23 May 2015

Viking Blacksmith's Tools Found in Norway

A  Norwegian man found the smithy‘s tools under a flagstone while working in his yard. He realized he had something and called the University of Bergen; they sent archaeologists that subsequently identified the tools and grave goods as belonging to the erstwhile smithy himself.  Anyway, it’s an interesting article about the apparent grave site of a man revered in Norse societies, the smithy. (Ed.)
21 JANUARY, 2015 - 21:48 LIZLEAFLOOR

Routine landscaping last year led to a Norwegian man inadvertently uncovering extremely rare Viking Age artifacts.

When Leif Arne Nordheim pulled up flagstones from his lawn, he revealed a rusty iron blacksmith’s hammer and tongs. Upon discovering a bent sword as well, he recognized the finds had significance and contacted archaeologists from Bergen University and the County’s Cultural Department so an excavation could be done.

As reported by ScienceNordic, the dig would become known as one of the best finds in Norway for 2014.

Asle Bruen Olsen, archaeologist from the University Museum of Bergen told ScienceNordic, “It turned out to be a fantastic discovery and one of the richest graves investigated in the past years in this area.”

Along with blacksmithing tools, personal items were found in the grave, such as clothing, scissors, and tweezers. Credit: Howell Roberts, University Museum of Bergen

Dating back to the 8th or 9th century A.D. in their styling, the grave goods were placed in different layers, with the order of the items indicating their status. Near the surface were found the blacksmithing tools, a sword and axe, as well as a few agricultural implements. Items found deeper down were a razor, tweezers, and scissors for beard trimming, along with a frying pan and a poker – personal items reflecting the man himself.

At the very bottom of the grave were the cremated remains of the blacksmith, with remnants of clothing, some beads, and a comb carved of bone, writes ScienceNordic. In all, around 60 artifacts were recovered from the grave, revealing not only the man’s life but also his status as a metalworker.

Blacksmiths were central figures in many ancient cultures, with Völundr featuring as a heroic master blacksmith in Norse mythology. Known for forging golden rings and setting them with beautiful gems, he featured in the Poetic Edda, a collection of ancient poems detailing Nordic literature and heritage.

An illustration of Völundr. Public Domain

Olsen said of the burial find, “We think that the blacksmiths’ contemporaries wished to show how skillful he was in his work by including such an extensive amount of objects. He might have forged many of these tools himself.”

Other noteworthy artifacts have been discovered in the area. Only a kilometer away from Leif Arne Nordheim’s home the Eggja Stone was uncovered in 1917 by a farmer ploughing a field, writes The History Blog, “The stone, found face-down over the grave of an adult male, is inscribed with about 200 runes of Elder Futhark, the oldest runic alphabet. It dates to 650-700 A.D. and is the longest surviving inscription of Elder Futhark.”

Detail of the Eggja stone, found with written side down over a grave in Norway, dated 650-700 C.E. Credit: The University Museum of Bergen

These rare blacksmith finds located in a Norwegian garden may provide insight into Viking society, and the status and significance of blacksmiths in ancient Scandinavian culture.
Featured Image: A blacksmith’s hammer and tongs, as well as a sword, are among the objects found in a garden in Sogndalsdalen. The rare find is said to date to the 8th or 9th century A.D. Image via NRK video

What is the meaning of Viking art?

Two authors are listed here. I attribute both because I cannot determine which is the primary author, but I suspect it is Bridge, because she is the only one noted on the essay; however, Velarian is noted also, but not in the title line, so I leave it up to you, the reader.

Viking period carved or incised artwork is amazing in its detail and execution in a variety of mediums. Several links are provided for the reader to view representations of the various artforms.

The author has undertaken quite a task in defining what is known about Viking art. She does a very credible job, too. Today, we interpret the art of the medieval Norse from a contemporary perspective. To define their reasons for executing certain pieces that have come down to us, seems risky at best. But, who can refute her opinions on the subject, they make as much sense than anything else I've read of late. (Ed.)


What is the meaning of Viking art?

Rebecca Bridge
Rykan Velarian
AC 2018

In this essay I will be looking at Viking art, its styles, the mediums that the art was used on, and what meaning it had. The resources available were general books on the Vikings, and specific websites. Viking art did not specifically have a meaning; the aim of this essay is to examine what meanings can be discerned.

