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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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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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