The 3D printing table was a little different than other tables. Our recreations could be moved, touched, etc. but we did not have hands-on activities apart from object handling. We featured a few items at the table, including the metal spearhead modeled by Henry, the bone comb modeled by McClain, funerary urns modeled by Austin, and a portion of the Sheffield Cross Shaft modeled by Mary Chester-Kadwell, working for the British Museum.
In class, many of us were struck by the surprising amount of phallic jokes penned by monks. Of course, we were also struck by the very clever imagery and metaphors used in the riddles, and these riddles offered us a surprisingly large amount of insight into the material lives of those who wrote them.
Bones were for the Anglo-Saxons what plastic is for us today. A workable substance able to be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes, early craftsmen used bone and antler tip to make such diverse objects as combs, needles, pins and sword hilts as well as a number of other small specific pieces to meet everyday needs.
Our group endeavored to enter the mindset of early Anglo-Saxon craftspeople by procuring bone and antler and attempting to prepare them for working at the fair. We drew heavily on the teachings of a historical re-enactor, Halldor the Viking, and used his described methods of bone working as well as other contemporary sources. Due to a lack of instructional manuals from the period, trial and error proved to be our biggest teachers.
Preparing the bone:
We purchased 5 cow femurs at a butcher shop, still covered in gristle and some meat.
After researching the best way to clean bone for carving, we decided to simmer them gently in a pot for 4-5 hours. Even after the simmering, a fair amount of the meat remained on the bone, so we had to do the final cleaning by hand by scraping the bones clean with forks.
Later, in order to maximize the number of bones available to fairgoers, we split two of them longways down the center with power tools. Finally, about 36 hours before the start of the fair, we soaked them all in water to soften them for carving.
Preparing the antler:
Two antler tines were provided, and we used a combination of sawing and chiseling to cut them in half.
Like the bones, we soaked them for 36 hours prior to the fair.
For more information about making with antler, click here.
At the Fair:
We set out an array of the bones and antler pieces and provided saws (a hacksaw and a coping saw), chisels, knives, and rasps of varying coarseness for visitors to use.
Our goal was for fairgoers to correspond with the materials and feel their resistance, rather than attempting to make specific objects. As a result, the most common action that people took was to carve their own name into the bone (ignoring the antler), either in modern English or in the Futhorc alphabet from a nearby table. They carved the bone, rather than carving objects from the bone.
Overall, though none of the visitors suddenly became an expert in boneworking, we feel that they enjoyed the experience, and appreciated the toughness of the bone and the resistance it offers when being manipulated.
One of the areas our class spent time considering and researching was Anglo-Saxon burial practices. Due to the prevalence of cemeteries in the archaeological record, this is easier than researching clothing for example which tends to disintegrate while in the ground, but it is not without its own issues. The main challenge in understanding burials is deciphering why certain decisions were made. Without a well-maintained written record, archaeologists must infer based on objects that did not decay, such as those made of metal, and what texts have survived such as riddles and epic poems such as Beowulf.
Our group decided to explore burial practices through making by re-creating the burial process of grave 28 at the Little Eriswell cemetery in Suffolk, England. This consisted of making the grave goods and reenacting the procession and burial process at the craft fair. We were limited, however, by our own skills and experience, as well as time and access to appropriate materials. In order to assemble an exhibit that satisfied our desire to correspond with the materials but still echo an Anglo-Saxon grave, we limited the number of artifacts and substituted some of the metal objects for ones made of wood or clay.
We procured many of our items from the costume department, including glass beads, the bases for our brooches, and a pillowcase to form a bag. We made the brooches, wrist clasps, belt buckle, and “ivory” ring from clay, and Elise made wooden replicas of the girdle hangers that well-to-do Anglo-Saxon women wore on their belts. The textile group made a peplos-style dress for our “body” (a borrowed plastic skeleton) to wear in the grave.
Brooches were worn by many Anglo-Saxon women: one on each shoulder and sometimes one in the center of the chest with beads strung between them. There were different types of brooches, some of which would have indicated higher status than others. There were also regional styles of brooches that could indicate where people were from or whether they had traveled in their lifetime. Some even display influences from cultures outside England itself, indicating contact with continental societies.