Viking’s art base style uses animal forms and sinuous shapes, and generally is not specifically representational (Viking Art and Artefacts lecture, 22nd March, Simon Roffey). The styles are usually divided into groups, which are usually named after the find spots for the better surviving examples. These groups are Oseberg/Broa, Borre, Jellinge, Mammen, Ringerike, and Urnes. The Oseberg and Broa styles used animals with sinuous bodies, small heads and tendrils, and the animals are often very difficult to identify. The Borre style often used ‘gripping’ animals (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wood.shtml) with ribbon bodies. The animals usually had four legs and knot work bodies. It occasionally used plant motifs. The Jellinge style used animals with elongated bodies, often symmetrical and intertwining. The Mammen style, the animals are more ‘natural’ (http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wood.shtml), but with more complex details, and the bodies of the animals often used dots and lines infill. This style uses a lot more plant elements than previous styles (P.139 Lang 1978). Ringerike style has more curvaceous animals, but without the lines or dots of the previous style. The eyes are oval shaped, whereas before all eyes had been circular. The last style, Urnes, animals are very stylised and often have a greyhound shapes, and often seem to be fighting. The style is often assymetrical. Some patterns were in use for long spans of time, the ‘gripping beast’ was a “hallmark of Scandinavian art for over 150 years.” (http://viking.hgo.se/Files/VikHeri/Viking_Age/art.html). For the most part, the Viking art style used animals, and tended towards shapes being either symmetrical or asymmetrical. There were regional differences. A sword hilt from Hellvi has a “stamped pattern-ornament, a technique evidently known only on Gotland.” (p.125 Arbman, 1961). The Borre style occurs in English sculpture, but only in the west, and the Jellinge style rarely occurs in England, but the Mammen style is common on the Isle of Man. (p.142 Lang 1978).

Some of the most prominent uses for art were jewellery and weapons, which we have excellent examples of because most of what we have surviving of Viking art is on metalwork, with some of wood. There are carvings in expensive or rare materials, such as amber, jet, bone and walrus ivory (http://viking.hgo.se/Files/VikHeri/Viking_Age/art.html), however, wood and iron were the most important mediums. Jewellery would have been made from gold, silver, bronze and glass (http://www.tvnznetguidewebchallenge.co.nz/room27/Craftsmen.html). Art was an important element of jewellery and weapons, because “wearing fine jewellery was an outward sign of a person’s wealth.” (P.3, Guy 1998) so the more elaborate and intricate the designs showed the wearer had plentiful money. Most Viking clothing required extra items to hold it together, such as pins, brooches and buckles, all of which would have been decorated in some way. This was another way of showing wealth, through the amount of items or their complexity. Swords and sword hilts needed to be impressive as well. They were extremely important as “a Viking’s position in society could be told as much by the quality of his weapons as by the cut of his clothes.” (p.4 Guy 1998). The more intricate and impressive the sword was with decorative inlays, the more valuable it was. Generally speaking, Viking helmets and armour were not as intricately decorated, if at all. Jewellery was important in another aspect, to show ones religion and faith, such as wearing Thor’s hammer, and later crucifixes, because “religion was an integral part of society and life in all respects.” P.222 Sawyer 1997). This was a less important aspect of art, but it was still part of it’s uses.

The finest surviving examples we have of Viking art are on jewellery and weapons from graves, with fine later examples from silver hoards (http://viking.hgo.se/Files/VikHeri/Viking_Age/art.html). Wood was the Vikings main material, and almost everything wooden was decorated in some fashion, even if it was only lightly on the surface. There are surviving examples of woodcarving, some excellent examples being the Oseberg animal-head post, and the decoration of Urnes stave church. The skill required to make such intricate designs must have be immense. The elaborate woodcarvings that do survive often show “heroic exploits of warriors or scenes from mythology” (p.15 Guy 1998). Woodcarvings would often be painted in addition to the carvings. The paint would have been an important effect, as it would have emphasised the designs.

Viking art is generally applied art, which means that items that are used in day to day life are decorated. The Vikings would decorate everything, from brooches, to plaques for smoothing clothes (Figure 2). But art was used to decorate more expensive items as well. Those with more money could “afford to have their ships, wagons and bedsteads carved with elaborate ornament.” (http://viking.hgo.se/Files/VikHeri/Viking_Age/art.html), such as in the grave of a woman buried at Oseberg.

The wood craftsman who made the art had a huge array of tools, such as axes, adzes, saws, chisels and augers. Most people would have had enough wood working skill to carry out simple repairs, some people would have been more skilled craftsmen, and then there would have been specialists, such as boat builders. The stone craftsmen would sometimes make templates from other sculptures to reuse again. The metal craftsmen used crucibles and moulds made of clay. Metal craftsmen would often add their own elaborately decorated hilts (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/weapons_03.shtml). There were specialist craftsmen for every different type of material, such as silversmiths and tinsmiths, or pine or ash specialists. The Viking craftsmen used specific types of materials for specific items, such as for chests or ships. They knew which materials were most effective for specific applications, and so always used those which worked best. Bigger settlements made money from the items they produced, and craftsmen would have sold their items in front of their houses or taken to markets.(http://www.tvnznetguidewebchallenge.co.nz/room27/Craftsmen.html).

Art had an important use when it came to conveying messages. One of the most used methods was when decorating ships and sleds. The images carved into the posts, prows, figureheads and sternposts were intended to strike terror into the hearts of the Viking’s enemies (http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/vikings/vikart.htm) or to protect themselves from evil (p.22, Guy 1998).They would carve images of monsters or fierce warriors, or sometimes images of deities, such as Thor, to protect them in battle. An early Icelandic legal code required approaching ships to take down the craved figure heads so as not to frighten away the guardian spirits (p.126 Arbman 1961).

The other way to convey messages was through the well known rock carvings.

Some stones were carved as memorials, usually describing heroic deeds performed by warriors, and would have been in public places. Some stones commemorated living people, usually the sponsors who were responsible for the stones being created (p.146 Sawyer 2003). The stones used both runes and pictograms, and some had religious significance, telling stories from Nordic mythology. Christianity came to the Vikings in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (P.58 Grate 1965), at which time crosses using the art style of the time, the Urnes style, were erected. On rune stones, crosses also became central motifs.

Viking art was carved into many different types of material. Everyday types of material were used, such as wood; some were more uncommon materials, like ivory. A lot of people had the skill to do basic carving, but specialists for specific materials existed who had immense skill in carving intricate images. Although Viking art did not have any specific meanings as such, it still had important uses. Viking art defined wealth and status. The more wealth a person had meant that person could afford much more elaborate artwork on their jewellery, weapons and ships. Art was used to put fear into enemies, through frightening carvings on ships and on helmets. The art used in stone carving conveyed messages as well as commemorating heroes, telling stories, and being monuments to or about deities. Art had an important fundamental meaning however, “Viking-Age man […] understood that the deepest reasons and purposes of life could only be encompassed in myth and art.” (p.209 Sawyer 1997).

Today, art has a new, important meaning, of being able to give us a good idea of what life was like at the time, as well as being extremely useful for dating.

Bahn, P. G. 1996. Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology. Cambridge: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.


Arbman, H.1961. The Vikings. London: Thames & Hudson.
Grate, P. 1965. Treasures of Swedish Art. Allhem Publishers Malmö
Guy, J. 1998. Viking Life. Kent: ticktock Publishing.
Lang , J.1978. Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age Sculpture and Its Context. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Sawyer, B. 1997. The Viking-Age Rune-Stones. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.

The Internet Movie Database, http://imdb.com/, (March 25th 2006)

Viking Answer Lady Webpage - Woodworking in the Viking Age, http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/wood.shtml
Viking art, http://viking.hgo.se/Files/VikHeri/Viking_Age/art.html
BBC - History - Viking Weapons and Warfare, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/weapons_03.shtml
Vikings & their Gods - Viking Art & Architecture, http://www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/vikings/vikart.htm

Viking Art and Artefacts lecture, 22nd March, Simon Roffey

Figure 1, La Norvège, http://noreg.canalblog.com/archives/2005/09/p10-0.html
Figure 2
PRES http://www.clans.org.uk/hist_6.html

Pictures of styles

19 May 2015

The Anglo-Scandinavian history and Viking archaeology of Wirral.

You may find this blog excerpt from and about Ireland as it pertains to the Viking Age interesting. Click on the title link to go to the site where you will find even more interesting information. (Ed.)


The Irish sea was a major transport and trade route for the Vikings during the early medieval period and so Ireland, the West coast of Scotland, the North coast of Wales and North West England all show strong Norse influences. In the year 902AD it is recorded that many Viking invaders and settlers were expelled from Dublin. One of these named Ingimund was granted permission to settle land near Chester by Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians and eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great. Most have interpreted this to mean he was given the end of the Wirral peninsula. There's plenty of evidence to support the migration of Hiberno Norse Vikings from Dublin to the Wirral around this time with them establishing a small independent region with it's own parliament. This area was already a melting pot of ideas and cultures being an effective buffer zone between native Cymry in Wales, Anglo Saxons in the "midland" kingdom of Mercia, Danish Vikings spreading north west across the country having first settled the east coast, whilst just a little further north Strathclyde was a mix of Britons and more Norse from Dublin.
The battle of Brunanburh, the "anvil on which England was forged" (937AD), is arguably the most important battle ever fought on English soil, as for however briefly, this was the first time England was united under one king as one single country and many believe that Bromborough on the Wirral is Brunanburh the site of this battle. There's even some suggestion that Meols (a Viking name meaning sandbank) is where the Viking King Canute (who ruled all of England from 1016 to 1035AD) proverbially showed that even a king could not command the tide. Many more of the place names around the end of the Wirral peninsula show strong Viking characteristics. The "...by" suffixes to names such as Greasby, Frankby, Pensby and Raby are Viking in origin noting a settlement or farmstead. Thingwall derives from a Viking reference to the fields of a council or parliament known as a "thing". What is more DNA studies of the local population show many of the people with ancestry on the Wirral still have strong genetic connections to Norway.
In terms of surviving physical archaeological evidence Meols had been an important trading port since before the time of the Romans with large amounts of important Viking age metal work having been recovered there. Rumours still circulate of an intact Viking clinker built boat buried under a pub car park in Meols and we all await the day funds are available to investigate and resolve this matter as the river Mersey has been the source of many Viking age logboat finds. Several important examples of early medieval decorative stone carving have been recovered from around the Wirral such as the "hogback" displayed in St. Bridget's church in West Kirby (again another place name of Viking origin). The Huxley hoard of silver recovered from near Chester shows very clear Hiberno Norse styling and the portable antiquities database shows a wealth of other small Vikings finds recovered by metal detectorists all over the Wirral. However, as a culture dependent upon oral traditions to remember their past and who built in wood which soon rots away (such as the traces of Viking age bow sided buildings found in the ground at Irby) they left no great stone palaces, amphitheatres, temples, monasteries or cathedrals and no manuscripts or carved inscriptions we can now study or visit as tourist attractions as we might to engage with and learn about earlier or later history.

