Research and Documentation in the SCA

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Image from: Rygh, Oluf, Lindberg, G. F, 1 Norske oldsager, ordnede og forklarede. (1885)

In this my first year as Arts and Sciences officer of Tir Righ, I have had the opportunity to speak with many people about their A&S interests. In doing so, I ofttimes suggest that they enter the cool stuff they are doing in an A&S competition at some level.

Entering is one of the best ways to reach a broad group of people in order to share what you have learned and take advantage of an opportunity for unparalleled feedback.

It is also a lot of fun!

A common response I get to that suggestion is…I don’t want to do the documentation. This has often made me  wonder  why just uttering the word documentation seems to stir up such feelings of reluctance for some people.

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Documentation is nothing more than recording the research (sources) and experimentation (Trial/error and method of working)  that goes into almost every A&S project.


Documentation is purely the straightforward act of writing it down as you go along.  

It is when I mention this last bit that the real objection comes to light.

Many of us, especially when we are just starting out, are eager and enthusiastic if not downright passionate about whatever the thing is that we are geeking over. We (myself included in the beginning) jump into the creating part with just a bit of light research. What this method of working leads to, is having to backtrack and try to fit the sources to what we have done. And, therein usually lies the reluctance.

Screenshot 2016-03-27 at 11.08.26 AM - EditedI count myself to have been among the worst of the perpetrators of this method. Truthfully, it took me a bit to get the hang of it. I literally had to devise a way of working to stop myself from jumping into the creating part too soon and in doing so I learned to love the research and documentation process.

So, today’s post is all about sharing some of the resources that have made Research and Documentation feel a little less like being stretched on the rack and a good deal more enjoyable and rewarding.


Two Crucial Steps

Step One – locate sources

Before you begin, before you touch a single tool or piece of fabric, first find and write your list of sources from which you will later create your bibliography . Look for any books, papers, journals or websites that may have information on your topic. You want to be as thorough as possible when you are doing this so try searching in other languages as well as English.  If , for example, your subject is Norse related try searching in Norwegian, Icelandic and Swedish etc. You can use Google Translate to help with this. 

When you find those sources ( they may not be in English) look at the bibliography and try a second search for the books/papers and authors listed.

Using this type of search strategy led me to these two totally obscure but amazing sources:


Another great source for your research are sites like Not only are they a good source of searchable research,  you can contact the authors who are often the leading experts in your field of study for additional information.

A bonus of sites like is that you can add your own research:

A Question of Whalebone Plaques

Blogs that contain a list of sources are another great jumping off point. A brilliant example of this is Early Sweden by Disa i Birkilundi.


After you have tracked down a list of sources you want to use (which you can add to or delete as you go) the next step is to  narrow your focus.

Step Two – narrow your focus

Scope-creep is a dirty word when you are in the middle of a research project. It can begin to make the whole project feel overwhelming. The best method I have found to avoid this is to draft my introduction as soon as I have a good start to my list of sources. This helps to focus your thoughts on what it is you really want to do. It will allow you to narrow down an entire field of study into your specific theme.  Limiting the sources to what you actually need and allowing you to get on with the creating part sooner.

It will also help you to determine which of your sources are most useful in offering supporting evidence. For example, you may want to back-up the thing you are making with evidence of the tools used. So if while you are researching you find a great source for the tools, include it in your list. It will make the work a lot easier later and start you thinking about this early on in the process.

One last thing I want to share that has helped me with research and documentation is: Developing Your Research Project   a free online course from Futurelearn. It is offered fairly frequently, requires a minimal time commitment.  I found this course incredibly  fun as well as helpful.


If you have any tips that have helped make research and documentation easier for you: please leave a comment and feel free to share a link.

Thanks for reading



Bellows: Part One

When researching early bronze casting a good deal of evidence can be found from the Bronze age right through  the Viking  period.  Much of this evidence comes to us  through the remains of Bronze casting workshops in sites such as  Fröjel Sweden and Kaupang Norway  to name but a few.

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The Fröjel workshop. The mould fragments were mainly recovered in the northernmost pit hearth. After Dahlström and Eriksson 2002.


