This small wooden artefact was discovered during the National Museum of Ireland’s excavations at Fishamble Street in Dublin. These extensive works revealed a wealth of information about the Viking Age city and the people who lived there between the 9th and 11th centuries AD.
Measuring circa 5 cm in diameter and carved from a single piece of wood, the artefact appears to depict a wolf-like animal clasping a ball between its jaws and paws. The back of the beast is curved and contains a raised ridge, which is reminiscent of a boar. However, the rest of the animal is distinctly canine-looking. It has raised and pointed ears, tear-drop shaped eyes, distinct paw pads and prominent fangs which clasp the ball. A gap exists between the upper paws and the neck of the animal, allowing a string to be threaded through, which suggests that it may have been worn as a pendant[i].
Although this depiction of a dog-like animal may merely be a decorative devise, it could also reflect Norse mythology, where the Viking wolf Fenrir features prominently. According to Eddic poetry this fierce beast is destined to battle Odin during Ragnarök, the Viking end of days. After defeating Odin, Fenrir will leap into the air and swallow the sun, bringing darkness to the world (some versions suggest that his son, Skoll the wolf, will swallow the sun instead). This may be what is being depicted in the Fishamble Street piece: an enormous wolf devouring a ball-like sun.
If this is the case then the object may represents a pagan amulet. That such an artefact would be found in Viking Dublin is not surprising as the city remained ostensibly pagan until the early 11th century when its king, Sitric Silkbeard, formally established the diocese of Dublin and Dúnán was ordained the city’s first bishop.
[i] The piece was originally described as a toggle by the National Museum
Lang, J. T 1988 Viking Age Decorated Wood; A Study of its Ornament and Style, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin
Lindow, J. 2001 A Handbook of Norse Mythology, ABC Clio, California