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While some boards were lost or too deteriorated to get exact dimensions, the reproduction of the Oseberg and Goteland beds had to be based on something. The most I've been able to find were the overall dimensions of the beds and reproductions using modern lumber sizes. What were the dimensions of the boards? How big were the mortises? Were all slats the same size? From pictures I've been able to find, the slats closest to the head and foot of the Oseberg bed were wider than the middle slats. Thank you.
What were the board dimensions of the Viking era bed finds? - History
In Homer’s Odyssey there is a description of how Odysseus made his own bed: the trunk of an olive tree was cut to the exact shape and planed smooth after holes had been drilled in the framework, oxhide thongs, dyed crimson, were threaded back and forth to make a pliant web finally, the wood was embellished with inlay work in gold, silver, and ivory.
As a furniture form, the bed is as old as the chair. In principle the construction of the bed is extraordinarily simple: it consists merely of a rectangular platform raised in some way or other slightly above floor level. A considerable number of bed forms cannot be classed as furniture at all. Alcoves and bunks in ships, railway carriages, and airplanes belong more to the sphere of building trade joinery than to cabinetmaking.
That a number of beautiful and original bed forms of fine artistic execution have been created since antiquity is attributable to the fact that the bed gives the furniture designer rich possibilities in terms of framing and presentation, particularly in conjunction with textiles. Apart from the actual bedclothes, which historically are of greater importance than the actual platform and the surrounding framework, imaginative experiments combining the practical and the impressive—in four-poster beds and tentlike canopies, for example—have been made for centuries.
An Egyptian bier dating from the 1st dynasty (c. 3100–2890 bce ) shows the original form of the bed: a rectangular framework of staves, round in section and mortised into one another so as to leave the ends free lengthwise, supported on four small legs carved to represent stylized lions’ feet. These paws face in the same direction—as if they were walking with the dead person. This is characteristic of all Egyptian beds. Made of cedarwood, the light framework is higher at the head than at the foot and whereas the foot is always terminated by a footboard, there is no board at the head. The beds were so constructed because the Egyptians when sleeping or resting used a stool-like support for the head. Essential to the Egyptian bed, countless examples of this piece of equipment—made usually of wood but sometimes of ivory and faience—have been found in Egyptian tombs. The actual framework of the bed was often covered with plaited leather thongs.
In China, a bed in the form of a complete little house, with an anteroom in the form of a veranda, was placed in the middle of the room.
Before central heating and a knowledge of hygiene became common, the closed bed was the generally accepted form in cold climates. The simplest way to avoid drafts was to place the bed in an alcove—as was the practice in farmhouses right up to the 19th century and most notably at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece. The most frequently encountered form of bed in European civilization, however, was the four-poster. Throughout the Middle Ages and later, the four-poster was developed in a variety of forms. Already during the Middle Ages, beds were designed for clearly ceremonial effect. The four posts supported an expanse of cloth that extended from the head like a canopy, just as the most distinguished row of choir stalls in a church was crowned by a baldachin (an ornamental structure resembling a canopy). Miniatures in illuminated manuscripts of the same period show tentlike beds entirely closed by drapery and curtains.
In the time of the absolute monarchies in the 17th and 18th centuries, pompous four-posters were developed in which the surrounding textile drapery completely concealed the wooden construction of the bed, thereby achieving a synthesis of practical and ceremonial considerations. Every palace or mansion had a chamber of state among its official reception rooms. Contemporary memoirs describe the complicated ceremony that took place at Louis XIV’s daily awakening. Where his royal highness spent the night was his own concern, but his awakening was an act of state, in the conduct of which princes of the blood, dukes, and distinguished courtiers all had their respective duties: one would draw aside the bed-curtain, another would have the royal dressing gown ready, another the royal slippers. It was the first audience of the day, the king’s levee. A large number of 17th- and 18th-century four-poster beds are still preserved in palaces, country houses, and museums and most of them have a clearly dramatic, almost theatrical effect. The four-poster beds of the Baroque and Rococo periods, moreover, reflect great artistic refinement, especially in the rare instances in which they can still be seen in their original interiors complete with their entire textile adornment. Such beds of state are typical of continental Europe. In England and America, particularly toward the end of the 18th century, greater interest was taken in showing off the bedposts and the upper framework connecting them. Many English four-posters have slender, finely carved mahogany posts, whereas on the Continent the corresponding parts may be entirely covered with the same silken material as that used for the curtains, canopy, and bedspread.
During the Empire period in France an entirely new form of bed was developed and won favour throughout most of Europe. The design was inspired by the Roman couch as known from reliefs and from excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The frame was very high, and the bed ends consisted of volutes (spiral or scroll-shaped forms) of equal height. The bed was crowned by a tentlike superstructure, and the martial aspect was further emphasized by the use of spears to support the draperies and curtains the whole bedroom, in fact, might well be draped like a tent. In these surroundings, the army commanders of Napoleon’s time could feel like the caesars and consuls of ancient Rome. During a campaign, however, collapsible iron camp beds were more practical. Napoleon owned several and died in one on St. Helena in 1821. As a furniture form, the iron bed was a neutral framework built to support bedclothes and equipped with stanchions (upright supports) for curtains it was light, transportable, and spartan.
Among plantation owners in the West Indies and the southern United States, a type of four-poster popular at the beginning of the 19th century was dominated by wood, rather than textile hangings. The posts supported very light, roughly made wooden frames, to which thin, white mosquito netting was fastened to protect the sleeper. The monumental and dignified effect was obtained by the quality of the woodwork. Of thick dimensions, the wood is solid mahogany polished to a high gloss. The four bedposts are not necessarily identical at the head and foot of the bed, but all have bulbous and turned sections, exaggerated almost to the point of crudeness. The headboards and footboards are imaginatively designed with voluted gables (triangular decoration) and galleries (ornamental railings) supported on pillars. Besides the practical function of these West Indian beds, they also served to indicate the importance of their owner like the royal four-poster of the days of absolute monarchy, they clearly showed the difference between master and slave.
By the 20th century the bed belonged exclusively to one’s private life and, compared with those of the past, was simple. Four-posters are still “modern,” possibly because they appeal to something primitive, namely the sensation of sleeping in a tent. In general, development has been concentrated on improving the quality of bedclothes and increasing the amount of comfort by attention to box springs, mattresses, eiderdowns, and pillows. The actual woodwork of the bed is usually restricted to joined veneered sections of laminated board, canework sometimes being used for the headboards and footboards.
This page contains a select catalogue of archaeological finds that are, or have in the past been, attributed to the game of hnefatafl.
The Vimose Board Fragment
The Vimose Board Fragment In about AD400 this fragment of a gaming board was thrown into a bog in Vimose, Denmark, as part of a war booty offering to the gods. It most likely came from Romanised Germans, and may not be a tafl board at all, but perhaps one for the Roman game ludus latrunculorum, "the game of little soldiers".
The Golden Horns of Gallehus
The Golden Horns of Gallehus In about AD500 a pair of golden drinking horns was made by Hlewagastir, son of Holte, for some unknown purpose. They were found in Gallehus, near the German border in Denmark. They were richly decorated, and among the engraved scenes were these two men playing a board game. It may be tafl, but at this early date the evidence is lacking.
