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Sunday, January 3, 2010

LAM 2010 - Setting the Stage : ART

Author's Note: Hopefully this will be the first in 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. 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.

Number One - Artistic Styles :

The table above is taken from 'Vikings - North Atlantic Saga' by Fitzhugh & Ward.

Our time point is roughly 1000 AD. That puts things with MAMMEN as the primary style.
RINGERIKE is still relatively new, and may not be seen outside the homelands.
JELLING has just faded, but is likely to make up many of our 'older' objects.
BORRE may exist in some heirloom objects.

Most importantly, both OSEBURG (too old) and URNES (not started) style objects should not be included on decorative objects.

There will likely more to be said about all this in upcoming posts.


(The most obvious starting point would have been geography, but I am having a bit of trouble finding a single map that ties the entire westward expansion over the North Atlantic to the homelands.)

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Glass drinking vessels

Horn-shaped glasses show up in Sweden and Denmark from the 3rd C and were made by the Franks a little later (particularly the Lombards). They were rare after the 7th C, though they occasionally show up in Carolingian manuscripts. Sometimes, these were actually for holding ink (find from 9-10 C France).

Conical or funnel shaped beakers appear to have been more common, as were fatter cone beakers. I have seen one image of a palm cup or bag beaker (almost like a bowl) from Oslo, and one stubby mold-blown dark green rhenish glass beaker that looks suspiciously like a flower vase from the 1960s. The glass beaker and a conical beaker, both from Birka, can be found at

(Image at right ported from the Regia web site)

Glass cups or beakers of the 9th or 10th C might well be vivid blue, bluish-green, or red, decorated with fine canes (either one colour or more often colourless and opaque white or yellow glass twisted together). The canes could be placed horizontally or vertically on the body, but some cups have them on the rim. This is a design feature found almost exclusively at coastal sites in Britain, Northern Europe and Scandinavia.

From about the mid 10th C, continental glass houses produced only a few
types of poor quality utilitarian ware, using a new composition of glass made with local potash produced from bracken and other plants (instead of importing from Egypt). Nevertheless, eastern glass continued to reach Britain and Sweden until as late as possibly the 11th C. Examples include a Persian glazed cup found in Sweden that looks like a small, rounded coffee cup with a handle large enough for one finger, and at least one nice example of an Arabic glass from Sweden that looks perfect for an old-fashioned or a whiskey sour.

All glass drinking vessels were rare, and were probably costly imported luxury goods.



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Exploring the Viking Age in Demark

Right now I am preparing for an upcoming lecture for the Peterborough SCA group. This is to be held at Trail College on Wednesday November 26 at 8 PM.

The topic is an overview of my recent research trip to Denmark. I will be showing some of the artifact images I collected, and talking about the museums I visited.

So, I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone. As it turns out, the birds were a sparrow ( the lecture) and an emu (a new AV publication). I am sorting all my 400 plus images, adding commentaries from my notes and formating the whole pile into a reference I hope to have ready to sell in time for Yule. The contents will work via a large set of interlocked 'web pages' that will access through an standard web browser. As most of the images are the large format from my camera (mostly 5 MGP) the total content will have to go on to a DVD disk. This will also allow just the images to be viewed on a standard table top player and TV combination.

As a teaser, this is a short piece of one of the displays I saw at the Roskide Museum. The images here are just the thumbnails - you will have to wait for the publication to see the larger versions!

Because of formating problems, please look over at Hammered Out Bits ...

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Ship Building Axes

I have started posting up some commentaries on my current project - a set of ship building tools based on VA artifacts and advice from the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. Expect to see a number of postings over the next couple of days. I also will be trying to edit up a short video clip covering working on the Bayeau broadaxe (a YouTube experiment).


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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Melting Glass

This past weekend at the SCA's Trillium War event, DARC set up two experiments. I'm sure that Darrell will post about the new smelter. This post is about the bead furnace.

