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The Viking Age, from c.750 to 1050 CE, was an era of major social change in Scandinavia. By the end of this period of sweeping transformation, Scandinavia, once a pagan periphery, had been firmly integrated into occidental Europe. Archaeological remains offer evidence of this process, which included and intertwined with Christianisation, state formation, and the dawn of urbanisation in Scandinavia. In this volume, Sven Kalmring offers an interdisciplinary and geographically wide-ranging approach to understanding the emergence of towns and commerce in Viking-age Scandinavia and their eventual demise by the end of the period. Using the towns of Hedeby, Birka, Kaupang, and Ribe as case studies, he also tracks the diverging characteristics of these urban communities against the background of traditional social structures in the Viking world. Instead of tracing the results of Viking Age urbanisation, or mapping that process by establishing economic networks, Kalmring focusses on the very reasons behind the emergence of towns, and their eventual decline.
Hedeby was the largest town in the Viking North. Investigations have identified imports at the site from central and northern Scandinavia revealing long-distance connections. The chronology of this trade, however, is unclear. Here, the authors use a typological-biomolecular approach to examine connections during the early Viking Age. The application of ZooMS to an assemblage of antler combs, stylistically dated to the ninth century AD, reveals nearly all were made of reindeer antler. As most craft production waste from Hedeby comprises red deer antler, it is argued that these combs were manufactured elsewhere, perhaps hundreds of kilometres further north. The results have implications for understanding of production and regional connectivity in early medieval Scandinavia.
The ‘Birka dragon’ symbol is synonymous with the famous Viking Age town of that name, an association born from the 1887 discovery of a casting mould depicting a dragonhead. Recent excavations in Black Earth Harbour at Birka have yielded a dress pin that can, almost 150 years later, be directly linked to this mould. This artefact introduces a unique ‘Birka style’ to the small corpus of known Viking Age dragonhead dress pins. The authors discuss and explore the artefact's manufacture, function and chronology, and its connections to ship figureheads.
Any reader expecting yet another contribution on the urbanization of Scandinavia will be misguided reading Axel Christophersen's contribution on ‘performing towns’. As the author makes very clear, he focuses on urbanity in the sense of urban social practice rather than on urbanization itself. The latter concept is straightforwardly dismissed as belonging to processual archaeology, and was trying to understand the town as a being structure and neglecting the dynamic role of its individual inhabitants as a ‘crucial historical driving force’ (p. 110). Christophersen also omits the classic discussion – actually besides Christianization one of the two most prominent topics in early medieval archaeology – on the designation and character of the earliest towns in the north, where early towns are merely defined as population centres ‘larger than a village and smaller than a city’ (p. 112). Instead, with the adoption of practice theory, Christophersen picks one heuristic approach from modern social theory (mentalism (subjectivistic/objectivistic), intersubjectivism, textualism and practice theory itself) for the analysis of social phenomena as routinized body/knowledge/things complexes (Reckwitz 2002, 257–58).
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