Pandemic, humanities and digitalization

In this post the editor of this blog, Peter Eriksson, reflects upon a year of forced digitalization and what positive outcomes there might be from this experience.

When I was accepted as  PhD-student in 2018 I would never have guessed that part of my PhD-studies would have to be done from home due to a pandemic. Looking back on the past year I sometimes see frustration, from the difficulties with archival studies in a time when all the archives were closed as well as having to redesign all of my teaching from campus to digital. But with this forced digitalization I think that are lessons to be drawn for how the humanities can work in the future and that this experience perhaps speeded up a development that was already in the making.

A seminar in 2020 where the physical concept was replaced by the digital.

Yesterday I partook in a yearly conference that was arranged by Bielefeld University, York University and the Swedish national graduate school in history (hosted by Lund University). This was my second time at this conference, where PhD-students gets to meet colleagues from the partner universities, present their thesis project and get feedback from each other. New for this year was the digital format where we in smaller groups discussed each other’s projects which worked splendidly well. This format does however according to me also opens up for interesting new possibilities. One example of this is the possibility for newly accepted PhD-students to attend such as a conference without presenting since it is no longer any travel expenses. This could perhaps be a good way to “de-dramatize” the concept of conferences and also give interesting learning opportunities on how to structure a conference presentation.

During the past year I have also seen a growth in so called “zoom coffees” where people from different universities and departments can meet. This is for example the case within another research school I am active in, where one from their desk can meet and talk to colleagues around the faculty. In the concept of international collaborations our new digital habits open up for similar benefits where people can meet basically across globe and hence make research more international. One last positive outcome of this “forced digitalization” is also the explosion of live streamed seminars where one as a researcher can visit different research settings and communicating first hand with researchers one otherwise never would meet.

All in all, I do not believe that “the digital” university or PhD-education are here to stay in its current form where 100 precent of the teaching and research-collaborations are done in a digital format. However, it is my hope that this crisis has helped develop the digital competence of a generation of researchers and that these researcher even after the crisis is over takes the change to create hybrid-platforms and so on, where both the digital and physical meetings bring forward new knowledge.

Kulturarvsprogrammet deltog i panelsamtal

Sedan några år tillbaka bedriver institutionen för samhälle, kultur och identitet ett arbete med kulturarvsfrågor. Detta arbete har under åren utmynnat i såväl forskning och konferenser om kulturarv som vårt kandidatprogram historia: inriktning mot kulturarv. En viktig del i institutionens arbete med kulturarvsfrågor är bland annat att delta i samarbete med olika organisationer och aktörer där ett exempel är nätverket SKUTT som syftar till att skapa samverkan mellan akademi, kulturarvsinstitutioner och utbildningsorganisationer i Skåne och öresundsregionen. Denna organisation presenteras i videon på länken nedan nedan i ett panelsamtal från museernas vårmöte 2021 där institutionen var representerad av bitr. professor Stefan Nyzell som tillika är programkoordinator för kulturarvsstudier.

Länk till samtalet och information om SKUTT

Genrebild – ett exempel på kulturarv, i detta fall Akropolis i Lindos på den grekiska ön Rhodos

Forskarporträtt: Mikael Bruér

Näst ut på listan över forskare vi intervjuar är Mikael Bruér som intervjuades i juni 2021.

Berätta lite kort om dig själv:

Jag heter Mikael Bruér och är doktorand i historia och historiedidaktik vid Malmö universitet sedan hösten 2020. Före min doktorandanställning har jag dels arbetat med digitaliseringen av det nationella provet i historia och dessa hunnit med att arbeta 15 år som lärare i SO-ämnen i såväl grundskola som gymnasiet samt hunnit skriva några läromedel i historia och samhällskunskap.

Mina egna studier ligger förhållandevis långt bak i tiden och bedrevs ursprungligen vid Växjö universitet, sedermera Linnéuniversitet och var då i första hand inriktade mot den svenska arbetarrörelsens historia och framförallt mot det socialdemokratiska kvinnoförbundet.

Som historielärare är det naturligt att intressera sig för didaktiska frågor och det historiedidaktiska fältet har därför varit intressant för mig länge, om än i första hand utifrån yrkespraktikerns perspektiv.

Vad forskar du om?

I grova drag går det att säga att min forskning kommer att handla om historieundervisning och digitalisering. Mer specifikt kommer projektet att handla om vad som händer med historielärarens undervisning när det tillförs en digital komponent.

För att inte gå i fällan där det mest handlar om teknik och mindre om didaktik tänker jag försöka fokusera på den kvalitativa aspekten av undervisningen och hur de historiedidaktiska aspekterna påverkas. 

Hur kommer det sig att du valde att fokusera på just de här bitarna av historieundervisning?

Som lärare arbetade jag mycket med digitala verktyg i min undervisning. Det var en ständigt pågående diskussion mellan kollegor om vad det faktiskt innebar, varför jag valde att jobba som jag gjorde och liknande.

Frågan om vad digitalisering de facto innebär för historieundervisningen har därmed legat och malt i mig under en längre tid och när jag väl, kom till att formulera en forskningsansökan var det ganska självklart att det på något sätt skulle handla om historieundervisning och digitalisering. Dessutom ligger läraryrket mig varmt om hjärtat så på sätt och vis var det självklart att jag skulle rikta in mig på det. Så jag antar att ämnet på sätt och vis valde sig självt.

Du har tidigare varit inne på det men hur tänker du dig att din forskning kan användas i skolan?

Min förhoppning är att den så småningom ska bidra med kunskap som gör det enklare för lärare att välja hur de kan arbeta. Jag är dock inte ute efter att skriva en regelbok kring hur man ska eller får arbeta med digitala redskap, utan snarare visa vad och hur det sker och vad som förändras. Kanske kan det inspirera och vara till hjälp till såväl lärare som skolledare, förvaltningar och företag som jobbar med skolan.

Vad är det roligaste med att vara doktorand?Allt nytt man lär sig! Det är lätt skrämmande att komma in från ett förhållandevis långt yrkesliv och hantera allt nytt, men det är också givande. Att verkligen få gräva ned sig i något som man är intresserad av är mycket tilltalande, och utvecklande

Forskarporträtt: Ivar Morgan

Näst ut i serien om pågående historieforskning är Ivar Morgan som forskar på proggrörelsen. Intervjun genomfördes i mars 2021.

Berätta lite kort om dig själv:

Mitt namn är Ivar Morgan och jag är doktorand i historia och historiedidaktik vid Malmö universitet sedan hösten 2020. Jag bedrev mina studier på grund och avancerad nivå på Göteborgs universitet vilket resulterade i en fil.kand i idé- och lärdomshistoria och en fil.kand i historia 2016 samt en master i historia 2020. Innan jag fick tjänsten på Malmö universitet varvade jag studier för att bli gymnasielärare med att arbeta som guide på Gunnebo slott. Jag hann dock aldrig genomföra lärarstudierna då jag efter en termin blev antagen i Malmö.

Vad handlar ditt avhandlingsarbete om?

I min forskning ser jag närmare på den svenska progressiva musikrörelsen med ett särskilt fokus på dess inneboende maktrelationer. Den progressiva musikrörelsen, som ibland kallas progg, hade sin storhetstid under 1970-talet och är på många sätt ett intressant studieobjekt. I rörelsen kan man se bland annat hur en kulturpolitisk manifestation fungerar, hur vissa aktörer får makt och inflytande, de trätoämnen som uppstod men kanske framförallt en inblick i den vänsterradikalisering som delar av ungdomen genomgick under den aktuella tiden.

Exempel på material till Ivars avhandling.

Hur kommer det sig att du valde att fokusera på just proggrörelsen?

Musikhistoria generellt, och 60- och 70-talens populärmusikhistoria i synnerhet, har nästan så länge jag kan minnas varit något som intresserat mig. Jag skrev en kandidatuppsats med fokus på 1960-talets folkmusikscen i New York samt en masteruppsats som handlade om den svenska marxism-leninismen på 1970-talet så man kan säga att den studie jag just nu arbetar med är resultatet av de tankar som föddes i de två tidigare projekten.

Hur tänker du dig att denna forskning kan användas i framtiden?

Då min studie främst kretsar kring maktrelationer inom rörelsen hoppas jag kunna bidra med en ökad förståelse för hur olika musikaliska rörelser är uppbyggda hierarkiskt. Min förhoppning är även att min forskning kommer fördjupa kunskapen om den fascinerande tid som 1970-talet var, och då kanske främst förhållandet kultur vis-à-vis politik.

Avslutningsvis – finns det någon progglåt eller proggband du tycker förtjänar lite extra uppmärksamhet?

I egenskap av historiker tycker jag att det är intressant att se hur historia förmedlas i olika låtar. Det finns en mängd olika exempel på detta men ett tidstypiskt är ”Aldrig mera krig” som spelades under teaterföreställningen Tältprojektet 1977. Låten behandlar världskrigen ur ett marxistiskt perspektiv. Ett annat exempel är ”Murarhantlangerskorna” från skivan Tjejclown, 1974, som behandlar mursmäckornas strejk 1888.

Forskarporträtt: Malin Jonsson

Den andra forskaren som presenteras i vår serie om instutionens forskning är Malin Jonsson. Nedan följer en intervju som genomfördes i februari 2021.

Vad arbetar du med och vad gjorde du innan du påbörjade din nuvarande tjänst?

Jag heter Malin Jonsson och jag arbetar som doktorand i historia och historiedidaktik vid Malmö Universitet sedan ungefär ett år tillbaka. Mitt intresse för historia väcktes tidigt i livet och när chansen att på gymnasiet läsa en spetsutbildning i historia tog jag den. Jag fortsatte sedan att studera historia på Lunds universitet där jag tog en masterexamen i historiska studier. Utöver historia har jag även studerat konsthistoria, psykologi och pedagogik. Tidigare har jag arbetat som museipedagog vid Historiska museet vid Lunds universitet.

Vad handlar ditt avhandlingsarbete om?

Jag forskar om muntlig historia och migration. Min tidsperiod är modern, och jag är främst intresserad av migration till Sverige under de senaste 50 åren. I mitt projekt samtalar jag med personer som immigrerat till Sverige om deras upplevelser och möten med arbetsliv och utbildningsinsatser. Några av dessa personer har precis kommit till Sverige men andra har levt i Sverige under en längre tid. Jag är intresserad av deras berättelser men även av vilka olika versioner av Sverige som personerna har mött.

Vad fick dig att börja forska om just migration?

Mina intressen inom historia har ofta rört sig vid någorlunda nutida frågor. Jag har dessutom alltid tyckt att muntlig historia och livsberättelser är ett spännande sätt att närma sig det förflutna. Idén till just denna studie kom till viss del från utlysningen av tjänsten, som var formad efter en arbetsmarknadssatsning kallad Snabbspåret för lärare och förskollärare. I detta snabbspår deltar personer som nyligen immigrerat till Sverige. Muntlig historia och migrationshistorisk forskning lämpar sig väl då det mer sällan finns arkivmaterial lämnat av migranterna själva. För att vidga perspektivet något tillkom fler migrantgrupper för att jämföra upplevelser med. Jag är nyfiken på de alternativa berättelserna om Sverige.

