Technology from the Bronze Age to the Vikings and Beyond. Archaeological Analysis of Past Technology: Discuss how we may differentiate high-quality handcraft from handcraft of lower quality by studying archaeological objects.

Posted on august 8, 2016


                                                                        Examination 20.05.2016.
                                          Technology from the Bronze Age to the Vikings and Beyond.
                                                       Archaeological Analysis of Past Technology.
                                                                      Faculty of Humanities.
                                           Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History.
                                             Time: Friday 20th of May 14:30 Submission: Fronter.
                   1) Discuss how we may differentiate high-quality handcraft from handcraft of lower
                                                    quality by studying archaeological objects.

                                                            (Pictures added for blog-publication only)


A Brief Introduction to Prehistoric Technologies:
Have you seen some fine-art jewelry, swords that may get rumored as of a divine quality as
Excalibur, or something that seems like scrap metal ready for remelting? There are alot of variations
for the different technologies, like asbestos in ceramics that makes the clayvessels stronger and
more elastic (Norsk Arkeologisk Leksikon, asbest 2005:25). Kaolin clay was a hallmark for good
quality for non-ferrous metalworking-moulds (Pedersen 2014:16) and that simple copper is simply
just enough for cutting flowers, but with the addition of arsenic, it gets a much higher quality «with
a nice cutting edge» (Thåli-Bergman 1979:3) ready for use in a battle!

What Is It All About?
This essay will discuss good and lower quality handcraft for making technology in the Migration
Period (called MP from here on) and in the Early Viking Age (shortened EVA) with a main focus on
mass produced technology versus «individual» technology and/or craftmanship by looking at
analysis from own studies at laboratory sessions at the Museum of Cultural History (UiO) in Oslo,
and discuss ceramics, non-ferrous metalworking and ferrous/iron working in three separate
approaches linked to different case studies and/or experiments. This apporach will also tell us how
we can determine this by studying archaeological objects, by doing it:

Migration Period.
Most probably one of the latest ceramic containers ever made were found in Sogn og Fjordane,
Norway and were dated to 530-550 AD (MP), its measurements are height: 11,4 cm. Height up to
iron band: 8,3 cm. Thickness at top: 0,5 cm. Thickness of ironring: 1,12 cm. Diameter (outer): 13,1
cm. Diameter (inner): 11,9 cm. Thickness at a broken «shard»: 0,1 cm. The iron ring at the top have
been used to fasten and support a hank (which are now missing). Decorations: Nice decorations of
horizontal and vertical lines striped patterns, singular triangular stamps in a regular pattern across
the horizontal line of the vessel, but the this decoration appears twice just after each other just as
there also is asymmetry in the rolled patterns (seems as it is not a perfectionized work with the
decorations, but only a few faults).
Tools that have been used: Some kind of roll to make the vertical lines, and a stamp for making the triangular patterns, the iron ring at the top of the vessel may have needed several tools for crafting and fastening the iron ring, just below the rim at this ceramic vessel (Halldal, lab.rapport 2016:10.03.16no2). Asbestos has most likely been used to harden the clay and make it more elastic (Norsk Arkeologisk Leksikon, asbest 2005:25).

As a counter-example ceramic of the same period and style (bucket-shaped pot), we find the descriptons of
manufacture so on: Traces of «side seams» combined with fracture between the bottom and the
sides, possibly shaped on a lathe because bucket shaped pots are wider near the rim than at the
bottom, it is possible that it has been shaped on a lathe, and it is clearly that this type of MP pottery,
just as the lab. example has been made of clay substances which large quantities of asbestos, but
also soapstone; chlorite or talc were present with the clay, «this variation of mixture seems to be
great» (Simonsen, Kleppe 1983:23-24). But compared to the other example the MP bucket-shaped
pot seems of much poorer quality, preservation and suffer from much greater use wear than the first
example. The bucket shaped pot from the lab. analysis is as far as I can see of a considerable better
quality (remarkable by looking at the pictures both from the article by Simonsen and Kleppe and
from the laboratory analysis).

