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Thursday, January 7, 2010

LAM 2010 - Setting the Stage : ICELAND

Geography 2 - This is a more focused look of Iceland itself:

The first is a modern view, loaded off the Geographic Guide web site. I had looked at a number of maps available (via Google) and thought this was best suited for our purposes.
Unlike many others, it combines both topography, town sites and roads. It did not use false colour (on many showing elevations, with sea level as green - which is problematic). It did include the locations of the major ice sheets, which along with elevation, is important to understand settlement patterns.

This second map is scanned from Vikings - NAS (Fitzhugh & Ward, pg 165). This is a map of the historic settlement patterns. I chose this one primarily because it shows occupation areas in general during expansion period. The key lists 'by 930' which is as close a reference as we are likely to get for were people are in our target period of 1000 AD.

The last image was scanned from 'Viking Expansion Westwards' (Magnusson, pg 86). It is a nice compliment to the map above. It shows the major town and archaeological sites. I suspect this map will prove the most useful when it comes time to start looking at artifact prototypes.


Author's Note: This part of a series of shorter descriptions that will add together to paint a picture of the background to DARC's upcoming presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC in August of 2010. Taken together, these articles will deal with a number of specific interpretive elements, using Vinland in the Viking Age as the concrete example. These are most likely to presented here very much in a random order. Hope is to tie them together into a coherent package to be delivered at Forward Into the Past in late March.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Two Icelandic Museums

Two museum visits so far and about time to start talking about them. The first was Vikingaheimar.

This is a new museum (opened this year) housing Íslendingur, a knarr built by folks here in Iceland and sailed over to L'anse Aux Meadows in 2000. The museum is a little sparse for content but that isn't surprising with the money situation in Iceland. -- For those who don't know the banking crisis hit this tiny country very hard, with the three biggest banks going belly up, and the British and Dutch governments holding the country hostage to get repaid for deposits by their people. -- The museum was completed and opened which is a big credit to the people who worked on bringing it about.

The museum itself is Well laid out with the largest hall housing the boat which is displayed to provide wonderful visibility into, and under, the boat. There are view areas on the second floor allowing visitors to look down on the main deck, and on the main floors to allow visitors to walk underneath it. There is significant content about the creation of the ship and its voyage which is wonderful to see.

The remaining rooms have reasonable content, the layout gives you time and space to examine the artefacts, a very nice mural and room to expand the collection as time and money allow. Plus - they allowed pictures and the lighting wasn't awful! This is an important thing in a museum in my opinion, made even better by the listing of artefact numbers with the text about the item allowing easy followup with the curatorial staff. The text had a good balance of overall context and some information about the particular artefact. It didn't go into all of the detail that I might want to see but then again, I am not the average visitor. The gift store had a reasonable collection of books, but the other content was a bit sparse. Overall, it's well worth the time and money to visit, likely even more so as the years pass if they continue to build the content.

Part of the mural showing the raid on Lindisfarne.

Three of the arrowheads in the exhibit along with their associated text.

Clearly having too much time on his hands, Thorgrimr carved a small norse figure completing it just before our last get together. Needless to say the timing of this and our trip was too much fun to pass up - so we decided to drag Snorri along with us.

Here we see Snorri posing on the top deck of the Islandingur. Worth noting as a future expansion is that the back end of the boat has four nice boxes in it. All of them were closed - a nice addition would be to open one and show some of what would be stored in it. As a second point, surely ONE of them could be carved to allow a nice game of tafl while sailing? I think it might also be nice to put out an oar or two to allow people to see them in relation to the size of the boat and benches.

Part of the top viewing area allowing you to step quite close to the top of the boat and see each part of it.

The second museum was at Eiriksstaðir.

This museum is the likely first home of Eirik the Red's married life. It was occupied for only 10-20 years before he had to move on "due to some killings". The museum itself has a small staff shack, a set of washrooms, a half dozen full sized poster boards with the site history in four languages (Icelandic, English, German, and one of the Scandinavian languages). Just slightly uphill from the signs is the actual remains covered over again but with the wall outline shown as at L'anse Aux Meadows. A few yards off to one side is the reconstructed house where you find the two re-enactors.

These are the re-buried remains of the original longhouse. Surprisingly small actually (4x12 m).

