Friday, December 29, 2023

Ticking... (10 lines)


You’ve slept too long in silence,” Mama said
Remember Mama said
"Crazy boy, you'll only wind up
With strange notions in your head"
Hear it, hear it, ticking, ticking *


With ink on the new degree still fresh, the young psychiatrist, on first day of residency, was getting an initial walk through of the hospital ward.

“ An extremely quiet child, they called him on his school report; this patient has almost totally withdrawn from the world around him, exhibiting a constant rocking and muttering”, said the supervising doctor.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

“Opposite, we have one of our oldest patients, with an almost textbook case of self aggrandizement, who quite simply believes himself to be God Almighty."
“Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me!”, shouted the sonorous voice from within the cell.

"Next we have an interesting counterpoint, despite the gender reversal, this woman believes herself to be Jesus Christ, and the frequent interaction between these last two is fascinating."
“Father, why have you forsaken me?”, pleaded the tear stained face within.

"The other cases here are generally less interesting, the usual assortment of paranoia, schizophrenia, self abuse, most of whom are gradually responding to standard treatments and are expected soon to be released, if heavily medicated of course."

So it came to pass, not unexpectedly, that the young doctor would spend many hours documenting the deeply embedded psychosis of the first three, especially the rumbling pronouncements of the second, and the biblical pleading of the third.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

Until, one day, from the room of the quiet boy, the constant voicing of ‘tick tock’ was replaced by a shrill sound mimicking a ringing alarm bell.

“So be it!” thundered the Voice of God

And overhead, without much fuss, one by one, the stars disappeared.

* The opening introduction and part of the second line from 'Ticking', written by Elton John & Bernie Taupin, off the album 'Caribou' - 1974, which I would have been introduced to about a year later. 

Well read science fiction fans may recognize the final line, stolen outright from Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 short story 'The Nine Billion Names of God'. Still considered one of the very best SF short stories of all time, and itself proof that a complex idea can be fully realized in brief. Clarke's original story runs only four and a half pages. 

A tale involving the blending of these two core ideas has been stuck in my head for a good long while. One of those formless short stories that has never been realized. It might be fair to mention the childhood impact of the classic Rod Serling 'Twilight Zone', which always was the mood I had envisioned. Fleshed out in the future?

Opening image scammed off the internet (no photographer credit given) : here
Text-to-speech function is limited to 200 characters

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Contemporary (?) TV series...

Some observations : On television productions - What works for me

We don't get commercial TV here. Our internet connections generally too slow to allow for the current high definition streaming services like Netscape. Sorry Disney, I refuse to pay for a subscription for a 'service' I can't effectively use - then pay again to watch a single film (case for 'Black Widow' which I would have paid $20 to view at home). So I have become an active pirate of free downloads of older programs, lower quality. Obviously seriously 'behind the times'. Although this has included a lot of movies, over the last couple of months our evening viewing has been working through one per night of several series. I am most interested in solid writing and solid acting. Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Barbara Hall.

One of these is Grey's Anatomy.
I have always liked medical related drama (remember E.R. from 20 years ago?). This week we hit season 7 episode 18, 'Song Beneath the Song'. 

Now I appreciate that many viewers at the time were thrown by the style developed over several previous years of episodes. To state my own bias, my limited exposure to the inner workings of theatre and actors has made it clear that the vocal abilities required in that trade does in fact lead may actors to have basic, if not quite good, singing voices. (One of my favourite Buffy episodes was 'Once more with Feeling'.)

Truthfully, given the story arc leading into 'Song Beneath the Song', I was already emotionally invested. 

Then you hit the critical surgical procedure crisis, underpinned by 'How to Save a Life' (originally by the Fray)


The version seen above is a clip straight from the episode, the action and dialog foremost. For the cast music alone (with lyrics)

This sequence in the episode is so strong, it is hard for me to imagine that producer / writer Shonda Rhimes did not have it in mind as the core of that story right at the inception. I have to admit, that piece did (and continues) to break me up.

We are working through right now the far lesser known 'The Nevers', created by Joss Whedon. Despite the controversy about Whedon's behaviour on set, I have enjoyed (viewed as favourites) almost everything Whedon has created. (I had already seen the first Part one grouping of six episodes, it took a long while to find an effective download for the balance, a total of only one season / 12 episodes unfortunately.)

Although older, and something I had viewed in entirety before, the fourth series in rotation right now is Barbara Hall's 'Madam Secretary', which ran originally from 2014 - 2019. Into season five, which aired Fall 2018 through Spring 2019, it becomes more and more clear that imagined formal statements issued by lead character Elizabeth McCord (as US Secretary of State) are direct commentaries of the antics of then president Donald Trump. There are direct echoes here of Arron Sorkin's writing for 'The West Wing' (which remains one of, if not the most, favourite series dramas of mine).


Taken altogether, especially given the quite different settings and themes of these three currently viewed programs (and considering past favourites including The Expanse, Firefly, Defying Gravity, The Newsroom), I started wondering just what is was about these particular fictions that impact me so deeply.

It is clear on reflection that what makes these series 'work' for me is a combination of excellent writing combined with effective actors. Actor' ability is especially important for the science fiction settings. If the actors themselves do not believe the characters, no amount of special effects or elaborate props can make the story seem 'real'. (Why gave up on 'The Madelorian' after the third episode and was extremely displeased with the pathetic attempt of 'Halo'.)

For the modern drama, it remains much the same. Because of the strength of the performances, those characters seem 'real'. The writing is complex and nuanced, with issues illustrated with weight (even in the case of 'Grey's Anatomy', where face it, the personal relationships of late 20's somethings are the flow). In the case of the political stories, I just want so much for those people to be behind the workings, not the clown car we actually do have in control. Jed Bartlet for President (which actually was a real, if tongue in cheek, movement during the second George W. Bush election in 2004).

Another core quality to so many (if not all) of these series is the obvious fact that the creators and writers, despite the narrow vision of controlling senior executives, are driven by a story they want to tell. Not merely just placing bums in the seats and so appeasing short attention spans of the mass of viewers. (See any of the recent crop of Disney's Marvel Studio for an obvious example of failures in writing, acting and pure pursuit of dollars.)

