My colleague Karl-Magnus Melin specialises in ancient and modern woodworking and has a major paper in Fornvännen’s summer issue about well fittings made from hollowed-out tree trunks. He’s kindly sent me some post-conservation pics of a Viking Period wooden drinking bowl. It’s lathe-turned unless I’m very much mistaken. The bowl was found sitting in a back-filled well last autumn, during excavations directed by Anne Carlie for the National Heritage Board at Lindängelund near Malmö.
Waterlogged wood is a bit like precious metal in that little really happens to it as the centuries pass. With such finds, we get to see how good ancient craftspeople really were in a way that is often difficult to appreciate when you’re looking at corroded metal objects.
One thing about the Viking Period. In Anglophone historiography, almost everybody calls this time span the “Viking Age”. I can’t bring myself to do this, as it mixes taxonomical levels. In Sweden, the Neolithic is about 2300 years, the Bronze Age 1200 years, and the Iron Age 1600 years. The Viking Period is only 300 years long and forms the final Period of the Iron Age. Thus it cannot be an Age unto itself. That would be like calling dandelions a phylum.
And while I’m at it: well-educated Minnesotans recently told me that they found it enlightening when I said that being a Viking is a job, not an ethnic denomination. Most Scandinavians who lived during the Viking Period were not Vikings. It’s just that the Englishmen and French who wrote about them at the time never met any non-Viking Scandinavians, poor fellows.
Update 18 May: Anne Carlie and Anna Lagergren explain that the bowl was found sitting on the bottom of a well whose overlying back-fill contained complete flax plants. When making linen fibre, flax must be retted, “the process of rotting away the inner stalk, leaving the outer fibers intact”, as Wikipedia explains, under water. This suggests that the well was used for flax retting during a period before it was back-filled. A sample of the flax has given a radiocarbon date of 986±32 BP, that is, 990-1160 cal AD (95% likelihood).
This means that the bowl is almost certainly older than AD 1160. And since wells like these did not survive for long, it unlikely to be older than AD 900. Thus, from the radiocarbon alone we can’t rule out that the bowl may actually post-date the Viking Period by a few decades.