Tools

 TOOLS

 

That the Vikings were skilled craftsmen is shown by the numerous archaeological finds of home-manufactured goods – ships, carts, sledges, textiles, jewellery, as well as numerous tools for the use of artisans. The most important of all craftsmen was the blacksmith: his skills were basic; without the iron tools he fashioned ploughing, house-building, and weapons would have been poorer; in short, there would have been a much lower standard of living. The three Scandinavian countries had long been known how to extract iron from bog ore. In this they were self-supporting, as the finds of hidden dumps of raw material (hundred of home-made iron bars) prove. The blacksmiths was a highly respected member of the community, whose tools would be buried with him for use in the other world. Egil’s Saga tells how Egil, on the death of his father, Skallagrim, built a mound for him at the far end of a promontory and laid him inside it, with his horse, his weapons, and his blacksmith’s tools. Even the chieftain mastered smithing; but it seems likely, as Sigurd Grieg had suggested, that each village had its own professional blacksmith to perform the jobs which were too difficult for the layman. Grave-finds, in Norway, illustrate the tools of a Viking blacksmith; light and heavy hammers, tongs with bent or straight heads, files, chisels, scissors, anvil, and a number of tools for special purposes.

The equipment of many other kinds of artisan has also come to light in Swedish and Norwegian graves – such as the carpenter’s knives, chisels, drills, axes, planning-irons, awls, and saw-blades. Agricultural implements found include coulters, scythes, sickles for cutting grass and corn, and knives for cutting branches and leaves from trees; fishing gear includes hooks, spears, gaffs, and stones for sinking the nets. Of women’s household equipment there have been found most of the things necessary for sewing,  spinning, and  weaving – needles, spinning irons – and the full battery of kitchen utensils, such as bronze or iron cauldrons, racks and chains, frying-pans, spits, grills, hooks, wooden bowls, and pots made from soap-stone. Swedish and Norwegian finds have been especially fruitful. In Norway old soap-stone quarries have been excavated so that it has been possible to trace the whole technical processes of this ancient industry, from the ring-shaped cuts in the rock wall where the talc was quarried, through the various rough processes, right down to the completed, finely smoothed bowls and pots. Only one ancient  craft, one which had formerly been skilfully practiced in the North, seems to have been neglected in Viking times – ceramics. In Norway pottery almost disappeared, to be replaced by wooden vessels, soap-stone pots and iron cauldrons. Some Danish pottery of the period exists – mainly hemispherical bowls with rounded bases in smoother black or brown ware, without handles or legs. Only in Sweden has better-class pottery been encountered – well fired and decorated. Some of this is from Birka, perhaps imported from Finland. The fact that in Birka and Hedeby, which were both Viking Age trading centres, there has been found excellent pottery, often painted or with plastic ornament, which was imported from the Rhineland and Friesland, cannot conceal the truth that the potter’s art was neglected in the Viking homelands, although less in Sweden than in the rest of Scandinavian.

Finally there remains two other fields of Viking craftsmanship: glassware and coins. In Hedeby crucibles and other witnesses to glass production have been found – although this does not invalidate the view that the finer glass found in the graves of the nobles had been imported. As for coins, it has been established that the Scandinavian countries were minting them as far back as the ninth century, but more of that later.