Sunday, December 17, 2017

Blast from the Past

... on several levels.

I  have slowly been working through scanning the better part of 20 years of colour slides into digital format. Most of these are reference - taken at museums, living history sites or workshop events.

Here are a few from a trip to Stirbridge Village, Mass. Should have been 1990.

Foot Powered Treadle Hammer

Overall View
Hammer & Die (diagonal bar seen is support when not in use)
Planks forming the 'spring'
This is a very simple construction, in use allowing the heavier leg muscles to provide the motion, and the inertia of the heavy head the striking force.

The major element is the heavy log (was hardwood about 16 x 16 inches) that provides the stable base for the hammer. It is also a fair size, I remember it as about 8 - 10 feet long.
The hammer head pivots on a simple bar driven between the pair of upright supports.
The hammer is held at rest by being attached, via a chain, to a set of thin planks. These need to be quarter split (dead straight grain). There were several of these, each about 1/2 inch thick, attached to the rear of the beam.
The hammer was attached to a foot lever, which extended down the right side of the beam, to a suitable position for the operator's right foot at the front. (not seen in these images unfortunately). The attachment I remember as having some combination of offset and split linkage (?) reducing the impact shock and spring effect from the hammer lifting.

How it works:
The operator balances back on the left foot.
Push down with the right, which pushes the hammer down against the spring of the planks.
On impact of the head on the metal being worked, the operator allows his driving foot to stop pushing.
The spring planks then lift the head back upwards.
Repeat as the spring pressure stops, driving the head back down for a second impact.
The operator and spring combination is actually just working to oscillate the head up and down - not force it. It is the inertia of the hammer head that creates the force.

I watched the blacksmith at Stirbridge work 1 x 1 stock on this - pretty much draw to a short point in one heat.

Circa 1830's design, if not earlier. Still effective...


This basic principle is the same that is used for the the original ABANA 'push / pull' small air hammer. I have an early version of this type in my own workshop:
50 lb air hammer (light blue) in the corner of the forge area
My air hammer was built by David Robertson, way back about 2000. It is rated for 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 stock - but has been used for as heavy as 1 1/2 x 4 (!). David's current versions (which he sells) are significantly better in design, operation, and stability. One limitation of the type is that it requires a large stand alone air compressor for working air.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

'Ypres - 2016' Finishing

If you have been following for a while, readers may remember a series of posts I made around my trip to Ypres Belgium in 2016. Although primarily to attend the international blacksmithing event in early September, I also wanted to visit the World War One sites in that area.

This can be considered the finishing up of a chain that started for me back in late December 2015 - into January 2016. This was background research into the shattered landscape of Ypres because of WW. I had made a number of postings through 2017 year related to the topic. Most useful here is likely 'Ypres 1916' on October 21, 2016.

While Ypres, I took time to walk battle fields. Later on that trip, I was able to take some workshop days in the ceramics department at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop. Part of the result of all this, taken together, were the group of pieces seen on that earlier post (above).

I considered for a good while exactly how to finish the work.
In the end I decided, mainly because of the small size, to mount the pieces. I chose a photograph, attributed to 'the Daily Mail', of the centre of Ypres after the long bombardments.

'Ypres 1916' ceramic (Tocco Ferro) / photograph (click for original 10 x 16 size)
I think the view is roughly from the current Menin Gate Memorial, looking west towards the shattered Cathedral.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

from England - 1989 (Wanna see some slides?)


Those of you old enough may remember that.
The meal dishes cleared, the coffee out. 
The host says 'Come and see my (vacation) slides!'

I can hear the groans back over the 40 + years...

Close friends know I'm still not over this. At least now I tend to just leave the computer set on a rotation, in the background corner (mainly, ok?).
Photography was the on consistent class I undertook during my 4 years at art school. I used to purchase black and white film in bulk, and wind my own cans. Developing chemicals were available in the film lab at no cost. We did have to purchase our photo paper. As a result I have thousands of negatives, maybe a dozen prints mounted and saved.
Colour Slides?
A few from first year OCA - which would be 1975.
Got serious on colour in 1976. Almost exclusively as slides.
Switched to Digital in 2008.*

the Horror...
On a fast guess - there must easily be 5000 slides

In terms of 'art' shots, my objective has always been to attempt 'one good out of five'. Sometimes I managed this (but there is a lot more junk than good image making).
As I got interested in History, I took increasingly large numbers of reference images. Bets are off on that stuff. I count at least 500 images just from specific museum collections. The trip to England referenced in the title here saw me shoot 20 rolls of 20 exposures (about 375 retained images).

So - that all being said :

Here are a few images from the 1989 'all museums' trip to London, York and Dublin. This set from the Yorkshire County Museum (roughly a block from the more famous Coppergate site.)
(by the way - I am going to be kind, and keep the images to the ongoing theme of Viking Age / Blacksmithing.) **

Yorkshire Museum - Roman period
Interesting because of the cut location. Possible strike from the right side, or more likely as a second blow in a series, the first a typical head shot blocked by the shield, the killing blow from a flip of the wrist, returning the sword across the head (left to right) just as the shield was lowered. (??)
(I can't remember if the damage to the right face was weapon or after deposit.)