I am reminded (often) by Kelly that 'They are not making these for you.' Given my activities to circumvent paying subscriptions (despite the clear fact they are not functional here) or movie tickets (Honestly, almost consistently 'I'm glad I did not pay for that turkey' results) (1), this is most certainly a fair criticism.


1) However, given my current income effectively is only 3/4 of the current minimum working wage in Ontario, I expect a bit more for what works out to two hours 'income' for that movie ticket (considerably more considering the cost of gas to even get me the 150 km up and back to the closest movie house).

Friday, December 22, 2023

Caherconnell bloom forging 1

Preliminary Report

Yesterday I started compacting a bloom fragment recovered at the Caherconnell Furnace Festival in Ireland late August this year.

The bloom piece was found laying next the the furnace constructed by the 'Irish Builders' team (father and son) who were new to iron smelting. They undertook the build on Friday, initially working under my direction, until tension arose over their accepting instruction. This had resulted in a furnace considerably distorted from the standard layout used by others at the event. (1) They would return on Saturday and undertake several smelt attempts, working basically without supervision. Because of this, and their total lack of any record keeping, the exact method to produce the bloom that they then abandoned, is unknown.

The ore used by the majority of the working teams was Irish Derryarkin bog ore. I would call this an older deposit, found as long layers under accumulated peat (not the kind of fresh deposits as found at the stream edge at L'Anse aux Meadows). The Derryarkin is an extremely rich ore :

Ore             Fe2O3     MnO     TiO2     SiO2     Al2O3     MgO     CaO     P2O3
Derryarkin    94.5901   0.5823  < LOD    0.1656   < LOD     2.2201  2.0916  0.048 

You can see that the iron component as almost pure Fe2O3 (elemental iron @ 70 % = 66 %)

The standard method used at Caherconnell in 2023 was 10 kg of ore per smelt. Individual blooms were extracted and only roughly compacted, mostly striking off any clinging slag and collapsing to a pancake. I did not observe any of the teams working in the edges of their blooms. Generally teams were getting weights at that point of 1.5 to 2.5 kg, respectable return yields for such small ore amount smelts.

The bloom piece recovered was s clearly crumbly in texture and contained visible slag. It is unknown if this was the complete return from one smelt attempt, or piece broken from a larger mass.


It was small, only 570 gms total. The volume was measured via water displacement to 100 cc. This gives a density of 5.7 gm / cc, which is in the range of other blooms I have measured. (1)

As a further check on potential 'quality', the piece was cut in two, down the notch visible above.

After cutting, the total weight was 555 gms, one at 243 gm, one at 312 gm. These pieces are actually small enough to make manipulating them a bit difficult in the forge (in terms of being able to both hold them with tongs and still be able to hammer them).

The compaction process was undertook using a bituminous coal, deep fire pot, forge here at Wareham, employing a cavern styled fire . (In comparison, compaction heat at Caherconnell was using fairly shallow, coke, forges.)

The first step was to flatten each of the pieces, under the hydraulic press. These were heated to a normal welding heat, then quickly transferred over about 25 feet to the press table (so given the small size, likely means some dropping from ideal temperature).

The 312 gm piece flattened

After flattening, the two pieces were both roughly the same size, but the initial 312 gm piece was reduced to 8 mm thick, the 243 gm to 6 mm thick. For additional welding heats / hand hammering was taken on the flat faces (two either end) on both pieces. Then a set of four welding cycles to work the ragged edges in. During this work on the larger piece, a fragment of 42 gm cracked off.

The plates were shaped slightly to roughly match each other. The result was two small plates, 184 gm (from 243) and 196 (from 312). The total return at this stage was 76% (from bloom). At this point they were water quenched and taken to the grinder for spark testing. The larger plate was found to spark as relatively carbon free. The smaller plate had a large difference, one end at carbon free, the other showing similar to a mid carbon (1045) content.

After weighing, these plates were wrapped with a single loop of fencing wire to hold them together, returned to the forge and welded together via hand hammering

The majority of the wire would break off during the first welding course, and so is not considered to have added significant mass. Again a total of four welding heats were directed on the flat, four more on the edges. During this set, the bar would break into two pieces.

An attempt was made to compress / weld in the two ragged edges. The two pieces were forged to roughly the same size, with different thickness. Again these were looped together with wire, and hand forge welded together using a similar sequence of four / four. Over this process, the block would again fracture, several times.

gromp fragments recovered to right

The overall result at this point is one small bar, showing some edge cracking, and three roughly similar square pieces. The total weight of all is 275 gm, with a further 27 gm of small fragments recovered that broke off various edges during forging. This places the effective loss (into bar) at this stage at only 50% from bloom. 

The metal is continuing to be very crumbly in texture, prone to large fractures during forging. It needs to be pointed out that the metal was brought up to welding heat before each hammer cycle, and never worked below an orange heat. The reason for this cracking is not clear. The overall carbon content is low, which normally makes for easy welding up and drawing out. I had thought phosphorous content from the ore might be a cause, but on a return to the ore analysis, this element is in low concentration. (3)

This bloom is proving quite frustrating to work with, primarily because of the way it continues to break into small fragments. At this point (basically three compaction phases) it still remains a long way from a refined working bar, yet the losses are swiftly increasing. This compared to about two dozen other blooms I have rendered down into bars, where the usual return has averaged about 65%.

The pieces remaining are too small now to easily manipulate in the forge. The best next step, given the small pieces, would be to 'cheat' and MIG weld the fragments on to a long bar on one edge, then weld that tall stack together.

1) The layout for furnaces was set for a circular 25 cm ID, stack height in the range of 30 - 35 cm. The furnace built was an oval cross section at 30 x 35 ID. This changed the internal area from the intended 156 to 265 cm2. A significant change (and potential problem) put against the fixed volume electric blowers available.

