Norwegian Basement Yields Norse Iron Treasures, Museologists Ecstatic!
A Norwegian man made a unique discovery back in the 80s while he was digging out a water well. His daughter was recently cleaning the basement of his house when she rediscovered what turned out to be a rare cache of 1,000-year-old Norse treasures.
A Very Special Ancient Alchemical Story
Grete Margot Sørum witnessed her father discovering a collection of 32 iron bars back in the 1980’s when he dug out a well near their house near Aurdal, in Valdres, central Norway. Having rediscovered the iron bars, Sørum recently handed them over to the Valdres Folkemuseum in Fagernes.
According to Mildri Een Eide, a County Archaeologist in Innlandet, each of the narrow objects has a hole in one end, which means they were at one time tied together in a bunch. And while this find is essentially a heap of scrap iron, the archaeologist says they ‘remind us of a very special story” that tells of ancient Iron Age alchemists and Middle Ages iron trading.
Uniform Iron Bars, Means Currency
Archaeologist, Mildrid Een Eide, said it has been 100 years since someone has handed in such a large collection of iron ingots from Valdres. And because the bars were discovered by Grete Margot Sørum's father in Aurdal, beside “The Bergen Royal Road,” they are being associated with the several tons of iron that was shipped out of Valdres in the Viking Age.
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It is known that during the Viking Age Iron ingots were transported across several trade routes spanning Western Norway and Denmark. Mildrid Een Eide says the 32 bars “are exactly the same in shape and size and weigh approximately 50 grams.” This uniformity leads the archaeologists to conclude that they iron bars were a means of payment.
The iron bars were most likely used as a form of payment. They were probably tied together in a bundle that could be worn down. Then people could exchange goods from other parts of the country. (Mildri Een Eide/ Innlandet County Municipality)
Making Tools From Bog Stones
In an NRK report, Sørum says iron mining occurred in many places in southern Norway, for example, in Trøndelag archaeologists have discovered evidence of iron mining dating back to the Iron Age, around 200 AD. It is known that these mines resumed production around 1000 years later, in the Viking Age (8th to 11th century), and in the subsequent Middle Ages.
Regarding the iron mining and extraction processes, the researcher said they were “heavy work that required a lot of people and specialized knowledge.” To call these skills ‘alchemy’ is no misuse of the word, for after farmers had pulled lumps of crude iron ore out of bogs, teams of ancient metallurgists were tasked with burning off all organic materials and extracting the iron ready to be forged into tools, weapons and parts for boat building.
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Ultra-High Temperatures in Ancient Ovens
The most common method for extracting iron in ancient Norway is known as the blast furnace process. This involves the reaction of carbon (coal) with iron oxide (ore) at temperatures around 1500°C-2000°C (2732°F-3632°F). To begin this process, the manufacturers must first have burned selected woods to make coal.
While modern methods of extracting iron from ore utilize huge industrial ovens, in prehistoric Norway hot coals were laid beneath ore containing stones. Then, using animal skin wind bellows, the ancient alchemists were able to achieve temperatures of around 1200°C (2192°Fahrenheit) which meant the slag melted, leaving lumps of useable pig iron at the bottom of their furnaces.
Mapping Ancient Iron Production And Trade Routes
The 32 iron bars discovered in Valdres are currently on display at the Kulturhistorisk Museum in Oslo, where they are being treated as “a cache.” The primary reason for this categorization is because the items were deliberately hidden, then rediscovered. Kjetil Loftsgarden, an archaeologist and associate professor at the museum, explained that “seldom do such artifacts surface,” telling stories from the lives of ancient iron miners who inhabited Norway’s island villages.
There are no written sources about ancient iron mining in Valdres, and modern plant equipment has done away with many of the smaller production settlements. And for this reason, Kjetil Loftsgarden is now putting together a sizable archaeological project intent on mapping the iron extraction areas in Valdres, and how these are connected with the Bergen Royal Road.
Top image: 1,000-year-old iron bars found in Norway. Source: Mildri Een Eide/ Innlandet County Municipality
By Ashley Cowie