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Fire strikers with metal hangers

Previously published works Typology of Fire Strikers From the Viking Age Denmark and Typology of Fire Strikers From the Viking Age Norway show that early medieval European fire strikers often bear holes and loops that indicate their suspension. As a follow-up to these articles, we have collected 29 remarkable European strikers of the 8th-13th centuries that still preserve metal hangers and which shed new light on the strikers with holes and loops. The article is intended as a concept that can be continuously updated. We do not include in our enumeration the Alanic striker-fibulas, which combine the function of a fibula, striker, thorn, tweezers and loop (see Belyj 2013).

The strikers in the catalog presented below were suspended using a metal ring or chain. The ring can be attached to a chain (Fribrødre Å, Lahepera), a metal rod (Piltenes Pasilciems, Podjelje) or a leather strap wrapped in a metal sheet (Luistari 90). The hanger method is similar to those known from knives (e.g. Arbman 1940: Taf. 178; Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Taf. 184), keys (e.g. Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Taf. 199-201, 204-5, 212), scissors (e.g. Arbman 1940: Taf. 174), needle-cases (e.g. Arbman 1940: Taf. 168-9; Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Taf. 215), touchstones (e.g. Kivikoski 1973: Abb. 983), combs (e.g. Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Taf. 195) and other hygiene items (e.g. Arbman 1940: Taf. 172-3; Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Taf. 198) as well as other everyday objects.

The exact method of suspension is a somewhat more mysterious question. Keys, scissors, needle-cases, hygiene items and knives are typically hung on brooches or pins in the chest area in elite women’s graves (see Zariņa 2006 for numerous examples), but as far as we know, fire strikers are not part of these lavish sets. The typical location of strikers in graves is near the waist of the deceased, which is usually interpreted as having been in pouches or bags. In many cases where pieces of pouches are still preserved, this is undoubtedly the case (e.g. Gräslund 1984: 152; Virágos 2022: 126-7). However, in the case of strikers with hangers, it is possible that the strikers were attached to belts or to brooches at waist level. Two facts indicate this. The first of them is the fact that some Eastern European strikers still have the remains of leather straps in the eyelets (e.g. Ivanov 1952: Tab. 27), which shows that they were used for hanging on a perforated belt. In the collection presented below, the striker from grave 90 in Luistari is also a good illustration, found at the waist and equipped with a ring with a leather strap still attached (Lehtosalo-Hilander 1982: 109-110). The second fact is that combs (e.g. Arbman 1943: Abb. 412) and knives (e.g. Arbman 1943: Abb. 200) were tied to belts in a similar way. The tendency to place fire strikers next to belts may be related to the fact that the overwhelming majority of strikers appear to come from male graves (Hårdh 1984: 158-9; Petersen 1951: 437).

In light of these finds, it seems that some early medieval fire strikers were not placed in pouches and bags, but were attached by means of holes and loops to an organic strap or metal chain to a belt or other garment part. This can be justified by the fact that in a working environment with repeated need of striking, it may have been practical to have a striker exposed and close at hand. At the same time, it may have been possible to put the striker down and hang it in the home or workplace. The find from the site of Lahepera shows that practicality was also manifested in the fact that the striker was only one of four hangers on one eyelet. It seems that the metal hanger could have been fitted with bimetallic striker with a bronze handle, which apparently followed a different strategy in presentation and were not carried concealed due to the price of the design. At the same time, ethnographic material shows that strikers could be attached to other fire-starting equipment and could be placed in pouches (see Borobej – Chachovskaja – Mitko 2013).

Ethnographic strikers attached with a strap to other fire-starting equipment.
Source: Borobej – Chachovskaja – Mitko 2013: Рис. 4-5.

Lahepera (Tvauri 2012: Fig. 143).

Rahu (Mägi 2002: Pl. 67).

Fribrødre Å (Skamby Madsen – Klassen 2010: 269, Fig. 169).

Ardre, Gotland (Thunmark-Nylén 1998: Taf. 216.12).

Rahu (Mägi 2002: Pl. 69).

Karja (Mägi 2002: Pl. 116).

Kłokoczyce (Kostrzewski 1962: 129).

Vanaja (Kivikoski 1973: Taf. 112, Abb. 1007).

Mikkeli – Tuukkala (Kivikoski 1973: Taf. 143, Abb. 1247).

Ylöjärvi-Mikkola (Kivikoski 1973: Taf. 143, Abb. 1248).

Bandužiai, grave 43B (photo kindly provided by Benas Simkus).

Zalachtovje (Залахтовье), grave 17 (Chvoščinskaja 2004: таб. XIV).

Zalachtovje (Залахтовье), grave 22 (Chvoščinskaja 2004: таб. XV).

Drense (Schmidt 1989: Taf. 30.2).

Venzovščina (Kviatkovskaja 1998: Рис. 44.4).

Lund (Mårtensson 1976: Fig. 194).

Säffle (catalog SHM).

Ust-Rybežno (Усть-Рыбежно), grave 19 (Alexandra Ščedrina; Brandenburg 1895: таб. VIII.14).

Podjelje (Подъелье), grave 104 (Alexandra Ščedrina; Brandenburg 1895: таб. VIII.21).

Zalachtovje (Залахтовье), grave 13 (Chvoščinskaja 2004: таб. XIII).

Piltenes Pasilciems (Korotkevič et al. 2006: 113).

Tontinmäki, grave 13/1888 (Belskij 2013: 424, Рис. 84.2).

Suotniemi (Schvindt 1893: Fig. 87).

Vukovar – Lijeva Bara (Demo 2011: 121).

Novgorod (Kolčin 1959: 104, Рис. 87).

Luistari, grave 90 (Lehtosalo-Hilander 1982: Pl. 38).

Luistari, grave 348 (Lehtosalo-Hilander 1982: Pl. 95).

Tuna Alsike, grave XI (Arne 1934: Taf. XVII.1; Historiska museet, Stockholm).

Kaup (Kulakov 2012: Рис. 8.3).

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