2) A report covering 30 blooms created at Wareham over the last 15 + years shows the average density at 6 gm / cc : 'How Dense are you?'

3) It is important here to remember that the majority of blooms created at Wareham have used our red oxide analog, which contains no elemental phosphorus.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

A Review : 'Iron Smelting in Viking-age Iceland' by Short & Oskarson

 Review :
‘Iron Smelting in Viking-age Iceland:
 a study based on experimental archaeology’
William R. Short and Reynir A. Óskarson

Disclaimer : I had been involved, at the initial start of the Hurstwic iron smelting project, then during the lead up to the 2019 project in Iceland described in this document. I was removed from the project with only two weeks advance notice from the departure date. The reason given was ‘differences in approach’. At the time this appeared to be because of my attempts to communicate individually with other team members, specifically contributing archaeologists. It is worth mentioning that I had previous working relationships with several other team members (iron maker Jeff Pringle / blacksmith Jim Austin / archaeologist Margrét Hrönn Hallmundsdóttir) , and had been instructed to stop any attempt to contact them and others involved privately. Bill Short of Hurstwic demanded total control of this project, needless to state that he and I came to not agree on methods, most especially the free flow of information.  

This critique is presented largely in the same order as the descriptions in the text. All quotes from the report.

On Experimental Archaeology :

    This initial section attempts to validate the approaches used by Hurstwic, without detailing any specifics on the sequence, instrumentation, or record keeping that would be employed. Some of this information will be given through the body of the report, but not in a systematic format, with important data missing. The statement “This approach allows us to make deductive leaps and have confidence in the validity of our ideas.” suggests that established methods employed in Experimental Archaeology are not well understood here. (Specific examples of this as this commentary continues.)
    Two hypotheses are presented :
“…it is possible to smelt high quality iron using tools, techniques, and raw materials known to have existed in Viking-age Iceland. “
“… high quality iron can be smelted using locally-sourced materials gathered close to known smelting sites in Viking-age Iceland. “

On Archaeological Sources :

    There is a long discussion about what is considered by the authors about what they describe as “…a problem we call ultimate authority…”, in this case specifically directed at what is presented as “…the widely held belief that iron smelted in Viking-age Iceland was of poor quality, a belief held by scholars and laymen alike and supposedly backed up by literary evidence.”
    Throughout this report descriptions of iron ‘quality’ are often made. Significantly, there is never any attempt to define what these authors consider ‘good quality’ iron. It would appear to be related in some way to iron used for the construction of swords, as discussion of stories within the Sagas of Icelanders is made, specifically to references of swords bending during combat. (I will return to this later)
    It is problematic that numerous references to the Icelandic Sagas are given (1), but there is virtually no actual descriptions of the archaeological finds at Icelandic iron smelting sites, beyond giving the location names. The statement is made “Yet the excavations fail to reveal the process. How were the furnaces constructed?” The recovery of a number of furnaces at Hals (clay lined turf wall construction) and Skogar (stone base with potential turf upper) is well documented (and cited). A good number of other references are cited in the bibliography, but the bulk of these are only available in Icelandic language versions, so are not easily accessible outside Icelanders.  

On Viking Age Iron Smelting :

    Presented as a very brief overview of the general bloomery iron smelting process, what is presented is generally accurate.
    It is significant however that there is little to indicate what is specifically Viking Age / Norse about the rough description presented. No illustrations of recovered furnaces from archaeology (of which there are a significant number of examples over Northern Europe). This is especially frustrating related to the four Icelandic iron production sites mentioned in the section above,
    The following production values are given : “In order to create a one kilogram finished iron bar, about 2 kg of bloom was needed, created using 4-8 kg of ore and 8-16 kg of charcoal.” There is no indication of where these (questionable) figures are derived. (2)

On Research

    It is noteworthy that the values given for the iron ores are properly corrected from the impossible numbers published earlier by Hurstwic. (3) What is lacking is any discussion of the high variability of primary bog iron ores, certainly between physical locations, but also over time. These factors very important when considering the changes in local environments within Iceland over the last 1000 years.

    Pure bentonite has a melting point of approximately 1200 °C (a figure that should have been mentioned). Available clays can vary widely in melting points, especially as compared to the expected internal temperatures within a smelting furnace in the range of 1350 + °C. This remains a universal problem when building furnaces using locally sourced materials.

“The details of the furnace construction are not clear from available evidence, but we speculated the furnace was a pile of turf blocks with a circular open central shaft lined with clay forming the stack. “ 

    Although Smith’s excavations at Hals are mentioned, that evidence clearly indicates construction using a conical stack with a central shaft. Although there is certainly no reason not to use the flat stack method proposed, it is disingenuous to suggest there are no historic prototypes available. (4)

    The section on ‘Measured Furnace Temperatures’ lacks enough details to consider it hard science. How were the temperatures determined? Exactly where were those sensors placed both vertically and in relation to the air input? It is stated “Additionally, turf provides excellent thermal insulation, as shown by temperature measurements of experimental furnaces suggesting that a turf furnace might operate more efficiently than, for example, a free-standing clay furnace.” Potential high temperature production from burning charcoal is never a concern, outside of the dynamics of available air volumes. Heat * retention * is rarely a problem in bloomery furnaces. Given the continuing discussion in this report of the problem of the low melting point of the local bentonite clay, if anything a highly insulating wall is more likely to promote clay lining failure.  The actual situation is that excess heat radiates off the exterior of free standing clay furnaces, and so thicker walls are more likely to significantly melt / erode. It is also stated “…unlike free-standing clay furnaces which suffer from cracking during repeated heating/cooling cycles…” which is definitely not the case. This may have been intended to mean ‘cracking during the initial drying process’, which certainly can be a problem with poor building technique.
    There is a discussion of modifying the available bentonite clay with the addition of silica, the method of using (basalt based) sand discarded as it is felt that natural sand is not widely available in Iceland. Instead, the source for a silica component is given as ash from burning horse manure : “The horse manure ash samples were high in silica and appeared to show promise as a possible refractory material for a smelting furnace.” Worth noting here is the comment made at the start of the report “We wondered if researchers had fallen into the trap we call modern mindset, an umbrella term denoting instances where our modern-day thinking, ideas, and prejudices interfere with our investigation of ancient times. “ Without any reasonable doubt, the concept of adding sand to clay for furnace construction might have been imported into Iceland, along with the whole mechanism  of iron smelting itself. That silica as a chemical even existed was centuries beyond Norse knowledge, or that burning manure and adding that ash would be a useful component could be anything but exactly an example of the modern mindset trap. 

