Friday, November 28, 2008

Ongoing - 'Exploring Viking Age Denmark'

A Note to my Regular Readers:
I have been working for the last couple of weeks taking my huge image collection from my research trip to Denmark in the spring and turning it into some form of publication. From my travels and the various museums I visited, there are over 400 images, primarily of Viking Age artifacts. To these I have added commentary on each, based on the notes recorded at the time. The whole is formated up as html, the size is such that it needs to be recorded to a DVD data disk. I had originally hoped to have the publication 'Exploring Viking Age Denmark' ready for release on Dec 1. It now looks like I will be missing that deadline. This is another teaser segment from the publication:

The Ribe VikingeCenter
Lustrupvej 4, 6760 Ribe, Denmark

The Ribe Viking Centre is an impressive living history / open air museum located within about a half hours walk (cross country) to the south of the centre of Ribe. It supports a large number of educational programs, from the usual single day tours through to intensive live in programs. Along with staff interpreters, many artisans, they allow for guest Viking Age re-enactors to set up and interact with the general public. The site is roughly grouped into four main theme areas : educational centre and children's village / the Viking Market / an Iron Age settlement / a Norse farmstead. This is a working site, with artisans producing various products using period methods, crops grown and livestock raised for eating. The individual areas are separated by hedge rows and stream banks in a quite natural manner.

Unfortunately, the site marks its seasonal opening with a grand Market on May 1. I had to visit a full week before this, so missed the interpretive staff at work. Here again, previous contact from Canada paid off greatly, as I was generously offered a quick guided tour of the site by curator Bjarne Clement. On this we were accompanied by fellow iron maker Michael Nissen, who offered many insights into the working days of the interpreters. For the cost of a meal, I later enjoyed an evening with Michael and site glass artisan Trine Theut. I returned to the site the following day on my own, which is when many of these images were taken.

Because the site was still closed (although there was public access to the grounds) I was not able to get very many interior shots. As I was walking in from town (along the rail line and across a couple of fields) I actually started my visit at the rear of the site. I have re-ordered the images to better represent what you might expect with a paid admission.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Exploring the Viking Age in Demark

Right now I am preparing for an upcoming lecture for the Peterborough SCA group. This is to be held at Trail College on Wednesday November 26 at 8 PM.

The topic is an overview of my recent research trip to Denmark. I will be showing some of the artifact images I collected, and talking about the museums I visited.

So, I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone. As it turns out, the birds were a sparrow ( the lecture) and an emu (a new AV publication). I am sorting all my 400 plus images, adding commentaries from my notes and formating the whole pile into a reference I hope to have ready to sell in time for Yule. The contents will work via a large set of interlocked 'web pages' that will access through an standard web browser. As most of the images are the large format from my camera (mostly 5 MGP) the total content will have to go on to a DVD disk. This will also allow just the images to be viewed on a standard table top player and TV combination.

As a teaser, this is a short piece of one of the displays I saw at the Roskide Museum. The images here are just the thumbnails - you will have to wait for the publication to see the larger versions!

(This version was re-formated to fit the Blogger frame)

The display was a grave from Gerdup, dated to around 800 AD. The first thing that catches your attention is that one of the bodies has quite deliberately covered with several quite huge and heavy stones.A full body view of the left of the two bodies in the burial. It is shorter than the other, about 160 cm tall in life. The burial had been dug to fit this figure.Next you notice something odd about the right hand body. Obviously the skull has been crushed by an heavy blow.
The legs are splayed to fit the too short hole, and are crossed. The arms are in a strange position als well. The evidence is that this person had feet tied together and arms bound to the waist. As well, it turns out there are cut marks on the neck bones.There is a small knife laid under the left arm of the bound body. It has a single edged blade about 10 cm long, but is in extremely poor condition, worn down to a thin sliver of iron.Now on the other body is a similar sized blade, but this one in excellent condition. It is laid about in the correct location for being long thin single edge typical of Norse woman's knives.
Now the final twist is this long spear head, a type suitable for throwing for hunting. It is laid on the right side of the body under the stones.Now the piece of data not imeadiately appearent: the left hand body, under the stones, was female, the right hand, bound and murdered, was male.One conclusion being made about such unique burials is that they mark powerful women involved in Sie∂er, ritual magic. They are often found 'killed and held' by having their bodies secured by heavy stones.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Looks Great...