Here we see Snorri about to enter the archaeological remains of the original house.

The loom in the reconstructed house. I'll leave it to Karen to go into details about the differences between this "Icelandic" style loom and the scandinavian looms. The staff did mention that they don't work on the loom anymore as they had a lot of difficulty with it - wonder why....

They also mentioned that the fire keeps things dry enough inside that they are getting some heavy checking on the wood pillars. They often boil water (over the propane fire) to help increase the humidity.

Karen grabbed this wonderful shot of my enjoying a story from the male staff member - funny we talked for a long time about a range of topics, I left each of them with a DARC card but none of us thought to introduce ourselves by name (or ask the other's name) - the things that don't occur to you until later... We will have to follow up by email with them later. In any case their presentation is entirely in third person story telling. They talk through the story of Eirik and Leif, birth, exile, new lands, all of it. There are only a very few staff members working now (a shame). The hall is fairly nice, and like the houses at L'anse Aux Meadows it cuts out the outside wind noise perfectly. It is, however, very heavily equipped. Multiple spears, a sword, multiple axes, many shields, sheepskins everywhere, bric a brac tucked in every corner, lots of clothes on the walls.

A bellows (not right for viking age unless they know something we don't) and an example of the equipment load - that is 4 frypans on the wall - riches!

Some of the many weapons around the house.

A closeup of the jewelry of the female interpreter (get the NAMES next time!). Being interested in beads, this was especially of interest to me. The middle strand she called out as a gift from a bead maker (extremely modern styles), the other two strands have a mix of the good and the bad. I'm not sure about the broaches, lovely work but they are cut-outs without a solid backing. Like a two piece broach without the underlying piece. Must look into this to see if any finds match that.

And just for fun the nice lady posed with Snorri allowing the costume types a look at her outfit. (nice fox as a scarf)

Overall, most definitely worth the time and money to visit. The folks there are quite knowledgeable about the history involved but not as much about the artefacts and they don't seem to be as active in the research. This is more of an acting arrangement.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

DARC Fall Smelt on YouTube

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thanksgiving at Hals in Wareham (1)

(this is a duplicate from 'Hammered Out Bits'
This is a fairly long posting, expanded from a recent set of e-mails.

There has been some discussion (Kevin Smith / Ken Cook / Neil Peterson and myself) of the framework for the Thanksgiving smelt. For those keenly interested, this will be at Wareham Sunday October 12.

As regular readers may remember, the DARC smelt team is working towards a full reconstruction based on the evidence from the Hals site in Iceland. The excavation work is being done by Kevin Smith (reference : 'Ore Fire, Hammer Sickle : Iron Production in Viking Age and Early Medieval Iceland') An earlier discussion - 'Towards an Icelandic Smelter'.
Possible layout for the furnaces at Hals based on remains.

There are a number of individual elements that go towards the full reconstruction:

Sod cone in a log frame construction
Hand powered bellows
Use of thin clay / marl liner on interior
Working down a narrow slot
Tuere above tap arch set up
Stone slab front construction (?)
Use of 'bellows plate' (?)
Use of primary bog ore material

The sod construction represents a major logistics challenge at this point. We need a skid of grass sod (hopefully donated). Time is too tight to set this up for this Thanksgiving. I also think there are a number of other pieces to work up before we go that full construction. We can certainly use an earth banked design which will allow us to test a number of the other elements.

Hand powered bellows is almost a party trick at this point. A full test is more about labour organization than air delivery effect on the smelt. We should get some solid delivery numbers on the new test bellows. This can be done as a simple working test as was done last June, using multiple operators and an averaging aneomometer. Frankly, I'm sure that new bellows unit will give us the required volumes, so this is largely a work dynamic more than technical issue. (see earlier posts)

Use of the thin liner should represent a major test on its own. The simple way (see below) would be to dig a cylinder into our pond earth bank for the smelter, then line the dirt with the thin clay. We will have to substitute straight ball clay for marl - as we just can't GET any marl / 'glacial blue clay). I did read in Pleiner (someplace?) about furnaces that were simple cylinderical holes cut into the ground near the edge of a natural bank. Then lined with a thin) layer of clay as fire proofing. (I think these were English / Anglo Saxon??) The evidence from Hals does not appear to give us either the thickness, or mixture of this suspected clay liner. Kevin Smith has suggested 2 - 5 cm. I suspect you would want to use the horse manure cobb here.

