Wednesday, June 22, 2016

All about Scottish Viking Beads: a compilation of research

This is part 1 of a two part article about making a viking bead string. This first part concerns archeological finds, and the second part will discuss designing and making the actual necklace.

Every viking woman needs some bling. Some of the bling is used to hold your clothes on (your brooches...) Some of it is a useful part of your kit, some is religious, and some of it is decorative. Since my whole family is for the moment clothed, I've turned my attention to figuring out the details of my viking bling, assembling it, and really finishing off my garb. You can have the most beautifully researched and executed garments ever seen, and if you have not acessories, it is all in vain. Past the turtle brooches, one of the first acessories a viking woman needs is a strand or two of beads. 

Quick and dirty deerskin pouch
for my husband with two of the
beads I made on the twined cord
I tried making glass beads at an Arts and Sciences Schola last September, and had a great time. I even managed to come out of the experience with a few decent beads. I think that given time I could make my own beads, and would thoroughly enjoy it. The sad fact is though, that I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head. For now at least. So I contacted a good friend, Kim, who does fantastic lampwork beads, and discussed her making me some beads on comission so I could make a necklace. I also sent her some pictures of sort of generic viking beads. She came back and said, yes, she could do that, and would be thrilled to, but wouldn't I rather have something more specifically from Scotland where my persona is from? She had looked for something but not had much luck. Needless to say, I was thrilled to pieces, so I went forth and spent the next two days going through every single scottish viking grave report for bead finds. It occured to me, after having done this, that it might be nice for other people if someone compiled this information all in one place so they wouldn't have to spend 15 hours looking it all up. I have attemted to do so here. 

Before I get down to the nitty gritty of the individual finds, I would like to note that according to a 10th century arab, Vikings would "go to any length to get hold of colored (glass) beads" (Robert Wernick, The vikings, 94) Some viking beads have been traced to egypt! 1 So you needn't limit entirely your beads by the area that your persona is from. Also, beads could be handed down, so earlier beads might have been re-used in a later necklace (the beautiful piece from Peel Castle, Dubbed the "Pagan Lady's necklace" had beads that were 300 years old at the time the necklace was made. 2). The upside of this is that you can pull from earlier periods, and if there's that one bead you really really love, you can include a couple and make up an interesting story about how you traded for them with a ship captain who had worn out his cloak but just returned from a voyage to whatever place it is. I think for my purposes I think it likely that the majority of imported Scottish beads would have come from the western end of the viking sprawl, so I have not drawn on any sources from say, birka or gotland, for my necklace. This article concerns only glass bead finds made in scotland, york, and the isle of mann with an emphasis on scottish grave finds.

An important note about all the photos below is that these beads have been buried for centuries. the colors are quite faded. Some of the amber or crystal beads look like clay after so long in the ground. When these beads were being worn they would have been very bright, even flamboyant! 

After inefectually flailing on google for a while I foud this fantastic resource that lists all of the viking scottish graves, by area, and gives the titles of the most pertinent scholarly sources about their contents. This will continue to be a extemely helpful research aid for me, and I'm so grateful for whoever put it all together. Viking Burials in Scotland, landscape and burials in the viking age 
  • Balnakeil boy's grave: a glass bead with blue and white "eyes" which make it almost square, the eyes are of white collared blue glass. They do not say what the ground color was orignally, it is obviously now faded. Eye beads were specific to the 9th and early 10th century, and only in the western viking sprawl. Diameter; 14.8mm, height 8.4 mm. The other beads in the grave were amber.
    A Viking burial at Balnakeil, Sutherland, Batey & Paterson 
    Photo is from National Museums, Scotland

  • Islay: four beads, one combed, and very large, two solid colored, and one with many small flat eyes all over it. Almost like a mille flore but I think actually just many small "eyes" on a colored bead.There no photographs that I could find, but there is a black and white drawing with the original article about the grave.
  • Notes on the Contents of Two Viking Graves in Islay, Joseph Anderson

  • Cruach Mhore, Islay: 9th or 10th century viking burial, one blue combed glass bead with possible lighter striations. height 5mm, Diameter 12 Mm. one yellow glass bead, half only surviving, 3 mm h, 5 mm diameter. I was unable to find a photograph of these beads.
  • A Norse Viking Grave from Cruach Mhor Islay, Kate Gordon

