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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Wareham Forge makes the News...

... as in 'ThorNews'

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

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

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


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

I sent back a bit of a clarification :

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DARC at Vinland - seen on ExARC!

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

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

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

Next up for the group? 

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Making glass beads from the past

Making glass beads from the past

EuroREA 7 (2010) Jannika GRIMBE
This is a nice little (4 page) article on Jannika's experimental bead making. The first page covers the usual archaeological evidence and background on Viking Era beadmaking. There are a lot of assumptions being made, and statements for which I would love to see citations. For example, the metal plate from Ribe is presented conclusively as a pre-heating plate for glass fragments before adding them to a punty rod. While that is one possible idea there are other suggestions for that plate that have been made over the years. Her final bullet point in the archaeological section mentioned that "Analyses of 'non-glass' rests in the bead holes of beads from Ribe prove the use of separators". Statements like that really do require citations. On the plus side, a citation does appear on page three when the point is repeated.

The second page begins with a discussion of the furnaces. Sadly, she begins her discussion with "Since there is no knowledge about what the prehistoric furnaces looked like". This is simply false. The hearths from Ribe have published shapes and dimensions. Any effort to re-create the furnaces must begin with an understanding of that basic fact. If your furnace design is going to deviate from those bases you need to explain why you chose to do so.

The practical experiments were quite interesting as she worked heavily with punty rods. This isn't something we have done a lot of work with ourselves but is certainly a reasonable area to explore. I am happy to see someone exploring it. A method she did not try for working with a punty rod, which we have done, and is done today by Turkish beadmakers is to use a crucible to collect and melt the fragments. The rod can then be inserted into the crucible and the glass collected on it for future use. See for example The experimental sequence involving resists ("rests" according to the article),  is very much worth the read. Some good basic options of clay and salt are tested and discussed. Overall a good experimental summary.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

the Galloway Hord...

At the National Museum of Scotland - Edenburgh :

Lower groupping of arm 'rings'

Upper grouping of ingots and worked strips

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross Posted from 'Hammered Out Bits'

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Adventures of 'Snorrette'

Well, here I am at the Crannog.
Sorry that I'm such a mess - I still can't seem to find all my clothes!

The iron smelt here was a bit of a mess, mainly from rushing things and limited tools to fix problems as they happened. If you want to see any of that, do check the blog post.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Iron Smelt at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC

This is a fast report on the bloomery iron smelt undertaken by a Parks Canada team, with some assistance from DARC, on Sunday July 16, 2017 - at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC.
This was in conjunction with 'Historic Sites Day' - and in turn part of the ongoing Canada 150 events.

This is only the second time in the modern era that iron has been smelted at LAM, since Leif Eirikson and his crew undertook the process some time about 1000 AD.

This iron smelt was a very long one.

The 'smelt master' was Mark Pilgrim ('Little Ragnar'). He and I started at 7:00 am with the organization and pre-heat.
Main sequence start with ungraded charcoal at 10:45
(from here on constant bellows work by Ian / Kevin / 'Thorstien')
First ore (DD2 Analog) at 12:00
A bit of mix up there, poor communications / instruction (?) resulted
in the first charge being a full 2 kg , followed by a more normal 1 kg
Burn times ran an average of about 20 minutes each (fastest = 17 /
slowest = 29)
Total of 29 kg ore was charged, last addition at 5:36

Although the normal burn down to ready for extraction was finished at
6:45, the extraction was delayed to about 7:30 to allow the visiting
group from C-3 to assemble.
The end result of this was that the furnace interior had cooled, the
normally white hot bloom had shifted down to at best a bright orange.
This in turn resulted in great difficulty separating the bloom from
the slag bowl - and the slag bowl becoming completely frozen to the
furnace walls.
Mark undertook the extraction process, but in the end had to break the
furnace apart to free the mass.

Top of Bloom - showing 'scoop' from air blast.

The end result was a 5.5 kg bloom. Yield = 19 %

This is still a bit lacy on the outside, due to initial compaction
being undertaken well below the normal welding heat. Still the bloom
looks and feels quite solid under the hammer. This a marked contrast
to the crumbly texture of the 2010 results.

Cut (and broken) along the mid line. Top 'half' is to left.

Impressive work by all involved!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

DARC to Vinland - 2010 view

DARC will be returning to Vinland!