The work dynamic of the Icelandic is the easiest thing to work on right now. Ken and I talked it over, and we think we can 'fake' this out by digging a key hole into the side of the pond bank (more details below). This would let us use the upper ground level as if it was the top of the sod construction., blocking out the 2 metre square working platform. Now this would require us to undertake all the physical adjustments to the smelt bowl working down a roughly 1 m long slot. I think we should also fake the position of a man powered bellows by placing a plywood cut out, but at this point still use the blower air system. This should definitely be one of those 'rake the sand' experiments to look at work and debris patterns.

The major shift for us is the placement of the tuyere directly above a small tap arch. Michael Nissen from Ribe uses that rough layout all the time on his smelters. I'm not really expecting any big problem here. (see above)

Now, we did mess with the stone slab construction for the Thanksgiving and Fall smelts of 2007. The first of these we did try to use the 'blow tube' style tuyere (tuyere set back from blast hole), but with poor results. The use of a stone front on the smelter (or entire stone construction) has been tested to success. My own interpretation of the layout from Hals leads me to believe you would want to(ideally) construct the smelter with a stone slab set above a clay bellows plate. Our own tests certainly suggest that any stone used in this fashion will bear significant and distinctive patterns. Kevin Smith has reported "We do have a small number of spalls with slag that could make sense from a similar use.", from a discussion on our results from the October 2007 smelts.

What about the use of a separate clay bellows plate? This represents both an archaeological question at its core. Again, there appears to be no specific artifact evidence, but this is balanced against the relatively fragile nature of these plates. Does the evidence indicate STONE used as the front section of the smelter around the tuyere? . What about the use of a separate clay cobb 'plate'? A number of smelts (mainly Nissen) have shown that a roughly 15 x 20 cm by 2 cm thick plate of dry horse manure mixed with clay works extremely well.

The third piece of this method is the set up with the tuyere actually sitting proud of the smelter wall. I did use the combination of bellows plate (thin plate around tuyere entry) with blow tube set up at Smeltfest 08 for two smelts with good results. Also watched this done three times in Denmark. So taken together, I'm pretty sure we can get this to work.

We do need to tweak the mix on the DARC Dirt. Due to bad communications (and poorer math!) the actual iron content of the first round of test materials was really on the low end. It did match the St Lunaire samples, but ideally I'd rather bump up the iron content to something richer and more likely to give higher end yields.
Given time and supplies, it might make more sense to use a richer ore body for this next experiment. We also should try to match the ore content from Hals if at all possible.


Trying to keep with the wisdom of not changing 5 things at once (!!) I propose the following for the Thanksgiving smelt:

1) Overall set up is a totally earth surrounded smelter at the end of a slot - with the layout similar to those at Hals (see below)
2) Use a thick walled clay cobb furnace structure.
3) Set up the work area with a fresh sand base.
4) Use a known pure ore (the taconite likely)
5) Fake out the location of the hand bellows, but use the electric blower for air

A) Use either stone slab or bellows plate construction
B) Use blow tube arrangement for the tuyere (which can quickly be modified to our normal insert tuyere if required.

This suggests to me one minor (number 1) plus two major changes (A / B). I have worked both A / B, and 1 is more a modified work dynamic than an actual major change.

The set up of the furnace with only a small tap arch down a slot certainly leads to a top extraction. To that end we should aim for a 3 - 5 kg bloom.

(More on Construction in the next Post)

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Neil and Karen go to Iceland

Made a quick stop in the home country on our way to Scotland to pick up a few things...

The quality of the cooking has gone downhill since we were last home.

The Viking Village doesn't have a good reputation for it's authenticity. Fortunately for Neil, it only does dinners and we couldn't stay around that day. Maybe on the way back through Iceland at the end of May. I happen to enjoy schtick quite a bit. :)

Found this bit of Viking inspired art in the middle of a roundabout in Njarðvík. Well, at least the sword is Viking inspired, even if sticking it in a stone isn't. ;)

Now, this on the other hand, has some history. It's a Viking boat called the Islendingur, which is based on .... well heck, I took a picture of the text too.

More later...

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      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
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