Anonymous Artefacts and Revealing Runes, ch. 3

3. Presentation of the Material

3.1 Artefacts

The initial stage of the classification system in this paper is based in an interpretation of the practical use of artefacts in a Viking Age environment. The majority of the artefacts can be classified as practical equipment of different types. In order to present the assembled artefacts in a clearer way further subdivisions have been required. The artefacts have been divided into six categories, covering weapons, tools, amulets, jewellery, functional artefacts and artefacts with unclear use. Tools and jewellery, while fulfilling functional purposes, are specific in nature and have been subjected to separate analysis. The remaining artefacts classified as functional display a high degree of variation and have been difficult to define any closer.

3.1.1 Jewellery and brooches

The majority of the runic inscriptions are found on artefacts that probably have served as different types of personal adornment (fig. 1). In total, there are 14 brooches of different types associated with Viking Age dress. One brooch is pennanular, three are oval, nine are box-shaped and one is animal head-shaped. The box-shaped and animal head-shaped brooches originate from the island of Gotland (Carlsson 2003:116, Petré 1993:152 ). A pennanular brooch needle was found in a hoard on Gotland (Gustavson & Snædal 1984:251ff ). One bronze buckle with an inscription that mentions either the owner or the maker was recovered from the top of the mound in Viborg (Imer 2007a:217). Finally pendants of silver and gold, transformed into jewellery from coins and book mounts, are analysed together with another silver pendant found in a Birka grave (Imer 2007a:225, Nyström 1992:68ff).

Figure 1. Artefacts used as personal adornment. “No. ” stands for the artefact ID in the catalogue (Appendix 4). [Figure not shown]

3.1.2 Functional artefacts

Artefacts submitted to analysis in this category are composed of different types of functional artefacts that were used in daily life (fig. 2). Whetstones were used for sharpening things like knives or scissors (Graham-Campbell & Kidd 1980:134). Combs were personal items for everyday use, represented here by the Århus comb and a fragment from Lilla Köpinge. The bronze fitting from a weight house, perhaps for containing the Viking Age lead or bronze weights used in trade (Skre 2008:92), was found in Vå. Another copper case for weights was excavated in the Swedish town of Sigtuna (von Friesen 1912:12). A Celtic copper box from Irske probably functioned as a jewellery box (Imer 2007a:226). Originally the box was used as a reliquary (Jesch 1991:46). Another foreign artefact is a bronze bowl from a grave in Kaupang that originally served as a liturgical bowl (Price 2010:129, Imer 2007a:225). Three different utensils of wood were found in the Oseberg ship-burial: an oar, a bucket and a sleigh. An imported bronze dipper was found in Trå, Norway. The Gokstad burial contained a copper kettle. In the Lindholm mound, a knife shaft with one of the oldest maker-owner inscriptions was found . Knives were used for several different purposes during the Viking Age (Jesch 1991:14, Graham-Campbell & Kidd 1980:102, Rabben 2002:38), making their original function hard to decipher when omitting the inscription. The fishing sinker from Reve is also classified as a functional artefact.

Figure 2. Artefacts with different functional uses. [Figure not shown]

3.1.3 Tools

Tools have functional uses like the artefacts presented in 3.2.1. However , all seven tools in the analysis are connected to the production of fabrics and textile handiwork, which motivates the creation of a subgroup exclusively devoted to tools. The category consists of three spindle-whorls, one weaving tablet, one bone needle, one weaving sword and one spinning wheel (fig. 3). The spindle-whorls were used as weights for spinning wool together with a rod (Andersson 2003:22ff). Weaving tablets are small semi-quadratic items used in the making of woven bands. The wooden tablets, which have holes in each corner , served to keep the vertical warp threads separated (Andersson 2003:30f). Bone needles may have been used for different types of stitching or pattern weaving (Andersson 2003:33). Weaving swords were used for beating the threads in the weft (the horizontal thread system) to make the fabric tighter (Andersson 2003:28). The spinning wheel was used for gathering the spun yarn (Andersson 2003:24).

Figure 3. Artefacts categorized as tools. [Figure not shown]

3.1.4 Amulets

This category consists of artefacts that previous research has interpreted as amulets or ritual artefacts (fig. 4). Runic copper plates (or of copper alloys like bronze) are frequently interpreted as protective amulets against sickness or magic (Imer 2007a:222). The manner of the inscriptions on the artefacts in this category has produced interpretations that the plates were a practical form of magical exorcism (McLeod & Mees 2006:118). The difference between Viking Age runic plates and similar plates dated to the Middle ages is that the latter  ones are often made of lead instead of copper and bronze (Steenholt Olesen 2010:162). Eight plates and one staff are examined in the analysis. The wooden stick from Hemdrup is not a conventional amulet but the artefact has been connected to the magical art of sejd (Back-Andersson 2001:73ff).

Figure 4. Items interpreted as ritual artefacts. [Figure not shown]

3.1.5 Weapons

The only weapon in the material is a spearhead from Endre on Gotland (fig. 5). The spearhead carries an early inscription naming the maker and the owner of the spear (Imer 2007a:217f). The wealthy warrior grave at Långtora contained a silver mount thought to belong to a sword (Imer 2007b:251).

Figure 5. Weapon and weapon mounts. [Figure not shown]

3.1.6 Artefacts with unknown function

Several artefacts, like 4 fragments of bone, a whale bone tablet and a silver disc, are difficult to interpret since little is known about their use. The inscriptions on the artefacts are cryptic and an archaeological assessment of their uses has proven too obscure to make out within the limitations of this paper (fig. 6).

Figure 6. Artefacts with unknown function. [Figure not shown]

3.2 Inscriptions

The inscriptions on the artefacts are described and presented in this chapter. Inscriptions are complicated to decipher and classify but a general division of inscriptions has been attempted by the use of transliterations. Inscriptions referring to magic or ritual events have been classified as “ritual”. Inscriptions that carry fragmentary sentences have been classified as “profane”. Names are frequent and can be found in appendix 2. Inscriptions that refer to the artefact are not common. There are only two runic artefacts that display this relationship between artefact and text in the material. The five categories are: ritual inscriptions, profane inscriptions, inscriptions referring to the artefact, the presence of names and unintelligible inscriptions.

3.2.1 Ritual inscriptions

Six  runic artefacts are possible to consider “ritual” when referring to the contents of the inscriptions (fig. 7). The weaving sword from Engstad has a form of  “ritual” inscription, interpreted to signify “Farm-sprite (?)” (Scandinavian Rune-Text Data Base accessed 120515). One copper plate from Sigtuna (no. 42) is transliterated in its entirety to 2 different interpretations with similar result:

Boil/Spectre of the wound-fever, lord of the giants! Flee now! You are found. §B Have for yourself three pangs, Wolf! Have for yourself nine needs, Wolf! <iii isiR Þis isiR auk is uniR>, Wolf. Make good use of the healing(-charm)! (Scandinavian Rune-Text Data Base accessed 120515)

MacLeod & Mees offers the second transliteration:

Ogre of wound-fever, lord of the ogres! Flee now! (You) are found. Have for yourself three pangs, wolf! Have for yourself nine needs, wolf! iii ice (runes). These ice (runes) may grant that you be satisfied (?), wolf. Make good use of the healing-charms! (McCloud & Mees 2006:118).

Figure 7. Suggested ritual inscriptions. [Figure not shown]

3.2.2 Names in inscriptions

Names appear as makers, rune-carvers or possible owners in the material, but also as gift-givers or receivers. Seven names are mentioned as makers or carvers (six male and one female name). In total there are 28 names in the inscriptions. Further descriptions can be found in appendix 2.

3.2.3 Profane inscriptions

Inscriptions described as “profane” consist of poetry, single words and cryptic writings (fig. 8)

Figure 8. Inscriptions categorized as “profane”. [Figure not shown]

3.2.4 Inscriptions referring to the artefact

This category consists of inscriptions that display a clear connection to the artefact it is placed on (fig. 9). The needle from Karls states that it is a “glove-needle”.

Figure 9. Inscriptions referring to the artefact. [Figure not shown]

3.2.5 Unintelligible inscriptions

The inscriptions are described in appendix 3.