Twisted & Plaited Rod Arm Rings from the Viking Age

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Twisted & Plaited Rod Arm Rings from the Viking Age

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Twisted & Plaited Rod Arm Rings from the Viking Age

Bracelets from the Viking period generally fall into 3 categories:

  • Broad Band Arm Rings – Like the ones from the Huxley hoard we talked about in a previous blog.
  • Plaited or Twisted Rod Arm Rings
  • Single Rod Arm Rings

 

This week we’ll take a closer look the twisted or plaited variety. The simplest of this type are often 2 silver round-section rods twisted around each other. They can be either annular or penannular in style. Annular means that they are a closed circle, with the ends usually joined together with solder, or the ends are tapered and then wrapped around the band in a variety of decorative ways. Penannular describes a broken circle, so the ends do not meet, and finish in terminals or taper to a point.

Many finds of this style are often 2 twisted rods, though sometimes this is embellished with a smaller twist of fine wire running along side these. Examples of more rods are less common, however they are still found across Europe.

Viking expert James Graham- Campbell researched this multi strand type back in 2006.

The earlier theory was that this style had been developed in the east, and brought and traded into the west by the Vikings, however Graham-Campbell concluded[i] that this was not the case, and that the style was developed in Western Europe in the middle of the 9th century and became a Scandinavian fashion.

A number of the hoards from the U.K and Ireland contain some complete examples of this style, and the majority of the hoards contain fragments. Though not as popular as the bracelet types we see at Huxley, they still appear to have been a popular way of carrying bullion around in the Viking period.

We know that the Vikings cut up their silver to pay for things, and these complex bracelets were not spared this fate. It would seem strange to us to cut up something so beautiful, but James Graham-Campbell raises an interesting theory[ii]. He suggests that in order to make such a complex bracelet, the silver would need to be of good quality to get it to take on the shape required. Low purity silver or plated cheaper metals would be very difficult to work into this style, so Graham-Campbell suggests that these types of bracelets could be an obvious sign of the purity of the silver, and no one wanted excess cheaper metals watering down their silver.

Cast ingots found in hoards frequently contain nick marks were a sliver of the metal has been cut away to help determine its purity, but applying his theory, these twisted arm rings wouldn’t need to be tested, as the design itself would suffice to determine the purity of the silver.

Here at Asgard, we’ve made lots of silver bracelets over the years, so what does our experimental archaeologist think of James Graham-Campbell’s theory on the purity of twisted rod arm rings?

Jim agrees. He says that in order to create these twisted bracelets, you have to frequently anneal the silver during the twisting stage. Annealing is the process of heating the metal up to remove the tension from the molecular structure of the metal. This means that you can bend it without it fracturing. From working with various different metals over the years, Jim knows that copper alloys need to be annealed far more often than sterling silver, and are still very difficult to shape without the metal fracturing. And while he hasn’t tried these techniques with low purity silver, it would probably behave the same way.

If you’d like to see how these twisted arm rings are constructed then our video will give you a quick glimpse into the process.

So there you have a replica Viking age twisted rod arm ring from Birka, Sweden. Pretty to look at, and also quite possibly a way to make sure at a glance, that you were getting good quality silver.

 

 

[i] James Graham-Campbell – The Cuerdale Hoard and related Viking-Age silver and gold from Britain & Ireland in the British museum – 2011

 

[ii] James Graham-Campbell – The Rings - 2006

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