Odin’s Skull: A Macabre Amulet from Denmark

Viking amulet
The Ribe skull fragment (source)
This rather macabre artefact was found during an archaeological excavation at Ribe in Denmark. It represents a fragment of human skull that was subsequently fashioned into an amulet. It measures circa 6 cm by 8.5cm in size and contains a small hole, which would have allowed it to be worn on a neck-tie. The amulet dates from the mid-8th century, a time when Denmark was still a predominantly pagan country. It contains a number of  lines of inscribed Runic text and these give an insight into the objects original function. The runes most likely read:

Ulf and Odin,

and High Tyr,

is help for Bur,

against these pain

and Dwarf sword,

Bur.’ (MacLeod and Mees 2006, p. 24)

The runic inscription (source)

The runic inscription appears to invoke a triple force of protectors to fight a Dwarf. These are Ulf or wolf, which may represent Fenrir, then¬†Odin the chief Norse god, followed by High-Tyr who is probably the warrior god Tyr. These will aid Bur, who is most likely Borr/Burri, Odin’s father (it is also possible that Ulf/Odin/High-Tyr, represent a divine trinity of the same god, Odin).

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The Ribe pendant in relation to a human skull

In Norse mythology Odin was thought to have healing powers, while dwarves were often associated with disease. In light of this the pendant may have been used as a talisman to protect against illness. The use of a human skull probably imbued the amulet with extra potency and this is not unlike the role played by corporeal relics in the Christian tradition.


MaCleod, M. & Mees B. (2006) Runic Amulets and Magic Objects, Boydell Press, Suffolk