Hur kan den här forskningen bidra till att öka vår förståelse för migration och vad bidrar den med till vårt ämne i stort?

Min forskning bidrar till en ökad förståelse av Sverige under olika tidsperioder sett ur andra ögon än de som vanligtvis skriver historia. På så sätt hoppas jag kunna hjälpa till att bredda bilden av Sverige som invandringsland. Genom detta hoppas jag att min forskning kommer kunna bidra till svensk historieforskning, muntlig historia samt migrationshistorisk forskning.

Avslutningsvis – vad är det roligaste med att vara doktorand?

Det finns mycket som är roligt med att arbeta som doktorand! Att få syssla med ett ämne man brinner för, möta forskare och kollegor att utbyta tankar med men även att utmanas av, är några av de saker som jag tycker mest om.

Forskarporträtt: Peter Eriksson

Först ut i vår nya serie om institutionens forskare och deras pågående forskning möter vi en av bloggens redaktörer Peter Eriksson som är doktorand i historia och historiedidaktik. Nedan följer en intervju som genomfördes i februari 2021.   

Peter Eriksson

Berätta lite om dig själv och dina arbetsuppgifter:

Jag är uppväxt i Skåne och läste historia i Lund upp till magisternivå. Därefter läste jag en yrkesexamen i arkivvetenskap och arbetade en period som arkivarie innan jag hösten 2018 antogs som doktorand i historia och historiedidaktik där jag forskar om skol- och integrationspolitik. Utöver detta har jag även haft möjlighet att skriva en artikel om mitt andra intressefält som kretsar kring hur politiska grupper som inte är partier bildas och agerar politiskt. Som de flesta andra doktorander har jag även en del undervisning och andra uppdrag på upptill 20 procent av min tjänst.  

Vad handlar din avhandling om mer specifikt:

Min forskning handlar om hur politiker och tjänstemän inom svenska staten respektive Malmö Stad betraktade personer som invandrat till Sverige samt hur detta synsätt påverkade skolpolitiken från slutet av 1960-talet till idag.  Ett annat sätt att uttrycka det på är att jag inte enbart studerar lanseringen av exempelvis hemspråksundervisningen utan även undersöker hur denna åtgärd blev en logisk följd av personer som invandrat till Sveriges levnadssituation. Det kan också vara värt att betona att avhandlingen behandlar en viktig period i Sveriges politiska historia när det socialdemokratiska samhällsbygget inledningsvis nått sin höjdpunkt för att därefter ersättas av en mer liberal styrningsmodell.

Varför valde du att intressera dig för just invandrings- och skolpolitik?

För min del har det här intresset kommit från två håll. När jag var student läste jag en kurs i arbetarhistoria som väckte mitt intresse för att skriva om grupper var historia ofta inte får plats i den breda berättelsen om Sverige vilket ligger i linje med migrationshistoria. Ett bra komplement till att studera den breda politiken är att studera skolpolitiken eftersom den utgör åtgärder som påverkar stora delar av befolkningen. Att det blev just Malmö som case beror på att staden har lång historia av invandring och dessutom är tillräckligt stor för att ha bevarat en rik mängd material.

Vad kan din forskning bidra med?

Jag hoppas givetvis att min forskning kan bli ett bidrag till 1900-talets historieskrivning både kring politisk historia och migrationshistoria i stort. Samtidigt hade det även varit väldigt roligt om den hade bidragit till det politiska samtalet om migration i Sverige och det hade också varit väldigt kul om den hade väckt utrymme för reflektion kring hur våra föreställningar påverkar utbildningspolicy!

Avslutningsvis – vad är det roligaste med att vara doktorand?

Förutom att jag fått möjligheten att fördjupa mig i ämnen som intresserar mig tycker jag att mötet med andra forskare och studenter är extremt givande. Det roligaste med att vara doktorand är att man ständigt utvecklas både som forskare och person genom att delta i ett utbyte av idéer och har möjlighet att tänka med andra.  

Communicating the past through craftsmanship and art: the case of the Viking ship

Sara Ellis Nilsson, Linnæus University (formerly Malmö University)

Introduction

What is a Viking without a ship?

With that perhaps provocative question, I would like to introduce the topic of this paper: communicating the past through carpentry and art in cultural heritage institutions. Although the main purpose(s) or goals of these organizations vary, museums in particular can be seen as receptacles of past lives. For instance, they contain historical artefacts, and often documents, keys and doorways to the past. In addition, they create and preserve narratives of the past, presenting and interpreting them for their visitors. Among these cultural heritage institutions are those most concerned with maritime cultures and their ships, as well as specific time periods such as the Viking Age, Indeed, in narratives about the Viking age, the ship is often incorporated as an important element. Again, What is a Viking without a ship?

This paper discusses the role of the ship in communicating and interpreting the past, in this case the Viking age, by comparing one museum and one “experience centre”: the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde and the Ribe Viking Centre. The paper is based on my study of a number of museums and centres throughout Scandinavia. These two case studies have been chosen as they are both found in the same country, Denmark, and represent these two approaches to engaging visitors in learning about the Viking Age. Together, they combine several of the themes of the conference at which this paper was originally presented: re-creation and academic methods. Before presenting and discussing the two museums, it is necessary to discuss the multiple roles of the museum, the role of experimental archaeology, and the reason that ships can be seen as cultural objects from which historical narratives can be spun.

Oseberg ship - IMG 9129.jpg
Image 1 – the Oseberg Ship, Oslo. This ship is seen as a “prototype” for many Viking-age ships. It is easily recognizable and often used in historical narratives when presenting the Viking Age (Photo: Wikicommons. By Daderot – Own work, Public Domain)

The Multiple Roles of the Museum

As mentioned, this paper discusses two different types of “museum” or what the public perceives of as museums: the “traditional” museum and the experience centre. What role do these types of cultural heritage institutions play in interpreting and communicating the past?

First, a traditional museum is usually a public institution with a directive, expressing its specific focus and purpose. Traditional museums, however, have many roles in common that might not be specifically articulated in their individual mission statements. In general, museums are instrumental in the interpretation and communication of historical narratives. They provide an authoritative voice, conserve objects/knowledge, and (possibly) provide some form of entertainment to their visitors.

Second, the relative newcomers to the scene are the experience centres. Their role is also found in communication and interpretation, but there is a heavy emphasis on entertainment. They can be described as the “Disney Land” of history.[1] Until recently, many of these centres were viewed with mistrust but are now becoming accepted as mainstream. In some cases, their goals were primarily focused on entertainment and the communication of specific aspects of history, not the entire picture. In experience centres, the consumption of history by visitors is the most important part of the concept. Enabling a visitor to experience history using (nearly) all of their senses is of primary concern. Here, it is important that you are allowed, even encouraged, to put yourself in the shoes of someone in the past. Although they may not think that they have this role, the public and especially their visitors see them as having authority.

In both instances, especially where the experience centres have access to actual finds, there are some common aspects to consider. One of these – important to the current study – is the use of objects as gateways to historical narratives. Using material objects to make history come alive for the interested public includes archaeological finds/objects and their reconstructions. How is this done and on what basis? One of the ways is through re-creations and reconstructions, which allow the public to touch and experience history using all of their senses.

Re-creations and reconstructions are important elements in experiencing history and in what has come to be called the consumption of history (De Groot 2016). They make history come alive and infuse it with a feeling of relevance to the interested public. Added to this is the fact that one of the most important foundations in reconstructing historical objects is found in experimental archaeology. Of course, experimental archaeology can be applied to practically any find. Indeed, a numerous categories of artefacts are the focus of reconstruction work. In my study, I have chosen ships as an artefact category worthy of further study due to their long-term significance in Viking-Age narratives.

Image 2 – Reconstruction in progress in the boatyard: the Gislinge Boat 2016. (Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde)

The Case for Experimental Archaeology

An integral part in reconstruction work – at least on the scientific or scholarly level – is experimental archaeology. The development of this discipline has been vital to understanding how reconstructions should be done. At this point, it is important to highlight a difference in terminology. Reconstructions are attempts to re-create an actual, sometimes incomplete find; at times, these are inspired by finds but are not attempts to re-create an actual find (here called re-creations). Neither of these is a restoration of an actual find. Experimental archaeology can be concerned with all of these and should always follow certain procedures – if it is to be done correctly. If not, those who subscribe to the following process could deem the reconstruction suspect and not to be trusted in the interpretation of the use or history of a historical item, including its use in the historical period in question.

This process of experimental archaeology, according to Bodil Petersson’s interpretation of Ole Crumlin-Pedersen’s method (Petersson 2003) contains the following principles or steps:

  1. There needs to be an archaeological basis for the reconstruction or copy of a find.
  2. A research strategy needs to be in place. What is the potential for this find? What can a reconstruction or copy tell us about the object in question, its place in the historical narrative, its use in the past, etc.
  3. Original material has to be used. In addition to the material of the actual object, this point includes the tools used to reconstruct the object.
  4. Knowledgeable and competent craftspeople and end-users are needed in order to properly reconstruct the object and then use it!
  5. Results must be published and documented so that they can be tested or attempted again.

As seen, the above principles are based on the scientific method. They also, perhaps inadvertently, require an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach (cf. Petersson 2003). In addition to archaeologists, craft specialists and users of the item are also required in order to come to valid conclusions. Often these are one and the same, however. In the case of this study, experienced boat-builders and sailors are necessary for the successful completion of a project.

As mentioned, the reliance on scientific principles – concrete, replicable steps – and use of material culture creates the assumption that this experimental method is objective and inherently source-critical. However, the goal of pure objectivity is unattainable. The subjective aspects of interpretation and the emotional aspects of reconstruction cannot be avoided. It is impossible to be positivist and deny emotions when humans and interpretation are at the centre of the reconstruction work. Thus, as Petersson also states, it is vital to be aware of the humanistic view inherent in this type of work (2003).

A sense of principles and guidelines are very important in reconstruction, and it seems that most agree that especially points 1, 2, 4, and (to some extent) 5 should be upheld in all forms of reconstruction. However, there is not always consensus about point 3. This principle can create difficulties in terms of the availability of the appropriate material, the cost, and the (in-)experience of the craftsperson. Original material is useful if required to test a certain hypothesis, but it is not always practical. This sense of practicality and willingness to be flexible seems mainly evident at the experience centres. It could be speculated that this approach is also valuable.

As has become clear from my ongoing study, those engaged in reconstruction work all expressed a sense of enjoyment that they experienced in the process of building and creating. Thus, the humanistic element is clearly manifest in reconstruction work. The general consensus was: It might be hard work – but it is lots of fun!

