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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Preparation for CanIRON 8 Demo (11-06-10 Smelt)

The DARC team, under Neil Peterson, will be conducting an open public demonstration of iron smelting as part of CanIRON 8, the Canadian National Blacksmiths Conference. In preparation for this demo, the next several smelts will be used to bring the working team up to full speed on our Econo Norse test bed furnace.

The first of these working production style smelts was held on Saturday November 6. Neil was the smelt master, Richard Schwietzer was the assistant. (I kept to the background and tried just to make suggestions and make notes on equipment.)

The smelt used 24 kg of ganular hematite, resulting in a very compact 8.5 kg bloom. This was spark tested and looks to be a high carbon metal.

A short photo essay on the building of the furnace is available on the main Wareham Forge iron smelting documentation.

Very nice work by Neil and Richard!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Iron Smelt at Vinland

As regular readers know, one of the primary features of the recent DARC presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC was an iron smelt. Iron was first smelted by the Norse there about 1000 AD, and this demonstration smelt was based on the archaeology of the site, tempered by our own experience. The team started working up to this presentation with a series of four earlier experiments, research starting early in 2009.
The assembled team, after the smelt.
L to R : Darrell / Dave / Mark / Richard / (Paul standing in for missing Jake)
Front : Ken / Jessica

This is the equipment set up, seen the evening before the smelt.
Work took place inside the reconstructed 'Furnace Hut', set inside the Encampment compound.
The interior size, like the historic location, is roughly 2.5 metres wide by about three metres deep.

The results. The larger bloom broke up into four smaller fragments during the initial consolidation.
Total weight : 2.8 kg (This image roughly life size)

This is an image of the working area the morning after the smelt.
A careful comparison will be made to match this debris field with what what actually found in the archaeological remains.

In a nut shell, our results parallelled what the archaeologists estimate the Norse did originally:

local bog ore
DARC Dirt 2 analog
Amount18 kg estimated
20 kg
Yield3 kg estimated
2.8 kg
Charcoal?? - local softwoods
35.5 kg hardwood
Time??6 hours total

I was extremely pleased with the overall progress of the smelt. At the very least, this marks only the second time in 1000 years that bloomery iron was produced in Vinland!

The larger bloom fragment was spark tested with an angle grinder. The result looked like a low carbon iron (red to dull orange with little feather).
Mark Pilgrim took the smaller dense fragment (640 gm) and reduced it down to a working block. Result was about 440 gm (so roughly 30 % loss to bar). He did report he had a lot of trouble with the bar cracking while he was working it. My first guess would be brittleness due to phosphorus - but with an analog used as ore, there should have been no phosphorus available. (??? Needs smarter heads than mine!)

Neil pointed out the error on the bloom photo - with incorrectly added decimal points. All in full grams!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation - Planning Demo Food at LAM

(Okay, not really…but close.)

There’s a whole lot of pre-amble and follow-up that should accompany this, but being linearly- challenged as I am, it will wander along in its own chaotic way.

* * * *

Since mid-2008, there had been some discussions about having DARC (Dark Ages Re-Creation Company, ) go out to L’Anse aux Meadows, Nfld, to do a presentation at the historic site. 2010 is the 50th anniversary of the site, and it was decided that a series of special events would occur throughout the season, and we were invited there in August of this year for ten days.

Conversations with Dr. Birgitta Wallace, the site archaeologist, suggested a scenario of a boat going from Iceland to Greenland, getting off course, and ending up joining up temporarily with the crews already at L’Anse aux Meadows / Leifsbuðir. This meant we spent the year and a half fine-tuning and adjusting our gear to fit more specifically into a defined timeframe and locale, than we normally worry about.
It also meant I needed to start looking into foodstuffs of Iceland, circa 1000 AD.

Until this point, I’ve mostly done as others have done, accumulated a larger list of foods appropriate to the Viking Age, and the entire Norse world. Even that range of information is limiting. I’d had no idea beforehand how much more restricted a list of Icelandic foodstuffs would be!

I started by searching out as much info as I could, and it wasn’t till I began that I realized just how unspecific the usual sources were. Or how much overlap. Or how vague. Even in the current world of the internet, which at least opens up some new vistas, it appears to either be a case of ‘neat thing if it were actually written up/translated/available’, or ‘gee, same source quoted over and over again’. It was even scary to find odd vague things that I’ve said myself somewhere, usually in the dim dark past, were popping up as reasons why someone else believed something to be true! Ack!

(I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’m so slow to ever make a statement or publish something; knowing I don’t have every fact available, and worrying that the next new bit of info will make whatever I just said obsolete.)

On the other hand, I am always truly thankful to anyone who, at the very least, talks out loud about his or her experiments. It’s that combined, if remote, brainstorming that can sometimes open a door…

I did turn to a friendly archaeologist who has done a fair bit of work in Iceland, and picked his brains more than just a bit. That’s about when the slim list of ingredients started to become an almost non-existent list! It seems that there’s not much by way of indigenous foodstuffs in Iceland. No land mammals, no fruits other than a few berries. So, fish, sea mammals and sea birds, blueberry and crowberry, and mushrooms.