Consequently the sad thing is that if you ask the local population about the heritage of their area, the first response of many is to either talk about the Roman history of Chester or the more recent industrial history of Liverpool, neither of which are technically on the Wirral. The term "Dark Ages" is no longer fashionable in academic circles but it does accurately reflect the difficulty of researching this period of history. The comparatively limited, fragmentary and occasionally contradictory evidence compared to other periods of history can be seen as contributing to public ignorance or misconception about this period. It was a time of great cultural diversity, political intrigue and change with amazingly skilled craft workers producing great works of art but you need to be passionate about this history to pick through the scraps of evidence to make sense of it and bring it all to life ... but that is what the Skip Felagr do.

06 May 2015

The Norse: An Arctic Mystery

In case you missed this article about the important, cutting edge-work that Dr. Patricia Sutherland has been doing on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada, here’s another chance for you to become informed.
Dr. Sutherland has not been able to work on this Baffin Island site because funds dried up, and she was fired from her job. As most know, Canada decided to put all their archaeological eggs into one basket and look for a ship that sank in the Arctic during the 19th century that would validate their sovereign claims on their slice of the Arctic. They found the ship, but that’s another story.
Dr. Sutherland, God Bless her, has proven my contention about the Greenland Norse, detailed in my historical fiction Axe of Iron novels. The Greenland Norse did not disappear from the historical record, as many archaeologists contend; they assimilated with the pre-historical natives of northern North America.
If you are Canadian, you are in luck; the video mentioned in the article can only be viewed in Canada. (Ed.)
Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 3 PM on CBC-TV

Buried under the tundra on a windy cape of Baffin Island lies one of the most important archeological finds in Canada. An untrained eye would miss it—but not scientist Pat Sutherland. Her new work here at the place they call Nanook will likely change history.

Pat Sutherland working on Baffin Island

Listen to an interview with Pat Sutherland on As It Happens.

Dr. Sutherland has been working on the archeology of the Arctic for more than 30 years. Her expertise is the ancient native people who lived there. But along the way she started finding artifacts that didn't fit—pieces that weren't made by indigenous hands, but by Norse traders, possibly as far back as a thousand years ago.

Is it possible that someone was here from the other side of the Atlantic, centuries before the arrival of Columbus or Cabot? Is it possible that this is the site of first contact between native North Americans and Europeans?

The new documentary film THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY follows Sutherland on her journey to prove that the early history between North America and Europe did not unfold the way the history books say it did.

The Ottar, a Norse shipping vessel.

"The Norse were here over a long period of time, and they had business to do," says Sutherland. The dig at the Nanook site has revealed signs of a structure—stone walls marking out the shape of a trading post—possibly the first European building this side of the Atlantic.
"It certainly substantiates that there were Europeans on the site," says Sutherland, "no question about that."

THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY follows Sutherland from the south shore Baffin Island to the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, the departure point for Norse sailing west, searching for trade goods like ivory and furs across the North Atlantic to Canada. In Denmark a crew of latter-day Vikings lifts the sails on a reproduction of an ocean-going ship. And in Ottawa Sutherland gets down to the hard science—using state of the art technology to unlock the hardest kept secrets of Norse arrival on Baffin Island. 
"I think we've only just begun to delve into what the Norse were doing there," says Sutherland, "and we've just got the beginning of the story."

In the spring of 2012, Dr. Pat Sutherland was dismissed from the Canadian Museum of Civilization after working there for 30 years. She was most recently the curator of Arctic Archeology. Dr. Sutherland is contesting the dismissal through her union, so she can regain access to her research. Currently the Helluland Project has been suspended.

THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY is produced by 90th Parallel Productions in Toronto. Gordon Henderson is Executive Producer. THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY is produced, written and directed by Andrew Gregg.