The Ship as a Cultural Object

Throughout history, including during the Viking Age, ships have played an important societal role. Waterways and the ships or boats that travelled them have enabled social communication by providing a foundation of communication and trade networks. In the Viking Age, they were associated with an increase in mobility – imagined or otherwise. The latter ensured access to, sometimes vital, provisions and even luxury goods. In addition to their very important practical functions in the Iron Age, ships were a symbol of power, both secular and religious. The importance of the ship as a symbol could vary however based on local and familial traditions. For instance, in some areas, ship burial was more common, while in others votive offerings of ships in graves was the preferred practice (e.g. Larsson 2007; Westerdahl 2007). Thus, as artefacts ships are imbued with the potential to evoke images of the past and, for this reason, are ideal to use in the concretization of historical narratives.

Ships are a relatively common feature in art from the period, including on the picture stones. These representations show forms of decoration on the ships, such as animal heads. Indeed, many of the ship finds have some form of decoration on them, although most are not as elaborately decorated as the Oseberg (img. 1). In other words, it seems that some sort of decoration was integrated into and important in the construction of most ships. Occasionally that ornamentation is graffiti, which might be identified as an important element in the academic analyses of ship finds. However, as will be discussed, this ornamentation – whether original or later graffiti – is not always thought of as an integral aspect in the reconstruction of the ship. More focus is given to the structure and practical function of the ship – ensuring that the final result is a fully functioning vessel. The question of re-creating ornamentation is often left to last. Why is art separated from the ship-building process? Why does it remain an afterthought? In the next sections, I will discuss the two case studies and explore these questions.

Two Viking Cultural Heritage Institutions and their Ships

 

Image 3 – The Exhibition Hall and the Skuldelev Wrecks (Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde)

Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde

The museum which best fits the traditional museum category is the Viking Ship Museum (VSM) in Roskilde. However, it is not only a traditional museum with a permanent exhibition. It is in fact a unique combination of a traditional museum and a “living museum” (Roskilde 2017); the latter is something like an experience centre. In the main hall, built especially for this purpose, the permanent exhibition of the five Skuldelev wrecks is situated. These wrecks were excavated from their resting place as a barrier in Roskilde Fjord, conserved and reassembled in the museum. Iron ribs were used for the missing sections to show the way the boat might have looked. The museum was designed and built so that the visitor feels that they are on the water.

The main purpose of the museum is the interpretation of the Viking Age. An important part of the museum’s purpose and mission is found in its pedagogical activities. There is an especial focus on school-children and pedagogy together with Skoletjenesten. For instance, the permanent exhibition has a section with a “boat” in which children can explore (or play in). Children can also dress-up in Viking clothes and pretend that they are about to embark on a voyage.

Part of the museum’s reconstruction work can be seen in the hall. The weaver sits in one corner and the partially woven sail is always on display. Connections to the scientific method in the form of marine archaeology exhibitions are also found in the main building; however, these are not a part of the main ship hall.

The living museum aspect is found in the small boat harbour and adjoining workshops. Similar to an experience centre, occupations associated with the Viking Age have been placed here. In this case, all of those professions needed in order to make true reconstructions (except for the sail) are found here: a rope maker, a smith, boat builders, and carpenters. These craftspeople are all expected to be true to Viking age techniques by using reconstructed tools in their work – clearly adhering to reconstruction principles 3 and 4.

In the harbour, all of the ships are docked for most of the year, except for the winter when they are taken up on land. A visitor will find reconstructions of the Skuldelev ships in the harbour, but there are also other reconstructions. The boatyard’s mission statement includes reconstructions and care for all clinker-built and historical wooden boats from the Viking Age to more recent models. The Viking Age reconstructions include, for example: Havhingsten (the Sea Stallion) which is a reconstruction of Skuldelev 2, as well as Helge Ask (Skuldelev 5), and Kraka Fyr and Skoldjungen – two different interpretations of Skuldelev 6 (Roskilde 2017).

Image 4 – Havhingsten – The Sea Stallion from Glendalough (reconstruction of Skuldelev 6. Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde)

How then are these artefacts and their reconstructions used to communicate the past at the VSM?

In the main hall, the exhibit is static with signs and statistics related to the ships, which includes some information explaining the reconstructions found in the harbour and small models of these ships. The visitor is encouraged to read, to observe, or to ponder. There is also the option of going on a guided tour in which the artefacts are given a context. This is done by identifying where, when and how the artefact was made, but a narrative based on the lifetime of the ship AFTER its construction is also provided. Both types of biography are applied interchangeably.

In addition to the re-built ships (and the children’s ship corner), there are two other exhibitions which make use of the ship as an artefact in creating narratives about the past. One features an explanation of the attack on Roskilde and the creation of the barrier further up the fjord. In this case, the afterlife of the ships is in focus. They are used to weave a tale about political power, military tactics, and the rise of the city.

Another way in which the artefacts are used is related to their reconstruction. Reconstructions are built based on the above experimental archaeology principles. Exposing visitors to these and to the process of creating a new artefact (based on an actual, historical find) creates an encounter with a (re-created) past phenomenon and enables historical empathy – in this case for shipbuilding. As a result, visitors are encouraged to participate in and try their hand at all of the activities in the living history section – not unlike visiting an experience centre. Otherwise, this living-history area also provides a passive viewer experience, where visitors can watch the experts at work making rope, smithing, chopping boards, and so on.

As an example of some of the recent work at the museum – in terms of using craftsmanship to communicate history – I would like to mention the Gislinge Boat Project. This project was originally planned to take place from 2015-2016 but is now an open-source project on the museum’s website (Roskilde 2016). The boat find in question is from the 12th century (so not really the Viking age!). However, it can serve as a prime example of one of the ways in which the museum works to engage the public in its ongoing reconstruction activities. In this project, the interested public were invited to join the experts for workshops, for example, to cleave boards, produce nails and rope, and weave the sail. In other words, they contributed to the actual reconstruction of a clinker-built ship. The museum aimed to provide hands-on experience to bring visitors closer to the past. Diagrams and schematics were even made available open-source so that others could also build their own reconstructions. Imagine building your own medieval boat! If you would like to test it, the diagrams are still available. A virtual community has also been created around the project with film and photo updates.

What about the artwork or ornamentation on the ships? In the main hall, any discussion on the artwork is made in passing. A discussion of Viking age art is relegated to a series of posters, which present an overview of the Viking Age. There is, of course, an awareness at the museum that these need to be updated.[2] In addition to these posters, there is also, for example, a re-created metal weathervane (as seen on the Havhingsten) on display on the wall with a small text. Ornamentation on the ships is not highlighted however, even though Skuldelev 5 is partially decorated. The same is the case in the harbour: the ship’s function is the primary focus.

Image 5 – Helge Ask (reconstruction of Skuldelev 5. Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde)

Indeed, ornamentation is often not included in the initial planning of the reconstruction process. Building a sound boat is the primary focus, which is definitely understandable! Art is left to last, but that does not mean it is entirely forgotten by the craftspeople, including the ship-builders. They do ask the following questions: How should we paint the boat? Should we decorate the stems with an animal head (or a windvane)? Indeed, both Helge Ask (img. 5) and Havhingsten (img. 4) have prow decorations, the former with an animal head and tail (only when at sea, fitting with the sagas) and the latter with a golden windvane (Roskilde 2015). Skuldelev 5 has a tendril/vine or a snakehead carved into its side. This ornamentation was in fact reconstructed by painting a copy of the figure on Helge Ask (Roskilde 2015). Moreover, both of these longships have been brightly painted in red and yellow (and blue in the case of Havhingsten). However, this aspect of reconstruction is not represented among the different occupations or trades represented in the workshops. Art is an still an afterthought in the communication of the history surrounding these artefacts.

Image 6 – Working on the Gislinge Project (Photo: Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde)

Ribe Viking Centre (Experience Centre)

Turning now to the other cultural heritage institution: the experience centre. In this case, Ribe Viking Centre (RVC) is a private company that cooperates with local and regional museums, in particular the Museums of Southeast Jutland, Museet Ribes Vikingar, as well as the VSM in Roskilde. In addition, RVC also cooperates with the municipality in terms of their pedagogical work together with Skoletjenesten (roughly “school service”) for pupils in compulsory school, as well as their collaboration with the local “production school” Lustrupholm (Danish: produktionsskolan).[3] Among other things, these young people at the production school participate in construction and re-construction at the site, and work with the public during the summer months (Ribe 2013).[4]

The concept of RVC is founded on a vision of bringing the Viking Age to life. The time period is broad while the geographical scope is narrow: approximately the 700s to the 900s in the Viking age market town of Ribe and on a nearby manor farm on Jutland. Thus, in particular, the RVC aims to “bring to life” the Viking-Age town and surroundings of Ribe (RVC 2017b). The town itself is (and was) situated about 3 km to the north of the experience centre. Visitors to the RVC are given the chance to experience history first hand, to step back in time. When the centre is open to the public, the site is populated by re-enactors and guides (in period clothing). In addition to the regular, daily activities, there are always several, larger reconstruction projects on the go at the centre. Among these projects is boat-building which takes place in the centre’s rudimentary shipyard. There are also several boats floating in the man-made lake (which is meant to represent Ribe’s harbour), docked by the re-constructed harbour (an interpretation of the find from Hedeby, not Ribe!). As at the VSM in Roskilde, the boats are also taken up on land in the winter.

Contrary to the VSM in Roskilde, ships are a part of a much larger whole at the RVC: the re-creation of Ribe in the Viking Age. This re-creation is done by establishing stations or areas run by craft specialists (or religious specialists) who practice their craft and encourage visitors to engage in hands-on activities. The hands-on aspect is a similar technique to that used in Roskilde. In its daily routine, the centre thus also subscribes to experimental archaeology principle 4, but as will be seen, number 3 is not always applied. All of the principles are applied when cooperating on experimental archaeology projects together with, for example, the VSM in Roskilde – as was the case with Gísla (see below).  However, the centre’s main mandate is enabling their visitors to experience the Viking Age, not subscribing to scientific principles.

Image 7 – The ship-builder’s workplace with a view of the hall and the “lake” (Photo by author)

As mentioned, boats feature as one of the crafting-stations at the RVC. Again, the question could be asked: what is a viking without a ship? In re-creating a historical situation, and especially that of a market town, ships are seen as a necessary feature. As mentioned, he RVC contains a (rudimentary) shipyard with a carpenter, although this individual is usually not a boat-building specialist. The two boats by the reconstructed harbour provide a prime example of the flexibility within which this centre works. One of the boats (not pictured) is a reconstruction of a find from Gislinge (Lammefjord) called Gísla. As mentioned it was built together with the VSM in Roskilde, incorporating the five principles of reconstruction within experimental archaeology mentioned above.