On Tests and Experiments :

“The tuyere, the pipe which admits the air blast into the furnace through the side, was tested using various positions and various materials for which there is evidence of use in ancient times, including ceramic, copper, and iron.”

    This statement is somewhat misleading, in so much that this section appears to imply that Hurstwic operated in a vacuum, testing unknown elements effecting furnace construction and operation, without any suggestions from others. What is missing here is that the Hurstwic team was provided with training in all these elements long previously researched, tested and documented by others, most significantly the work of the DARC team and myself directly. Bill Short and others from Hurstwic undertook a three day iron smelting in the Viking Age training workshop here at the Wareham Forge in June 2018. This included extensive descriptions of the work DARC had already undertaken on the Icelandic / Hals re-creations (at that date, a total of 8 experimental smelts, work published back to 2007, and under discussion back as early as 2002) 

On Protocols :

    Missing important measurement : interior diameter of furnace at tuyere level. As suggested by Sauder, there is a relationship between ideal air volume delivery and cross section area at tuyere. It should be remembered that the important value for a working smelt is burn rate however (see below)
    Although use of some type of tuyere is mentioned, there is no description what so ever given, other than placement to the furnace wall (base depth and angle). The material it is composed of is not stated, no measurements provided, and it is not seen in any of the images. This is a critical absence, as there is considerable discussion via the known archaeology of what air insert system may actually have been used in Viking Age Iceland.
    It is stated both clay and sand were transported to the working site. No mention of distances involved, hiding behind knowledge of Icelandic locations. It remains an important consideration that far more clay is required than sand in furnace wall construction, most typically only 25 - 50 % of the total. If during the Viking Age, clay would be transported as needed, why not sand?
    Some details of the testing results of various clay to ash silica mixes would be helpful, what determined the 40 ash to 60 clay ratio  (so only 16.4 % silica)? (Again noting that if composed of basalt sand, the amount of that material required would not be punishing to transport.)
It is also worth noting that although the original premise of this experiment was the use of ‘local’ materials, the description of  sources of individual components was in fact scattered over much of western and northern Iceland. So the materials were only ‘local’ as far as being all Icelandic.
    Burn rate is given as 5 minutes per kg (m/kg). Ore charging is stated as initially at 10 m/kg, later increased to 5 m/kg. All of these are clearly averages, over many hours and three different tests. This reduces the value of those numbers. No information is ever given of total amounts of ore that was used in each of the three smelts. This is highly significant, as larger ore volume smelts tend to produce higher yield numbers. 

    The following values are presented :
    •    Smelt 1 = 1.4 kg / 4.7 % yield (ore at 64 % Fe / blower)
    •    Smelt 2 = 3.1 kg / 10.3 % yield (ore at 64 % Fe / blower)
    •    Smelt 3 = .6 kg / 2 % yield (ore at 58 % Fe / bellows)
    These are extremely low (to the point of embarrassment) returns, even more so against the high elemental content of the starting ores. As has been mentioned, if extremely small total ore amounts were added, such low production values might be seen, but that begs the (unanswered) question of just why minimal ore amounts were used. There is striking difference between smelt 1 and 2, for which no attempt at explanation is given.
    There is an attempt to blame the extremely bad results from smelt 3 on the presence of sulphur in the (different) ore used. This is not the effect of sulphur’s presence in an iron smelt, which is primarily an effect of the forging qualities of the resulting metallic iron (brittleness).
    There is no specific information provided about the air volumes / burn rates established for smelt 3. The human powered bellows used is not described in any detail at all, no physical measurements are given. There is no information on pumping rates during operation (certainly to be variable over the number of operators required during the many hours of a smelt). Most likely the poor results from smelt 3 are due to the use of this equipment.

On Results

“ Analysis of the iron from furnaces #1 and #2 showed that it is excellent iron, nearly 100% pure, with an excellent crystalline structure and few inclusions of slag or other impurities.”

    Once again the description ‘excellent iron’ is made, without any definition of what this means. There is a marked difference between the image of one of the bloom pieces shown and the microscopic analysis presented. Clearly the bloom overall is fragmented, contains considerable visible slag and voids. The piece illustrated has been barely compacted after extraction. Contained carbon is described as an ‘impurity’ (more on this below).

Bloom section and compacted bar by Hurstwic from the Icelandic smelt. 

“We subsequently used period techniques to form a part of one of the blooms into an iron billet, further proving the excellent qualities of the iron.”

    What exactly where the ‘period techniques’ used for compaction here?
    As noted, the reported bloom to bar return of only 50% does not indicate ‘excellent qualities’ to the created iron. Although an extremely small image, the resulting working bar shows surface cracks and possibly slag inclusions, both quite undesirable qualities to blacksmith.

“It was more than good enough for making tools, weapons, or other useful products.”

    Sorry. The initial contention was that the general impression of historic Icelandic iron being ‘of poor quality’ has been specifically joined to iron of suitable characteristics for particularly sword making. Low carbon iron was most likely the preferred product of Norse smelting efforts, the resulting metal is easiest to forge and for processes like hammer welding. The addition of small amounts of carbon (so potentially ‘bloomery steel’) changes the characteristics of the metal. Weapons on the other hand, require the addition of small amounts of carbon within the alloy (0.2 - 1.0 %) for rigidity and hardness. A soft, carbon free blade would in fact be likely to bend in combat use. It also would have little ability to allow or retain a sharp cutting edge.