Glass Pieces from Gunnarshaug
Glass Pieces from Gunnarshaug An eighth century set of glass gaming pieces from Gunnarshaug (also known as Storhaug) in Norway consists of one large piece, four medium-sized pieces and twelve small pieces. These numbers are not quite what we expect from a hnefatafl game, but do appear to be a single king piece, and a small force set against a large one. This shows the game was being played by the time the Vikings made their first raids abroad.
The Gokstad Gaming Board
The Gokstad Gaming Board This ninth-century board, a fragment of which was found in Gokstad in Norway, doesn't have any markings that identify it beyond doubt as tafl. But we do know it has the right size and shape, as there is a a nine men's morris board on the reverse to confirm that it is square. Its 13 rows of 13 squares tally with no other known game of this era.
The Ballinderry Board
The Ballinderry Board This board found in Ballinderry in Ireland in 1932 is unmistakably tafl. The give-away feature, along with the odd number of cells on the square board, is the marked central cell. The board was made in Dublin in around the tenth century. An onion-shaped piece found in Dublin gives some idea of what the pieces would have looked like.
Baldursheimur: Set of Walrus Ivory Pieces
Baldursheimur: Set of Walrus Ivory Pieces A set of twenty-four walrus ivory pieces and a whalebone king. The king is 3.9 cm (about 1.5") high, and is carved into the figure of a seated man holding a long beard. Found in Baldursheimur, Iceland, in 1860, the pieces date from the 10th century. They are now at the Islands Nationalmuseum, in Reykjavik.
An oddity about this set is that twelve of the pieces have red pigment, giving two sides of equal numbers. This may be because the set is incomplete, or because it was used for a game of equal forces (instead of, or as well as, hnefatafl).
Balnakeil: Set of Antler Pieces
A bag of fourteen gaming pieces were found in 1991 in a boy's grave in Balnakeil, Scotland, dated to between A.D. 850 and 900. A fragment of wood was found near the pieces, which could be part of the gaming board, though the state of the fragment was too poor to be sure of this.
The pieces were conical and made of antler, and originally polished. They would have measured about 20mm high and 11mm at the base. They were clustered together in a compact form that suggests they were stored in a pouch, now rotted away. Each had a hole in the base for a bone or metal pin, for use with a pegged gaming board. The set is not considered complete, as more gaming pieces were found scattered on the surface near the burial, which had been exposed by a storm.
Basingstoke: Single Horse-tooth Piece
Murray describes a short, hollow cylinder, made from horses' teeth with the opposite ends closed by disks united with a silver pin, found in Basingstoke, England. The existence of this find has been called into question, however pieces of horse tooth were not in this form but were high-domed, the grinding surface of the molar tooth forming the base of the piece.
Bawdsey: Single Jet Piece
An oblong piece of jet, found in 1969 at Bawdsey in England. The top is faceted, and each of the four vertical faces is carved with a pattern, as is the base. The piece dates from the middle of the tenth century, and is 4.7 cm (about 1.75") high
Birka 624: Board and Bone Pieces
Birka 624: Board and Bone Pieces A set of twenty-seven gaming pieces of lathe-turned bone, found with an iron mounted wooden gaming board in grave 624 in Bjorko, on the island of Birka in Sweden. The pieces are spherical with flat bases, and the bases contain the remains of iron pegs, used to insert the pieces into the holes of a peg-holed gaming board. The king is capped with a bronze mount to distinguish him from the other pieces. Six of the pieces are smaller in size than the rest. The king is 3 cm (1.25") high and the other pieces are 2 cm (0.75") high, the differences in size being accounted for by the diameter
Birka 886: Set of Bone Pieces
Twenty-five bone or horn hemispherical pieces were found in Birka grave 886 in Sweden. They are lathe-turned, on average 26mm in diameter and 20mm in height. One of the pieces has been burned, and is therefore darker in colour. Another is topped with an iron pin, possibly originally holding a top mount to identify the king. With the pieces there was also found the remains of an iron mounted wooden gaming board. The whole set would have resembled that found in grave 624.
Birka 710: Set of Glass Pieces
Found at Birka in Sweden was a set of eight glass gaming pieces, from grave 710. These are all black with a white spiral pattern no king nor opposing force survives.
Birka 750: Set of Glass Pieces
Birka 750: Set of Glass Pieces Found at Birka, Sweden, in grave 750, this is a set of twenty-five ninth century spherical gaming pieces with flat bases, made of glass, accompanied by a glass king piece. The spherical pieces are 2.5 cm (1") to 2.7 cm (1.1") high, with eight of dark green glass and seventeen of light blue-green. The king is dark green, and is shaped with a conical body topped with a round head, the head being decorated with eyes, a nose and a crown.
Birka 523: Set of Glass Pieces
Birka 523: Set of Glass Pieces A set of 20 glass pieces in grave 523 at Birka, Sweden features a damaged king, formed from a sphere mounted on a cone, the spherical head decorated with a face. The body of the king is decorated with a spiral pattern, as are 14 of the other pieces. The remaining five pieces are of dark plain glass.
Birka 644: Set of Glass Pieces
In grave 644 at Birka, Sweden there was a composite set of twenty glass pieces and three dice. The set is assumed to be composite due to the presence of two kings. Both are conical, one with a spherical head decorated with a face. Both kings are damaged, and both probably had spherical heads at one time. Most of of the pieces are decorated with spiral patterns.
Birka 917: Set of Bone Pieces
A set of nine button-shaped pieces was found in grave 917 in Birka, Sweden. Variations in size, shape and colour make it impossible to tell the make-up of this set.
Birka 581: Set of Bone Pieces
Birka grave 581, in which the warrior appears to be cradling her hnefatafl set. From grave 581 in Birka, Sweden were taken a set of twenty-eight hemispherical bone pieces and three dice. The bone pieces are of a variety of sizes, some of them being fragmentary. It is possible that some fragments belong to the same piece. Some of the pieces have a pointed top.
Birka 986: Set of Elk Horn Pieces
This is a set of sixteen pieces from the ninth century, found in grave 986 at Birka in Sweden, made of elk horn accompanied by a king. The king has a conical body topped with a round head, his body bearing vertical grooves. Six of the sixteen pieces also bear grooves on their upper conical section.
Birka 524: Set of Amber Pieces
Fifteen amber pieces were found in grave 524 at Birka in Sweden, dating from the ninth century. The king is larger than the others, and bears a pattern of crossed grooves. Of the other pieces, three are red and the other eleven are yellow.
Birsay: Single Bone Piece
A single piece of lathe-turned bone was found at the Brough of Birsay in Scotland, spherical with a flat base and a hole for a peg.
Birsay: Single Antler Piece
A conical piece of antler with a round terminal was found in the Church at the Brough of Birsay in Scotland.
Birsay: Whalebone Board
A fragment of a whalebone gaming board with peg holes was found in the Brough of Birsay in Scotland. What remains is three rows of four holes, with evidence of further rows and holes along the broken edges.
Buckquoy: Three Stone Boards
A flagstone gaming board was found in Buckquoy in Scotland, in 1976. The board is of the graffiti type, with a grid of seven lines by seven. The central intersection is marked with a circle, but the corners are unmarked. A sandstone graffiti gaming board of similar design was also found there.
Another flagstone board found at Buckquoy is lightly incised with the same grid pattern as the others, but other patterns are overlaid on the normal grid. I have identified two groups of patterns. One is a cross formed of two lines, each line bearing rows of circles, a circle around the intersection having a double outline. Another horizontal line bearing similar circles is incised above the horizontal line of the cross just mentioned. The circles look like representations of game pieces, but are not placed squarely on the intersections of the board.