We suffered a slight complication in the display of our brooches which stemmed from a misreading of the architectural report from the Eriswell cemetery. The brooch pictured above is a square headed brooch and would usually be placed in the center of the dress. We instead placed a model of a bronze rivet in the center of the chest with a square headed brooch at each shoulder. In there Eriswell grave, two cruciform brooches would have adorned the shoulders of the dress, keeping the peplos on the body. See Gale R. Owen-Crocker’s “Dress in Anglo-Saxon England” for further readings on brooches and their ritual significance.
The girdle-hangers were metal key-shaped items discovered hanging from the belts of a few different buried Anglo-Saxon women across Early Medieval England, and likely indicated that they were of high-status. The significance of they girdle-hangers is that they either resembled keys or had keys hanging from them, and symbolized the individual as the ‘keeper of the household’ because they held the keys.
More information on girdle hangers can be found here
Wrist clasps are small rectangular pieces used to hold together the sleeves of women’s dress. They would have been symbols of status due to the specific skills required to cast them. Ours were made of clay like many of the other representations rather than their original bronze. Due to the need to make inferences about what the dress would have looked like, we are unsure if these clasps were functional parts of a long sleeved dress or merely decorative adornments to a cylindrical gown
More information on wrist clasps can be found here
The peplos garment would have been belted and the belt buckle would have held the belt together. Though they were often made of bronze, fancier belt buckles made from other materials such as silver indicated that some women were of wealthier means.
Most women wore beaded necklaces as accessories, though finer pieces were probably worn by wealthier women. They often became heirlooms, passed down for several generations from mother to daughter (or daughter-in-law), and as a result archaeologists have found necklaces in graves that were already decades old when they were buried.
In addition to girdle hangers and other items that hung from the belt, women carried bags made of cloth with a sturdy ring to shape the opening. The ring in the Eriswell grave that we copied was made of ivory, but our recreation was made of unfired clay.
A dress in the traditional style of East-Anglia, it is belted at the waist and secured at the shoulders with a pair of brooches. Because clothing rots away and does not exist in the material record, we based the dress of of contemporary dresses from the continent and the archeological remains of more durable materials such as fasteners like brooches or belt buckles.
More information on textiles can be found here
Many Anglo-Saxon graves were found with pottery, usually containing ashes. However, other “storage pottery” have been found; usually, the type of pottery found in these graves were funerary urns or food bowls/pots. It was also common for normal food pots to be repurposed into funerary urns.
The grave itself:
Though it is difficult to know exactly the significance of every single detail of Anglo-Saxon burials, archaeology can provide some information for us as we went about digging and preparing the grave in which the deceased was to be buried. The grave was designed to accommodate a supine burial. It was oriented north to south, lined at the bottom with wooden sticks and the edge surrounded with stones.
Anglo-Saxons cremated their dead by burning them with a pyre, though it is debated how it was done. One idea is that the Anglo-Saxons would stack the wood on top of the body, but there are debates against this, as some people believe there wouldn’t be enough oxygen to sufficiently burn the entire body. Another idea is that the body was instead stacked on top of the pyre that was filled with brushwood. The cremation process was most likely a public event.
There is little known about actual Anglo-Saxon ritual funeral practices beyond how bodies were prepared, because the rituals do not leave traces in the record. However, evidence can be found in primary sources such as Beowulf, and also deduced from what does remain archaeologically.
We began with the body prepared and displayed on the island where the rest of the fair took place. It was meant to symbolize the preparation and display of the body and all of its grave goods within the Anglo-Saxon village before it was to be buried.
Classmates and visitors alike helped to pick up the body and carry it over to the grave site. Everyone walked together with the body as Elise, leading the procession, read laments from The Word Exchange, including excerpts from “The Husband’s Message,” “The Riming Poem,” and “The Song of the Cosmos.” When we reached the grave, the body was placed inside and Elise then gave a eulogy for the deceased which had been planned beforehand by her and Spencer. (See video below)
The eulogy for the deceased, “Ecgwynn,” described some of her accomplishments during her life and the significance that she had based on the burial context and grave goods chosen to be buried with her.