Yorkshire Museum - Viking Age leather shoe
One of the features of the archaeology of York is the long occupation of the site (at least to Roman times). The occupation is along the river - so the excavations go down to waterlogged soil. This has permitted the excellent preservation of many organic materials; wood, leather, even textiles.

Yorkshire County Museum - Celtic Iron Age cast bronze mounts
What amazed me here was the D shaped mount to the lower left in this image. I had seen a virtually identical mount in the British Museum - only rendered in gold. Given the similarity in colour of the bronze mount seen here, is this a 'lower end' copy? (You can just imagine the artisan saying 'Look - just like the one the King has...')

More to come...


* I was pretty much forced into Digital.
My much loved, trusty, and almost industructible Yashica TL Electro, became unusable. The camera was fine. I could no longer find the battery required to run the light meter (despite frantic on line searches). Coupled with Kodak stopping making the Ectacrome 400 slide film (or almost anyone else). In Canada, only Carmen's Photo was still even processing slide film at that point. 

** Through this series, I will be generally posting the 'raw scans':
- From original 35 mm colour slides 
- Given the age of many of these, there may show excessive dust / scratching / etc
- Scanned using Epson C370 flatbed photo scanner
- Output image is at 150 dpi at 6 x 4 inch size
- The only correction has been to rotate as needed (unless noted)

Saturday, November 25, 2017

the Runes (part 5)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
The third part was seen recently 'the Historic Use of Runes' (November 23, 2017
The fourth part was seen recently 'Evidence of 'Mystic' Runes' (November 24, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.
 

'Casting the Viking Runes'

Through this discussion, I have used two Wikipedia articles as a major reference (*).
For an informed overview, from the perspective of archaeology and history, I would recommend reading both of the articles (links below), which do have quite different points of view.

The 'Rune Magic' (2) article does attempt to trace the historic origins of the modern system of using rune marked tile sets as a divination method:
- Johannes Bureus / 1600's / 'based on visions'
- Guido von List / 1902 / 'revealed'
- Ralph Blum / 1982 / 'first book on runic divination' (**)

Comparing academic history to contemporary 'Rune Magic':

The Runes as used during the Viking Age
Modern 'Viking Runes' tile set - made / photo by Runologe
The Elder Futhark - screen capture from Wikipedia - Runes (1)
R. Blum's arrangement of Runes (scan from 'The Book of Runes'
So what is clear is that the letter forms used in modern Rune divination are in fact not the actual set of letters used during the Viking Age ( c 800 to 1000 AD).


Once again, I must stress that I am not attempting in any way to comment on the value of the modern practice of 'Casting the Runes'.

However, as can be seen through this series, there is no direct archaeology to support this modern practice as existing in the actual Viking Age itself.


(*) The 'Runes' article is primarily an academic form, describing the development and historic use of the Runes in Northern Europe. There is only a short reference to Runes as a divination tool.
The 'Rune Magic' article is primarily focused on the development of the Runes as a divination system.

(**) I have access to two versions of contemporary Rune Casting sets:
Ralph Blum / 'The Book of Runes' / 1982
Blum does include two bibliographies - one of more academic sources, a second he titles 'Guides to the Transformational Process'
Blum suggests variations of the 'three stone' system indicated by Tacitus.
Horik Svensson / 'the secret of the Runes' / 1995
Svensson does not indicate any references.
Svensson suggests far more elaborate casting system, including the use of a marked cloth target.


(1) Wikipedia - Runes
 
(2) Wikipedia - Rune Magic

Friday, November 24, 2017

the Runes (part 4)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
The third part was seen recently 'the Historic Use of Runes' (November 23, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.
 

Evidence of 'Mystic Runes'

Again, what can we find in actual archaeological evidence?
 
• As stated several times : There are no existing objects - as tiles with single rune marks on them.

• There are a number of objects which have short runic letter groups on them. Typically scratched on the back of a decorated metal object (*). These tend to be from the early Migration Period (so not within the 'Viking Age' itself).
Migration period golden bracteate of Type C ... from Djupbrunns, Hogrän parish, Gotland, Sweden.
A bracteate (G 205) from approximately AD 400 that features the charm word alu with a depiction of a stylized male head, a horse, and a swastika, a common motif on bracteates. (1)
Some are just groups of letters, some single words. As most often the letter groupings don't translate into known language words, it is unclear exactly what they might have intended to mean. The grouping ALU (as above) is seen on more than one object, but again as a 'word' itself has no direct known meaning.
 
Many inscriptions also have apparently meaningless utterances interpreted as magical chants, such as tuwatuwa (Vadstena bracteate), aaduaaaliia (DR BR42) or g͡æg͡og͡æ (Undley bracteate), g͡ag͡ag͡a (Kragehul I).
Alu is a charm word appearing on numerous artifacts found in Central and Northern Europe dating from the Germanic Iron Age. The word is the most common of the early runic charm words and can appear either alone or as part of an apparent formula. (2)
 
There are however a very limited number of written references :

• The most significant reference is by the Roman historian Tacitus :
Tacitus (Germania 10) gives a detailed account (98AD):
They attach the highest importance to the taking of auspices and casting lots. Their usual procedure with the lot is simple. They cut off a branch from a nut-bearing tree and slice it into strips these they mark with different signs and throw them at random onto a white cloth. Then the state's priest, if it is an official consultation, or the father of the family, in a private one, offers prayer to the gods and looking up towards heaven picks up three strips, one at a time, and, according to which sign they have previously been marked with, makes his interpretation. If the lots forbid an undertaking, there is no deliberation that day about the matter in question. If they allow it, further confirmation is required by taking auspices.[1] (2)
 This does at least suggest the outline of a practice, with the objects employed at least briefly described. (*) It is unclear from the description if Tacitus is giving refers to a 'single use' object set, or a more permanent, retained collection.
 