Coppergate, York: Wooden Board
A fragment of a gaming board was found in 1976 in Coppergate, York, England. The board dates from the period AD 950-1025, and consists of three rows of sixteen squares, with evidence of a metal strip along its surviving edge. There is also evidence that a metal strip covered the sixteenth squares, making the playing area fifteen squares wide. Five of these planks would form a 15x15 board. The surviving corners are not marked.
Downpatrick: Stone Board
Downpatrick: Stone Board A stone graffiti board of 7x7 lines was found at the Cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. The central intersection of this board is marked with a circle, and the corners are marked with quadrants. The board is now at the Down County Museum. It dates between the ninth and the thirteenth century.
The board is double-sided. The reverse contains a grid of eight lines by eight, forming a pattern of 49 squares, with a cross marking the central square. A number of the lines on this side are incomplete, giving the impression that this was a failed attempt to create the board.
Drimore: Single Bone Piece
A piece made of bone, with a pointed top, was found at Drimore in Scotland.
Dublin: Two Walrus Ivory Pieces
In Dublin, Ireland, two pieces were found, one unfinished. Both are of walrus ivory, and date from the eleventh century. The finished piece is smooth, and is shaped like a slightly flattened onion, with rounded sides and a conical top, while the rough piece is formed of a cylinder topped by a cone. Both pieces are pierced underneath, perhaps for the insertion of a peg for use with a board like the one found at Ballinderry (see above), which is thought to have been made in Dublin. The pieces are now at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
Dun Chonallaich: Board
Dun Chonallaich: Board A gaming board was found at the fort at Dun Chonallaich, in Scotland. It is a simple grid of seven lines by seven, etched into stone, and it appears to survive complete. The central intersection and the four adjacent intersections are marked with a pit. In common with the other Scottish boards and in contrast to some of the Irish ones, the corners are not marked.
Eyrarland: Single Bronze Piece
A bronze king piece, carved as a seated man holding his long beard, was found in Eyrarland, Iceland, and dates from the eleventh century.
Faversham: Single Horse-tooth Piece
A piece was found in Faversham, made of a horse's tooth, similar to the one found in Basingstoke.
Garryduff: Stone Board
A stone graffiti board was found in Garryduff, Ireland. It is similar to the Downpatrick board, but lacks the corner markings.
Hedeby: Two Bone Pieces
A pair of lathe-turned gaming pieces with flat circular bases were found at Hedeby, Germany. They are pierced on the underside, from the lathe-bit.
Hedeby: Two Amber Pieces
Two playing pieces of amber were found at Hedeby, Germany, both with flat circular bases. One has a rounded top, while the other is cylindrical with a tapered top.
Howe: Stone Board
A graffiti stone board was found in excavations at Howe in Scotland.
Ile de Groix: Set of Antler and Walrus Ivory Pieces
Excavations at rare Viking burial on the Ile de Groix in France have revealed a set of twelve pieces, some made of antler and some made of the tusk of a marine mammal, possibly walrus ivory.
Jarlshof: Slate Board
Jarlshof: Slate Board At Jarlshof in Scotland there a slate plate was found in four pieces. The slate, which measures 12.7 cm (5") by 8.25 cm (3.25"), bears a pattern that looks like part of a gaming board. There is a pattern of squares, formed by nine vertical and seven horizontal lines. In five of the squares are diagonal crosses the marked squares themselves form an orthogonal cross, each marked square separated from the next by a blank square between them. A large circle rings this arrangement of patterned squares, though the circle is cut off by one edge of the extant board. The reverse of the board bears a grid of 10x20 lines. A single conical, or pear-shaped, gaming piece was also found.
Knockanboy: Wooden Board
Knockanboy: Wooden Board A fragment of a wooden board was found in 1837 at Knockanboy, in Derrykeighan in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. About two thirds of the board were preserved, including one handle and three corners, but not including the central space.
The board measured about seven inches square (175mm), not including the handle. The handle and the petal motifs at the corners were the only decorations on the board, the central hole not surviving. The artefact disappeared into a private collection and is now considered lost. Dating is difficult, but because of the style of the handle, the Knockanboy board is thought to be older than the Ballinderry board.
Lund: Single Walrus Ivory Piece
A single piece was found in 1936 at Lund in Sweden. Like a number of other pieces, this is in the form of a seated man holding his long beard, in this case carved from walrus ivory. The figure and the seat on which he is sitting are carved in detail.
Nes: Set(s) of Playing Pieces
Forty-seven pieces and three walrus ivory dice were found at Nes, in Norway. The presence of the dice has prompted suggestions that these were originally three more modest sets of pieces.
Ockelbo: Picture Stone
Ockelbo: Picture Stone A picture stone at Ockelbo churchyard in Sweden shows a number of saga scenes, including one of two men playing a board game, reminiscent of the scene on the Golden Horn of Gallehus (item #25 above). In this case the game is more easily identified as hnefatafl, as the board has a marked central square and corner squares. Only the diagonal lines connecting these squares confuse the issue. The stone is a replica, the original having been destroyed by fire in 1904.
Oldenburg: Set of Pieces
A variety of materials makes up this apparently complete set found in Oldenburg, Germany. There are thirty-seven pieces in all, twenty-two of walrus ivory and fourteen of whalebone, accompanied by a bronze king.
Roholte: Single Amber Piece
Found at Roholte in Denmark, this piece is a half-length male figure shown holding his beard. The piece dates from the tenth or eleventh centuries.
Sanday: Soapstone Board Fragment
A piece of an old bowl was found on the island of Sanday, in Scotland, in 1998 by the Time Team archaeological television series. The fragment was marked with squares, suggesting the bowl, or part of it, had been used to play a board game: in the Viking context, probably hnefatafl.
Sandnaes: Two Ivory Pieces
These two pieces were found in 1984 at Sandnaes in Greenland. They are conical lathe-turned pieces of walrus ivory, dating from the eleventh century. Other gaming pieces have been found in the Scandinavian settlements across Greenland.
Scalloway: Set of Pieces
These pieces are mentioned by Mark Hall as examples of pre-Viking pieces in Scotland.
Scar: Set of Bone Pieces
In a burial at Scar on the island of Sanday, Scotland, a set of lathe-turned bone pieces was found, apparently buried in a bag which has since rotted away. The set consisted of one large piece topped with an iron pin, eight slightly smaller pieces and another thirteen smaller still. The pieces were spherical with flat bases, and each had a hole in the base, some with evidence of once having held an iron pin, which would have secured the pieces in the holes of a peg-holed gaming board.
Taplow: A Single Horse-tooth Piece
A piece was found at Taplow, England, similar to those at Basingstoke and Faversham, made of a horse's tooth.
Toftanes: Wooden Board Fragment
Half of a tenth century oak gaming board was found in Toftanes, in the Faroe Islands, fashioned from an old serving platter. The board is double sided, one side bearing an unidentified rectangular design and the other a board for hnefatafl. The board has seven rows of fourteen squares remaining. A square that would have been near the centre of the complete board is marked with an orthogonal cross. If the fourteenth column of squares is regarded as a mistake, then the cross-cut square would be in the centre of the board.