Image 8 – ‘Kajs kærling’ docked by the reconstructed harbour with a view of the boat-builder’s workplace (Photo: TripAdvisor)

The other (img. 7) boat, named Kajs kærling, is more representative of how the centre usually works. Kajs kærling is clinker-built but it is not based on a specific find (in contrast to principle 1 above). However, the re-creation is inspired by Viking Age finds and fits into the intended historical context well. Its name contains an inside joke as the word kærling refers to a “hysterical woman”, and connects it to its builder, Kaj.[5] All of the boats constructed in the boat-yard at RVC are built within a limited time-frame, under pressure. Perhaps this inspired the choice of name? This boat has been decorated with grooves and human heads on some of the pins, in addition to having its name on the prow.

In order for the shipyard at RVC to be a hub of activity like the other areas of the centre, a ship needs to be always on the go. Often, as with their other larger (re-)construction projects, there is also a deadline to meet, i.e. when the boat needs to be completed. These constraints lead to a certain pragmatism on the part of the carpenters. Thus, for example, modern tools (hidden from the view of visitors) are used if necessary and planks are sawed not hewn[6]. It is more important to meet the deadline than to follow the principles of reconstruction. In addition to these challenges, the carpenters are required to explain the building process to the visitors, and much of their time during the day is focused on these interactions. Although visitors are welcome to participate in many of the other crafting activities on site, in this case, visitors are not allowed to work on the ship. They do interact with the carpenter by asking questions, as mentioned, or perhaps they are given a tool to hold.

At the RVC, communicating the Viking Age via craftsmanship is clearly import. Art is found in many places – including on the newly (re-)constructed “Ansgar’s Church” – but again, it is not explicitly discussed in relation to ships. The carpenter at RVC insisted that decoration was something that you could make if there was some free time after finishing a boat.[7] The ornamentation that is found on Kajs kaerling was carved during a moment of inspiration and when the carpenters had some spare time. There was no way of knowing if they would decorate the new boat under construction in the harbour, but perhaps if they got ahead of schedule there would be time for inspiration.[8]

At the RVC, as at the VSM in Roskilde, boats are found in their proper, watery context. However, here the lake is man-made and rather small! Despite this fact, if you were not looking to learn more about ships, you could miss them entirely, especially the ones docked in the harbour. It is highly likely that their role in the entire context of the centre would be unclear to the average visitor – before they ask, at least.

Using Objects and Reconstructions in the Communication of History

What, then, is a Viking without a ship? At the two cultural heritage centres presented in this paper, it is apparent that ships are important artefacts, used in the production of narratives about the Viking Age. They are given different prominence of place, of course, based on the institutional mission statement in question.

At the museum featured in this paper, VSM in Roskilde, ships are given a prominent position. This approach is of course due to the purpose of the museum – to display actual ship finds and educate the public about these particular ships. The next step, building a living history component to the museum, and using experimental archaeology and reconstruction in the education of the Viking period, could have been broadened to include more than just ships. However, the museum maintains their focus on the ship as the most important artefact in the interpretation of the Viking Age and its various (common?) occupations.

At the experience centre in this paper, RVC, the shipyard might be tucked away on the other side of the man-made lake from the re-constructed dock, but it is still an important feature. The role of the ship-builder is added to a list of craftspeople that work at the centre, playing a vital role in the interpretation of the Viking Age – one of the pieces of the puzzle. However, this puzzle piece could be missed in the plethora of options available for the visitor. This last point can be directly connected to the fact that the RVC, as with the VSM, encourages visitors to return. You should be able to experience new things on each and every visit.

At both sites, the art of, or carpentry involved in boat-building is separated from the creation of ornamentation. The focus is on creating a sea-worthy craft – something, of course, entirely understandable! The interesting thing here is the separation of the practical and the decorative functions in the presentation of shipbuilding to the public, as well as in the actual planning of the building of a ship. This separation leads to a somewhat disjointed narrative and process of reconstruction. Regarding the ships discussed in this paper, some of the original finds at the VSM in Roskilde do include ornamentation. In turn, two of the reconstructions at the VSM are painted in bright colours and feature prow ornamentation. A visitor can engage the museum interpreters/guides in a conversation about these features if they are curious. In addition, over in Ribe, one of the boats at the RVC is partially decorated. However, at both places, the main narrative is that this particular artefact, the boat or ship, is a practical tool. The focus is on its function in Viking-Age society, and as a working vessel.

The above paper is a work in progress. It discusses just two of the many museums and experience centres throughout Scandinavia that focus on the Viking Age; many of these are included in my ongoing study. In general, based on the observations gathered so far, it appears that a ship/boat is required in order to construct narratives about the Viking Age. Even questions of skilled craftsmanship can be linked to ships. The way in which these diverse cultural heritage centres work with artefacts, and in particular reconstructions, as a means of communicating history is worth exploring further.

References

Interviews (notes)
Interview with Anne C. Sørensen, Vikingeskibsmuseet, Roskilde, Danmark: 2016-11-17.
Interview with Bjarne Clement, Ribe VikingeCenter, Ribe, Danmark: 2017-08-13.

Selected Sources
Berkhofer, Robert F. 2013. Fashioning History: Current Practices and Principles. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bischoff, Vibeke, Englert, Anton, Nielsen, Søren och Ravn, Morten 2014. ”From Ship-Find to Sea-Going Reconstruction. Experimental Maritime Archeology at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde”, in Jodi Reeves Flores & Roeland Paardekooper (ed.), Experiments Past. Histories of Experimental Archaeology. Leiden: Sidestone Press, pp. 233-247.

Christensen, Arne Emil 1995. ”Ship Graffiti”, in Ole Crumlin-Pedersen & Birgitte Munch Thye (ed.). The Ship as Symbol in Prehistoric and Medieval Scandinavia. Papers from an International Research Seminar at the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen, May 5-7, 1994. PNM Publications from the National Museum, Studies in Archaeology and History, Vol. I. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, pp. 181-185.

De Groot, Jerome 2016. Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture. London: Routledge.

Larsson, Gunilla 2007. Ship and Society: Maritime Ideology in Late Iron Age Sweden. Uppsala: Archaeology, Uppsala University.

Le Bon, Liz 1995. ”Graffiti: Symbol and Context”, in Ole Crumlin-Pedersen och Birgitte Munch Thye (ed.). The Ship as Symbol in Prehistoric and Medieval Scandinavia. Papers from an International Research Seminar at the Danish National Museum, Copenhagen, May 5-7, 1994. PNM Publications from the National Museum, Studies in Archaeology and History, Vol. I. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, pp. 172-180.

Legnér, Mattias 2016. “Kulturarvsbruk i väpnade konflikter”, Historisk tidskrift 2016:4, pp. 658-672.

Petersson, Bodil 2003. Föreställningar om det förflutna. Arkeologi och rekonstruktion. Lund: Nordic Academic Press.

Ribe Viking Centre (RVC) 2017. Vikingebådene, http://www.ribevikingecenter.dk/da/oplevelser/vikingebaadene.aspx. Accessed: 12 July 2017.

Ribe Viking Centre (RVC) 2017b. Historien bag. Levendegørelse av vikingetidens Ribe. https://www.ribevikingecenter.dk/da/om-os/historien-bag.aspx. Accessed: 15 September 2018.

Ribe Viking Centre (RVC) 2013. Lustrupholm. https://lustrupholm.dk/skolen/lustrupholm.aspx. Accessed: 12 February 2019.   

Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde (Roskilde) 2017. Experimental archaeology. http://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/professions/research/experimental-archaeology/ Accessed: 12 July 2017.

Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde (Roskilde) 2015. Bådeværftets byggeliste. https://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/fagligt/baadevaerft/baadevaerftets-byggeliste/. Accessed: 12 February 2019.

Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde (Roskilde) 2016. Gislinge Boat Open Source Project. https://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/en/professions/boatyard/building-projects/gislingeboat-2016/open-source-project/ Accessed: 10 September 2018.

Vinner, Max 2001. Vikingeskibsmuseets både. Roskilde: Vikingeskibsmuseet.

Westerdahl, Christer 2007. “Boats Apart. Building and Equipping an Iron-Age and Early-Medieval Ship in Northern Europe”, The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. Published: 23 October 2007. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-9270.2007.00170.x Accessed: 28 November 2017.

Endnotes

[1] For example, Colonial Williamsburg (a living-history museum in the USA) has often been described as such in reviews. See, for instance: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g58313-d102549-r610650929-Colonial_Williamsburg-Williamsburg_Virginia.html  

[2] Interview with Sørensen 2016-11-17.

[3] Those youths attending a Danish “production school” have, for one reason or another, previously been unable to complete their secondary education. They are all under the age of 25.

[4] Interview with Clement 2017-08-13.

[5] The practice of choosing names when christening boats deserves its own, separate discussion!

[6] In order to be a proper reconstruction, they should be hewn, as is done at the VSM in Roskilde.

[7] The carpenter contributed in part to the Interview with Clement, 2017-08-13.

[8] The boat is now finished but does not appear to have been decorated yet – at least as far as I could see from a quick observations on my last visit to RVC in December 2018.

Part 2: What Colour a God’s Eyes?

An exploration of eye imagery on weapons, and ornaments mainly from the 6th and 7th centuries in Northern Europe.
Part 2 of 2.

Paul Mortimer, Wulfheodenas

The Eye(s) in the Sword

I have long suspected that some sword scabbard decoration, namely bosses/buttons[1] were meant to symbolise eyes (Mortimer 2011. 112) and I think that there is some evidence to support the suggestion. It seems that during the fifth century some warriors began to add bosses or buttons to their scabbards and there are quite a few that have been found in the weapon deposits found in the bogs in Denmark. Some similar items have been found in England too, apparently one such is a specimen decorated with Style I that used to belong to the collection of M. Braham and Lord McAlpine, (figure 43) now sold to a private buyer.

Figure 43. Boss/pyramid formerly belonging to the Braham and McAlpine Collection. Photograph courtesy of TimeLine Originals.

Unfortunately, the details of the Style I designs are not clear from these images which are the only ones available to us. However, another purportedly from England that once belonged to the Belgian collector and dealer Dirk Kennis, has remarkably clear details which is all the more remarkable because it is less than 2 cm in diameter. On one side is a rather grim face, whilst the opposite has a smiling one (figures 44 and 45).

Figure 44. Boss/pyramid formerly belonging to Dirk Kennis. This face is grim. Photographs courtesy of Dirk Kennis.

Figure 45. The face on this side looks rather pleased with himself.

The other sides each contain an eye symbol, which is very much like the eye on a sword scabbard throat belonging to a sword from Chessel Down on the Isle of Wight.[2] This eye too, has two men’s faces on either side of it (figures 46, 47 and 48).

Figure 46. One of the two eyes.

Figure 47. The other eye, there are subtle differences but this may be due to the very small size of the image.

Figure 48. Decorated scabbard throat from the sword found at Chessel Down, the Isle of Wight. Photograph courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

Another find from Sandby Borg, Olund, Sweden is, I believe, significant (figure 49) as it is not the only one of this design, there are three,[3] and one of the others demonstrates how they were mounted on a sword. The boss from grave 5, Taurapilis, Lithuania, (figure 50) was found in situ on a cylinder of white chalcedony mounted on a well preserved sword.

