sml logo Dark Ages Re-Creation Company sml logo

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.

Labels: , , ,

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 ...

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

the Aristotle Furnace Demonstration

(Duplicate of post seen on 'Hammered Out Bits' )
At the SCA event Trillium Wars over June 28-29, the 'Aristotle Furnace' was demonstrated by members of DARC.
The furnace design is the work of Skip Williams, who researched the concept and had built a number of working prototypes to establish a method. I was taught the basics of its construction and operation at Smeltfest 08 back in March. In earlier posts there is a fuller description of the design and workings of this small furnace. It functions by melting scrap iron into a fresh 'puck' of mid to high carbon steel over a relatively short operating cycle.

The two images here are the only ones captured from the recent demonstration. Both images are by Karen Peterson (of course I was engrossed in actually running the furnace.) My primary assistant for the entire process was V. Meghan Roberts, who both helped with the messy work of building the furnace and breaking charcoal, but also proved to be a good bellows operator.
The first is a close up of the furnace itself in action. The body is made up of a mix of horse manure and powdered clay. I had the manure from my farm neighbour, and tried to gather older and drier material. About a half of a standard five gallon pail was first shredded by hand. (Fresh manure does not work up as well, being too moist to easily mix with the clay). To this was added about an equal volume of dry powdered ball clay (from our local pottery supply). Water was then slowly included, to create a mix roughly the consistency of bread dough. Each double hand full was worked to an even texture before it was applied to the furnace. Roughly a half bag of clay was required , a rough cost of about $10 (we had some unused cobb material left over).

The furnace was roughly 15 cm on the internal diameter, standing about 30 cm tall. (This was maybe a bit on the short side.) The base was a slab about 3 - 4 cm thick, the walls roughly the same. Initially there was a air hole cut into the side to fit the bellows tube. This was located about 5 cm up from the floor of the interior, and about 1 cm in diameter into the furnace. The outer side of this hole was roughly conical, to hold the 2 cm diameter bellows tube.

The furnace was constructed on the Saturday, then left overnight to allow the clay to stabilize and partially dry. (We had originally intended to fire on Saturday as well, but there was a lot of activity in the small work space, so we waited to reduce the confusion.)
At the start of the pre-heat phase on Sunday, it quickly became apparent that the single air port would only allow for combustion with the use of forced air from the bellows. As it is always important to provide a gentle heating until all the water is baked out of the clay structure, a second hole was cut into the base. This hole had tapered sides, about 5 cm in diameter on the inside surface. Taking a lesson from Jake Keen, there were two angled holes made to hold a pair of twig sticks. This allowed for manipulation of the plug later when it was hot. The shape caused the plug to be christened 'the pig nose'. The larger air intake allowed the wood splints of the pre-heat to burn correctly. This gentle heating would continue for about an hour and a half. Pre-heat was judged to be complete when there was no longer any white steam visible off the furnace's sides.This shows the furnace and bellows combination, along with one of our many volunteer bellows operators. The bellows used is a Viking Age blacksmith's bellows, based closely on the two artifact sources (see earlier posts for a long discussion of this equipment). In total we ran the furnace through three cycles, with quite differing results from each. The primary reason for this inconsistency was the variation in air volumes created by the efforts of the various operators. Almost all of them had no experience with hand bellows, much less this specific Norse type. Not too surprisingly, those who had previous experience with the bellows type produced the most suitable air deliveries for the process at hand.

For the first cycle, the metal used was a short length (about 25 cm) of standard 1/2 inch round mild steel rod. The air delivery was by far the most suitable and consistent, as I undertook the bellows operation for this cycle. (I certainly was the only one who had ever seen the furnace in operation, plus had considerably more experience working hand powered bellows.) Mehgan also assisted on the bellows, but had paid close attention and pretty much duplicated my method and rates. The fuel was also smaller particles, as most of it had been gathered from what remained of the forging operation from earlier in the day. Most of the pieces were still ignited, lightly ash coated, and roughly 'walnut' sized. The end product of this cycle was the desired lump of higher carbon metal 'bloom', in this case with a short stub of the parent rod (about 3 cm worth) still attached.
Some problems with equipment placement caused a mad scramble getting this piece from the furnace to the anvil, so by the time the hammer was striking the metal had dropped to the low oranges. Even still the material proved to be forgable metal, at a guess a mid carbon steel (no grinder was available for spark testing).

For the second cycle, the metal used was a piece about 30 cm long of recycled wagon part, flat bar about 1/4 x 1 inch stock. The material had earlier been tested an appeared to be a lower carbon steel (not actual wrought iron) and was heavily surface pitted. The bellows operation for this sequence was far less consistent, with a lower air volume on average and thus both lower temperatures and longer consumption rate of fuel. This created both a slower conversion of the bar and also suggested more possible soak time to absorb carbon from the interior. In actual fact the end result proved to be a high carbon cast iron. The puck of material produced was not forgable, fragmenting under the hammer.

On the last cycle, the metal used was a piece of 3/8 square mild steel bar, again about 30 cm long, recovered from a damaged fire tool. A number of people took turns on the bellows, most significantly Sam, who had his blacksmithing experience from his Ango-Saxon forge to guide him. The air rates fluctuated most widely over this cycle. This again could be seen in the results. The metal fragmented under the hammer, with the bottom half splitting off clearly as brittle cast iron. The upper portion of the puck appeared to be useable metal, but was certainly tougher to shape that the metal from cycle one. On a guess this material should test out to a higher carbon tool steel.

Although the furnace did come through its repeated uses in reasonably good shape, it did not survive being dropped out of the truck while being unloaded the next day.

The method of manufacturing the furnace was well demonstrated, and the horse manure / clay mix seems idea for the construction. The general principle of this small steel furnace was again proven. It remains clear that bellows operation is the largest variable, with experienced operators being critical to the function of the furnace. The great advantages of this furnace, ease of construction and speed of a single use cycle was again demonstrated. More work needs to be done to fine tool the correct sequence, which repeated uses to accumulate experience will provide.

Labels: , ,

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

Labels: , ,

      Updated: 4 Dec, 2007
Text © Dark Ages Recreation Company, 2007
Photographs © Individual artists
Copyright details
Contact us