• There are a number of historical written references to the use of 'runes' as charms or to enhance objects :
The most prolific source for runic magic in the Poetic Edda is the Sigrdrífumál, where the valkyrie Sigrdrífa (Brynhild) presents Sigurd with a memory-draught of ale that had been charmed with "gladness runes" (stanza 5),
Biór fori ec þer /brynþings apaldr!
magni blandinn / oc megintíri;
fullr er hann lioþa / oc licnstafa,
godra galdra / oc gamanruna.
"Beer I bring thee, tree of battle,
Mingled of strength and mighty fame;
Charms it holds and healing signs,
Spells full good, and gladness-runes."[6]
She goes on to give advice on the magical runes in seven further stanzas. In all instances, the runes are used for actual magic (apotropaic or ability-enhancing spells) rather than for divination:
  • "victory runes" to be carved on the sword hilt (stanza 6, presumably referring to the t rune named for Tyr[7]),
  • ølrunar "Ale-runes" (stanza 7, a protective spell against being bewitched by means of ale served by the hosts wife; naudiz is to be marked on one's fingernails, and laukaz on the cup),
  • biargrunar "birth-runes" (stanza 8, a spell to facilitate childbirth),
  • brimrunar "wave-runes" (stanza 9, a spell for the protection of ships, with runes to be carved on the stem and on the rudder),
  • limrunar "branch-runes" (stanza 10, a healing spell, the runes to be carved on trees "with boughs to the eastward bent"),[8]
  • malrunar "speech-runes" (stanza 11, the stanza is corrupt, but apparently referred to a spell to improve one's rhetorical ability at the thing),
  • hugrunar "thought-runes" (stanza 12, the stanza is incomplete, but clearly discussed a spell to improve one's wit).[9] (2)
It should be carefully noted that the source, the Poetic Edda, is known from its earliest written form, the Codex Regius, created about 1270 in Iceland. This is certainly a Medieval, post Christian, document. (**)
 
The Poetic Edda also recounts the story of O∂in acquiring his skill at foretellling the future / divination through the use of Runes.
The Poetic Edda also seems to corroborate the magical significance of the runes the Hávamál where Odin mentions runes in contexts of divination,[dubious ] of healing and of necromancy (trans. Bellows):
"Certain is that which is sought from runes / That the gods so great have made / And the Master-Poet painted" (79)
"Of runes heard I words, nor were counsels wanting / At the hall of Hor" (111)
"Grass cures the scab / and runes the sword-cut" (137)
"Runes shalt thou find / and fateful signs" (143)
" if high on a tree / I see a hanged man swing / So do I write and color the runes / That forth he fares / And to me talks." (158) (2)
Within a purely archaeological context, there remains the lack of supporting objects. In both in the texts quoted above, and scattered through other recorded Sagas, there are descriptions of runes or rune like symbols being marked on objects to alter their potency. The problem remains that the actual artifacts from the Viking Age do not show these marks. (***)



(*) The 'Accidents of Preservation' effect may be distorting our view here. 
• Objects of cast metals, commonly jewellery items, are both valuable and durable. For those reasons (and the related cultural practices - both historical and more modern), these type of objects tend to dominate as archaeological finds.
• Tacitus specifically gives 'nut tree branch' as the material. Typically medium density woods, there is of course the very real possibility that any such objects that did once exist have not physically survived. 

(**) All the problems of conversion of a much older, oral work into a written form do come to play here. Certainly it should be remembered that the oldest written form is some 300 years after the generally accepted end of the 'Viking Age' proper.

(***) I freely admit that this is a rather sweeping statement! 
It is based primarily on my own examination of literally thousands of objects from the Viking Age over a period of study going back to the later 1970's. This has included both academic and more popular books, and personal viewing of major exhibits (including actually working on several) and museum collections in both North America and Europe.
If any readers can contribute references to specific objects bearing 'power runes' I would be in their debt!


(1) Wikipedia - Runes
 
(2) Wikipedia - Rune Magic

Thursday, November 23, 2017

the Runes (part 3)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 

The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006).
The second part was seen recently 'the Norse Runes' (November 22, 2017)
NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

Historic use of Runes in the Viking Age

There is a very complete discussion of the development and use of Runic inscriptions available on the Wikipedia article 'Runes'
Generous use of Wikipedia references used here.

