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The axe sheath from Fribrødre Å, Denmark

The museum’s permanent exhibition in Moesgård, Denmark, has included an unusual exhibit since 2017, which was noticed by several reenactors – the hitherto unknown axe sheath. There are generally not many, less than thirty, organic finds of this type from early medieval Europe. Since a fan of the project, who does not wish to be named, provided me with a number of pictures from many angles, I decided to create a separate article and make the sheath known.

The wooden sheath from Fribrødre Å.
Taken from Skamby Madsen – Klassen 2010: Fig. 177.


Introduction

In 1982, the archeological excavations of the site of Fribrødre Å, Falster, Denmark began, which brought extremely interesting results. In the site, which operated in the years 1050-1105, there was a shipyard, which is pointed out by numerous finds of ship parts made of wood and metal. One of the finds, which is not of a maritime nature, but which may be related to shipbuilding, is the sheath for a long blade, most likely an axe. The sheath has so far been published once, in the book Fribrødre Å: A Late 11th Century Ship-handling Site on Falster (Skamby Madsen – Klassen 2010: 272-3, 458).

The sheath belongs to the collection of the National Museum in Copenhagen and has inventory number D293/1982. In the only current publication, it has the catalog number SA 1. The sheath has been lent to the museum’s exposition in Moesgård for a long time.

The possition of Fribrødre Å on the map of Evrope.


Description

The sheath, which is made of spindle wood, has a total length of 21.5 cm, a maximum thickness of 1.5 cm and a height of 2.2 cm. It is slightly curved, which copies the curvature of the long blade. The cross section is ovoid, the edges are rounded. In the middle of the inner side, there is a slit 0.5 – 1 cm wide, which is 1 cm deep. On one side, the sheath reaches the end of the sheath, on the other side there is an offset 1.8 cm long. Both ends are apparently intentionally broken off and do not represent the ends of the original sheath. One side of the sheath is broken partically off.

The blade for which the sheath was intended was slightly curved and had a minimum length of 19.7 cm. The axe is the most likely candidate, and it is not impossible that it was a woodworking axe. It should be noted that in the museum in Moesgård, the sheath is displayed with an axe, which, however, does not come from the same location – it is the find from Teterow fortress (Berlekamp et al. 1979: Taf. 45/77; Waurick – Böhme 1992: 96).

All photos from the museum in Moesgård can be downloaded by clicking on the following button:

Selection of photos from the exposition of the Moesgård Museum.


Analogies

At the moment, we know in total at least 24 organic sheaths and 3 metal sheaths for axes or similar objects from Europe of 9th-12th century. Organic pieces come from Dublin (Lang 1988: 43, Fig. 3, 81), Haithabu (Westphal 2007: Taf. 30-1), Sigtuna (Floderus 1941: 102; Kitzler Åhfeldt 2011), Schleswig (Saggau 2006: 264), Novgorod (Kainov – Singh 2016), Voll and Horstad (Vlasatý 2017), as can be read in the article Organic axe sheaths of 9th-12th century. The materials used are wood from alder, beech, birch, juniper, oak, pine, spindle, spruce, yew and willow wood and elk antler. Sheaths were often decorated and had different methods of fixing. The The typical lenght of slits (79–120 mm) indicate that sheaths belonged to axes with shorter (up to 100 mm) or middle long (101–140 mm) edges, but one of the sheaths is for a 23.5 cm long blade. The sheaths from Fribrødre Å fits the type 1 (Westphal 2007: Taf. 30) and the closest parallel to the size is the long sheath from Schleswig (Saggau 2006: 264).

Metal sheaths are known from the Great Moravian and Old Rus environments and are discussed in a separate article Metal Axe Sheaths.

sheath suspension axes

Suggested variants of suspension of wooden sheaths.


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.


Bibliography

Berlekamp, Hansdieter et al. (1979). Corpus archäologischer Quellen zur Frühgeschichte auf dem Gebiet der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. 2. Lieferung: Bezirke Rostock (Ostteil), Neubrandenburg.

Floderus, Erik (1941). Sigtuna: Sveriges äldsta medeltidsstad, Stockholm.

Kainov – Singh 2016 = Каинов, С. Ю. – Сингх, В. К. (2016). Деревянный чехол топора с Троицкого раскопа // Новгород и Новгородская земля. Вып. 30, 196–203.

Kitzler Åhfeldt, Laila (2011). Några träfynd i Sigtuna under runstenstid. In: Situne Dei 2011, 49–60.

Lang, J. T. (1988). Viking-Age Decorated Wood, Dublin.

Saggau, H. E. (2006). Gehauene und geschnitzte Holzfunde aus dem mittelalterlichen Schleswig. In: Holzfunde aus dem mittelalterlichen Schleswig (Ausgrabungen in Schleswig. Berichte und Studien 17), Neumünster, 199–304.

Skamby Madsen, Jan – Klassen, Lutz (2010). Fribrødre Å: A Late 11th Century Ship-handling Site on Falster, Højbjerg.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2017). The man from Voll. In: Projekt Forlǫg: Reenactment a věda [online]. [2022-03-21]. Available from: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/en/the-man-from-voll/.

Waurick, Götz – Böhme, H. W. (1992). Das Reich der Salier, 1024-1125. Katalog zur Ausstellung des Landes Rheinland-Pfalz, Sigmaringen.

Westphal, Florian (2007). Die Holzfunde von Haithabu, (Die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu 11), Neumünster.

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