The geography doesn’t allow for natural basins of salt, the temperature is too chill for evaporation, and there was quickly a shortage of fuel, which made other methods of salt production impractical. That would mean that methods of preservation would be reduced to drying or pickling in whey, with only minimal brining, or smoking, more by luck than by intent.

Arable land was used for growing fodder for herd beasts, and less for crops. Some grains were grown, though likely used in the production of beer. Certainly, I’m told there was no evidence of bread-making tools, querns or baking plates, until later. And dentition records imply no sugars in the diet until the post-Medieval period. (And no honeybees so no honey; even less possible sugar in the diet.) Apparently this sort of dentition evidence is peculiar to Iceland.

While this suggests a diet consisting of dairy products and meat and fish, which is not necessarily a meagre diet, it also wasn’t a good basis for pre-packing.
I needed us to be relatively self-sufficient. I’d had an offer from friends to provide us with some local availabilities information, but I assumed (correctly) that there’d be less than no time to go search for foodstuffs once we were there. I put some feelers out with other members of the team to keep their eyes open for some other sources of seaweed/dulse, and they also came across some other cheese and dried meat on their routes to the Northern Peninsula.
But primarily I needed to prep what I could ahead of time, sticking as closely as I could to what would have been likely foodstuffs.

Back in 1996, in the original demonstration of the interpretive program, there had been several other factors in play, which made it simpler.
- There were fewer of us. 4 interpreters from Ontario, and 4 local volunteers.
- There was less information easily available, so working with appropriate technology and avoiding modern ingredients was far simpler than trying to use only locale-specific ingredients.
- I had easy access to the staff kitchen at the visitors center, for clean up and storage. (This year the visitors’ center was still under reconstruction.)
- Water was more easily accessible. (I know this has to be a lie, since we carried drinking water from the VC in 1996, same as we’d started this year, and the VC hasn’t moved, neither had the reconstructed buildings. So perhaps it’s the intervention of 14 years? Not to mention that we needed water for 16 this time around…)
- There were fewer visitors in 1996. (Now it was always a goal that attendance would increase, and I think it’s a credit to the interpretive program that this has happened, but it meant that this time they really weren’t many non-public moments to attend to mundane basics of food prep.)
- In 1996 the fires we used were all real wood fires. Since then, because of smoke problems, the buildings have been fitted out with propane fires. This year I was alternatively cooking outside on the gate yard fire pit (which was far less pitlike, and could have used a bit of tweaking) or in the blacksmith’s house on his charcoal work fire.
- In 1996, it was still the heyday of public involvement in foodways programs. I was able to make flatbreads and share them out. A few very interested patrons could stay for a bowl of soup… Nowadays, when the public aren’t allowed to sample, I end up feeling somewhat inhospitable if I’m spending too much time paying close attention to food they’re only allowed to look at. And that could just be me and my feelings.

But I did want to find a way to simplify the process of feeding the team, while incorporating it into the overall aim of the program.

My plan was to prepack ‘Viking Cup-o-soup’ packets, so that each day we really only had to sort out the day's allotment of bits, and go. It was not a bad idea, and it really kept daily prep to a minimum.
It wasn't, perhaps, as much fun, or as much a ‘demonstration’ as chopping things up in front of visitors, and discussing ingredients as you go, but starting at 10am, after the visitors' day had already begun, and the difficulties involved in fetching water for clean up, as well as trying to not show too many modern foodstuffs, made it the wiser course

I'd ended up compromising on a list of foods. I'm sure the Norse at LAM would have been eating a lot of fresh fish or meat from sea mammals. And while, in the long run, our hosts graciously brought us a number of treats, I didn't want to rely on that possibility. So I'd planned our soups to use salted, dried fish, or dried beef. And because I wanted that to stretch a little further, I had also dried some onions and vegetables, and added seaweed and grains into the mix.
I also dried several roasts of meat into jerky, and made flatbreads (even if evidence of grain usage in Iceland is sketchy). After some experiments, I had decided to take along a number of blister packed cheeses which I brined as days went on, to more resemble young fresh cheese. (The new interpretation at LAM allows for some herd beasts off foraging...)

Once again, probably catering to our modern sensibilities, rather than those of the Norse, I attempted to make each soup packet very slightly different. (In 1996, these thoughts hadn’t even crossed my mind. I had dried fish to go in the soup, and all of the same ingredients each day. Variety occurred when the Parks Canada staff offered me a different ingredient. We had caribou one day, seal another. But beyond that, it was fish, fish, and fish.)
But I’m guessing that cooking for larger groups of people over the years, in an atmosphere of catering to needs and tastes, has made me awkwardly hyper-conscious, especially in a setting where alternatives are few and far between!

So, in preparation for the adventure I continued my regular drying of mushrooms, (I’ve been drying mushrooms for years, after having discovered how easy it is, and how useful they are) and to these I added onion, leek, and chive. Since every spring I harvest wild leeks, this year I also dried those in anticipation of the trip.

Because I could find mention of wild parsnip and wild carrot in some of the nearby countries, I decided to boldly risk the inclusion of their domestic counterparts, though I shredded and dried them, and overall it was a fairly minor ingredient. The inclusion of seaweed was a given, both for a useful green, and for its salt content and iodine.
I pondered a while about the inclusion of grains, since the archaeological evidence suggests they did not make up much of the Icelandic diet. But some kind of flatbread filled a gap in a lunch, where I couldn’t necessarily guarantee more dairy or meat, and grains in a soup make it heartier. It also seemed a more likely way of cooking a few grains, if there wasn’t evidence of flour-making or baking tools. I did try to limit myself to whole kernels of less modern grains.

In the flatbreads that I made ahead, or each morning, I was also using oat, barley, and spelt flours, with just a small bit of whole wheat to bulk it out. They were made using just flour, water, and a little salt; except for the ones I made our last day that used up some leftover blueberries!

Overall, except for the need to feed a large group of people at a specific time, when they had tasks that kept them busy at their own stations, or possibly trying to cater to some less-experienced or adventurous tastes, and the requirement that it all be packed along with us for the days it took to drive to Newfoundland, and the ten days of the presentation, I think it wasn’t an outrageously incorrect menu.
Certainly it worked, and none of us appear to have starved. I didn’t get the opportunity to play around with any of the experiments I’d had faint ideas of, or look into some of the local ingredients I’d been interested in, but then there’s often more I want to try that just doesn’t fit into the time allowed. I’ll just have to treat this as a starting point, and explore further.

- vandy
[crossposted from Dagda's Cauldron]

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Iron at Vinland - Northern Pen's view

From 'The Northern Pen'
Published on August 30th, 2010
(full text on their web site)

by Emma Graney

Ancient technique revived at L'Anse aux Meadows


Ken 'Grettr Blackhands' Cook explains the workings of L'Anse aux Meadows' second bog iron smelt in 1000 years.

Last weekend L’Anse aux Meadows was filled with the sound of vikings singing and chanting, punctuated by the hissing spit of freshly smelt iron and the clang of hammers beating the red-hot bloom.

Donned in traditional viking attire, re-enactors from Ontario and site interpreters from Parks Canada spent a sweaty day’s work layering charcoal upon raw iron ore inside a hand-built furnace and pumping the bellows to transform 20 kilograms of iron ore into almost three kilograms of iron.

Using a technique lost almost 800 years ago the group re-created a bog iron smelt — just the second to take place at L’Anse aux Meadows in 1000 years.

“I came a long way to make iron here,” said Ken Cook, otherwise known as Grettr Blackhands, his bushy beard only partially obscuring the huge grin spreading over his face.

“When we were doing it we were all floating on air. It was pretty exciting.”

The all-day activity was arranged in conjunction with the Dark Ages Re-Creation Company (DARC) as part of L’Anse aux Meadows’ 50th anniversary.

Darrell Markewitz, an artisan blacksmith and founding member of DARC, developed the training for the viking re-enactors at L’Anse aux Meadows and Norstead, and was instrumental in organizing this year’s demonstration.

“The problem with viking history is that it’s so far beyond people’s experience,” he explained last week.

“We’re talking about things that happened a thousand years ago — people have nothing to relate that to because it’s just so different. The easiest way to help them understand what objects were used for and what vikings were about is to use living history exhibits and this is a prime example of that.

“When you look at these demonstrations they put archaeological items in context and they create this multi-faceted learning that everyone can get into. It doesn’t matter if you have regular visitors, people with learning or physical disabilities, it doesn’t matter what language people speak, all class of visitors benefit and go away knowing a whole lot more.”

Preparation for the 10-day demonstration at L’Anse aux Meadows was no mean feat.

For 18 months members of DARC re-created Vinland viking gear to the smallest detail, including replacing the wooden handles of their knives with antler to ensure they were geographically appropriate and developing viking characters that fitted with the time period.

“We’re not playing high kings here, or warriors, because they’re not the people who were here at Vinland,” he said.

“All of our costuming, our instruments — we fine-tuned everything so that it aligned with what we know from archaeology, from history.

“The 50th anniversary is an important time and we were quite excited when we got the chance to do this so we made a serious effort to do a good job.”

The bog smelt wasn’t the only thing on show at the 10-day living history exhibit.

Working with the L’Anse aux Meadows site supervisor Loretta Decker, the group formulated a list of activities and elements of the viking village to recreate for visitors.

“Of course history is a huge part of it all — making sure everything is just as it was back then — but we also had experimental archaeology with things like glass bead making,” Mr Markewitz explained.

“No one ever made glass beads at Vinland, but it was part of the wider Norse culture so we recreated an old technique so people could see how they came about.

“Doing that shows the bigger picture, helps put activities into context, shows more skills, helps develop the skills of the Parks Canada site interpreters who’re here to learn, and by doing all that it creates a better experience for every person who visits the site.”

