Friday, June 23, 2006

'What they Carried' - On Norse Tents

(This altered from a post to NORSEFOLK - arising out of a discussion of possible Viking Age tent designs)

As re-enactors of the Viking Age, our challenge is always balancing our modern requirements against what is known historically.

We make our assumptions on what comprises personal equipment carried in the Viking Age (entire range from skin out) largely from burials and garbage. Nether provides a truly accurate picture. On top of this are the twin problems of survivability and random discovery. (see also 'Aunt Martha's and Damthings')

Much stress is placed on burials - but there is a largely symbolic nature to anything that goes into a burial. People tend to get buried in their best or favorite clothes and accessories. This is unlikely to be ALL their clothes. Same goes for the tools included, these are 'some of' only the major types that defined the person. When you work yourself in that same craft - you see how what was included is often missing critical pieces. Classic examples that are missing are looms for weavers and bellows for blacksmiths. Another consideration is the distinction between what would have been considered 'personal' as opposed to 'collective' equipment. Is a cooking pot actually personal gear - or something that belongs to the family itself? What is placed in a burial will also be balanced against necessity of the survivors. If there is only one axe in the family, its pretty unlikely that it will be buried. The Norse were nothing if not practical, and ensuring the continued survival of the living is sure to take priority over providing for the requirements of the dead.

My own opinion of the World of the Norse is that there would have been far more objects held as 'group ownership' than what we consider as such in our modern world. We constantly under value the 'cost' of objects with our modern (especially N. American) buying habits.

An example of all this would be a fire steel (strike-a-light), which from its lack of frequency in Norse finds and the relative complexity of the objects themselves certainly suggests a 'one per family', presentation object. Know know from my own work that these would be 'expensive' objects in terms of the skilled labour required to create them (from dirt). Not something that every person has on their belt.

The other side of this as re-enactors is how we both wish to provide for ourselves as individuals in a detailed environment. This gets magnified by our attempts to create public presentations (even if only for other re-enactors). Our modern pence of privacy and requirement for comfort leads us to all over equip ourselves. Our ability to easily transport both raw materials and finished objects also leads us to accumulate huge equipment loads.

The easy solution to tents is to do exactly what the Norse did. One tent, created by lashed poles and sail cloth - but shared between the entire crew. Six feet by two feet per person.

I find that so much of the discussion on tents is almost always centred around the very modern problems of how to pay for the pieces and then transport them. An Anglo Saxon (wrong time period) geteld is often mentioned as a purely modern solution - primarily because of the ease of transporting the poles. The design is not Scandinavian or from the Viking Age - and carrying poles is not a historic problem when you are always traveling by ship. Consider that you are exchanging the insignificant cost of the wood poles of and A frame (in the Viking Age) for the huge cost of a specially cut and stitched fabric cover (against the VA use of the existing sail). I expect the weavers to support me on this.(What were the woman hours required for a sail? Now spend MORE than that for what is a single use object?)

for a look at a chieftain's tent
for a look at a bondi's tent

So - the fast way to get a cheap A frame cover:
Go to a good hardware or paint store. Purchase canvas painters drop cloths. These will be unbleached cotton canvas rough stitched into typically 8 x 10 or 10 x 12 sheets. I have not purchased this recently, but 10 years ago the cost each sheet was about $40 CDN. Two sown down one side makes a rectangular 'sail' tent cover. Get one more and cut into one large triangle and two smaller ones to make the back and two front flaps for a fitted cover. That gives you a minimum of 8 x 8 interior tent about 7 feet at the ridge - for a days work and about $100 US. You will want to SOAK the lighter canvas in Thompsons Water Seal - the water based version.

There are plans for this tent on the Encampment web site (under 'Creating the Artifacts') Frame

As I live in the country - getting the poles for an A frame is trivial. I have used 'barn pine' - rough cut 1 x 12 lumber for the end boards. ripped down on the table saw to 6" wide. I have used a sapling for the ridge pole. I'd suggest making some kind of a deal with those re-enactors you know who are rural to cut a sapling in trade for something.

For those who cry the space in their car problem. I have also made a smaller (8 x 8 by 6 ft tall) tent out of standard 1 x 4 lumber. I joined two shorter sections between two metal plates with bolts for each of the boards.Cost about $50 for the frame.

The whole thing fit in the back of a Honda Civic hatchback.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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