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New publication: Crafts and Social Networks in Viking Towns

Posted on 27 February 2020

The Department of Archaeology's Dr Steve Ashby and Aarhus University's Prof Søren Sindbæk (formerly of this parish) are pleased to announce the publication of their long-awaited edited volume on crafts and communication in viking towns.

Crafts and Social Networks in Viking Towns bgook cover

This volume was conceived when Steve and Søren ran a British Academy-funded network project called CNVT: Crafting Networks in Viking Towns. The idea was to bring together specialists in the study of different crafts from around the North Sea, to compare notes on the practice and development of these activities, with a view to learning about communication, travel, and knowledge networks in the Viking Age.
 
How was metal-casting undertaken in Dublin, York and Ribe? Are the similarities and differences in practice mirrored in what we see in textile manufacture? Or comb-making? What might these patterns tell us about the organisation of urban craft, or about the mechanics of contact and communication?
 
Since those initial workshops, the real potential of this way of looking at the Viking world has revealed itself. The idea behind the project is that urban craft offers a unique window into the organisation of past society, allowing us to directly study how people learned and passed on knowledge and skills. With most archaeological materials, it's an impossible task to really understand the social networks of past people – in the way an anthropologist might in studying a living group - but the remains of craft workshops offer exceptional potential.
 
The artisans of the past often maintained locally distinctive manufacturing traditions, and tracing the spread of these ways of working offers us an insight into connectivity and communication pathways. Thankfully, these skilled craftworkers were also very messy, leaving piles of rubbish for us to study. By looking at this waste material - mould fragments, antler cut-offs, or droplets of molten metal - alongside tools and the much better-studied finished artefacts, we gain invaluable insight into exactly how the products of viking towns were made, and how these practices varied across time and space.
 
The secrets of the big picture, it turns out, are in the tiny details.