Replicating the Viking Silver Alloy

My friend, crafter Aaron Richards from the Silverhand Jewelry workshop offered me a short article that revolves around the silver purity in Viking Age. I believe that the most interesting result of the work is that it shows the difference of the period silver alloy compared to the modern standardized alloy 925/1000.


My journey into the world of Viking era jewelry has been a bit of a rabbit hole. I made my first jewelry a little over 2 years ago due to wanting shiny things and not being able to buy them. I started with modern sterling silver and made a few basic bangles. I thought to myself, “Hey, I got this!” I next made some stamps to mimic that of the Viking hoards. The hoards I focused on were the Cuerdale, Spillings and Skaill Hoards. After a while I began to make money rings and hack silver items, still out of modern silver both sterling and fine. I decided to take it further by making my own custom silver blend.

One of the questions I had was where the silver was coming from. The predominant source of silver in Scandinavia was from Islamic regions. One of the primary mines was in Baghdad; this mine began to dry up in the 10th century. Once this happened the Vikings began to look to Europe for its silver (note 1). One of the sources of silver was from a mine in Lower Saxony. The Goslar mine was at the base of Mt Rammelsberg, in the Harz mountain chain in Germany (note 2).


The position of Harz in Germany. Source: note 3.

I began digging into the Cuerdale Hoard. The hoard was discovered in Lancashire, England in 1840. It contained over 8000 items with a mix of coins, jewelry and ingots. This hoard was believed to have been buried around 905-910 based on the dates of the coins in the hoard (note 4).

I suspected the silver in the hoard could not have been the same as modern silver. In my research I found a study that used XRF (x-ray fluorescence), a non-destructive analytical technique to determine the composition of a material (note 5). In this study they tested silver ingots from nine different hoards. Ingots are lumps of material that can be used as currency or made into things. Of the nine hoards tested one was the Cuerdale Hoard. These studies show that the silver content in the Cuerdale Hoard ranged from 90.9-99.47% (note 6). There was a large diversity of purities represented in the findings. I believe there is no single source for the silver found in the hoard. The XRF results showed that some of the items tested had a very close make up to Anglo-Saxon coins, leading me to believe the coins could have been melted down to make the ingots (note 7). Another part of hoard contained a high level of silver purity, approximately 96%. This purity was inline with many Arabic coins in the hoard (note 8). A particular item I worked from in the Cuerdale hoard was ref# v1059 which was 96.1% pure. It also contained 2.1% copper, .2 % zinc, .6% gold, .9% lead and other trace elements such as tin (note 9). Another thing I found while looking into the silver of the hoard was that I believe the vikings had a working knowledge of alloying. This is supported by the fact that some of the large thistle brooches found are made with more than one purity of silver based on the part.


The thistle brooch of Cuerdale Hoard. Source: note 10.

For example, the balls of the brooches were made of a higher purity silver thus making them easier to work and shape. The pin on this “Thistle” brooch was made of a lower purity silver with a higher copper content. The copper content would have allowed the pin to be much stronger. The increased amount of copper allows the silver to work harden, more than with fine silver (note 11).  The term work harden refers to using a hammer to gently hit the metal, every hit makes it slightly harder than it was before. In my modern work I use a rawhide hammer as the rawhide is softer than the silver so it does not mark the silver. There is evidence of hammers made of antler from Birka and Jarrow. I believe these would have been used to work silver since they are hard but not harder than silver (note 12).

Antler hammers. Source: note 12.

During the Viking era the standard type of forge for a portable set up would have been a small circle surrounded by chunks of sod or stones to contain the coal for the fire (note 13). There would also be a bellows shield to protect the bellows from heat. There is an example found in Denmark. This example is called the Snaptun Stone.

Display of a ground hearth. Source: note 14.


Snaptun stone bellows stone. Source: note 15.

