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VIKING NETWORK IRELAND

VIKING DUBLIN
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE


As a result of the excavations at High Street, Wood Quay and in the Temple Bar area we have a good idea how Viking Age Dublin would have looked. The settlement was situated on higher ground beside where the river Poddle entered the Liffey. The town was surrounded by an embankment of earth, gravel and mud which was topped by a post-and-wattle palisade. This was replaced by a stone wall before the end of the Viking Age.

The streets of the town were surfaced with gravel and stones, wattle mats or split logs. Plots and yards were divided from each other by low post-and-wattle fences. The lines of these plots changed little over the years implying respect for property and continuity. The overall impression of the town is that it was an ordered place whose layout and defence were overseen and regulated.

Houses

The foundation remains of about two hundred houses of tenth and eleventh century date have been excavated in Dublin. The surviving remains included bedding materials, fireplaces and their ash, roofing materials.

All the houses were rectangular in plan and nearly all had walls of post-and-wattle. Nearly all were thatched with straw. In most cases the roofs were supported on posts which were located inside the house. Most had hipped roofs rather than gabled roofs.

Dr. Pat Wallace in his examination of the houses of Dublin distinguished five different house types. Three-quarters of all the houses excavated belonged to type one. This was a house whose floor was divided into three sections - a wide centre aisle with a raised bedding area on each side. There was a doorway in each end of the house. The fireplace was in the centre aisle.

The floors were built up of gravel, wood shavings and paving stones. Wooden floors were also found. The bed areas were raised up on sod foundations and were of brushwood topped with straw or grass. These beds were used as seats during the day. Roofs were usually made of barley straw, attached to a layer of turves which lay on a mesh of wattles.

This house type was found at the earliest, tenth century, levels at Wood Quay and existed until the end of the Viking Age.

Clothing

A typical well-off Viking woman wore a long woollen or linen chemise under a woollen dress. The dress was suspended from a pair of shoulder straps, each adorned with a domed oval brooch. A necklace sometimes linked the brooches. A shawl or cloak was worn outside and was fastened at the throat with another brooch.

A typical well-off Viking man wore a shirt and trousers. The trousers could either be broad or narrow. A simple brightly-coloured tunic was worn over all. Shaggy woollen cloaks, furs and hides were sometimes worn. A large number of silk caps and neckerchiefs were found in the Dublin excavations.

Dublin Vikings commonly wore flat, low shoes which were without heels and were laced with thongs. Belts were commonly worn by both men and women. Knives, purses, combs were suspended from these belts.

Jewellery

Many amber and glass necklace beads, pendants, ear-rings and finger rings were found during the excavations. Silver was the raw material most prized by the Vikings. Dublin jewellers made armlets, pennanular, thistle and kite-shaped brooches from it. Bronze kite-shaped brooches were also made and worn.

The native Irish ringed-pin became very popular among the Vikings and examples of it have been found at all the great Viking centres abroad including the site at L'anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland.

Polished bone pins were also worn, possibly in the hair and to fasten clothes. These often had highly decorated heads.

Crafts.

There is evidence that craftsmen of the same type tended to work close together in certain areas of the town. Leather workers seem to be concentrated in the High Street area, amber jewellers and wood workers in Fishamble Street. Fishermen, boat builders and merchants are most likely to have been concentrated along the waterfront.

Model or toy boat from Winetavern Street, Dublin.

Wood-workers

A range of workers worked with wood. Shipbuilders made and repaired ships of all size, short coastal vessels, ocean-going trading ships and speedy warships. Builders also worked in wood. The carpentry was simple but effective with few complicated joints being used. The wall and fence makers wove fences, pathways, bed bases, mats, screens and door panels. Wattle was the plastic of the Viking Age.

Coopers made the barrels, kegs, buckets and churns which have been found. Turners used a pole lathe by which they could rapidly rotate a cutting edge. They made wooded bowls, cups, dishes, ladles and spoons. They also probably made wooden troughs, trays and other containers.

Wooden tools and ornaments mere often decorated. This was sometimes very simple consisting of criss-crosses or triangles. Important wooden items were sometimes elaborately decorated. Stylised animal heads, serpents were often carved onto walking sticks crooks, ship's fittings and other important pieces.

Workers in Antler and Bone

Red deer antler was generally used in comb-making though cattle horn was also used. Single and double-sided combs were made.

Research suggests that combmaking was a specialised occupation in Dublin and that craftsmen who made other items in antler, bone, horn and walrus ivory operated separately. They made items such as spindles, pins, needles, spoons, buckles gaming pieces and ice-skates. The leg bones of birds were used to make whistles.

The Blacksmith

The blacksmiths made and repaired weapons and tools for almost every other craftsman. They probably operated some distance from town because of the danger their great fires would have posed to the houses.

They made swords, spearheads, battle axes and arrowheads. Chains, lockable collars, keys and padlocks were also produced. For other craftsmen the blacksmith produced axes, chisels, shears, awls, files, hammers, tongs and knives. He made harness pieces for horses.

Non-ferrous Metalsmiths

These worked in bronze, lead, silver and gold. The metals were shaped in stone or clay moulds or sheet-metal was hammered.

Personal ornaments were commonly made by these smiths as were items for weighing scales. Trial pieces in bone were used to copy designs which were later transferred to metal.

Textiles

Hundreds of examples of cloth and thread were found at Viking Dublin as were implements used in their production. Needles of all shapes and sizes, linen smoothers, iron shears for cutting cloth have been found. Whorls, spindles and weavers swords were found. No looms were found but small stone cylinders are thought to be loom weights.

Amber-workers

An amber-worker's workshop has been identified. Hundreds of flakes and rough unworked lumps of amber were found but few implements. Jet was also worked in Dublin.

Leather-workers

Hundreds of leather objects have been found in Dublin but few of the implements used in their production. Great numbers of shoes have been found and also scabbards, satchels and knife sheaths.


Sources

Patrick F Wallace `Dublin in the Viking Age' in Michael Ryan (ed), The illustrated archaeology of Ireland (Dublin 1991).

Howard B. Clarke, Proto-towns and Towns in Ireland and Britain in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries in H.B. Clarke, M. Ní Mhaonaigh and R. Ó Floinn (eds), Ireland and Scandinavia in the Early Viking Age (Dublin, 1998).

Breandán Ó Ríordáin, The High Street Excavations in Viking Congress 7.

P.F. Wallace, Aspects of Viking Dublin, 1. Houses, 2. Clothing and Personal Ornament, 3 . The Town, 4. Commerce, 5. Dublin in 988, 6. Crafts (Dublin, 1988).

P.F. Wallace, The Viking Age Buildings of Dublin, 2 parts (National Museum of Ireland, Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-81, series A, 1, Dublin, 1992).


Updated July 2000 by the Viking Network
IRISH CO-ORDINATOR Michael Farry.

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