Ribe in December

In this Christmas edition of the LVA blog: a Danish December, artefacts around Ribe, and lots of GOLD!

This time last year I travelled to Ribe in South West Jutland on LVA research. Despite the cold, the damp and the grey skies, it was a fruitful and highly enjoyable trip. In fact December is an excellent time to visit Ribe: glowing Christmas lights adorn the already picturesque town, the Christmas market gløgg is strong and warming, and along the roadsides every other farm offers fresh evergreen boughs and wreaths for sale. December 2016 was a particularly special time for Viking-Age archaeologists and metal-detector users in South West Jutland, but more on that shortly.

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Ribe in December

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Gløgg is easy to find at the Christmas market. Basically a mulled wine originating in Sweden, gløgg is now common to all Scandinavian countries thought it has many variations.

Ribe was the first stop on the LVA data collection tour. The Sydvestjyske Museer had agreed to provide us with access to their database which holds details on all metal-detected artefacts recorded from the Ribe hinterland. I discuss the practice of recording metal-detected finds in Denmark elsewhere, so for now it suffices to say that the Sydvestjyske Museer’s recording system is comprehensive and very well organised; they include all finds reported to them by metal-detector users, not just those that count as ‘treasure’ according to Danefae. Finds are photographed whenever possible and relations between staff at Sydvestjyske Museer and metal-detector users are overwhelmingly positive. In fact the employee who designed their in-house database and who helped me out as I searched through it, is himself a metal-detector user.

My primary point of contact before arriving was Morten Søvsø, Head of Archaeology. Mette Søvsø, one of the curators, was on site to help get my search underway upon arrival. Once Mette had translated all the necessary Danish words into English for me, I was able to search through the database for suitable LVA artefacts. To briefly go over the criteria we were applying to our search, we wanted details on artefacts that were:

  1. Found within the Ribe ‘hinterland’ or surrounding area
  2. Found by metal-detector
  3. Dated to within AD 650-1100
  4. Either: a brooch, a coin, a piece of riding equipment, or a strap-fitting

The search was easily restricted to the Ribe hinterland (1) due to the jurisdiction of the Sydvestjykse Museer; metal-detected finds (2) were then easily selected for in the database. They make up the majority of recorded artefacts in South West Jutland in any case. Finding artefacts that fell within the appropriate date range (3) was more of a trick. The dating system used there was slightly different from what I was accustomed to through the PAS.

The PAS applies broad periods (e.g. ‘Early Medieval’ from AD 410 – AD 1066 (check out PAS Controlled Vocabulary to see other definitions). In general, there is little overlap across these periods: the Iron Age runs from 800 BC to AD 42, and the Roman period begins in AD 43 running to AD 410 when the Early Med starts, etc. Within these broad periods, each artefact is assigned a finer date-range, with a ‘date from’ and a ‘date to’. Based on the research question, one could look for all items that are generally classed as ‘Early Medieval’, or could specify a date range to find, for example, all keys dating between AD 230 to AD 1450.

The Sydvestjyske Museer database does have the option to provide a finer artefact chronology with the equivalent of ‘date from’ and ‘date to’ categories. Much more frequently than in the PAS, however, these were left blank. Instead, the dating relied primarily on broader periods, but these were more complex than simply ‘Early Medieval’, and they overlapped. So when narrowing down the chronological framework for my search, I had to tick several boxes, some of which meant I ended up with artefacts that were well outwith the desired date range.

For example, the ‘Young Iron Age’ is assigned a date range from 375-1066, and includes the Viking Age, but there were also narrower sub-periods such as the ‘Viking Age’ (750-1066) or even the ‘Old Viking Age’ (750-899), and broader periods, such as the ‘Viking or Middle Ages’ (750-1535). There are practical reasons behind this, and it’s great to be able to assign some level of periodisation to a given artefact even when its finer date range is difficult to pinpoint. It did mean that either extra time had to be put in attempting to refine some of the assigned dates, or that artefacts that were too broadly dated had to be omitted. At this point I still didn’t know what to expect from our next case study, working with Dutch material, so I simply gathered all the information I could and took notes that would later help with the data-cleaning process. For those interested, this fun process will be covered in a future post.

I also collected records on artefacts that weren’t readily classed as one of the four core types (4). The Sydvestjyske Museer categorises its artefacts by primary material first, and then by function. Collecting records on all silver and gold coins was straightforward. But the copper alloy ‘Jewellery’ category did not include every relevant brooch or strap-end,  since I found some in the ‘General Finds’ or ‘Other finds’ categories. Nevertheless, I left confident that I had covered all angles and acquired all relevant records (plus extras).

