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A little face peering up from a clod of frozen mud in Denmark has proved to be a unique find: the only known 3D Viking representation of a valkyrie.

The figurine, believed to date from about AD800, was found in December and has gone straight from conservation to display in the National Museum in Copenhagen. It will then be included in the exhibition on the Viking age that opens there in June and at the British Museum in 2014.

The legends of the valkyries – the ominous companions of the god Odin who descend on battlefields to choose which warriors will die – have been among the most enduring in Scandinavian folklore and literature. Later images, often inspired by Wagner’s music, tend to be romantic creatures with flowing locks and voluptuous bodies.

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