“It is quite possible that Hurstwic's iron was the first iron smelted in Iceland for many centuries.“

    Earlier work by archaeologist Margrét Hrönn Hallmundsdóttir, who not only is cited as a source, but was actually one of this project’s team members, included a number of experimental iron smelts, conducted in Iceland, using stone chamber and turf wall construction, and date back to 2012

On Conclusions :

    It is clear that this team did in fact undertake a limited set of bloomery iron smelts in Iceland, utilizing primarily materials sourced from natural sources within Iceland, resulting in some iron being produced. At least one section had been compacted to a working bar. 

“We were unable to falsify our two hypotheses, and so they still stand: evidence suggests that it is possible to make high quality iron with materials and methods known to have been available to Viking-age Icelanders; and that it is possible to make high-quality iron with locally sourced Icelandic materials.”

    Throughout this section, there is repeated use of ‘high quality iron’, yet there is nothing indicated by this report (beyond simple boasting) that this was in fact the case here. The extremely poor yields from these tests do not suggest any kind of reasonable return against the considerable effort involved. So much so that a solid case could be made that if historic iron makers would even consider the methods illustrated, it would be hard not to consider both their skill and product be ‘poor’.
    If a solid definition of what constitutes ‘high quality’ or ‘excellent’ had been given in concrete terms (rather than vague subjective impressions), perhaps the conclusion stated above might have some value.
Any attempt to link these results to the handling characteristics of Viking Age Icelandic swords is questionable at best.

Image taken from the report as published on the Hurstwic web site (viewed directly from that source)

1) The dominance of the Icelandic Sagas as accurate accounting of historical events, even down to small practical details, in the past investigations by Hurstwic, is clearly obvious throughout their published reports, lectures and videos.
2) Although it could be fair to say that the authors are covering themselves with the additional comment : “The ratios are highly variable and depend on many factors.” The conversion of bloom to bar given at 50% loss is extremely poor work (based on considerable documented work by myself and others), unless the starting blooms themselves are of low quality (meaning fragmented, and / or containing many voids and excessive slag - often seen in small blooms). In comparison, the ratio given for ore into bloom is quite high, up to 50% return given (a figure more typical of very large smelts, or with use of extremely pure iron content ores). Where this number is derived is questionable, especially since the best yield from the actual experiments was reported at no more than 10 %.
3) Originally the same pie chart was presented, only given as pure elemental content - not as the various oxides, the ore was stated as being ’91 % iron’. Not as Fe2O3 oxide only containing in total 70 % iron, so actually at best only 64 % elemental iron. This does still remain an excellent quality ore. Published (as promotion) by Bill Short on to the ‘Iron Smelters of the World’ Facebook group. see commentary :
4) see : Markewitz, 2007  :

Note to readers : I present my clear bias right up front.
It is painfully clear to anyone that the Hurstwic report contains more omissions than hard data. Realistically, with so few measurements given, this report documents an Experience - not an Experiment.
I have served as a reviewer for the EXARC Journal for several years now, specifically for submitted articles related to ‘ancient technologies’ I have to state, despite my obvious bias towards this project, that I would not recommend the Journal publish this article in its current form, but instead have it returned for considerable re-writing.

I am personally offended by the refusal of the authors to reference the published work I know full well they based at least their initial understanding of not only bloomery iron smelting in general, but the methods used during the Viking Age, and with Icelandic turf walled construction specifically. Although it is clear that they attempted to weasel out on this lack of credit through the inclusion of a final “The authors regret any omissions in this list.”
When you deliberately leave off any references to training provided, consultation given freely, published documents on which your own work is founded - what do we call that?

Friday, December 08, 2023


 (Sparked by musings perhaps spawned by a lack of coffee this morning. Kind of low ball humour?)

So - here is the thing

Is the Dark Ages Re-creation Company a CULT?

So maybe a bit far fetched.
Or is it??

    Those with drastically long memories may remember organizations like ‘The Campus Crusade for Christ’ (A) and ‘the Moonies’ who were quite active (and problematic), particularly on university and college campuses, back in the 1970’s. There were pamphlets widely circled among students, warning of ‘The 10 Danger Signs of a Cult’. (B)
    Newly involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism in the mid to later years of that decade, one of the standard in group jokes at the time was that 'the SCA had nine of the ten danger signs' : 

1) ‘The group has a charismatic and all powerful leader’.
    The SCA failing right off the top of the list!. The SCA had a regional leader (a King), who a) often was not at all charismatic (won this via a martial tournament), b) had only as much real ‘power’ as anyone would grant them freely (and often did not, see point (a), and c) was subject to mandatory retirement from office every six months for an entirely new individual. 

Other points I could remember / imagine (I have not been able to find the original list from back when) :

2) You will be expected to assume an alternate identity, including special modes of dress.
    The SCA expected you to assume a (somewhat ?) historic based ‘personna’ / character, often with a self fulfilling fantasy element. This character is expected to be presented, often to extreme detail, as historic individuals.

3) You will take on a new name, used only within the group
    See above. (One of the standards of having a close friend was that you actually knew their ‘mundane’ / legal name.)

4) You will spend increasing time in activities and events for which no one other than group members are allowed
    SCA events were freely open to others, but only in so much that ‘An attempt at ‘garb’ / clothing is worn which resembles that from 500 - 1650 AD’.  (So, at least mimicking, if not outright joining into the group.)

5) You will be expected to use a unique language, known only to other group members.
    See examples above, add as many other examples as you would like here…

6) Increasingly, you will become more an more isolated from past friends and family, interacting with group members will dominate your social activities.
    Common were weekly meetings, separate weekly combat practice (itself a specialized activity), several potential day long special gatherings every month, often related craft activity nights, major multi day ‘camping events yearly, long post event parties. All of which were pretty much confined to group participants only (or those on the edges of recruitment). It was very typical for members of the SCA to meet and establish intimate partnerships with other group members.

7)  Promises of advancement or special standing for following the dictates of the Cult.
    Well, honours are awarded inside the SCA for activities undertaken inside of, or for the support of, the group activities. Often those recognitions were clearly more important to the individuals who held them than any achievements outside the group itself. Decision making powers and special status, often granted (even expected) as well.