Figure 49. Sword-Boss or pyramid from Sandby Borg, Sweden. Photograph courtesy of Daniel Lindskog. (Victor, H., Emilsson, A. & Frisk, M. 2013. Sandby borg – undersökningar 2013. Sandby sn, Mörbylånga kommun, Öland. Sandby borgs skrifter 3. Kalmar läns museum. Find number: 1270)

Figure 50. Sword decoration from grave 5 at Taurapilis, Lithuania. (Estonian Journal of Archaeology, 2017)

Menghin in his 1983 book on one hundred and fifty-one significant swords almost all from northern Europe, lists the Taurapilis boss (Menghin, 1983. 205) and nine other examples with a single ‘eye’ from 5th to 7th century graves on sword from various parts of Europe.[4] In recent years in England, the PAS has recorded ten garnet and gold cloisonné examples of possible bosses from the late 6th and 7th centuries, found by detectorists. The indications are that such decorations were comparatively rare and the swords or their carriers were special in some way. The cloisonné examples especially resemble eyes, as when they are found on swords, they tend to be mounted on a pale cylinder or bulb of varying materials. The gold and garnet boss mounted on a chalcedony cylinder on the sword from grave 20 Chaouilley, France, again, does resemble an ‘eye’ with its pale coloured surround (Figure 51) (Menghin, 1983. 225).

Figure 51. Sword-boss found on a sword from grave 20, Chaouilley, France. Photograph, courtesy of Matt Bunker.

If that is so, perhaps it is one of the eyes of Woden/Odin? Two cloisonné bosses were found within the treasures of the Staffordshire Hoard discovered by a detectorist in 2009, but only one pale stone bulb was located, of course the other stone may just have been overlooked or lost and there is no certainty they were both fixed to the same sword (figure 52).

Figure 52. Boss and stone mount from the Staffordshire Hoard. Photograph, courtesy of Matt Bunker.

An earlier example of a boss can be seen on the sword from Basel-Kleinhüningen, Grave 63, Switzerland (Menghin, 1983. 212). Figure 53 illustrates a reproduced example of that find (figure 53).

Figure 53. Reproduction of the sword from grave 63 at Basel-Kleinhüningen, Switzerland, belonging to Peter Fischer. Photograph, courtesy of Peter Fischer.

In this case the bulb is amber and the conical button gold. Two other pieces will suffice for illustrative purposes, one from Niederstotzingen grave 9, (figure 54) the boss is mounted on meerschaum, and the sword from Krefeld-Gellep, grave 1782 (here a reproduction), (figure 55) this time the bead is mounted on chalcedony.

Figure 54. The sword from grave 9 at Niederstotzingen, Germany. Photograph courtesy of Matt Bunker.

Figure 55. Reproduction sword from grave 1782 Krefeld-Gellep, Germany, commissioned and owned by Arian Ziliox. Author’s photograph.

A very few swords are equipped with two ‘eyes’ and I am aware of only three in the archaeological record so far. The St Dizier sword (France) is remarkable in several different ways, but what concerns us here are the bosses (figures 56 and 57).

Figure 56. The complete ring-sword from St Dizier, France. Photo courtesy of Musée de Saint-Dizier / Photo Claude Philippot.

Figure 57. The gold spiral on the stone cylinder mounted on one of the two swords from St Dizier, France. Photo courtesy of Musée de Saint-Dizier / Photo Claude Philippot.

It obviously has two, but only one is surmounted by a gold spiral; this boss is made from a pale-coloured stone. The other boss is organic and ‘blind’. The second sword with two bosses is also from northern France, and is in the Musée de Berck-sur-Mer, although what they were mounted on is unclear (figure 58).

Figure 58. Musée de Berck-sur-Mer. Courtesy of Musée Opale Sud Berck-sur-Mer.

This pair of cloisonné bosses appear at first glance to be similar, but one is larger than the other and also has a different shape in profile. The profusely decorated scabbard of the Sutton Hoo, Mound 1 sword too, has two bosses, one of which is smaller than the other (figure 59).

Figure 59. The author’s reproduction of the sword from Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England. Author’s photograph.

They were mounted on a white organic cylinder or bulb, although the exact material was never determined, in my reproduction I have used deer antler.

The craftsmen/women of the period were perfectly capable of making items that were identical if they wanted to, but in each case with the double bosses, they take care not do that.  What is the message that is being given? I am sure that given my thoughts on bosses being symbolic eyes the reader will already have guessed that I am going to suggest that they are again a reference to the eyes of Woden/Odin – one being normal, the other now different and altered, or blind. If that is the case, then I would suggest that anyone who carried either a single ‘eye’ or an even rarer pair, would have been advertising that they had a special relationship with the god.

Conclusion

So what colour are a god’s eyes and does it matter? If my suggestions are accepted, and of course it is by no means certain, then quite often they are portrayed as red or red and gold and sometimes just gold – or maybe bronze…? Perhaps the colour of eyes is not so critical, but looking at the fine details of an object and attempting to prise out the stories hidden within the layers of meaning incorporated within their design certainly is.

Referring back to Neil Price’s warning from 2006, I must point out that other interpretations of the objects discussed here are, of course more than likely, but starting a discussion or taking one further forward is really important.


Endnotes

[1] These items can be known by a variety of names but for the rest of this paper we will use ‘boss’.

[2] Thanks to Stephen Pollington for recognising the link.

[3] The third is from Finnestorp, Sweden.

[4] Besides Taurapilis, Chaouilly grave 20, Krefeld-Gellep grave 1782, Niederstotzingen grave 9 and Basel-Kleinhüningen Grave 63, Menghin includes Krefeld-Gellep grave 1812 (205), Morken-Harff grave 2, Bülach grave 7, Hüttenheim grave 2 and Ziertheim.

References

Andrén, Anders; Jennber, Kristina, and Raudvere, Catharina (eds). Old Norse religion in long term perspectives. Nordic Academic Press, Stockholm 2006.

Arent, Margaret. The heroic pattern: Old Germanic helmets, Beowulf and Grettis saga, in Old Norse literature and mythology: a symposium, Polomé, Edgar C (ed) Austin 1969.

Brundle, Lisa Mary. Image and Performance, Agency and Ideology: Human Figurative Representation in Anglo-Saxon Funerary Art, AD 400  to 750. Two volumes. PhD thesis, Durham University 2014.

Bruce-Mitford, Rupert. The Sutton HooShip-Burial, volume 2, Arms, Armour and Regalia. British Museum Publications Limited. London 1978.

Christensen, Tom. Et hjelmfragment fra Gevninge, in ROMU Årsskrift fra Roskidle Museum 1999. Roskilde.

Evison, Vera. Dover Buckland Anglo-Saxon Cemetery. Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. 1987 London.

Gunnell, Terry. The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia. Boydell and Brewer.Woodbridge 1995.

Hårdh, Birgitta. Preliminära notiser kring detektorfynden från Uppåkra. In, Larsson och Hårdh (ed) 1998.

Helgesson, Bertil. Tributes to be Spoken of. Sacrifice and Warriors at Uppåkra. In, Larsson (ed) 2004.

Helmbrecht, Michaela. Innere Strukturen von Siedlungen und Gräberfeldern als Spiegel gesellschaftlicher Wirklichkeit? a paper presented at the 57. Internatiobalen Sachsensymposions vom 26. Bis 30. August 2006 in Münster.

Hines, John. A New Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Great Square-headed Brooches. (Reports of the Research Committee of the Society ofAntiquaries of London) Boydell and Brewer.Woodbridge 1997.

Larsson, Lars och Hårdh, Birgitta (ed).  Centrala Platser o Centrala Fragorb —  Samhällsstrukturen under Järnåldern. Almqvist and Wiksell International. Stockholm 1998.

Larsson, Lars. Continuity for Centuries. A Ceremonial Building and its Context at Uppåkra, Southern Sweden. Almqvist and Wiksell International 2004.

Larsson, Lars; 2007. The Iron Age ritual building at Uppåkra, southern Sweden. In Antiquity volume 81, no. 311 2007.

Menghin, Wilfried. Das Schwert im Frühen Mittelalter. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 1983.

Mortimer, Paul. Woden’s Warriors; Warfare, Beliefs, Arms and Armour in Northern Europe during the 6th and 7th Centuries. Anglo-Saxon Books. Ely 2011.

Mortimer, Paul and Pollington, Stephen. Remaking the Sutton Hoo Stone; the Ansell-Roper Replica and its Context. Anglo-Saxon Books. Ely 2013.

Price, Neil. What’s in a Name? In Andrén, Jennber, and Raudvere, 2006.

Price, Neil and Mortimer, Paul. An Eye for Odin, Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo. European Journal of Archaeology 17 (3) 2014, 517–538.

Salin, Bernhard. Die Altgermanische Thierornamentik. Fourier Verlag GMBH. Wiesbaden1935 (1981).

Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Boydell and Brewer. London 1993.

Portable Antiquities Scheme  https://finds.org.uk/database

Acknowledgements:
Irene Barbina, Lisa Brundle, Matt Bunker, John Hines, Lindsay Kerr, Wayne Letting, Daniel Lindskog, Neil Price, Per Widerström, Gabriele Zorzi.

 

Part 1: What Colour a God’s Eyes?

An exploration of eye imagery on weapons, and ornaments mainly from the 6th and 7th centuries in Northern Europe. Part 1 of 2.

(It’s not all about Odin![1])

Paul Mortimer, Wulfheodenas

The title of this paper comes from a conversation I had with Neil Price whilst discussing our paper, “An Eye for Odin? Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo”, we briefly discussed the idea of further investigation into the eyes of deities and thought it may be interesting to see whether their colour(s) could be discerned, which is partly the purpose of this paper.

The god with an altered eye

In An Eye for Odin, we suggest that there is good evidence that the story of Odin sacrificing an eye for wisdom may have been known at least by the late sixth century in several different regions in northern Europe. The paper assembled a number of pieces of evidence,[2] one such is that each of the eyebrows on the Sutton Hoo helmet is different to the other; the right has gold foils behind the garnets that line the lower edge of the eyebrow to reflect the light back at the viewer, while the right does not have this feature, it just has plain jewels with no backing (Bruce-Mitford, 1978, 169). We suggest that the original left brow was removed in a ritual drama enacting the elements of the story. We feel too the Roman cavalry face mask from Helvii, Gotland may have gone through a similar process (Price and Mortimer 2014. 525). The mask had been found by a detectorist but only reported by his wife to the authorities after he had died. When the find area was excavated, a possible cult site was found, as was the missing right eye from the mask which had apparently been separated and stored nearby in antiquity. Roman cavalry face masks were not usually equipped with eyes, these had been added, probably after this face-plate had been brought to Scandinavia (figure 1). There are other instances of an altered eye at Sutton Hoo, one is contained within the Stone.[3] The Stone has eight faces, four at each end and one of those at the bottom, a bearded male (labelled B1 by Bruce-Mitford, 1978. 316) has had an eye, the left, carefully chiselled away (Mortimer and Pollington 2013). (figure 2)

Figure 1. The Roman cavalry face-mask from Hellvi, Gotland, Sweden. Photograph courtesy of Johan Norderang, Gotland Museum.