... On a post card:

Not so great as the view out my deck window in Mid November.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Iron Slags as Art

Slag from ancient iron smelting in Madagascar; image by David Killick, UA professor of anthropology

A metallurgical slag from ancient iron smelting in Madagascar. A thin
slice was glued to a glass slide and polished to a thickness of only
0.03 mm. It is photographed here at a magnification of 200x in cross
polarized transmitted light. All of the brightly colored crystals are
of the same mineral (an iron silicate calledfayalite ) but display
different colors because the lattices of each crystal are at different
angles to the plane of the section. The black network within thefayalite crystals is of a second mineral, an iron-aluminium spinel called hercynite, that crystallized at the same time as the fayalite, giving rise to complex intergrowths of the two minerals.

Beyond the Naked Eye: Science Reveals Nature's Art
November 8, 2008–January 9, 2009

Art and science have always been connected—from alchemists' experiments producing artist materials to Renaissance explorations of anatomy. Contemporary art includes many modern technologies as processes, and the avant-garde has seen science as a subject for artistic exploration for over a century. This exhibition aims to reverse the traditional roles by presenting the science as the art.

I got wind of this through the ArchMetals discussion group. David Killick is also involved in our own Early Iron discussion as well.

Quoted sections and images from the Arizona State Museum web site.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Air Delivery Test - Norse Smelting Bellows

One topic discussed here has been reconstructions of a Viking Age double chamber bellows. (For those who have not been following the postings, I refer you to these past postings on Bellows Reconstruction : ONE / TWO / THREE)

At the November 8, 2008 smelt, Neil Peterson conducted a set of air volume tests using the reconstruction 'Smelter Bellows'

Bellows Test 2 - November 2008

Using the 'Smelter Test Bellows' - Norse Double Bag
Name RangeCommonL/Min
Ron 58-69 68727.6
Lloyd 50-8576813.2
Karen 50-65 62663.4
Vandy 58-6564684.8
Neil 66-7974791.8
Ken 45-70 64684.8
Darrell 58-6864684.8
Pierre 58-68 64684.8
Pierre(2) 53-5957609.9
Yasmin 38-55 48513.6
Anatoly 58-6562663.4

A comparison should be made to a similar set of tests undertaken by Neil at the October 2007 smelt, using the reconstructed BLACKSMITH's bellows (detailed HERE).

The key is comparing the air volumes produced by the various operators against the theoretical (but based on direct experience!) air requirements for the smelter sizes we use

Ideal Rates for Standard Smelter Sizes
Aneonometer Kph x 8.17 with 2.5 diameter tube

28 x 28

The overal conclusion from the test is that this specific reconstruction will indead produce the volumes of air required to sucessfully smelt inside our standard 25 cm diameter smelters.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And the Band Played...

As if most of my readers will need reminding.

This song, originally written and recorded by Australian Eric Bogle, is an old favorite of mine. This time of year, it becomes even more meaningful:

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Now when I was a young man and I carried my pack
and I lived the free life of the rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty out back
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said "Son
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done"
And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As the ships pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off to Galipolli

And how I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs to the slaughter.

Johnnie Turk was ready, oh he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat we were all blown to hell
nearly blew us all back home to Australia.

But the band played Waltzing Matilda
as we stuck to bury our slain
We burned ours and the Turks buried theirs
and we started all over again

Those who were living just tried to survive
In a mad world of blood death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done and I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go Waltzing Matilda
All round the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more Waltzing Matilda for me.

They collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled in to Circular Key
And I looked at the place where my legs used to be
I thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to Pity

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
as they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
And turned all their faces away

So now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glory

I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question

And the band played Waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, more old men disappear
Some day no one will march there at all

I have something like a dozen different versions. This is obviously an anthem in Australia, as many of these are by OZies.
This LINK will take you to a direct download (MP3 - save the file) of Eric Bogle's version.
You can LISTEN to a live acoustic version by John Williamson.
But I think the version I by far and away like the best is THIS ONE, I believe its by Liam Clancy.