Ragnarr Ragnarson will once again be gathering his band of friends and heading of into the West. (You think by now we would have learned not to trust his navigation skills!)

Members of DARC will be expanding the regular Encampment program at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC from July 15 through 23, 2017. The highlight will be July 16 - with a full re-creation of the first iron smelt in North America (originally undertaken by Leif Eirikson's crew some time about 1000 AD).

To give you a hint at what you might see in this special presentation for Parks Canada and Canada 150 - here are some images from past voyages:


All images by Paul Halasz - © 2010

Monday, May 22, 2017

Let's Talk About ICMS, baby!

OK we admit it isn't as fun as the actual song but ICMS is always a fun time.

For those who don't know ICMS is the International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo each May. You can see the conference website at

We were going to summarize it but frankly the Congress writers do a good job already:
The International Congress on Medieval Studies is an annual gathering of around 3,000 scholars interested in medieval studies. The congress features around 575 sessions of papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops and performances. There are also some 100 business meetings and receptions sponsored by learned societies, associations and institutions. The exhibits hall boasts nearly 70 exhibitors, including publishers, used book dealers and purveyors of medieval sundries. The congress lasts three and a half days, extending from Thursday morning, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m., until Sunday at noon.
The PDF with the whole schedule can be seen at

Sessions we sponsored:

This year on behalf of EXARC Neil facilitated a session and co-sponsored another one.

155: Archaeology and Experiment: Moving beyond the Artifacts - Thursday 7:30-9 pm
  • Symmetry and Asymmetry in Viking Age Dress V. M. Roberts, Independent Scholar
  • The Growth of Yeast and Mold on Viking Age Flat Bread versus Modern Sliced Bread Marci Lyn Waleff, Independent Scholar
  • Minimalist Survival Gear: Three Points in Time Stevan E. Waleff, Independent Scholar
Although attendance was lower than in past years (the joy of moving to an evening session) - it was a good session with lots of Q & A from the audience. No-one simply read a paper. These were people passionate about their topics (even the mold) talking WITH the audience about those topics. And the questions at the end really showed the level of audience engagement we got in return. We could have stayed longer answering questions.

41: Medieval Tools (A Roundtable) - Thursday 10-11:30 am
Sponsor: AVISTA: The Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art; DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion); EXARC; Medica: The Society for the Study of Healing in the Middle Ages; Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica

A roundtable discussion with Constance H. Berman, Univ. of Iowa; Carla Tilghman, Washburn Univ.; Frank Klaassen, Univ. of Saskatchewan; Linda Ehrsam Voigts, Univ. of Missouri–Kansas City; and Darrell Markewitz, Wareham Forge

DARC had planned on two sessions

DARC Fibre Stitch and Bitch Team did a "gathering" in Valley I Shilling Lounge over lunch on Friday. Attendance was lighter then Karen would have liked, but we all had a good time. Lisa-Anne and Jen brought prizes to raffle off, and everyone walked away with something new. Valley I is a bit out of the way to catch the noon hour crowd, but no worries, we have a new plan for next year to catch the eye of the textile geeks at the conference!

We also planned on:

224: Casting an International Congress on Medieval Studies Pilgrim’s Badge (A Workshop) -  Friday - 10-11:30am
Sponsor: Dark Ages Recreation Company
A hands-on workshop led by Darrell Markewitz, Wareham Forge, allows attendees to learn the process of casting pewter tokens in a soapstone mold as was done in the Middle Ages, allowing attendees the opportunity to cast a pilgrim’s badge they can take away for a cost of $5.00.

That one died when the folks at the border stopped Darrell from crossing. Very disappointing.

That leaves the question of what we were up to when we weren't running sessions?

First Darrell's border problem had a cascade effect in that he obviously couldn't attend session 41. Neil stepped in for him at the last moment and had a lot of fun speaking to the value of EXARC. Some wonderful questions from the audience on a number of topics including how museums can use EXARC. Frank spoke very well about the museum exhibit development Magica did and the fun that 3D printers can bring to the work. We also discussed their value in rapidly prototyping and the problems that come because of the materials involved.  That also led to a discussion on experiential versus experimental activities; skills versus technologies; and some other fun topics.

Beyond that we attended sessions, walked around _a lot_, and enjoyed the new Valley dining centre. 

So let the Reviews begin. 