Trondheim: Wooden Board Fragment
Trondheim: Wooden Board Fragment About two thirds of a wooden gaming board was found during excavations at the public library in Trondheim, Norway. The board dates to the twelfth century, and is divided into rows of eleven squares, the complete edge measuring 25.6 cm (10"). Seven squares are marked with a diagonal cross, their overall arrangement being three arms of a cross, the arms each being separated from the central square by two empty squares in between.
Assuming the missing section of the board bore the fourth arm of the cross, and that the board was symmetrical, the total size would have been eleven squares by eleven. The reverse of the board bears marking for a game of tables (i.e. backgammon or some mediaeval Scandinavian equivalent). A bordering rim is fixed to the board with dowels.
Another fragment of a wooden board was found at Trondheim, badly burnt, as was a pear-shaped gaming piece of Walrus Ivory.
Underhoull: Board Fragment and Pieces
A fragment of a simple gaming board was found at Underhoull, Unst, Scotland. Counters were found with the gaming board.
Valsgarde: Set of Glass Pieces
At Valsgarde in Sweden was found a set of twenty-three gaming pieces. Fifteen were of translucent green-blue glass with spiral surface patterns in black, while the other eight were plain dark brown glass. The pieces were spherical with flattened bases, measuring 2.3-2.6 cm (0.9-1") in diameter.
Vendel: Three Bone Pieces
In the parish of Vendel in Sweden, a tenth century boat grave was found, containing various goods for buried person's future life. Among the items were three bone gaming pieces.
Warrington: Two Jet Pieces
Two carved pieces of jet where found in Warrington, England, 1852. One is elaborately engraved, and is larger than the other, suggesting that one is a king piece and the other a defender.
Waterford: Peg-holed Board
A fragment of a simple board was found in Waterford, Ireland. It has a raised border and a handle, and has holes for the insertion of pegged playing pieces.
A set of 25 pieces were found at Westness, Rousay, Scotland. Twenty-four are spherical in form, while one is a hollow cylinder.
Whithorn: Stone Board
Whithorn: Stone Board A thirteenth century stone graffiti board was found at Whithorn, Scotland. With the board were two stone pieces. The etched markings on the board are very faint, so it is difficult to see the layout, the centre being worn away completely. It is probable that this board was a grid of 7x7 lines, as with other boards from Scotland.
Woodperry: Single Bone Piece
The bone gaming piece from Woodperry, England A single piece was found in 1846 at Woodperry, Oxfordshire, England. The piece is cylindrical, and has a pattern engraved on the outside. The top is cut into a V shape.
Salmo: Gaming Pieces
In 2008-2010 a pair of buries boats was excavated in Salme, Estonia. There were dozens of men interred with the two boats, and an absence of the usual grave goods, so this burial is thought to be associated with an ill-fated raid. It dates to about A.D. 750, a little before the Viking Age.
Some goods that were found among the boats were 71 gaming pieces and some dice. The gaming pieces were of traditional hemispherical form as associated with hnefatafl finds. One of the pieces was decorated with an incised figure.
Deerness: Stone Gaming Board and Pieces
In 2011 a stone board, identified as a hnefatafl board, was found at an excavation at the Brough of Deerness in the Orkney islands of Scotland. A grid of lines is etched into the upper surface, forming nine rows of nine squares. The central square appears to be carved out into a cup shape.
With the board were found a number of disc-shaped gaming pieces carved from bone or antler. One of them is carved into the shape of a sword pommel.
Skamby: Amber Gaming Pieces
Skamby: Amber Gaming Pieces A 2005 boat grave excavation at Skamby, Östergötland, Sweden revealed a set of twenty-three amber gaming pieces. The pieces are hemispherical, each measuring 35mm by 24mm. The boat grave is dated to the ninth century. The pieces have since been put on display at the County Museum in Linköping.
Bergen: Gaming Boards
Bergen: Gaming Boards A number of gaming boards have been found at Bergen, in Norway. Two of these are for hnefatafl, one having a nine men's morris game on the back. Both hnefatafl boards have thirteen rows of thirteen squares. One has the centre square marked with a star, and crosses marking cardinal points (perhaps the positions of the furthest defenders). There are no markings in the corners of this board. It dates from the late Viking age
Uppsala: Set of Bone Pieces
The Swedish History Museum has a set of 37 hemispherical pieces found at Uppsala. They are of bone, and each has a hole in the bottom. One of the pieces is larger than the rest, presumably the king piece, and is topped with a thin bronze mount.
Viking Period Amber Gaming Pieces
The other day, I collected the larger finds from 2005's boat grave excavations at the conservator's studio. Among them are 23 amber gaming pieces, of which I have now taken nice photographs. The pieces' median dimensions are about 35 by 24 mm.
If it weren't for these gaming pieces, the boat grave dig myself and Howard Williams directed at Skamby in Kuddby parish, Östergötland, would have been quite a disappointment for me. The other grave furnishings were few and understated, consisting mainly of a symbolic (indeed, incomplete) set of horse and driving gear. But these gaming pieces are really something! I quote from the report:
To my mind, the find resolves a little debate that has gone on for decades. Most 1st Millennium graves with gaming pieces contain rather few of them, generally made of bone, and usually they can't be divided into distinctive groups for different players. It's been suggested that half of the pieces were painted and that the paint has since decomposed.
The Skamby amber pieces are highly unlikely to ever have been painted. Instead, I believe that each player owned his pieces, and that when it was time to sit down for a game of hnefatafl, each player took out his own set. This gave a player the opportunity to impress his opponent with the fine make and expensive material of his pieces, after which the other guy would try to get even by winning the actual game. This would explain why the pieces found in graves are mostly all alike: it's only one personal set each.
A hoard unlike any other
The Viking Age is well-known for silver hoards. Other finds from around Britain or Ireland have been exceptional for a single class of object—for example, silver brooches or arm-rings. But the Galloway Hoard brings together a stunning variety of materials in one discovery, as well as objects which have never before been discovered in a hoard of this age.
Incredibly, wool, linen, silk, leather, animal gut and wooden fragments have also survived, providing an extremely rare opportunity to research and reveal new aspects of the Viking Age.
The most remarkable aspect of the Galloway Hoard is the small, decorated, gilt-silver vessel and its contents. Two similar vessels are known from other Viking-age hoards in the UK, but this example stands out as completely different because it is wrapped in textile and is the only one with a surviving lid. The lid created a sealed environment for the remarkable preservation conditions within. Everything within this vessel was precious. Each object was valued for different reasons based on where it came from, how old it was, and who had owned it previously. This uniquely composed collection would have been priceless to the person or people who brought it all together.
Many questions remain: Who did the objects in the Hoard belong to? Where did they come from? How old are they? Why were they buried? National Museums Scotland has been awarded a grant by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to conduct a £1 million research project into the Hoard that will aim to uncover the answers. The three-year research project, entitled 'Unwrapping the Galloway Hoard', will be carried out in partnership with the University of Glasgow.
The oldest pit dwellings were discovered in Mezhyrich, Central Ukraine. Dating back 15,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic age, the houses were made of mammoth bones. The base is circular or oval in shape, 12 to 14 feet (3.7 to 4.3 metres) in diameter, with limb bones used for walls and lighter, flat bones used for the roof. Presumably, animal hide was stretched around the exterior for insulation. Each dwelling had a hearth. Groups of houses were arranged around a base camp layout, occupied by families or relatives for weeks or months. 
