Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Hype or History? the Mammen Axe

I recently was asked if I would be interested in accepting a commission to make a working replica of the Mammen Axe:

Image ? - sourced off Pinterest (1)

Most of the images you see of the actual artifact (and those in my own reference materials) show the one or both the faces of the axe in this orientation. This is to best display the decorative patterns - which define the Viking Age 'Mammen' artistic style.
I spent some time this morning going through my own reference books, and also trying to get some better details off the internet (good luck there). I was able to get some better images of the artifact from the Danish National Museum (DNM) web site. (2)

The Mammen Axe appears to be a 'Peterson type H' as close as I can judge.
One wrinkle there is that the type is described as being a bit early for the actual date of the Mammen find, which is given as 'later half of the 10th century'. (3)

The artifact is clearly a weapon type, with a long thin slicing blade profile. Although this also would have some use as a fine woodworking axe (detail shaping of timbers), the narrow profile is not suited to splitting firewood or felling trees. (4)

click to view at about life sized (NMD)

In one of my favorite 'go to' references, From Viking to Crusader, I was able to get at least one physical dimension : total length of 17.5 cm (5)

My standard method when considering an artifact replica - is to get the best detailed image I can find - then convert that via Photoshop into life size.

This scales the blade to 10 cm. This is about what I would expect from other VA axes I had seen. This would place the total weight into the range of about 1000 - 1200 gm. (6) This estimated weight would place it comparable to a modern general purpose axe (roughly a fairly standard 2 1/4 lbs). It will 'fly' a bit differently, with less of the weight at the cutting edge, more placed back towards the handle. This will result in the 'angle of attack' a bit harder to control.

click to view at about life sized (altered from NMD)

This second image (also available from the NMD description) shows both sides, plus the normally never seen back peen side. The lower image is actually more of a 3/4 view, which allows some general idea (and potentially rough measurements) of the cross section. Again almost never seen and rarely considered. The heavy peen thickness, coupled with the relatively thin side walls to the eye, certainly suggests a 'sculpted then wrapped' forming method. (7)


So here is the thing (rant mode on)
To undertake correctly hand forging to make an accurate replica of this kind of object is requires knowledge, skill, experience, special tooling - and considerably hard work. This should suggest expensive.

Go out on the internet.
Search 'Mammen Axe'

So - you (should) see the much referenced Danish National Museum first.

That first link is to a 'review' by Alexi Goranov of the same object - sold (next link) by Museum Replicas.
Take a look at the Museum Replicas sales description first:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
" The Mammen Axe, one of the best-known and best-decorated examples of the small Viking throwing axe, is a perfect example of the Viking’s blend of art and war. Excavated from a famous 10th century barrow near Mammen Denmark, the original is decorated with silver inlaid engraving in a typical Celtic manner. Hanwei's recreation of this beautiful piece is a tribute to the creative as well as the martial side of this dynamic, influential culture. "
  • Overall length: 17-1/2"
  • Blade length: 4
  • Handle Length: 17-3/4"
  • Weight: 1 lb / 3 oz
That is the entire description ( 8 )
Note that the axe head itself has only two variables : weight and blade width

My underlines are especially troubling :
" Weight: 1 lb / 3 oz " ?
With the word 'recreation' loosely applied, how does 500 gms match the artifact, as discussed, more likely to have been closer to 1200 gms when new?
" Small Viking throwing axe " ?
Ok - I will give you that the object being sold, which is only half the correct weight, most certainly would qualify as a light weight hatchet or possible throwing axe. Describing the artifact as such, certainly indicates a massive distortion of the actual prototype object.
" typical Celtic manner " ??
Sorry - I really lost it when I read that. This statement shows a complete lack of any understanding of Cultures or History. Do we need to be reminded that the Mammen Axe actually is the core example of a recognized Viking Age - NORSE - artistic style. To the point of providing the NAME for that style.

Of clear concern :
- What is the actual metal that the head, especially cutting edge, made of?
- How are the actual designs applied?

Now that first offered link:

" The purpose of this review is to examine the reproduction of the Mammen axe offered by Hanwei (Item #2041-GT)."
Image poached from

Now that you see an image of this 'reproduction' - what do you notice?

The head is upside down.
Because this object has been made as a light weight 'tomahawk' style, the eye is designed with an obvious taper, larger at the 'top' and smaller to the 'bottom'. This so the handle, which is tapered to match, can only fit in to lock as shown.
If you attempted to actually USE this object (for it's indicated 'throwing axe' purpose), the thin tip of that upswept blade would strike first, putting excessive impact shock into the weakest part of the cutting edge.
Oh - I guess that dramatic upsweap to the edge looks way cool...

Note the complete lack of any peen - at all. Completely the wrong shape, completely distorts the handling balance. The eye is deliberately made to suggest the (incorrect) 'one piece folded' construction method. That technique is not a Viking Age method (more typical of later Medieval and Settlement Era axe making). It has been distorted to a flat oval shape - not the flattened D shape of the artifact.

This is clearly a mass production cast steel object.
The review states that those nice designs? Are painted on.

I also see that this 'review' includes THREE hot links back to the CAS Ibera web site.
Can you say 'click bait' ??

Ok - the Suggested Retail on this version was $90 US.
It looks pretty.
Made in China
(as if more needs to be said - right there)

A 'replica' or a 'reproduction' ?

Not even close

1) I should mention that I really HATE Pinterest as a source. Images are grabbed from almost anywhere, there is little to no descriptions or credit given for the original source.

2) The artifact images have been transferred here as file copies (to ensure proper loading, a problem with past use of now absent internet sources). The indicated images (NMD) were sourced (as linked) from the National Museum of Denmark.

3) This raises another whole ball of wax about 'date of creation' against 'date of deposit'. Peterson indicates for the closest displayed profile of type H  " The type seems to originate around 900 AD, and belongmostly to the fist half of the 10th century. "
The National Museum of Denmark indicates :
" The axe is decorated in the so-called Mammen style, which is named after this particular find. The style arose in the 900s and it survived until around 1000."
"The grave from Mammen can be dated to the winter of 970/971 AD ..."
(Based on dendrochronology)

4) For a discussion of axe profiles against functional uses, see an earlier commentary : July 16, 2008 - Norse Woodworking Axes

Unfortunately, almost impossible to find a copy (only a limited number from this traveling exhibit were ever printed) Considered by most Viking Age re-encators as the single best exhibit catalogue ever produced.

6) Admittedly a bit of a WAG. Based on a fast comparison to research and creation of a replica of the 'Rhynie Man Axe' I did in 2014 as part of the Turf 2 Tools project.
(This was a replica of a circa 600 - 800 AD, Pictish, profile. Wth the narrower edge, the weight was about 900 gm)

7) Details on just how this works is best seen in the work and documentation by James Austin. I was lucky enough to attend a workshop / demonstration weekend featuring Jim some years back and found him skilled, knowledgeable - and most certainly extremely willing to share both.

8) There were two images available. I was unable to either copy - or directly link back to, these.

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

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