Other activities included pewter casting in stone molds, wood turning and weaving.

“The public, I think, were extremely happy with their experience and the Parks Canada interpreters got to learn so much, which they can hopefully develop and use at the site next summer,” Mr Markewitz said.

“We got to recognize the faces and some people who planned to stay an hour or two ended staying the whole day — one couple came back three days in a row.

“That’s the value of this, of living history. People learn, they’re interested and they enjoy it.”


This article is copied from the Northern Pen web site - text and image by Emma Graney.


Steve sent this link - to a version of the article published on the Newfoundland Telegraph. Same text, but different (actual smelting) images.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

DARC is done with L'Anse aux Meadows

DARC's time at L'Anse aux Meadows has come to an end. Our too short ten day contract ended, and sadly, we are heading home. More images will come as we get them collected from everyone and sorted, but here's a few more from our last day on site.

Egil is one of the permanent staff at LAM, found here cooking over the open fire. He is a fun fellow and quite the musician and storyteller.

These folks descended on Ragnarr to trade with him. From Ragnarr, going left, we have Thora, Astrid, Emundr, Emma and Katla. Thora is also part of the permanent staff - the others are various associated children. Ragnarr says the kids really got the better of him in that deal.

Thorgrimr and Egil discuss the merits of a trade they have in mind. Thorgrimr is eyeing a whale rib that Egil has and Egil is eager to have Thorgrimr's bow harp.

Thorgrimr is a master carver, and Egil an extremely talented musician.

It seems the bargain is struck and both men are happy with the deal.

And finally, some simple domestics - Audr made a bag of netting and some wool is being washed in the nearby stream.

Monday, August 23, 2010

DARC does L'Anse aux Meadows - the days are blurring

A great many things have been happening on the site at L'anse aux Meadows lately.

Kaðlín has finished warping up the loom and begun weaving. She's got 4 inches and counting now...

On Monday we repeated the bead melt. The furnace had no problems with the second heat. In our first attempt last week, the wind caused the beads to cool too fast and break before we could anneal them.

Today there was no wind! Today we managed to make all but two of the beads survive. Several visitors and staff had the chance to try and make a bead (many of them decorated). For Hrobjartr and Ragnarr it was very much a successful experiment. More pictures will follow.

"It was this big", or maybe "Bless this bloom" - Ketill caught during one of the explanations he gave on saturday as the smelt progressed. It was a wonderful thing to be able to run a smelt on the same ground where the vikings did it a thousand years ago - using tools and techniques that we reasonably believe the Norse used. And we wound up with a workable bloom of iron.

Thorgeir working with the spring pole lathe to turn a bowl while Jorunn makes use of the carving bench to work some wood.

Grimbold explaining to the visitors how a spring pole lathe works and the products that can be produced on one.

Cousin IT or perhaps Grettir Blackhands working on breaking charcoal to the correct size for the smelt that was held on Saturday. More on that later but it was indeed a big success.

Two more days remain!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hi there,

It's Grondzilla here, volunteering my services as the blogger for the day based on a certain level of foolishness on my part. As the semi-official photographer for DARC on this expedition I've been getting to see a lot of the interpreters over the last week. They've been going gangbusters and unfailingly drawing visitors to the L'anse aux Meadows back into history with them as they practice their arts, skills and trades and demonstrate first hand life here in the hinterlands a thousand years ago. It's been my great pleasure and privilege to try to capture a small sense of how much fun it is to be at the epicenter of this one ancient piece of Canadian 'European' history.

Don't worry...we're not done yet and I'll try my best to find more interesting peeks into the lives of these industrious visitors.

Alrighty then, enough of the small talk...let's get to the good stuff.

Today, for those of you following along on the Calendar, was 'smelt day' and boy howdy what a day. The amount of planning and agonizing and then just plain work that goes into making the smelt happen does boggle the mind a little bit. It's interesting to see the human machinery in action as the smelt workers go at their tasks with an enthusiasm and determination that only somewhat obsessive crazies can muster.

What's that? Oh right...I promised 'good stuff'...let's hope these images are a reasonable consolation prize.

First up we have the noble Grimbold manfully providing one whole 'Norsepower' to the bellows to keep the home fires burning. What do you mean that was truly awful? You wound me.

The machinery that makes this whole thing work is really about how these two elements interact (as far as my limited monkey-brain could make out...I'm sure there's all kinds of chemistry and physics going down but without the bellows and furnace you've got bupkis).

When I got back to our base station to have a look through the small mountain of photos that I shot this afternoon I took at little double-take at this one. What exactly were they making in there? The One Ring? Yikes!

Eventually it got to be time to drag the bloom into the light. I regret to inform friends and family that the mother furnace didn't survive the procedure. This shot is a good indicator of how roasty toasty things were inside.

Eventually the molten child was brought sizzling into the outside world and while it may be stretching the metaphor a tiny bit this here action was the doctors slap on the bottom. Ouch.

Stay tuned friends of should be back to a sober and focused posting very very shortly (at least pretty much as soon as they see what happens when unsupervised 'support staff' get ahold of the keys).


Thursday, August 19, 2010

DARC in the DARK

Wednesday's weather required working indoors for much of the day. One interesting result was the discovery that it is pretty much impossible to carve bone indoors in a Viking house. I was working in the fire hall of the reconstructed house in L'Anse aux Meadows, with the fire lit, the smoke holes open, and the doors open. Even with all of those light sources, I had to stand in the doorway to work the ring and dot tool, never mind actually carve with the knife. The bone carving is too fine to find by touch, and was invisible under those lighting conditions.

Wood carving is probably possible in that light, and bone work may be possible if done near a lamp. No doubt the weather will encourage future experiments in low-light carving.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Day 3 at LAM - random thoughts

Potato chip testing - Discriminating Vikings choose the smoked gouda and carmelized onion potato chips just slightly over the 2 year out of date stale cheddar cheese chips. The runners-up were sea salt and cracked pepper chips, lobster chips, ketchup chips.

Scotch tasting - A fine trio of Glen Breton whiskeys were sampled by the Scotch-inclined. The entry bottle (17 year old, Ice wine casked) was described as reminiscent of retsina and turpentine, but not in a bad way. The second, the "battle of the glen" whiskey (15 yr), seemed the most popular since it had a more balanced sequence of flavours. The third, Glen Breton Rose, seemed lost in comparison. It may turn out to be a good first whiskey, as it may have subtleties in its flavour which were lost in comparison.

Homemade County Clare beef barley soup, baked beans and fresh homemade bread - 40 thumbs up!!

Discriminating Vikings find Richard Castle's _Heat Wave_ a medicore read. "Night of the Living Trekkies" has yet to gain a rating.

Quote of the day: "Kaðlín plies her trade in the men's workroom."

How individual objects in archaeology need to be placed in context:

The Ring Pin found at L'Anse aux Meadows

" NOSE PIN? (Ragnarr slaps his chest) NOSE PIN! - NOW you tell me its a NOSE pin...."

Random Thoughts compiled by Karen, Steve and Darrell - with input from all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 2 at LAM

Still good weather - only starting to get overcast by the afternoon. Two _huge_ tours from a cruise ship. The longhouse was just completely packed at one point.

It's a good thing our cooks were still able to cook outside. Soup for lunch today was a delicious fish broth, a bit of cheese and some dried bread. I should have dipped it in the soup.

Grimbold explains what he's doing to a visitor.

Rig takes his son up on his to help him out with the wood shaving. Did I mention it was hot out in the morning? No fear - the temperatures are supposed to drop today with some rain.

I didn't get quite as far as I hoped in getting closer to weaving. I'm still knitting the heddles.

It might be time to make someone else blog tonight. I don't get out of the longhouse very often so I don't know what the rest of us are doing. I've just been finding words to go with the pictures our photographer takes!

Quote of the day: Ragnarr to a tourist who wanted to take his photo- "Get my heroic side!"


Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 1 - DARC does LAM

Day 1 - unloading the boat, to join the crew at L'Anse aux Meadows.Good thing we used the large boat to get here. The folks who already live here were very welcoming to us newcomers.

We had a few issues to address, Grimbold tried to keep us all in line.

Kadja, reposed, as she listens in the meeting.

The cruise ship arrive tomorrow. We're expecting upwards of 600 folks to visit. May Thor grant us continued good weather.

And it turns out that I had no reason to freak out after all, it was a fine day.

"Sunburns on the northern most tip of Newfoundland, who'd have thought?"


Sunday, August 15, 2010

DARC has arrived in L'Anse aux Meadows

The Dark Ages Recreation Company have arrived in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada, and we go live tomorrow for the next 10 days.

Hi, I'm Karen. I do weaving on the warp weighted loom and I'm freaking out.

Snorri came along for the ride.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

DARC at LAM - 2010

the Viking Age comes to LIFE
August 15 - 25, L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC

In case any readers missed it (??) the Dark Ages Re-creation Company has been asked by Parks Canada to mount a major presentation at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. The 10 days of living history is to help mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the archaeological site in Vinland.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A look at L'Anse aux Meadows

These clips on YouTube include professional film and those by amateurs. Those that are relatively recent give you some idea what the Encampment looks like - and how the current staff are handling things like visitor questions.

" Frank and Todd live the life of the Norsemen in L'Anse aux Meadows Newfoundland "
June 2008

"L'Anse aux Meadows is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the only known Norse village in North America (outside of Greenland). Explore the unique cultural offerings that this archaeological site has to offer."
November 2009

" By Peter Bull, Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
After a good night's sleep in St. Anthony, my family & I headed north to L'Anse aux Meadows. ... The site today is a perfect mix of displays, guided tours and interactive exhibits. We really loved L'Anse aux Meadows' hands-on approach to history. Ronan and Cormac had a great time trying on the Viking gear. ... "
August 2009

"A local viking holding court in L'Anse aux Meadows."
August 2009

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Currency Bar - from our OWN Iron

A general feeling was that we should have at least one completed 'currency bar' made up for the L'Anse aux Meadows presentation - that was formed from iron we had smelted ourselves. There was one completed billet of iron on hand. Unfortunately there are some gaps and errors in the records, so not as much information can be gained as was hoped.


Date : November 12, 2005 (note that earlier records show this as 'October 2005'
Experiment :13/D7 (detailed notes on the DARC Iron series)
Location : Wareham, ON
Team : DARC
Furnace: Norse Short Shaft
- clay cob with stone slab support
- tap arch
Note - reuse of furnace from June 05
Size : 25 cm x 60 H
Source : suggested by earlier experiments
Tuyere : 25 mm ID ceramic kiln support
Placement : 16 cm from base
- about 5 cm in from wall
- angle at 20 down
Bellows : vacuum blower
Air : 600 l / min (estimated)
Charcoal : 79.5 kg broken hardwood
Consumption : about 2 kg charcoal every 10 minutes
Ore : Stelco taconite + Virginia Rock Ore
17 kg (roasted)
Sequence : ore added in variable sequence (7 - 10 min)
as small charges .75 - 2.25 lbs
Duration : about 6 1/4 hours (not including preheat)
Result : 4.3 kg bloom
Yield : 22 %
Notes : - Successful creation of historic sized bloom
- Success in patching and re-firing furnace


My notes list an undated effort to forge down a portion of the November 2005 bloom. These seem to indicate the main part of the bloom was cut into two sections, one at 1.70 kg, one at 1.86 kg, the remainder of the mass as smaller fragments. The 1.70 kg piece was forged down into the working bar seen above. The notes list the resulting bar at roughly 2 x 3 by 34 cm, but do not give the finished weight.

This is the completed currency bar. The finished weight is 895 gms. The size is in the range of the artifact samples : 15 x 15 mm (widest portion 18 x 18) by 525 mm long.

This is a close up of the flattened end of the bar. The 'paddle' is 110 mm long, and roughly 32 mm wide. It tapers slightly from 5mm thick at the base to 3 mm at the tip.

A close up of the bar end. I developed the runic mark seen for use on DARC replica objects. In five strokes it combines all the letters for DARC, both in Roman and Norse characters.

The starting billet could perhaps have used one additional consolidation weld. There is some cracking along the straight corners of the bar as a result. The flattening step held together very well however, a step added in the Viking Age as a quality check. Overall the quality of this bar is in the same range as I found when I created a set of replica bars for Parks Canada, using various antique wrought irons.

Replica Currency Bars - for L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC, 2001

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Vinland at Wareham

What you will find at the DARC Viking Age presentation - Saturday June 12 (10a-4p):

This drawing roughly to scale 1/4" : 5'
light green - cut pathways
mid green - long grass
dark green - trees
white - fixed structures
pink - presentation areas

The physical layout being used is an attempt to duplicate the kinds of spaces that will be available to us at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. The large 'ship shelter' overhead (#5) takes the place of the main turf hall at LAM. Our 'cooking shelter' (#2) takes the place of the small dwelling hut. Our 'smelter shelter (#6) is the same size as the furnace hut.

Visitors are asked to abide by the following:

1) PARKING - Safest is along the N-S roadway (Sideroad 40) to the EAST of the grounds (right hand on drawing). Please leave the entrance drive clear.

2) WASHROOMS - There is a pit outhouse at the rear of the grounds. A port'a'john will be placed at the entry (# 7).

3) It is suggested you stay to the cut pathways. Remember this is a rural location (think of a hacked back field, not a suburban grass yard). Bare feet is a bad idea.

4) The pond is NOT FENCED - APPROACH AT YOUR OWN RISK. The banks on the north and east sides are steep and drop off to deep water.

5) DOGS ON LEASHES ONLY. There are three cats in the household. Their demands take precedence over any visiting animals!

6) Please, no historic costume for visitors.



Please consider supporting the ongoing research and educational efforts of DARC by either making a donation, or purchasing one of the training DVDs / research CD-ROMs or Viking Game.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Vinland at Wareham

What you will find when you come to Wareham for the Vinland presentation on June 12.

Monday, May 10, 2010

the Viking Age comes to Wareham!

Nothing can bring the Viking Age to life like costumed historic interpreters surrounded with the personal goods and tools of the past. Artefacts that seem puzzling when seen in a museum exhibit or book suddenly become clear when seen in use or in placed in your hand.

The Dark Ages Recreation Company has once again been invited by Parks Canada to come and demonstrate the living history of the first Europeans to explore North America at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC in Newfoundland. As a part of our preparation for this presentation in August, we are mounting a full dress run-through in Wareham on June 12th from 10am to 4pm.

You are most welcome to drop by and visit with members of the company as they practice their skills and fine tune the presentation areas. This presentation will be of particular interest to students in Grade 6 (Explorer's unit) or Grade 11 (archaeology), teachers involved in those topic areas, or other groups with an interest in traditional historic skills such as scouts and guides.

There are no fees to attend this special event!

Wareham is located just of highway 10, close to Flesherton Ontario. Directions are available on the Wareham Forge Website. (

Living History - What does it look like?

DARC focuses on daily life in the Viking Age. The presentation will centre on a 'camp', with costumed interpreters surrounded by a collection of replica objects consisting of domestic goods, tools, and storage. At the rehearsal, simple overhead covers and tents will mimic the buildings which we will use at L'Anse aux Meadows. Individuals will be outfitted with the tools of their various trades and arts, all representing our real interests and skills. (We really are weavers and cooks, blacksmiths and carvers.) All of the objects seen, from clothing to tents, are based on specific artifact prototypes.
To the public, the members of DARC present themselves as actual voices from the past, with shared experiences as a group and direct personal histories. Individual members of DARC have prepared detailed characterizations based on their personal research into the Viking Age, developing considerable expertise in specialized areas. These characters are the 'common man': artisans, merchants or farmers typical of the Norse of the North Atlantic circa 1000 AD. Any conversation is likely to begin at this 'role playing' level of historic interpretation. The interpretive level used is then shifted to suit the needs of individual visitors. Some people delight in talking to a character from 1000 years ago, others are more comfortable with more of a modern commentary. Interpreters are able to handle a wide range of topics and level of detail.
Demonstrations being prepared for this presentation will include:

* antler and bone carving
* soapstone carving
* spinning
* natural dyes
* game playing
* simple musical instruments
* wood work (spring pole lathe)
* coin minting
* weaving
* iron smelting (did you know that the norse made the first iron in Canada 500 years before Columbus arrived?)

The use of replicas, although still historically accurate, allows the public to personally handle tools and materials. In many cases you can actually try a technique or help out with a task.
A team with proven experience!

DARC has provided skilled and well equipped interpreters for special programs for all of the major events and exhibitions that marked the 'Viking Millennium' in Canada. No other group of Canadian re-enactors has as much accumulated museum experience. As a group and as individuals, members have worked both throughout Canada and the USA. Personal research has taken members to museums and archaeological sites across Iceland, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

Interested in Discussing Details?

Darrell Markewitz - organizes DARC's museum presentations and serves as the museum contact. Not only one of the original founders of DARC, he brings extensive museum experience as a consultant on educational programing and staff trainer for Parks Canada and other major institutions.


Darrell Markewitz
Interpretive Program Designer
Hamlet of Wareham
RR # 2 - Proton Station, Ontario
N0C 1L0 Canada
(519) 923-9219

Friday, April 30, 2010

A ROUGH site plan

This is a site plan of the Encampment Compound as it exists at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.
To prepare this, I worked from the scaled architect's drawing of the compound, as it was proposed in the early 1980's. To this I added the room dimensions from the archaeology from Wallace's Westward Vikings.
I had a long talk with Loretta Decker, the site manager at LAM on Wednesday, and the current uses for the various spaces are indicated. Typically Parks has 3 costumed staff in place (Mark as smith, Bonnie as textiles, Mike as chieftain), and rarely more than 5 or 6. This then puts Parks staff at Main 4 / Main 1 and Dwelling.

Loretta has suggested she would like to see DARC integrate fairly closely with the existing interpretive staff. This rather than the more 'arms length' arrangement our original scenario had proposed.

- Weaving would be centred on Main 4, with both looms set up and working if space permits (just ours if not).
- Iron working would shift over to Furnace, with some smithing, but primarily preparation for the smelt
- Main 3, normally not staffed, would contain our woodworking, possible carving
- Dwelling would contain our food preparation, and also our night storage.

Storage could be outfitted as Slave Quarters
Main 2 is available as a station
Main 1 would remain primarily as Parks, with spill over from DARC likely
Interior Yard is likely for domestic tasks like clothes washing

The facing for the three tents is indicated by the arrows:
A - Trade and Games
B - Lathe
C - Bondi (kids?)

I still have to work up the exact placement of the various skills, primary and secondary. Also alternates for foul weather. I suspect that many activities will be easy to move outside as well, so positions there need to be determined as well. A balance between the core team and the additionals, alternate positions during experimental archaeology demonstrations.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Icelandic (?) Pattern Loom for Vinland

One of the current objects under construction here is a warp weighted loom, commissioned by Karen Peterson.
With the living history presentation by DARC at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC coming up this summer (August 16 - 25, 2010) the entire group is re-working a LOT of our equipments. Everyone in DARC is making a very special effort to make this presentation of the very highest standard. Our normal museum display focuses on a more 'urban' view, centred on the 'life of the craftsman'. The objects are typically chosen from a greater span of both geography and time. For the DARC at Vinland presentation, we are tightening up to 1000 - 1010 AD and to primarily Greenland and Iceland for our prototypes. (An ongoing discussion of how this effects our presentation can be found on the original DARC blog.)