Collectively, the evidence for bronze casting takes many forms. From examination of the artifacts themselves categorized by style, geography and relative dating to the detritus of pit hearths, crucibles and clay moulds: we can paint a picture of the purposes, processes and techniques applied.  Archaeometallurgical analysis provides us with knowledge of metal types and manner of production. Finds of tools supplement our understanding of working method. All of these things have been unearthed in connection to the early non-ferrous metal smith. However, there is not one single find of a bellows, an item without which no casting of any type could take place as it is the tool used to create the high temperatures needed to melt metal. The most likely explanation for its absence from the archaeological record is that it was made from organic materials that break down and leave us no trace of their existence. Still, there are some clues we can follow in order to come up with a model that could have existed in period.

The first of these is the Ramsund Carving sometimes referred to as the Sigurd Runestone which illustrates the story of Sigurd killing Regin from the Saga of the Volsungs. The stone depicts a set of bellows along with other tools associated with metal smiths.

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Image from Wikipedia

More hints originate from finds of Tuyeres. Tuyeres are hollow pipes that carried the air from the bellows to the pit furnace. The earliest recorded  tuyere is of wood from the Hjortspring find dated to 350BC although, remnants of ceramic tuyeres are more common.

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Hjortspring Tuyere

In order to make my bellows, I will follow the instructions given on the web page of Kormak the Carter who gives an excellent tutorial. The only detail that I plan on changing is the use of copper pipe for the bellows nozzle. As nothing similar has yet been found I will work from the theory that the nozzle was constructed of an organic material, one possibility is wood. However I have been entertaining the idea that bird bone, due to its hollow nature, has some potential.  The theory I am working on is that bird bone is malleable and easily replaceable.

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Kormacs Bellows


Thanks for reading.



Bronze Age metalworking in the Netherlands (C. 2000-800BC), M.H.G. Kuijpers, 2008

Re-forging the smith: an interdisciplinary study of smithing motifs in Völuspá and Völundarkviða, Leif Einarson, 2011

New Horizons for Helgö, Svante Fischer and Helena Victor,


Pit Hearth Project

“ There is little more to making a small pit hearth, than lining it with clay, filling it with charcoal and providing a good air supply”  or so it says in The Art of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith: Fine Metalwork in Anglo-Saxon England: its Practice and Practitioners (Anglo-Saxon Studies) by, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Michael Pinder

Well, I certainly hope that is true as I am about to test the theory.

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Hearth: a) Crucible. b) Tuyere, nozzle. c) Bellows’ pipe (credit: Söderberg)

The design for my hearth comes from several sources, the two main ones being the above-mentioned book and Anders Söderberg’s, Scandinavian bronze casting in the Viking Age and the Early Middle Ages. From these, I have decided to make a hearth approximately 14cm deep and 45cm in diameter. The hole will be infilled with sand and pebbles then lined with a 50/50 mixture of clay and sand. Air flow will come from a bellows blown through a tuyere (extant – a ceramic pipe). The tuyere directs the air as well as keeping the end of the bellows from burning. At this point, I will likely have to substitute a metal pipe for the purpose as I will need the hearth to construct a period model of clay.

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Image Credit: Söderberg,

I expect to begin building the hearth as soon as I have sourced my materials and can expect the weather to cooperate with a few dry days. Keeping in mind this has to be done before it gets hot and dry enough to be under a fire ban. So the timeline is going to be fairly tight.

As it is still well within the wet season on the sunshine coast I can use this time to start making my bellows. I plan on following Söderberg’s example and modeling mine after the bellows depicted on the Sigurd Runestone. The bellows here look similar to contemporary bellows made from wood and leather and should not take too much time or effort to create, from the image I believe there is a reasonable argument that they would have been used in period.

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Sigurd Fafnesbane with tools and bellows. From the Sigurd Runestone, Sweden. (Google images)

After I have these two steps completed it will be time to consider the fuel. The question here is would it be possible to make my own charcoal? Possibly, as I have just found a source of peat which can be placed as a period material for making charcoal in at least Iceland, Shetland and Orkney.

Thanks for reading and remember if you are attempting a project similar to this one, make sure you use all of the appropriate safety equipment.



