This cross was found buried in the dirt. (Photo: Vikingemuseet Ladby)

Dennis Fabricius Holm had only been playing around with a metal detector for a few months, but this March he found a small, golden crucifix that could be among the earliest pieces of evidence of Christianity in Denmark.

The crucifix was found in Aunslev, Østfyn, in Denmark. It’s just 1.6 inches tall and made of gold threads and tiny filagree pellets; the back is smooth. Right now, it’s being dated to the first half of the 10th century—the early 900s—which dates it even before the country’s Jelling Stones.

Those giant, carved runestones mark the moment where Denmark’s rulers started accepting Christianity: they are memorial stones, and the larger one was the doing of Harald Bluetooth, Denmark’s first Christian king. Its runes describe the conversation of the Danish people to Christianity.

This tiny cross, though, likely predates the stones. It may have been worn as a piece of jewelry by a woman. A similar-looking cross, dating to about the same period, was found in 1879, in a grave of a woman in Sweden. But the other crosses that have been found in Denmark have only been fragments and were dated to the late 10th century.

This beautiful little cross, then, could change the story of the Danes’ conversion to Christianity: perhaps the religion was more popular with the people in this area earlier than was previously thought. Or, as the Viking Museum Ladby suggests, another possibility is that it was “just a part of a pagan Viking’s bling-bling.”

Bonus finds: A baby planet, a cluster of monster stars, super spiral galaxies

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