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Stool from Trondheim, Norway, 11th century


It is our pleasant duty to announce that, in cooperation with Scandinavian colleagues, a previously unrecognized stool from the 11th century has been found in the Norwegian archives. Specifically, it is a find from Trondheim. As far as we know, it is currently under-published and missing from both the basic literature on early medieval wooden furniture (Grodde 1989; Paulsen 1992; Wyley – Robinson – Joyce 2021) and the literature on the site (Alström – Hodkinson 1986; Christophersen – Nordeide 1994; Christophersen et al. 1988). The only sources of information about this find are one university thesis (Folkvord 2007) and a museum catalog (Unimus 2024).

The following article aims to introduce the find to an international audience, especially to reenactors and artisans who focus on physical reconstruction of archaeological finds. The text will be enriched by the results of interviews with several craftsmen who share their theories about the newly identified stool with us, as well as a description of analogical pieces from early medieval Scandinavia.

Map 1: position of Trondheim on the map of Europe.

Circumstances of the find, dating and place of storage

The find that we present below was found during excavations in the center of Trondheim at the site of Folkebibliotekstomten (“Public Library Site”), which is located on the left bank of the Nidelva River and a few hundred meters from the shore of Trondheimsfjord. Excavations at this site were carried out intermittently in the years 1973-1985, while the discovery of the stool was made in the years 1978-1985. The site of Folkebibliotekstomten is divided into several fields, and the discussed find comes from the field FU.

Fig. 1: the location of Folkebibliotekstomten in Trondheim.
Source: Alström – Hodkinson 1986: 9.

Since the find is not published in detail, we lack a good knowledge of the stratigraphy of the artefact. In the UNIMUS catalog, information is stored with the object that indicates that it was found in the younger stage of construction Phase 2 (Unimus 2024). Folkvord states that the discovery took place in layer 485 in the younger stage of Phase 2 (Folkvord 2007). Original works from the 1980s assumed that this phase was divided into two stages, dating to ca. 990?/1020-1070 (Alström – Hodkinson 1986; Christophersen et al. 1988), but dendrochronological and radiocarbon analysis adjusted the dating of Phase 2 to 990-1040 (Christophersen – Nordeide 1994: 37). If we follow the original documentation, the stool comes from the younger layers of Phase 2 and should therefore be unambiguously datable to the 11th century. It follows from the original documentation that layer 485 is located under the house, designated as K28 (Alström – Hodkinson 1986: 112).

The stool part is currently stored in the NTNU University Museum in Trondheim under inventory no. N95298. In Folkvord’s catalogue, the find is marked KNR 532.

Fig. 2: dating of construction phases at the site of Folkebibliotekstomten in Trondheim.
Narrow columns represent the original dating, wider columns the revised dating.
Source: Christophersen – Nordeide 1994: 37.


The find consists of an approximately rectangular board made of one plank with dimensions of 73 × 24 × 1.4 cm (Folkvord 2007). Board thickness not detected. The material is not officially defined, but judging by the structure of the wood, current manufacturers are inclined to believe that the material used is the wood of a coniferous tree, probably pine. Unlike the back side, the surface of the visible upper side is carefully treated, but there are scratches on both sides and the board is damaged along the perimeter.

The board is notable for the ornament that is placed on both of its shorter sides. On one side it is formed by an engraved cross, on the other side by a plastic floral motif that emerges from the background. The floral ornament defines the shape of the edge, which is wavy and has a perimeter line.

Figs. 3-5: front and back of the stool from Trondheim.
Source: catalog Unimus.

There are four 1.5-2 cm diameter leg holes inside the board. One set of holes is located 12.5 cm from the shorter side, the other set of holes 14.5 cm from the shorter side. In all cases, the centers of the holes are located approximately 6.5 cm from the longer sides. Some holes are perfectly rounded, others are more or less angular. This means that the tops of the legs had to be of different cross-sections. Since the holes do not seem to taper significantly towards the viewing side, it can be expected that at least one leg was (due to the circular shape of the hole) wedged from above. The holes were drilled or carved at an angle so that the legs are slanted towards the longer sides of the board. One set of holes is placed in the cross ornament, which is damaged by this. The legs are completely absent, so the height of the original product cannot be deduced.

