This translation was done by Michaela Gibbion (known in the SCA as
Maeva Eriksdottir). Thank you on behalf of DARC and the re-enactor
Viking Age crafts in Ribe - A summary
by Mogens Bencard, Ribe
with assistance from Kristina Ambrosiani, Lise Bender Jørgensen,
Helge Brinch Madsen. Ingrid Nielsen and Ulf Näsman
Geography of Ribe
The settlement Ribe is located about 6km off the coast at the shore of
the Ribe Au that connects Ribe with both the Baltic Sea [through the
Kattegat] and the North Sea behind the Isles Fanö,
Mandö and Römö. The area around Ribe belongs
to the most northern part of the wadden sea reaching continuously from
the firths of Elbe, Weser and Rhine protected by a long row of islands
North of Ribe the western coast of Jutland changes its character. The
wadden sea recedes and there are no more islands protecting the actual
coast. Two good sized flood plains, the Ribe Au and the Koenigsau, run
into the most northern part of the wadden sea. The firth of the
Koenigsau is mostly shallow with numerous shoals whereas the Ribe Au
continue a clearly defined path into the wadden sea.
Taking the geographical position Ribe's into consideration with the
topic of this article it is obvious that Ribe is located at the most
northern point of the natural trade lines of the Frisian and that the
Ribe Au is the most northern trade route used to connect with the
jutlandic back lands.
While Hedeby was Jutland's portal to the Baltic Sea Ribe was its
equivalent to the North Sea. Whether there has been a trade route
across Jutland from Ribe during the early viking age similar to the
Hedeby-Hollingstedt-Route or not is debatable.
History – the written sources
The number of written sources available on the early history of Ribe
are numerous and extremely informative especially considering that Ribe
is a Scandinavian settlement. Here is a listing of the most important
Ribe is first mentioned around the year 860 — during the last
years of Ansgar. According to Rimbert, Angar's biographer, the king
presents the bishop with a piece of land and the permission to build a
Furthermore he also
receives permission for permanent
residence of a clergyman. Following Birka and Hedeby, Ribe becomes
Ansgar's third mission in Scandinavia.
In connection with the synod in Ingelheim in 948 three danish bishops
are being mentioned : the bishop of Schleswig [Hedeby], Århus
This is the first
account of danish bishops known to us.
Odinkar the Younger of Ribe, a bishop in the ii . century, may have
even reigned all of Jutland from his bishopric as there is evidence
that the bishopric of Arhus was abolished which was vacant in Slesvig
[this doesn't make any sense – perhaps a misquote ? Need look
up original text for this]3
At the end of the 11th century Adam von
Bremen describes Ribe as a town surrounded by water flowing in from the
ocean over which you can travel to Frisia, England and Germany.4
This source not only describes a town with trade connections along the
coat of the North Sea and across but also indicates that Ribe is
located exactly where it is known since the 12th century. It is safe to
assume that the aforementioned water describes the uniting streams of
the Ribe Au as no other location in this area meets those requirements
It is therefore proper to conclude from the written sources
- That Ribe is an urban settlement comparable in importance to the
archaeologically more renown settlements such as Birka and Hedeby.
- That Ribe was not only an established settlement during the
viking age but continued as a town. Adam von Bremen refers to Ribe as civitas.
The archaeological sources
Archaeologically the trade routes and other connections between Ribe
and surrounding areas can be proven back to the roman empire. Roman
coins were excavated at numerous places and in great numbers in the
extraordinarily rich living quarters of the field of
Dankirke southwest of Ribe.
The sequence of layers of this living quarter spans from the pre-roman
iron age to around the year 500 and contains a wide variety of finds
[ceramics, glass, jewelry, iron, bronze, silver, gold] as well as a
total of 73 coins of the age of the roman empire. The following coins
of more recent eras were found as well : 3 merovingian coins minted by
Madelinus between 689 and 716 in Dorestad, 2 English Sceattas from ca
725 and 8 Sceattas of probable Frisian origin of the late B. century.
There is the possibility that the living quarters at Dankirke were the
predecessor for the final settlement of Ribe, just as Helgö
was for Birka5
There are several viking age finds at Ribe and surrounding areas
whereas numerous excavations in the medieval city center did not
provide any clues of either the time of Ansgars or following centuries
that would have proven that Ribe developed at the same location where
it is today.
Only when the excavated area was expanded to include the other side of
the Ribe Au in 1970 did the archaeologists gather positive evidence. A
series of probings in this area of town revealed a concentration of
cultural layers near S. Nikolaj Street that lead to two greater
archaeological excavations in 1974-1975 with support of the danish
Fig. 1. Detail of a city map of Ribe. Circles indicate excavation
locations that only provided medieval finds. Triangles indicate
excavations that also discovered Viking age finds.
A total of about 600 m2
have been searched. The
cultural layers were between 2m and 3m strong, however, not even half
of those originated from the Viking age. About 60.000 finds have been
made of which about half are to be counted into the earliest time
period. The oldest phases of the settlement have to be divided into 4
main layers. The bottom layer consists of soil with traces of ploughing
with an ard. A grey layer of sand covers this ploughing layer [or might
be part of it]. This layer also provided remains of one, maybe two
wells as well as layer of waste consisting of iron scoria.
The whole area was completely covered by a waste layer during the
second phase which consists mainly of unrotten dung mixed in with
settlement waste that clearly points towards a settlement with trade
and crafts characteristics. Items that have been pressed into the
ploughing tracks of the first layer indicate that there hasn't been
much time between phase 1 and 2. Phase 2 and 3 seem to share an equally
close connection. This is evident in the stratigraphy as well as in the
items found in layer 3 that share both character/style and time period
as the items of layer 2.
The sequence of layers, however, shows a different composition.
Alternating there are thinner layers with a concentration of charcoal,
ashes and top soil oftentimes in connection with a fire pit or hearth
and other relatively thick layers of sand or top soil mixed with sand.
In this text we will refer to those thin layers as “Activity
horizons” and the separating layers “filling
layers”. The term “ground level layer”
has not been used in regard to the activity horizon layers as there are
no signs of wall constructions or similar structures.
Two such activity horizons were identified as a bead maker's workshop
and a bronze caster's workshop.
Incidentally only 2 sunken houses were found in the excavated area in
connection with layer 3; they are located at edge of the layer. A
double row of posts with interwoven brushwood was found but couldn't be
classified as to its function due to its relatively small size. It
could either be the wall of a house or perhaps a fence section. Layer 3
was disrupted and destroyed in this area due to construction works in
the 19th century.