Textile production is a major element in DARC's combined skill set and physical presentations. This is especially the case for the story of LAM, where one of the signature artifacts was a small soapstone spindle whorl.
My concern is that the several warp weighted looms currently being used by various members of the group (at least four) are all too 'modern' in their construction details. (Beware: Textile jargon coming up!)

The historic prototypes:
Old Scatness, Scotland
Likely 1800's?
National Museum of Iceland
Perhaps 1700's?
Stong Farmstead, Iceland
Modern reconstruction

Images above by Karen Peterson

After considerable discussion, it was decided to build a new loom. The key was to not only consider the artifact prototypes available, but also the raw materials available on hand in both Iceland and Vinland circa 1000 AD. One primary problem in looking at the existing samples is that all of them are at best no older than the 1700's. Almost all have been heavily restored. A good number of those on display in museum collections are in fact modern replicas. Our own textile workers have been known to be puzzled by some of those on display. "Well, that just will not work!" is a repeated comment. (Few museum displays are actually set up by involved workers in the related skills, see any of my earlier comments on blacksmithing exhibits.)

The primary difference between the more 'continental' style and a distinctively 'Icelandic' style of loom appears to be in the difference in how the heddle bar is supported. (The heddle bar is the horizontal rod to which one set of the up and down warp threads are attached.) The more commonly used method in most re-constructions I have seen uses the form seen on the Old Scatness sample. That is a pair of forked branches or notched boards, which fit into a series of holes running along the uprights. This arrangement allows for adjusting the distance and position of the heddle rod, and thus controls the width of the shed (distance between front and back warp threads). This arrangement is physically quite strong, as the considerable force caused by supporting the loom weights will push straight back down the shed support rods and back into the frame.
On the Icelandic pattern, the heddle supports are two longer poles or planks, wedged between the floor and the lower horizontal line of the shed support. The advantage of this method is both ease of construction and that it is almost infinitely adjustable. The major problem is that now the force of the loom weights is directed in a diagonal line against the side of the shafts.
In truth, as the major elements of the frame of the loom are virtually identical, it was decided to design the new loom to allow it to be mounted up for either method. There would be the required holes drilled in the uprights and a set of forked shed supports, plus the longer and heavier rods included to set up for the Icelandic tradition.

In all the 'artifact' samples, the two uprights have been flattened off on two sides. The supporting fork at the top of the uprights (for the top beam) are made of separate pieces, cut to shape and pinned into place. This is a significantly weaker construction method, as the load runs across the direction of the grain, and all the weight is entirely born by the two pins. A better method is to use two natural limb joints, where the grain will run around the fork and so is significantly stronger. The ideal way to attach these as separate pieces would be to set them into a large dovetail joint. (Readers will note that this is Evil Wood talk : 'I said I don't have much use for them, not that I don't know HOW to use them'.) In the end I decided to use one piece naturally forked limbs to ensure strength but reduce complexity.

The next concern was about materials, and how these might fit into our proposed scenario for DARC at Vinland. Initially it was suggested that 'Ka∂lin' would be a 'professional' weaver, and as such would likely have brought her loom with her on the immigration trip from Iceland. Karen, however, was a bit concerned that this story element might overplay her actual weaving skills. As a compromise, it was decided that the loom she would would work on at LAM would be one that could have been constructed at Vinland itself, perhaps skillfully built (?) but of available local materials. Birch was chosen, as it was available in both Iceland (still) and Vinland circa 1000 AD.

To that end, in mid March I wandered off into a local woodlot (where I have permission to cut). After three hours slogging around in mushy snow and melt water pools, I selected two standing birch trees to fell. This proved much harder than it might seem, I looked a dozens of trees through the swampy area. The key was finding two in the right size range (5 - 6 inch diameter) with naturally occurring forks in the correct configuration. Even cut down to an eight foot length, a six inch green log is damn heavy! I also gathered a standing but long dead (and dry) spruce sapling. This piece is dead straight, and tapers evenly from 3 1/3 inches at the base through to about 3/4 an inch - over a 23 foot length. I ended up making a second trip into the bush later to return to the cutting sites to gather smaller diameter forked branches to use for the shed supports and beam winding shafts.

The first step was removing all the bark. To keep the whole project looking as 'authentic as possible, this work was done using a hand axe. The smaller existing branches would be trimmed back to short lengths, providing a number of natural hooks for eventual hanging of weaving tools.
Special attention was given to the method of cutting the ends of the top beam. These ends would be clearly visible. So they were cut more or less flush by using the hand axe and a mallet. This does leave an entirely different finish than slicing off with a modern saw.

YouTube segment showing the preparation of the raw logs.

Frame under constructionDetail of beam and upright

The images above show the majority of the loom's frame completed.

BELOW : The completed loom. You will see it has three positions for the lower shed support. There are a total of 4 positions for the heddle support rods. (You may notice this is the more standard layout, the two longer pole pieces for the Icelandic method will be made up later.)