Thursday 1:30-3pm 

Encounters with the Paranormal in Medieval Iceland I: Definitions and Categories 
  • Doomsday in Medieval Iceland Kolfinna Jónatansdóttir, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Sacramental Showdowns: Catholic Priests versus Icelandic Undead Kent Pettit, St. Louis Univ. 
  • “Cherchez (Pas) la Femme”: Defining Fylgjur in Old Icelandic Literature Zuzana Stankovitsová, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Trolling Guðmundr: Paranormal Defamation in Ljósvetninga saga Yoav Tirosh, Háskóli Íslands 

Were the papers read or talked about? Read/Read/Read/Read 
First suggestion - make sure your Presider can talk loudly enough to be heard past the second row of seats or use the microphone technology in the room. Second - don't let your presenters sit down. Bad enough they are reading at us, sitting down just kills their vocal volume and any hope of passion/change of tone/etc. [Karen] Actually, I thought that the guy who sat through his reading was quite animated and I could hear him better then the Presider. I was skeptical about his biases in the paper. He was talking about the transition from Paganism to Catholicism in Iceland, and he was quite a bit biased in favour of Catholicism. [/K] All of the papers were interesting enough topics but it was really hard to engage with them at any depth. At this point Neil will go download them from Academia read them, and he will get a lot more out of them then we did from the "presentations". 

[Neil] I know I drone on about this but honestly when you have 15 minutes - don't use it to read the stiff, formal words of your paper at us. Summarize it for us, hit the high points, show us pictures and graphs, get us excited to go get a copy and read all the little details. If you don't think you can do this - talk to me and I'll help. Or start by reading these two articles.... [/N] 

Thursday 3:30-5pm  

Encounters with the Paranormal in Medieval Iceland II: Social Concerns 
  • “Who is Selkolla, what is she?”: Disentangling Traditions in the Sagas of Guðmundur Arason and Elsewhere Shaun F. D. Hughes, Purdue Univ. 
  • 45 Geocentric Topographies in Barðar Saga Snæfellsáss: Locating the Paranormal from Snæfellsness to Hellalund Daniel Remein, Univ. of Massachusetts–Boston 
  • Cognitive Contingencies: Íslendingasögur’s Speculative Realism and the Value of Uncertainty Miriam Mayburd, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Glámr and the Uncanny Valley: A Cognitive-Semiotic Reading of Grettis saga Sarah Bienko Eriksen, Univ. of California–Berkeley 
  • Talking to Death in Alvíssmál Andrew McGillivray, Univ. of Winnipeg 

Read/Read/Read/Read/Read some with and some without powerpoint presentations.
Better presider but the rest was mostly the same. Again we'll download the papers and we'll see.  The first paper is a better speaker but he does tend to speak regularly.  An interesting look at a class of character.  Paper two was a standard survey type paper collecting useful information.  No clue about the third paper - but it was the presider from the previous session and she sat down.  So really hard to hear.  We don't remember too much of the last couple of papers.

Friday 10-11:30am

Neil attended:
Fancy Pincushions Part Two (A Demonstration) 
Organizer: Cameron Christian-Weir, Grey Goose Bows/Augsburg College 
Presider: Andrew Barwis, Grey Goose Bows 
A demonstration of the findings from an ongoing experimental archaeology study on the ballistics complicity of warbows and arrows of the Hundred Years war. Featured are a warbow (unbraced) from the study, as well as two war arrows also from the study (a MR livery arrow and a west minster style shaft) to illustrate the weight and design on the shafts. 

Cameron is always fun to listen to. Definitely not one to read a paper at you. Frankly he's often as scattered as Rig can be and for the same reason. There is so much data in his head and it is all banging to be let out. Neil is trying to get him to submit the research to date (even one cell at a time) to EXARC as it would be a good read. Part of this year's talk though would also be a fun (at least for us) read. During testing (at full draw) his original (120#) warbow broke on him. He had copies of the x-rays showing the damage to his spine that was caused by that one incident. He is better now, but still coming back up to form (only able to shoot a 60# bow right now). Overall his work is a good penetration study being done very rigourously using accelerometers, ballistics gel and different forms of armour. He has years ahead of him still but some fun interim findings are popping up. Including impact force/energy even when there is no penetration. 

