Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tripods in the Viking Age - again

A bit of a rant on the Oseburg Tripod:

(Note: In defence of the original writer: He obviously has done some research, asks good questions, and is drawing the correct conclusions! )

From Norsefolk 2 discussion
Norse iron ware for out door cooking
Date: Tue Mar 30, 2010 6:34 pm ((PDT))

" My conundrum is that everyone makes big ole huge Oseberg tripods to
hang various items, but my research indicates the one found is much
smaller. The larger ones are actuallynecessary for cooking over the
fire with a cauldron or fire grid, and besides everyone has them."

And everyone is wrong:
(see 'Aunt Martha's and Damthings' )

Image to right is an accurate reproduction of the Oseberg Tripod, with a replica of the (smaller) Mastermyr cooking pot. The piece of fire wood is only 7 cm diameter, and touches the bottom of the pot.

1) Royal status object.
This shows in complexity, amount of material used, source context. If you are not a Queen, you should not consider this prototype.
2) Not an * actual - functional * cooking tool
Look at the cauldron also in the burial. When set on the tripod, there is only about 10 cm worth of clearance, impossible to physically use over a fire. The height of the tripod is fixed by its construction. The hanging hook is also fixed. So there is no way to change this mounting height, no way to alter temperature of cooking.
3) Likely a symbolic object. Was it purpose built for the burial? It is the 'image' of a cooking tool, not an actual cooking tool.
4) Possible other purpose entirely. I have had it suggested by archaeologists that what this pair may really be is a high class serving set for offering previously heated wine or mead to guests.
5) Apply 'Uncle Atli's Bronze Budha rule' : There is only one of this type of object. This is the only metal tripod known from the Viking Age. (The only other *possible* sample is seen in the Bayeux tapestry, and it may actually be green wood supports.)

Image to right - a typical 'solution'. The legs of the tripod have been doubled in length, the clawed feet cut off.

I have seen some of the most foolish methods used to allow a copy of this object to become functional:
1) Place the legs up on stones so to create extra height
The legs are bent and clawed specifically for use pressed into the ground. Putting these on stones makes the whole tripod unstable.
2) Dig a hole to put the fire in. Which of course makes the fire almost impossible to manage (if it burns at all).
3) Move the fire around - rather than the pot. Typically done by people with very little real experience with fire cooking. This is a method applied from modern gas or electric stoves.
4) Extend the size of the tripod legs to allow a pot to correctly fit underneath. Remember that the metal stock the smith started with was 2 cm square by about 40 cm long. Try hammering out the required bars using VA equipments. Remember each leg contains enough metal to make an axe.

" So I have searched high and low for other options, and the only thing
that comes up is the Capel Garmon fire dogs found that date to an
earlier period than Norse. see
I would love to do one
of these and modify it slightly for spits and a horizontal cross bar,
but prefer doing an extant item if possible."

Sorry - wrong historic period. Wrong cultural group. Wrong context. Wrong application.

"I would really like to know what other options there might be in the
archeological evidence, to hang pots, or a spit on a device that is
not one of the above. Is the 2 uprights with a cross bar a 10C period
form? I know that alot of the cooking was done in the longhouse with
cauldrons and etc . which could be hung from a chain to the center
ridge, but outdoors this is not available."
Image to right - A wood pole tripod with rope and short chain hanger.

Ok - now the meat of the question - some advice:

Everyone seems to forget that any 'camp' represents a travelling situation, not that seen at home in the long house. You hit the nail on the head with your understanding of the difference.

Use wood.
Take three saplings, tie these at the top for the outdoor tripod.
All that is * required * is about 30 - 40 cm worth of chain, the rest of the hanging support can be plain rope. This is a cooking fire, not a bonfire! (If you had to gather and cut that wood yourself with an axe, believe me, you would make that fire a lot smaller and just sit closer. As kids in scouts we used to joke about 'white man's fire'.)

The design and size of the VA meat spits (those that actually *are* meat spits and not Sa∂ir status symbols) is such that these work correctly supporting them with a forked stick at the side of the fire. The base end sits under a large stone. They are not designed to be supported on both ends like most later period re-enactors do.

Remember as well - one pot per household grouping. Our modern concept of many pots is *extremely modern*, as in post Industrial Age. Get used to stew and soups, its what most of the Norse ate, most of the time.

Note: Search this blog under 'Oseberg Tripod'. There are other postings on this topic, which include a copy of the original artifact drawing and my own construction diagram.
PS - those desiring to eat corn and potatoes in Viking Age camps need not respond.
(I just lectured on the weekend on Interpretive Method, this being one of the illustrations of bad representations of history.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Added to Forward Into the Past

I will be offering an additional short presentation at Forward Into the Past this coming Saturday.

The session title is : Habits of mind; How tools affect thinking [Multiple Papers] being organized by V. Meghan Roberts.

'By the Hammer and the Hand - Iron, Technology and Tools'

Iron technology in Europe is framed by the tools. The creation of the raw material was initially limited by the ability to deliver air, which modified the temperatures and volumes possible. Although the introduction of water power around the 1000 AD point allowed for increased size in tools, the mind set of the workers remained fixed in earlier, less complex patterns.

This is not a formally written paper at this point, more what I am calling a 'draft for further study'. I think it may prove of interest to those involved in Medieval studies. Our modern attitudes towards metals as raw materials is quite different than that framing pre Industrial Age societies.

hope to see you all there...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Classes at Forward Into the Past

Saturday March 27, Laurier University, Waterloo Ontario
FITP web site

If I have this correct from the schedule, these are the classes being taught by / or of special interest to, those studying the Viking Age. The ones in *bold type* are by DARC members (those involved in LA 2010)
(Sorry for the ugly format - it does retain the links to the specific class descriptions.)

9 AM
(Keynote) Out on the town in 10th century Reykjavik: a survey of jewelry, dress and textiles in early Iceland

Intermediate Glass Beads "The fancy stuff"
*Pottery: An experimental early-period Pit Fire *
*Introduction to Tablet Weaving *
*Norse Sagas - the Bloody, Bawdy and Bizarre * (which right now is the single highest registration)

Viking Navigation Techniques
Introduction to Fibre Prep for Spinning
*Bead Production in Scandinavia: converting archaeological evidence to a practical method *
*Feet firmly in the past – Shoes from the Viking Age 800 – 1050 *
*Meaningful Scratches *

1 PM
Viking Combat Demonstration
Treasure Necklaces
*Warp Weighted loom - a Hands-On Introduction *
*Iron Smelting in Vinland: converting archaeological evidence to a practical method *

Building the Coppergate Helm
*Bone Carving *
*Tablet Woven Artefacts *

*Iceland - Geography & Museums
*Introduction to Drop Spinning
*Norse Music
*Flint and Steel Fire Striking

Classes on Interpretive method

Not Just Costume - Reenactors as serious historians
Habits of mind; How tools affect thinking
The importance of excellence in material culture
*Setting the Scene: Interpretive Methods for Living History

I will be offering the following sessions:

Iron Smelting in Vinland: converting archaeological evidence to a practical method [Paper]
The excavations at L'Anse aux Meadows Newfoundland uncovered remains interpreted by the original excavation team as a 'Furnace Hut' and an iron smelting furnace. The remains are fragmentary, and at best only represent the last stages of a complex physical sequence. What might this furnace have looked like, and exactly how might the smelting process have been undertaken by the Norse, 1000 years ago? As well as considering furnace remains from Norway and Iceland, practical experience derived from a long series of experimental iron smelts will be assessed.

Setting the Scene: Interpretive Methods for Living History [Lecture]
There are a number of decision points any re-enactor must make in selecting a historic period of interest, creating a character, then equipping themselves. Museum programs and established living history groups often have authenticity standards which are based on principles that are poorly understood. How do problems with artifact prototypes, maintaining uniform standards, even odd factors like local building codes (!) relate to how you may present yourself to the public? This illustrated and free ranging discussion will attempt to detail some of the underlaying theories, using the upcoming presentation by the Dark Ages Re-creation Company at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC for concrete examples.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fur Trade Replicas

I had been contacted by Parks Canada, the staff at Wapusk National Park & Manitoba North National Historic Sites in Churchill, Manitoba. They wanted some items for their interpretive program, based on some pieces from their collection.
It often feels to me over the winter months that I am a writer rather than a blacksmith. The images below are of the results for the Wapusk order:

A Hudson Bay Hawk - This piece is of mild steel with a carbon steel insert edge, folded and welded.

An English pattern Trade Knife - this forged from spring steel with maple slab handle

A trident Fishing Spear - of mild steel, the socket and central spine welded to the one piece outer barbs

Thursday, March 11, 2010

SMELTFEST - What I'm missing

Just a fast note: I've had some family stuff come up, and will have to be back and forth to Peterborough for a bit chunk of the next while. If postings or personal communications seem spotty, its because I will often be out of internet contact.

Lee Sauder sent me these images of the test furnace he and his smelting partner Skip Williams have built for Smeltfest this year:

The first image shows the finished clay construction. Note the bundle of split wood used to create a form to apply the clay against. Skip and I used the same method for out test furnace 'Jormungand' during Smeltfest 2006.
The second image is during the inital 'bisque' firing, when the splints are burned out to dry the clay and partially sinter the inner surface to strengthen it.

This looks like a very elegant small furnace. The shaft is higher than normal, but we all have found that increasing the shaft height over the '40 cm above tuyere' minimum always greatly increases the efficiency of any furnace.

The planned series of experiments is to determine if a practical method can be found to limit the absorbtion of Phosphorus - when working with an ore that contains this impurity. The hope is that by slowing down the rate of the reduction slightly and extending the effects of the slag bath, less Phosphorus may be part of the finished bloom.

I'm really hating that I will be missing all this. The participants this year include the usuals (Shel Browder and Steve Mankowski from Colonial Williamsburg) and recent member Jesus Hernadez. Mike McCarthy, one of the founding members of Early Iron, is returning. My understanding is that swordmaker Jeff Pringle is also joining the group.

Oh - CRAP....

Thursday, March 04, 2010

'Knife? THATS not a Knife...'

A short commentary (again) on belt knives in the Viking Age...

To my regular Readers:
I have been up to my neck with a huge amount of planning work: DARC at LAM 2010, CanIRON 8 in 2011, plus some family stuff that has ate up a lot of time. I'm also labouring away at a paper to be delivered at Forward Into the Past on March 27. Oh, and the two weeks of Smeltfest is almost on me too. Sorry that new materials for Hammered Out Bits have been a bit thin of late. Writing for this plus two other blogs will do that to you!

This is an older piece I had saved 'just in case', altered from a posting to the NORSEFOLK discussion list...

'Spence' said :

In ... modern times I think, (despite some historical evidence to the contrary), for a blade to be regarded as a Seax, it must have the “broke back” construction. Anything else is just a knife...

I have been interested in the subject of Knives of the Viking Age. On clear problem, there is not a single reference work for knives the way there is for swords of the period. (PLEASE give a reference if anyone is aware!) There is the very excellent CD by Dan Carlson of the Gotland finds, and also a large number of the Coppergate/York materials described in 'Anglo-Scandinavian Ironwork'. I know there were a huge number of knives recovered at Woods Quay / Dublin, but as far as I am aware the descriptions have not been published. I believe there was a large number recovered from the Birka excavations as well, but I have not found a publication on those (??) My own 'Exploring Viking Age Denmark' has images of a good number of knives from various museums around that country, but admittedly there is not a lot of details recorded on the individual objects (sorry).

I did work up a general overview of the Gotland and Coppergate blades as part of a long term project I have been working on. I'm sure I have mentioned this before - the survey is available here:

Although there are a small number of sword length knives existing from the viking age, these really should be considered ' unusual' (IMO). Even 'fighting knife' sizes are not at all common. Here consider blades over about 6 inches. The majority of samples from Gotland and Coppergate , and what I saw in Denmark, are all in the range of 3- 4 inches (7 - 10 cm sizes). Now, a clear argument can be made from a number of angles as to why smaller objects might be more like to become 'lost' than larger in an urban setting like York. But considering a good number of the samples from Denmark and Gotland are grave deposits, it remains pretty clear that most knives are small. (The topic of longer 'sword seaxes' was discussed at some length recently on the excellent 'Bladesmith's Forum' hosted by bladesmith Don Fogg.)

I do not find this at all surprising. I think those of us with a lot of miles and/or experience in the field will agree that the most useful size for a general purpose tool knife is around 4 inches. It is important as re-enactors to remember that to the Norse, a knife was a tool, not a weapon.

On blade shapes:
I would define the main feature of the seax type as being the straight cutting edge - as well as the straight clipped point.
Most will actually have a slight lift to the point off that dead straight cutting edge, a slight curve up towards the point. This is a result of the mechanics of forging. In reality, you have to go to some special effort to even get a straight edge when forging a blade. The same goes for the straight top downward angle (clip).
Not all artifact blades will be wider just at the top of that diagonal clip than they are at the base of the tang (where the hilt is attached). There are some samples with very long, sometimes even curved clips to the point.
Just as a point of comparison, the 'natural' shape to a single edged blade is something that looks like an 1850's Bowie or modern Marine K-bar. If you start with a rectangular bar, forge a point, then thin out one side to an edge - thats the shape that develops.

So, as a bladesmith, I find the variations in shape to Viking Age mens knives perfectly understandable. The size is a perfect balance between ideal useful size and conservation of expensive materials. The general 'style' as an ideal is a straight cutting edge, point in line with the edge, with a straight line along the back of the blade, and a straight diagonal line down from back to point. There would be expected to be slight variations from those 'classic' lines by individual blacksmiths (based on skill and personal preferences). We also have to consider a possible effect on shape based on regional styles and drift in pattern over time. (Two important points I don't think anyone mentioned).

We had been discussing individual knives this weekend in relation to DARC's upcoming Vinland presentation. One of the fellows made a very good observation : What is a knife to a Viking raider would be considered a sword to a simple farmer - and completely out of the question for an urban dweller.

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

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