Viking Age

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Three of the objects on this page are Viking Age weights, made by pouring molten lead into a form (rounded in one case, oblong in the other two). In each case a cut fragment of ornamental bronze metalwork was attached to the upper surface, while the lead was still molten, to decorate the weight.

The function of the weights was to measure silver, in a period when silver bullion, (a precursor of formal coinage) was becoming the main medium of economic exchange. Silver, whether in the form of coins, ingots or cut fragments of other objects, was weighed against such lead weights in simple balance scales. It is known that the Vikings used a weight standard equivalent to the modern ounce - although the actual standard varied in different parts of the Viking world and was always slightly lighter than the modern ounce of 28.35 grammes.

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Unfortunately the recognised Viking Age weight systems cannot easily be applied to these three weights, because in their current condition their weight may not accurately reflect their original weight. The two oblong weights may, however, have been intended as 1½ ounce weights, while the rounded weight may have been a 3½ ounce weight.

The weights were probably made in a Viking settlement, most likely Dublin, and the ornamental metalwork applied to them may well be fragments of objects looted in Viking raids. The squared plate on the rounded weight, in particular, displays a central reserve, perhaps for a stud of glass or amber, and a perforation for a rivet. It may well have come from a shrine, or other piece of ecclesiastical metalwork.

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Ironically, however, the weights were not found in Dublin, but on a crannog site in Lough Derravaragh, Co. Westmeath, in the heart of the territory of the greatest Irish dynasty of the 9th and early 10th centuries, the Southern Uí Néill. This fits within a broader pattern of discovery of very significant amounts of Viking Age silver (in the form of hoards of coins and other objects) in this same general area. This is taken as evidence for the transfer of wealth to the Uí Néill kingdom, mainly as a result of trade with Dublin and other Viking settlements. These weights may have played a role in this process.

A set of pans from a weighing scales and pieces of hack silver were also found at this crannóg at Coolure Park, Co Westmeath.


Motif or trial piece from viking period excavations in Dublin

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Motif or trial pieces have been found in large numbers in Ireland, particularly from the urban medieval excavations in Dublin as well as from some other urban and rural settlement sites. They are small, portable bone or stone pieces which are generally regarded as being the 'sketch pads' of craftsmen or their apprentices. The theory is that patterns could have been executed on a trial basis on animal bone rather than to risk the making of mistakes on precious metal or bronze.

It is also possible that some pieces might have been used in the production of models for the casting of bronze objects in clay moulds.

Motif pieces have also been found in the course of excavations at both secular and ecclesiastical sites in recent years.

The designs on this piece show both Irish and a mixture of Irish and Scandinavian influence which reached Ireland with the arrival of the Vikings and their eventual integration into every aspect of Irish life. It was found in 12th century context at the excavations in High Street, Dublin. St Senan's bell shrine - featured elsewhere on this web site - also dates to this period. An interlaced panel on the motif piece is closely matched in a section of the ornamentation of this bell shrine. See if you can identify the matching motifs!

This piece

Bone motif piece, High Street, Dublin

Motif piece found in 12th century context during archaeological excavations at High Street, Dublin. These objects are believed to have been used by metalworkers and their apprentices in order to experiment with designs prior to their transfer to precious metal. it is also possible that some piees may have been used to produce moulds for bronze casting. This piece, found in 12th century context, shows both native Irish and Scandinavian influence. An interlace panel on one face is closely matched by a similar motif on one face of St Senan's belshrine, also featured on this web site

  may be viewed in the Viking Period Exhibition, National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

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