8) You will be expected to strongly promote the Cult, and engage in active recruiting of new members.
    For the SCA, maybe not really expected, but certainly most members do actively attempt to encourage others to become involved. There are commonly smaller specialized associations created, which can have another layer of members only activities.

9) Activities within the Cult will be kept hidden and details kept secret.
    Honestly, this presents another major failing of the SCA as a potential Cult. Try to stop anyone involved from going on at amazing lengths about personal research, object making activities, who did what, where, and when. To be fair, there was a point in the early days when those involved did attempt to limit description (if not hide involvement outright) to institutions or authority figures. (Remember trying to explain to a police officer why you had a bag full of armour and swords?)

10) The Cult leadership demands large amounts of member funds or other assets be turned over to them personally.
    Seriously? Yet another major fail for the SCA as Cult! Yea, everyone bitches about the cost of the basic membership, that 50 - 60 dollars a year sent off to the head office in California. Yes, individual members certainly do invest huge amounts of coin, effort and time into equipping themselves personally in clothing, accessories, specialized tools for craft work, extensive camping gear or portable room setting, ... Many ‘expensive’ gifts are given to others. All of this is completely voluntary (see ‘attempt at costume’).

Ok - Spin those Signs against DARC

1) Leader
    Maybe a bit charismatic? (To be fair I am aware that I do have Leadership abilities, but that may be personal ego talking!) All powerful? Not a chance! Individual group members almost all have strong personalities, plus proven abilities for organization of their own. Most are just as happy to let someone else take on the heavy lifting, but Truth be Told, it is more like herding cats…

2) Identity
    Well, this is certainly true. As with the SCA however, those choices are made by the individual. A case could be made that members are ‘forced’ to pick a personna within a specified historical time frame and rough regional location (Norse or in direct contact with Norse, we even allow Saxons.)

3) Name
    Also certainly true. Because members are a bit lazy and all have very wide social circles, there is a tendency to use the character names when we are together and out of historic dress as well. (Everyone knows a lot of ‘Daves’ - but there is only one ‘Grimmi’.)

4) Activities
    Hardly. If there is one continuing problem it can actually getting members up here (mainly) to participate in specialist activities. All are extremely busy with all sorts of communities, well outside of DARC.

5) Language
    Does Old Norse count? (although only a few of us speak it beyond the odd word) Maybe joint examples of ‘museum speak’ and in public presentation (only) attempting to maintain the ‘rhythms’ of people from a past cultural set.

6) Isolation
    Again - see point 4. If anything, involvement with DARC has lead many individuals to expand into formal academics, placing themselves in front of the public at huge events.

7)  Advancement
    Given that within DARC there is absolutely no rank structure at all? Beyond this roles individuals have chosen for themselves (Ragnar gets blamed for everything, Kettil gets made fun of as his health fails, …)

8) Recruitment
    Exact opposite! One of our largest problems right now is actually finding new people (crazy enough) to take part in our activities.

9) Secrets
    ‘Got a minute? Let me tell you about … (pick specialized craft, bizarre fact, most recent research topic - insert here)’ Given the number of workshops, lectures, physical demonstration, web documents, formal articles, conference presentations,... that so many members undertake?

10) Donations
    You are kidding, right. Given the losses I have taken organizing large scale group activities over the last 20 years? At least people do buy me scotch…

I make that maybe two out of ten, both related to the use of characterizations in living history activities (and those primarily those in front of the public). A bit of fuzz on the names?

So yes, Concerned Parent, it remains (relatively) safe to the sanity of your daughter/son to engage with the Dark Ages Re-Creation company.

A) A group that I personally had been involved in for a (thankfully) short time, as they expanded down to high school level. I would have been in grade 9, about 14 - 15 years old. The forceful insistence on an Us or Them (you were either ‘Saved’ or unworthy) pretty much killed any acceptance I might have entertained to the Christian Church. (I had been raised in a fairly strong Presbyterian household, a faith that both suited and well sustained my mother.)

B)  See ‘the Cult Database : Cult Warning Signs’ :

    Part of the inspiration leading to this navel gazing was dealing with a recent publication by a certain self described ’Heathen’ organization, based in Massachusetts USA. Lead by an individual who has repeatedly demonstrated an insistence on tight control to communications and information flow. Filtered by a long conversation with an old friend and trusted academic colleague.
    As individuals within DARC age, potential new members seem harder to find and encourage, and significantly as I personally feel declining abilities with time, I do start wondering about the future for a group that I have put a significant amount of myself behind over the last + 20 years.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Jackson House Railings

 This project, initiated back in late May, was way too long in completion. 

Original Concept - Top Side Railing

The project included a set of seven small railing pieces, mounted on a series of natural limestone steps running down the side of the house from the front to a much lower back yard, with one longer segment set at the top level. Another short piece mounted at the front entrance single step up. The design 'Arts & Crafts', inspired by patterned glass set into the front door. For a fuller commentary on the design aspect, see : Inspiration, Art - and slogging

Front Entrance Railing - note pattern on door glass

Side Top Unit - compare to layout above

Side Railing Set - looking upwards over the stone steps

 Those who have been following my architectural work will notice the similarity in design to an earlier project, Richard's House - 2009, also in Arts & Crafts style.


This is the first architectural project I have had for some time now. Truth to be told, there was more delay involved in both starting and completing this work, partially due to fitting the build and install around other previously committed projects. A major complication was due to simple aging. First * I * most certainly do not work as quickly as a was once able, and even during this build found a serious decline in ability. (At the start in June, I was able to complete six of the long tapers in three hours, by October this was down to half that production speed in a forging session.) My equipment also showed it's age over this work. I had failures of my air hammer, industrial welder, bench grinder, and problems with two corded electric drills during the last installation.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Remembrance (10 lines)


So, I was in Toronto last Wednesday, November 1, on the TTC from north 417 station down to Queen east near Coxwell, then later back out. 