The VERY best thing about working with this database was that it allowed bulk exports of all images associated with a given search return. With just a few clicks, for example, I could instantaneously export photographs of every silver coin, or if I wished, of every silver object. Although the artefact ID codes are a bit long, each image is titled with its ID, making them easy to search for in an accompanying folder. This step was hugely time consuming and valuable. As a closed database it wouldn’t have been possible to search for a record online after leaving Ribe.

Here are a few examples of the types of finds coming out of the Ribe area. Special thanks again to the Sydvestjyske Museer and its staff for use of these images.

Brooches

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A classic domed Borre brooch, ID: ASR1375200157269x132-1. Image copyright: Sydvestjyske Museer.

It was heartening to recognise the classic Scandinavian-style brooches such as the domed Borre-style brooch shown above. Similar brooches to this have been found in England, and were imported from Scandinavia in the Viking Age.

 

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This disc brooch was once enamelled. ID: ASR491200128242x506-1. Image copyright: Sydvestjyske Museer.

Other brooch types found around Ribe were less distinctly Scandinavian, such as this enamelled disc brooch. This and other variations were popular throughout western Continental Europe during the Viking Age. The enamel brooches of South West Jutland have been studied by Maria Panum Baastrup.

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A bird brooch or ‘fuglefibel’. ID: ASR440200142888x0789-1. Image copyright: Sydvestjyske Museer.

From an insular perspective we tend to focus on the well-known oval, disc or trefoil brooches when we think about Scandinavian brooch forms. But the number of bird brooches found throughout the Ribe area are a reminder that there were other popular styles. Most of the bird brooches in the area are of copper alloy, but a stunning silver brooch has also been recorded. The bird brooches share a motif and the fan-shaped tail is generally standard, but the brooches themselves can vary widely in size, shape, and decoration.

Brooches made up the majority of the four core artefact types recorded around Ribe.

Coins

The coin results for the pre-Viking period were somewhat surprising. Ribe is known for its role as an important hub in early medieval trade networks. Small silver pennies (commonly called ‘sceattas’) were minted locally and formed part of an international currency. Other mints were located throughout England and the Low Countries. I had expected to see a certain amount of this coinage trickling into the nearby hinterland, ideally with a number of ‘imported’ sceattas represented, but in fact only a handful of early pennies were recorded in the area. The penny shown here is known as a ‘porcupine’ sceatta, series E, and was probably produced in the Netherlands.

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One of the early pennies or ‘sceattas’ found outside of Ribe. ID: ASR1265200163778x141-1. Image copyright: Sydvestjyske Museer.

Most of the other pennies were Arabic dirhams. These silver coins and fragments fall easily into the ‘imported’ category. The numerous cut fragments point to their value as silver by weight.

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Cut fragment of Arabic dirham. ID: ASR1425200148187x032-1. Image copyright: Sydvestjyske Museer.

Strap fittings/Strap ends

This category was not strongly represented, but a handful of strap-ends and strap fittings were recorded, none of which are particularly picturesque.

Riding Equipment

The equestrian equipment was rather better represented, and as with the brooches, some ‘Scandinavian-style’ items similar to those found in England were immediately recognisable. Harness mounts such as the Borre-style mount shown here were replicated as harness fittings and also as lozenge-shaped brooches in England.

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Horse harness mount. ID: ASR2321200154816x150-1. Image copyright: Sydvestjyske Museer.

 

 

While in Ribe I also had the opportunity to explore the surrounding area and check out some of the finds-rich fields that yielded many of the artefacts we would be working with. I’ll save these details for a future post on the nature of the area and local patterns of detecting. In the meantime, I strongly recommend the article by Claus Feveile, ‘At the geestland edge southwest of Ribe: On the track of a centre of wealth during the 1st millennium AD’, which covers many of these topics.

The trip was a success. It was lovely to meet and work with the Sydvestjyske Museer team, and with over 500 artefact records to add to our dataset it was clear the case study area had been a good choice. But by far the most exciting thing that happened while in Denmark was the excavation of the second part of a Viking-Age gold hoard in the neighbouring jurisdiction of Sønderskov.

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The incredible gold hoard that was excavated in nearby Sønderskov, Denmark, during the trip to Ribe, December 2016. Image copyright: Nick Schaadt / Michael Kirkeby Pedersen / Kristen Nedergaard Dreioe, from http://www.xpmetaldetectors.com.