There would have most likely been a pair of double bellows to increase the heat produced by the coals. Using double bellows means there is always a draft of air being blown into the coals. The use of these bellows are depicted in Carving of Sigurd and Regin, located in Hylestad Stave Church, Norway. This carving is from 12th Century CE.


Carving of Sigurd and Regin, Hylestad Stave Church, Norway. Source: note 16.

A permanent set up would be very similar. The biggest difference would have been the bellows and bellows shield would have been placed on a raised platform. This was done to increase the comfort of the smith. The wood carving from the church in Norway shows it raised. Crucibles used during the Viking age were special. They were made of clay. Typically clay cannot withstand the heat of a forge. To combat this the Vikings tempered the clay with sand or ground quartz (note 17). In addition to forging tools there would have been ingot molds. These came in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. The mold material was soapstone. An example of this can be seen from this mold found in Denmark. The silver would be added to the crucible and melted down in the coals of the forge. Once melted it would have been poured into the appropriate shaped mold to form an ingot.


Picture of a soapstone mold for casting ingots. Source: note 18.

Now that I had found the particular silver I wanted it was time to experiment and map out my blend. First thing I did was remove the gold (pricey), then decided to get rid of the lead and zinc (unhealthy) and the remaining trace elements, leaving silver and copper. Some of my future projects will explore how lead and zinc would affect the working properties of the alloy.

My alloy is around 96.2% pure, +/-.5% to allow for possible impurity in my crucible and possible oxides on the silver. I say around because I don’t personally have a way to test it. Based on math my alloy is 96.2% pure. I used 96.2grams of silver and 3.8g of copper for a total of 100g. I will be sending out a few samples to have it tested in the near future. When I first started I used the same crucible that I melted sterling silver and fine silver in, this would cause a small amount of variation. I also get my silver from a pawn shop, less expensive than buying online, and instantly available. I now use a seperate crucible for each type of silver to maintain accuracy for creating my alloy. I have also started to pickle all of my silver. This removes the contaminants from the silver before melting. Once done pickling I have a dish of clean water to remove the pickling chemical from the silver. The first step in my process of alloying is to get my silver molten, once molten I add a small amount of flux then small chunks of copper. The flux helps the molten silver to flow better for casting and gathers impurities together. I then stir it around to get the materials mixed well, I do this with a graphite rod. Then if I am making an item I pour the silver into the appropriate mold, if I am not making an item I pour into a glass jar of clean water for later use. After being poured into the water it makes small little beads that are easier to work with than large chunks of silver and much easier to weigh out.

Silver grains I made (note 19).

Some working information about modern silver and my alloy
Modern sterling silver is 92.5% pure, one of my favorite things about sterling is that it gets very hard once worked making it ideal for everyday items. The con of this is if the item has to be reshaped often it must be annealed to make it soft again or risk breaking the item. Fine silver, 99.9% pure, on the other hand is a dream to work; it forms and allows for detail very easily, perfect for delicate items. Its down side is it is pretty soft over all and can become misshapen easier than sterling. My alloy 96.2% sits in the middle, hardens very nicely but remains easily workable much longer. As part of this small project I made 3 rings. One made from each type of silver. I left them unpolished to show the color. The sterling is much darker than the rest due to the higher copper content. Fine silver is very light with a whitish luster. Finally my alloy came in with a nice middle tone.

Picture of 3 rings selfmade out of each alloy (note 20).

This whole process has been very rewarding. I have since converted all my jewelry to this alloy for a few reasons. One to work in silver that is closer to what the Vikings would have actually used. It also gives my jewelry something unique to set it apart from the crowd. It also works nicely for forging work. I will be diving deeper into some elements of the alloying in the future, as well as making an ingot that uses gold, lead and zinc for a personal ingot to have.

Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Notes

1.  Graham-Campbell, James. Silver Economy in the Viking Age. Left Coast: Walnut Creek, CA. (2007)

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rammelsberg

3. https://www.uncommon-travel-germany.com/travel-to-the-harz.html

4. Englishmonarchs.co.uk

5. Thermofisher.com

6. Kruse & Tait. “XRF Analysis of Viking Age Silver Ingots,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 122, pg 320 (1992)

7. Kruse & Tait. “XRF Analysis of Viking Age Silver Ingots,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 122, pg 311 (1992)

8. Kruse & Tait. “XRF Analysis of Viking Age Silver Ingots,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 122, pg 312 (1992)

9. Kruse & Tait. “XRF Analysis of Viking Age Silver Ingots,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 122, pg 320 (1992)

10. The British Museum, https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=65058&partId=1

11. Kruse & Tait. “XRF Analysis of Viking Age Silver Ingots,” Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol 122, pg 317 (1992)

12. Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn: The Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman period by Arthur MacGregor page 172

13.  Denise Heredia, Martin Hewitt, Angela Hosbein, Jenny Wang. Skallagrim’s Forge. 2016 (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580d8074b8a79bd9bb9dac13/t/585496ee6a49635877197bda/

14. Reconstruction of Viking-age ground forge at the Cranbrook Institute of Science, 2003. Designed by Darrell Markewitz

15. Moesgård Museum, Denmark. Snaptun stone

16. Carving of Sigurd and Regin, Hylestad Stave Church, Norway. 12th Century CE, Museum of Cultural HistoryOslo

17. Lamm, K. “Early Medieval Metalworking on Helgö in Central Sweden,” Aspects of Early Metallurgy. Oddy, W. A. (Ed.). British Museum Occasional Paper No 17. London, 1980.

18. National Museum of Denmark, https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/religion-magic-death-and-rituals/christianity-comes-to-denmark/

19. Picture of self made gains

20. Picture of 3 rings selfmade out of each alloy

Řemeslníci #5 – Craftsmen #5

Zdravím Vás, přátelé! V pátém dílu série o řemeslnících si představíme jednoho z nejzručnějších šperkařů, kteří se věnují raně středověkému šperku – slovenského reenactora Pavla Francúza, který má s výrobou šperků více než dvacetiletou zkušenost. Jeho výrobky, které zdobí mnoho slovenských muzeí, jsou mezi československými reenactory vyhlášené pro svou věrohodnost a vysokou kvalitu zpracování.


Greetings, friends! In the fifth episode of the Craftsmen series, we will introduce one of the most skilled jewelers interested Early medieval jewelry – Slovakian reenactor Pavel Francúz, who has more than 20 years of experience in jewelry production. His products, which adorn many Slovakian museums, are renowned among the Czechoslovakian reenactors for their authenticity and high quality.

Stejně jako mnozí další se Pavel nejdříve věnoval šermu, ale potřebné vybavení nebylo k sehnání, a tak začal vyrábět pro sebe i pro kolegy vše ze železa, kůže a dřeva. Jako šperkař se začal profilovat až posléze. Pavel je mistrem pravého filigránu a granulace, kteréžto techniky zvládl natolik bravurně, že ho proslavily. Pavel vyrábí na zakázku jakékoli zákazníkovo přání, ať se jedná o kopii historického kusu či nikoli. Kromě keltských, slovanských, avarských a vikinských šperků rekonstruuje středověké vybavení.


Like many others, Pavel was first engaged in historical fencing, but the necessary equipment was not available, so he began to make it for himself and his colleagues. Pavel is able to make anything from metal, leather and wood, he is especially known for brilliant filigree and granulation.. Pavel brings to life any customer’s wish, whether it is a copy of a historical piece or not. In addition to Celtic, Slavic, Avar and Viking jewelry, he reconstructs medieval equipment as well.

Replika přívěsku z Ruska, Vladimírská oblast. Vyrobeno je ryzího stříbra.


Replica pendant from Russia, Vladimir region. Made of pure silver.

Sloupečkové náušnice zdobené granulací. Výška 3,2 cm, lokalita Pohansko u Břeclavi, 9. stol.


Earrings with full pillar decorated with granulation. Height 3.2 cm. Pohansko u Břeclavi, 9th century.

Avarské parohové schránky/solničky. Vlevo replika nálezu Pobedim, vpravo replika nálezu z hradiska Levý Hradec.


Avar antler boxes. A replica of the find Pobedim on the left, a replica of the find from the hillfort of Levý Hradec on the right.

Stříbrná košíčkovitá náušnice s devíti košíčky. Ryzí stříbro, zelený achát. Výška 5,2 cm. Staré Město – Na Valách, 9. stol.


Silver cup-shaped earrings with nine cups. Pure silver, green agate. Height 5.2 cm. Staré Město – Na Valách, 9th century.

Stříbrné náušnice s řetízky zdobené granulací. Pohansko u Břeclavi, 9. stol.


Silver earrings with chains decorated with granulation. Pohansko u Břeclavi, 9th century.

Velkomoravské šperky (lunice, kaptorga, sloupečkové náušnice, lunicové náušnice, gombíky) vyrobené podle nálezů ze Starého Města – Na Valách, 9. stol. a vikinský náramek. Materiál ryzí stříbro a pozlacené stříbro.


Great Moravian jewelry (lunica, kaptorga, column earrings, lunica earrings, gombiks) made according to finds from the Staré Město – Na Valách, 9th century and a Viking bracelet. Material sterling silver and gilded silver.

Stříbrné náušnice s prolamovaným sloupkem zdobené granulací. Materiál ryzí stříbro. Výška 3,5 cm. Staré Město – Na Valách, 9. století.


Silver earrings with openwork pillar decorated with granulation. Material sterling silver. Height 3.5 cm. Staré Město – Na Valách, 9th century.

Replika stříbrných gombíků se skleněnými výplněmi. Mikulčice.


Replica of silver gombiks with glass fillings. Mikulčice.

Dvouplášťové gombíky zdobené granulací a filigránovým drátem. Výška 2,6 cm. Mikulčice – Valy, 9. stol. Pozlacené ryzí stříbro.


Double-shell gombiks decorated with granulation and filigree wire. Height 2,6 cm. Mikulčice – Valy, 9th century. Gilded sterling silver.

Košíčkovité stříbrné náušnice. Materiál ryzí stříbro. Výška 2,5 cm, průměr košíčku 7 mm. Mikulčice – Těšice, 9. stol.


Cup-shaped silver earrings. Material sterling silver. Height 2.5 cm, diameter of cup 7 mm. Mikulčice – Těšice, 9th century.

Mosazné náušnice a záušnice z hradisek Nitra – Lupka a Čakajovce. 9. století.


Brass earrings and earrings from the fortified settlements Nitra – Lupka and Čakajovce. 9th century.

Replika hrozničkových náušnic z lokality Čakajovce u Nitry. Výška 2,5 cm. Ryzí stříbro, 9. stol.


Replica of grape-shaped earrings from Čakajovce. Height 2.5 cm. Pure silver, 9th century.

Replika amuletu Thorova kladiva. Materiál ryzí stříbro. Výška 3,2 cm. Erikstorp, Švédsko.


Replica of Thor’s Hammer pendant. Material sterling silver. Height 3.2 cm. Erikstorp, Sweden.

Replika amuletu Thorova kladiva. Materiál ryzí stříbro. Skåne, Švédsko.


Replica of Thor’s Hammer pendant. Material sterling silver. Skåne, Sweden.

Ozdobné ukončení nože filigránovým drátem a nýtky. Průměr 1,2 cm. Materiál stříbro. Birka, Švédsko.


Decorative knife handle terminal made of filigree wire and rivets. Diameter 1,2 cm. Material silver. Birka, Sweden.

Sloupečkové náušnice ze Starého Města – Na Valách. Materiál ryzí stříbro. Výška 4 cm. 9. století.


Column earrings from Staré Město – Na Valách. The material is pure silver. Height 4 cm. 9th century.

