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.
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:
The miniature weathervane from Birka. Source: Salin 1921: Fig. 4; 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.
The miniature weathervane from Novoselki. Source: Vasilij “Gudred” Maiskij.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Blindheim 1983 = Blindheim, Martin (1983). De gyldne skipsfløyer fra sen vikingtid. Bruk og teknikk. Viking XLVI, Oslo, 85-111.
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.
Engström – Nykänen 1996 = Engström, Jan – Nykänen, Panu (1996). New interpretations of Viking Age weathervanes. In: Fornvännen 91:3, 137-142.
Frykberg 1977 = Frykberg, Yvonne (1977). Syrholen i Dala-Floda socken. Seminarieuppsats i arkeologi, Stockholms universitet, Stockholm.
Christensen 1998 = Christensen, Arne Emil (1998). The Viking weathervanes were not navigation instruments! In: Fornvännen 93, 202-203.
Lamm 2002 = Lamm, Jan Peder (2002). De havdjärvas märke – om vikingatidens skeppsflöjlar. In: Gotländskt arkiv 74, 33-42.
Lamm 2003 = Lamm, Jan Peder (2003). Die wikingerzeitliche Miniaturwetterfahne aus Menzlin, Lkr. Ostvorpommern, und verwandte Funde. In: Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Jahrbuch, 50, 57-63.
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.
Lindgrén – Neumann 1984 = Lindgrén, Susanne – Neumann, Jehuda (1984). Viking weather-vane practices in medieval France. In: Fornvännen 78, 197-203.
Myhre – Gansum 2003 = Myhre, Bjørn – Gansum, Terje (2003). Skipshaugen 900 e. Kr. : Borrefunnet 1852-2002, Borre.
Petré 2011 = Petré, Bo (2011). Fornlämning RAÄ 28, Söderby, Lovö sn, Up. Gravfält från vendeltid och vikingatid samt några gravar och boplatslämningar från bronsålder. Lovö Archaeological Reports and Studies Nr 10 År 2011, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University.
Salin 1921 = Salin, Bernhard (1921). Förgylld flöjel från Söderala kyrka. In: Fornvännen 16, 1-22.
Schirren 2000 = Schirren, Michael C. (2000). Menzlin, Lkr. Ostvorpommern. In: Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Bd. 47, Jahrbuch 1999, Lübstorf, 472.
Schmidt 2005 = Шмидт, Е.А. (2005). Курганный могильнику пос. Новоселки // Смоленские древности, Вып. 4, Смоленск, 146–218.
Sörling 2018 = Sörling, Erik (2018). Fynden från ”Svarta jorden” på Björkö : från Hjalmar Stolpes undersökningar, Katalog, Uppsala.
Thunmark-Nylén 2000 =Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2000). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands IV:1–3. Katalog. Stockholm.
Thunmark-Nylén 2006 = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2006). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands III: 1–2 : Text, Stockholm.
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