Five Gold Rings

(plus two more, plus 223 other pieces of jewellery and coins…)

While I was combing through metal-detected artefact records in Ribe, archaeologists were busy excavating an incredible metal-detected find just half an hour away. Thanks to the persuasive powers of Morten and good timing, on my last day in Denmark I found myself in a small room in the Sønderskov Museum where a handful of curators and archaeologists from Sønderskov and Sydvestjyske marvelled at this brilliant treasure, fresh from the ground but gleaming.

Unfortunately we could not photograph the hoard at the time, but I finally tracked down some decent images at http://www.xpmetaldetectors.com/blog-detection/en/finds/viking-gold-and-oath-rings-part-2-3/. The site also provides a detailed account of the discovery of the hoard in English.

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The brooch-pendant with beads, chains, and pendants. Image copyright: Nick Schaadt / Michael Kirkeby Pedersen / Kristen Nedergaard Dreioe, from http://www.xpmetaldetectors.com.

At the museum we were permitted to handle everything but the most spectacular piece  — a large gold Jellinge-style brooch-pendant with entwined beasts picked out in filigree, from which was suspended a ring, gold filigree beads, and four delicate gold double-linked chains each with another pendant. At a glance, the hoard is reminiscent of the Hiddensee treasure, with its filigree pendants and central brooch-pendant. In addition to the pure gold jewellery, however, were several glass and quartz pendants — stunning for their size and clarity — and some bits of hacksilver, including several pieces of chopped dirhams.  There were also numerous gold arm-rings, some twisted, some plain, and various pieces of hackgold, gold wire, and filigree beads.

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For comparison, a copy of the Hiddensee treasure photographed recently at Vikings: The Exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. Image copyright: R. Docherty.

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Detail of some of the gold beads and filigree pendants. Beads shown at larger scale. Image copyright: Nick Schaadt / Michael Kirkeby Pedersen / Kristen Nedergaard Dreioe, from http://www.xpmetaldetectors.com.

The hoard is presumed to be the work of a royal goldsmith, whose skills were honed in the workshop of one of Denmark’s Viking-Age kings. The treasure highlights the wealth of the region and sheds light on how gold was treasured, worn, and finely wrought in an ‘Age of Silver’.

Needless to say, viewing and handling more gold than I’d ever seen before more than made my December. And if you enjoyed the images here, you can now see the real deal at the Danish National Museum. But the opportunity to witness the positive relationship between responsible metal-detector users and the local archaeologists and curators was better than all the Viking-Age gold in the world.

 

Further reading

Feveile, C (2014) ‘At the geestland edge southwest of Ribe: On the track of a centre of wealth during the 1st millennium AD’, in Stidsing, E, K Hoilund Nielsen, and Reno Fiedel (eds) Wealth and Complexity: Economically specialised sites in Late Iron Age Denmark. 73-90. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.

Panum Baastrup, M (2007) ‘Vikingetidens og den tidlige middelalders emalje-fibler fra Sydvestjylland’, By, marsk og geest 19, 5-16.

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York Festival of Ideas 2017

In June 2017, the Long Viking Age project hosted a stand as part of York’s Festival of Ideas, at the Science Out of the Lab tent. This year’s Festival of Ideas theme was ‘The Story of Things’ which couldn’t really have been better suited to our project.

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Our stand was entitled ‘Things in the Viking Age: travel and trade’ and we had several family-friendly activities to engage festival-goers in our research. The two star attractions were the ‘Match the Mint’ and ‘Map your Connections’ activities.

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Our banner at York’s 2017 Festival of Ideas

Match the Mint

‘Match the Mint’ was designed to encourage members of the public to gain confidence reading coin inscriptions — but also to sympathise with archaeologists and numismatists when they come across worn or otherwise illegible inscriptions. We selected nine coins found in England that we had come across during our research, each of which is believed to have been produced outside of England between the late 8th to 11th centuries. In other words, imported coins. Using laminated images of the coins inflated to many times the coins’ actual sizes, some Velcro, and a map of Europe with mint locations highlighted, we encouraged visitors to see how many coins they could correctly match to the appropriate mint.

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Alison explaining the ‘Match the Mint’ activity to a visitor.

A number of the coins had Latin inscriptions that included the mint-name, the coin’s place of production. We provided a cheat-sheet of translations of Latin place-names to help with this part of the activity, sometimes listing several variations that might appear (e.g. MEDOLVS, METOLO, METVLLO all point to Melle). It was great to see how quickly children picked up the pattern: begin with the cross (+) before working clockwise around the coin to pick out letters. Unsurprisingly, the coins with legible inscriptions were always the first matched successfully to the mint.