 

Toto byl pouze stručný výčet. Pavla můžete zkontaktovat ohledně kteréhokoli historického šperku nebo jiného výrobku, jsem si jist, že Vám Pavel jistě rád pomůže realizovat Vaše představy. Lze jej zkontaktovat přes jeho osobní Facebook nebo email piplavarobota@gmail.com.


This was just a brief overview. You can contact Pavel about any historical jewelry or other product, I am sure Pavel will be happy to help you realize your ideas. He can be contacted via his personal Facebook account or e-mail piplavarobota@gmail.com.

Scandinavian cloak pins with miniature weathervanes

 

During my research work, I have long been coming across an unusual type of artefacts, which are being described as miniature weathervanes (Swedish: miniatyrflöjel, miniflöjel, German: Miniaturwetterfahne). After many years, I have decided to take a deep look into these interesting objects and provide the readers with thorough analysis, comments and further references.


Finds description

At the moment, I am aware of eight more or less uniform miniature weathervanes, originating from seven localities. Let us take a detailed look at each of them:

  • Svarta jorden, Birka, Sweden
    At the end of the 19th century, one miniature weathervane was found in the Black Earth (located on Björko) during the excavations led by archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe. It is 45 mm long and 35 mm wide (Salin 1921: 3, Fig. 4; Sörling 2018: 59). The material is gilded bronze (Lamm 2002: 36, Bild 4a). Currently, the item is stored in The Swedish History Museum under the catalogue number 5208:188; the on-line version of the catalogue also mentions a presence of 85 mm long pole (stång).

    Li
    terature: Salin 1921; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Sörling 2018; Thunmark-Nylén 2006; catalogue SHM.

The miniature weathervane from Birka. Source: Salin 1921: Fig. 4; catalogue SHM.

  • Tingsgården, Rangsby, Saltvik, Ålandy
    Most likely in 1881 in Tingsgården, a barrow was found on the land of Ålandian landlord Robert Mattsson, whene he took it apart to use the materials for landscaping. Inside of the barrow, he found a wooden riveted coffin with remnants of coal, bones and an iron object. An archaeological research was conducted in the summer of 1903 by Björn Cederhvarf from The National Museum of Finland, who documented the find and transported it to the museum in Helsinki. The landlord’s son made yet another discovery in the barrow’s ground – a damaged bronze item with stylised animal ornament – a miniature weathervane which was 52 mm long, 37,5 mm wide and weighed 17,6 grams. To this day, the object is stored in The National Museum of Finland, designated by inventory number 4282:13. The Åland Museum only displays a very successful replica (Salin 1921: 20, Fig. 21; Lamm 2002: Bild 4c; Lamm 2004). In the museum, the object is displayed together with a pole , which can be seen here.

    Literature
    : Salin 1921; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.


A miniature weathervane from Tingsgården. Source: Lamm 2002: Bild 4c; Lamm 2004: Fig. 1.

  • Gropstad, Syrholen, Dala-Floda, Dalarna, Sweden
    Supposedly in 1971, a highly damaged cremation burial was uncovered near Gropstad at Dala-Floda, containing only two fragmentary casts of miniature weathervanes (Frykberg 1977: 25-30). Both were made of bronze and vary in shape, level of conservation and decoration. One of them does not retain pole sockets, has more significant tassels and is of Borre design. The other has pole sockets, but lacks the tassels – instead, it has perforation, which could had been used for tassel attachment – and is decorated with simple concentric circles. Currently, the weathervanes are stored in Dalarnas Museum in Falun, Sweden.

    Literature
    : Frykberg 1977; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.


Gropstad weathervanes. Source: Lamm 2002: Bild 4e-f.