Early Viking Age:
Viking age-brooches:
C5229 Item: Thirdbrooch
«Description: Medium sized, nicely decorated brooch for attaching a cloth around a person.
Material: Probably bronze due to lack off greenness at the item.
Nice decorations in the Borre style with will date the brooch to early viking age – approximately
around 850 AD.
Measurements: Shortest length: 6,2 cm (x 3). Longest length: 7,6 cm (x3). Thickness: 0,45 cm.
Asymmetric design (small differences in the decorations on each of the three parts of the brooch)
with animal heads at each side of the three-foiled brooch (symmetrical).
Broken at one of the three sides, probably due to something heavy falling on top of it, maybe during
a burial if used as a grave gift, breaking this side off. It is besides this in very good quality with both
straps on the backside of the brooch still intact. There are no textile remains which can be an
indication that the brooch has been used as a grave gift or offering into a place with good preservation conditions. None of the decoration, nor metal has any signs of wearing.  The owner of this brooch has probably been of high class in society in early viking age (most probably near Borre in Vestfold which also was a place of a high and rich society at this time) and wore this brooch on special occasions and kept it under good conditions when not using it (no wear marks).

Decoration and quality indicate that the brooch was made from good quality metal and made by a
perfectionized smith (probably smith by trade) with tools for making jewelry in this particular style.
A mould must have been used, and it has been made for an upper class customer. On the backside of
the brooch there is two straps for holding the textile, where it seems as if a third strap has been
removed or left out by purpose, but still shows the remains probably coming from the mould.
(Halldal, lab.rapport 2016:14.04.16no3). Probably ended up in the owners grave as a grave gift
because of its good preservation.

There are demonstrated correalation between smaller size and lower quality of workmanship
regarding within specific types of viking-age brooches which are explained by the deminishing size
of copied brooches by making a clay cast from a finished brooch, and since the clay shrinks when
drying, the new brooch gets smaller than its original and if the second brooch also would be used as
a model as well, the result would be still smaller and this would go on continously as long as
brooches were used as clay casts for new models, as well as the motifs would get out of shape as
ornamentation would decrease (Fuglesang 1987:219).

The worst quality brooches is possibly just visual copying, and «the uniformly good brooches of
type P 15 have a pan-Scandinavian distribution» found in Hedeby, Jutland, the Danish Islands,
Birka, and Sogn and must have been made by professionals , but the relationships between brooches
of good quality and excellence is difficult to work out because of lack of evidence (Fuglesang
1987:225). The measurements of good-quality brooches 84 x 53mm to 86 x 54 mm (oval brooches),
in comparison to the thirdbrooch mentioned above in the analytic context, measurements are not far
from the same but these kind of brooches (thirdbrooches) are often even smaller (own experience
from studying museum artefacts), so we can conclude that the thirdbrooch above is of good or
maybe even slightly better than average good quality.

Non-ferrous metal workers at the trading post of Kaupang, a short case study:

slik så havna i Kaupang ut. *** Local Caption *** Feil sted: Norges første by ble lagt til Kaupang i Tjølling, men vikingmuseet ligger i Borre i nordfylket.

(Kaupang, aprox. 790-800 AD) 

Introduction: Kristoffersen describes the migration period Style 1 relief brooches to have no traces
of mass production. She writes that there are «no traces of standardized forms and mass production»
and claims the mass produced wares from this time to be of poorer quality than non-mass-produced
wares (Kristoffersen 2000:266). On the contrary, this is a sign of good quality craftmanship if we
jump forward in time, to the EVA at the similtanious time as the glory days of the trading settlement
of Kaupang, which we will later discuss contextually. Fuglesang (1987) suggest that the EVA massproduced
brooches are of very good quality (pp.228), a quite different study than that of the MP

Kaupang seems as if it has been a trading settlement where it was a complete necessety for
incoming and outgoing trade, mainly incoming raw materials and outgoing finishised products.
Many of the raw materials had to be brought in to Kaupang from far distances, like the kaolin clay
and brass ingots wich had to be imported (Pedersen 2014:59-60), and that the raw material for
making the clay moulds play a significant part in doing good quality non-ferrous metalworking
where one distinct layer of local clay where gathered for the clay moulds (Pedersen 2014:57-59)
most probably quality related.

The non-ferrous metalworkers of Kaupaung must have been highly skilled, knowledge where most
probably learned through apprenticeship, where they worked together (Pedersen 2014:54-55) –
considering an ethnographical view on the case – taken into consideration that most of it is groupwork
must have ended up with highly skilled technicians, perhaps already started learning their
skills from when physical and intellectually ready for the kind of work they were to fulfill as a child
which gives the grown-up masters a lifetime of experience to further craft masterpieces.
They had a wide range of raw materials, including high-quality raw materials both imported and
found locally at selected places (they knew what they wanted for their finished technologies), they
improved the quality of raw materials, imported raw materials were brought in by trade and/or most
likely provided by the craftspeople themselves (Pedersen 2014:64). This will all together provide
the trading settlement of Kaupang with high quality goods. And if the contradictive theories about
the brooches are both correct, in that case most likely because of their differance in time, even the
mass produced goods which demanded moulding (ex. brooches) were of good quality (and most
likely a good income).

