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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Faroe Islands - A Glimpse of Everyday Life in the Viking Age 2005

A Glimpse of Everyday Life in the Viking Age

Date of issue: 07 February 2005
Primary Theme: Agriculture & Food (Crops & Farming), History (History of Peoples)
Width: 28.8mm
Height: 39.5mm
Denomination: 7.50DKK
Printing: Offset/ Steel Plate Printing
Number in set: 3
Layout/ Format: Miniature sheet of 3 of 3 designs
Perforations: 13.25 per 2 cm
Stamp Issuing Authority: Postverk Foroya

Printer: Post Danmark Security Printing Office
Martin Mörck

A glimpse of everyday life in the Viking Age

Where people spend any amount of time, they leave traces, including the remains of the buildings they once erected in their settlements. Most domestic waste was thrown out of the door, where it remained unless anything that might be edible was eaten by domestic animals such as cats, dogs and pigs. It is this detritus that can give posterity an insight into what it was like to live in the past. If this knowledge is to be gained, however, such material relics must undergo archaeological investigation.

On the farms around the Faroe Islands the people of the Viking Age lived off what the land, both the infields and outlying pasture, could produce together with what could be caught at sea, landed from the coast and hunted in the mountains.

The kitchen utensils used in the households of the period were partly of domestic and partly of foreign origin. The imported goods were either produced abroad or made from foreign raw materials, i.e. materials that were not found locally on the islands. These included utensils and implements made from soapstone, e.g. vessels and pots, which were more or less bowl-shaped and were used for cooking. They varied greatly in size from less than 20 cm to around 50 cm in diameter. As the same types of vessel found on the Faroe Islands are also found in Norway, it is natural to assume that such goods were imported from Norway. Another possibility is Shetland, where soapstone is also found as a raw material.

Households used earthenware as well as soapstone vessels. Based on the information available, it is impossible to say whether the early settlers, or Landnamsmen as they are called, were already using earthenware when they arrived on the islands. There is a great deal to indicate, however, that earthenware became part of domestic life during the Viking Age, i.e. in the late 10th – 11th century. This is interesting in terms of cultural history, because back in Norway earthenware had been completely abandoned in favour of soapstone vessels, a practice that the Northmen brought with them as they travelled west. These earthenware vessels are all unglazed, shaped by hand, generally by coiling and without a wheel, and fired at a low temperature. There seems to be considerable variation in shape, with bowl-shaped, hemispherical and bucket-shaped vessels having been found. There is also considerable variation in size, with the opening varying between about 18 and 30 cm, for example, and the height between around 10 and 20 cm. Food encrustation on the inside indicates that the earthenware vessels were used for the preparation of food. However, no remains have been found that might have been linked to earthenware production itself, e.g. kilns, but it is easy to imagine earthenware vessels being fired in the hearth.

The exciting investigations into animal bones that have taken place in recent years have provided an insight into the animal husbandry of the past and the resources exploited in the Viking Age. It has been established that pigs were widely kept in addition to sheep and cattle, while compared with other locations in the North Atlantic, seabirds accounted for a very large proportion of the diet on the Faroe Islands.

Rooms were illuminated by means of oil lamps, which might have been no more than hollowed-out stones. But there are also examples of lamps being carved from tuff, a soft, volcanic rock that was easy to carve, which is why such lamps often had various forms of simple decoration.

In addition to the above types of kitchen utensil made from stone, the people also used a lot of different vessels made from wood, including turned wooden vessels and small, carved rectangular vessels or bowls. Staves and heads from large and small crozed wooden vessels have also been found. The many finds of twisted juniper stems are characteristic of the remains of older settlements. Juniper grew locally when people and animals took possession of the islands. The stems have been found in many different lengths and thicknesses, and were used as handles for wooden vessels or as ropes, for example. Wooden pins of varying sizes have also been found. Some of then are frequently interpreted as being so-called “sausage skewers” and others as being spindles used for working with wool.

Apart from food preparation, other important indoor chores included wool processing. Finds of spindle whorls and warp weights bear witness to this activity. The spindle whorls, which can be of basalt or tuff, are often also made from fragments of broken soapstone pots. Weights were required for work on vertical looms. Some special forms of warp weight made of drilled slate for hanging seem to have been imported, but ordinary basalt stones with a groove round the outside were also widely used.

In daily work both indoors and out cutting implements such as knives and scythes, for example, were indispensable, and they had to be kept sharp. The number of whetstones found bears witness to this. They were made from both clay slate and mica schist – even whole blanks of the raw material for whetstones have been found. This is another example of goods that had to be imported from Norway.

Hay was produced for animal feed. But grain was also grown on the Faroe Islands, with the grain of the Viking Age being six-rowed barley. This had to be ground, which was done using millstones of relatively soft mica schist characterised by hard red garnets inclusions. This raw material is found at Hardanger in West Norway. Studies have shown that this area had large quarries that produced schist for making millstones for export as long ago as the Viking Age.

The fields were not the only place where work was done. Sinkers testify to the importance of fishing. These might be made from soapstone, which frequently turned out to have been reworked from vessel fragments. But it was most usual, perhaps, to use large and small pebbles with a groove round the outside to secure the line to.

Apart from the knives previously mentioned, metal artefacts include iron locks, rivets and fish hooks of various sizes. The metal finds frequently occur in very small fragments such as bronze plates with rivets attached, which may have been rim or opening hardware for wooden vessels, for example. The quite frequent finds of slag may also be the result of forging to do with the utensils already mentioned.

In visualising how people on the Faroe Islands dressed during the Viking Age, we must make do with drawing comparisons with what is known from other locations in the North Atlantic, but there are several finds to indicate that people quite liked to dress up. There is, for example, evidence of objects that can be described as personal accessories – ornaments such as bone combs, for example, both single and double. People wore necklaces and bracelets with both amber beads and silver- or gold-coated glass beads. They also wore silver rings, fine bronze buckles and ring pins, which they attached to their clothes.

Leisure activities and children’s games clearly also played an important role in everyday life in the Viking Age. In addition to gaming pieces, half a game board has been found with “Nine Men’s Morris” on one side and the Old Norse game of “Hneftafl” on the other. Finely carved horses and toy boats were made for the children, with examples being found at the Viking Age farm in Kvívík and the summer settlement at Argisbrekka near the village of Eiði.

Just as in other locations in the North Atlantic the art of writing was also practised on the Faroe Islands in the Viking
Age. Several artefacts made of both wood and stone with engraved runes were found during the excavation of dwellings in Eiði and Leirvík, for example.

The imported materials provide clear evidence that the Viking Age population on the Faroe Islands was not isolated to any great extent. Such materials clearly indicate quite close contact with the outside world, as likely as not in the form of trading relations both with the inhabitants’ old homeland, with communication doubtlessly originating in Bergen, and the other Norse settlements in the areas to the south of the Faroe Islands.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Great information, thanks