The Early Medieval Cutting Edge of Technology

The Early Medieval Cutting Edge of Technology

The Early Medieval Cutting Edge of Technology: An archaeometallurgical, technological and social study of the manufacture and use of Anglo-Saxon and Viking iron knives, and their contribution to the early medieval iron economy

By Eleanor Susan Blakelock

PhD Dissertation, University of Bradford, 2012

Abstract: A review of archaeometallurgical studies carried out in the 1980s and 1990s of early medieval (c. AD410-1100) iron knives revealed several patterns, with clear differences in knife manufacturing techniques present in rural cemeteries and later urban settlements. The main aim of this research is to investigate these patterns and to gain an overall understanding of the early medieval iron industry. This study has increased the number of knives analysed from a wide spectrum of sites across England, Scotland and Ireland. Knives were selected for analysis based on x-radiographs and contextual details. Sections were removed for more detailed archaeometallurgical analysis.

The analysis revealed a clear change through time, with a standardisation in manufacturing techniques in the 7th century and differences between the quality of urban and rural knives. Analysis of cemetery knives revealed that there was some correlation between the knife and the deceased. Comparison of knives from England, Dublin and Europe revealed that the Vikings had little direct impact on England’s knife manufacturing industry, although there was a change in manufacturing methods in the 10th century towards the mass produced sandwich welded knife. This study also suggests that Irish blacksmiths in Dublin continued their ‘native’ blacksmithing techniques after the Vikings arrived. Using the data gathered a chaîne opértoire of the iron knife was re-constructed, this revealed that there was a specific order to the manufacture process and decisions were not only influenced by the cost of raw materials, the skill of the blacksmith and the consumer status, but also by cultural stimulus.

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