Pit-houses were built in many parts of northern Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries AD. In Germany they are known as Grubenhäuser, and in the United Kingdom, they are also known as grubhuts, grubhouses or sunken featured buildings.
Archaeological evidence indicates they were built in a shallow sub-rectangular pit and vary in depth (often relating to the preservation of the site). Some may measure 0.25m by around 2m by 1.5m, whilst examples from excavations from the 1950s onwards at West Stow in the United Kingdom are 3.7m-4.44m long x 2.72m-3.5m wide x 0.58m-0.97m deep. Within this pit were placed two (but sometimes 0, 4, or 6) substantial wooden posts in postholes at either end of the long axis. Some archaeologists have suggested that a suspended wooden floor lay over the pit and that the cavity beneath was used for storage or to control dampness, although others have disputed this, suggesting that grubenhäuser did not have suspended floors at all. A gabled roof supported by the timber posts covered the hut, which likely had no windows and had a single entrance at one end. Excavations at West Stow (UK) in the 1970s found preserved evidence of charred planks, suggestive of suspended floors. Hearths were also found, which sat partially over the edge of the sunken pits and appeared to have collapsed downwards when the structure supporting their overhanging sections (possibly a suspended floor) was removed. 
Grubenhäuser are often understood to have been domestic dwellings. However, their use may have varied, especially on a regional basis. In Western Europe their small size and the fact that they can be found near other buildings and associated finds of loom weights has led to theories that they had a specialised purpose such as for weaving sheds. In the Slavonic regions of Eastern Europe, Grubenhäuser are larger and often have a fireplace. In most settlements there have been no features of buildings at ground level.
There are reconstructions of pit-houses in several open-air museums, e.g. in the Hitzacker Archaeological Centre, the Kalkriese Museum and Park, the Oerlinghausen Archaeological Open Air Museum, and the Hochdorf Chieftain's Grave.
Throughout the inland Pacific Northwest, indigenous people were nomadic during the summer and gathered resources at different spots according to the season and tradition, but over wintered in permanent semi-subterranean pit houses at lower elevations. The winter was often the only time families saw others- even if they were from the same village and tribe- and congregated in any numbers before the arrival of trading posts. Often these houses were located along on major rivers and tributaries like the Columbia and Fraser were typically round and fairly small, and were covered in layers of tule mats to keep out the weather and keep in the heat. There was a smoke hole in the center, and the interior, though warm in winter, was exceptionally smoky. 
In the northwestern Great Plains and the Plateau region located nearby, climate changes and extreme temperature and weather conditions made it difficult to live year-round. Hot summers led to the building of simple tent-like structures that were portable and could be packed up to move. For cold winter months, pit-houses provided the warm, protected shelter necessary for survival. 
A cross-cultural middle range model of pit-house architecture using the Ethnographic Atlas  found that 82 of the 862 societies in the sample occupy pit structures as either their primary or secondary dwellings. 
All but six of the 82 societies live above 32° north latitude, and four of the six cases in this sample that are below 32° north latitude are from "high mountain" regions in east Africa, Paraguay, and eastern Brazil.  The last example is from the Yami  who occupied a small island south of Formosa.
Three conditions were always present among groups in the sample: 1) non-tropical climate during the season of pit structure habitation 2) minimally a biseasonal settlement pattern 3) reliance on stored food during the period of pit structure occupation. These conditions may be related to other factors of society and the presence of any or all of these three elements in society does not pre-condition occupation of pit structures. Nonetheless, these three conditions were present in all cases of pit structure occupation present in the Ethnographic Atlas. Other cultural patterns were common, but not universal across the sample. These commonalities include: cold season of occupation, low population estimates, and simple political and economic systems.
The ethnographic sample is based almost entirely on case studies from societies located in northern latitudes. The period of pit structure occupation is generally during the cold season, probably due to their thermal efficiency. Dug into the ground, pit structures take advantage to the insulating properties of soil, as well as having a low profile, protecting them from exposure to wind-induced heat loss.  Since less heat is lost by transmission than is in above ground structures, less energy is required to maintain stable temperatures inside the structure. 
Out of the 82 ethnographic cases in the Ethnographic Atlas, 50 societies had population estimates. Of these, 64% had fewer than 100 people per settlement.  In only 6% of cases were there more than 400 persons per settlement. The cases with the highest population densities were the Arikara and Hidatsa of the North American Great Plains and the Konso of Ethiopia. Gilman attributes high population densities among the Arikara to the availability of buffalo.
Pit structure occupations are generally associated with simple political and economic systems. For 86% of the sample, class stratification or social distinctions based on non-hereditary wealth were reported as absent.  However, some pit-dwelling societies are characterized by chiefdom level complexity. In terms of economic organization, 77% of the societies who occupy pit structures had a hunting and gathering economy.  This is a large fraction of the sample, but is not considered a universally consistent feature like biseasonal settlement and a reliance on stored foods during pit structure occupation.
During the part of the year when people are not living in pit structures, activities should be focused on acquiring foods to store.  Based on the sample from the Ethnographic Atlas, this may be through either hunting and gathering or agricultural activity.
Many different prehistoric groups used pit houses. Although generally associated with the American southwest cultures, such as Fremont, Pueblo, Anasazi, Hohokam, and Mogollon, pit houses were used by a wide variety of people in a wide variety of places over the past 12,000 years. Large pit house formations have been excavated in British Columbia, Canada, such as at Keatley Creek Archaeological Site.
First, all loose dirt is scraped off the pit-house surface, using trowels.  A construction number (C_) and a feature number (A_) are assigned, and bird's-eye view photos are taken of the surface of the pit-house.  A
30 cm wide section of the pit-house is cordoned off using string and nails in an east–west orientation, as is typical.  This profile wall is left intact for the bulk of the excavation so a team can clearly see the separate layers of the pit-house as they dig deeper.  Trowels are then used to excavate on either side of the profile wall.  While some finds turn up directly through digging, others are found once the removed soil is sieved. A scaled diagram (either 1:10 cm, 1:20 cm, or 1:50 cm) of the pit-house is drawn afterwards to document the location of important finds.  Once the floor layer is reached, aerial pictures are taken once again.  The profile wall is then excavated to reveal the full pit-house floor.  Along the way, all important finds are bagged and assigned artifact (X_) numbers.  
While many standard definitions of pit-houses tend to render them as 'primitive' or 'pre-modern' structures, they remain examples – along with rammed earth and straw-bale building – of elegant and sustainable architecture and design technologies that work with the existing ecological and environmental features of a given space or site. In Canada, pit houses are emblematic of local indigenous knowledge and practices which build with - as opposed to against - the land.
One current and symbolic example is the pit-house recently erected at the Unis’tot’en Camp, an autonomous community located on the proposed North Gateway Pipeline route across the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en people (central British Columbia). Built by members of the band along with activists and allies who live in solidarity in the camp, the house is an expression of sustainable building alternatives. 
The ship has been functioning as the centerpiece of Scandinavian culture for millennia, serving both pragmatic and religious purposes, and its importance was already deeply rooted in the Scandinavian culture when the Viking Age began. Scandinavia is a region with relatively high inland mountain ranges, dense forests and easy access to the sea with many natural ports. Consequently, trade routes were primarily operated via shipping, as inland travel was both more hazardous and cumbersome. Many stone engravings from the Nordic Stone Age and in particular the Nordic Bronze Age, depict ships in various situations and valuable ships were sacrificed as part of ceremonial votive offerings since at least the Nordic Iron Age, as evidenced by the Hjortspring and Nydam boats.
The Viking Age saw the first local developments of trading ports into forts and coastal towns, all of which were deeply dependent on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea for survival and growth. Control of the waterways was of great economical and political importance, and consequently, ships were in high demand. Because of their overwhelming importance, ships became a mainstay of the Viking religion, as they evolved into symbols of power and prowess. The Hedeby coins, among the earliest known Danish currency, have impressions of ships as emblems, showing the importance of naval vessels in the area. Through such cultural and practical significance, the Viking ship progressed into the most powerful, advanced naval vessel in Viking Age Europe.
A faering is an open rowboat with two pairs of oars, commonly found in most boat-building traditions in Western and Northern Scandinavia, dating back to the Viking Age.  Forerunners of the færing boat type were found both in the Gokstad and the Tune ship burials. As with the viking ships, such auxiliary vessels are built so light that the full complement of rowers is sufficient to transport the boat over land.
Knarr is the Norse term for ships that were built for cargo transport. A length of about 54 feet (16 m) and a beam of 15 feet (4.6 m) are not untypical, and the hull could be capable of carrying up to 24 tons.  Overall displacement: 50 tons. This is shorter than the Gokstad type of longships, but knarrs are sturdier by design and they depended mostly on sail-power, only putting oars to use as auxiliaries if there was no wind on the open water. Because of this, the knarr was used for longer voyages, ocean-going transports and more hazardous trips than the Gokstad type. It was capable of sailing 75 miles (121 km) in one day, and held a crew of about 20–30. Knarrs  routinely crossed the North Atlantic in the Viking Age, carrying livestock and goods to and from Greenland and the North Atlantic islands. The design of the knarr later influenced the design of the cog, used in the Baltic Sea by the Hanseatic League. The best-preserved Viking Age knarr is the Äskekärr ship, which was found in Sweden in 1933, and is believed to be from about 930 AD. 
Longships were naval vessels made and used by the Vikings from Scandinavia and Iceland for trade, commerce, exploration, and warfare during the Viking Age. The longship's design evolved over many years, as seen in the Nydam and Kvalsund ships. The character and appearance of these ships have been reflected in Scandinavian boat-building traditions until today. The average speed of Viking ships varied from ship to ship but lay in the range of 5–10 knots, and the maximum speed of a longship under favorable conditions was around 15 knots. 
The long-ship is characterized as a graceful, long, narrow, light, wooden boat with a shallow draft hull designed for speed. The ship's shallow draft allowed navigation in waters only one meter deep and permitted beach landings, while its light weight enabled it to be carried over portages. Longships were also double-ended, the symmetrical bow and stern allowing the ship to reverse direction quickly without having to turn around. Longships were fitted with oars along almost the entire length of the boat itself. Later versions sported a rectangular sail on a single mast which was used to replace or augment the effort of the rowers, particularly during long journeys.
Longships can be classified into a number of different types, depending on size, construction details, and prestige. The most common way to classify longships is by the number of rowing positions on board. Types ranged from the Karvi, with 13 rowing benches, to the Busse, one of which has been found with an estimated 34 rowing positions.
Longships were the epitome of Scandinavian naval power at the time and were highly valued possessions. They were owned by coastal farmers and assembled by the king to form the leidang in times of conflict, in order to have a powerful naval force at his disposal. While longships were deployed by the Norse in warfare, there are no descriptions of naval tactics such as ramming, etc. Instead, the ships would sometimes be lashed together in battle to form a steady platform for infantry warfare. Longships were called dragonships (drakuskippan) by the Franks because they had a dragon-shaped prow. 
The Karve was a small type of Viking longship, with a broad hull somewhat similar to the knarr. They were used for both war and ordinary transport, carrying people, cargo or livestock. Because they were able to navigate in very shallow water, they were also used for coasting. Karves had broad beams of approximately 17 feet (5.2 m).
Viking ships varied from other contemporary ships, being generally more seaworthy and lighter. This was achieved through use of clinker (lapstrake) construction. The planks on Viking vessels were rived (split) from large, old-growth trees — especially oak. A ship's hull could be as thin as one inch (2.5 cm), as a rived plank is stronger than a sawed plank found in later craft, resulting in a strong yet supple hull. 
Working up from a stout oaken keel and ribs, the shipwrights would rivet on the planks using wrought iron rivets and roves, reinforced with added support ribs and thwarts. Each tier of planks overlapped the one below, and a caulking of tarred cow's hair was used between planks to create a waterproof hull.
Remarkably large vessels could be constructed using traditional clinker construction. Dragon-ships carrying 100 warriors were not uncommon. 
Furthermore, during the early Viking Age, oar ports replaced rowlocks, allowing oars to be stored while the ship was at sail and to provide better angles for rowing. The largest ships of the era could travel five to six knots using oar power and up to ten knots under sail. 
With such technological improvements, the Vikings began to make more and more ocean voyages, as their ships were more seaworthy. However, in order to sail in ocean waters, the Vikings needed to develop methods of relatively precise navigation. Most commonly, a ship's pilot drew on traditional knowledge to set the ship's course. Essentially, the Vikings simply used prior familiarity with tides, sailing times, and landmarks in order to route courses. For example, scholars contend that the sighting of a whale allowed the Vikings to determine the direction of a ship. Because whales feed in highly nutritious waters, commonly found in regions where landmasses have pushed deep-water currents towards shallower areas, the sighting of a whale functioned as a signal that land was near.
On the other hand, some academics have proposed that the Vikings also developed more advanced aids to navigation, such as the use of a sun compass. A wooden half-disc found on the shores of Narsarsuaq, Greenland initially seemed to support this hypothesis. However, further investigation of the object revealed that the slits inscribed in the disc are disproportionately spaced, and so the object could not in fact function as an accurate compass. Rather it has been suggested that the instrument is instead a “confession disc” used by priests to count the number of confessions in their parish.  Similarly, researchers and historians continually debate the use of the sunstone in Viking navigation. Because a sunstone is able to polarize light, it is a plausible method for determining direction. By showing which direction light waves are oscillating, the sunstone has the potential to show the sun's position even when the sun is obscured by clouds. The stone changes to a certain color, based on the direction of the waves, but only when the object is held in an area with direct sunlight. Thus, most scholars debate the reliability and the plausibility of using a navigational tool that can only determine direction in such limited conditions. 
Viking sagas routinely tell of voyages where Vikings suffered from being "hafvilla" (bewildered)—voyages beset by fog or bad weather, where they completely lost their sense of direction. This description suggests they did not use a sunstone when the sun was obscured. Moreover, the fact that this same bewilderment could arise when the winds died suggests that the Vikings relied on prevailing winds to navigate, as expected if their skills depended principally on traditional knowledge. 
Prominent men or women in Norse society sometimes received a ship burial. The body of the deceased would be prepared and dressed in fine clothes and then be transported to the burial-place in a wagon drawn by horses. The deceased would be placed on the ship, along with many prized possessions. Horses, dogs and occasionally thralls and households might also be sacrificially killed and buried with the deceased. The origin and meaning of these customs remain unknown. Several examples of Viking ship burials have been excavated, e.g. the Oseberg ship, containing the remains of two women, the Gokstad ship, and one near the Danish village of Ladby, where it can be found on display.