There are a progression of linked letter systems, listed loosely cultural and temporal:
Elder Futhark - Germanic / 100 - 700 AD / 24 letters
Anglo Saxon Futhorc - England / 400 - 900 AD / 29 - 33 letters
Younger Futhark - Scandinavia (Viking Age) / 800 - 1000+ AD / 16 letters
  further broken into long twig (Danish?) and short twig (Norwegian & Swedish?)
Medieval - Scandinavia / 1100 - 1400 AD / 27 letters (composite system)
Although there are hints that the Runes as a written system may extend to roughly 200 - 100 BC, the first actual artifact know bearing a Runic inscription is on a comb from the early AD period:
" The Vimose Comb from the island of Funen, Denmark, features the earliest known runic inscription (AD 150 to 200) and simply reads, ᚺᚨᚱᛃᚨ "Harja", a male name.[39] " (1)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kam-med-runer-fra-Vimose_DO-4148_2000.jpg
Image from the National Museum of Denmark : http://samlinger.natmus.dk/DO/4148
Obviously, the use seen, as a person's name (likely signifying ownership), indicates both widespread understanding, and everyday use, of a Runic letter system for language, even at this early date.
Generally, there are four well documented (supported by objects) Viking Age uses for Runes:
a) Memorial text - most typically carved on stones
b) Owners Names - may be just the name, or 'person owns me'
c) Makers Names - typically 'person made me'
d) Message text - records, personal notes

Memorial texts are often more complex than they first seem. The order of naming may be intended to represent inheritance sequence, the placement may indicate land boundaries. 
The best example of the last class - everyday notes, are the Brygeen Inscriptions, the collection of 670 found in Bergen, Norway. These include Christian themes (Latin language rendered in Runes), owners and makers, even pornography. (2)


As has been indicated earlier - what is completely missing from the artifact record is any kind of  'one rune' tile - in any material what so ever.


(1) Wikipedia - Runes

(2) Bryggen Inscriptions

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

the Runes (part 2)

This commentary, in several parts, was sparked by a recent request to create a set of rune marked tiles as a custom order. 
The first time I wrote a commentary on the topic of 'Mystic Runes' was back at the very start of this blog (December 12, 2006). 

NOTE: My intention with this series is to place the topic of Runes and Rune Lore into a purely archaeological context.

the Norse Runes


    In the main the Norse culture can be thought to be an oral one, with tales such as those known from the Sagas handed down in smoky halls for generations before they were ever written down. Archaeological evidence, as seen in the range and distribution of written fragments, suggests the Norse were a literate people as well.  The style of writing used by the Scandinavian peoples is called RUNIC, and is another distinctive feature of their shared culture.  The set of these letters is also referred to as the 'futhark', a name taken from the first six characters (just as is our 'alpha-betta').
   
    In their original form, the runes consist of a series of vertical strokes and diagonal lines. The form of the letters derives from the fact that they were originally designed to be carved into wood. For this reason there are no hard to carve curves or horizontal lines that would run with the grain. There is no clear evidence for exactly when and where the runes were first developed, but the forms show the influences of early Greek and Roman scripts. Certainly there is evidence that early versions of the the system were in use by the Germanic tribes before the birth of Christ. As with other sets of symbols which would become used for writing, these ‘proto runes’ each had a specific symbolic meaning. The given name for each symbol came to represent its sound in writing. (For example, the first rune was called ‘faihu’ to the Goths, ‘fe’’ to the Norse and originally symbolized ‘cattle’ and by extension ‘wealth’.)

     By the beginning of the Viking Age, this symbolic use has disappeared, the letters are just sounds. The Norse had developed their own distinctive system,  although this continues to change and evolve through the centuries. There are two primary versions of these Viking Age runes; the Danish or Common runes, and the Swedo-Norwegian or short twig runes. Each consists of only sixteen characters. The most widely used ‘Common’ runes are shown below:


    To save space, words are separated not by a gap, but most commonly by a dot, and there is no upper case form. To mark the division between sentences, usually a double dot is used (:).  With the reduced set of letters, spelling becomes dependent on the whim of the carver. Typically, d becomes t, g becomes k, p becomes b, and missing vowels are substituted for as best as possible. (For example the name Gormr is seen as 'kurmR’ and Svein as 'suin'.) In keeping with the limited size of the original writing material, the text of the messages are usually short and to the point. Memorial stones were commonly painted, with the runes often highlighted in red. Individual words were sometimes painted differing colour s, to make reading easier. Often the text of a stone will be found cut into  its edge, or in a serpent shaped band running around the central design.
   
    The selection of artifacts that remain today owe more to the random forces of preservation than any true reflection of period usages. There have been a few inscriptions found carved on sticks, far more are seen on memorial stones. Even still, the content of runic inscriptions gives a clue to the  spread of literacy amongst the Norse. Runic messages can be found almost everywhere the Norse traveled, from Greenland to Constantinople. Samples include such things as owner's or maker's names and marks. The iron pail handle on a bucket from Oseberg says 'asikrir' - "Sigrid owns".  Casual use of runes can be seen in what is basically graffiti, such as the name 'Halfdan' scratched on the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Literacy among women is suggested by such finds a s birch bark note from Novogrod ("Come home your dinner is ready."). There are a number of finds that indicate that runes were used by the middle class in the form of tally sticks and similar business records. As has been mentioned, the greatest source of runic inscriptions that have survived are in the form of memorial stones. These range from simple markers carved for family members to elaborate monuments to great kings and heroes. The text may be short and direct, or consist of elaborate poetic verse. Carved stones also served to mark ownership of property or to commemorate deeds done.
   
    Although much as been made recently, especially in 'new age' culture, of the use of the runes as a magical tool, the actual evidence is sketchy at best. Despite the statements of those who consider the Victorian mystical revival "ancient knowledge", there is not a single piece of archaeological evidence for 'casting the runes'.  There are no surviving ‘rune tiles’ (of any type of mat erial) indicating that a hand full of markers was scattered and interpreted as a means of divination.  There is some evidence, in the form of artifacts, for the use of prayers and petitions to the gods written in runic type, but this is not proof that the runes themselves were considered magical. This connection has been made because in Norse mythology, the god O∂in derives his knowledge of the runes through the self sacrifice of hanging on the world tree for nine days. (see the section on Norse religion). Simple petitions for divine assistance have been found partially burnt, it is thus assumed that these simple prayers were placed in the fire to loft them to Asgard.



This article originally prepared for ’the Norse Encampment - Training Manual': 1997 - text © Darrell Markewitz

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'We were so much older then...


... we are younger than that now."

From the 1997 Newfound Tourism campaign
From a 2000 Corporate Advertisement*

Both images shot in 1996 - at the test demonstration of the 'Norse Encampment' living history program at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.
This program was for Parks Canada, but managed by the Viking Trails Tourism Association (a local business group).


* The photographer (Shane Kelly) was hired by Parks Canada, with model releases stating specifically that any images were ONLY to be used for Parks Canada / Tourism promotion. 
I was to find out later that the various images of me as 'the official Viking Poster Boy' would be used widely. This second image was used for advertising by a major Corporation - without notice and certainly without permission. 
In 2000, during DARC's involvement with the Norstead - 'Grand Encampment'**, I was to find my image placed on things like letterheads, coffee cups and T shirts. Again all without my knowledge or permission.

** I wrote the original outline for the 'Grand Encampment', and was later to find my document in the hands of Government and Norstead management. It was the actual hard copy I had created - with my letterhead replaced with someone else's!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Veteran's Day 2017"


Since the start of my own blog in 2006 I have always written a piece for Remembrance Day. My own enlistment was only a short 4+ years, in the Canadian Reserves. I was young (lied about my age), and it was 1972 (obviously a much different service).
I'm hard pressed after reading this excellent piece to even conceive of anything I could say myself that might contribute beyond what [Jim Wright has] written. I hope you don't mind that I will just be sending my (few) readers over to read [this] piece tomorrow.

I was deeply influenced by all Heinlein's work - I've read all of it. Troopers framed my concepts of military service, at a time when (even in Canada) wearing a uniform meant getting spat on (more than once).

I guess I'm rambling a bit - but thanks for [this] eloquence.
Tomorrow I will once again raise a glass 'for absent friends'.

Veteran’s Day 2017

Jim Wright = Stonekettle Station

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Imagined at the ROM


As part of my recent two week teaching gig at Haliburton College's Artist Blacksmith program, I supervised students on a two day field trip to Toronto. The major component of this was visiting the Royal Ontario Museum.

One of the assignments students were given was to document two objects seen at the ROM which interested them. They were to record via drawings (or possibly photographs) and notes what the object was, some indication of where it was located, and especially what aspect tweeked their attention.

I came home with a page of (too brief) notes and about 20 images.
A lot of those were intended as reference on just what historic iron objects the ROM currently has on display (not that many I must report).

In terms of 'imagination' - these are what caught my eye as I rushed about supervising the students :

Bone plated skull of an ancient armoured fish.
Dish shaped protective scales of an ocean living dinosaur.

Bundles of fossilized cartilage (?) along the spine of another.

Skull of an ichthyosaurus.
When you consider forged materials, I think you can see why I am drawn bones in general, and ancient fossils specifically.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wareham Forge makes the News ...

... as in 'ThorNews'
https://thornews.com/

ThorNews describes itself as 'a supplier of Norwegian Culture' - with a very heavy load of Viking Age topics represented.

Author Thor Lanesskog had chosen to use an image of a group of replica spears I had made to help illustrate today's blog post :

The Viking Age Spears – “The Ones Who Stare from a Long Distance”

on


" The majority of the spears are decorated with fish bone patterns, pattern forged along the middle of the blade " 

I sent back a bit of a clarification :

The 'forged pattern' is the result of welding layers of soft and hard iron metals together, then twisting and welding again, most typically to form the core part of a blade. There are some (unresolved) questions about why this method, called 'pattern welding' in archaeology, was undertaken originally. It can provide functional advantages, especially for long blades (so with swords). It may be as simple as building up a larger block when all the smith had were small pieces. The techniques were also clearly used for their decorative effects. Spears using pattern welding a very good example.
'Wolf's Tooth' actually refers to a specific effect caused by a specific method of working with the starting layered bars. I would refer you to the work of British blacksmith Owen Bush, who I know has investigated how to duplicate those specific patterns. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DARC at Vinland - view through ExARC



Building the Iron Smelting Furnace
https://exarc.net/issue-2017-4/mm/dark-ages-recreation-company-lanse-aux-meadows-nhsc-2017

Neil Peterson, with additions from DARC members Marcus, Kate and Karen, has had a very complete summary of the group's July 2107 presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC published in the journal ExARC.



Abstract:
To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary and the 20th anniversary of the historical interpretation program at L’Anse aux Meadows, NHSC, Parks Canada invested to extend their regular staff with a 10 day special program. Darrell Markewitz, the designer of the original program, and the Dark Ages Recreation Company (DARC) returned once again to this UNESCO World Heritage site to interact with the staff and public and mount displays of various craft activities.

The article details the public presentations and experimental archaeology projects carried out over the 11 day stay by a total of 14 DARC members.
Mounting such a major display, 3000 km from home base in Ontario, represents a major effort for DARC.

Next up for the group? 


Participating in the Royal Ontario Museum's presentation of 'Vikings' - a traveling exhibit from the Swedish History Museum

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Art at SSW #3 - 'Legacy'


... a proposal for a public arts project
continuing my consideration of object as cultural history.

 Archaeology is the study of 'what is left behind - which still remains'. Trash is often the source material (and often the most illuminating).

While at Lumsden, I undertook a number of walks around the local area. Several of these were in part along the main access road that runs through the centre of Lumsden, from Rhynie (to 'north') or Alford (to 'south').
There is surprisingly less trash along the sides of the roads generally in rural Scotland, in comparison to along the back dirt roads around my own home in Wareham for example. I'd put part of this down to the fact almost all cars in Scotland are standard transmission - and the roads are both narrow and twisty, requiring frequent shifting of gears. So drivers rarely can have a coffee or drink to hand, I was told that actually this was not legally allowed (?).
I did notice, walking along route A97, was that what trash there was, most commonly was aluminum beer cans. (This may also be because, unlike in Ontario, there is no deposit / return system in place.) Perhaps not surprisingly, the most commonly recovered cans were from the cheapest brands - Tennent's primarily. (Draw your own conclusions there!)

Aluminum is extremely durable in the environment, with a 'decomposition life' measured in centuries (1).
Here in Canada, plastic beverage containers often outnumber aluminum cans found along the roadside. 

So what is it we will leave behind?


'Legacy' project proposal - at SSW : August 2017

'Legacy' is a proposal which would combine a number of elements.

- The structure is a simple pyramid shaped framework, measuring 4 x 4 feet at the base and standing about 6 feet tall. (2) This framework would be made up of structural angle on the outside edges, with a series of cross bars welded in place horizontally at about 6 inch spacing.
- Along the cross bars, set to about 4 inch spacing, would be welded a series of simple nails. The ideal would 1 1/2 long roofing nails, both in terms of ease of welding attachment (large heads) and short shafts for safety.
- Pushed on to the nails would be aluminum beverage cans and plastic drink bottles, collected as road side trash. On initial installation, only some of the attachment points would be covered with cans.
- A separate sign board would explain the concept and participation aspects of the project.

• The pyramid form references the Great Pyramids of Egypt. At roughly 4500 years old, these are some of the best known ancient human structures. (3)

• First level of public participation is continuing to 'build' the structure. Individuals will be encouraged, via the sign board to add additional trash cans and bottles to the remaining nail pegs. This would be accomplished by simply pushing objects on to the short points.

• A secondary benefit would be the continuing trash clean up of the area around the installation site - hopefully even beyond.

• It is hoped that the overall impact of the sculpture would be to raise awareness of both the problem of trash generation, and it's long term accumulation within the enviroment.


(1) Metallic aluminum, exposed to air in the natural environment, 'quickly' forms a dull, light coloured oxide film on its surface. This oxide is itself quite resilient to further corrosion, and harder than the metal underneath it. One estimate for the time it takes a standard aluminum beverage can to decompose is 200 - 500 years.

Plastic drink bottles have an estimated decomposition rate of roughly 450 years. (see same source).

(2) Because of the inherent stability of the shape, there would be no special mountings required. (The simplest support would be via four standard concrete 'deck blocks', set on the ground and roughly leveled.)

(3) Sourcing Wikipedia, Barnenez in France (a passage grave) is listed as the oldest human 'structure' (at 6850 years)


Artist Note : There may be a possibility to work this proposal into a format which would allow it to be submitted for the 2018 Elora Sculpture Project
I have had work chosen 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017

Monday, August 28, 2017

Stone Circle...


... outside Aberfeldy, Scotland.

The Croft Moraig stone circle lays west of Aberfeldy, about 6 km along the road that takes you to Loch Tae and the Scottish Crannog Centre.

'Sacred Oak' : The 'old' oaks around the circle were in fact planted by the Victorians!

'Stone Circle' : view from the southern edge of the circle, looking roughly south west.

'Within the Circle' : Kelly visits the stones (giving a measure of scale).

Another description of Croft Moraig can be found on the Megalithic Portal web site.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

History, Memory - and Statues


I've been away from the News for a good while.
There was the frantic scramble to get repairs to my trailer completed, all the packing and loading for the Newfoundland trip to L'Anse aux Meadows. Departing for that the end of the first week in July. Home from that a mere two days and off to Scotland for the project work here. (It's the morning of my last day at SSW.)
So basically well over 7 weeks since I've had any time, often actually even no ability, to check the News. So all realize my perspective is extremely limited to isolated flashes.

I had caught pieces of the insanity taking place in the United States of America right now, triggered around a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville VA.


Now, I follow Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station.
His latest piece, posted up yesterday (Saturday August 2017) bears reading :
'No Man's Land'





 I submitted the following as a comment to Jim's (insightful as always) piece:

I am taking part in an artist's workshop, mix of Scots / Canadians / Americans, the topic of sculpture as memorials came up.
I am personally deeply involved with history (admittedly pre-Medieval primarily), so often consider the role of object within culture. From this standpoint, do consider any object does remain a reflection of the time and setting which it was created in. * Meaning * may shift considerably through time. (The Great Pyramid was constructed with considerable slave labour as well. Should it be torn down because of this?)

One of the Americans at the table suggested that instead of taking down historic monuments, these should be *non destructively* modified to reflect a modern perception of those historic events.
In this way, history is retained, but *meaning* may be modified.

Given Jim's clarion call to action, this suggestion may easily be seen as feeble appeasement. Obviously, the type of narrow focus, distortion of proven fact and willful ignorance being demonstrated can not be easily combated by a 'gentle' approach.
So clearly, as so many commenters have stated, this has little to actually do with removing a statue.

I do caution all to consider the material aspect of the Future. We North Americans are far too quick to destroy and cart off to rubble the marks of our past. Without some marks of our actions, both the good - and the very bad, how are coming generations to have any perspective framework to allow themselves to make their own decisions?

As much as delving into political commentary is something I do actually attempt to keep limited on this series, readers may see how the above actually dove tails nicely on to recent postings here :  Art at SSW - #1 Object & Age / # 2 Object & Context

Saturday, August 19, 2017

the Galloway Hord


At the National Museum of Scotland - Edenburgh :


Lower groupping of arm 'rings'

Upper grouping of ingots and worked strips

Revealed in the two cases above :
- Several of the ingots were clearly made in the same top poured mould. There was a distinctive knob feature seen, from a deeper cut to one end of the mould.
- The arm rings were all considerably thicker in cross section than I previously thought. (Exact L x W x H x weight is rarely indicated.)
- Seeing the ingots and the arm rings side by side certainly suggested that the arm rings were made by simply hammering flat the ingots. The sizes of the bracelets was very uniform, and the volume of metal from ingot into ring was very consistent.
- You also can see that all of the 'rings' are in fact flattened strips - not formed into C shapes at all.
This might easily have been done to keep the package of silver small for burial. That many of the bracelets have been deliberately turned over and squished flat on one or both does suggest that all the silver, worked or ingot, was only intended as silver weight.

Pair of fine silver hinged strap orniments - considered very unusual for VA finds

These large glass pieces were described as 'beads'
The large flattened disks were roughly 3 - 4 cm in diameter, with hole diameters approaching 1 cm.
The largest, to the lower right, was almost double even that mass of glass.
Taken together, this huge size suggests to me that these might easily have been intended as spindle whorls.

Not everything from the Hord was on display. Especially most of the more 'unusual' objects (likely still under preservation work).
For more images - go to the Galloway Hord at the NMS



We have to raise £1.98 million to save the Hoard, and in addition we need  to raise additional funds to properly conserve, research and prepare the Galloway Hoard for display, (NMS web site)
 The Hoard was uncovered by a single individual, so it would fall under Scottish 'Treasure Trove' law. It appears that although technically all  such finds revert 'ownership' to the Scottish Crown, in practice, an independant pannel determines a 'market value', which museums normally pay to the original finder.


Images :
The National Museum of Scotland allows for full photography in all its galleries.
All the images above were taken by myself on August 9, 2017
Although captured as photographs, the copyright to the text panels really rests with the NMS.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Art at SSW 2 - Object & Context

'As the Object is removed from its original CONTEXT

It's Meaning is now OBSCURED'

Working so much with historic objects, this is a concept that I deal with constantly.
( Long term readers may have seen the (old!) article 'Aunt Marthas and Damthings'. )

- Central to the grouping above  is an unknown object, seemingly exposed via excavation.
- To the right top is a 'well known' ancient object (interpretation by Graham Taylor).
- On the lower right is an unknown object, a bronze or brass disk bearing a cross like mark on one side.

Removed from their original contexts, what can we truthfully say about any of these?
Are ALL of these religious symbols?
- Most would certainly ascribe symbolic meanings to the figure, with its exagerated female characteristics. But just what did the original maker intend?
- The disk becomes more problematic. A Western / Christian perspective might easily attribute symbolic meaning. But is that the perspective of the viewer - rather than the maker?
- The partially exposed object? Can you easily assign deeper meaning (or exclude the possibility)?


For me personally, 'Art' is about Communication.
No matter how grand or insightful your concept, if the intent is not communicated effectively to the viewer, your work fails. The exercise of creation may have value to you personally, but at best it remains self indulgent.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Art at SSW 1 - Object & Age


'When does Old Junk - become Archaeology?'