Last Fall we made up a "Mark I" furnace and tried making some beads. The report is here. This year we created the "Mark II" and burned it on June 14th (along with the smelt) and this last weekend.

I'll add some reports later, but here is a quick summary. For those who need the background...

The Vikings not only loved beads, it is pretty clear that they made them. At Ribe in Denmark, they found a number of what appear to be bases for bead making furnaces, along with the usual debris that makes us fairly sure that it was indeed bead making going on - broken glass beads, tesserae, crucibles, stringers, and so on.

This is the second furnace we have made in this experiment series. Its' base pretty closely matches the size of the bases from Ribe.

As you can see, this was set up with the bellows on one side, with two operators on the other side. Additional openings exist on the bellows side for adding charcoal and crucibles.

Aside from one minor experiment with a crucible and pulling a stringer we focused on making beads. Two main techniques were employed - the usual lampworking technique employing glass rods; and an attempt to build up beads using an artefact similar to the warming plate from Ribe.

We welcomed a number of visitors who had the chance (after serving a shift on the bellows) to make a couple of beads.

This is the first day's results.

And some of the second day's results.

Some quick notes:

The first day we had a pretty rough breakage rate. Beads either broke coming off the mandrils, or broke in the annealing pot. 6 of about 25 survived.

On the second day, I think we had better luck but I was so busy talking to people about the beads and furnace that I didn't keep notes on bead numbers. I would estimate 50% survived.

Clearly, annealing and the mandrils are areas we are going to have to work on.

We also had a significant problem with ash speckling the bead surfaces. Interestingly, this makes them look like many of the beads on Dan Carlson's bead CD. I'm not sure whether the surface texturing of the Gotland beads is a result of ash or if it had another source. Beads from other locations do not necessarily show this texture.

The technique of picking up glass fragments from a "warming plate" inside the furnace to make your beads was reasonably successful -- at least in creating the beads.

On day three, the furnace broke as we started to clean up. A shame, but hardly a real problem - we'll make a new one. The breakage, however, provided an opportunity to both examine the structure and discuss improvements. The "Mark III" will be produced in the next few weeks and we'll see what happens.

The best part of the breakage was when we cleared the walls away to see the base. I'll compare these photos to the archaeological reports from Ribe in a later post.

Look for the reports soon!


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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

National Museum of Scotland

Back to Neil and Karen's travels. :)

Remember, our esteemed leader went to Denmark, Neil and Karen went to Scotland and Iceland. We'll both be posting - don't get confused. Driving on the left is bad enough.

We went in here around 12:30pm and emerged 4 and a half hours later with 650 photos at closing time. :) We'll share those some other day.

These broaches were found at Ballinaby, Scotland. That's all the information the display had.

It's actually frustrating - no artefact number, nothing. Getting more info about some of the fun stuff - like a glass tesserae found at the Brough of Birsay is going to be tricky.

And the displays didn't exactly suit photography, some of the exhibits - like the robots - seemed designed to make photos impossible.

This is a great interactive exhibit for the kids - Dress up like Vikings! I'm squatting quite low because the dress is sized for kids. There had several interesting ideas for teaching kids.

This is a display of a reconstructed viking grave. Its nice to see details like that at a museum rather than just a static display of an artefact in a case. Still the Peterborough museum's artefacts in action was even better.

Karen and Neil

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Friday, April 25, 2008

ROSKILDE - Some Images

This morning I took a stab at trying to get some images off my camera (now my equipment bag is here and I have the cables) and converted through the computer at my billet and up on the blog here.

This is the woman I mentioned who is working on the sail weaving project. She is here packing a line of weft with her sword beatter. Got some interesting advice on the correct way to make one of these. She also had a number of samples of cloth using various threads that they had made up as test samples. (The thread weights are in my head...)
This is an overview of the activity room. The Knorr hull is to the left, the longship to the right, with the weaving station to the rear. The hull replicas are full scale.