The girdle-hangers were meant to signify that she was the keeper of the household, and the eulogy indicated this by describing how Ecgwynn advised her husband and took charge of various duties within the household, such as making clothing and overseeing the production of food. It was also significant that, under her care, none of the family was cast out, all debts were paid, and nobody starved or froze.
To indicate the generally poor health of the Anglo-Saxon people, the eulogy claimed that Ecgwynn died of the ‘black pox,’ which is an ambiguous name for any number of diseases that may have killed the deceased.
Another important detail about Ecgwynn’s life would have been her role as a mother and the contributions that her children had made to the household. It was described that her two oldest sons, ‘Aescwig and Aldwin’ were warriors who effectively defended the household’s herds from another neighboring clan.
The table that I sat at during the portion of the Craft Fair when it was not raining cats and dogs was the ceramics table.
The ceramic table displayed several examples of the ‘Anglo-Saxon funerary urns’ that my classmates and I had made in the College’s pottery studio early in the term, as a means of striving towards a holistic method of understanding material culture. Essentially, one of the best ways to learn about something, especially if that thing is traditionally hand-made, is to make it yourself, with your hands, and with as much of authentic materials and methods as you can achieve.
Students beginning to create coil pots
Of course, there are limitations on the authenticity that can be achieved by a bunch of undergraduates an ocean and a millennium away from the original makers of the crafts. However, through our time in the pottery studio we were at least able to gain an appreciation for the amount and work and skill that goes into making in a lumpy, asymmetrical pot.
Like traditional pots from this period, the pots that we made were coil pots. This kind of pot is easy to make, even for a person as unskilled as me and my classmates or an unspecialized Medieval farmer. Making a coil pot involves creating a flat, circular base and coiling thick strings of clay around the perimeter of that base. The layers of coils are smoothed and blended as they are stacked, and the length of each layered coil controls the radius of each part of the finished pot. In the case of funerary urns, this results in a curvy shape that is narrow at the base, wide in the middle and tapers at the top before flaring outward at the lip.
an example of a traditional Anglo-Saxon funerary urn, from a crematory site in Suffolk
Coil pots are made without the usage of a pottery wheel, and usually without the usage of a turn table, so they tend to end up being lumpy and/or asymmetrical within both the archaeological record and college pottery studios. Traditionally, these pots were fired in bonfires rather than in kilns, and were not finished with a glaze like many modern wares, so they lack the shine and durability of many ceramics that would be found in a pottery shop today.
The urns that we made were also featured at other locations throughout the Craft Fair.
Some urns were used to weigh down the tarp under the body that was used for the mock burial at the end of the Craft Fair
One was used to hold quills at the calligraphy table
And another few were filled with ashes and placed around a mock crematory pyre
The ubiquity of ceramic vessels around the craft likely resembles how commonplace pottery would have been in rural Early Medieval Britain, as these wares were created on the household scale.
The interactive element of the Ceramics table consisted of quantities of play dough that I made from scratch with the help of a friend.
The play dough was made with common ingredients, and was pretty easy to make.
For one batch, we used two cups of flour, one cup of salt, four tablespoons of vinegar, two cups of water, three tablespoons of vegetable oil, and a bunch of chopped up grass from behind the house that held the kitchen we used. I also kneaded in a handful of ash from the fire during the craft fair.
Grass and ash are not usually used in play dough, but I decided to incorporate them as a way of mimicking how the clay used in creating traditional Anglo-Saxon pottery was ‘dirty’- containing fossils, ash, vegetative matter, and whatever else was in the ground where the farmers dug up their clay.
I also put food coloring in the play dough. This resulted in it being somewhat unfortunately flesh-colored, but also similar in color to the fired ceramics on the table.
measuring out ingredients…
mixing them over medium heat…
until a mass of play dough begins to form.
Spreading it out so that it can cool…
before balling it up so that it could be taken to the craft fair! This was one batch out of the three we made.
As a part of my exposition at the table, I would briefly discuss the nature of traditional Anglo-Saxon ceramics, talk about why and how our class made ours, and invite people to make coil pots using the play dough.
