculation that it might be a Viking artifact. He contacted the local liaison officer for finds from the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
It is 5.5 inches long and 1.27 inches wide at a rectangular end that then tapers to a pointed end. The stamp has a slight curve and the reverse side is undecorated. The front is intricately carved in high relief of two stylized animals, one of which is larger, intertwining its body and antennae to form an open figure of eight with a smaller creature at its base. The relief is bordered by a clear ridge, which runs down about two-thirds, and then smoothly turns into a flat ridge. This angle is directed inward just before reaching the terminal and the crests converge to form a fleur-de-lis that fills in the pointed end.
The motif of the design may be the image of the world tree Yggdrasil with the great serpent Nidhogg winding around the tree. The smaller creature could be the squirrel Ratatoskr or one of the other snakes that called Yggdrasil home. Curly animal features—small heads, oval eyes, open figure-of-eight, broad, flat, ribbon-like bodies—are typical of the Urnes style. Urnes style decoration was made between approximately 1030 and 1100 AD.
The closest comparable example is an 11th-century bronze plate with animal leaf relief in a hybrid of the Urnes and Ringerike styles, which was found in the Thames in the early 20th century. now in the British Museum. The threads are coarser and 1.3 inches shorter than the Norfolk Urnes Die.