In the board, in the place of the cross ornament, there are two more holes, which have the same diameter as the other holes from the visible side, but appear significantly smaller on the back side. These holes were covered with pegs before the ornament was engraved. The meaning of these openings is not entirely clear. Below is a mind map created on the basis of a dialogue with the schoolmaster, craftsman and reenactor Václav Maňha:

  • Thesis: The repairs represent failed leg openings.
    Counterargument: Unlike the others, the holes are drilled perpendicular to the board, which indicates a different function.

  • Thesis: The repairs represent knots that were drilled off.
    Counterargument: There are several other knots on the board that are not modified in any way. The structure of the wood in the places of the holes does not indicate that there were knots.

  • Thesis: The pegs continued on the underside to hold another, smaller board.
    Counterargument: There are no traces of this board. The pegs do not appear to be broken on the underside, just very casually filed.

The result may probably be that the manufacturer had a board with holes already in it, which she or he masked and used the board to make the stool.

Fig. 6: approximate reconstruction of the stool. Author: Diego Flores Cartes.

Evaluation of artistic style

As mentioned, both ends of the board are decorated with an ornament which must be evaluated separately and which offers interesting dating possibilities. The ornament was divided by the manufacturer into two halves (a cross and a floral motif), which will be described separately for the sake of simplicity.

The cross is equal-armed and has wedge-shaped arms. A circular hoop is placed around the center, through which the arms of the second, slightly offset cross are woven. The arms of the second cross are pointed and located between the arms of the larger cross. The wedge-shaped arm of the larger cross is followed by a projection that continues towards the inside of the stool and to the opposite ornament. Very similar crosses are recorded on hundreds of Swedish runestones. The phenomenon of the anatomy of crosses on runic stones was dealt with by Lager, who defined seven aspects and their variants (Lager 1995). The cross from the Trondheim stool would most closely correspond to the combination of aspects A4, B3, D1, E5, F3 within this morphology. Such a combination of elements could roughly be dated to the entire 11th century, and on runestones it is used with animals with heads are shown both from above (style Fp according to Gräslund) and in profile (style Pr 1-4 according to Gräslund). The cross itself therefore does not contribute to the closer dating of the find.

The opposite floral ornament could be described as a palmette with an atrophied stem, from which a central bud and lateral sprouts branch out into three rounded tendrils. The sprouts are tied with a braid at the heel of the palmette. Folkvord assesses the artistic expression as the Ringerike style, generally dated to the end of the 10th and the first half of the 11th century (Folkvord 2007). This conclusion can also be attributed to the fact that the work is written under the supervision of Professor Fuglesang, an expert on the Ringerike style (Fuglesang 1980). The ornament was consulted with two present-day experts on early medieval Scandinavian art, Luciano Pezzoli and Indrek Jets. We will let their opinions be heard in full:

Very classic (mid to mature) Urnes style. High level design. Very curved tendrils. Corresponds to Gräslund’s Pr 4 style.” (Luciano Pezzoli)

Urnes style, not the latest phase. Curvy lines like on Swedish runestones signed with the name Fot from the middle of the 11th century. Pr 4 style according to Gräslund is the most likely, but Pr 3 cannot be excluded.” (Indrek Jets)

Both researchers agree that the ornament was made in the developed Urnes style, which corresponds to the animal style Pr 3-4 according to Gräslund. It is not without interest that the palmette most similar in shape is found on a runestone from Stav, Sweden (U 177), which is decorated in a style corresponding to Pr 4 according to Gräslund (see Wessén – Jansson 1940-1943: 272-275). Gräslund dates the Pr 3 style to ca. 1045-1075 and the Pr 4 style to ca. 1070-1100 (Gräslund 2006). This is somewhat inconsistent with stratigraphic dating. If this assessment is correct, zhe discrepancy cannot be resolved other than by stating that Phase 2 of the Trondheim settlement continued at least until the mid-11th century, or that the stool represents a younger intrusion deposited into an older phase (for example, by being thrown into a waste pit). In any case, the production and disposal of the stool can be safely dated to the 11th century.

