24 Hour Museum – Eco-Friendly Invaders
The people of Viking age York made use of sustainable locally sourced natural and organic materials for a wide variety of purposes. Wooden objects were used in every aspect of life which required a constant supply of material and therefore required excellent woodland management. Materials such as horn, bone, antler and leather were sourced from various animals, often as a byproduct of meat production, and were used to create a wide variety of everyday items. Clothing was also produced from wool and linen which was spun and woven by hand within each household and dyed with natural plant based dyes such as madder, woad and weld. These materials were largely sourced from the local area surrounding York and are biodegradable, though were preserved by oxygen free burial conditions on site like Coppergate.
Earth and Minerals
Materials and minerals extracted from the earth were used by the people of Viking Age York to create objects which organic materials were unsuited for. Local varieties of stone were used to create whetstones for sharpening blades, quern stones for grinding grain, and vessels for flammable materials which could provide indoor lighting. Iron ore was smelted to produce iron bars which could then be worked by blacksmiths into craftsmen’s tools and household utensils such as knives, needles, locks and keys, whilst various other metals such as copper, lead and tin were used to produce a variety of objects such as brooches and tweezers. Glass was also produced and worked on Coppergate into colourful decorative beads, and attractive stones such as amber and jet were crafted into highly prized pendants, beads and rings. Clay was of course used by potters to produce storage and cooking vessels, thousands of sherds of which have been unearthed by archaeologists.
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Plants and Animals
Viking age animals supplied people with meat, dairy and eggs but were also sources of a variety of useful materials too. Viking leatherworkers would tan skin from animals like cows to produce leather which was used to manufacture shoes, belts and knife sheaths. Different animal bones could also be crafted into a huge variety of different objects, for example hollow bird bones were made into musical instruments, horse bones could form winter ice skates, whilst pig bones could be carved into decorated cloak fasteners. The antlers of red deer were also used to manufacture hundreds of Viking age combs.
Plants were a very important resource too, not simply for food and medicines as other plants such as wood, madder and weld were used as clothing dyes whilst flax could be manufactured into linen. Coppergate itself seems to be named for the wooden cup makers who once worked using pole lathes to produce wooden cups and bowls, which were highly valued as they were repaired when split or broken. A wide variety of other wooden objects were used too made of species such as oak, ash, willow, maple and boxwood.
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Crafting Organic Material
This video illustrates a few of the techniques that were most likely used by Vikings when producing certain objects made from metals or wood. Experimental archaeology is a great way for us to investigate the processes behind the varied craftsmanship of Viking York, and provides us with a valuable insight into the time and effort required to make items from scratch.
Find out more from our Vikings at JORVIK Viking Centre: