JORVIK Artefact Gallery | JORVIK Viking Centre

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Artefact Gallery

Before ‘The Viking Dig’, clues about what it was like to live in JORVIK were few and far between. Most came from objects found by chance when workmen were laying foundations or digging drains. Only a handful of small-scale excavations had encountered Viking-Age remains.  The excavation at Coppergate produced 40,000 different archaeological layers or contexts and led to the discovery of over 250,000 pieces of pottery, 5 tonnes of animal bone and 40,000 individually interesting objects. All of this evidence has been identified, preserved and researched by York Archaeological Trust.

This is a selection of the most typical, the rarest, the most beautiful and the most intriguing of these artefacts.

Coin Dies

These coin dies were recovered from two post-and-wattle buildings at the Coppergate dig. Coin dies were used in pairs with a silver blank sandwiched between them. The upper die would then be hammered with sufficient force to leave an impression on each side of the coin.

Shoes

Over 1700 shoes of Viking-age or a later date were recovered from Coppergate which is remarkable given that leather rarely survives in archaeological deposits. Most of the shoes were of ‘turnshoe’ construction meaning that they are molded and stitched inside-out on a wooden last.

Amber

Amber was imported into Jorvik in its raw state and ranges from transparent to opaque, and is soft enough to be carved and drilled, making it popular for use in jewellery. During the Copperagte dig an amber working site was discovered with beads, rings and pendants.

Padlock and Key

This barrel padlock and key was found during the Coppergate dig amongst other types of iron keys of various shapes and sizes. Possession of padlocks and keys may have been a status symbol as whoever owned them was in charge of household locks and could therefore control access to domestic spaces and valuables.

Antler Comb and Case

Many examples of antler combs were found during the Coppergate dig. Combs require the use of specialized tools, so showcase considerable workmanship. Each of the comb’s teeth was carefully cut by hand and was assembled in several different parts which must have been a laborious process. Many combs featured ring and dot designs and sometimes a combination of chevrons.

Silk Cap

23 pieces of silk were found at Coppergate and may have originated from Byzantium in the Middle East. Amongst them was this almost complete silk hooded-shaped cap made from a rectangle of silk fabric. It would have been fastened under the chin by linen straps, now lost.

Ice Skates

This pair of ice skates are one of 42 found at Coppergate; the majority are made from horse leg bones although cattle leg bones were also used. The bones were cut flat and polished on one side and drilled with a hole at one end. A leather thong, held in place by a wooden peg, was inserted into the hole to attach the skate to the wearer’s ankle.

Glass Beads

Around 300 glass beads were found at the Coppergate dig and most of them were probably strung on necklaces. Most of these were just one colour, often green, blue and yellow, however, two unusual orange beads had a gold foil covering. Just a few of the beads are multi-coloured which were made by adding designs and patterns to a single coloured bead.

Sock

One of the most celebrated finds from Coppergate is a Viking-era sock produced using a Scandinavian technique called nalebinding. This sock is the only known example of historical nalebinding in England, so it may have arrived on the foot of a settler or trader. The sock is in a worn state and appears to have been patched.

Gaming Board

This gaming board and pieces was made from walrus ivory, suggesting it may have been imported from Scandinavia or sourced from a whale stranding on a beach in eastern England.

Leather Sheaths

Swords were contained in leather sheaths, several of which were found at Coppergate. Made of calf leather, these sheaths are decorated with cross-hatched lines. Patterns of this sort were made by drawing a blunt tool across leather.

Wooden Cups and Bowls

These wooden cups and bowls are amongst numerous wooden items found at Coppergate. The name ‘Coppergate’ is thought to derive from an old Norse name meaning ‘Street of the Cupmakers’. Some of the bowls were clearly valued, as they were repaired rather than thrown away when they became damaged. One bowl made of birch was repaired with metal staples to stop the crack from widening.