Karen attended:
  • A New Type of Hoard: Europe's Northernmost Pre-Viking Hacksilver Alice Blackwell, National Museums Scotland
  • The Private Lives of Hoards Rory Naismith, King's College London

Respondent: Catherine E. Karkov, University of Leeds

Alice Blackwell's presentation included a delightful powerpoint presentation, complete with a lot of pictures of various hoards found in Scotland in the pre-Viking Era. Rory Naismith read his paper, and it was entirely an esoteric approach to hoards as they show up in manuscripts - very boring.
The Respondent was a surprise new feature of these sessions for Karen. I'd been looking forward to the Q & A from the audience to clarify some things, and perhaps bring new life to Rory's paper-reading. The Respondent read from a prepared paper, and droned on forever. I left mid-Respondent, being anxious to get to the DARC fibre stitch and bitch in a timely fashion.

Friday 1:30-3pm  

Neil attended:
Mappings II: Medieval Maps, Their Makers and Users 
  • Seabirds to Starboard: Notes on Norse Navigational Technique Gaetan Dupont, Cornell Univ.; Oren Falk, Cornell Univ. 
  • The Geography of Devotion in the London Psalter Maps LauraLee Brott, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison 
  • Russian “Old Drawing”: The Problem of Attribution Alexey Frolov, Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences 

Mixed/Read/Read  (all had powerpoints)
Oren's presentation (for all he mostly read at us) was interesting. The more so since his co-author was a first year undergrad when he wrote the original version of the paper. The paper focused on the different kinds of seabirds, their use in navigation, and blended in with Norse literary sources. A very fun topic. 

As you might guess, my eyes glazed over while LauraLee read a paper that isn't something I'm interested in. In one ear an out the other just as fast. 

The Russian Old Drawing is one of those places Neil is ready to cut the 'reading my paper' people some slack. English was clearly not his first language. It should also be called out that he wasn't reading his paper at us. He was reading a lecture/presentation about his topic to us. And he had clearly practiced enough so that he knew it well enough that he occasionally came off script. That gets a "Very well done" from Neil. On the topic itself it also gets a 'weird but cool' rating. They are attempting to reconstruct a drawing that was lost in an archive fire using the surviving descriptions of the document. 

Friday 3:30-5pm 

Neil attended:
Medievalism and Immigration II 
  • Medievalism, Brexit, and the Myth of Nations Andrew B. R. Elliott, Univ. of Lincoln 
  • “I’m 20% Viking”: Englishness, Immigration, and the Public Reception of Historical DNA Michael Evans, Delta College 

Read (powerpoint)/Read (no powerpoint)
Waste of my time. Sociological analysis of the appearance of medieval elements in the Brexit campaign, and a look at how people perceive their DNA results/identities. I'm sure that is very interesting to a number of people - just not Neil.  This is, however, a normal occurance at ICMS - you try and judge interest by paper titles not abstracts (just think about how big that PDF would be if it had abstracts for the 1500-2000 papers.....) - sometimes you get it wrong.  It is all part of the fun.

Karen attended:
Materiality and Place in the Northern World II
  • King of the Island(s): Arthur and Glastonbury Abbey Genevieve Pigeon, University du Quebec-Montreal
  • Sanctus Locus, Santus Corpus: Saints, Relic and Religious Devotion in Tenth-Century England Abigail G.Robertson, University of New Mexico
  • Magic-Making and Place-Taking: Celtic Women in the Old Norse Sagas Brianna McElrath Panasenco, University of California-Berkeley

The first presenter largely read from her paper and I've largely lost all memory of it. I started to wonder, during the second presentation, if she got points for using a powerpoint presentation if all she had on it was the title of her paper, and her name/association but eventually she did have a few slides with weak drawings of some relics.
The third paper was a delightful surprise. Brianna read from a paper, but she was engaging and the topic was interesting. She covered the place of Celtic women in Norse society, the assignment of 'magic' to these foreign women and used major Sagas and well known characters in the Sagas to make these associations. She talked about the textile process as a form of magic - in Njal's saga, for example, there is a description of 3 women using a warp-weighted loom to intercede in a battle. The warps were intestines, and the weights were the skulls of the dead.
I was so taken by her paper's look at women and textile work and magic that I gave her contact information for another scholar that I know (Michele Hayeur-Smith) who is working in the same general area.
Neil should have picked this session. He would have been equally delighted by Brianna's paper.