The point is this:

As part of the marking of Remembrance Day here in Canada. The ceremonial in Ottawa included a short taped segment delivered by the last surviving Canadian who served in the Great War. Latter the commentator mentioned that the ceremony in France had the last three living survivors from all of Europe.

But year after year, more old men disappear
Some day no one will march there at all.

And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"

My old friend Braun McAsh yearly drags out his medals 'and still answers the call'. He wrote me and said:
"Someone ... asked why I wasn't standing with the other vets. I told him that today wasn't about who you stood with, but remembering those who never made it back to stand with anyone."

We need to remember. Its not just to honour the debt we owe to those 'Absent Friends'.
Its so the young know why - and what the cost is when the band strikes up the march, yet again.

Gazing in the Crystal Ball

May 4, 2006

Military action may halt currency meltdown
By Braun McAsh


The U.S. economy is in terrible shape, thanks to the Bush administration racking up a greater debt than the 42 previous presidencies combined. The national debt is at US$8.4 trillion, with US$1.6 trillion held by foreign governments. The trade deficit is US$750 billion and rising. And due to the Bush tax cuts, federal tax revenues as a percentage of the gross domestic product are at their lowest since 1950, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

The world's oil is bought and paid for in American dollars. This constant demand for the U.S. dollar stabilizes the currency. Oil is the single most important factor dictating the value of the U.S. dollar. (U.S. currency hasn't been linked to the price of gold since 1971.)

When the Bush administration invaded Iraq three years ago, many assumed it was about seizing the oil. As it turns out, this was a valid assumption, just not in the manner originally stated.


Go read this article by my old friend Braun McAsh.
Note the date - May, 2006

Some one did too warn you about this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'For Our Honoured Dead'

'For Our Honoured Dead'
mixed media

Last year I attended a theatre opening and reception, very shortly after Remembrance Day. In the room was a plinth holding a book — a Book of Remembrance, which held the names of all those who had died from that town in Canada’s wars. I was outraged to see how the unthinking would litter the Book with their empty glasses and garbage.

Regardless of your attitude towards War, soldiers continue to die in your place and at your command.
A people will be known by how they respect those who placed themselves to be killed for the welfare of all.

I was driven to create 'For Our Honoured Dead'.
The exhibit was well into its planning stages last fall, and I had actually intended to work on something related to Norse burial customs as one of my submissions. The events described in the brief statement above (from the Grave Goods catalog) electrified me however. I have rarely made political or pointed social comments with my work, but I could just not let this one go past.

For this work, I wanted to echo a number of conventions seen in War Memorials:
- The shield and sword are both created at about 25 per cent larger than life sized. So often this enlarging past normal human scale is done by memorial artists. It must be intentional, to make the heroic figures literally 'larger than life'.
- The shield was made from stainless steel. Of all the metals in the work, the shield, symbolizing defense, is rendered in a metal which endures. We must remember to keep ever vigilant to protect our society. Combat as defense can never be seen as wrong, even a pacifist may fight to stay alive.
- The sword has been left rough finished. It is a functional tool of war, not intended to be considered a work of art. The spring steel of the blade, as well as the plain steel of the hilt has been left unprotected. Already the blade shows surface rust from handling. The patriotic rhetoric that encourages us to fight never survives the first shock of actual combat. After a time, the reasons 'why' will corrode away like rust.
- The main figure on the shield is a Crusader's Cross. It is made of thin mild steel, already covered with rust and soon to corrode. Over the centuries, more blood has been spilled in the name of God than for any other reason. In the last 1000 years of the West, all leaders have claimed that God is on their side. How can this be the case?
- At the top of the shield are a pair of maple leaves, made from copper and brass. These metals are certain to change colour with time, yet will remain long after the steels of God and Weapon have dissolved. At core, we fight for place, for home. The exact details of this often fade with time, but these reasons remain.
- The trash covering this memorial has been carefully chosen. The symbols of mainly multi-national corporations, almost all American, can be found. How much more 'American' can you get than Coke, or McDonalds? "We fight for our way of life" is a statement so often lipped by politicians. But who stands to benefit the most? 'Just knock together a pile of plywood tanks and get into a nice little shooting war - its good for business' * Are we being asked to die for Mom and Apple Pie? Or is it really for those industries that know no loyalty to nation, who will do anything to any one for the bottom line?