  • Häffinds, Burs, Bandlunde, Gotland
    Another miniature weathervane was found during excavation of a Viking age marketplace near Häffinds on the eastern coast of Gotland (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 366-367, Abb. III:40:7:I). The excavation was then led by Göran Burenhult from the Stockholm University and the weathervane was the most interesting item found during the work. The object is made of bronze, measures 53 mm × 42 mm (Thunmark-Nylén 2000: 92) or 54 mm × 43 mm (Lamm 2002: 39, Bild 4g; Lamm 2003: 60). It weighs 26 grams (Lamm 2002: 39). During that time, this particular weathervane brought interest mainly due to having been the first one differentiating from the Birka and Tingsgården finds: it has three pole sockets, the yard ends with animal head terminal and the tassels are pointed.

    Literature
    : Brandt 1986; Edgren 1988; Thunmark-Nylén 2000; Brandt 2002; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

Häffinds weathervane. Source: Thunmark-Nylén 2006: Abb. III:40:7:I; Lamm 2002: Bild 4g.

  • Söderby, Lovö, Uppland, Sweden
    A completely shape-identical bronze weathervane was found in spring of 2002 during excavation in Söderby, Sweden, lead by Bo Petré. It was unearthed in a particularly interesting cremation grave A 37 – it seems the grave was deliberately dug within a Bronze Age barrow, and the dead (presumed male) was laid on a bear fur along with dogs, a horse, a chest, a long knife, a silver-posament decorated clothing, two oriental silver coins from 9th century, a comb, a whetstone, two ceramic cups and an iron necklace with a hammer pendant and then cremated (Petré 2011: 60-61). The weathervane is 48 mm long, 37 mm wide and weighs 19,9 grams. Three pole sockets hold a bronze circular shaft, which is broken on both ends (Lamm 2002: 39). The grave has been dated to 10th century (Lamm 2002: 39). Currently, the item is stored in The Swedish History Museum under catalogue number 26192 (F2).

    Literature
    : Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006; Petré 2011; catalogue SHM.

Söderby weathervane. Source: catalogue SHM.

  • Novoselki, Smolensk, Russia
    After the Söderby weathervane find, Jan Peder Lamm, the author of an article about miniature weathervanes, received a message of yet another object from Russian archaeologist Kirill Michailov of the IIMK Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences. The miniature weathervane was excavated in Novoselki village in Smolensk area. The message also included a drawing, produced by Mr. Michailov himself after the find in 1996. The drawing shows that the item is the same type like the Häffinds and Söderby finds, though differentiating in the number of pole sockets – having only two instead of three and mounted with an iron shaft. Dr. Lamm stated (Lamm 2002: 40; Lamm 2003: 61) that the find originates from the grave nr. 4, which was marked as incorrect after the publication of E. A. Schmidt’s find in 2005. Schmidt (Schmidt 2005: 196, Il. 11:2) claims that the miniature weathervane was found in the grave nr. 6, along with a spearhead, a knife and a ceramic cup. The object was depicted with a long needle pin and a ring in the form of clothing pin. Personal interviews conducted with archaeologists Sergei Kainov (State Historical Museum of Russia), Kirill Mikhailov (Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russia) and jeweller Vasily Maisky indicate that Schmidt’s drawing is a reconstruction and that the weathervane (which is now stored in The Smolensk State Museum-Preserve under inventory number 23656/1-9) is broken to pieces and lacks the central part with the ring. Despite that, there is no reason not to trust in Schmidt’s reconstruction; it only means that not all of the pieces of the original find are on display.

    Literature: Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Schmidt 2005; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

A drawing of the Novoselki weathervane. Source: Kirill Michailov; Lamm 2004: Fig. 7.

The miniature weathervane from Novoselki. Source: Vasilij “Gudred” Maiskij.


A drawing of the weathervane from Novoselki. Source: Schmidt 2005: 196, Il. 11:2.

  • Menzlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
    During the autumn of 2002, the International Sachsensymposion (Internationales Sachsensymposion 2002) was organised at the Schwerin castle, where Dr. Lamm held a speech on then newly excavated Söderby and Novoselki weathervanes. After the presentation, he was informed by Friedrich Lüth about yet another, similar object found nearby, at the Viking age trading centre Menzlin. The very same day, Mr. Lamm went to see the find that was deposited in a special showcase in Menzlin, which is used for displaying newly excavated items from the area. He acknowledged that the item is in fact a miniature weathervane and is very similar to the Birka and Tingsgården finds (Lamm 2003). The weathervane was probably excavated in 1999 and published the next year (Schirren 2000: 472, Abb. 136:1). As far as we can tell from the detailed photos, it is about 50 mm long and 38 mm wide.

    Literature
    : Schirren 2000; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

Menzlin weathervane. Source: Lamm 2003: Abb. 1.

Looking at the finds, we can clearly define two standardized types of the miniature weathervanes – the “Birka type” and the “Häffinds type” – along with the unusual and atypic pieces (Gropstad). Next, we will take a closer look at the presumed function of these objects and the symbolism of miniature weathervanes in Old-Norse culture.

Map of the miniature weathervane finds mentioned in the article. Source: Lamm 2004: Fig. 2.


The function of miniature weathervanes

Jan Peder Lamm had three theories on the possible function of miniature weathervanes. According to him, they were mainly a status symbols and pieces of artistic value. At the same time, he held the opinion of the objects being a part of boat-models, similar to ship-shaped candlesticks (Lamm 2002: 40; Lamm 2003: 61; Lamm 2004: 138), which we know from Norwegian church environment of 12th and 13th century (Blindheim 1983: 96, Fig. 7). The third supposed function was in a seafaring naviagion tool – Mr. Lamm suggested the weathervanes could had been used to help with determining angular height of astronomical objects. This theory was pursued before Lamm by Engström and Nykänen (Engström – Nykänen 1996) but was denoted as surreal and inconclusive (Christensen 1998).

As far as we can tell, the theory of boat models does not fit most of the listed finds. The boat-shaped candlestick platforms are at least two centuries younger and we have only one pair-find of the weathervanes from Gropstad. Thus, it is more probable that the Viking-Age miniature weathervanes were a part of clothing pins, as can be seen at the example from Novoselki. It seems that the poles were narrowed on the inserting part, while having the tip widened and flattened. Below the weathervane, there was a eyelet for attaching a string, which was used for fixing the pin. This method was most likely used for cloak fastening. The standardized look can indicate a centralized manufacture and distribution via for example gift-giving.

Cloak pins with miniature weathervanes made by Vasili “Gudred” Maisky.


Weathervane symbolism

The literature on miniature weathervanes was to a major extent focused on symbolism that was presumed the items had. From the era between 1000-1300 AD, we know of at least five complete Scandinavian weathervanes and several of their fragments – all of which were made from gilded high-percentage copper (Blindheim 1983: 104-105). That is in compliance with literary sources, which place gilded weathervanes (oldnorse: veðrviti) at the bow of the war ships of important personas (Blindheim 1983: 93; Lamm 2003: 57). The bow-situated weathervanes can also be found in 11th-13th century iconography, while in the older iconography, the weathervanes can also be found on masts (Blindheim 1983: 94-98; Lamm 2004: 140; Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 367). Aside of that, we also have several instances of the weathervane motive used on metal applications of horse harnesses, pendants and – as discussed above – as clothes pins, which are very faithful miniatures of the genuine ship weathervanes.

Scandinavian weathervanes and their fragments, 1000-1300 AD.

From the upper-left: Källunge weathervane, Heggen weathervane, Söderal weathervane, Tingelstad weathervane, Høyjord weathervane, a horse figurine from the Lolland weathervane. Source: Blindheim 1983: Figs. 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 20.

Selection of miniature weathervanes depicted in iconography, 800-1300 AD.

From the left: Sparlösa runestone, Stenkyrka runestone, Bergen engraving, engravings from churches in Borgund, Urnes and Kaupanger. Source: Lamm 2004: Fig. 10; Blindheim 1983: Figs. 8, 10, 11, 12.