Friday 5:30 - 6:30pm

Karen attended:
DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics and Fashion) Exhibition

I have an awkward relationship with DISTAFF, and I don't always enjoy their sessions or exhibition but at this one, I had a great time. I talked to Jen about her dyes, and to Christine about the pin beater (we disagree on it's use as a textile tool for weaving). I admired Christine's overall presentation - examples of her tools, some notes on dying, other weaving samples, and she had her warp-weighted loom in the room to work/talk about. I left quite satisfied but tempted to try weaving again - always a dangerous path for me. I love the weaving process, but hate the warping process, and there really isn't room in the house for my loom.

Friday 6:30-8:30pm 

Neil attended:
Manuscripts to Materials 
Sponsor: Research Group on Manuscript Evidence; Societas Magica 
Practical Magic: Making Magical Artifacts and Using Them Frank Klaassen, Univ. of Saskatchewan 
Responses: Claire Fanger, Rice Univ.; David Porreca; Marla Segol, Univ. at Buffalo 

Talked/Talked/Talked/Talked (no powerpoints)

Much fun. This included a display of the museum exhibit mentioned way back on Thursday morning with more information about the hands-on work the students did to create it, how it is received. How to form more solid connections to the audience. Look for extensions into VR and Icelandic materials if I can talk them into it. This exhibit will be coming to both UWaterloo and UToronto in the near future - watch for it. A very good job both for the session and for the exhibit.

Saturday 10-11:30 

Karen napped in the room.

Neil attended:
Gender at the Borders of Christendom 
  • How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the King: Synthesis, Paradox, and Cultural Integration in Late Viking Age Kingship, ca. 990–1050 Devon R. Bealke 
  • 119 Christian Women as Occupying Forces in the Thirteenth-Century Book of Deeds of James I of Aragon Emma Snowden, Univ. of Minnesota–Twin Cities 
  • Not Transvestite, But Transgender: Early Byzantine Narratives of Transmen Catherine Burris, Univ. of Central Missouri 
  • Morphia’s Daughters: Matrilineal Social Ties in Twelfth-Century Jerusalem and Antioch K. A. Tuley, Univ. of Minnesota–Twin Cities 
The 2nd and 4th papers did the usual 'in one ear and out the other' things that happens with bad presenters reading topics that don't interest me. Sorry. Paper 4 also gets this years prize for most useless slide.  She attempted to put all of the social ties on a single slide (tree graph) and her comment was that she couldn't read it.  No kidding - about 6 or 8 point font.  That's the sort of thing you want to know before you stand up to present. If you can't read it EASILY on your computer screen it won't project well.

Paper 3 was interesting. Less for the topic than some of the reactions. Catherine reviewed a number of byzantine sources of stories about women who took on male roles. She set them in context for us (short, tightly edited tales speaking about Christianity from a distance). She grouped the stories into women who tried male roles but "failed" and wound up back in female roles, and those who 'succeeded' and died as men even when they could have chosen to return to female roles. It was a really interesting overview. The "succeed" vs "fail" really bugged people in the audience. A lot of the Q & A session was around how modern people saw themselves and how they wanted to see elements of themselves in the past. The presider did an interesting job at one point of asking the presenter now that we saw how the modern mind saw these issues could she speak those how those from the time period saw these issues - which was a very good way of framing the conversation. 

Paper 1 was what brought me to the session.  The presenters opening comment was well delivered - he was a bit optimistic about what would fit in the time allowed.  Instead of 60 years he was going to talk about 3 years.  The focus was on praise poems about a single king over those three years in the 1020s - in fact just 3 praise poems.  He charted what they chose to praise and how it changed over those years.  They went from praising him as a warrior chieftan to a church appointed king.  Fascinating.

Saturday 1:30-3pm 

We both attended:
Teaching the Edda and Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom: Strategies and Approaches (A Roundtable) 
  • Using Tolkien as a Gateway to the Edda and Sagas in the Undergraduate Classroom Lee Templeton, North Carolina Wesleyan College 
  • “I advise you, Loddfafnir, to take this council”: Teaching College Writing and Research Using the Eddas Gregory L. Laing, Harding Univ. 
  • Teaching Germanic Mythology 101 Johanna Denzin, Columbia College 
  • Material Culture and Norse Mythology Ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar 
Talked/Talked/Talked/Talked (No powerpoints)
This was a wonderful roundtable. And not just because everyone talked to us about their experiences rather than reading a paper at us. These were people who were interested in the sagas and were working to find ways to use them in another context. Questions from the audience were a lot of fun as well. Exploring strengths and weaknesses of different books on myths (I'd agree with the idea that Gaiman's North Myths would be fine for a second year class but is a bit light for a third year class); different ideas about using the sagas, etc. Good conversations. 