'For Our Honoured Dead' was intended to provoke.
I know from my own experience on the opening night of Grave Goods, may did not read the description. The deeper symbology was buried even deeper still.

Right now the United States of America is involved in a 'foreign adventure' that is nothing more than support by force of Bush's family oil business. I am constantly amazed that after Viet Nam, that nation has allowed itself to be lied to so completely. Another generation of youth are being wasted to grease the corporate wheels. In an age of mass media and information access, it all seems to transparently a lie.

Remember : " We won't get fooled again..." ??

* I actually overhead that statement on a train to Peterborough Ontario back about 1975. I was in the Canadian Reserves at the time. So I would have been one of the bodies sacrificed on the alter of business profits suggested by that group of fat and lazy corporate owners.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Icelandic 4 Iron Smelt

A fast overview report

On Saturday November 8, a small band gathered for the normal Fall DARC smelt. This was number four in the main sequence of our Icelandic / Hals series.
Building on the work from the October (Thanksgiving) smelt, this experiment focused primarily on the use of the bellows plate and blow hole combination. Ken Cook served as Smelt Master, with Neil Peterson assisting. (And Darrell constantly sticking his nose in to keep things on track.)
About 3 1/2 hours into the main sequence, the smelter starts to self tap. You can see the arrangment for the air system, handing from supports.

Total Fuel : 48 kg
Total Time : 5 hours (plus 2:40 preheat)
Total Ore : 23 kg (mixed poor Virginia Rock / Hematite grit
Total Bloom : 4.25 kg
Total Yield : 18 %

Average Burn Cycle : 12 minutes per standard 2 kg bucket

The bloom was less consolidated on extration than what is seen from a smelter with an insert tuyere - more of a 'lumpy' texture. It also was positioned a bit futher back from the air inlet than expected, and had a marked crescent shape.

As with the Thanksgiving smelt (which also used the plate / hole) there was a choke point at roughly 2 1/2 hours into the ore charging / about 7 kg. The developing slag bowl threatened to drown the air intake. On this attempt we were better able to control this, and the smelter would settle down once the slag evolved from the early green silica type to the later black iron rich type.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Segmented Urn

For Grave Goods, one of the objects I wanted to create was an urn for cremated ashes.

Image : Detail of Tension Deficit by Lee Sauder
Originally I had two overall concepts. One would be a bowl shape forged out of a single iron bloom. My inspiration here was the sculptural work of Lee Sauder, perhaps the only artisan working consistently with bloomery iron. I wanted to have the solid metal cleaned and roughly polished in the centre, but the fragmented edges of the bloom would remain along the edges of the bowl to show its genesis in the smelter. I had intended on having a glass artist (likely Kathyrn Thomson) creating a blown glass lid to match the irregular contours of the forged bowl and act as a cover. Time constraints and the raw scale of working a 3 - 5 kg mass of iron made me shelve the project (at least for now). An echo of what I was imagining can be seen in the smaller piece I did in September 'Offering Bowl'

The second concept was developed into this object :

'Segmented Urn'
forged and fabricated wrought iron
(This object for sale- $1200)

" The body of the urn is composed of a number of individually hand forged strips of antique wrought iron. I saw samples of the basic technique employed by the Japanese blacksmith Takayoshi Komine at a workshop / demonstration two summers past. (Taka uses the method to make subtle oil lamps employed in the Tea Ceremony.) Actual historic wrought iron has been chosen for the construction because of its excellent forging characteristics and special durability. The metal itself is already some 150 years old — and should easily endure for centuries more. A fitting resting place for the memories of one past beyond us. "

In the creation of 'Segmented Urn' I wanted a massive object, the raw weight and scale conveying durability. As finished, the piece weighs 17 kg (thats almost 40 lbs). It stands 38 cm tall and is about 23 cm wide (15 x 9 inches). The inner volume is a cylinder roughly 25 cm tall by 10 cm diameter (10 x 4 inches).