Ok, I get it, still a week and a half from The Day, but still…

Hardly a poppy to be seen, and those almost exclusively found on older English looking males.

I kind of understand that you are originally from some part of the world far removed from Europe.

That you are young, and the conflicts since WW2 seem far away, unimportant to your self absorbed world of social media. 

‘Never Again’ means to you ‘someone else’s problem’

Is there any understanding that sometimes you do have to stand up and just say No More, with raw force if required?

So you think it is fine to break the implied Moral Contract between the soldier, who has placed their own mortal body and fragile mind, and the civilian, who sleeps comfortably in a warm bed and belly full. 

You can’t imagine, You don’t Remember. 

To those who * know *, ‘Thank You For Your Service’ is never enough.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

On Click Bait - and going to the Source

I had been presented with this ...

" Archaeologists stunned by 2,900-year-old steel tools in Portugal

Steel tools were believed to have only become widespread in Europe during the Roman Empire, but a recent study challenges this assumption. The study shows that steel tools were already in use in Europe around 2,900 years ago, during the Final Bronze Age. " (1)

Image linked from the original article (2)

" Photos: Rafael Ferreiro Mählmann (A), Bastian Asmus (B), Ralph Araque Gonzalez (C-E) " (1)

Go and read the article and come back...

Before I get into this, did you see the link to the actual report on the Experimental Archaeology? Very last line in the article :

" The findings appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science. " (1)

Ideally you should read that as well...



Do you see any significant differences between the two? 

I sure did!

I took a look at the fluff piece first, then used the link to the actual formal paper.
Two different animals.   

The article substituted 'temper' for 'harden'. Any blacksmith would tell you that these are not even vaguely the same. Hardening iron metals involves high temperature and then quenching in some liquid, attempting to create a controlled hard material, where the initial carbon alloy content of the iron is critical to both method and result. Tempering is another process entirely, done as the last step, carefully and at much lower temperatures, which effectively removes hardness to a desired area and amount.

Going to the actual report

First thing that needs to be understood that the archaeological report is centred primarily on the question of how detailed carvings were made in specifically a hard quartz-sandstone type. The experiment included test carvings with replica stone, bronze and specifically several different copies of an iron alloy artifact tool.

The object itself, on detailed examination, shows no proof of hardening at the point sampled, which was the top of the chisel, not the cutting tip. As would be expected, that part of the artifact tool was annealed. Annealing is the first of the three heat treating steps for carbon alloys in tool making, involving first high temperature and then slow cooling. This effectively removes any hardness and importantly stresses from the initial forging process.

" Fig. 9. The chisel from Rocha do Vigio, length ca. 18 cm (Photos: Ralph Araque Gonzalez) ".(3)

The tool in question is a very basic straight edged chisel with a square cross section of about 1 cm, total is 18 cm long. A bit narrow, but otherwise a pretty standard tool shape for detailed stone carving. (4)

The conclusion about hardening being used on the artifact is based on their making of a replica made of 0.60 % carbon modern steel, and its use effects on the same stone as was used historically. The experimental tests suggested that to carve that stone, the tools used required some type of carbon alloy, with hardening of to some state (importantly, not analysis of the artifact itself). A reasonable comparison, but not proof.

The artifact shows considerable variation in carbon through the cross section, to be expected with processing a single bloom by folding, with the bloom material varying from 0.17 % to as much as 0.83 % carbon, four places were tested over a 1 cm cross section. Visually the polished and etched section looking like four separate areas of a bloom forge welded together to create the bar. 

This is important to understanding exactly what the material in this tool represents. Having made more that a few iron blooms, I can state that bloomery iron is not homogeneous, with contained carbon varying between top and bottom surfaces of the same raw bloom. The process of consolidating and purifying any bloom will require repeated flattening, folding and forge welding together. (The more dense the starting bloom, the fewer of those steps needed).

Worth noting that this is NOT a sign of either an attempt to case harden or specifically place harder carbon metal at one edge. (To be fair, the report does not claim either of these methods are visible). Than any blacksmith could tell the relative hardness of an iron bar as it was being forged is certain. (Ask any contemporary blacksmith!) The quality and carbon content of individual working bars from blooms (even areas within the same stock bar) was well known right up to the introduction of Bessemer steels in the 1850's. That an ancient smith might save 'hard iron' specifically for tool making can hardly be questioned.

So - typical distortion of a limited report through limited understanding into bad description and mis-use of technical terms - for impact via the popular press. 


1) Tibi Puiu, September 21, 2023,

ZME Science, Archaeology, News

2) Worth noting that I think the furnace depicted here is a very bad design. The extremely large difference between top opening and base diameter is certain to have a negative impact on the fall of added ore through the reduction zone, and bloom formation. 

3) Gonzalez, R. A., 2023, "Stone-working and the earliest steel in Iberia: Scientific analyses and experimental replications of final bronze age stelae and tools" in Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 152,

4) I have made a number of similar stone chisels for modern artisans over the years. Most typically of a middle carbon / 0.45 alloy, hardened by oil quenching and tempered to a 'red'. With good results reported, admittedly mostly used on limestone types.


Monday, September 11, 2023

Women Become Wise…

 So here is a thing.

Looking to Old Norse culture ( a place I spend a lot of time ) you see a pattern (?). Old men are still expected to keep up with the young wolves, their declining physical abilities are considered more detrimental than the value of any accumulated experience. First out into the snow should times get tragically hard. (As my gang in DARK are often to remind me.)

Older Women on the other hand…

Continue to be valued and preserved for their accumulated * wisdom *.

Ok, this is most certainly a sweeping generalization and mis interpretation. But those reading here ‘of an age’ have also likely seen a pattern emerging that has struck me more and more of late, especially with my own personal increasing decrepitude. I have many male friends who are skilled, experienced and knowledgeable (all different qualities, of which I have expanded on here and other places). But it is my female friends who constantly impress me with their accumulated wisdom. Which most certainly exceeds my own. 

