Unearthing the 1,000-Year-Old Story of a Rare Viking Toolbox

Unearthing the 1,000-Year-Old Story of a Rare Viking Toolbox

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The discovery of a rare 1,000-year-old Viking toolbox containing 14 unique iron tools caused excitement during recent excavations at an old Viking fortress. The toolbox was unearthed in a small lump of soil at Denmark's fifth Viking ring fortress: Borgring. It is the first direct evidence that people actually lived at the site.

Science Nordic journalist Charlotte Price Persson became an archaeologist for a day and joined the team of researchers to help clear away the dirt and expose the iron tools.

The soil containing the artifacts was removed from the site of one of the four gates at Borgring. The researchers suggest that the tools could have belonged to people who lived in the fortress. It contains an amazing collection of tools which were used around the 10 th century AD.

Lead archaeologist Nanna Holm decided to take a better look before excavation began on the tools. As she told Science Nordic: “We could see that there was something in the layers [of soil] around the east gate. If it had been a big signal from the upper layers then it could have been a regular plough, but it came from the more ‘exciting’ layers. So we dug it up and asked the local hospital for permission to borrow their CT-scanner.”

The scans allowed the researchers to see the shapes of the tools and they realized that the toolbox itself was gone – the wood had rotted away over time. However, the placement of the objects suggests that the wooden box was replaced with soil. The discovery is exceptionally rare. Tools made of iron were very expensive and precious to the Vikings. It is strange that nobody had found them before and melted the objects down to repurpose the iron.

CT Scan of the Viking toolbox.

CT Scan of the Viking toolbox. ( videnskab.dk)

The archaeologists believe that an analysis of the artifacts will help them to understand what type of craftsman owned them. For now, they suppose that the spoon drills and drawplate could have been used to produce thin wire bracelets. But, this kind of drill was also used to make holes in wood – suggesting that it could have also been a carpenter’s toolbox.

Moreover, the location of the artifacts by the eastern gate of the fortress provides more information on the tools’ history. They could have been used after a fire that torched the fortress’ north and east gates in the second half of the 10th century.

The team also found a room near the gate which could have been a workshop or used for housing a craftsman. It measures about 30-40 square meters (322-430 sq. ft.), and had its own fireplace. The researchers speculate that the tools were buried underground when the gate collapsed – explaining why the recovery of the valued iron objects would have been difficult.

Aerial photo of Vallø Borgring. This is an edited version of a satellite photo with added hill shade. The arrow is pointing at a site which has a clear circular form.

Aerial photo of Vallø Borgring. This is an edited version of a satellite photo with added hill shade. The arrow is pointing at a site which has a clear circular form. (Danskebjerge/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Now the researchers want to scan the tools by X-ray. That should help Holm’s team to identify exactly what the tools are. She already has some ideas, for example, that one of the spoon drills may be a pair of pliers or tweezers. It is planned that the tools will be put on display next year, although the artifacts need conservation work before they will be ready to be exhibited.

Thinglink interactive image: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/850665224653504512

Top Image: Example of a Viking toolbox that was found in 1936 at the bottom of the former lake Mästermyr, island of Gotland. Source: Christer Åhlin/SHMM

By Natalia Klimczak

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