  • Rousay grave in the Orkney Islands: a strand of some 40 beads. They've been dated 850 to 900 AD.
  • National Museaums of Scotland, Grave goods from Rousay
    The Vikings in Orkney, James Graham-Campbell 130-32
    picture from the national museums of scotland
  • The grave at Kneep: 40 beads, almost all of the segmented variety, all I can find are the drawings and photos in the original write up of the grave. The beads were blue, yellow, silver, and gold,  and between 3 and 6 mm. It notes that some of the glass was a very "vivid clear blue" and some an opaque yellow. 10th century
    A Viking Grave from Kneep, Uig, Welander, Batey, and Cowie pages 163, 164, and 164 facing
  • Knowe of Moan cist grave at Harray: trying to find information on these beads is tough because the find is unpublished. I was able to find photos of some of the beads from the museum at which they are held though! No date on these beads, and no good idea of how they may have been strung since this is likely a cremation burial. Another site described one of the beads as being herringboned although I am unsure if the picture is the bead from the Harray grave, or another similar.
    Early Midieval Assemblage from the Knowe Of Moan, Orkney
    Knowe of Moan
    Photos from The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, where the beads are housed.
  • Unst burial, Shetland: two beads found. 9th century, "one was circular, flattened, and formed of red, blue, and white glass; the other was of a long quadrangular shape formed of small rolls of twisted white and blue glass in lobes somewhat like the sides of saxon glass vessals." This sounds rather like the "string bead" from harray, although I was unable to find any pictures of these beads.
    Journal of the british Archaelogical Association, 1863, Proceedings of the association, page 313
  • The Galloway hoard has a number of beads in it, including another of the "string" beads, just visible under what looks like a rock crystal ball pendant at the front right of the pot. Also a combed bead , very dark, a green and yellow lampwork bead listed as "large" as well as a bead with metal fittings made into a pendant. I have been unable to find a scholarly write up of this hoard, and pictures of it are all the same five or ten press released photos. However you can see the beads at least sort of.
  • The "pagan lady's grave" Peel castle, Isle of Mann: this rich grave contained a string of 73 beads of jet, amber, and glass. The pagan lady's origins are somewhat of a mystery. Although she has no turtle brooches, which typically identify Viking women's graves, all her other grave goods are typically scandanavian. There is a fantastic reconstruction of the necklace done for dislay of the museum to show what the necklace would have looked like when it was made. This site gives excellent views of the single beads. The picture below is of the original necklace, not the recreation.
    The Pagan Lady of Peel, by Barbara Holgate 14,15,18
    recreation of necklace

  • Jorvik (york) was a large viking trading center. Many interesting things have been found there. I consider them a reasonable bet for trade with scottish vikings, and so include a few beads that were found at coppergate.
    Picture from the Jorvik Viking center gallery

Although this concludes the site specific archeological finds (and I think it's pretty comprehensive oview of pretty much every grave in Scotland with glass beads) I would like to add this wonderful collection from the University of Glasgow. Many beads here to look at! Hunterian Museaum This is especially important because a lot of bead finds are not connected with graves, and therefore are difficult to find record of: either because they were single finds, or because they're buried in the records of an investigation into a dwelling or other living area. 

As a further note, many of the graves in Scotland contained amber beads singly, or amber and jet beads. The only known source of jet (considered another form of amber by the vikings, and sacred to Freya 3) during the viking era was from the coastline in Yorkshire around Whiteby. Jet was worked in many of the places that amber was worked, and seems to have made its way around much of the viking world (the pagan lady of peel, Barbara Holgate, 18). It was quite common in the scottish graves I reviewed. So if you are in the process of making yourself a necklace, or loops of beads to hang from your brooches, be sure to attempt to find appropriately shaped and sized jet and amber components. Also popular across the viking world, but not found in any of these graves, carnelian, rock crystal, garnet and amythyst,

In conclusion: All vikings were at least half magpie, and if it was sparkly and brightly colored they liked it and would import it from the ends of the earth (or steal it). Of course goods imported from far away would be more valuable than goods made locally, so use your own judgement and the likely finacial status of your persona to decide what kinds of beads you want in your necklace. 

To be continued in Part 2

1 comment:

  1. I just happened upon your blog by accident tonight. I'm so glad I did! You have so many interesting projects and research! ~ Ose