Figure 2. B1 from the Sutton Hoo Stone, England. While the right eye is convex like all the eyes on the other seven faces on the Stone, the left eye has been carefully chiselled away. Photograph courtesy of Hannah Simons and the Trustees of the British Museum.

The helmet from Valsgärde grave 7, has a beast’s head with garnet eyes, one is bright the other dark, the same phenomena occurs on the upper beast’s head on the front of the Sutton Hoo helmet too (Bruce-Mitford, 1978. 160). With both of these examples it is the left eye that is dark. (figure 3)

Figure 3. The eyes of the beast head’s terminal on the front of the helmet from grave 7 at Valsgärde, Sweden. Photograph courtesy of Matt Bunker. Taken at the Gustavianum.

An eyebrow ocular separated from the rest of the helmet has been found near Roskilde (Gevninge), Denmark (Larsson, 2007. 20 and Christensen, 1999) and another eyebrow was found close to the area where once stood the cult house at Uppåkra (Helgesson, 2004. 231). (figures 4 and 5) We think that it is likely that the eyebrows were removed from helmets during a ceremony commemorating the story of Odin’s eye. Perhaps the eyebrow was then replaced and the helmet continued to be worn? The find at Uppåkra of a ‘horned man’ with an eye struck out (Hårdh, 1998 118) seems to reinforce the importance of the story in this part of Sweden. (figure 6) The latter find is one of several such figures now known to have had an altered eye, some dating from the Viking period.

Figure 4. The helmet ocular from Gevninge, near Roskilde, Denmark. Courtesy Tom Christensen. Photo: Courtesy Matt Bunker. Taken at Roskilde Museum.

Figure 5. The helmet eyebrow from Uppåkra, southern Sweden. Photograph courtesy of Matt Bunker and Lund Museum.

Figure 6. A horned man from the ‘cult’ complex at Uppåkra. Note the altered eye. Photograph courtesy of Matt Bunker and Lund Museum.

Similar figures without eyes removed are found in England, Scandinavia and the Continent. One such is the pin found in a female grave, Buckland Dover grave 161, that clearly indicate that the ‘horns’ were part of a head dress and not a helmet (Evison, 1987. 84, 251, 334 and 397). (figure 7) and two recent detector finds from Denmark also show that the horns were strapped to the head of a man.[4] (figure 8) Many of the surviving figures have had parts of their terminals broken off, but when present they usually, have been found to end in bird’s heads or a bird’s beaks. Odin, of course, in the later stories was reported to have two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, which flew around the World and reported the news back to him (Simek, 1993. 164 referring to Gylfaginning 37). Whilst some of these figures would appear to represent images of men performing a dance or ritual that must have been important over a wide area, some may have been portrayals of a deity, probably Woden, himself (Arent, 1969. 137 to 138 and Gunnell, 1995. 66 to 71).

Figure 7. Another horned man, this time from grave 161, Buckland Dover, England. This figure does not have an altered eye, but clearly show that the ‘horns’ are part of a headdress. In this drawing the left-hand horn, which is broken in the original, has been restored. This figure does not have an altered eye, but clearly show that the ‘horns’ are part of a headdress. Drawn by Wayne Letting.

Figure 8. One of the two recent Danish detector finds of a horned man which shows the headdress was strapped on.

In England and Wales, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), effectively part of the British Museum, is an organisation where responsible detectorists can report their finds, and often representatives of the PAS are on hand at detectorist rallies to identify and record the finds. Since its establishment there have been many spectacular discoveries, particularly relating to items that are rarely, if ever, recovered from burials. Some types of horned men are a good example and so far have only been found by detectorists, as far as I am aware.[5] A portrayal, this time of a weaponised, horned man can be seen in BERK-4F2E17 from the county of Berkshire; it closely resembles the warrior/dancers depicted on helmet plates on the Sutton Hoo helmet, the helms from Valsgärde, graves 7 and 8 and one of the plates from Torslund.  (figure 9) Another find from Hampshire, HAMP-B292C, would appear to be a die for making pressed plates (pressbleche) although somewhat different in form to those found on the helmets (figure 10). 

Figure 9. Terminal from West Ilsley, Berkshire. BERK-4F2E17 Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 10. Possible patrix from Crawley, Hampshire, HAMP-B292C2 Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 11. Horned man with garnet eyes from Ryedale, Yorkshire, YORYM-024D31. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Some horned men images just consist of a male’s head with accompanying horns and birds’ head terminals, YORYM-024D31, an example from Yorkshire has garnet eyes, (figure 11) but SF-54B974 and SF-171680, both from Suffolk, depict a man’s face with the two birds’ heads configured differently, the birds’ beaks are level with the man’s ears but appear to be pointing away from them (figure 12). However, NARC-A9B3E7 (figure 13) has the beaks situated directly at the ears of the man; are we seeing Woden being told what the birds have witnessed in their journeys around the worlds? A very similar motif can be seen in this piece of fine work from Cividale, Italy. (figure 14) FAHG-8EAAA3, shows the upper body and arms as well as a head, the birds’ heads and integral pellets within the horn design, in some ways reflects similar imagery to that on the horned men (dancers) on the Sutton Hoo helmet, but unlike them, his spears are pointing upwards, how this piece was used is not known (figure 15).

Figure 12. Two items found in Suffolk, SF-54B974 from Sutton, and SF-171680 loacted in Palgrave. Photographs, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 13. NARC-A9B3E7 was found near Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 14. The detail of this fibula shows a man’s head between two birds’ heads. It is from Cividale, Italy. Courtesy of Museo Archeologico Nazionale Cividale.

Figure 15. FAHG-8EAAA3 Mount from East Cambridgeshire. Drawing by Lindsay Kerr.

A type of horned man composed of just a head but with carefully crafted horns, we have christened WAINEs (Woden Avatars In Numerous Environments) to distinguish them from other forms of horned men.  Several of these are so similar in design, that it would appear the makers were using a known pattern, and as far as I know all of the known examples are detector finds. There are currently ten of these recorded and most can be found within the PAS database.[6] They tend to be made from gilded copper-alloy, some may have been a form of personal jewellery, but most have broken lugs or unusual forms of attachment on the reverse, that indicate that they were fixed to something. I am not aware of any WAINEs from anywhere other than England. Figures 16 to 21 show six examples (figures 16 to 21). These have all been made very carefully and, together with other figures, would appear to be good evidence for a fairly widespread Woden cult in England during the 6th and 7th centuries if the interpretation is correct. However, it is true that most of the horned male figures have two good eyes which have not been altered in any way but it must be remembered that Woden/Odin originally had two eyes before he gave one up to drink from the Well, and the other attributes of these miniatures, two birds, etc. would seem to indicate a reference to the god.

Figure 16. HAMP2432 Soberton, Winchester,Hampshire. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 17. LEIC-40DB05 nr Melton, Leicestershire. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 18. NMS-F90626 Saxlingham Nethergate, Norfolk. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 19. YORYM-FAE4AF Yorkshire. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 20. Blakeney, Norfolk. Photograph courtesy of TimeLine Auctions.

Figure 21. BERK-DB4E15 Kings Worthy, Winchester, Hampshire. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Very similar in design and level of craftsmanship to the WAINEs are two other relatively recent finds which may well make the link to Woden and his two ravens even more compelling. The first is from the PAS archive, SF-92CD45, but the second was sold privately sometime before the discovery of the former.[7] (figures 22 and 23) In each design, there are two birds (ravens?) that form the outline of a man’s head reflecting the general face-shape of most WAINEs. Within the overall composition are a  number of holes that are the man’s eyes and mouth; the wings, tail and other ‘feathers’  represent a beard and a long moustache. Whoever made this design was creating a deliberate visual pun, based on the WAINE design and I feel, making overt references to Woden. It is obviously not a normal man dressed up, but I think an image of the god, and again they were gold-plated raising the status of the image.

Figure 22. SF-92CD45 was found in Ousden, Suffolk. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 23. Object Auctioned by TimeLine Originals. Photograph, courtesy of TimeLine Auctions.

Figure 24. Baginton and Offchurch. Photograph of Baginton by John Hines, while that of Offchurch was taken by E. T. Leeds. Reproduced courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Fibula

Horned men, or at least horned beings, also appear within the detail of many great square-headed brooches, and possibly other fibula. Sometimes the species identity of the face or head may be ambiguous and the horn terminals are not always of birds’ heads but of other, sometime not distinctly defined animals. The example from Baginton (left), (figure 24) clearly shows a rather manic man’s face with two beast’s heads on either side which are not birds but possibly horses, whilst the brooch from Offchurch has a smiling but perhaps, more sinister face, again between heads of an animal that is not precisely determined (Hines, 1997. Plate 20). In both cases, horns, if that is what they are, project away from the head.

Figure 25. The great square-headed brooch (fibula) from Beckford. Photograph courtesy of Matt Bunker.

Figure 26. Lakenheath. Photograph by John Hines, reproduced courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

The square-headed brooch from Beckford (Hines, 1997. Plate 21) (figure 25) repeats a similar design to that from Offchurch, while the specimen from Lakenheath has a moustachioed man’s face with protrusions (horns?) from the top of the head rising, following the shape of the brooch and terminating in fierce animal heads (Hines, 1997. plate 32). (figure 26) Similar devices appear from other areas than England for example from Fonnås, Norway, (figure 27) and on the brooch from Szolnok Szanda, Hungary (Hines, 1997. plate 102), (figure 28) which shows that ideas were travelling and recognised over a wide geographical area. The central creature’s heads depicted in the latter two examples, again, are rather ambiguous and could be representing an animal or a human. Exactly what each of the men/creatures is illustrating is not possible to say, but they would appear to be reflecting a number of related concepts very likely connected to the world of the supernatural, and in some ways they do have similarities to the horned men.

Figure 27. Fonnås, Norway. Photograph courtesy of Matt Bunker.

Figure 28. Szolnok Szanda. Photograph by Günther Haseloff, reproduced courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Returning to the Sutton Hoo helmet, there are possibly other portrayals of Woden contained within the design and the most striking is the face on the mask which is an image of transformation: a man’s face that becomes a bird (eagle?) if visualised slightly differently.[8] Together with the ‘serpent’ represented on the crest of the helm they could be a link to the story of Odin obtaining the mead of poetry; he becomes a snake in order to get to the chamber were the mead is kept and becomes an eagle to escape from Suttungr (figures 29 and 30).

Figure 29. Face of the reproduction SuttonHoo helmet. Photograph courtesy of Lindsay Kerr.

Figure 30. The iron with inlaid silver wire crest (OE walu) from the reproduction Sutton Hoo helmet. Photograph courtesy of Lindsay Kerr.

When Odin reaches Asgard, he spits out the mead into a cauldron, so that other gods can become poets too (Simek, 1993. 208 refering to both Skálskaparmál and Hávamál). It is possible that at least a part of this episode is shown, again, on objects, including brooches, from the 6th and 7th centuries. Another find from the PAS, SF-DBD4E8, has a ‘tongue’ protruding from its mouth as well as two birds’ heads on either side of his head. Is the tongue symbolic of Odin/Woden speaking poetry, or of Odin spewing the mead into the bowl? (figure 31)

Figure 31. SF-DBD4E8 from near Thetford, Suffolk. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

A similar concept is repeated on the male faces that feature on the top section of many square-headed and other brooches (fibula) even more elaborately. The suggestion came from Brundle, although she attributes it to Waugh (1995. 373) (Brundle, 2014. Volume 1, 143 and volume 2 figures 6.1 and 6.3) Most, if not all of the heads have moustaches as well as elaborate ‘tongues’ (figure 32).

Figure 32. BH-588FD1 brooch from Sandy, Bedfordshire. Drawing used courtesy of the PAS.

Two square headed brooches from Holdenby and Kempston will serve as final examples here (Hines, 1997. Plate 79). (figure 33) There is, of course, much more going on in the designs included in most of these brooches that we do not have the space to consider in this paper.

Figure 33. Holdenby and Kempston. Photographs by John Hines, reproduced courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Figurines

In his 2006 paper, Neil Price warns us not to be too ready to attribute godly status to figurines found from the Vendel and Viking periods and to be aware of other possibilities (Price, 2006. 179), so bearing his warnings in mind for the moment we will proceed by looking at some recent detector finds dated to the 5th to 6th centuries from England and see whether they have any possible divine attributes.

Possibly the most well-known currently in England is the silver example from Carlton Colville.[9] ‘The figure wears golden pants and he has a golden face too. He is quite obviously a man and well-endowed and this is emphasised with selective gilding. He is also a phallus himself (figures 34 to 36).

Figure 34. Carlton Colville. Photograph courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 35. SF-01ACA7, figurine from Friston, Suffolk. There are remnants of gilding in the hollows of the head but most has worn off. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 36. NMS D6704B. This figurine had at least a gilded belt. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

The figure has at least two ‘brothers’ with pretty much identical features but with varying arm postures and both of these gentlemen also had some gilding. They would seem to be connected with ideas of masculinity and fertility but while the Carlton Colville would seem to be a pendant, there is little indication of how the other two were carried, worn or attached. All of the known specimens of this type have been found in East Anglia, so a fairly limited area and it is possible that they just represent a localised cult and perhaps a deity.

There are equivalent female figurines too, several of which are holding their arms in very similar (protective?) position.[10]  (figure 37 to 40) There also figurines like the one from Caistor, Lincolnshire (NLM-A243C8) that are of indeterminate gender (figure  41). They are not unlike some similar figures from Scandinavia, for instance those from Lunda, Södermanland, Sweden and elsewhere in Scandinavia.

Figure 37. Figurine from Kent. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 38. Female figure from Eyke, Suffolk. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Figure 39. Halesworth, Suffolk – front. This image, like that from Carlton Colville, has been heavily gilded. Photograph courtesy of TimeLine Auctions.

Figure 40. Halesworth – rear. Photograph courtesy of TimeLine Auctions.

Figure 41. NLM-A243C8. Caistor, Lincolnshire. A figure of indeterminate gender. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

Perhaps the most spectacular figurine found in recent years is this one from Norfolk (NMS-40A7A7) (figure 42). It resembles the horse warriors illustrated on the helmet plates on the Sutton Hoo, Valsgärde 8, Valsgärde 7, Vendel 1 and the Pliezhausen disc. It is armed with a shield and sword, but has a number of small holes which may have held other pieces of equipment, including a spear. Whether or not these portrayals are of deities, a hero or just a depiction of an ideal warrior, as some have speculated, they are impressive, detailed designs carefully executed and surely must have related to something special.[11] It must be added that the inclusion of a small figure seemingly guiding the rider’s spear on some of these helmet images, does seem to link them to the supernatural (see figure 30 as an example).

Figure 42. NMS-40A7A7. The horsed warrior. Bradwell, Norfolk. Photograph, courtesy of the PAS.

(PART II)


Endnotes

[1] …but most of it is! I have used ‘Odin’ when referring to finds from Scandinavia, but ‘Woden’ when discussing 6th and 7th century finds from England and occasionally both together.

[2] There is a list of sixteen possible examples of altered eyes and a tentative chronology in Price and Mortimer, 2014. 531. Only a few have been used in this paper. More altered eyes have been found since 2014.

[3] It has been referred to as the Sutton Hoo Whetstone, or the Sutton Hoo Sceptre.

[4] See Helmbrecht, 2006, for a useful, if dated, discussion of horned men and related imagery.

[5] It is always possible that the finds come from disturbed graves.

[6] The distribution of WAINEs is fairly widespread and they have been found in the counties of Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Hampshire.

[7] In England, a detector find only has to be reported by law, if it contains 10% or more of silver or gold. Neither of these two items does, however, one was reported to the PAS.

[8] A similar idea is contained within the Sutton Hoo shield, where the fierce bird has a man’s face picked out in garnets and glass on its hip.

[9] He is recorded in the PAS archive as are nearly all of the figurines found in figures 35 to 44.However, at the time of writing, something has happened to the available on-line archive and some of the figurines appear to have lost their individual identifications and have been subsumed into the entry for SF-01ACA7. Some have, temporarily I hope, disappeared from the archive; this includes all the female figures and the individual entry for the Carlton Colville.

[10] Most of the figurines listed here are extensively discussed in Brundle, 2014.

[11] Arent, (1969. 139 and 142) feels that the riders are not depicting Odin – She says that, “…[t]he insignia on the helmet depicts a warrior, any warrior (hero or king) who overcomes the enemy, envisaged as primordial archenemy,…”whose act is accompanied by good omens, the birds of prey.”

References

Andrén, Anders; Jennber, Kristina, and Raudvere, Catharina (eds). Old Norse religion in long term perspectives. Nordic Academic Press, Stockholm 2006.

Arent, Margaret. The heroic pattern: Old Germanic helmets, Beowulf and Grettis saga, in Old Norse literature and mythology: a symposium, Polomé, Edgar C (ed) Austin 1969.

Brundle, Lisa Mary. Image and Performance, Agency and Ideology: Human Figurative Representation in Anglo-Saxon Funerary Art, AD 400  to 750. Two volumes. PhD thesis, Durham University 2014.

Bruce-Mitford, Rupert. The Sutton HooShip-Burial, volume 2, Arms, Armour and Regalia. British Museum Publications Limited. London 1978.

Christensen, Tom. Et hjelmfragment fra Gevninge, in ROMU Årsskrift fra Roskidle Museum 1999. Roskilde.

Evison, Vera. Dover Buckland Anglo-Saxon Cemetery. Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England. 1987 London.

Gunnell, Terry. The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia. Boydell and Brewer.Woodbridge 1995.

Hårdh, Birgitta. Preliminära notiser kring detektorfynden från Uppåkra. In, Larsson och Hårdh (ed) 1998.

Helgesson, Bertil. Tributes to be Spoken of. Sacrifice and Warriors at Uppåkra. In, Larsson (ed) 2004.

Helmbrecht, Michaela. Innere Strukturen von Siedlungen und Gräberfeldern als Spiegel gesellschaftlicher Wirklichkeit? a paper presented at the 57. Internatiobalen Sachsensymposions vom 26. Bis 30. August 2006 in Münster.

Hines, John. A New Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Great Square-headed Brooches. (Reports of the Research Committee of the Society ofAntiquaries of London) Boydell and Brewer.Woodbridge 1997.

Larsson, Lars och Hårdh, Birgitta (ed).  Centrala Platser o Centrala Fragorb —  Samhällsstrukturen under Järnåldern. Almqvist and Wiksell International. Stockholm 1998.

Larsson, Lars. Continuity for Centuries. A Ceremonial Building and its Context at Uppåkra, Southern Sweden. Almqvist and Wiksell International 2004.

Larsson, Lars; 2007. The Iron Age ritual building at Uppåkra, southern Sweden. In Antiquity volume 81, no. 311 2007.

Menghin, Wilfried. Das Schwert im Frühen Mittelalter. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 1983.

Mortimer, Paul. Woden’s Warriors; Warfare, Beliefs, Arms and Armour in Northern Europe during the 6th and 7th Centuries. Anglo-Saxon Books. Ely 2011.

Mortimer, Paul and Pollington, Stephen. Remaking the Sutton Hoo Stone; the Ansell-Roper Replica and its Context. Anglo-Saxon Books. Ely 2013.

Price, Neil. What’s in a Name? In Andrén, Jennber, and Raudvere, 2006.

Price, Neil and Mortimer, Paul. An Eye for Odin, Divine Role-Playing in the Age of Sutton Hoo. European Journal of Archaeology 17 (3) 2014, 517–538.

Salin, Bernhard. Die Altgermanische Thierornamentik. Fourier Verlag GMBH. Wiesbaden1935 (1981).

Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. Boydell and Brewer. London 1993.

Portable Antiquities Scheme  https://finds.org.uk/database

Acknowledgements:
Irene Barbina, Lisa Brundle, Matt Bunker, John Hines, Lindsay Kerr, Wayne Letting, Daniel Lindskog, Neil Price, Per Widerström, Gabriele Zorzi.

Challenges for 21st century runologists

Andrea Freund, Institute for Northern Studies, Orkney College, UHI

I am currently doing a PhD in runology, the study of runes. However, it is difficult to study a field that has become so public in a time where everybody can be an expert and yet, some of the loudest voices in the public dialogue can declare that entire countries are “sick” of experts. Where does that leave runologists in the 21st century?

To understand modern runology and its challenges, it is essential to look at the history of using runes. After runes had fallen out of use as an everyday writing system in the Scandinavian diaspora and most of Scandinavia except for some remote valleys, learned interest in runes began in the late 16th and early 17th century with Johannes Bureus who attempted in 1611 to reintroduce them as a common writing system in Sweden (Barnes 2012: 133 – 135). In the following period, when Sweden had lost a large part of its earlier Empire, the Vikings were re-discovered and interpreted as glorious ancestors (Molin 2003: 269 – 274; Geisler 2007: 26 – 28). Similar developments happened in Denmark and somewhat later in Norway, too. This even led to polemic arguments between Danish and Swedish scholars in the 17th century about who had invented the runes (Barnes 2012: 194). From the 17th century on, antiquarians recorded the Scandinavian runestones and tried to make sense of their inscriptions. The discovery of 33 inscriptions in the Neolithic tomb of Maeshowe, Orkney, resulting in their interpretation by three of the foremost Norse scholars of their time and subsequent publication in 1862, counts as a milestone in the development of runology as an academic discipline (Farrer 1862).

Image 1 – Farrer’s Drawing of Runes

However, antiquarians were not the only ones with an interest in runes in the 19th century. In Germany in the 19th century, for the first time a national conscience arose leading to the so-called Völkische Bewegung. In order to strengthen the sense of German-ness, a national narrative, mythology and symbolism were necessary and these were found in the Vikings, extending to their writing system, namely runes (Schulz 2009: 8-11). The ideological backbone for this movement was delivered by scholars like Gustaf Kossina and Karl Müllenhoff who claimed that Viking mythology could provide clues to true German-ness. They strongly opposed the previously prevalent ex oriente-view and instead focused on promoting a heroic Germanic past. As “proof” they even compiled a Germanic counterpart for the bible, a Germanenbibel, containing parts of the Eddas (Mees 2006: 184-188, Puschner 2001: 92 – 93).

During the National Socialist regime in Germany, the mixture of academic Viking research and racist ideologies intensified. This is exemplary in the persona of Wolfgang Krause, from 1938 director of the library for Nordic Philology at Göttingen university. He was also head of the Zentralstelle für Runenforschung des Ahnenerbe e.V., which constituted a sub-division of the SS, directly subordinated to Heinrich Himmler, and was supposed to deliver a scientific justification for the worldwide dominance of “Aryan” Germans.

In this period, many volumes on Old Norse and Runology were robbed from their original owners by the SS and delivered to the Zentralstelle für Runenforschung (Möbus 2011: 89 – 90). Politically, there was a strong desire to “prove” that runes were the original human writing system, which again was supposed to show that Germanic people had invented writing in connection with an Odinic cult. However, even at the time academics argued against the view that runes were older than the Egyptian hieroglyphs and there was considerable debate on the origin of runic writing, both in Germany and internationally (Philippson 1938: 322 – 326). In Norway, nationalists from the periphery of the national socialist party Nasjonal Samling established various groups before and after the German occupation which tried to create a new, nationalist Norwegian religion based on pre-Christian beliefs. There were a few hundred core activists and a few thousand sympathisers in a very heterogeneous movement. They were, however, united in adopting one symbol for their cause: the Hagal rune (Emberland 2012: 509 – 511).

Increasingly, runes were perceived not as a writing system but as symbols used to express entire concepts and not certain sounds in speech first. Chiefly, the National Socialists used the s-rune to signify “victory” even though the actual rune had most probably never meant that but “sun” instead. Consequently, it appeared on the uniforms of the SS. Another important rune used by the National Socialists was “o” which was interpreted to signify an Aryan heritage and became the emblem for the Rasse- und Siedlungshauptamt, an SS subdivision with responsibility for “Aryan” settlement in the newly conquered territories of the German Reich. Other prominent runes in National Socialist Germany were “t”, interpreted as “struggle”,” y” interpreted as “life” and “z” on the uniforms of the Hitler Youth (Barnes 2012: 195). An important ideologist at the time was Karl-Maria Wiligut, a nationalist mystic who was engaged by Heinrich Himmler to create a symbol for the SS and came up with the runic iconography. Later during the National Socialist regime, Wiligut published on runes and came up with a new wedding ceremonial for SS officers where he presided as a pagan priest using a stick decorated with runes (O’Donoghue 2007: 112 – 116). This shows just how much the political and esoteric interpretations of runes could overlap during the first half of the 20th century.

On the whole, the different paths interest in runes took over the last two centuries can be (very simplified) classified like this:

Now turning to the current situation in more detail, the results of this split become obvious. One the one side, there is academic runology. In the grand scheme of academia, it is a very small discipline, mostly situated in linguistics departments and undertaken at only few universities, mainly in Scandinavia, Germany and the UK. Recently, some outreach projects have been started, for example the Runecast podcast at Uppsala.

On the other side, there is the political use of runes as hate symbols with the meanings they were attributed in the first half of the 20th century. When he committed his massacre motivated by an extreme racist ideology, first in Oslo, then on Utøya on July 22nd, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik had two runic inscriptions on his main weapons. He wrote Mjölnir, the name of Thor’s hammer in Old Norse mythology, on his Glock 17 gun and Gungnir, the name of Odin’s spear in Old Norse mythology, on his Ruger Mini 14 rifle. According to a report in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, he felt that it was important to draw from mythological Nordic symbols (Kristiansen et al. 2011). This shows how Breivik used runes to embed himself among Old Norse heroes. By naming his weapons after divine weapons from Norse mythology, he attributed a divine significance to his “mission”. That these names were spelled out in runes certainly was no coincidence. Seeing as in right-wing extremist circles, runes have the status of anti-Christian, anti-establishment symbols, they were perfectly suitable for Breivik who saw himself as a warrior fighting the political establishment to save his Germanic nation. Runes were part of a wider political philosophy for him but in contrast to many other cases, the runes in themselves – while politically charged – were not hate symbols. They were merely a writing system that fitted his purposes because it could be interpreted as Germanic.

Somewhere in between these two uses, but often owing more to the interest in runes than to academic runology, is the neo-pagan use of runes. In some cases, runes form part of the practice of a new religious movement. However, within parts of the movement of Germanic neo-Paganism, there are strong nationalist tendencies. Groups such as the Armanen-Orden, going back to the runic esotericism of Guido von List at the beginning of the 20th century, have developed a new religion which freely mixes Germanic myth and racism. As Stefanie von Schnurbein describes: “They are listening to Richard Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries on a hoarse cassette player in front of an altar adorned with runes, Easter eggs, and small bread ornaments, along with a clumsily painted image of the goddess Freya, ostentatiously blue-eyed with wavy blond hair. [The significance of Easter is explained.] And then it comes: fertility not only in general, as a celebration of life reborn in nature, but in the service of the Germanic race” (2015: 149). This shows that for some reconstructionists, runes serve not as a writing system but as symbols of their newly created, neo-Pagan or neo-Germanic belief system. When this system is then used to confirm racist theories, as in the example concerning Germanic fertility, the runes become an integral part and cannot be distinguished from other racist symbols.

Another aspect is that in some cases, German right-wing extremists try to replace Christian symbols with runes or rune-like counterparts. Most prominently, this can be seen in the use of Algiz and inverted Algiz as symbols for life and death, for example in obituaries, or at the sites of lethal accidents, instead of the crucifix (Schuppener 2016: 328 – 329).

In addition, some permissible runes can be used instead of the also prohibited swastika, a fact which even German authorities admit to in their publications: “Die heutige rechtsextremistische Szene hat sich wegen der Runen-Mythologie und aufgrund des Verbots zum Beispiel des Hakenkreuzes auf Runen als sinntragende Zeichen verlegt. Vor allem die Lebensrune, aber auch andere Runen werden gerne als Zeichen für nationalsozialistische Gesinnung verwendet“ [The modern right-wing extremist scene has switched to runes as symbols conveying meaning due to the runic mythology and the prohibition of for instance the swastika. Especially the life rune but also other runes are frequently used as symbols for a national socialist attitude]  (Ministerium für Inneres und Kommunales des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen 2012: 68 – 69).

These are but a few examples of the varying uses and abuses of runes in modern society. The big questionin all of this for academic runologists is: Should they react in any way upon seeing runes used so far form their origins as a writing system? Who has the prerogative of interpretation when it comes to runes?

As Barnes puts it, “the flight from reason that is a prerequisite for holding such beliefs makes people vulnerable to persuasion of many different kinds. It is enough here to consider the more recent fate of “ᛟ”. The rune has been resuscitated as a symbol of white and/or Germanic supremacy, first through association with Óðinn and “the Vikings”, and second by giving it the symbolic value “our inheritance”, “our land” (which, interpreted, means “foreigners, keep out!”)” (Barnes 2012: 196). In fact, this new use of the “odal” rune goes so far that, from the late 1970s, even radical Boers in South Africa, predominantly the Boeremag, started to adopt it as their symbol with the interpretation that it signifies a farmer’s land and patriotism but also prejudice (Schönteich and Boshoff 2003: 70 – 73). The “odal” rune was also prominent in images from Charlottesville, Virginia, where in 2017 white supremacists and Neo-Nazis marched and one counter-protestor was killed. This demonstrates how largely, the symbol has become detached from its origins and does not necessarily have to represent anything related to the Vikings any more at all but rather stands for a much wider concept of general national pride and a defensive stance on perceived inherited rights to land and property.

So how can runologists tackle these challenges? There is no single strategy that will lead to a transformation in the public perception and use of runes. Instead, various factors play into the picture, each of which can contribute one little step at a time.

There are various movements trying to “reclaim” the runes from extremist uses and users. These are mostly grassroots-level, organised online, on social media, and in many, both Neo-Pagans and Viking re-enactors are engaging. Often, there is little academic input but a great interest in learning more about runes. This offers a good opportunity for academics to engage, educate and support.

Image 2 – An example of reclaiming the runes: the symbol for the ‘No Tiw for Nazis’ group

It is also crucial for runologists to offer accessible literature for interested non-academics who do not have a background in philology. A cursory search of “runes” at Amazon.com resulted in, on the first page, eight “runic divination sets”, one set of runic beard-beads, one fantasy novel and six different books on how to use runes for oracles and divination. Only on page three were the first two books by academic runologists, based on research. For somebody with no background in academic literature, it is therefore nearly impossible to find introductory reading material which is not dominated by 19th/20th century runic esotericism. This means academic runologists need to find ways of becoming more approachable for the general public and reclaiming the prerogative of interpretation. In many ways, academia does not necessarily reward this kind of labour, which does not result in peer-reviewed publications. And yet, it is necessary in order to avoid runes becoming purely regarded as right-wing hate symbols or divination tools in public perception.

Image 3 – An example of the esoteric use of runes (CC BY-SA 4.0) Original caption: “Different items with runes in Straubing, Bavaria. – The picture was taken at the September equinox on 22nd September 2017.”

When it comes to the use of runes as hate symbols, personally I think it is crucial to stress the original use of runes, namely a writing system like any other, and not primarily symbolic. The use of “odal” as a symbol for any white supremacist land claim needs to be exposed as the nonsense it is without any base in the medieval use of runes.

As shown above, often the transition from a seemingly apolitical, religious use of runes as integral part of religious practice in neo-paganism to a racially charged use can be fluid. Examples such as the involvement of a runic staff in the wedding ceremonial for SS officers illustrate the point. It is important to remain aware of this when engaging with and discussing modern runic esotericism.

To conclude, I believe that, in the current political situation more than ever, public engagement is crucial for the future of runology. We need to bring the idea of runes primarily as a writing system back to the forefront in order to minimise their abuse, and we need to be visible and approachable for those who are genuinely interested in learning more about runes. If we are not, they will search, and get, their information from others, potentially those with extremist motives.

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