Threading through Cork’s Viking past

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Twelfth-century wooden instruments in situ during the excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City. (Images: Maurice F. Hurley)

In the course of excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City, Ireland, earlier this year, a perfectly preserved Viking weaver’s sword was discovered.

It was a striking find, as it cements the idea that medieval Cork had a Viking presence. As Dr Maurice Hurley, a consultant archaeology, said, ‘For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar.’

The sword, dating roughly to the 11th century, is made entirely of yew and measures just over 30cm in length. It is so well-preserved that the human head on the pommel of the sword and the Ringerike-style Viking art embellished on the grip are all clearly visible. While similar weaver’s swords have been found in Ireland – most notably in Wood Quay, Dublin (see CA 328) – this find is unique in its quality and preservation.

The immaculately preserved weaver’s sword recovered from the Cork excavations.

‘The sword was used probably by women to hammer threads into place on a loom; the pointed end is for picking up the threads for pattern-making. It is highly decorated – the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object,’ said Maurice.

The excavation also unearthed the foundations of 19 Viking houses, including hearths and bedding material. In addition to the weaver’s sword, a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads was also discovered on the site. Numerous other artefacts represent evidence for a wide spectrum of trades and cultural activities.

The excavations took place between November 2016 and July 2017, and the finds are currently undergoing post-excavation analysis and conservation. A few of the more spectacular items – including the weaver’s sword – were unveiled during an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

This article was published in CA 334.

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