Antler Amulet

This particular amulet was found near the burial grounds of the Basilica of Saint Servatius (which today is an excavation site inside the Hotel Derlon) in the city of Maastricht, Netherlands. Many other amulets have been found in the same area, dating back to the second half of the 6th century (Centre Céramique, 2007). They were found specifically in women’s graves, placed on top of their pubic area, and it’s therefore believed to be a fertility symbol (Centre Céramique, 2007).

3D model of the Antler Amulet

The amulet was made from the burr of a deer antler (Centre Céramique, 2007; Knol et al., 1997), giving it a distinct circular shape and irregular edges. Antlers carried an important symbolism to the Germanic people, representing rebirth (Centre Céramique; Kars, 2011).

This object belongs to the following theme:



Place of Origin
Hotel Derlon, Maastricht,
The Netherlands

Time Period of Use (ca.)
500 – 700 CE


Dimensions (cm)
Length: 5.61, Width: 5.88, Height: 0.6

3D Model

Canon EOS 250D

Processing software
Agisoft Metashape Professional Edition

Felix Bui & Margarida Brancal

Uncovering Layers of the Past

This amulet is now presented to you in the form of a 3D object. Coming from a long history of being used as a vessel for spiritual symbolism, the amulet has become a representative of the past, displayed as cultural heritage and remodeled into a digital format.

But imagine holding this amulet in the palm of your hand – a small, light object that intrigues the beholder at first sight. It appears rather frail, with cracks and incompleted parts – evidence that the object has withstood the test of time. The amulet has rough and uneven edges, with distinctive engraved patterns: a combination of flowers with six leaves, circles, and dot-circle decorations was drawn onto the amulet with a drafting compass (Centre Céramique, 2007). These patterns do not only reflect the aesthetics at the time but also the technology and crafting tools salient in this era. The patterns, however, are not the only element about this amulet that offers a glimpse of the past. From its time and place of discovery to its material, the amulet unveils the historical stories that are still waiting to be told.

Motion through Time

This antler amulet was found in what is today an excavation site in the Derlon Hotel, in Maastricht, and it dates to the 6 and 7th centuries (Centre Céramique, 2007). Before that, however, amulets took distinctive forms shaped by different eras and inscribed with various meanings. During the late Iron Age (250 BC – 0), they were thought to have magical powers and were used in divination rituals (Centre Céramique, 2007; Knol et al., 1997). During the Roman time, they are believed to have protected the soldiers against all evil, taking shape in the phallus motifs (Centre Céramique, 2007). Finally, during the Merovingian period (450 – 750 AD), these antler amulets had the shape of a decorated disc and became associated with women, as many were found in women’s graves, placed on their wombs, and thus believed to have represented fertility (Centre Céramique, 2007; Kars, 2011).

 Similar antler discs found in the Vrijthof and Pandhof cemeteries in Maastricht (Kars, 2011)

Along with these amulets, there were other burial goods present within these graves that alluded to the notion that these women were rather wealthy women (Kars, 2011). Consequently, this artifact is perhaps part of a larger narrative of highlighting a social class and elevating the affluence that these women carried, even to their graves.

Furnishing burial sites with grave goods is one of the most significant features of the funerary rite in the Merovingian period. This practice was inherited from the people in the late Roman era and then gradually disappeared throughout the 8th century (Kars, 2011). The grave goods during this time corresponded to the social, economic, political, religious, and cultural aspects of local life (Kars, 2011).

On another note, one might also wonder if this was the full biography of this amulet’s ‘life’. What might have happened to it before it ended up in a grave, assigned as a burial good? Through which means and contexts was this amulet passed on, and how did this object shape the world of the living? There are many unresolved questions, still yearning to be understood so as to portray a complete picture of the roaming of these types of grave goods (Kars, 2011).


Amulets were made from the antlers of a deer or a stag – a material that was very characteristic of its time. During the Merovingian period, antler was abundant and was most popularly used to create combs, pendants, and amulets (Knol et al., 1997). The amulets that are in the shape of a disc like this one were made from the burr of an antler, which is the base connecting the antler and the skull of the animal and can be acquired after the antler sheds (Centre Céramique, n.d.; Knol et al., 1997).

There is a powerful symbiosis between the materiality of this artifact and its interweaving cultural layers that reflect the period. Not only does the material depict the physical environment that allowed people at that time to have access to a rich deer or stag antler supply, but it also reveals a glimpse into the people’s mental and spiritual planes. The deer antler, in this context, is linked to the belief system of the locals during that period, and it was associated with fertility and rebirth due to the natural cycle of the antlers shedding once a year.

The burr of an antler (Image source)


During the Iron Age, the Celts and the Germanic tribes resided in Maastricht, before the Romans arrived (Kooijmans, 2022, July 29). Therefore, many cultural and spiritual practices and artifacts bore Celtic and Germanic influences (S. Aarts, personal communication, March 1, 2023).

The placement of these amulets on the women’s corpses might not be the only indication of the symbolism of fertility. A deer or a stag in Celtic mythology is a creature of divinity and reverence, embracing wild nature with its alertness, swiftness, strength, and potency during mating season (Green, 1998).

An important mythological figure worshiped by the Celts and ancient German tribes was called ‘The Horned One’, also known as Cernunnos. He is depicted with antlers, often exaggerated ones, and sometimes accompanied by a stag itself. Cernunnos is the god of wild animals, nature, and fertility (Green, 1998). To the Celts, the image of a deer or a stag had a close link to fertility and divinity, and thus many objects made from antlers were also embedded with such a spiritual value.

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Depiction of the Celtic god Cernunnos on ancient artefacts (image source)
Depiction of the Celtic god Cernunnos on ancient artefacts (image source)
Depiction of the Celtic god Cernunnos on ancient artefacts (image source)
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On the other hand, the shedding of antlers in autumn and its regrowth in spring is symbolic of rebirth in the Celtic religion (Green, 1998; Kars, 2011). The yearly renewal of antlers is a beautiful metaphor for regenerative life and is speculated to be the reason why the Merovingian people placed these round, decorative discs made from the burr of an antler on the wombs of women in their graves (Centre Céramique, n.d.).

The cycle of antler shedding (Weerasekera et al., 2019)

Echoes of the Journey

Behind this amulet is a great picture of history painted with many different layers – those being its motion through time, its materiality, and the respective symbolic ideals embedded in it. Amulets in general have roamed through very different cultural contexts within the Netherlands, yet assigned with a similar role: a vessel for belief and spiritual symbolism. They accompanied ancient people during the late Iron Age, the Roman soldiers, as well as the Merovingian deceased women. But its journey does not terminate here. In today’s time, this specific amulet represents great cultural heritage for the people of Maastricht and the Limburg area. But to go even further, it has also gained a parallel life within the digital world. The 3D model can now tell the story of this object through different means, and a new type of interactivity with the recollections from the past. 

Written by Felix Bui & Margarida Brancal