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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Tue 12 Oct, 2010 2:42 pm    Post subject: Viking womans knife - a myth or reality?         Reply with quote

Many internet stores offer "replicas" of this type of knife as typical for iron age and viking period scandinavian womans tool. However, so far I have been unable to locate any existant finds in any of major museums. Perharps someone can point me to an apropriate source?

And here is the image of the knife in question:

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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Oct, 2010 4:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's a typical reenactorism. There are a few Iron age, pre-viking findings of somewhat similar knives, but there is no proof that they where exclusively used by women.or that they survived into the viking age for that matter.

Iron age krumkniv ("crooked knife") from Sweden (as close as you get):

http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/fid.asp?fid=371926&g=1

As far as I know, these knives predates the vikings with some 500-1000 years. In fact there is nothing to suggest that Norse viking age women used anything other than the same kind of knife that the men did.
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Dmitry Z~G





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PostPosted: Tue 12 Oct, 2010 6:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ahh, the timeless Scandinavian design. The IKEA of its period!
This WWI trench knife was fashioned by a nameless French soldier from the German barbed wire picket. It was [surprisingly] called a...'nail'.



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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 12:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for replays, guys, it confirmed what I thought was the case Happy
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 1:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is the kind of knife you would expect a well to do woman to carry as part of her set with Key, shears and knife hanging from chains (a Gotlandic find):


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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 3:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks, Peter, that is exactly the sort of knife I would expect a woman of the period to have - but since more and more of those strange all-metal knives have been seen to show up in the reenactment community I decided to investigate their origin, as people have been asking me about making those but our group's internal regulations are quite strict regarding historical accuracy so I did not wanted to go with just making something that does not have an actual facts backing it. And so it would appear that this design have no evidence of being used in the period, meaning I will recomend people to use something else that has actual findings proving it's existence.
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 6:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The story I've been told behind that knife (though a much more elegant version) is that it was designed by a famous dutch smith some 30 years ago, who has been selling them at Viking markets since. It proved very popular, so as it happens a lot at these markets, everybody else started copying it and many Viking reenactors bought them and usr them. But it has no historical origins before those 30 years ago. A lot of Viking reenactment is more fantasy then history, using it's own material culture that unfortunately has little to do with history. There are exceptions of course.
Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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Artis Aboltins




PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 6:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That reminds me quite a lot of the story behind the "chairs" so many of the reenactors of this period use - the ones that are made of the two planks forming a roughly X as on this image . As far as I know similar chairs are in use by some african tribes, but nothing ever have been found that would indicate that people would have been using those during Iron Age or VIking period in northern Europe...
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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 7:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Heh, when I saw them I instantly thought "Hey, African chairs"Happy I know, you do have to fill in gaps. But many gaps can be filled with archeological data if you look for it. But as long as people keep copying eachother rather then opening a few books, things will remain in fantasy world.
Jeroen Zuiderwijk
- Bronze age living history in the Netherlands
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Oct, 2010 8:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ah, those chairs, I was actually thinking of them yesterday as I wrote my reply! Also a reenactorism of course, like so many other things associated with the Vikings. Truth is that the world of viking reenactment is a virtual minefield of reenactorisms, myths, factoids, and misconceptions, and that's the main reason I haven't really dared to approach reenacting that period.
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Howard Burdett





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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 3:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I thought those were referred to as Blacksmith's Knives.
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Arne Focke
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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 3:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The only form of knife i know that bears at least a little resemblance to the knife in question is a shaving knife from the bronze age. Sorry i don't have a picture at hand, but the shape of the blade is different anyway. Only the overall concept of having an all metal knife with a twisted handle is the same.

Now we could speculate... if it is a shaving kife and we "want" to call it a womans knife... does that mean women in the bronze age already shaved their legs?
Lets better not go there! Wink

So schön und inhaltsreich der Beruf eines Archäologen ist, so hart ist auch seine Arbeit, die keinen Achtstundentag kennt! (Wolfgang Kimmig in: Die Heuneburg an der oberen Donau, Stuttgart 1983)
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 3:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Artis Aboltins wrote:
That reminds me quite a lot of the story behind the "chairs" so many of the reenactors of this period use - the ones that are made of the two planks forming a roughly X as on this image . As far as I know similar chairs are in use by some african tribes, but nothing ever have been found that would indicate that people would have been using those during Iron Age or VIking period in northern Europe...


During my years as a buckskinner and reenactor, these same chairs were used by people who were reeancting 18th and 19th c. personas. I never thought of them as coming from an earlier time. They were also very uncomfortable!

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Douglas S





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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 10:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter Johnsson wrote:
...you would expect a well to do woman to carry ...

With all due respect, where do we get this expectation from? Is it grounded in the archaeology for instance?
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Andrew W




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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 11:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's a tricky question, because a lot of the older archeology operated under the assumption that certain items or styles of dress were highly gendered (assumptions like brooches worn in specific places indicate women, swords always indicate men, jewelry (except for things like arm rings) always mean women...), and once made, these assumptions were rarely backed up with osteological evidence (at times, the osteological evidence was actually overruled by the gendered interpretation of the grave goods when the reports were being written). So I'm highly suspicious of claims that certain styles of knife 'were women's knives.' Often, we only know that some were found in some women's graves, and more were found in graves that were attributed to women because a 'woman's' knife was in the grave. This doesn't mean a man wouldn't carry or use one.
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Dmitry Z~G





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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Arne Focke wrote:

Now we could speculate... if it is a shaving kife and we "want" to call it a womans knife... does that mean women in the bronze age already shaved their legs?


Yes, but only in Brazil.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 12:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The knife posted by Peter is a woman's knife by virtue of the way it is worn, not by the type of the knife. Such knifes would usually be carried in a belt loop. However, women did not wear belts, so this one is suspended from one of the brooches on the dress by a chain.

When it comes to stuff being attributed to differnet sexes, the most amusing one is the Thor hammers. These are almost exclusively found in women's graves. When they are found in in men's graves, they are usually found in the hand. Sometimes, single brooches are found in the same way, representing a memento to a deceased husband. (amulets are for women and weaklings, anyhow.)

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 1:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Douglas S wrote:
Peter Johnsson wrote:
...you would expect a well to do woman to carry ...

With all due respect, where do we get this expectation from? Is it grounded in the archaeology for instance?


Yes it is grounded in archaeology. In women´s graves you find some typical sets of objects. The two shields fibulae is emblematic as are other types of dress jewelry. It was traditional to wear a set of tools hanging from one or several chains from one of the fibulae (or the belt?). These sets of objects often included the knife, a large key, and a pair of shears.
As Elling also points out you can see an iron ring with small religious symbols: thor´s hammer, a miniature sickle, iron rings all collected on one iron ring like a key ring.
These were separate from the set of emblematic tools that were carried by women of social standing. The key is thought to signify that she had the power to grant access to the food supplies.

So, yes, these knives were carried by women. We know that from how they occur in women´s graves. They do look a lot like the knives carried by men, just as Elling points out. I have an impression that women´s knives were slightly smaller than the ones carried by men, but that may be my sexist preconceptions playing me for a fool...

I have seen several knives identified as being from women´s graves and they have all been both elegant, small and well decorated.
I cannot claim to have seen a statistically significant amount of these knives, however.

What I have never seen in a viking context is the "woman´s knife`that is so popular among reenactors and "viking" smiths today.

I am myself guilty of this: when I demonstrated viking iron working on Birka many years ago, I made just such knives (but I did say they were not really authentic...Eek! Eek!)
See below:
http://www.historiska.se/webb-tv/Historia/Vik...ingatiden/

These knives are very handy to forge and so make perfect demo pieces. Visitors can wait around and get to see something made from scratch to finished product without having to spend half the day.
Thor´s hammer amulets and arrow heads are equally good demo pieces, however. They also do not demand any embarrassing explanations....

I think they are popular today because they look so *handmade*. The forged look is something that seems to fit well with the romantic notion of historical crafts.
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Andrew W




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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 2:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Effros, Merovingian mortuary archaeology and the making of the early Middle Ages [2003]), has a good discussion of some of the dangers of taking identifications of graves as 'male' or 'female' at face value (especially those done in the late 19th or early 20th century). These identifications were more often based on assumptions of what men and women would have worn than a scientific analysis of the sex as revealed by the skeletal remains. Thor's hammers might be found around the neck in women's graves; but those graves might just as easily have been identified as belonging to women because there were Thor's hammers around their necks. Effros examines a number of specific examples, like that of the early 20th century archeologist Fremersdorf:

Quote:
(p 137) To reach a judgment of whether human remains were male or female, he thus relied upon the approximate height of the skeleton as well as the eype of grave goods with which the deceased was interred. These methods meant that his statistics regarding the numbers of men and women in the cemetery had a high likelihood of being inaccurate. Any study of gender on the basis of Fremersdorf's conclusions regarding the proportion of men to women in the cemetery would largely serve to confirm his expectations about the way in which members of both sexes were dressed and buried int he early Middle Ages.


That is to say, Fremersdorf's labeling of specific graves as male or female was based on assumptions that the height of a skeleton could indicate sex (perhaps on average, but hardly scientific for individual graves) and his belief that certain items were gendered. Which is circular - if you assume certain grave goods are female, use this information to identify graves as female, and then produce evidence of these grave goods being found in female contexts, you've done nothing more useful than 'to confirm [your] own expectations' about what women wore, without actually connecting the goods discovered in the graves to an analysis of the body's actual biological sex (through an examination of the skeleton's pelvis or a DNA analysis [which to be fair, Fremersdorf could not have done]). Effros gives other examples of similar identifications of grave goods as coming from 'male' or 'female' graves on the basis of assumptions of what gender used what items, without being directly tied to the sex of the bones in the graves. To quote Effros again,

Quote:
(p 131) As noted earlier, the physical anthropological reports at many of these sites not only incorporated poorly preserved skeletal remains in the determinings of the sex of the deceased, but also took into account the goods with which the deceased were buried. The consequence of such methods has been the reinforcement of preconceived notions of modern archaeologists regarding the "typical" costume of early medieval men and women. The relationship between sex and gender was likely far more complex.


The circular relationship between identification of bodies on the basis of the assumed gender of grave goods and the identification of certain graves goods as coming from 'male' or 'female' graves makes it difficult to speak of the gender attached to specific items of material culture. All this makes me hesitate to say with confidence that a knife is female, or that a certain manner of wearing that knife is feminine, based solely on the current state of the archeological evidence.

This is additionally complicated by the assumption (common in 19th c archeology, less common today) that bodies were laid out in their graves to resemble the way they would have dressed in life. It is more common now to recognize that friends or followers of the deceased could have placed gifts in the grave, or the deceased could have wished to have been portrayed in a particular manner, so that the presence of a knife in a grave doesn't mean that the person wore the knife in the same way as they were buried with it, or that the knife even belonged to the person at all.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 14 Oct, 2010 4:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think it's all that uncertain. At least not when done reasonably - gender-identifying graves on the basis of the grave-goods in total, rather than on a single item. If there are two distinct sets of grave good in adult graves, with a close-to-50/50 split, a gender distinction is a good guess. When preconceptions allow one to reasonably guess which of the two genders is which, it's a fair guess.

Of course, you want available osteological evidence to support this generally, rather than disconfirm it.

If one keeps in mind the provisional nature of the conclusion, "women's knife" is a perfectly good description. Only goes wrong when this is read as "iron-clad truth". (Alas, a common enough failing in public reading, even of stuff from the hard sciences!)

Somewhat different when it comes to exceptional graves. What to make of the Suontaka sword? Does the general "female" nature of the grave goods mean that the grave occupant was female? Was the sword hers? Etc. Given more of a pattern, one can be more certain (e.g., Sarmation/Sauromation female "warrior" graves).

(Social distinctions are harder to deal with than gender distinctions, since social status is a little more fluid than gender status (which is again more fluid than gender per se). Can be done, e.g., Pearson et al., "Social Ranking in the Kingdom of Old Silla, Korea: Analysis of Burials", J. Anthropological Archaeology 8, 1-50, 1989.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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