Fig. 7: the runestone from Stav, Sweden.
Source: Wessén – Jansson 1940-1943: Pl. 114.


Several pieces of furniture with a rectangular board and four legs have been preserved from the Early Middle Ages, which stand on the borderline of our definitions of “stool”, “chair”, “bench” (Grodde 1989: 51-4). We can name a total of five finds from Viking Age Scandinavia.

The first piece comes from the location of Sala Hytta, Sweden, specifically from grave 4 (Almgren 1907), which is dated by various authors to the 9th-10th century. century (Paulsen 1992: 82; Voss 1991: 198). The chair, which is very similar in shape to the Trondheim find, has a board size of 45 × 20 cm and 10.5 cm long legs. Another find is a grave table from Hørning, Denmark, dated to around 1000 (Grodde 1989: 362; Voss 1991). A square board with high edges has side lengths of 50 cm and leg height of 20 cm. The third is a stool from the mound of Oseberg, dated to the first half of the 9th century (Brøgger – Schetelig 1928: 167). The board of this item measures 92.5 × 29 cm and stands on 28.5 cm high legs. The fourth find is unpublished and comes from Sigtuna (Sigtuna Museum 2024). The board of this item has dimensions of 50 × 26 × 2.5 cm. The last find to be mentioned is a stool from Haithabu, which has a board size of 29.6 × 20.6 cm and a height of 19.5 cm (Westphal 2006: 87).

Fig. 8: the find from Sala Hytta. Source: Almgren 1907: Fig. 22.

Fig. 9: the find from Hørning. Source: Grodde 1989: Taf. 69.3; Paulsen 1992: Abb. 71.

Fig. 10: the find from Oseberg. Source: catalog UNIMUS.

Fig. 11: the find from Sigtuna. Source: Sigtuna Museum 2024.

Fig. 12: the find from Haithabu. Source: Grodde 1989: Taf. 66.1; Westphal 2006: Taf. 66.

Although these tables and stools have a load capacity of tens of kilograms, they cannot automatically be considered benches and seats. On the contrary, it seems that they could have had a wider range of functions. The table from Hørning was apparently used to store a metal bowl that served as a wash basin (Voss 1991: 198-199), which closely resembles tables with wash basins from the Roman era (e.g. Mráv – Dági 2020: 86). The raised edges of the low stool from Sala Hytta are not suitable for sitting; this find was much more likely to be used to store objects and food. Old Norse uses the terms skutill (also borðskutill) or trapiza (Baetke 2006) for this piece of furniture. The same four-legged low piece of furniture with a flat top is depicted in the 11th-century manuscript Vatican, BAV, (fol. 17v), which records the life and miracles of St. Benedict. This scene thematizes the situation where Benedict’s nurse borrowed a tray for cleaning wheat from the neighbours, which she inadvertently placed on the edge of the table (mensa) and which fell and broke (Geary 2015: 163). In this light, it is not possible to determine whether the find from Trondheim represents a serving table, a hygiene table, a working table or a seat. It cannot be ruled out that universality was one of the intended goals during production.

Fig. 14: period depiction of a four-legged stool with raised edges.
Source: Vatican, BAV,, 17v. Dated to 1058-1087.


The article would not have been possible without the notice of reenactor Joel Tang Hermansen, whom we thank for his kind sharing. Thanks go to Indrek Jets (Heidrekr Eistr), Luciano Pezzoli (Children of Ash) and Václav Maňha (Ratatosk CRAFT) that helped with consultations. We must also mention Diego Flores Cartes, who is the author of diagrams.

We hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact us or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support our work, please, fund our project on PatreonBuymeacoffee or Paypal.


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