A team of researchers will be studying the chemical make-up of iron artefacts from the Viking age aims to uncover new insights into where they came from and better understand their use in early medieval warfare.
The team will be examining 90 iron Viking-age artefacts to identify their chemical isotope signature of the iron using Lead, Strontium and Iron Isotope Analysis. Lead isotope analysis has proved effective for learning the origins of ancient metal artefacts of silver and copper. They have already conducted a successful pilot study on a smaller sample of artefacts that showed this combination of analyses is effective for provenancing iron artefacts, even when the items are highly corroded.
“In this study we will be testing our hypothesis that it is possible to use isotope analysis with iron to pinpoint more specifically than ever before where the artefact originates from,” explains Stephen Harding of the University of Nottingham, an expert in the scientific study of Viking artefacts and research lead. “If successful it could lead to this method being used with many more historic artefacts, which will help us learn more about historic events and people.”
Stephen Harding is joined by fellow University of Nottingham colleague, Mark Pearce, as well as Jean Milot of the University of Toulouse, Dawn Hadley and Julian Richards the University of York, Chas Jones of the Fulford Battlefield Society and Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey at Keyworth.
They will be examining weapons found at the site of major events related to Viking attacks in England, including the site of the Battle of Fulford (1066), where the Norse victors established a short-lived camp that included iron recycling sites (short-lived because this Viking army was defeated five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge).
They will be looking at iron artefacts discovered at Bebington Heath in the Wirral. which has recently been identified as a possible location of the Battle of Brunanburh (937). The material has been typologically assigned to the late Saxon/Viking period and shows parallels with the artefacts from Fulford. Other material in the study will be coming from the Viking camp at Torksey in Lincolnshire (872-873), and from the former Viking seaport of Meols.
Mark Pearce, a Professor of Mediterranean Prehistory, at the University of Nottingham, adds. “This is an exciting collaboration that will use the latest scientific techniques to reveal the unique isotope composition of these ancient artefacts and how this informs us where they were made. The project will revolutionise our understanding of archaeological iron objects, finally giving us a method accurately to pinpoint their origin.”
Top Image: Viking arrowhead. Photo courtesy the University of Nottingham