Horse harness fittings in a shape of weathervane, Borre and Gnezdovo.
Source: Myhre – Gansum 2003: 27; Lamm 2004: Fig. 9; catalogue Unimus.

Norwegian church boat-shaped candlesticks with weathervanes, 1100-1300 AD.

The weathervanes first started to appear on bow of the ships as early as 11th century, when they began to replace the wooden heads. Their function did not change though – the weathervanes were also removable, and the animals depicted on them were meant to frighten any chaotic agents dwelling along the journey. At the same time, the weathervane posed as a revering representation of the ship’s owner and thus presented a clearly distinguishable symbol. It is often stated that the function of weathervanes changed throughout the following ages, finding the usage on church buildings. However, according to Martin Blindheim (1983: 107-108), the old Norwegian military service laws mention that important ship equipment was stored in churches, and while the rest of the equipment (sails, ropes) fell victim to the passing of time, the weathervanes survived and became a permanent property of the churches. The connection of a church and a ship in naval-oriented Scandinavia is also backed up by the church boat-shaped candlesticks.

At the very least we can say that during the Viking Age, the weathervane was perceived as a property of the ship’s owner and as a precious symbol referring to naval activity and personal reputation. Not every ship owner could afford such an accessory though – the weathervane was undoubtedly limited only to a very small group of the richest, who owned huge and top-grade equipped vessels. The tradition of using weathervanes was so anchored in Scandinavian culture, that it had a substantial effect on weathervane usage even in different parts of Europe – e.g. France where the French word for “weathervane” (girouette) originates from Old Norse (Lindgrén – Neumann 1984).


Bibliography

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Brandt 1986 = Brandt, Bengt (1986). Bandlundeviken. En vikingatida handelsplats på Gotland. Grävningsrapport och utvärdering, Stockholm.

Brandt 2002 = Brandt, Bengt (2002). Bandlundeviken – a Viking trading centre on Gotland. In: Burenhult, G. (ed). Remote Sensing, vol. 2, Theses and Papers in North-European Archaeology 13:b, Stockholm, 243-311.

Edgren 1988 = Edgren, Torsten (1988). Om leksaksbåtar från vikingatid och tidig medeltid. In: Steen Jensen, J. (ed.), Festskrift til Olaf Olsen på 60-års dagen den 7. juni 1988, København, 157-164.

Ekberg 2002 = Ekberg, Veronica (2002). På resa till en annan värld. Vikingatida miniatyrflöjlar. C-uppsats i arkeologi, Stockholms universitet, Stockholm.

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Lamm 2004 = Lamm, Jan Peder (2004). Vindflöjlar : liten klenod med stort förflutet : den vikingatida flöjeln från Saltvik aktualiserad av nya fynd. In: Åländsk odling 61, 129-143.

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Zdobené miniatury štítů z Birky

Drahý čtenáři,

po krátké předvánoční odmlce se opět hlásíme s plodem spolupráce skupin Herjan a Marobud. Tentokrát jde o slovenský překlad studie Wladyslawa Duczka o štítových miniaturách z Birky. Práci jsme doplnili o aktuální informace a některé další zajímavé nálezy a paralely.

kruhové přívěšky

Některé varianty kruhových přívěsků z Birky. Arbman 1940: Taf. 97, 99.

Kruhové prívesky zo strieborného plechu s razenými vzormi” je práce, která se snaží ukázat na dosud příliš neobjevenou kapitolu rekonstrukce doby vikinské. Práci tímto věnujeme jako vánoční dárek všem milovníkům historie, reenactorům a čtenářům, kteří nás sledují po celou dobu naší existence. Přejeme Vám ničím nerušené strávení svátků a úspěšný rok plný zajímavých zjištění a zkušeností.

Studii si můžete stáhnout prostřednictvím tohoto odkazu: