Clearly these must be for Viking Dominoes! These are again a series of objects from early medieval Dublin, from our recent visit. I have known about these little boxes for year and never seen one in the flesh, and like most period finds they didn’t disappoint. Once thing it is easy to forget is often how small, fine, well made, and detailed these objects are, particularly as within a living history environment, many of our castings and replicas are too big, too heavy, and too crude. I have absolutely no idea what they are for but I guess any kinds of sewing items, gaming counters, jewelery, or religious relics could be kept in one.
This one however, blew me away. It’s hard to see from the photograph, but it is miniscule. I was not convinced you could even fit a small sewing needle in this. So perhaps it was for a keepsake, a hair from the head of a saint, or perhaps even their children? If anyone else has any ideas I’d love to hear them!
This last weekend the group went on a ‘civvies’ trip out to Dublin to visit the museums in the City which we have been planning and saving for, for several months. Dublin is noted for its Viking past and collection of amazing objects in the museums, and we hoped to view these, and to learn about the Early Medieval and Medieval origins of the town.
Safe to say, we had a fantastic time; the weather was freezing, but the Guinness was good! We also took the opportunity to book a tour with Fin Dwyer who created and hosts the Irish History Podcast. Fins tour was very enjoyable, and was a great opportunity to walk round Dublin to try to get a sense of what was there 1000 years ago, when you strip away all the roads and modern buildings. Anyone who hasn’t checked out his podcast I highly recommend it, and if you are visiting Dublin yourself, I’d recommend his tour over any of the tourist focused ones, as he is actually an Archaeologist and Historian and his knowledge is more than just a prepared script.
The real star of the show for me, after the beer, was the Viking collections in the National Museum of Irelands Archaeology Museum. We took so many photographs, and actually made a couple of trips round. It’s a shame to hide these images away, particularly as so much of the material is unpublished, and largely unknown, so what I thought I would do is share some of our pictures in regular posts, with what I can remember of the details.
For starters is this little oddity. I confess, I have always ‘known’ leather bottles existed in the early medieval period, but never knew of any actual examples extant. Yet here this little one was. Sadly there were no more specific dating details so I don’t know for sure if this was from 600 AD or 1100 AD, or somewhere in between, but from the decoration, it wouldn’t look out-of-place in a 8th-12th century context, though much of the motifs are very long-lived. I also can’t remember where it was from.
It is very like a costrel in form (or should we perhaps say costrels are like these!), and approximately 30cm across and 15-20 cm deep. It appears to be in three parts; the ‘top’ face here is fairly flat, though now dished in, and the back is bowl-shaped, and these two stitched together as visible here.
There is also a separate formed mouth piece, which seems to be stitched on similar to the Hedeby Quivers. Presumably there was a waxed wooden plug/cork in the top, and there is also a suspension cord. The leather it is constructed out of seemed pretty thick, perhaps 3-4mm. It was pretty clear that the domed ‘back’ part had been formed first, before decoration and assembly.
Decoration… yeah… and boy was it! It was arranged in bands running around the vessel with a central motif in the middle of each face, and a mix of motifs. The ever-present Greek key, and triple stranded knotwork motif, and some elaborate triskelesque (yeah I made up a word) swirls. The central circular motif on each face, was made out of triquetra arranged with one point in the centre, and the other two points touching the edge of the circle, and the spaces in between filled with triangle, cross hatched in opposing 90 degree directions. You can breathe a sigh of relief if you got this far, I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but hopefully those notes will help clarify some details for any of you thinking of making replica; it’s certainly going on my ‘to do’ list this year!
The weekends work on the house went well, though as you will see it ended up being a little more than just a re-roofing and adding a few shutters. The first thing we had to do when we arrived on Friday dinner time, was take a final snap of the old house. As you will see in this, and a number of other snaps, we used modern ladders, modern footwear, and modern tools this weekend, primarily because they are a lot safer, quicker, and easier to use, that their historic counter parts, and ultimately, we had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.
Finally we removed a layer of plastic membrane which are used on all the houses, to help keep them waterproof (a little compensaton for the lack of funds to thatch or shingle them with truly authentic, but expensive, materials). Then we had the roof stripped. We spend until later that evening removing as many lats as we could, and clearing out some of the roofing material we had removed.
The next morning, not long after 6.30am, we started work again, this time removing that last of the lats, and beginning to strengthen the partition, and extension to the house, however this is where things got a little more complicated. The extension, was a bit of an after though to the structure, and the wood had been up some time and was rotten in places. It became clear it needed replacing, so whilst we had the man power, materials, and opportunity we decided to rebuild that end.
We sunk two brand new posts into large post holes we dug, and squared them all off, making the building about a foot longer in the process. We also began to clean up, and de-nail the rafters, as well as adding new rafters in, in between the old ones, to strengthen the roof.
The next step was to cover the roof in boards and plastic. Not the most authentic solution I appreciate, but as we have explained previously, these houses primarily exist as an education resource, so we need them to be strong, cheap, waterproof, and easy to maintain, and when we have covered the inside and outside with plans and shingles, the modern materials will be invisible.
We also dug post hole, and affixed my new carved and painted posts, originally designed to cover the old partition posts, which we had now removed. As a result, we added the post in a little further back, closer to the door. I was very pleased with the posts when they were in position.
Finally, work began on fastening the new lats on the roof, and installing the shingles. There were 6 rows of shingles on each side, and each row had about 57 shingles in it, with a final smaller row to be installed close to the ridge nest time we come down. Meanwhile the inside of the new extension was being planked out, and insulated, with the intention of daubing them in future.
With evening on the final of four days approaching, we had to take the decision to stop shingling the back side of the roof and to spend our last hour or two tidying up and making the house clean and safe for the next few weeks until we are back. We cleaned up all the debris from the build. We covered any visible modern membranes temporarily, and dressed the inside of the house ready for public visitors
I re-hung the old door, which is a little small, and fitted the new shutters I had built ready to install, and added back in some of the old furniture and items for now.
There is still a lot to do over the rest of the year, but the strength and quality of the new roof, and the improvement of light and space inside has added another 15-20 years to the building, and will mean we will be able to adapt to our increased need for space as the kids get bigger!
Whilst we didn’t 100% finish everything we wanted to achieve, we also added on rebuilding half the house, and I think the finished house will be massively better for the extra work. I’m looking forward to hosting a thank you banquet in it when we are finished next year.
I’d just like to thank everyone who came to help me this weekend: Osric, Magnus, Afrior, Snorri, and Roarr, who worked like trooper, and without which I’d never have got it a quarter of the way. Thank you.
In two weeks time, on the weekend of the 12-13th of July, we have a long weekend planned for the village at Murton Park, outside York. Our ambitious goal is to remove, and replace the roof of our house, and renovate the internal uprights, and replace one window, and reinstate two others with brand new frames and shutters.
This is the view of the back of the house, and the place where this new shutter will be inserted. We don’t know a lot about Viking age windows and doors, but finds from York suggests that windows may have been quite small actually, and perhaps even have had small horn inserts. A window aperture was found in a house at Hedeby 32cm x 48cm, and also small lights cut into the wider stave planks. They are mentioned in literature, such as Njals saga and Grettis saga, the latter mentioning light shining through a window. However, one has to bear in mind that these are Icelandic medieval documents, and may not reflect viking age building techniques, nor indeed be representative of other parts of the viking world. Ultimately, however, we often have to spend a lot of time in these spaces, and light is important for us to see to cook, eat, and do crafts, and when one considered this is a museum with members of the public around and that fires and lamps cannot always be monitored, then shutters are a very sensible option.With the decision made, I think we have enough evidence to attempt some putative reconstructions of small shutters, around the size of the Hedeby one. I have therefore set about making some shutters at home, and glued and pegged them all, ready to fit on the weekend. To close them, I have taken a leaf from some of the simple wooden sliding mechanisms from Hedeby and other sites.
Our house has an addition to one end lengthening the house by just over a meter, but the original end wall of the house is still present. This means that the outside door is central to the house, and the one in the partition is offset with a wood store to one side. Originally we did this to reduce the draughts and create the store as we had insufficient timber to do anything else, but now we have some bigger plans. The uprights in the original end wall are being left in place, but being strengthened by being clad in some substantial new carved and painted timber uprights. This will allow us to place a new tougher cross beam in higher up, remove some of the walling higher up, and reinstate the door in the centr, creating a larger and brighter space inside.
The posts are each being carved and painted differently, one has a Borre chain motif found on many items, notably the Gosforth cross shaft base.
In addition to this, I decided to use the form often found on viking age cross shafts and convert from a square post, to round, and integrate the knotwork from the round, into the square, using rings and knots on the corners similar to the moulding found at Kirk Levington.
I decided to paint them Red, white, and black, as they seem to be frequent colours occurring on paint traces from viking wood work and stone sculpture (as well as yellow and blue) and we as a group often use it as common colour on our houses. I alternated the base colour of the ‘triangles’ to draw out the pattern and lead the eye to the underlying links, and then used the other two colours as borders. Overall I am very pleased with the complete effect.
Finally, having been there for over 15 years, the roof could do with replacing. It does not leak as bad as some, but it does, and the straw coverings are proving hard work to replace and repair, particularly as the straw we have access to is not as good as it used to be, due to changes in local farming practice. As a result, we have prepared 650 clipped point shingles for fitting to the new roof. Shingles have been found archaeologically at many sites, from York to Trelleborg, but also are seen on stave church roofs, and covering the roofs of hogback monuments. I often believe that shingle and turf roofs are overlooked, particularly in the North of England and Scotland. Turf roofs as easy to maintain, and last a long time, and shingle roofs are inherently repairable and long-lasting, particularly if treated with pine pitch, and when no longer any use as a roof, their remains make good firewood. More importantly, for us, they suffer less from infrequent maintenance, particularly when treated with a modern ‘pine pitch substitute’.
Here is a last picture of the house not long after we first took it over. It will be a shame to see the shaggy mop go, but hopefully the work we get done over the weekend should mean that with a little luck and hard work, we should get another 15-20 years out of the houses yet! IF you are around York on the weekend of the 12th-13th of July, do pop along to Murton Park Museum of Farming and say hi for yourself!
An article I wrote for English Heritage on the Cumwhitton cemetery
Little did Peter Adams know, when he pulled a metal object from the ground in 2004, that he had made one of the most exciting discoveries in Viking-age archaeology in England for many years. He had been metal-detecting, with permission, on farmland to the west of the quiet village of Cumwhitton in the Eden Valley and, until then, it had been a fruitless search.
The object was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and proved to be a brooch that was identified as a rare Viking oval brooch of ninth – or tenth – century date. These are mostly found in pairs and in a burial context. He therefore returned to the site and did, indeed, find a second brooch.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme commissioned Oxford Archaeology North to investigate the site as it was under immediate…
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