Saturday 3:30-5pm 

Hit the book vendors because none of the sessions grabbed us.  Lots of vendors and it takes time to work through the book lists.  The next book of the Kaupang archaeological reports is out.  Found a whole book on iron smelts.  Several more books about this or that aspect of Viking Archaeology or Viking studies. Neil got into a boring conversation with a book vendor so Karen had to go and spend money at Griffonstone. Oh darn. ;) Nice to chat with Jesse Byock again (he was there with his Old Norse text books which I recommend).  As usual wound up spending money with ISD (he was waiting for Neil with books set aside...). Neil found a new book about women in the Viking Age that Karen ended up buying. 

Saturday 5:00pm 

Sponsored by the Medieval Brewers Guild; AVISTA: The Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art; and the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan Univ. 

All of the meads were rather sweet for both our tastes. The galengale mead was very interesting - very strong flavour. Raspberry was also nice. As insanely crowded as you might expect. We wound up outside enjoying the great weather talking with a number of people who drifted by.   Sampled a number of different beers and meads.

Saturday 8:00pm 

Annus Mirabilis 
Sponsor: Societas Fontibus Historiae Medii Aevi Inveniendis, vulgo dicta, “The Pseudo Society” 
  • Anchor-kitties: New Origins of Ancrene Wisse Emily R. Huber, Franklin & Marshall College 
  • From Gongan to Gungan: The Surprising Medieval Roots of Star Wars Nathan E. H. Fayard, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville; Timothy J. Nelson, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville 
  • A New Medieval Source for Shakespeare’s Greatest Tragedy Mary Douglas Edwards, Pratt Institute 
Pseudo sessions as always a lot of fun. Frankly I'd call this one "mixed". First presentation was wonderful. The tale of the anchor-kitties and their manuscript was well illustrated and reasonably well presented (although she did laugh a few times). The Star Wars session was also pretty well done. The final one was just sad. It went insanely long, was just a political commentary, and the presenter was constantly getting feedback through the mic. A sad way to end a fun evening. 

Sunday 8:30 

Skipped the session [nothing all that interesting], packed, and picked up some books

Sunday 10:30-12 

The Second Sex: Women and Power in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature 
  • Draumkonur as Dream Anima Suzanne Valentine, Háskóli Íslands 
  • Maðr þóttumk ek mensskr til þessa: Reclaiming Gender and Genealogy in The Waking of Angantyr William Biel, Univ. of Connecticut 
  • Með leynilegri ást: Love, Marriage, and Authorial Agenda in The Saga of Viglund the Fair Andrew M. Pfrenger 
First paper was OK. [Neil]  Since I don't know much about Jungian archetypes I took a limited amount out of it but the idea that these roles might be Anima expressing the suppressed side of interior dialog of the main character is something to think about.  The second paper, by William Neil, is a fascinating idea. William took a character who changed gender roles. Now he filtered this through a view that this must be 'trans people' rather than just say a women who wanted to do things she wouldn't normally be able to do who adopted a 'role' for a time before dropping it when she was done. This involved a very close reading of the text. Figuring out when the author used male vs female pronouns, when a name was used instead, etc etc. Then trying to judge what the character wanted vs what the author is trying to say vs what the listening culture might be looking for. Frankly not at all sure I agree with his premises, nor his conclusions. But I'm going to call this one 'groundbreaking' and look for some similar ideas and papers to come along. [/N]
[Karen] I found the second paper remarkably annoying. Just because a woman in the Sagas steps outside of her assigned gender _role_ in order to pick up a sword, this doesn't mean that this is a transgendered person. If we re-conceive women's place in society and give them more freedom of choice, this is feminism. If we re-conceive women's interest in men's gender roles as a tell-tale sign of transgenderism, then we only serve to re-enforce stifling gender roles. This is not feminism, this is not social progress. And for heaven's sake, once we invent a time machine and go back and talk to the women in question, maybe then we can really get answers. Without the time machine, this kind of post-historical re-analysis is just a painful hogwash of trying to find present day justification of social justice issues in history. [/K]  

Andrew's 'paper' actually came out of an early session on SagaThing. It was a talk about the concept of consent (particularly around marriage) in the Norse culture. It is an interesting idea and an interesting point of change within the culture. Andrew is a very engaging speaker, who is passionate about his topic - one of the many reasons that the SagaThing podcast is a good listen.

