A new study examining the chemical make-up of iron artefacts from the Viking age aims to uncover new insights into where they came from that could reveal previously unknown information about historic events.
Scientists from the University of Nottingham are leading the study that will examine 90 iron Viking-age artefacts. These are weapons that were used in battles at Fulford in North Yorkshire and Bebington Heath on the Wirral. Other material comes from the Viking camp at Torksey in Lincolnshire, and from the former Viking seaport of Meols.
Fulford was the location for a battle in AD 1066 between Norse invaders and the Anglo-Saxons, immediately before the better-known battle of Stamford Bridge. The archaeological material consists of iron weapons found at a number of short-lived iron recycling sites that were abandoned by the Norse victors at Fulford when they were defeated at Stamford Bridge five days later. The iron material from Bebington Heath was recovered from the possible location of the AD 937 battle of Brunanburh between Norse-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon armies. The material has been typologically assigned to the late Saxon/Viking period and shows parallels with the artefacts from Fulford. Torksey, Lincs, in the lower Trent Valley, was the site of the winter encampment of the Viking Great Army in AD 872-873 and iron working is documented at the site.
The researchers from Nottingham are working with the University of Toulouse (Dr Jean Milot), the University of York (Professor Dawn Hadley and Professor Julian Richards), Fulford Battlefield Society (Chas Jones) and the Nottinghamshire based British Geological Survey at Keyworth (Professor Jane Evans) to identify the chemical isotope signature of the iron using Lead, Strontium and Iron Isotope Analysis. lead isotope analysis has proved effective for provenancing ancient metal artefacts of silver and copper and the team 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.
Professor Stephen Harding, expert in the scientific study of Viking artefacts and research lead said “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. 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.”
Professor of Mediterranean Prehistory, Mark Pearce 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.”
The study is funded by the National Environmental Isotope Facility.
More information is available from Professor Stephen Harding or Professor Mark Pearce at University of Nottingham