Thank you, those Wise Women who may read this. (You likely know who you are, so naming of names is not needed.) I’m often smart enough to vaguely frame a pattern, but so often quite unable to grasp any solutions. 

(Apologies to the original photographer and model of the image used above, scammed randomly off the internet.)

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Trapped on the Tide


Isle of Skye

I had always thought of  crabs as little organic tanks, just needing a gun sticking from below their eyes. I had messed with the concept back in art school, at least to the point of making drawings and collecting plastic model parts and a large carapace on my first trip to the Atlantic coast (about 1978).

But not all explorations to the landward side work well for intrepid explorers. Especially if there is a mis-understanding of scale.

I can imagine my old friend and semi-surreal painter Steve Strang more better suited to this imagining. Thinking of his submarine in a bog, floating fishing boats and ‘universal protection suit’ series.

(Sorry about the small size of the image - please view at full size! This my first attempt to add a piece using my iPad, while on travels.)

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Ireland and Scotland

I have a major trip planned to Ireland and Scotland coming up.

This has been in the (seemingly endless) works since the start of 2023. The major purpose initially was to finally attend the Caherconnell Furnace Festival (originally Woodford) which I have missed every year since it started in 2018. I had been considering attending in 2019, but the aborted Iceland iron smelting project overlapped, and I had already committed to that. Then my involvement there was cancelled virtually at the last minute (like 7 days before departure), so I ended up missing both. 

Then COVID hit...

The 2020 Festival was done as a virtual international smelting day, with boxes of Irish bog ore shipped out to various locations. (DARC had contemplated undertaking a smelt using this material and our standard furnace, but the cost of shipping 30 kg to Canada was beyond our reach.) I had supplied a video presentation, but with the everyone still not too familiar at that point in remote access, this never got included in the program. 

In 2022 the Festival returned, moving to the Caherconnell Stone Fort site, but between my major effort for Parks Canada at L'Anse aux Meadows early summer and lingering concerns still over COVID, I decided not to make the trip. Significant for that year was the development of both a furnace design (short shaft with bellows plate and blow hole) and working method (multiple top extraction of smaller blooms in a continuous sequence), that ideally suited the extremely rich bog iron ore available locally in Ireland.

Caherconnell Furance, 2022 - image by Jens Olesen

Between my uncertainty of the working situation at Caherconnell, and more significantly my own recent decline in physical ability, my direct involvement is expected to have shifted for me personally from a chance for further experimentation to more limited participation, some observation, and generally just hanging out. There may be some chance to work with Irish blacksmiths on the bloom to bar phase, but given the expected (normal) limitations of field equipment I'm not sure how much I will be able to contribute. I had initially suggested a prototype for testing slag pit furnaces (known for early Irish at other locations) but there was less interest in that build, largely because of local surface conditions (bed rock) and limited materials supply. I certainly hope to help out my old friend Jens Olesen from Denmark, who will be taking on a teaching element over Thursday and Friday. Likely also 'working the rope line' explaining the combined undertakings to the visiting public (something I do have significant ability and experience with!)

Another major element of this trip was the potential to present at the European Archaeology Association annual conference EAA23, which was happening immediately after Caherconnell - in Belfast. I had submitted an abstract early on, and was quite pleased that the paper / presentation was accepted. Originally I did not think I would be able to physically attend, as the lodging costs in Belfast were simply astronomical (even the cheapest hotel rooms were running $300 a night, or significantly more!)

Late in organizing, I did manage to get lucky on affordable lodgings for at least two nights in Belfast, so will be able to attend part of the EAA-23 conference, including the day of my own presentation there. This being :

SESSION - 729 : Friday Sept 1
Session title
EXARC: Reconstructing Past Narratives Through Experimental Archaeology
4. People of the Present – Peopling the Past
Presentation : #2296 (set later morning)
Title :
Experiment, Archaeology & Art - The Turf to Tools Project
Turf to Tools (2014, 2016) was originally conceived as “ ... an ongoing investigation in to landscape, material and craft, inspired by local archeological investigations in Rhynie, Aberdeenshire.” The archaeological foundations centred on the work of Dr. Gordon Noble’s investigations of Pictish sites, notably the ‘Rhynie Man’ stone, and later the excavations by Ross Murray at the ‘Iron Age Craft Working Site’ of Culduthel, nearby. To date, a total of nine bloomery iron smelts have been undertaken for T2T, the two main series at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop at Lumsden (close to Rhynie). These included tests of the unique local Macaulayite ore and peat as a potential fuel. Local materials would be utilized using prototypes established by the archaeology, through methods refined by experimentation, with an aim to replicating a specific object, being the axe depicted with Rhynie Man.
Taken together, this project illustrates an interface between archaeological research and practical experiment, extended into artistic vision.

This all does mean a lot more moving from one side of Ireland to the other, so I guess most of what we will see will be through bus windows.


For those who may not of caught it via Facebook, the Scottish side project work on this trip has completely fallen apart. The original intent was to mount a public demo of iron smelting, but I could not find a hosting organization to even offer up a location. (I was going to cover all the supplies and my lodgings - Guess I am not the draw I thought I was). So the third project component, Turf to Tools Phase 3, has been reduced to only a personal deposit of a replica axe into a bog, now on Skye. (This provided I can get the consolidated from blooms made during earlier phases into the replica Rhynie Man axe in the two working days left me before departure!) Taken together, this is overall very disappointing and demoralizing. 

With no institutional support (and my applied for Canada Council grant unknown until we return in September) this trip is quite expensive, taking a big chunk of my personal savings (especially now I am on OAS income here). Between the costs involved and my own increasing physical decrepitude, this was likely going to be my last major and working trip. 

PS - Note to regular readers. 

Sorry for the general decline in additions here. In the past I had attempted one contribution here each week, lately one every month has been more the case. A number of major writing projects, preparing for helping at the Gallery for CanIRON 13, (finally) a railing commission, the time with my co-op student in the spring - and what seemed endless fooling around trying to organize this trip. 

Will try to get better into the Fall...


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

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