Skip to comments.Vikings' bleeding-edge tech came from Afghanistan
Posted on 01/12/2009 7:11:31 AM PST by BGHater
Bouncing-bomb boffins probe ancient weapons trade
Boffins at the UK's famous National Physical Laboratory (NPL) - birthplace of the Dambusters' bouncing bomb and perhaps the internet - say they have used an electron microscope to analyse Viking swords. In a surprise twist, it turns out that the old-time Scandinavian pests, many of whom moved to England to become our ancestors, actually imported their best steel from Afghanistan.
"Sword making in Viking times was important work," says Dr Alan Williams, a top archaeometallurgist at the Wallace Collection, a London-based museum of objets d'art which has a massive array of old arms and armour.
"On their travels, the Vikings were keen to pick up any innovative new means of improving their sword-making, but until now we haven't known where they have sourced some of their materials. The results from NPL confirm for the first time that the material analysed was brought by the Vikings from the Middle East to the Baltic area and thrown new light on an important trade route that was in use until the 11th Century."
It seems that tiny samples of metal from Viking swords obtained by the Wallace Collection were analysed using the NPL's scanning electron microscope. According to the NPL:
The results showed that the swords were made of imperfectly melted steel - consisting of a mixture of iron and carbonaceous materials heated together to give high-carbon steel. NPL's results match descriptions of ancient sword making in Herat (now in Afghanistan) described by ninth century Arab philosopher and writer Al-Kindi. This links to a known Viking trade route down the Volga and across the Caspian Sea to Iran ... until now it was not known that Vikings had brought crucible steel back to Scandinavia and integrated ancient Arab steelmaking methods with their own swordsmithing.
High-carbon crucible steel made for a particularly hard, sharp sword - quite literally bleeding edge technology around the turn of the first millennium. Back in those days, however, such steel was only available in the advanced civilisations of India and Central Asia. Ignorant barbarian northerners like the Vikings and the old-time Britons (at the time being mostly driven into Wales by the various ancestors of the modern English) couldn't aspire to make such advanced kit themselves. But they could and did import it, according to the Wallace Collection and the NPL.
Other handy bits of research by the boffins of the NPL have included early testing of Barnes Wallis' famous dambusting bouncing bomb during WWII, development of the first accurate atomic clock in 1955, and - it says here (pdf) - "development of packet switched networking", which "provided a much needed steer to the development of the US Arpanet, which would evolve into the internet we know today". ®
NPL scientists have worked with the Wallace Collection to analyse the contents of Viking swords and the results shed new light on trade routes in the Middle Ages.
Curators at the Collection were researching the steel structure of ancient swords to find out more about where they had come from. To achieve this, they needed to analyse examples of ancient weapons to determine their carbon contents those with very high carbon were likely made with crucible steel, which was only available in India and Central Asia.
Standard metallographic techniques that compare samples with published atlases of alloy microstructures were unable to determine the carbon contents of Viking-age swords. Instead, the Wallace Collection relied on experts at NPL to come up with another way of assessing the samples.
NPL used a highly calibrated Scanning Electron Microscope to determine the carbon contents of the steel samples provided. It analysed very small specimens (1 mm in diameter) from Viking-age swords obtained from various museums in Norway and Finland.
The results showed that the swords were made of imperfectly melted steel - consisting of a mixture of iron and carbonaceous materials heated together to give high-carbon steel. NPL's results match descriptions of ancient sword making in Herat (now in Afghanistan) described by ninth century Arab philosopher and writer Al-Kindi. This links to a known Viking trade route down the Volga and across the Caspian Sea to Iran, but until now it was not known that Vikings had brought crucible steel back to Scandinavia and integrated ancient Arab steelmaking methods with their own swordsmithing.
NPLs Tony Fry said:
"Our role at NPL was to use our measurement expertise to analyse tiny fragments of Viking swords and determine the source of the steel used by the Vikings to make them. Standard methods using atlases of microstructures to compare optical images with an image in a book, is a difficult method to use it is subjective and prone to generalisations. By mixing scientific expertise with a top of the range Electron Microscope, we were able to provide a quantifiable value, rather than the standard qualitative approach of using an atlas, and enlighten our understanding of trade in the Middle Ages."
Dr Alan Williams, Consultant Archaeometallurgist at the Wallace Collection, said:
"Sword making in Viking times was important work, to the point that the best smiths had their work imitated and copied. On their travels, the Vikings were keen to pick up any innovative new means of improving their sword-making, but until now we haven't known where they have sourced some of their materials. The results from NPL confirm for the first time that the material analysed was brought by the Vikings from the Middle East to the Baltic area and have thrown new light on an important trade route that was in use until the 11th Century."
The sword from the Wurttemberg Landesmuseum, Stuttgart, has the inscription of its maker's name spelt +VLFBERH+T (this was made of a high-carbon steel and would have been a very hard sword).
Viking tech ping.
I thought Adrian Peterson was from Oklahoma.
Funny. off topic. Tebow coming back for Senior yr.
Sounds like railroading to me.
Then, really give yourself a treat and read a couple of biographies about him.
Yea, I’ve read a bit about him. They don’t make them like that anymore.
I remember a scene from the 1930s movie “The Crusades” where a Christian knight and a Saracen are confronting each other. The Saracen holds his sword out edge-up, tosses a silk scarf into the air, and it drops in two pieces when it falls across the blade. Hollywood “special effect”, of course, but I am sure it was based on some old legend about the sharpness of middle Eastern blades.
and that is the time I come across & off w/ his head
· Discover · Nat Geographic · Texas AM Anthro News · Yahoo Anthro & Archaeo ·
· The Archaeology Channel · Excerpt, or Link only? · cgk's list of ping lists ·
“If I were a man, I would be Richard Burton. Not being I man, I will be content to be his wife.” Richard Burton’s wife.
A little tidbit:
Ulfberht (spelling varies) was a well known and prestigious swordmaker of the time. I've read that it is a curiously over-represented "brand name" on a good many surviving swords. There is some speculation that not all swords bearing the Ulfberht mark were actually "genuine". Their reputation made them very expensive. Trademark enforcement would have been difficult and it is thought that some smiths (or more likely dealers) may have counterfeited the mark to increase the sales value of their swords.
Of course it is also logical that more expensive equipment is more likely to be preserved through many generations and thus they would naturally be over-represented in surviving collections than others. I don't know if we'll ever know things like that for sure.
Actually, read the books he wrote. He was a great writer. But keep a dictionary handy. You’ll need it.
I said I read, “The Book of the Sword. I didn’t have any trouble understanding what he wrote. Actually, the footnotes were more interesting than the actual text of the book. But it was a great read altogether. It is full of historical information as well as facts about weapons themselves.
I did read what you said. I wasn’t clear. I meant some of the other journal type books, like his Pilgrimage to Mecca. He just uses archaic language.
Apart from being an explorer he was also a linguist and scholar. You know, if you read his bio.
His wife was a real monster, though. She burned a lot of his work after he was gone. She was a very correct and proper character, and didn’t approve of some of his work.
Sword ping list.
After having had some personal experience in sharpening blades, I'd say it was typical arab bullshite.
Thanks for the ping - would have likely missed the story. That’s a great read, so’s Burton’s Book of the Sword. IIRC that was to be only the first volume of a projected three volume history.
Yes, I’ve got the Burton book but have only glanced through it so far. Will get to it...
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