Quotes picked up during the sessions (from speakers) 

"I'm sorry I'll be reading my text but I'm a scholar not a presenter" - Neil calls BULLSHIT loudly. If these people stood up in front of a class and read at the class they would be immediately hauled into their boss' office for doing a bad job. Part of the job of a scholar is learning how to share their knowledge with others. Whether that is PRESENTING a paper (not Reading a Paper); lecturing in front of a class; being interviewed on TV/Radio/Podcast; or in front of a granting committee. This stuff is not rocket surgery - anyone (and I do mean anyone) can learn to at least make the first steps away from reading at the audience to talking to them about something that is a shared interest. Again I say do not accept these LAME excuses. Demand better. Worse is that these lame excuses get propagated to the next generations of scholars. I am rather sure that basic presentation skills are taught in most business departments - borrow a business prof for a half hour lecture for your class if you won't learn to do it yourself. Or buy a simple $20 book like "Presenting to Win" and lecture on it the same way you would lecture on any other short book. GRUMBLE GRUMBLE!!!!! 

"I'm trying to get through this quickly" (as the presenter flips a couple of pages forward in their text thus losing their monotone flow and pacing, stumbling before picking up their monotone anew) If your content is so uninteresting that the PRESENTER is hurrying to get through it why are you wasting my time listening to you? 

Contrast that with Andrew Pfrenger in the final paper I attended. "I'd love to talk about this more with you folks but I can't keep you here all day". There speaks a person interested in sharing what (at least to him) is fascinating stuff but who acknowledges that there is limited time so he must let some threads go un-tugged.  Both were trying to say (sort of) the same thing - one just said it badly.

"Sorry this is only 1 paragraph from a book" great way to open.  Now we are all primed to be disappointed.  Contrast that to the guy who said he was too ambitous considering 60 years.  He got a laugh.  Consider instead "I got so fascinated by this single paragraph that I ran out of time to talk to you about the rest of the book!"  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Lady in Blue

The Lady in Blue-Bláklædda Konan: the textiles. National Museum of Iceland.
contributions from Michele Hayeur Smith (textile analysis), Greg Rebis (illustration) and Kevin Smith (dating the grave).

This article is largely co-written by DARC's old friends Michele Hayeur Smith and Kevin Smith. Michele and Kevin are archaeologists with a long history of working in Iceland, and in this article they take on the Lady in Blue. In 2014, some remains of the Lady's body and grave goods were found in the National Museum of Iceland. Throughout 2014 and 2015, an extensive project was undertaken to reconstruct the life, death and identity of this early Icelander.

I found the detailed level of analysis available in the article, and the science that clearly went into it to be fascinating. Some of it goes right over my head, some of it leaves me jealous of the opportunities that Kevin and Michele have to work this close to historical detail! Well written, easy to understand and very carefully analyzed, this article is a great read. I can almost picture the life of the Lady in Blue in early Icelandic history.

The article is available at this site:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Glassworking at Åhus (Callmer & Henderson)

Glassworking at Åhus, S.Sweden (eighth century AD)
Johan Callmer and Julian Henderson

This article poses some very interesting questions about glass working in terms of skill levels, number of workers and so on.  Although the authors draw some conclusions at the end due to the scarcity of materials I don't think their answers to many of these questions are well supported by the Ahus finds, even though I agree with them in the larger context of Viking Era bead making evidence.

It also adds to the base of knowledge on bead working furnaces by telling us "Two severely damaged ovens were found as well as numerous pieces of completely destroyed ones" (p. 143). Over 71,000 pieces of glass working material were found on site. A solid discussion of the glass material finds is included in the article, including a typology for glass materials. Types of beads, decorations styles, colours are also covered as one would expect from Callmer.

On a social level the authors consider the working staff to have been at least 4 workers.  Two assigned to working with the glass, drawing rods, making reticella, and so on; and two devoted to tending to the furnace itself.

