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The golden horns of Gallehus

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The golden horns of Gallehus

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Date Posted:October 2nd, 2007
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Description: The Golden Horns of Gallehus were two golden horns, one shorter than the other, discovered in North Slesvig, or Schleswig, in Denmark. The horns were believed to date to the fifth century (Germanic Iron Age).

The longer horn was discovered on July 20, 1639 by a peasant girl named Kirsten Svendsdatter in the village of Gallehus, near Møgeltønder when she saw it protrude above the ground. She wrote a letter to King Christian IV of Denmark who retrieved it and in turn gave it to the Danish prince (also named Christian), who refurbished it into a drinking-horn. The Danish antiquarian Olaus Wormius wrote a treatise named De aureo cornu on the first Golden Horn in 1641. The first preserved sketch of the horn comes from this treatise. In 1678 it was described in the scientific journal Journal de Savants.

About 100 years later on April 21, 1734 the other (shorter, damaged) horn was found by Erich Lassen not far from the first one. He gave it to the count of Schackenborg who in turn delivered it to the king Christian VI of Denmark and received 200 rigsdaler in return. From this moment both horns were stored at Det kongelige Kunstkammer at Christiansborg, currently the Danish Rigsarkivet (national archive). The shorter horn was described in a treatise by archivist Richard Joachim Paulli in the same year.

On May 4, 1802, the horns were stolen by a goldsmith and watchmaker named Niels Heidenreich, who got into the storage area using forged keys. He took his booty home and immediately destroyed it to recycle the gold. The theft was discovered the next day and a bounty of 1,000 rigsdaler was advertised in the papers.

The grandmaster of the goldsmiths guild, Andreas Holm, suspected that Heidenreich had been involved, since he had tried to sell Holm forged “pagodas” (Indian coins with god motifs), made from bad gold mixed with brass. Holm and his colleagues had kept watch on Heidenreich and seen him dump coin stamps in the town moat. He was arrested on April 27, 1803, and confessed on April 30. On June 10 Heidenreich was sentenced to prison, and not released until 1840. He died four years later. His buyers returned the recycled gold, which ended up in coins, not copies of the horns.

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