It is very difficult to interpret the various layers that make layer 3.
The biggest obstacle lies in the many construction works this area has
been experienced that disrupted and destroyed the older layers
especially the rubbish pits of the 17th century. A larger connected
area has not been excavated and examined. However, it became obvious
that in this rural simple area ingenious and artistic crafts like the
production of beads thrived.
The activity horizons were layered on top of each other and thus tend
to create peaks with waste filling the spaces in between. None of those
peaks have been excavated fully. It was only possible to spot check
through several of them. In one of those samples containing the
beadmaker’s workshop, several of those activity horizons were
Phase 4 basically provides another waste layer on top of which there
are finally the layers of the 13./14th century. It is difficult to
understand this particular layer as it is very rich in objects and
lacking in traces of actual settlement.
The following theory can be presented without claiming final
interpretation: The first 3 of the 4 phases appear to show an increase
in activity at the location. A waste layer with signs of trade and
crafts was created over a former field. In direct follows evidence of
the continued presence of craftsmen and their workshops at the same
location. A possible explanation could be that the excavated area was
located alongside a settlement center and a such give proof of a
continued growth of this settlement. This settlement of which we found
traces of ploughed fields might not have been nearby, however, the
finds of waste and the aforementioned wells indicate it can't have been
Fig. 2. Detail of a wall in profile of the courtyard showing layers and
phases. The drawing is simplified. Organic material was found in the
layers of phase 2. (Photo and drawing ASR).
Regarding phase 2 it appears that the settlement has been near the
waste area. However, two points need to be taken into consideration
- We cannot assume that the settlement of which we have found
evidence in the layers of phase 2 is an expansion of the settlement in
- It is also not possible to determine whether the waste was
created by a continued or a periodical settlement. The large quantities
of unrotten dung appear to indicate a continued settlement. It
definitely indicates that there have been barns from which the dung
together with other waste was collected and removed. The great amount
of dung also point towards a great number of animals, possibly greater
than needed for the diet of the population of the settlement.
Assuming that at this early point in time Ribe did already have an
established trade rout for Jutland cattle then this fact cannot be used
to provide evidence for a continued settlement. This also applies to
the amount of found dog excrements.
3 a-b. Detail of a profile wall in the backyard of the art museum
showing layers and phases. The layers at the bottom of phase 3 include
the activity horizons of the bead maker workshop (Photo and drawing
It appears that the work of the craftsman of phase 3 happened either
under the open sky or a fairly lightweight construction as it did not
leave any visible signs. This also appears to indicate a periodic
settlement; however, this theory is weakened by the existence of fire
pits obviously used for cooking and solid house constructions as living
Summarizing those finds it can be said that the excavated material is
contradictory as well as too small in number to allow an educated
decision as to whether Ribe was a permanent settlement or rather a
periodically used market location. It is obvious; however, that it
hosted a rather active economy.
Due to the planned publication of those finds the variety of finds were
divided into groups and handed over to a number of scientists for
examination and study. Independently they have systematically examined
the items in regards to the age determination which resulted in the
discovery that they stem from the B. and g. century. The only exception
is the waste of the comb maker workshop which originates mainly out of
Kristina Ambrosiani, Stockholm, one of the scientists working on the
project, reported a strong presence of combs with a D-shaped profile.
Comparing this type of comb to similar material from Birka and Hedeby
dates those most likely to the 10. century.7
Coins allow for a more exact age determination.8
30 coins have been
found in the oldest layers : 28 Sceattas, 4 of which are so called
and 24 of the "Wodan-Type" . There are two more coins of which one
shows a hole drilled into the edge. Based on size they could be of
Arabic origin, unfortunately they are heavily corroded which makes it
impossible to determine this for sure.
Fig. 4. The two main types of Sceattas. M. = 2:1. (Photo
The coins are scattered throughout the layers and belong to phase 2 as
well as phase 3 and 4. This arrangement also indicates that the coins
are part of the settlement's waste rather than a scattered coin hoard.
This is why they are valuable for the age determination.
Kirsten Bendixen comes to the following conclusion : “After
comparing treasure finds and scattered coin finds of the same time
period it can be said that the different types of sceattas found in
Ribe originated from Frisia where they were in use from ca 720 to
Since we were able to date a few coin finds from the lowlands to the
middle of this time period we are confident that after consistent study
of coin variants we are able to determine the age of the Ribe coins
even more closely. The characteristics of the scattered coin finds of
Ribe give the impression of a fairly widespread and common use of
money, however, sceattas haven't been in use much longer after the coin
reformation of Charlemagne in 790. Hedeby imitated the big thin
Schroetling of the Carolingian coinage since 825 where it acquired some
resemblance to the former sceatta. Actual sceattas have not been found
together with Hedeby coins. This strengthens the theory that the use of
sceattas was limited to a very small time period. It is therefore
possible to date phase 2 and 3 to the time period between 720 and 825
with the phases dating more into the latter half of the 8th century and
reaching into the following century. Those relatively exact methods of
age determination – such as dendrochronology - of such a rich
and diverse find such as Ribe can hopefully be beneficial to the study
of other settlement excavations.
Immediately on top of the earliest layers of phase 4 are horizons,
which point toward the 13th and 14th century. We are not going to
discuss the problems that the lack of continuity of the finds
throughout the viking age creates but would like to mention that
scattered finds of the early viking age do occur in a different area of
the settlement north of the Ribe Au. Also, at this time there is no
answer to the question of where the hypothetical city center was
located. However, west of the aforementioned excavation in 1976 a
smaller excavation with scattered and sparse finds that were no
different in content and date provided us with a completely different
order of the cultural layers and horizons.
Comparing the written sources with the currently available
archaeological sources we reason that the are of Ribe was continuously
settled since the 8th century. A placement shift of the settlement as
we know it from other earlier settlements in northern Europe seems very
unlikely for Ribe, except for a shift during the 12th and 13th century
from the northern towards the southern shore of the Au. With begin of
the 14th century the oldest part of town is always referred to as
The various crafts
As mentioned before the various finds were divided between the
scientists who agreed to publish both material and the results of their
studies. For those find categories that are still under examination the
following report is a preliminary account complemented by purely
archaeological-stratigraphical observations by Mogens Bencard.
There is plenty material that provides proof for this particular craft
from dross to fragments of burnt clay with bits of dross still clinging
to it. Since this material hasn't been studied yet, this report is of a
very cursory nature.
Aside from scattered finds the excavated material is concentrated at
two points of the settlement of which one refers to the transitional
time period of phase 1 to phase 2 and the other one to phase 3.
The waste appears to be the result of the workshop of just one smith
and there is no evidence that indicates that there has been an
extraction [working with ore] locally. The kind of dross mainly found
is the flattened dome shaped “calotte” 11
dross puttied with roughly crumbled white rock
Fig. 5. Front of a flue stone made from clay M = ca. 1:3. (Photo ASR).
Since such admixtures occur with a variety of dross it is difficult to
discuss those found in Ribe as a stand alone kind. There is also a
great percentage of another kind of light grey, porous and spongy dross
which isn't documented for Hedeby and which cannot be connected to a
single particular craft in Ribe. In Lindholm Høje near
Aalborg this kind of dross was found in direct connection to the work
of the local smith.
In his study of the material of Hedeby Robert Thomsen managed to select
a type of dross which he referred to as
“winkelförmige Esseschlacken” [literally
“angle-shaped flue dross”]. The material of Ribe
does not support this type of dross as its production is rather
confusing. Among the finds of Ribe there are many examples of calotte
shaped dross molten together at an angle with pieces of red clay with
holes. In a number of cases the piece of clay was fully conserved and
shows a rounded edge. The front of this item made of clay is glossy
like glass, the back fired with a weathered texture. After noticing
those attributes it was possible to put several of the fragments
together which then create an approximately round shape with a hole in
the center. It is difficult to see anything but some kind of protective
shield for the bellows in those pieces, as stand alone flue stones.
During use a partial burning of the clay occurs whereas the other part
that doesn't get quite as hot flakes off more easily and after use
rather weathers. This creates an archaeological item which is referred
to as “flue dross” but is actually an independent
flue stone – similar for example to the Snaptun-stone12
the soapstone fragments from Hedeby and Fyrkat.13
One can imagine how those clay disks could have been a cover layer for
the front of an actual flue stone as Robert Thomsen hinted at in his
reconstruction. This theory is contradicted partially by the fact that
the clay disks show a weathered back, that soapstone does hold up well
against high temperatures and also partially the fact that the stone
from Hedeby shows burnt in dross at the front. In case this
interpretation proves correct it means that the angle shaped dross
consists of two pieces: a calotte shaped piece of iron dross molten
together with a piece of flue stone made from clay.
A great number of fragments of flue stones made from fired clay give
evidence of this craft. To date there is no exact number of those
fragments. There are also more than 300 fragments of crucibles as well
as more than 2000 fragments of molds made from clay of which about 200
are decorated. 25% of this material were found in the layers of phase
2, 5% are scattered finds of phase 3 and the remaining 70% belong to
the activity horizon of phase 3.
The activity horizon of phase 2 did not provide any firm evidence for
the fact that the bronze caster did actually work at this place since
for example no furnace had been found. However, in the center of the
activity horizons there is a shallow depression with where convex dross
covered with a flue stone has been found. A possible explanation is
that the craftsmen did not need a more elaborate and bigger furnace
than this. A small depression in the ground or maybe a mere piling of
charcoal into which the crucible was placed with bellows and flue stone
arranged besides it might not leave any clear archaeological evidence.
The strong concentration of waste in this 2m x 2m area as well as a
decrease of the same waste in the neighboring layers, however, makes it
very likely that this has been the workshop of a bronze caster.
Aside from remains of bronze in crucibles only little bronze remains
have been found in the area of the workshop. A connection between molds
and bronze objects found on site could not be verified. There are many
bronze items in the layers of phase 2 and 3. Only a very small number
of bronze items have been found – a few needles, 3 triangular
brooches, one small bowl-shaped brooch as well as fragments of a bigger
one. The number of undetermined bronze fragments
Fig. 6. Oberkappe (links) und
Unterform für eine schalenförmige Spange. M = 2:3.
The great number of finds helps us understand the work process better.15
It not only applies to the smith but also to the bronze caster that
there is one item that requires special attention. The many fragments
of fired clay are not fragments of the furnace but flue stones that
provided a protective shield for the bellows. In two cases it was
possible to reconstruct and put together complete front sides of those
items/ In Ribe those are predominantly square with an average side
length of 5-6cm. There is a hole in the center of about 1cm diameter
through which accommodated the tip of the bellow. Among the finds was a
iron tube which could have been the tip of a bellow. The front side of
the flue stones which pointed towards the fire are 1-2cm deep burnt to
glass. The backside is not preserved as it received too little heat and
thus crumbled away over the centuries. This type is known from
Helgö, Birka and Paviken in Sweden and some burial finds from
Sweden with examples up to 15cm strong. This item can also be
understood as a clay block that sat on the ground.
There are 4 types of crucibles.
- Thimble-shaped crucible
- Thimble-shaped crucible with a square handle to the side
- Closed crucible
- Low and flat crucible16
There are only a very few examples of the type 4 crucible known and it
is difficult to determine the percentage of the first two due to
fragmentary nature of many. The crucibles of type 3 are the ones that
are the least fragmented. Their heights range from 3.1 to 9.8 cm with
an outer diameter of 2-5.7cm which indicates that they were only used
to melt the bronze for one single item.
The many fragments enable the scientist to reconstruct the structure of
a mold with greater accuracy. The finds do not allow any information on
the actual model or the material out of which it was made but we will
look at this later in greater detail. The molds were shaped from clay
mixed with fine sand, glimmer and organic material [for example seeds
and chaff] and fired. They are between 1-2 cm thick [average 1.5cm].
All fragments belong to two-piece molds except for a fragment of a
The assembly went as follows: first the model was equipped with a
conical peg that later formed the spigot for the finished mold. The
clay of the top of the mold was modeled on to the top of the model,
most of the time worked in layers, so the details of the ornamentation
could be executed in greater accuracy. After drying the top was turned
over and the model removed and incisions made into the area around the
spigot. A piece of cloth approximately the thickness of the desired
piece of jewelry was placed inside the top part of the mold and soft
clay was pressed into the shallow depression to form the bottom. After
drying the bottom part of the mold both halves would be separated,
cloth and peg removed and if necessary holes for the needle clip cut
into the bottom part of the mold. Before using the mold it had to be
fired. This was done after putting both halves together and covering
them with a thin layer of clay – a way to ensure they were
fitted tightly together. We are not sure whether the molds were used
several times. At least the bottom half of the molds had to be broken
to remove the final piece. This is obvious in a small indention at the
The fragments of molds of phase 2 show that keys with a round handle
were cast as well as other items such as needles. Only one single top
half for a bowl-shaped brooch of the small type has been excavated.