As the short description from the exhibit catalog states, the material is antique wrought iron, most of the bars from a bridge originally constructed in Ohio during the 1860's. Some additional elements were forged down from retaining pins that were salvaged from a log barn that was the original homestead from my brothers property near Buckhorn Ontario (most likely 1850's). Besides the special durability of wrought iron (it corrodes much slower than modern steels), I specifically wanted to highlight the textural differences within this historic metal. For that reason, I quite specifically chose not to re-weld any developing cracks as the metal was forged down from the source bars. The two ends of the bars were aggressively flattened to produce de-lamination lines intentionally. This was also the reason a number of rods from the barn were included, as this material was a lower quality iron that I knew would start to fracture as it was worked.
One thing that is invisible in the creation of the object is the huge amount of work required in forging each of the 34 individual uprights which make up the body. These started as long lengths (typically 60 plus cm / 24 inches) of cm (3/4) diameter round rod. This was forged out (admittedly using my air hammer!) to the 6 x 25 mm (1/4 x 1 inch) flat stock required for each element.
I then flattened both end of the bars using a special 'Hoffy' style crown die I made for the hammer. The last step was bending the flattened ends down to about a 60 degree angle.

The Taka technique mentioned in the description involves carefully MIG welding the edges of a stack of separate flat bars, then very gently forging them into three dimensional contours. For Segmented Urn, I made up a special jig that let me set the rough angle between pairs of the uprights. Next the pairs were welded to groups of 4, two groups welded to create rough quarter sections, then pairs welded to produce half sections. At this point it was found that an additional set of two would be required to produce an even full circle, and two more bars were forged and welded to place. I was actually quite surprised just how close together the two half sections were to a close fit. Consider the variation between individual elements, and correctly judging all those angles between the 34 pieces! One weld was made to joint one side of the two half sections. To correctly fit the other edge of the two sections, it would prove necessary to heat the entire bundle (all 17 kg worth!) up to a forging temperature. This was accomplished by building a fire brick chamber and using one of my larger propane burners to make a special custom forge.
It took a good half hour to bring the entire mass up to an orange heat. With some effort, the bundle was placed on the anvil, then tapped with a wooden mallet to adjust the alignment along the last edge. I decided to leave the piece to air cool just sitting on the anvil face. As I turned away, the whole piece slowly rolled off the anvil and seemingly in slow motion, dropped to the earth floor of the workshop. Given that it was still at a read heat, and considering the huge mass involved, it was no surprise that the relatively even cylinder now was flattened on one side!
At this point I just wanted to finish the project, so the next day I welded up the final seam. Fortunately, other projects (like getting the artists ready for the exhibit) intervened, so I had several days away from finishing the urn. On returning to the work, I decided anything worth doing was worth doing well. So I set up the brick heating chamber again, and waited until the whole piece had once again reached forging temperatures. It proved possible to work over the surface with the mallet and return the overall shape to closer to an even cylinder.
Next I cut a disk out of heavy sheet (3mm / 1/8 inch) and welded it in place up inside the lower part of the cylinder. As a lid for the urn I took a piece of 1/4 inch (7 mm) thick copper I had been saving and cut it into a rough octagon. This was then forged to dish and raise the flat plate into a slightly irregular hemisphere. This was then adjusted to produce a tight fit inside the upper edge of the cylinder, snug enough that it can be tapped into place with a rubber mallet.

The finished piece intentionally retains the dark 'straight from the forge' scale finish. There are also patches of red iron oxide, a surface effect typical on heated wrought iron.

I was extremely pleased with the final results. The raw mass of the urn gives it a feeling of permanence. The irregular and slightly fractured surfaces of the uprights, each similar but obviously individuals, gives the overall object the look of an ancient artifact. Through the edges of the flanged bars can be seen the bright roughened surface of the forged copper cap.

An ideal resting place for a metal worker obsessed with history and the mysteries of iron?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Full Reports on Wareham Ironsmelting

I realized that of late I have been putting more time in here on the blog that over on the main Wareham Forge Ironsmelting web site.

For the last three weeks I have worked up two major reports:

Working towards an Icelandic Viking Age Smelt
Based on the remains at Hals
Prepared with the assistance of Kevin Smith & Neil Peterson

Work Dynamic Test
Icelandic / Hals - Bellows Plate with Blow Hole
October 12, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


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

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE