Viking Metallurgy

Despite a lack of valuable resources, the first Icelanders who colonized the island in 870 created many objects from metal. As more archaeological excavations have been conducted in recent years, we are just beginning to understand how they did this with such limited materials.
This paper discusses the most prominent findings from a Viking Age chieftain’s farmstead at Hrísbrú in the Mosfell Valley, located just outside of present-day Reykjavik. Many of these artifacts were crafted with quality metal tools and machines similar to those used in Scandinavian mainland areas but re-purposed for stripped down functionality or durability due to Northern Iceland environmental scarcity.

This chief’s farm was poor compared to Scandinavian mainland farms, but not comparatively. The excavation showed that some objects were imported trade goods from both nearby and distant locations, proving that the farm was part of the extensive trade network of Viking Scandinavia. This chief’s farm is most likely at an upper limit for what an Icelandic Viking Age farm could afford in terms of material objects and trade goods.

Viking Metallurgy
Christian Jürgensen Thomsen categorized historical cultural development in the three categories of Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age at the beginning of the 19th century, creating order out of a chronological situation that had been chaotic before.

The Viking Age, an intermediate time period between the Iron Age and the Middle Ages, was created in 1864 by one of his students.

The raids on Lindisfarne in England mark the beginning of the Viking Age for historians. But archaeologists question whether plundering of a British monastery is enough to initiate a cultural period in Scandinavia. (Photo: Shutterstock).

Of course, Danes still embrace the past today. They continue to show appreciation to values from their Viking heritage.

The Viking Age teases archaeologists

Every year, people celebrate the Vikings with Viking markets, games, and festivals so much that it has become a very profitable part of the tourism industry.

Perhaps the Viking Age appeals to us today because it was a time in which Denmark, as we know it today, took shape. During this era, borders were set up around the country while a written language and cities emerged. A monetary economy and spread of Christianity also occurred during this era.

The word Viking is typically how archaeologists describe the period of time that occurred during the 8th through 11 th centuries, which is itself problematic.

The production of both weapons and domestic tools was revolutionized in the 700s when blacksmiths started using bog iron ore.

Generally, Danes understand the basics of Viking history; however at an academic level, it is difficult to reach a greater understanding. Even simple questions provide difficulty for archaeologists to answer.

Plundering, conquest, and colonisation

Although the events of 793 CE are regularly invoked as the beginning of the Viking Age, archaeologists ask how cultural development in Denmark could be defined by events in British Isles and whether activities outside Scandinavia had any significance for the cultural-historical development.

Some would argue that looting, conquests, and colonisation from the 800s to early 1000s were important for people who actively participated in it. It was also largely supported by powerful elite members who organised and profited from these activities. However some debate whether or not other periods of time can be considered looting as historically plundering has occurred with more technologically advanced weapons compared to those of earlier centuries.

The Vikings: marauding warriors

Despite a variety of words from which “Viking” could be derived, Worsaae’s concept of the Viking Age was based on the noun form.

Perhaps the word “vik” arose from Latin as used in trading centers during the 700s, or it developed from vik meaning a bay. Vikings would also run their ships ashore in the vik.

Another idea comes from an Old Norse word meaning “to kill,” which was popularized in a Nordic folk ballad.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Viking Age Scandinavians did not call themselves Vikings. Additionally, this name appears in contemporaneous accounts from any nation rather than specifically Scandinavians.

The Vikings were ethnically diverse

Archaeologists have difficulty with the concept of a Viking Age because Scandinavia was actually a diverse socio-ethnic society.

Far from reaching Scandinavia in a singularly ethnic community, researchers have determined that the population was highly diverse.

The six out of thirty-seven young men whose remains were excavated from the cemetery at Trelleborg Viking fortress in Denmark came from outside Scandinavia.

Begining oh the Viking Age

The transition from the Iron age to the Viking Age is not clearly defined because there are no cultural breaks between them.

While some communities continued to use traditional entombment graves, other communities switched to cremation.

Archaeologists are unable to determine when the Viking Age begins because there is no one major change that warrants a new chronological boundary.

The Steel Age

A new term for the time period may help, such as ‘Iron Age’ instead of the ‘Viking Age’. Another idea could be a more widespread use of Thomsen’s definition or creating an alternative name that recognizes sailing’s effect on trade and mobility.

The Iron Age witnessed extensive changes in seafaring, resulting in various developments such as the invention of sails.

The Stone Age is more cohesively relevant to the previous phrase, while also being synonymous with early ages of human civilization when humans first started using tools. Additionally it has an element of antiquity to it which factors into what we might expect from objects made during that time period such as ancient boats made out of wood.

Iron Ore from bogs and Weapons Industry

Throughout the Iron Age and parts of the Middle Ages, blacksmiths used bog iron ore to make weapons and tools. The ore was mostly pure and only contained phosphorus and carbon. Although it looked solid when it was dug up, once at the anvil, it became malleable so that it could be shaped into useful items.

Since the beginning of the 700s, Danish blacksmiths have had nearly a millennium worth of experience working with bog iron ore. By this point in time, they are skilled enough to know how best to work within certain limits.

Weapons must have been more efficient due to the hardness of their material.

This steel is used to make modern knives that have three layers of metal. This structure was used in the production of swords with blades that could wear out and be ground into infinity.

Tens of thousands of these knives must have been forged every year, and the technology was not limited to major Danish towns like Hedeby, Ribe, and Birka. Farmers even had steel-belted knives in smaller Swedish towns during this time period. After 1000s, however, it was no longer en vogue to have one of these blades.

The steel supposedly used for making everyday tools was instead probably reserved for other tasks or only certain forges. As a result, this caused the type of steel most people regularly used to change in Europe.

Metals That Are Appropriate

Although aluminum, bismuth, chromium, nickel, platinum, zinc and zirconius may be common elements today; they were not invented until after the Viking age. Because of this their use should be avoided. In the Viking age there were only seven ancient metals of which alloys such as bronze (copper and tin), brass (copper, tin and other elements) and pewter (tin with lead and other elements) were commonly used. The advances of steel, as it meant being iron infused with carbon (commonly known as cal), occurred due to the high temperature in the furnace. However, steel was expensive and used sparingly. For example, steel’s cutting edge was often sandwiched between two pieces of more common iron to make the axe affordable and cast iron had not been made available until the fifteenth century nor commercially usable until eighteenth centuries.

Metals in the past were sometimes of a lesser quality than our modern ones. It wouldn’t change the appearance, but it may produce results that are too brittle to be practical. Stainless steel wasn’t commercially available until the late nineteenth century because it was created when scientists first discovered chromium in earlier times.

By the 19th century, Faradism was commonly used to eliminate corrosion from zinc. An electrical process known as galvanization is currently used when the metal needs to be melted.

Although pewter items today contain lower levels of lead, those that accurately reproduce the look and feel of period pewter are discouraged because they also manage to preserve the material’s toxicity. In fact, lead pewter is a poor choice for creating figurines and statuettes because even incidental exposure can be harmful to the body. Although it doesn’t pose an immediate threat when touched, it can still contaminate your system if absorbed through inhalation or ingestion.

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