There are literary sources such as the Norse Skjoldunga Saga and the Ynglinga Saga which describe more literal "ship burials" in which the deceased and goods are placed on a boat in the water and the vessel is launched into the sea, sometimes being shot with burning arrows and vanishing into the night, ablaze. Nothcotte Toller, however, states:
Whether such fiery funerals ever actually took place is impossible to know but it is much more difficult to imagine that a king's body and accompanying treasures would have been simply pushed out to sea, where they would have been in danger of returning, or of falling into the hands of strangers or even enemies who might maltreat the one and plunder the other. 
Burial of ships is an ancient tradition in Scandinavia, stretching back to at least the Nordic Iron Age, as evidenced by the Hjortspring boat (400–300 BC) or the Nydam boats (200–450 AD), for example. Ships and bodies of water have held major spiritual importance in the Norse cultures since at least the Nordic Bronze Age.
Several original Viking ships have been found through the ages, but only a few have been relatively intact and subsequently preserved. The most notable of these few ships include:
- : overall length – approximately 23.3 metres (76 ft) : overall length – approximately 21.5 metres (71 ft) : may have been up to 18.7 metres (61 ft) long : estimated length 20 metres (excavation ongoing as of June 2020)
Viking ship replicas are one of the more common types of ship replica. Viking, the very first Viking ship replica, was built by the Rødsverven shipyard in Sandefjord, Norway. In 1893 it sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition. There are a considerable number of modern reconstructions of Viking Age ships in service around Northern Europe and North America. The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, has been particularly prolific in building accurate reconstructions of archaeological finds in its collection.
1,000-year-old viking board game discovered by metal detectorist in Lincolnshire
A rare complete 1,000 year old Viking board game has been put up for sale after being discovered by an avid metal detectorist in Lincolnshire.
Former miner Mick Bott, from Worksop, made the incredible find at a site in Torksey, where a Viking army made camp during the winter of AD 872.
The camp was used as the Vikings’ defensive and strategic position during the winter months as they prepared to conquer England.
According to Visit Lincoln, it was the site where Mercians (people living in the region which we now call the Midlands) made peace with the Viking.
In AD 876, the Vikings are recorded as dividing up Mercia, taking over as landlords of the estates.
Mick and his two friends Dave and Pete first detected on the site back in 1982. The area had in the past been called Danes Camp, and comprised three small hills of arable fields with the River Trent on one side.
On this first occasion Mick, aged 73, was using an Arado 120B metal detector and found his first Saxon coin, called a Styca, which dated from the 9th century.
Over the next 20 years of searching this site, the three friends found hundreds of coins, strap ends, brooches, mounts and lead weights - all of which were from the 9th century.
The pieces discovered by Mick were part of a strategic board game called Hnefatafl, which is similar to chess and is expected to sell for up to £1,000 in a live online auction by Dix Noonan Webb on Tuesday, September 15.
Mick explained: “It was later on after showing many of our finds to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that the experts realised that this was the Viking Winter Camp of AD 872 when several thousand men of the Viking army overwintered.
There is archaeological evidence, based mainly on the finds of pollen and seeds, that hemp (Cannabis sativa) and flax (Linum usitatissimum) were grown in northern Scandinavia (Norway and Sweden). An overview of the locations of different finds can be found on the map in Fig. 1.
Map of Northern Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway) showing the archaeological sites discussed in the main text and the churches where the textiles investigated were originally placed.
Map prepared for this publication by author GS. The Map outline was traced from Wikimedia file Scandinavia.svg (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, Author Hayden 120).
In Norway there are early finds of hemp and flax pollen from the inner Oslo Fjord area, about 350 BC–450 AD (considerably more hemp than flax pollen was found 1 ). Pollen and hemp seeds were found in a settlement in Hamar from around 400 AD 2 . There are finds of hemp pollen from around 650 and 800 AD, from the inland of Åseral in Vest-Agder 3 and both hemp and flax seeds were found in the famous Viking burial mound, the Oseberg ship in Vestfold county from around 800 AD 4,5,6 .
From Sweden in Jämtland, Rödön parish, near Lake Storsjön there are finds of hemp pollen, about 100–200 AD 7 . The first flax seeds were found in Hälsingland, in Trogsta about 200 century AD 8,9 . Another early find from Hälsingland of flax seeds, in a bog near a settlement in Forsa indicate that flax was cultivated and retted there about 300 AD 8,10 . There are also finds of bundles of flax from Kärinsjö, in the province of Halland, from about 200–300 AD 8,11 . From the Viking Age, 800–1050 AD there are more finds of hemp pollen and hemp seeds, for example from the area Lake Mälaren, near Stockholm and in the area Lake Storsjön, near Rödön. In addition there are finds of pollen, seeds and fibres of hemp from the area of Lake Siljan in Dalarna 7 . Both flax and hemp seeds were found in the area south of Lake Siljan, near Leksand 12 .
The finds of hemp and flax pollen and seeds do not prove conclusively that textile production really took place. Only finds of retted fibres can do that. It is possible that the plants were grown for other purposes, i.e. the use of the seeds as food or oil. This applies both to hemp and flax. Unfortunately the preservation conditions in Scandinavia are such that plant fibre textiles normally do not survive well. There are some early remains of plant fibre textiles from Sweden from around 400–500 AD, from Fullerö in the province Uppland and from Augerum in Blekinge in the south 8 . More textile remains are preserved from the Viking and Middle Ages, for example at the Viking site of Birka at Lake Mälaren 13 . There is also a find from Norway, in the Oseberg ship, from about 800 AD, consisting of a woven tapestry made of wool together with plant fibres, but the plant fibres were largely decomposed 14 .
Despite the archeological finds showing that hemp and flax were both grown in the north of Scandinavia in the Viking and Early Middle Ages and despite the fact that hemp fibres can be almost as fine as flax fibres 15 it has hitherto generally been believed that hemp was used primarily for coarse textiles i.e. ropes and sailcloth 4,16,17,18,19 and that flax was the common textile plant for fine clothing and household textiles in Northern Scandinavia in this period.
This is reflected in the fact that throughout the literature, including but not restricted to the literature on Scandinavian Viking and Early Middle Ages, most fine plant fibre textile remains are referred to as flax without any mentioning of analytical tests. One of the few exceptions from this is Agnes Geijer, who in the 1930s investigated the textile finds from the Swedish Viking settlement Birka, near Lake Mälaren. She introduced the term FH (Flax/Hemp) for all plant fibre material 13 and called for a scientific method for proper identification “It was the difficulty involved in firmly distinguishing between the two bast species that led me to employ the cryptic designation FH (Flax/Hemp) in the original classification. Such finds were made in about forty-five graves.” 20 . To this day these fibres remain unidentified.
Part of the problem is that a systematic investigation of plant fibre textiles has been hampered by the difficulty of fibre identification. Fibres from animals (wool, fur and hair) and plant fibres in general can easily be distinguished because animal fibres have scales 21 , but to distinguish between individual plant fibres is much more difficult 22 . Samples have often been identified as flax purely on the basis of examinations with standard, white light, compound microscopy. This is insufficient to secure a proper identification 23,43 .
The 10 textiles that we investigate here are all woven and made of plant fibres combined with wool. They have been carbon-14 dated to 780–1420 AD 4 . They are believed to be locally produced on the basis of the patterns and textile techniques 24 . They all belonged to different churches and are among the oldest and finest preserved Scandinavian textiles found above ground. A considerable number of medieval textiles have been preserved in Swedish churches. The reason is that the Reformation in Sweden did not cause such immediate, drastic changes in the church décor as, in most other countries, for example Denmark 25 . The old church textiles in Sweden were widely used even after the Reformation 26 .