Ferrous metalworking, also know as; Iron-working:

C33578. «Sword (broken). Material: Iron. Dating: Viking age.
Measurements: Bottom handle: 6,7 cm. Bottom handle width: 1,9 cm. Handle length: 10,6 cm. Top
handle: 1,6 cm. Top handle thickness: 1,23 cm. Blade length: 19,85 cm. Blade width: 5,15 cm.
Blade thickness (at the smallest): 0,25 mm.
Details: The sword is made out of 4 parts. There is no engravings at the sword. There are clear
hammermarks which have widened because of erosion. One small, but clear rust-part at the blade.
The sword has been smithed in standard quality iron. Seems to be a simple, standard sword for its

C23018b Item: Spearhead.
Material: Iron.
Shaft: 18,85 cm
Spear: 32,2
Width of spear: 3,4 cm.
Shaft width: 2,1 cm.
Rusty spear head. Decorations at the shaft.
Circular decorations at the top of the shaft.
Looks like triangels at the bottom.
Red / rusty almost as if it has been lying in water. Possible indication of ritual offering?
Still, due to the heavy erosion and rust of the item, the decorations at the two ends of the shaft
The spear-head is bent at the top, probably due to an impact damage.
The spear-head has once been nicely decorated and the still smooth surface of the spear-head may
indicate that a better smithing technique has been used when the spear was produced. The spear
head seems to once have been of good quality. The poor preservation may indicate that the object
was lost, or thrown away, perhaps because of the bent point. May the decorations indicate anything
of its ownership or other context? There are no obvious reasons for us to tell, and the decorations
are quite damaged which make them quite hard to interpret.

Summoning Up:
We may differentiate high-quality handcraft from handcraft of lower quality by studying
archaeological objects in certain types of ways after what I have documented in this essay:
Migration Period: Ceramics are of better quality of the clay contains asbestos, soapstone, chlorite or
talc. Supposedly mass produced brooches are of lesser quality than those that are not mass produced
during this time, even though this seemes to have changed to the Early Viking Age:
Early Viking Age jewelry are of best quality if they have no signs of shrinking or disformation due
to copying on the f.ex. Brooches that needs moulds for making and can be copied into moulds. Nonferrous
metals that are made out of moulds of kaolin clay. Overall; It seems as if we can recognize
the styles, measurements, eventual faults and raw materials and put them in a time, place and a
context of which it either has to be of excellent, good, satisfactory or bad quality.

Fuglesang, Signe H. «The Personal Touch.» On the identification of workshops.», i
Proceedings of the Tenth Viking Congress.. Larkollen, Norway, 1985.
1987 ss. 219-230.
Halldal, Bjørn F. 2016. Labrapports from analysis at the Archive in the Museum of Culture History,
University of Oslo, Oslo:
Halldal, Bjørn F. lab.rapport 2016:10.03.16no2. Bucket formed clay vessel, Migration Period.
Halldal, Bjørn F. lab.rapport 2016:14.04.16no3 Thirdbrooch, Borre-style. Early Viking Age.
Halldal, Bjørn F. lab. rapport 2016:21.04.16no1 Broken Viking Sword. Viking Age.
Kristoffersen, Siv «Expressive objects», u (Red) Olausen, D. & Vandkilde, H.
Form, Function and Context. Material Culture Studies in Scandinavian Archaeology 2000 ss. 265-
Pedersen, Unn. «Urban craftspeople in Viking-age Kaupang», i (Red) Hansen, Gitte; Ashby, Steven
& Baug, Irene.
Everyday products in the Middle Ages. Crafts. Consumption and the Individual in Northern Europe
c. AD 800-1600 2014 ss. 51-68
Simonsen, Stein E. & Kleppe, Else J. «Bucket Shaped Pots – A West-Norwegian Ceramic Form.
Experiments with Production Methods», i
AmS-Skrifter 10 10 1983 ss. 3,7,9-39
Copyright (C) 1983 Arkeologisk museum i Stavanger.
Thåli-Bergman, Lena «Utdrag fra Blacksmithing in Prehistoric Sweden», i (Red)
Lundberg, A. S. & Clarke, H.
Iron and Man in Prehistoric Sweden 1979 ss. 99-113, 115-124, 129, 132.
Copyright (C) 1979 Jernkontoret
Østmo, Einar. Hedeager, Lotte (Red). Norsk Arkeologisk Leksikon. 2005