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Can you  identify the mint name shown here? All images used at the Festival of Ideas were from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (finds.org.uk), and used under CC-BY license. This particular coin (reverse inscription shown here) is a silver Louis the Pious denier from the Dorestad mint, found buy metal-detector users in England in the county of Hertfordshire.

Other coins provided more of a challenge. The ‘Woden/Monster’ and the ‘Porcupine’ pennies (aka ‘sceatta’) acted as good talking points to explain how numismatists and archaeologists must often rely on coin typologies and distribution maps of single finds to home in on probable places of production. A corroded imitation Louis the Pious solidus, probably produced in Frisia (though possibly England), was also a difficult one because the ‘inscription’ imitated Latin letters, but was in fact nonsensical lines.

In addition to engaging audiences with numismatic details, the activity encouraged visitors to think about how and why coins were moved overseas, and the circumstances under which they might have been lost or deposited.

Map your Connections

The Long Viking Age project is all about connections. We are ultimately less concerned with the A to B of items that travelled over a distance in the Viking and pre-Viking periods as we are with the why, how, and with whom behind these connections. However, an artefact’s origin and its place of recovery are nevertheless crucial starting points for our research. The initial phases of our project have therefore necessarily focused on the ‘A to B’ of the artefacts in our dataset. With this in mind, we designed an activity that anyone could participate in: with a focus on travel and trade in the modern world, we were able to link questions and discoveries back to our research on travel and trade the Viking Age.

We asked individuals to tell us where in the world they currently lived — point ‘B’.  Then they chose one item in their pockets, in their handbag or wallet, or even an item of clothing they were wearing, and identified (or guessed) where it was made. This was point ‘A’, the item’s geographical origin. We put a yellow pin on a large map of the world at point ‘B’, where in the future, archaeologists would be most likely to find the selected item. We let visitors choose any other coloured pin to represent point ‘A’, and we tied a red thread between the two points. Over the weekend this built up a colourful map of modern connections.

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Our map showing many connections from around the world to the UK, but also some connections from outside the UK. We had a well-connected and well-travelled group of visitors.

The activity prompted some good discussion with visitors. Many, for example, currently lived in York but were in fact from another country — what if the item was lost while working or travelling in York? How would archaeologists interpret the identity of the individual who had last owned that item? Would they simply conclude that someone from China had relocated to York, missing out the crucial fact that the individual was in fact actually from the US? We then talked about context and whether, if other items belonging to the individual were recovered along with it, they might help to clarify the picture — or complicate it further.

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 Helpful LVA assistant Ross pins a visitor’s ‘connections’ to the map.

Several items that visitors chose to map had been gifts from friends on vacation, or acquired by them directly during travel. But in many other cases, the item had been purchased in the UK, though it was certainly made elsewhere. How could archaeologists attempt to differentiate between direct travel and indirect trade as a means of acquisition? Of course globalisation in the modern world is many times more complex than it was over a thousand years ago, but some of the questions that this activity brought up remain relevant to our investigations into the movement of people and things in the Viking Age.

This was a fantastic opportunity to engage with bright and inquisitive families and individuals from York and beyond. Next year’s Festival of Ideas theme for York is ‘Imagining the Impossible’, which sounds like it will be just as exciting. More information on York’s Festival which will run from 5-17 June 2018 is available online, and I would strongly recommend checking out other Festivals of Ideas, such as Cambridge‘s, held in October.

First Workshop, Brussels

A week ago LVA panellists and other early medieval experts convened at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB, Free University Brussels) for our first project workshop. The aims of the workshop were to ensure everyone was up to date on the new recording schemes (PAN, MEDEA, DIME), and to agree on the direction that the proof-of-method would take.

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VUB Etterbeek, Brussels. ©Vrije Universiteit Brussel

I’ll cover details about the various schemes in another post, so for now will focus on what emerged at the workshop regarding the pilot project.

Working with metal-detected data on an international scale

It is challenging enough to create a clean and coherent database with multiple artefact types when working with a well-established national scheme such as the PAS, as numerous researchers (including myself) can attest (and see a list of current research projects using PAS data here). Amassing such a dataset on an international scale will surely present exponentially more challenges. We can put a positive spin on this, however: by beginning to test and compare the data while the various recording schemes (apart from the PAS) are still in their nascent stages, we can hope to flag up and develop strategies for dealing with issues as they arise. Since the various scheme leaders are advisors on the LVA project, we are able to feed this back to them and benefit from their advice as we go. Furthermore, initiatives are well underway on behalf of those behind the PAS, MEDEA, PAN, DIME, and other interested parties, to ensure the future sustainability and compatibility of these schemes at an international level. It is this cooperation that will ultimately make big data projects such as this run smoothly. And face-to-face meetings like our recent workshop play a crucial part in this.

Proving the method

Our long-term plan is to develop a much bigger project, with the time and resources to map and analyse early medieval metal-detected artefacts from a number of different angles at an international scale. In order to do this, we need to demonstrate that such a study is feasible. We therefore outlined some parameters within which to trial a pilot project. This ‘proof-of-method’ should be achievable within a fairly short timeframe, and is expected to: a) highlight problem areas that will need to be addressed when it comes to future projects; b) demonstrate the research potential in a dataset of metal-detected artefacts at an international scale; and c) stand as a piece of convincing research in its own right. To do this, we needed to be realistic about the size of the project. We would identify regional case studies in areas around the North Sea where metal-detected data was being recorded rather than looking at northwestern Europe as a whole; and we would establish a set of ‘core’ artefact types to reduce time spent collecting and cleaning data, but which still provided a good breadth of coverage in terms of chronology, location, and associated use. We agreed to stick to our chronological parameter of c. AD 700-1100.

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Alison talking about the LVA database

To start the workshop off I presented our work to date on the pilot and asked for feedback and advice on a number of topics from the other panellists. Most of these were resolved in the discussion that followed. Then we heard about the other schemes and the state of metal-detecting in the Netherlands, Flanders, and Denmark, with Nelleke IJssennagger presenting on Stijn Heeren’s behalf on PAN, Pieterjan Deckers on MEDEA, and Andres Dobat on DIME. Michael Lewis of the PAS contributed as discussant. The primary outcomes of the workshop were as follows:

  • We want to do this! Yes, it will be challenging in a number of ways, and (unsurprisingly) there are differences in the current availability and types of data recorded with the schemes, but this should not deter us from undertaking this and future projects.
  • In light of data availability, it was determined that the continental case study regions should focus on areas where a backlog of metal-detected data is available. This means better compatibility with the select English case study regions. To this end we decided on the Ribe hinterland in southwest Jutland, and the Westergo region of Friesland, both of which have enjoyed a history of recording and reporting metal-detected finds prior to the introduction of the new schemes, in a similar way to pre-PAS Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
  • In terms of ‘core’ artefact types, we had already agreed upon coins (of course) and brooches. At a glance it appears that these two types will make up the vast majority of the data. Another logical choice was strap-ends/fittings. The final type took a bit more discussion, in part because of the various ways in which they are listed. In the end we decided to cite not an individual artefact type, but a category: ‘equestrian equipment’. This will include harness and bridle fittings, spurs, and harness and stirrup mounts. I will explore the core types in detail in later posts, so watch this space.
  • Other miscellaneous discussions ranged from what we should call the region under study (‘Northwestern Europe’ was deemed appropriate if slightly broader than the actual remit of the project, however we didn’t want to invent a new term), to how we would label the periods under study (we opted for dates (i.e. 700-1100; eighth to twelfth centuries) rather than any confusing combination of ‘pre-Viking’, ‘Late Iron Age’ and ‘Viking’), and to the unavoidable issue of reporting and recording biases, on which more later.

Overall this was a positive and constructive workshop; the project now really feels like it has legs. It was a great opportunity to learn first-hand about the running and implementation of each of the schemes with which I had been less familiar. Prior to the LVA workshop, Pieterjan Deckers and Dries Tys hosted another workshop on the Vikings in the Low Countries, where a number of scholars, including some of our panelists, presented their recent findings. Watch for more on this in the future, as there are some very exciting developments on this topic – and of course this is all complementary to our research.

In addition to discussing how best to approach the proof-of-method, we agreed that we want to share our project and related project (e.g. Vikings in the Low Countries) results in a number of ways: at conferences (definitely at SAA Vancouver in March/April; hopefully at EAA Maastricht in August/September), in published form, and through various local, regional, and national outputs. The schemes are working hard to generate awareness amongst metal-detecting, research, and heritage communities; the scheme coordinators are working hard as the ‘North Sea Finds Recording Group’ to ensure the future sustainability of these platforms and eventually establish a European portal to channel the diverse databases. And we’re working hard to demonstrate the research potential of the data.

Next step: a trip to Denmark to collect data on the metal-detected artefacts found around Ribe!

-AL