Find out about the Viking artefacts in the Antiquities Collection
Prior to the commencement of an extensive programme of urban archaeological excavation in Dublin, spanning the period 1961 - 1981, the main archaeological evidence for the Viking presence in Ireland came from a small number of burial sites and stray finds, many of them from rivers.
Ninth and 10th Century Viking graves were discovered in coastal locations such as Arklow, Co. Wicklow, Ballyholm, Co. Down, Eyrephort, Co. Galway, and in more extensive cemeteries at Kilmainham and Islandbridge on the banks of the River Liffey, in Dublin. The graves were furnished with grave-goods including weapons such as swords and spears, together with jewellery and personal items. The presence of well-furnished female graves, along with craftsmen’s tools and weights and scales for engaging in commercial transactions, shows that the early Viking presence in Ireland was not simply characterised by the activities of marauding raiders. Finds of Viking Age hoards containing silver ingots, hack silver and coins emphasise the commercial aspect of the Viking presence in Ireland.
Prior to the commencement of archaeological excavations at High Street, Dublin, in the heart of the Viking city, the Museum acquired objects found in the digging of street cuttings and building foundations, that were an indication of the wealth of the archaeological deposits available for investigation. The soil conditions turned out to be ideal for the preservation of archaeological remains. Wood and other organic materials were well preserved, leading to the discovery of a range of structures such as houses, workshops, outbuildings, property boundaries and walkways.
Dublin developed into the most important trading town in the western Viking world and the Museum's excavations uncovered evidence of this by recovering finds that demonstrated the craftwork, manufacturing, trading and commercial activities of the Dublin Vikings. Much of the town’s wealth depended on the skills of its mariners and the importance of ships and boats is indicated by the survival of sketches of ships on planks as well as model or toy ships in wood and lead fishing weights in the shape of ships. A variety of ship timbers have also been found, usually re-used as building material for dock walls, drains and pathways. Ships were also important for fishing and hunting marine mammals, evidence of which is shown by the discovery of iron fish-hooks, bone net needles, wooden net floats, lead alloy line sinkers and iron harpoons.
Silver was the great medium of exchange and it is likely that the silver found in Irish hoards was mediated through the port of Dublin. Much of the silver that made its way to Ireland began as Arabic coins. The earliest coins used in Dublin originated in England, however, about 997, King Sitric of Dublin started minting his own silver pennies.
Woodworkers, carpenters, coopers and basket weavers were active, producing a range of objects such as wooden bowls, plates, pails, buckets, barrels, tubs, spatulas, platters, cups, spoons, mortars, trays, baskets and boxes. In addition to wooden vessels, soapstone vessels were used that may have been imported from the north of Scotland, or further afield. Wood carved for furniture or house fittings of various kinds was often decorated with elaborate designs in the Ringerika style.
Evidence for ironworking comes in the form of blacksmith’s tools such as tongs, hammers, knives, saws, chisels, punches, files, whetstones and grindstones. The manufacturing of iron locks and keys indicates that valuables had to be safeguarded against theft. Fine metalworking using lead alloy, copper alloy, silver and gold is evidenced by moulds, gold and silver ingots, gold wire and filigree, crucibles, heating trays, motif pieces, enamel, molten copper waste and slag.
An amber worker's house was identified at Fishamble Street, where the floor was strewn with several hundred waste flakes and tiny spicules. Pieces of raw amber were found and finished amber objects included pendants, finger rings and beads. Glass beads were also fashioned in Viking Dublin and beads, bracelets and rings were also made from jet or lignite.
The production of textiles was an important activity and the excavation uncovered weavers and spinners equipment such carding combs, spindles and spindle whorls, loom weights, weaver's swords, weaving tablets, cloth smoothers as well as the remains of yarn, thread and textiles. Shears that may have been used for cutting textiles were also found. Leather workers produced objects such as shoes, sheaths, scabbards and bags, examples of which have survived. Some leather worker’s tools have also survived - awls, punches, scorers, and at least one wooden last – as has a considerable amount of waste leather fragments.
Craftsmen working in antler, animal and whalebone, horn and walrus ivory produced a range of objects including combs, pins, spoons, weaving tablets, motif pieces and gaming pieces. Board games were popular and the typical conical gaming pieces that would have been used on them are more frequently found than the boards themselves. Children’s toys in the form of a wooden sword and model boats are also known
The Viking town had an agricultural hinterland that sustained it, and many agricultural tools were found in the course of the excavations included wooden shovels, iron spades, planting tools, iron plough socks, billhooks and sickles. The discovery of a wooden churn dash shows that butter making took place within the town. In addition to being excellent mariners, the Vikings were also skilled horsemen. Finds associated with horse riding include stirrups, spurs, harness bells, harness mounts and saddle pommels.
Personal ornaments were indicators of wealth. The typically Scandinavian oval brooch with linking strings of beads was worn commonly during the early part of the Viking Age. Necklaces made of amber, glass and stone were worn in the 10th and 11th Centuries. Antler and wooden amulets and Thor's hammers were also worn. Finger rings were made of amber, jet, copper alloy, silver and gold. Twisted copper alloy, gold and silver wirework as well as jet were also used for rings and bracelets. Ringed pins and stickpins were produced in great numbers. Ringed pins were very popular in Dublin where the native kite brooch, and the English lead alloy disc brooch also found favour. Sometimes people wore little copper alloy toilet sets, comprising tweezers and nail- or ear picks.
The collections also house large numbers of Viking Age antiquities from other native sites, especially from crannogs located in the midlands that seem to have been engaged in trading and commercial activities with Viking Dublin. It is often difficult to distinguish between Viking and Irish artefacts at this time and the term Hiberno-Norse is used to describe the culture of the inhabitants of the Viking towns in the 11th and early 12th Centuries. Irish art was strongly influenced by the later Viking Ringerika and Urnes styles. Trade increased with Britain and the Continent and the importation of luxury goods such as silver and copper alloy bowls, finger rings and pottery vessels increased also. Ecclesiastical metalwork of the 11th and 12th Centuries shows the fusion of Scandinavian and Irish art styles at the close of the Viking Age.