This type is also known from finds made on Bornholm. A brooch of this
type has been found in Ribe in the same layer, however, it cannot be
determined whether this brooch was manufactured in Ribe or not as no
decoration on the inside was preserved. This may be caused by the
structure consisting of thin layers which might have led to a flaking
off of the inside layer.
The approximately 200 decorated fragments of the actual bronze casting
workshop represent only a few different types. Among the finds is a
mold for a horse buckle, a mold for an equal arm brooch of the Troms
type as well asmoulds for two keys. The remaining decorated fragments
belong to the type of bowl-shaped brooch of the Berdal type D.
The elements of the ornaments of those molds are the same; however,
they are arranged in different ways so that the decoration changes from
brooch to brooch. The bronze caster could have use the same top mold
several times. It is however likely that he did not work with a
constant model for example a finished cast brooch. The method with the
greatest possibility is the use of an individually worked model made
The Berdal brooch is well known form from western Scandinavia. To date
it has only been possible to tie one single brooch find from
Myklebostad in Norway to Ribe which is likely to have been manufactured
there. It is one of the mysteries of this time that there aren't many
found items that match the many discovered molds.
At last we would like to point out that there have been many finds of
iron pins for use with brooches. A stock of pins appears to have been a
typical part of stocked items for a bronze casting workshop.
The production of glass beads17
Aside from clay glass is the most common material found during the
excavations at Ribe. It appears in phase 2 as well as scattered finds
during phase 3. More so, two activity horizons of phase 3 have been
classified as workshops of bead makers.
Fig. 7-8. The two furnaces of the bead maker workshops back-to-back.
The lighter colored strips of the wall indicate a hearth whose function
hasn't been determined yet. In front the activity horizons have been
broken by a well dating from the Renaissance. (Photo ASR).
In total, ca. 1800 pieces of glass have been found. Of those 26% are
whole and fragmented beads 20% glass rods, 21% tesserae, 20% waste and
13% shards of glass containers. In addition the following have been
found : a piece of rose quartz, a piece of quartz, a piece of rock
crystal, a bead of amethyst, a carnelian bead as well as 2 fragments of
roman cameos with engravings of figurines18
The aforementioned activity horizons contain a strong concentration of
glass. They are directly on top of each other separated only by a thin
layer of sand. Both horizons have a length of 4,40 m whereas it hasn't
been possible to determine the width as part so the area have been
disturbed and removed through later activities and some are located
outside the excavated field. Each horizon has a furnace in which the
concentration of glass and charcoal are the highest. It measures
50-60cm x 25-30cm. Both are partially scorched red. In the less
scorched parts of one furnace there was evidence that the clay had been
mixed with refractory clay. Both furnaces showed an even surface
without any depressions or elevated edges. In one corner of the one
furnace a burned item made from fired clay was found that resembled a
loom weight. It was slightly heavier than regular loom weights and
covered in molten glass on one side. It is very likely this is a flue
stone for the bead maker's furnace. (Fig. 7-8).
Of the ca 480 found beads 76% are single colored and 24% multi colored.
39% of the single colored beads are blue, 24% green and 17% white. The
remaining 20% are red, orange, yellow, purple and clear glass; a few
silver and gold foil beads have been found as well.
Fig. 9. Diagram of glass items sorted by category. (drawing: Ingrid
The dominant color combination for multi colored beads is blue with
decoration of red and white lines: 36%. There are another 24% of beads
made from blue glass with different decoration. 14% were made from
reticella rods, 12% from black glass with yellow lines and 5%
millefiori beads. The remaining 9% are black, white, green and yellow
beads with different ornamental decoration. Multicolored beads are
predominantly round whereas single colored beads come in a much greater
variety of shapes.
Generally speaking the beads represent the 8th and 9th century and west
Scandinavia in style19
. Only a few types of
bead in very small
numbers can be counted towards imported goods whereas the rest can be
considered as produced in Ribe. Polished and drawn beads such as the
gold and silver foiled beads are most likely imported goods.
Most of the single colored beads have been created in roll technique ie
wounding the glass around a mandrel. Those beads could have been
produced in Ribe. This also applies to the multi colored beads with
either colored thread decoration as well as those from reticella rods
created in the same technique. Millefiori beads are a sparsely
represented group; however, the finds indicate that they have been
produced in Ribe.
Of ca. 360 rods and stringers 59% are single colored and 41% multi
colored . Of the single colored ones 39% are blue, 24% green, 17% red,
10% yellow, 9% white and 1% clear. Of all multi colored rods and
stringers 44% are millefiori, 34% simple rods with parallel differently
colored stripes and 21 % reticella.
Aside from the numerous finds of ready made single and multi colored
rods and stringers there are also “collections of
stringers” that show traces of manipulation with pliers. A
“collection of stringers” refers to a number of
multi colored stringers that are combined and molten into one thicker
rod that can be stretched and thus thinned to the desired thickness.
Both the existence of single colored as well as multi colored stringers
indicates they were produced in Ribe rather than imported.
Of ca. 370 pieces of tesserae 21% are made of blue glass, 21% of red,
15% of green and 15% of clear green glass with encased gold foil. The
remaining 20% are divided between clear, white, black, orange, brown,
yellow and purple glass.
Fig. 10. Steps of the production of millefiori beads. a: unfinished rod
with blue threads and red and white flower pattern b: end of rod with
traces of pliers. Blue and white eye patterns with red frame c: rod
with eye patter in red-yellow-blue-white-blue. D: rod with blue and
yellow checker board pattern in red frame e: plate with alternating
blue and yellow checker board pattern and red and white eye pattern in
blue frame. f: Bead with checker board pattern of aforementioned plate
and blue and white eye pattern in red frame. Scale 1:2 sketch : P.-O.