The article also presents preliminary chemical analysis of various glass material allowing at least some of the material to be linked to Roman mosaic sources.

 Link to article

Thursday, February 23, 2017


It occurred to me that it is worth talking a bit about podcasts.  I've been listening to a few lately and I would be interested in hearing about your favorites.


If you aren't already a fan... go there now, download an episode and put it on in the background while you finish reading this blog.  Go on. 

Sagathing is two medieval history profs out of the US (John and Andy).  They are working their way through the family sagas.  Episodes run 60 to 90 minutes.  Usually 1-2 episodes per saga although they are headed into episode 10 about Njal's Saga.  Each saga is summarized and discussed, then judged on a number of criteria including 'best bloodshed' and 'best nickname'.  The interaction between the two podcasters is quite enjoyable.  While I'm sure they have a plan for a given episode I doubt there is a script.  The conversation really makes this a very enjoyable podcast although I miss the ability to talk back to them.  I look forward to each new episode.

Viking Age

I've just started this one. I'm up to episode 10 so although I have heard enough to comment it is certainly possible that as I work through episodes 11-27 that the podcast may change.  This is one host and it very much comes across as a recorded, scripted lecture.  It makes it easy to drift off while he is talking.  The content is reasonable enough and I expect to learn some things as we move forward.  The podcast begins with the settlement of Scandinavia back before 10000 BCE.  The first half dozen episodes (a half hour each give or take) move through the various timeperiods up to an including the iron age.  Episode 7 gets into the viking era.  Worth a listen so far but not at all like Sagathing.

Archaeology Podcast Network

The Archaeology Podcast Network hosts 17 archaeology focused podcasts.  I have listened to one of them so far.  If you have listened to others I'd love to hear your opinion of them.


This podcast has a small team consisting of two Chris' who bring in various guests to talk about specific topics.  Recent podcasts have included drones, VR, and 3D printing.  Episodes run around an hour and the conversation tends to be fun and interactive.

Naked Archaeology

I also listened to a few episodes of this now defunct series of half hour podcasts.  Some fun topics in there, it makes me sad they didn't keep going.

Indiana Jones: Myth, Reality, and 21st Century Archaeology

Like Viking Age this is a single speaker but all of the episodes I have heard have been him interviewing different people.  He isn't the best interviewer I've heard and the interactions come of very stilted.  I have been cherry-picking episodes as I find ones where the topic grabs my interest.  Very focussed on the US archaeology industry.

Alright - your turn. What archaeology or Viking Era podcasts do you listen to and what do you think of them?

Friday, February 17, 2017

An Archaeological Fashion Show (Holtorf)

AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL FASHION SHOW: How Archaeologists Dress and How they are Portrayed in the Media. Cornelius Holtorf  in Archaeology and the Media, Left Coast Press, 2007

I have always been aware of the difference between dirty boots archaeologists and suit and tie archaeologists.  It amused me to no end to find an academic writing on the topic and better yet it refers to other papers on the same topic.

The article is well written with a great sense of humour. The photographs offered so that you can see the three main dress styles used by archaeologists alone are worth a smile.  The article contains quotes from online discussions between different archaeologists, references to Time Team, survey results, and a discussion of why the topic matters at all.  Quick hint - even the vikings knew people judge you by what you wear.

It doesn't add a great deal to the deep discussion of archaeologists fashion sensibility but on the plus side the descriptions of the different styles of Indiana Jones Fedora are invaluable in helping to understand when a particular style is de-rigeur. link

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hotel Valhalla Guide to Norse Worlds

This was a midwinter's gift from my lovely wife and I finally got around to reading it.  Designed to accompany Rick Riordan's "Magnus Chase" books this volume provides additional background information on the Norse afterlife.

It is clearly aimed at a young adult level and its 150 pages don't exactly take a long time to read.  It does review many of the Gods, mystical and fantastical beasts.  These reviews are both light hearted and informative.  Clearly my own research is now out of date as I hadn't known for example that the dwarfs of Nidavellir now accept most major credit cards when purchasing many of the wonderful things they make.

The interviews provided by Snorri Sturlusson of several Gods and beings are certainly up to his normal writing standards.

All in all if you have an hour free this book makes a nice light read that adds a smile and several bits of amusingly fictitious data to your life.