Tuesday, December 15, 2009

*Iron* Age vs *Viking* Age?

Re - "A 'New Age Fake Mystic Cash Cow' Design"

Ny Björn Gustafsson had left a comment :

" I'd say that someone saw an early Iron-Age belt hook (before ~100 AD buckles weren't used to any greater extent in Scandiland) and got creative...

Here's a page displaying 2 (admittedly quite corroded) hooks from south-west Sweden: " http://carlotta.gotlib.goteborg.se/pls/carlotta/VisaDelobjekt?pin_prtMasidn=244323

Thanks to Ny for that reference!

Without delving deeper into this, one thing does strike me right off the top : Iron Age does not equal Viking Age.

Now, this points out an important problem, which I have run into myself when talking to those from Scandinavia. I mean, these are the descendants of the Norse themselves, from the very lands all these artifacts are coming from in the first place - right?

The 'problem' is this: The pegging of a specific 'Viking Age' is a British concept, based on the historic events inside England. The Scandinavians themselves see the slicing up of history differently!

To the British, the impact of the Norse is an external force, normally determined by two major events, the sacking of Lindisfarne in 793 and the Conquest in 1066. The most typical short hand dates thus given for 'The Viking Age' are 800 - 1000 AD.
The problem with this view is that obviously the Norse material culture did not spring fully developed out of nothing. The men on that initial raid had technologically advanced (and a mature technology) ships, a fully developed artistic style, a distinctive world view and religion. This was hardly the first such raid on to English soil, it was just the one that finally shocked the British at large.
Obviously the Conquest of England is completely a British centred event. These were Normans on top of all that, and it should be pointed out that William little resembled any Norse cousins he might have had back in Denmark.

You even have to be careful of the use of the term 'Norse', which I define as a specific material cultural set. To an Icelander, Norse means exclusively 'from Norway'. You will find recent writings on Greenland's history will refer to the Norse as the period extending up to the final collapse of the original European settlement about 1425. Obviously someone living there in 1400 is, in terms of material culture, really 'Medieval'.

In Scandinavia itself, the dividing lines that are used are quite different. Most typically 'Prehistoric' means quite literally 'before written records', meaning before books and Latin. Some texts I've read use the 'official adoption of Christianity' as the break point. So most commonly (and certainly in the case of older museums and reports) there is a dividing line is between Prehistoric and Medieval, ranging from 1000 - 1100 AD. The 'Viking Age' materials are usually placed at the end of the 'Prehistoric Iron Age', which in Denmark for example, extends back at least to 1000 BC.

Now this has changed over the last 30 years, as the interest in the specific material culture we would consider 'Viking Age' has intensified. I did find even still, smaller museums I visited in Denmark still had those Viking Age objects placed alongside much earlier objects from the same locations. Remember that outside of specific town sites (many of which were founded in the Viking Age) many occupation areas had been in more or less constant use for thousands of years.

How different was your own life on the first morning of the 21st Century?

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

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