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Boots and Spurs

No this is not the second hit by Brennan Huff and Dale Doback (warning explicit lyrics) from Prestige Worldwide, but a little update on some of the crafts we have been up to in preparation for the first proper weekends at the village in Murton.

We have been to the Village once already, but as the weather was incredibly poor, we had an awful lot of building maintenance to do, and the site was closed to the public we decided to just get on with that, and abandoned the reenacting, so the wooly pants have yet to be worn in anger this year. We have another trip to Murton coming up next weekend, which again will involve more maintenance, but this time properly in kit, and that should be the last for a few weekends which will be more craft and fun based, as the weather will be warm enough for us to take the kids along again… whether or not it remains dry is another matter!

We have been getting all the clothes out, seeing what fits the little ones, and what doesn’t, and what we might need new.I decided to finally get some more leather from a fantastic store called LeProvo in Newcastle, and make some more pairs of shoes and boots.

Whilst the kids feet were growing fast, I was reluctant to make shoes as they would want redoing every six months, but Now Hakon is 5, then he has slowed down a little growth wise, and also we will also at least get a second use out of them when Ragenleif gets a bit bigger. Therefore, he finally has his own pair of viking boots, and very cute too!

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I must admit, I have been thinking about these since we went to Ireland early in the year and saw this:

DSC_0155Archaeologically small sizes seem to be the most common finds, which I have often heard people say is because of ‘smaller feet back then’. However, we really have no evidence for this, indeed average heights are not much smaller than today. Average heights for the period in Scandinavia and the UK tend to average around the 5ft7-5ft8 mark for men and 5ft2 for women, compared to 5ft9 and 5ft3 today… so actually there isn’t much in it, indeed Viking warriors graves often average out as pretty tall (around 5ft11-6ft). However, when you think logically about shoes it is pretty obvious. When my (UK size 9) shoes are worn through beyond saving for me to use, there is actually a lot of good leather still left in them that can be cut down to a smaller size, until ultimately we get to small adult/kids sizes, when they are probably about done anyway. This would leave us with a small size skew archaeologically.

I have also completed a new pair of toggle boots for Aelgifu/Katla and am making myself a pair of ‘tall’ boot based on the finds from Hedeby and Deventer, which I finally got access to the leather publication of. You can see an image of a reconstruction of the boots here:

They are the tallest boots I know dated to the 9th-10th century, coming almost to my mid calf, though not quite. They are also the inspiration for the ‘viking sea boots’ which is a bit of a ‘reenactorism’. The latter often come to the knee, and never have the odd little ‘winkle picker’ toe point. Still these are very unusual, and I do not know of any evidence for them in any UK sites or in sites in modern Scandinavia, where lower ankle height boots are the norm until later in the 12th-13th century. Indeed even in Hedeby and Deventer the low shoe and ankle boots seems to be king. Here is my final attempt:

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Secondly, and inexplicably linked to shoes and boots, are spurs (indeed the boots from Cumwhitton were only preserved as mineralized remains on two pairs of spurs). I have finally got around to finishing off my spurs; based on the Cumwhitton finds, I forged at York Last year, and here they are:

IMG_20150414_002901It has been surprising looking deeper into Spurs in the 9th-10th century, and finding out just how many there are. Particularly in Viking graves in the North West of England, but also Scotland, and Ireland like these ones in the National Museum of Ireland.

20150221_14052220150221_140518Clearly they were an important item of dress and equipment, and I believe that they should be considered an item off dress of a man of a high rank, much the same way we would look on a sword, or high quality belt fittings, knives, pendants, and other items. The objects people wore were always functional, but it would be foolhardy to think they didn’t also convey something about the person; who they were, what they did, how much wealth they had. A pair of spurs may well mark a high-ranking viking, or even Saxon, out the same way they would a cowboy or a lawman in the old west.

I have also been busy finishing making a door and shutters for the Viking house, which hopefully I can get installed this weekend. Either way, I’ll be sure to get some pictures and update you all on the progress!

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Clothes, and boxes, and cups… oh my!

We have been busy over the last couple of weeks with some crafts projects and I’d thought I’d share a few of them with you all. We have the groups annual week-long holiday at the Danelaw village at Murton Park Museum of farming next week and we have been furiously getting things made and ready for the week ahead. This has included buying straw hats, sharpening and repairing axes, sourcing wicker baskets, waterproofing shoes, cleaning pans and cauldrons, making implements to cook with, planning food to cook, and making and repairing clothes to last the full week.

It was my wife’s birthday last week, and I decided to make her a present. Using some spare off-cuts we had I made her a jewelry box of her own to keep her Viking treasures in, as the one we had been sharing was getting a bit full!

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The box is not an exact copy but it uses elements of many exisitng finds, combined in what I feel is an appropriate period fashion. It has a lot in common with one of the boxes from the Birka cemetery, such as its small size, the handle, and general design. The Birka example uses decorative copper-alloy plates, but iron straps and brackets are common to many boxes including Cumwhitton and the boxes from the Oseberg ship, and the tinned nails are found on the Oseberg ship boxes.

 

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The handle and lock plate are pretty ubiquitous on most boxes from the period, and the exact design of the lock being is that of a verticle mounted type (as described here), found on many boxes, both Viking and Anglo-Saxon. On this last photo you can just see the bluey-purple tinge of the metal, which I heated and quenched to darken it.

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The key is not the final version, as I didn’t have any steel appropriate. But it serves to open the box for now. The two teeth and the handle can be seen, and how they reach round inside the lock, to depress the spring, then allowing the key to act as a handle, and slide back the locking pin. One very obvious thing missing, is the hasp that actually closes the lock, which I hope to make next week on the forge at York.

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I also turned a few more objects on the lathe, in order to reduce some of the wood pile in my garage before any wood worm gets at it. I made a few small early medieval cups out of birchwood, with the classic globular shape, and decorative grooves.

DSC_0024We have also been very busy making clothes, particularly linen garments in order to cope with the heat we are having at the moment. As well as a few tunics for the children, I have also made myself some linen trousers, in two distinct patterns. Viking age trousers are, by and large, guessed at from pictorial sources, and the patterns of finds from the preceeding period. There are a few tentative pieces from the Viking age, which do suggest some commonality with these earlier garments, but there is still a lot of guesswork involved. For a very good summary of the archaeological evidence this article is definitely worth a read.

The first trousers I made are a pair of shorter, wide waisted trousers, to a very simple design similar to those found at a much earlier site at Marx Etzel, and a number of mediterranean and continental sites from the first few hundred years AD. These trousers come down to my calves, a bit like long shorts, or cut offs, and I shall be wearing them with red linen hose or woven leg bindings. Thor Ewing’s ‘Viking Clothing’ book makes a interesting case for garments such as there, and after having a chat with him at the Midlands Viking conference earlier this year, I decided to try some variations on these, to asses their style and practicality. So far they do look very different, and given the evidence for this style of dress, there does seem to be a distince continental, particularly Carolingian feel to it, which makes a lot of sense to me. Given how popular Carolingian metalwork is, the idea that elements of continental clothing fashion creept into Denmark and Anglo-Saxon England too, including these hose and such linen garments is quite compelling. Certainly the volume of the trousers, combined with the tightness of the leg bindings, produce a remarkably similar profile to some of the baggier looking trouser on many period illustrations, indicating that not all may have been quite as baggy as the ‘Rus’ pants worn by reenactors, and clearly illustrated on some pictorial sources. The legs are slit up the back slightly, to allow a quite tight fit around the calf.

DSC_0025I also made myself a pair of linen trouser in the Damendorf/Thorsberg style, with narrower, full length, legs, and more sophisticated tailoring.

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Ultimately, because of the size of the piece of cloth I had, I ended up with a bit of a hybrid pattern between the two garments, with the crotch and back gussets more like Thorsberg, but with triangular inserts in between the legs and gussets, to allow more room for movement, and prevent embarrassing tears when squatting! I was really quite pleased with this hybrid design, as it felt very like another version of the sorts of tailoring and designs we often see in archaeological clothing remains, which often seem to hint at a variety of specific patterns, within and certain style and philosophy of tailoring.

DSC_0028Finally, I have begun to make myself a pair of red linen hose to wear as an alternative to leg windings (once again if you wish to read a decent summary of the evidence for hose, please visit here). Whilst there is some debate as to whether red linen is linked to hose specifically, as dyed linen does not seen to be very common in the period, there is a reasonable argument to be made for it. As the lower legs are very visible in Viking mens clothing, and even the tops of the Coppergate sock had a small red band around it, I decided that red linen would be very striking and a good way to spend a small amount of money on a small piece of material, that would be very visible. I shall be sure to take some pictures, when I have them done!

DSC_0026We now have a final weekend to put the finishing touches to the lat bits of clothing, and then we will be ready to head to York next Tuesday! If you are in the area in the week between Tuesday 5th and Monday 11th of August, then do drop by and say hi!

Breathing new life into old longhalls

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

imag0494.jpgHere 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!

 

Excavation of a Viking-Age Cemetery at Cumwhitton

An article I wrote for English Heritage on the Cumwhitton cemetery

Heritage Calling

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.

One of the oval brooches found by Peter Adams. © Oxford Archaeology Ltd One of the oval brooches found by Peter Adams. © Oxford Archaeology Ltd

The Portable Antiquities Scheme commissioned Oxford Archaeology North to investigate the site as it was under immediate…

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Viking village pictures from the May bank holiday weekend

These are a few pictures from the Bank Holiday weekend we had at York at the start of May, enjoying the Jorvik sunshine. It is a little late going up, but as we are off to York again this weekend, I have managed to get it posted before it is superseded by a new set of pictures!

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Katla and Ragenleif outside our house

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Ragenleif exploring

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Snorri forging

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“Make it into a sickle,” we said. “@*%#,” he said.

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Ragenleif and Hakon outside the long hall

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The middle of the village, my favourite place

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Hakon showing off his tunic

 

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A wonderful Viking-age scene, until you realise what they are looking at… we have to lapse a little sometimes, we need a bit of quiet time, and they are still very young!

 

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Magnus’s turn to bend metal

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Furry hat time

 

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Nosey neighbours

It was a lovely sunny weekend, and the kids loved it. As I mentioned we shall be at Jorvik (based at the Murton Park Museum farming) this weekend 30-1st, though I’m not sure the weather will be quite so good, but nothing can suppress our fun! We will also be there on the weekends of June 14-15th and July 12-13th. You can see all the weekends we shall be there on the museums website here: http://www.murtonpark.co.uk/whats-on/

Pictures of the Danelaw Village many years ago

The last few post have been somewhat nostalgic, but that is primarily because I want to put some regular post up, and have been meaning to scan and post these pictures for some time, and figured now was as good a time as any. These ones were old print out from a 35mm camera, so once again some are a little fuzzy, and they are also quite old, though they have been kept in the dark and in an album, so haven’t faded too much. I haven’t cleaned them up with photoshop, as I haven’t had time, and it wasn’t really worth it, but they are quite fun none the less, particularly if you know the site, as there are a few small, but noticable differences, with most the buildings having been rebuilt, or so heavily modified or repaired they don’t look much like that any more.

I believe I was about 18 when I took these photos, which makes them about 17 years old, roughly, and it was my first ever reenactment event as part of the Dark Ages Society, the first group I joined.

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This was where I slept, the platform in the house next to the longhall, before it was rebuilt

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The second longhall door

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The Hall side of the village, looking at the back of magnus’s house

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The house next to the longhall

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some of the smaller houses, near the longhall, most of these have not been changed and are still the same as they were then

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What was to become Ulfar and Svanas, and finally Osrics house

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The house next to the longhall and the town bell

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The longhall

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The village from the road, I used to do odd collages like this with pictures to make panoramas

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Another view of the village

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The house next to the longhall

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Inside the house next to the longhall

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Looking down the village to the open area in front of the hall

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The little village

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Inside the longhall

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Another view of the outside of the longhall

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cooking in the longhall

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Looking back towards the main part of the village

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The gate and open area behind looking towards the hall

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A finally me in my first borrowed viking gear!

The making of Jorvikingi: The outtakes

Yesterdays post told a story of when and how the society started, but in todays, partly spurred on by some comments on facebook, I’ll put a few images of the more amusing things over that weekend. Firstly we should address my own claims that Jarl Ubbi and Einar’s army was all it was cracked up to be.

Some of the soldiers look a little young

Some of the soldiers look a little young

I'm not sure if these two are brothers or what?

I’m not sure if these two are brothers or what?

Einar taking his wife back to her fostri after a month as she is clearly faulty, all his brothers wives gave birth a month after marraige...

Einar taking his wife back to her fostri after a month as she is clearly faulty, all his brothers wives gave birth a month after marriage…

The famed banquet in beautifull surroundings, against a sunset backdrop also had its moments.

Their eating manners left somethingto be desired

Their eating manners left something to be desired

Magnus got so carried away he fell backwards off a seachest through a banner, without disturbing the banner

Magnus got so carried away he fell backwards off a sea chest through a banner, without disturbing the banner

Lastly... and don't spread this around... I have heard a few of them drank a horn or two of ale that evening

Lastly… and don’t spread this around… I have heard a few of them drank a horn or two of ale that evening

 

The making of Jorvikingi

It struck me that this year is the eleventh year that Jorvikingi has existed, having formed from a small group of participants in an event at an event at Helmsley castle in August 2003.

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Helmsley was a fun event, in a superb location, especially the after hours banquet, and for many of the participants from the Midlands and North, it seemed a good idea to try to set something up based more in the Midlands and North, rather than return to a largely southern centric reenactment circuit.

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Tent and Hall

The final piece of the jigsaw was fitted that September at an event at a facility we had been visiting for a yearly event for many years: The Danelaw Village at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, offered many of us the opportunity to adopt houses there and use the facilities as a more semi-permanent site group. As this was by far one of the best events we all attended, and only a couple of hours from most of the members houses, we jumped at the chance, and Jorvikingi: literally the ‘People of Jorvik’ was born, largely from the Ostvikinga and Seavardreki warbands, led by Jarls Einar, Ubbi, and Anlaf.

Here are a few pics from that September 2003 event, some are a little faded.

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Some of the Ostvikinga, led by Jarls Einar and Ubbi

Jarl Ubbi

Jarl Ubbi

Yjontnagrim, Ubbis son

Yjontnagrim, Ubbis son

Ragenleif, Ubbis daughter

Ragenleif, Ubbis daughter

Seavardreki banner outside one of the houses

Seavardreki banner outside one of the houses

 

What was to become Magnus's house, before renovation

What was to become Magnus’s house, before renovation

The village from across the field

The village from across the field

What was to become Ulfar and Einars houses

What was to become Ulfar and Einars houses

What was to become Anlafs house

What was to become Anlafs house

Approaching the village, with Jarl Einar and Ubbis tents in the foreground

Approaching the village, with Jarl Einar and Ubbis tents in the foreground

 

Anneth adn Ragenleif, in from of the Ostvikings selling their wares

Anneth and Ragenleif, in front of the Ostvikings selling their wares

From this point on the Society existed, and though some members have gone, and others come along, the group has maintained between 3 and 5 houses for the Danelaw village, built a forge, and help thatch and repair other structures. You only need to see the before and after images of Magnus’s house to see some of the improvements made.

What was to become Magnus's house, before renovation

What was to become Magnus’s house, before renovation

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Magnus’s house, during renovation

It is however, even after 11 years, a bit like painting the Forth Bridge, and there is always something to do, particularly roofs, and we have plenty of plans to keep the houses in good condition. This year we hope to get another house re-roofed, and complete some final daubing on Magnus’s house, alongside countless minor repairs and upgrades, and are planning some larger improvements to the paths around the houses. Like the real Vikings of the tenth century, our work is never done and there is never enough hours in the day!

Thanks for reading

Einar

Images 9, 10, 11, and 12 were originally taken by Ulfar Vigufson, now of Svartland Living History Society

Begining some casting

Starting some work on some sculpting and mould making this week. Mostly buckles, strapends, and small brooches, with the intention of casting them up in pewter to begin, and perhaps have some copper-alloy casts done later. We have started with some rough miliput sculpts, which we are going to carve and file in detail after it has hardened.

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Most the originals these will be based on are from York, or Northern England and are a mix of very viking styles, and native and carolingian styles from the tenth century.

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When these are done we are casting them up into two-part plaster of Paris moulds.

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I will add a few posts as we go along showing the progress we make.
Einar