The existence of tesserae is considered firm evidence of a bead
production [or eventually the use of enameling for decoration]. The
finds of Ribe indicate clearly that tesserae were a trading
finds for example a single piece
in Aggersborg, are somewhat inexplicable, however, they could have been
considered a curiosity or may have been used as an amulet. Wherever we
find considerable amounts of it it must be considered an imported raw
material for the production of glass items. So far there are no finds
dating earlier than the 8th century. Already published finds fit neatly
into the results of the Ribe excavations and draw a clear picture of
the budding Norse trade due to efficient organization of trade routes
with hubs such as Helgü, Paviken, Kaupang and the eldest of
them, Ribe. A recently discovered find of 62 tesserae in the rural area
of Stånga on Gotland can be considered evidence for the
particular nature of gotlandic trade21
Fig. 11. Examples of polychrome beads a: blue bead with red eyes and
white zigzag line b: blue bead with red and white lines in a garland
pattern c: blue bead of reticella and blue with red and white zigzag
line d: blue bead with a blue eye framed in red and white. Scale: 3:2.
(Sketch: P.-O. Bohlin).
In Ribe, tesserae appear to have been the most important raw material.
It is possible that they have been produced for this express purpose.
They were possibly introduced to Ribe via Western Europe but might also
have been produced in Italy.22
The waste consists on one hand of remains of the imported raw material
and waste of the bead production itself on the other. It is comprised
of about 366 pieces of which 41% are blue, 14% multi colored, 15% green
and 10% red with the remaining 20% of clear, white, black, orange,
brown, yellow and purple glass.
The raw material was possibly imported in bigger blocks and broken into
smaller pieces at the workshop before it was molten in crucibles.
Numerous slightly bigger pieces of the same glass of which tesserae
were made were among the finds. Therefore you find many broken pieces
of tesserae between the smaller shards of glass as they were being
prepared for the melting process.
The production waste consists of molten drops of glass encrusted with
sand as they fell onto the sandy floor of the workshop still soft and
thus sticky. Among those drops of molten glass some have been found of
clear glass with remains of gold hinting at the fact that also tesserae
with gold foil have been molten and reshaped. Shards of glass for
example a reticella shard are also among those re-molten and re-shaped
Fig. 12. Examples of half finished or failed beads a: blue bead with
center hole still filled with clay separator, one end partially molten
b-c: a blue and two red beads with traces of being rolled around a
metal spindle d: green bead made of a wound rod e-f: yellow beads made
from tubular rods; two have molten together when the bead maker
attempted to round the edges. Scale: 3:2. (Sketch: P.-O. Bohlin)
Fig. 13. Examples of reticella rods and beads. Of the two rods a is
made of blue glass with red and white veins (unfinished) and b is blue
glass with red and yellow veins. The beads color scheme is blue, white
and red. Scale: 3:2. (Sketch: P.-O. Bohlin)
Fig.14. Examples of waste from production a-c: ends of stringers of
green glass with traces of pliers d: millefiori of blue glass with
parallel of blue glass with parallel white and red veins. e: 2
collections of stringers for the creation of millefiori rods made from
red, yellow and blue glass. Scale: 3:2. (Sketch: P.-O. Bohlin)
Only 169 pieces of glass shards have been found. They are predominantly
wall shards of glass items, 25% are shards from edges and 2% shards
from the bottom of a glass item. In 82% of the shards the glass is
light green, 11% dark green and the remaining shards are distributed
between the colors blue, clear, olive colored, brownish red and purple.
Reticella and funnel glasses are the most dominant types of types of
glass containers which means if is mostly drinking vessels that can be
dated into the same time period. It is possible that there are also
older types existent, however, if so then they only occur in
Fig. 15. Shallow iron pan with even bottom and short handle that has
been found in one of the furnaces of the bead maker. Scale: 4:5.
(Sketch: Moria Mackenzie).
There are only a few hints that the bead maker used shards to create
beads. The existence of glass shards is best explained as sign of
extensive trade with glass drinking vessels that occasionally broke
into pieces during their transport. Similar finds in Helgö and
Birka have been interpreted in the same way.
We are not going to elaborate on the technique of bead production other
than some discoveries made in regards to the tools of the bead maker.
In the workshop layer we found a fist sized stone with a depression in
the center which could have been a mortar. A shallow metal pan with an
almost completely even bottom and a short handle has also been found in
the hearth. It was possibly used to melt glass frit. A bone spatula was
discovered in the workshop layer. An iron stick with conical tip and
wooden handle is considered a scatter find; however, it might be
possible that this is indeed a mandrel or other kind of tool from the
bead maker's workshop. The traces of pliers on monochrome as well as
reticella and millefiori rods have to be mentioned in regards to
Fig. 16. Iron rod with conical tip and remains of a wooden handle.
Length 29.5 cm. Was not found in context with function but is likely a
tool of the bead maker. (Photo ASR).
To sum up, the following can be said about the glass trade:
It is the fact that in relation to the number of beads and shards of
other glass items a much larger number of tesserae have been found that
is characteristic for Ribe, in comparison with other places that show
signs of bead production. The following shows what importance the proof
of workshops have on the classification of a finds: The excavation was
executed in two phases which each led to the discovery of about 50% of
the total of found glass material. However, the last phase in which
also the workshops have been discovered provided us with 76% of the
glass rods. This find enables us to more clearly define and classify
the find in its entirety.
The workshops were obviously of a very simple nature. Nothing indicates
a solid construction with walls and roof. The floor was covered with a
layer of sand and measured 4.4m. Unfortunately this is the only
measurement available. The small furnaces of fired clay are on the
ground. The bead maker possibly worked using a low table where he kept
tools and raw materials. Remains of such a table have not been found.
Using crucibles he melted the glass in open furnaces. In order to do so
a temperature of only 1000°C is necessary this can be achieved
by means of bellows. A helper to work the bellows was necessary to
produce a constantly hot fire. This helper might have been helpful
during other steps of the work process as well; however, the main body
of the work was done by the bead maker alone even though two craftsmen
per furnace might have been the ideal cast. With the furnace
immediately on the ground the bead maker must have worked crouched low
Here follows an attempt at explaining the existence of several activity
horizons on top of each other and separated by layers of clean sand. It
is difficult to determine whether the individual layers should be
considered as individual horizons for seasonal reoccurring workshops or
as regularly happening floor reconstructions of a workshop with
continued production. Since there are no signs of a house, the
production possibly took place during the warmer season of the year,
probably during the time when traveling merchants temporarily settled
at a market place. However, there are also arguments against this
theory since the excavated area might have hosted the work shop during
the summer and that the actual workshop of the bead maker has yet to be
The large number of finds scattered all over the area of the
excavations indicate that the two areas classified as bead maker work
shops might not have been the only ones. The beads that can't be dated
due to their type need to be examined as chronologically congruent with
the other finds.