Scandinavian bronze casting in the Viking Age and the Early Middle Ages

The Art of the Anglo-Saxon Goldsmith: Fine Metalwork in Anglo-Saxon England: its Practice and Practitioners (Anglo-Saxon Studies) by, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Michael Pinder (2002)

Clasp-Buttons from the Högom Chieftain’s Grave


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Ramqvist, Per H: Högom. Part I. The excavations 1949-1984. 1992.

Excavated by the Swedish Central Board of National Antiquities from 1949 to 1951, the Högom grave, mound 2, represents one of the richest finds of a  migration period male burial known to date.  Although, it may be most famous for it’s numerous finds of archaeological textiles, the grave containing the remains of a man was fitted out with a lavish array of grave goods including weapons, equestrian equipment,  jewelry and daily use items such as a comb, strike-a-lite, glass vessels, an iron cauldron, pottery and much more.

Another element of great significance to this find is the presence of a large collection of clasp-buttons in various decorative styles, materials and size.


A record of the button finds by Margareta Nockert lists the buttons as follows:

  • 2(3 + 3) chip carved, gilt bronze, convex buttons in three fields
  • 2(3 + 3) flat disc silver buttons with Triskelion pattern
  • 2(3 + 3) chip carved gilt bronze buttons in a countersunk horseshoe shape with niello
  • 2(3 + 3) flat disc silver buttons with vertical groove
  • 1(3 + 3 + 3) plain flat silver disc buttons
  • 2(2 + 2) gilt bronze chip carved buttons

In most cases the buttons were found attached to bronze plates adhered to a textile band with each set located at wrists, waist, ankles and around the head.  The buttons totalling 65 in all, measure from 1.3cm to 2cm diameter and .65cm to 1.3cm in height.

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Högom, Selånger sn, Medelpad. Museum of Sundsvall. Clasp buttons with s.c. chip carved ornaments (Ramqvist 1992, Plate 68).

At this, the start of a new project there is always loads of research ahead. However, looking forward to the end of the project, I hope to have successfully cast one set of buttons from this find in a period method, using period tools and materials.

Fortunately, there is a good deal of existing research that I can tap into such as the work on bronze casting workshops from Helgö together with explorations of similar sites in Birka, Sigtuna and Fröjel.

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Söderberg, A. 2001. Scandinavian Iron Age and Early Medieval ceramic moulds – lost wax or not or both? Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop. Experimental and Educational aspects on Bronze Metallurgy, Wilhelminaoord 18 – 22 October 1999. Tulp, C. Meeks, N. Paardekooper, R. (eds). Vereniging voor Archeologische Experimenten en Educatie. Leiden. March, 2016.

I recognise that long-range this project is going to be rather complex and will incorporate a broad range of acquired knowledge and skill-sets, not minorly a sound grounding in the relevant metallurgy. My current -want- to-do list includes making a period bronze casting hearth, bellows, moulds and crucibles. For this, I will be taking an experimental archaeology approach.

Once I have accomplished the above goals the plan is to work in direct-matrix as well as indirect casting. Reading Anders Söderberg’s paper Scandinavian Iron Age and Early Medieval Ceramic Moulds – Lost Wax or Not or Both?” has been a huge inspiration towards the working method I want to analyze.

One more element of this project that I am looking forward to is the preparation of wax for the making of moulds. In all that I have read so far, it seems the preparation of wax is the one aspect of lost wax casting I have not seen reference to.

Hence, I ask the question, how did they clean the wax?

They would certainly have had to as working with dirty wax full of bug bits would be apparent in the extant buttons and moulds.

Before I go, just a request that if you come across some relevant information to this research…a paper, a book, a blog or article I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!


Nockert, M. 1991. The Högom Find and Other Migration Period Textiles and Costumes in Scandinavia. University of Umea, Department of Archaeology. Umea Sweden.

Söderberg, A. 2001. Scandinavian Iron Age and Early Medieval ceramic moulds – lost wax or not or both? Proceedings of the 1st International Workshop. Experimental and Educational aspects on Bronze Metallurgy, Wilhelminaoord 18 – 22 October 1999. Tulp, C. Meeks, N. Paardekooper, R. (eds). Vereniging voor Archeologische Experimenten en Educatie. Leiden. March, 2016.

What Next?

With the excitement of Kingdom Arts and Sciences now in the rear-view mirror, it is time to begin working towards next year. The plan is to do a full entry so I think getting a start now might be a good idea.

For my first piece, I aim to take what I learned from this years single entry, apply all of the suggestions given and re-enter it.



My second piece will be a research paper that expands on the use of Whalebone (Elghorn/Moose Paddle) Plaques. I will explore the existing theories, test them (and one of my own) using an experimental archaeology approach.

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Setting the pleats

The third piece will involve some research I have been doing on a Vendel Period grave.

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Tonight’s work will be to start putting together a bibliography for each of the two new projects while doing some internet book hunting.

My First Kingdom Arts and Sciences Competition (In the spirit of “My Summer Vacation”)

This past weekend I participated in the Arts and Sciences Competition for the Kingdom of An Tir for the first time. What follows here are my thoughts and perceptions on the experience.


It all went by so quickly, at least that is how it feels now. From the long drive down to packing up on Sunday, it is almost all a blur.

Even so, there is so much that stands out.

To start, the warm welcome at gate Friday night totally set the tone for the event. The gate crew made the check in and set up process a breeze: something much appreciated by weary travelers.

Saturday (event day) gave a chance to look at all of the entries. There was such a variety as so many  talented artisans brought their best work, there were shoes, posaments, intriguing garments such as the Poskov dress as well as armor work, tapestry, drawing, tablet weaving, a study on Roman hairstyles and some late period garment work. Almost too much to take in so I am sure I am missing some. What a commendable job by the event crew to make this possible. WOW!

The entrants were amazing in their graciousness and willingness to share, it was a joy to speak with them whether old friends or new. Their knowledge and commitment to their work was as evident in their entries as it was in the enthusiastic way they shared with everyone who asked.

After taking a walk around to see all of the work presented I settled down at my display.

Seeing my entry through the eyes of other entrants was probably one of the most rewarding aspects of participating. It made all of the hours of research and experimentation well worth the effort. The questions and encouragement that came from them were the highlight of the event for me and made me feel like such a welcome member of this great A&S community and the Kingdom of An Tir.

The judges, along with some very well considered suggestions gave an unbelievable amount of  support and totally inspired me to keep working on this project to its conclusion.

The populace who came out to support the entrants were the heart of the event and I want to thank them so very much for the honor they gave me in choosing my entry for the populace award.

And while I am saying thank you I want to mention Mistress Alicia and Master Steven who brought me down and were such good travelling companions. Additionally  huge gratitude goes  to Mistress Nadezda who gave me the first little push that set me on this path of research, Mistress Isabella (Izzy) who although she does not know it, gave me the confidence to follow through and Mistress Caoimhe for not letting me be too lazy, for allowing me to follow the beat of my own drum, for the example she sets that guides me along the way.

Lastly, love to my Fjordland family (you know who you are)  for propping me up, calming me down and just being an awesome support system.

Well, I didn’t mean to get all mushy and smarmy by filling this post with thanks…………. but hey, this is my blog and I can write what I want.

To see what all of the fuss is about check out: Whalebone Plaques

Ready, Set…GO

The KA&S display is ready and I am all packed.  My thoughts as I am waiting for my travelling companions to arrive are a mixture of excitement and maybe just a touch of nerves. As this is my first KA&S I am not sure what to expect. What I hope to get out of this is helpful feedback and some resources I have not yet found. Also, a chance to hang out with some cool people who are as passionate about their area of study as I am about mine. It promises to be a learning weekend and I am greatly looking forward to it.

Before I go I just wanted to share a sneak peek at what I am doing. I will share much more when I return. Wish me luck.


Preparing: First Kingdom A&S

Well, I just might be a little excited!

After several years of research and experimentation, I am finally ready to bring my passion out to share. To lay, my artistic soul bare and expose my untried academic heart to the glaring light of didactic adjudication. . . I may also be a little overdramatic.

All kidding aside,  I am really looking forward to this. An entire weekend of geeking out and learning about cool medieval things sounds pretty much perfect.

Now I just have to get my display  worked out.