This is the woman's grave described in the last post. Clearly 'killed' as we had learned about from Neil Price. Very interesting. (See what happens to women that get too uppity...)
A series of glass bead strands. The text stated 'from a number of graves', but that description applied to the entire case, and there were also a number of smaller clusters of beads. (And yes Neil [Peterson, of DARC- ed.], the other groupings were closer to 15 beads each.) Not sure if this grouping had been seen in other catalogues.
This is the drop spindle with wool yarn. Sorry that the image is not the sharpest. The image was taken hand held at about 1-15 second exposure.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Norse Weapons - who has what?

(once again modified from a post to Norsefolk)

When you look at the artifacts from the Viking Age, there are quite noticeable differences in terms of 'national preference' against weapon type as found in burials. Viewed as a very rough overall picture (only!)

Norway - swords
Sweden - spears
Denmark - axes

In terms of more of one type that dominates inside the area. All types are of course found, so its not as simple as 'I'm a Swede - so I should use a spear'.

As you might of guessed from the recent series of articles, there are wealth and status considerations to make related to a specific historic character and what weapon to carry. I have not specifically seen any data on the relative frequency of swords in burials overall. Just about everyone had a small tool knife, but my quick gut reaction is to say swords were like modern Rolex watches in terms of distribution through the population.

Generally swords / axes / spears are found only in male burials.
One real big problem with that generalization is the 'male dominant' angle . If there is a weapon found the sex is automaticly determined as male - without further examination into possible gender (converse is glass beads and female). Skeletons are only rarely sexed using methods OTHER than object generalizations as it turns out. There are some obviously female burials which are found with 'male' objects, particularly swords. Are these intended as working tools - or are they instead statements of status (which is more likely)? As I remember , axes are almost never found in female burials for example.

Swords specifically are high cost, special function, tools. Remember than few individuals in Norse society were full time wariors. If you are primarily a farmer who goes on raids a couple of times over your life span, then investing in an axe makes a lot more sense. This would be a tool axe as well - which explains why there are so many more small, multi function head sizes found.

Swords are also herloom objects. So there is scope there to interpet older blades which have been re-hilted. Stories collected on family blades. High quality swords might easily have a larger reputation than the person holding it.

I personally have a real interest in how simple technical factors can combine or interact inside a culture to create the tradtitions and customs that define a people. I think we are seeing how the metalworking problems are shaping the Norse.

(cross posted from Hammered out Bits)

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

On Norse Hammers

(this is a duplicate post from an entry from 'Hammered Out Bits' - included here primarily as a test to see what a full sized posting will look like with various backgrounds. This can be edited and saved when the DARC blog is fully functional)

Nickolas wrote:

> I have a question I hope you can help me with. I've been reading about the Mastermyr find, and I'm curious about the hammers. Were they wrought iron, or did they have a wrought body with steel peens and/or faces?

If you are real serious here, you should get a copy of

the Mastermyr Find
Arwidsson and Berg
AlmQuist & Wiksell - 1983
91-7402-129 X

Norm Larson Books in California got the rights to re-publish a couple of years back and was selling these for about $25 US a copy.

According to the report. Only one of the hammers was tested for metal content. That was the large hand sledge (# 69) at 3.3 kg. This shows the PEEN end as forge welded mid carbon steel but welded on to the iron body. Makes some sence if you figure its smaller and thus more likely to deform.

The section on metallurgy mentions most of the hammers are formed of a single mass of iron "..the objects were made from fairly homogeneous iron pieces." (Note that the axes tested have welded higher carbon edges)

If you look at the hammers found, the faces on two of the mid sized tools show significant mushing out at the face, whihc certainly looks like use pattern on softer iron bodies. All show some upsetting at the face - but I personally take this as partially the effect of the original forging to shape.

A fast visual reference : take a look at the blacksmith's shop reconstruction I put together for 'World of the Norse'

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      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
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