With the provision that this is only a preliminary report it appears
that there has been ample production of glass beads in Ribe before and
after 800 and that there was at least one workshop was active.
Up until today the production of millefiori and reticella beads has not
been thought possible under as simple conditions as in Ribe. The
discoveries of Ribe thus ends a traditional theory that for the
complicated trade of glass bead making you had to look elsewhere like
Italy or even Egypt and Syria. This also meant that this trade had been
preserved in good sized workshops with a long tradition. The glass
finds of Ribe however show that even more complicated and complex
techniques are possible under the fairly primitive and simple
conditions of a market place of pre-urban character.
With the aforementioned caveat in mind one can also assume that the
bead maker was a traveling craftsman, possibly from Western Europe, who
set up shop in Ribe during the trade season. This stay appears to have
been of extended nature and created also a decent production based on
the complicated techniques used in bead production.
It is unthinkable that the bead production was only for the local
market of Ribe; however, it is near impossible to judge the number of
possible customers from the back lands due to the lack of finds of
Danish burial and settlement sites. Thorough studies on the prevalence
of the various types of beads in regards to time and place are still
necessary. As long as it is not possible to study other work shops the
results of excavations will be very vague. In the list of craftsmen of
this study in the northern world the bead maker from Ribe holds a very
A large amount [about 2.2kg] of untreated amber has been found. Among
the amber finds were also 3 pieces that showed preparatory work to
dome-shaped gaming pieces as well as several half finished beads and
pieces with drilling holes. Amber was found scattered through the
layers of phase 2 and phase 3. In connection to an activity horizon in
phase 3 a sand island mixed with chips of amber was discovered. It
cannot be determined accurately whether this was a workplace for a
craftsman working with Amber who would have considered those chips as
usable raw material instead of waste.
Only half finished items and very few finished objects made from wood
have been found in Ribe and thus there is not much further reason for
continued study from a craft perspective. Remains of wooden
constructions and raw wood only show traces of fairly primitive
processing with a hatchet. The bottom of a wooden well construction is
put together by means of mortise joints. The mortises have been shaped
with a hatchet and the hole at each end has been drilled with a spoon
drill and shaped with a hatchet. This kind of drill is listed with
items with iron components, but not the hatchets.
Four staves have been discovered in the same well. They were made from
oak wood which despite its slow growth displayed 170-180 annual growth
rings on its fairly small width. There has been an attempt at
determining the age by means of a dendrochronological study, however,
the pattern of annual growth rings could not be matched with that of
the area of Slesvig-Jutland. While therefore the trade of coopers does
not appear to be native to Ribe, that of the ship builder is a very
likely possibility. Only one big iron anchor has been discovered in
recent excavations but the many found tacks show the same kind of
breakage as the finds Paviken on Gotland brought to our attention by
The antler, bone and horn trade24
The finds consist of about 1100 pieces as well as 5-6 liter of stag
antler waste. It was mainly found in the unrotten dung layers of phase
2 which probably relates to the preservation attributes of this layer.
The main item of the finds is production waste.
Only 35 pieces of actual items have been uncovered as there are 12
fragments of combs, 8 gaming pieces, 2 die, 8 Tibia with a hole drilled
into them, 3 needles as well as 2 ”Schlittschuhe/ice
skates”. Individual pieces can originate from a later period.
The distribution of waste and finished items is characteristic for Ribe
except for the bead production and not very surprising. In the
excavated area items were produced, not used.
One of the pieces of this category stems from a moose; the remaining
pieces are all from stags. Of the preserved antlers [all stag] about
¼ are still with the base whereas the remaining pieces come
from antlers that had been shed naturally. This distribution resembles
the distribution of finds from Hedeby and indicates there as well as
here that not only antler from slaughtered animals were used but that
they also went actively out to collect the raw material for the
intended production. The characteristics of the antler waste in Ribe
resemble that of similar settlements of the same time in the Baltic
area. This indicates a similar work technique and therefore possibly
Dr. Ingrid Ulbricht in Sleswig represents the theory that there wasn't
enough demand to justify a professional production during the Viking
age and regards the production of combs as a secondary trade to a
craftsman with a different main job.
However, the striking similarity of waste from place to place appears
to point into a different direction. In Ribe a high concentration of
waste, especially the shavings caused by working the raw material, was
found in a clearly defined area. Despite the fact that no definitive
work shop area was discovered the amount of waste still indicates a
Apart from indirect evidence for the tools in use [knife, saw,
polishing stone] provided by discovered items, only one single tools
has been excavated that might have been used in regards to working with
bone and antler. It is a square block of antler measuring 4.5cm wide
and 1.5cm tall which provides the base to an iron point with a square
profile inserted into its center. This item might have been used as a
clamp of sorts to hold smaller objects in place while they were being
shaped into dome-shaped gaming pieces for example. In finds from Birka
matching indentures in the bottom of such pieces have been found.
The aforementioned pierced Tibia, needles and "ice skates" do not
indicate that bone has been used in extensive professional production.
This also applies to half finished pieces for the construction of combs
cut from rib bones. However, there might already have been a trade
based production of bone combs in place.
Items or waste from horn (Keratin) have not been found, except for pegs
from horn of cow, sheep and goat. Those pegs do not show any marks of
manipulation and thus aren't interesting in regards to this report on
crafts in Ribe of the Viking age.
6 joined horn pegs, 66 single pieces and 12 smaller fragments of horn
pegs from goat have been found. Considering the fact that only 6 bones
of goat have been found one cannot doubt the theory that they have been
Those horn pegs do show marks of manipulation where they have been
sawed or hacked off. This leads to the assumption that goat horns
(keratin) have been used for the production of so far unknown items.
Those horn pegs have been found in the same area as the antler waste.
Leather has been found exclusively in the layers of unrotten dung of
phase 2 where it has been preserved. A total of 430 pieces of leather
have been excavated. An attempt at determining the kind of leather
based on texture and orientation of the hair follicle has been made.
The majority of finds were cow leather, the remaining pieces from
horse, sheep and goat.
