Metal alloying played an important role for the Vikings – they used it for everyday items, weapons, and jewelry. Archaeological finds from the Danish Vikings settlement in Ribe now show how the mining techniques of the Vikings have evolved over time. They document how crucibles and ingots were improved and standardized from the eighth to the ninth centuries.
The town of Ribe, on the west coast of Denmark, was a trading port for the Vikings in the early Middle Ages – and an important metallurgical center. “Rippi’s role as a center for maritime trade in northern Europe gave local artisans access to raw materials and markets, encouraging the production of metal ingots and metallic objects on site,” Vanna-Urvano of Aarhus University and colleagues explain. Thousands of crucibles, slag remnants, pieces of metal, and shards of casting molds bear witness to this metalworking process.
It changed with the beginning of the Viking Age
Urvano and her team have now closely examined some of these discoveries to learn more about the beginnings of metalworking in this branch of Vikings. To do this, they analyzed 1,126 samples of crucibles, casting dies, and finished metal objects such as keys and jewelry as well as metal rods and slag remnants from the period between AD 700 and AD 850 for their mineral content and chemical composition. “By examining both the tools and the final elements, we get a better understanding of the metalworking techniques that were used in Ribe and how they have evolved over time,” says Orfanou.
In fact, there were distinct differences between the early period until about 790 and the later period, which was dominated by the Vikings. Initially, artisans in Ribe used clay crucibles with a low aluminum content and a great variety, but later the burnt crucibles contained more aluminum-containing minerals. This gave them better heat stability and indicated that later metallurgists looked specifically for the clay that was inexpensive for it, the researchers report. Even in this early period, artisans also preferred to produce alloys from more than two metals, but their composition still fluctuated greatly.
Standardization in alloys and processes
That changed after the 790: since that time there has been a trend towards more systematic and uniform alloy production. “We document a series of rapid technological developments at the beginning of the Viking Age. Within a century, artisans changed their approach from a somewhat random mixture of metals to an improved process in which specific alloys were produced.” For example, bronze and brass containing it were used. High in lead mainly in the early days and for practical purposes like keys – possibly because lead was soft and easy to handle.
However, at a later date, hard alloys with a higher content of zinc dominate. Zinc-rich bronze was mainly produced for everyday items, while lustrous golden copper was used for jewelry. “The production of alloys in a later stage is associated with the emergence of completely new types of decoration, which demonstrate stronger modeling and may also be due to new casting techniques,” according to the report of Urvano and colleagues. In her opinion, the change in technology and the introduction of new alloys may be due to the arrival of new craftsmen, but also to the exchange of experiences with metallurgists from other branches of the Vikings.
“The Viking Age was a decisive turning point in history, when contact across seas in northern Europe grew dramatically,” explains Urvano. “The development of crafts such as metallurgy gives us unique insights into the cultural and social consequences of this well-known example of” primitive globalization. “
Coyle: Springer. Fachartikel: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Doi: 10.1007 / s12520-021-01308-1