The table had few visitors (as did most of the craft tables, as an hour and a half into the craft fair it began to thunderstorm and all of the tables had to be covered. Most of the fair’s visitors came to the later half of the event, for food and for the mock burial. However, the people that did visit the table seemed to enjoy it.
While the book can be traced back to the second century AD, calligraphy did not come to the Anglo-Saxons until their conversion in the late sixth century. Calligraphy and book-making existed almost entirely in the ecclesiastical sphere, and we have no evidence for English books before the arrival of the Christians. However, manuscript writing had come to Ireland centuries earlier with the arrival of St. Patrick’s mission in the fifth century. The unique, geometric Celtic art style would be integrated into the Britons’ illuminated manuscripts, cultivating a unique illumination style known the Insular style. This style of illumination was used famously in the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Monks made their books out of parchment, pages made from the skins of animals, commonly those of cattle, sheep, and goats. The parchment-making process was very similar to the hide-making process; the skin would be soaked, scraped, treated with lime to get the fat out, and dried. Vellum was a fine and costly type of parchment, an extremely soft page made from calf skin. Since parchment was dependent on animal skin, bookmaking was an extremely expensive process in early medieval England; it has been argued that a single page of vellum would have been the product of 400 hectares (almost 1,000 acres) of land.
While no quills survive from Anglo-Saxon England, they were almost certainly used by scribes. Quills have been depicted in contemporary descriptions of early medieval scribes and alluded to in Anglo-Saxon riddles. Commonly a swan or goose feather, the quill was made by cutting out the fletching and outer tissue of the tube. Scribes would then carve the tip of the quill out of the front of the feather with a small knife and cut a small incision in the center of the nib for an ink font. Scribes are often depicted holding this naked quill in one hand and a knife in the other. The knife was very likely used to quill sharp over the course of the transcription.
Black ink would have been made by mixing charcoal with gum or alternatively by combining tannic acid, found in oak galls (those small, apple-like growths one can find on oak trees), with ferrous sulphate. Anglo-Saxon books were usually written in Old English or Latin, although monks occasionally wrote in Greek and Hebrew. The Old English alphabet was originally a runic system, but runes were gradually supplanted by a variation on the Latin alphabet in the ninth century.
I did not want to focus my recreation on book-making. As such, I used modern paper instead of parchment and my ink was store-bought, not handmade. My intent, rather, was to have the visitor try their hand at writing in Old English script with a quill. To do this, I printed and laminated two pages of the Beowulf manuscript, dating back to the 10th-11th centuries. This manuscript is in Latinized Old English, so it would allow visitors not only to try out medieval transcription, but also to do so in the vernacular language of the Anglo-Saxons.
I then made three quills out of goose and turkey feathers. To do this, I trimmed away the fluff near the bottom of the feather. I then made a diagonal incision at the base of the feather and scraped out the inner tissue. After this, I soaked the feathers overnight. This process makes them more malleable for the coming carving jobs. I next heated up sand in a pan over a stove and heated the tubes of the feathers in the sand. This hardens the edge, so that the feather won’t have to be constantly sharpened.
Finally, I made a longer diagonal cut along the grain at the base of the feather and carved down the sides of the tube so that I had a flat nib. Then I made a cut across the feather, giving the nib the flat shape of the tip of the quill. Lastly, I made a small cut down into the nib to make an ink well.
At the Fair
I set out these quills, the laminated pages, two bottles of ink, a penknife, and scrap paper out at my station. I also had three unmarked feathers and intended to demonstrate quill-carving at my booth. Many of my visitors were very happy writing with ink and quill. However, not very many tried their hand at copying the Beowulf manuscript. More wanted to write in modern English or runic script. However, it seemed that the chance to write with ink and quill enticed many visitors.
For more information on book-, quill-, and ink-making:
Anglo-Saxon Crafts, by Kevin Leahy, pp. 89-93
On monastic life in Anglo-Saxon England:
Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400-1070, by Robin Fleming, Chapters 6 and 12, “Missionaries and Converts: The Later Sixth to Early Eighth Century” and “Clerics, Monks and the Laiety: The Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Centuries”
An excellent tutorial on modern-day quill-making processes by the New York Public Library.