Fig. 17. 2 types of shoe. On the left "skin" shoe made from one piece
and on the right, vamp for shoe with separate sole. (Photo: Marianne
Apart from the cut off tip of a knife sheath and a peculiar item
resembling a leather key, the most remarkable leather finds are shoes
of which 2 main types have been discovered:
- "skin" shoe made out of one piece of leather
- sole shoes where top and sole have been sewn together
An entirely preserved skin shoe shows that a 5mm strong leather strap
has been used to sew it together. To either side of the foot opening
there is a row of slanted holes used to pull a leather strap through to
tie the shoe tightly to the foot.
Actual yarn has been used to sew the sole shoes together. Remains of
the thread have been preserved and indicate it's been of botanical
nature. The thread was pulled through holes that had been punched into
the leather first. This kind of seam has a very characteristic
appearance and can even be determined on fragments. Two complete uppers
have been excavated, one the upper to a boot, and fragments with part
of a seam. The uppers are cut from one piece of leather in a v-shape
and sewn together at the heel. The technique is similar to the one in
use during the later Middle Ages; however, without using the variety of
sewing techniques with regards to the task at hand as it was the case
in the later Middle Ages. All uppers show traces of the same
decoration: a sewn welt from instep down to the toes. The shape of one
sole indicates a pointed heel whereas two others have a rounded heel.
This is also the case with the preserved boot and it is possible that
shoes had soles that were shaped with a pointed heel.
The technique of cutting the pattern pieces is also different from the
methods used during the later middle ages. While in the later middle
ages the uppers were oftentimes pieced together, a method which
guarantees the best use of the leather, both types of shoes found in
Ribe were cut in a way that would create a rather great amount of
The remaining leather finds are pieces of various sizes with marks of
manipulation that indicate that they've been cut off along the edges.
This marks them as production waste which in turn indicates that the
leather work shops must have been nearby whereas the other items appear
to be actual waste of the settlement. The waste allows no theory in
what else was produced. A few triangular pieces of leather are probably
related to the v-shaped uppers of shoes.
The sole shoes have been made mostly from goat and sheep leather
whereas the skin shoe was cut from cow leather. The same kinds of
leather dominate the waste. Especially the sole shoes appear to have
been made by a professional shoemaker who managed to achieve a
professional uniformity in his products. The waste indicates that there
was leather trade in Ribe. It is therefore also believable that the
excavated shoes were made in Ribe.
In regards to woven textiles a piece of roughly woven piece of wool and
a finely woven piece of a vegetable fiber, possibly flax, have been
found. Aside from this 100 loom weights and many fragments of fired
clay have been unearthed. Furthermore weights of unfired clay were
discovered but only a few exceptions of those were in a state that
allowed complete excavation. 30 spindles of fired clay and one wooden
spindle were found as well. These finds are distributed over the layers
of phase 2 and 3. There is one area with a certain concentration of
loom weights which were found scattered and not in one row. All other
finds must be regarded as scatter finds.
The question whether there was a weaving trade in Ribe or simply
production for their own use cannot be answered at this point.
One of the major points of discussion is about “how
many” spindles and weights you need to find before you can
consider them “many”. Considering the fact that for
a loom you need at least 15-20 weights a total of 100 found weights is
a rather unimpressive number. On top of that there are also the
fragments and of course that fact that these finds are classified as
It is near impossible to compare this find to that of other
settlements. Size of the settlement and the style of archaeological
approach as well as time period of the settlements play an important
role. However, while there's hardly any material for comparison there
is the general impression that the concentration of this particular
kind of find in Ribe is unusually numerous.
The zoological side of the studies if this excavation offers
information that might be of interest in this regard. In comparison to
other studies the bone material of Ribe has a greater concentration of
bones from old sheep.27
This could indicate a greater interest in
the production of wool than keeping sheep for meat. Since there appears
to be evidence for sheep farming aiming for production of wool and
therefore catering to spinning and weaving it raises the question
whether the lengthy production process of making cloth was feasible for
settlements of a temporary/seasonal nature, no matter whether the
production aimed at covering the needs on site or as a trade.
A formula based on the number of found spindles and loom weights that
would allow us to determine the kind of production level of a
settlement would be very helpful to answer this question.
To sum it up, it can be said that the craft-related finds of the
excavations clearly indicate that in the oldest part of Ribe almost all
crafts known from the Viking age were active. Under this aspect Ribe
can be classified as a fully developed settlement. The discoveries of
the work shops for bronze casting and bead making allow significant and
new contributions to the understanding of the development, the methods
of production and the standing in society of those two trades.
Notable in regards to the bronze casting workshop is the fact that so
much material only provided information on so few different types. This
concentration of one particular kind of brooch in one work shop appears
to indicate a specialization; a thought that'd open up a whole new
horizon of theories. However, we cannot tell for certain whether the
same craftsman tried for diversity in the production of other object
categories or if he managed to hold on don to his specialization for
his whole life. Comparing the limitations of the material of Ribe's
bronze work shop with the great variety of shapes and types of bronze
items of the Viking age it is surprising that not much more waste of
bronze work shops has been discovered.
Fig. 18. The weights for the loom are mostly plain. Extant ornaments
are circled crosses and indented marks of keys of that type. Scale 2:3.
While the glass finds haven't been studied under this aspect, the
excavated material suggested a certain level of specialization. An
example is the reticella rods and beads made form these as they are
limited to this one work shop.
The special attributes of the layers of unrotten dung of phase 2
contributed greatly to excavating unusual organic material. Important
are for example the evidence that horn matter [keratin] from goats had
been used for the production of objects. The leather finds contribute
to a better understanding of the craft during this time period since it
is very likely that the shoes were crafted in a highly professionalized
and specialized manufacturing process. It is astounding to find the
primitive skin shoe in the same area as the fully developed shoe with
separate sole and leather upper. This type hasn't been able to date as
early as it has been the case here.
The conserved shoes undoubtedly were considered trash since they are
completely worn out. It is typical for Ribe that excavation produce
mainly waste but no finished items. An exception is the beads that once
lost were hard to recover by the bead maker.
A major part of the production for example bronze items and beads are
luxury items. It is therefore most likely that the finished items were
buried with their owners. This means it is very unlikely to find them
inside the settlement. The odd ratio of waste to finished items is very
apparent in regards to the material found with the comb maker workshop.
Combs are very common objects of every day use, although the
“status” of the comb during that time period is
being discussed, and one would have expected a higher number of used
finished items during the excavation.