Glass and Amber
Glass was used in a number of ways by the Saxons and Vikings for drinking vessels, window glass, jewellery, enamelling and beads.
Remains of glass making furnaces have been found in York and Glastonbury. There is further evidence for glass making in Kent, Jarrow, Barking Abbey, Gloucester and Lincoln, and Bede documents glass making in England. Traces of glass working have also been found at Ribe in Denmark and Hedeby in northern Germany, although finds of glass items come from all over Europe.
There were two main ways of making glass: either from the raw materials of quartz and soda (or by the late tenth century, quartz and potash), or more usually by melting down broken glass (cullet) and then re-using it.
It goes without saying that the broken glass or cullet used had to be of the required colour or clear, so that no expensive new minerals were added to colour it. The problem of getting enough of one colour was overcome by importing blocks of coloured glass taken from continental mosaics (tesserae) and windows (so there's nothing new in recycling glass!).
Making glass from the raw materials was more difficult. The quartz generally came from clean, stone-free sand, usually river-bed sand. The soda was imported from the eastern Mediterranean in a form called natron. Potash (made by passing water through burnt wood or root vegetables), was obtained by evaporating strong alkali solutions of ash. The sand, natron or potash were then mixed together and heated in an oven for several days. The mixture was constantly raked and stirred to allow waste gasses to escape. It was then broken up and put into a crucible, often with cullet added, and melted in a furnace. If all went well glass was formed however, the large lumps of partly formed waste glass which have been excavated, show how difficult the process could be.
When glass is made in this fashion, it is clear or has a slight green tinge. In order to colour it minerals were added copper for red, blue or green, iron for black, tin for yellow. Coloured glass found includes pale blue, dark blue, blue-green, emerald green, olive green, amber, yellow-brown, red and black.
Glass vessels were also made, one of the commonest excavated styles being the 'claw beaker' of the pagan period. (These were actually poor representations of a common Roman glass vessel that had dolphins leaping down it's sides which then became over time more and more crude and simplified. Whilst we see them as 'claws', the Germans call them 'trunks' as in Elephant trunks.). Glass bowls are known although excavated examples are fairly uncommon. Conical drinking vessels occur during the earlier Viking period, but are by no means common, and were mostly imported from the Rhineland. This style seems to have been superseded by the bag beaker later on.
To make glass containers, the craftsman collected a blob of molten glass on the end of a hollow rod and blew into it. By careful blowing, spinning and using specialised tools and moulds, vessels of quite complicated shapes could be manufactured. Drinking glasses and bowls were sometimes decorated with trails of molten glass applied to their outer surface. Excavated finds dated to the Later Anglo-Saxon period would suggest that their glassware was getting cruder. An example of a bag-beaker from Winchester is pretty awful looking. This may be a false view due in part to the relative few finds, which seems to at odds with the general development elsewhere at that time.
Glass finger rings were popular and were made either by shaping molten glass around a metal rod of the right diameter or by placing a blob of molten glass on the point of an iron cone, which was then spun causing the glass to roll evenly down the cone until the desired size of ring was reached.
Glass was also used in jewellery in the same way as semi-precious stones. Glass playing pieces for board games have also been found in some numbers. In the later Anglo-Saxon period, glass was used modestly for some church windows. To date only blue glass seems to have been found, with the odd pieces displaying some decorative brushwork on them. Clear window glass may have been used in the homes of a few wealthy people although this is not certain.
One of the commonest uses for glass was as beads. The glass for these often had lead oxide added to give the beads extra sparkle. It also made the material easier to work as it lowered the melting temperature. Glass beads were made by using a 'pontil' rod to pick a blob of molten glass from a crucible. Tongs were then used to form a globular bead, or by using other tools to form other shapes.
Some shapes were made by rolling the bead on a smooth marble block whilst the glass was still soft. The beads were left plain or decorated with blobs or trails of a different coloured glass. These could be left raised, or pressed right in to produce a smooth bead. Some of the Scandinavian glass beads were very colourful with a mosaic pattern of glass (called 'millefiori', meaning thousands of flowers) applied to the surface of the bead. This effect was achieved by a series of quite complex actions.
Each different pattern was obtained by fusing composite coloured glass rods in varying combinations, and these rods themselves were formed by bunching and folding over others, and then drawing out the hot glass into narrow rods much like seaside rock. A necklace of these beads was the product of great expertise and skill, as well as being a beautiful piece of costume jewellery.
Beads have been excavated in large numbers from early period female Viking graves. Three hundred or so is not uncommon, although these were the smaller single coloured type. In male Viking graves, the number of beads is drastically different. In the whole of the British Isles, there have been no more than three beads found in any one grave, and only five distinct positions where they were situated. These usually comprise of two at the neck, with an additional one to possibly close a garment, and two at the waist. One of these may have fastened a pouch and the other which was occasionally found as low as the knee, could have been a charm or keepsake.
The pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons were also keen on beads, in the same manner as the Vikings. However, later on in the 8th-11th centuries their use became uncommon in both sexes. It is uncertain whether this coincides with the spread of Christianity, although their flamboyant use amongst the Vikings also declined over a similar period of time. The Christian practice of burying their dead without grave goods does not assist in our interpretations. It could be that strings of beads were still worn underneath garments, however, the whole practice may also have been viewed by then as unsophisticated.
Glass is also used to produce enamel. Enamel is essentially just coloured glass ground up into a fine powder. The powder is usually placed on a bronze piece of jewellery that has a low surround. When the piece is heated up so that the glass melts, it flows to fill the area colouring it and fuses to the background. After cooling slowly, the piece is then ground to remove excess enamel, and polished. Several colours were commonly used on a piece, each in a separate 'field' to prevent the enamel from running together blurring the final piece.
It is interesting to note that the glass bead workshops found at Clifford Street in York were associated with an amber bead industry, suggesting that bead making was completely separate from the glass industry. Amber beads were made by taking a block of amber, cutting it to roughly the right shape and drilling a hole through it. Its final shape was attained by turning it on a bow lathe before polishing with coarse sand and fine powder. Wedge shaped beads were also made, and they would often be mixed on a necklace, with perhaps a wedge shaped pendant as the centre-piece.
Amber is the fossilised resin of ancient pine trees, submerged under the sea in thin veins. It can be gathered along the North Sea coasts of East Anglia, south-west Jutland and the southern shores of the Baltic. It is washed loose onto beaches from its deposits by sea currents, causing it to float to the surface, especially during violent storms. Ranging in colour from a dark, reddish brown to a translucent straw, it was a treasured material, particularly by the Vikings. Other uses for amber, apart from bead making included pendants, amulets, gaming pieces, spindle-whorls, and finger rings.
We can deduce the processes that were employed by examining the remains of discarded or lost, part worked or broken beads, for wear or tooling marks. A finger ring would require a large piece of amber. This would be cut into slices with a saw, and then shaped with a chisel until it was roughly circular. The disc was placed on a bow lathe the outside was polished and shaped and the centre was cut out to form a ring. The centre piece could then be used to make a bead. Many half finished rings were found in York, demonstrating that the amber worker often made mistakes with this time consuming tricky process and brittle material.