Regular Readers will know that  I am often commenting on the Object within a Material Culture, especially within a Historic framework.

The grouping in the image above was used to illustrate the point on our 'working table' over the current Artist Residency at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop.

The upper group of five objects was gathered on a field walk through farm land to the east of SSW at Lumsden (from  left to right) :
- A broken piece of roofing slate
(Age unknown, as slate roofs have been built in scotland from at least from Historic (if not to Ancient) times through to modern construction.)
-  An iron (?) wagon or farm machine hitch fitting, with a much decayed block of wood still attached
(Use of a hex head bolt suggests post 1860. The nails are 'semi wire' type, with cylindrical bodies but flat and tapered 'cut' points, again suggesting post about 1860 to about 1880.)
- Unknown material as waste
(Has the appearance of a brown glazed ceramic, but is much to light weight to be composed of clay. Top side is smooth and semi polished looking, underside course texture with embedded sand grains. Too hard for a wax, may be some kind of resin?)
- Fragment of glazed ceramic
(A course grained light grey clay body topped with a white glaze, decorated with light blue lines. )
- Broken piece of ceramic pipe
(A very rough textured clay with simple mottled brown glaze on the surface, a section of a cylinder. Other pieces were found - including a full S bend fitting that would suit installing a toilet. Suggests Victorian / +1880 manufacture.)
This group was found in a steeply sloped corner of a recently plowed field. To my eye this looks like an area only recently turned to cultivation. Perhaps once the 'corner dump' area for the current farm. Could also be the plowed over remnants of a much older farm cottage?

The lower group of three were gathered while breaking up scrap cast iron (left to right) :
- Ring of lead seal
- Joint section of cast iron pipe, showing many paint layers on the exterior
- Lengths of what appears to be hemp (?) fibre cording / packing

Although other than the mystery material, the rough dating for the found objects would appear to place them to some point between 1860 - 1880.
In Scotland, all are clearly nothing more than 'old trash'.
In Canada, objects of that age are often placed in museums.

How old, how removed from current popular culture, must an object be before it is considered 'History'?
How far past before it's recovery becomes Archaeology?

Stone Foundations - East of Lumsden / SSW (view uphill towards South)
 Further up that same hill, just about 500 m to the East of SSW (to the north end of Lumsden) we came across a group of what certainly appeared to be three square stone outlines with interior depressions. It was hard not to see these features as the foundation lines for three small, linked structures. The interior sizes were about 4 x 4 meters.
Stone Foundation - North end of group - Kelly for scale
I took most note of the most northerly positioned of the group. Two large stones were inside, the larger laying flat and about 1.5 + metres long. The second was set upright, with the roughly flat surface set at what I would have found comfortable 'striking height'. There was a clear gap in the line   of outlining stones in the SE corner - suggesting an entrance (?)

I certainly found these features to be worthy of 'Archaeology'.

????

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Celtic Iron Age SMELT


at the Scottish Crannog Centre - Saturday August 6, 2017

(ok - not quite as planned...)

'Celtic Iron Age' Slag Pit Furnace
Electric Blower 
DD1 type Bog Ore Analog

Furnace at 'touch off'
Furnace - prepared clay with sand and shredded horse manure
Slag Pit - roughly 25 cm square / 45 cm deep / filled with wheat sheaves
Dimensions - 62 cm tall / 22 ID at top / 30 cm ID at base / about 25 ID at tuyere
Ceramic Tuyere - Output ID = 2.5 cm / Length 40 cm (made by Graham Sheffield)
Tuyere Setting - 23 down / 4 cm proud / 16 cm above base

Extraction - Assisted by Dirk Spoedleter
 Average Burn Rate = 9 min for 1.75 kg (roughly 10 minutes for 2 kg)
Average Ore Charge = 1.5 kg per charcoal measure

Total Charcoal Used = about 45 kg
Total Elapsed Time = about 4 hours (main sequence)
Total Ore = 20 kg
Hammering Extracted Mass - Shona Johnson & Pete Hill
Results ? Sintered Iron 'Gromps'

Iron Production = 2.94 kg of sintered iron gromps (collected from hammered 'mother')
Yield = 15 % (but elevated because mass not a compacted bloom)

Comments:
This was an attempt at running a 'Pre Roman' style furnace (tentatively 500 BC).
As illustrated by  Thijs van de Manakker the pit below the furnace was capped off with a clay disk. The initial disk, supported by a grid of light branches, proved not heavy enough to prevent the drying fire from effecting the original wheat sheaf fill of the lower pit.
On smelt day, the pit was refilled with a mix of straw and reeds, with a thicker (2.5 cm) disk cap. However it happened that this thick (very!) wet clay cracked (explosively!) as the furnace heated.

This caused the heated charcoal to drop too early in the heating cycle, before a truly effective slag bowl could develop. In turn the reduced and sintered, but still fragmented, iron dropped out of the heat zone. Without the usual high position of a full slag bowl, this iron could not collect while hot enough to 'condense' into a compact bloom mass.

Given the frantic pace of preparing for the smelting demonstration - the first ever at the Scottish Crannog Centre - this still proved a fairly good result. Especially an excellent example of the processes (and often difficulties!) involved in Experimental Archaeology.

 

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

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