In general, the finds of the excavations indicate that the production
of items of society of Ribe was not aimed at satisfying the local
demand only. This discovery leads to the question about the overall
character of the settlement. This problematic has been touched briefly
in earlier chapters without trying to present evidence in a way that
would not lead to the forming of a certain opinion on this matter too
The most striking attribute is the lack of evidence of house
constructions and aside from the remains of the two sheds the overall
lack of marks of settlement. This lack contradicts the richness and
variety of excavated material of this area. Is this evidence enough to
consider a periodical settlement with market character or was there a
constant settlement after all?
Basically it is misleading to present this problem as an either-or
question. The represented crafts cannot be considered indisputable
evidence. They rather tend towards indicating a temporary settlement.
It is also possible that this kind of market place came into existence
following a constant settlement. The question is thus best phrased like
this: Does this find that does not show marks of settlement provide any
evidence for a constant settlement ? With reservation the ploughing
marks of phase 1 can be considered evidence for this idea. The
aforementioned wells and the waste of the smithy do not appear in
direct stratigraphical relation with the ploughing layer. While it is
likely it is not certain that the ploughed fields and the settlement
have been in immediate vicinity of each other. The recovered dung of
domestic animals of phase 2 is another sign, even better than the ones
mentioned so far. However, aside from the fact that the amount of dung
can only originate from domestic animals in barns this is also not an
indisputable evidence to support the theory of a permanent settlement.
One craft, namely the production of cloth, appears to offer the
evidence with the greatest importance. It is the most popular craft in
settlements with agriculture and self-sufficiency and thus provides a
good clue for the existence of a permanent settlement.
As mentioned before there is no probability calculus to determine the
necessary amount of preserved tools before they are considered the
remains of a true craft production with intended sales. In this regard
the finds of Ribe share a striking characteristic that sets it apart
from other prehistoric finds. The bone material shows an excess of
older sheep, ie sheep were kept for wool and less for meat. This also
means that the whole process from sheep to shawl is present. This
process is lengthy and time-consuming and requires a certain
settledness which contradicts the theory of a periodical market place.
In other words, it appears that the production of textiles though
difficult to define as a professional trade offers the best evidence
for a permanent settlement at the northern shore of the Ribe Au in 800
and before that.
(1) Vita S. Anscharii. Script. Rer. Dan.
I, 482. 1772. (back
(2) Dipl. Dan.
1, I, 319. 1975. RICHERUS: Historiarum libri
IIII. Recogn. Georgius Waitz, 73-74. 1877. Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptorum,
III, 395-96. ADAM VON BREMEN: Hamburgische Kirchengeschichte
(ed.B.Schmeidler), 64-65. 1917. (back
(3) ADAM VON BREMEN: Op.Cit., 230-31. ANDREAS NISSEN: Danske Bisperækker,
56-57. 1935. (back
(4) ADAM VON BREMEN: Op. Cit., 228-29. (back
(5) ELISE THORVILDSEN: Dankirke
und KIRSTEN BENDIXEN: Menterne fra Dankirke, Nationalmuseets Arbejdsmark,
47 f. 1972. (back
(6) OLAF OLSEN: Nogle tanker i anledning af Ribes uventede høje alder, Fra Ribe Amt
XIX, 240. 1975. (back
(7) KRISTINA DANIELSSON: Bearbetat ben och benhorn, Birka,
40 f. 1973. (back
(8) Die Münzen werden von
Museumsinspektør Kirsten Bcndixen, Den kgl. Mønt- og
Medaillesamling, Nationalmuseet, bearbeitet. (back
(9) MOGENS BENCARD: Ribes ældste udvikling, Mark og Montre.
1974. MOGENS BENCARD und STINE WIELL: Et trefliget spænde fra Ribe, Mark og Montre,
(10) Die metalltechnischen Untersuchungen werden
von Konservator Helge Brinch Madsen, Konscrvatorskolen,
København, durchgeführt. (back
(11) ROBERT THOMSEN u.a.: Untersuchungen tiur Technologie des Eisens. Ausgrabungen in Haithabu,
Bericht 5. 1971. (back
(12) P. V. GLOB: Avlssten, KUML.
(13) ELSE ROESDAHL: Fyrkat II, 45. 1977. Essesteine aus Ton kommen auch in Fyrkat vor, a.a.O.61.
Ein schwedisches Beispiel gibt INGA SERNING: Förhislorisk järnhantering i Dalarna. Järnkontorets Forskning.
Serie H, Nr. 9. 1973, 113 f. (back
(14) Wie Anm. 10. (back
(15) HELGE BRINCH MADSEN: Specialist i Spænder, SKALK,
Nr. 4. 1976. (back
(16) Typ 4 ist identisch mit den von Fyrkat erwähnten »heating trays«, siehe RoESDAHI.: Fyrkal II, S. 51. (back)
(17) Das \laterial wird von al. kand. Ulf
Näsman, Viborg, bearbeitet. Dcm Kunsthandwerker Finn Lynggaard
ist air Ratsrhlüge über herstellungstechnische Fragen zu
(18) BIRGITTE: \\'ISTOE`r: I'iklaria fra Ribe. Alark og Alonlre, 1978. (back)
(19) JOHAN CALLMER: Trade beads and head trade in Scandinavia ca. 800-1000 A.D. Lund 1977. (back)
(20) Vergleiche AGNETA LUNDSTRÖM: Bead making in Scandinavia in the Early Middle Ages, Antikvarisk Arkit 61. 1976. (back)
(21) DAN CARLSSON: Ett vendel - vikingatida verkstadshus på Gotland. Fornvãnnen. 1976/3-4. 86 f. (back)
(22) AGNETA LUNDSTROM.a.a.O. (back)
(23) PER LUNDSTRÖM: Kinknaglarnas vittnesbörd, Sjöhistorisk årsbok. 1971-72. (back)
(24) Das Material wird von fib kand. Kristina Ambrosiani, Stockholm, bearbeitet. (back)
(25) Das Material wird von cand. mag. Ingrid Nielsen, Sydjysk Universitetscenter, bearbeitet. (back)
(26) Das Material wird von mag. art. Lise Bender Jorgensen, Langelands Museum, bearbeitet. (back)
(27) Das Knochenmaterial wird von Museumsinspektor Tove Flatting, Zoologisk Museum, bearbeitet. (back)