Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Construction of a Viking Shield; Part 5

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Click here to read the full paper

With the shield reinforced with linen, then rawhide, the next task was to reinforce the edge as supported by archaeological evidence (as previously discussed). After that, completion of the project awaited attachment of the boss and handle.

Reinforcement of the Preiphery

It was decided to attach slightly stretched and overlapping rectangles of rawhide (55mm x 80mm) around the entire periphery in a scale like manner. The idea is an extension of the concept of butting metal clamps that appear to have formed a continuous edge around the periphery of a shield, subject of a grave find (Bj736) in Birka, Sweden [1]
This process required 72 rectangles, cut to 55mm x 90mm, and working with about 10 at a time they were soaked in warm water until pliable. Then, having removed the excess water with a dry cloth, they were placed one at a time across the edge of the shield, folded/stretched slightly down on either side, overlapping the peripheral holes and the previous rectangle. Holes were then made where appropriate in relation to the peripheral holes, using a leather punch. The rectangles were then held in place under tension until dry to minimise dimensional change. 

However, from the outset, some of the longitudinal edges of the rectangles did experience dimensional change in that they took on a dog eared appearance. This was largely overcome by temporarily saddle stitching rectangles, now cut to 55mm x 90mm, into place rather than using split bamboo sticks. When dry the rectangles were unstitched, any effected areas trimmed, where possible, and saddle sewn back into place using 3mm waxed natural linen thread. The entire edge of the shield was reinforced in this manner until complete and the linen thread tied off.

Attachment of the Handle and Boss

All that remained now was for the boss and the handle to be attached. However, as it now required a force of 140lbs+ to make the shield lie flat, it soon became apparent that applying a simple pine handle to keep the shield flat proved unsatisfactory. As this was reconstructive / experimental archaeology, and having taken advice from my friend Dr Andrew Thompson - that as the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Bohscyld’, suggests the possible existence of bow or curved-shields it was decided that it was appropriate to view the shield as such [2] [3].

Consequently, a pine handle shaped to the curvature of the shield was prepared. This incorporated the attachment of two brass D-rings at each end of the handle for the attachment of the carrying strap or guige. The handle was then secured in place using iron nails with tapering square tangs which were clenched and hammered flush with the wood; similarly with the boss.

In respect of the boss, a relatively cheap, shiny, machine made boss was purchased and then aged. This was achieved by placing the boss onto an open fire until red hot and then withdrawing it and allowing it to cool down naturally; this had the effect of ‘blueing’ the steel. 

Then using a small ball-peen hammer, hammered the boss which was supported underneath by a larger ball-peen hammer, held firm in a vice; this process significantly removed any evidence that the boss had been produced on a lathe and greatly improved its aesthetic appearance. Six holes were drilled onto the boss flange to allow attachment to the shield. The shield now weighed  12.5lbs (5.7Kgs). 

In the first chapter the durability of such shields was mentioned, and although the construction was now complete, significant attention would need to be given to finding a means of protecting the shield from the elements. 

In the final chapter, the weather-proofing of the shield, the conclusions and limitations of this project are discussed.
[1] Beatson, P. (2010). New Varangian Guard: The ‘Viking Shield’ from Archaeology.
[2] Whitlock, D. (1930) Anglo-Saxon Wills.[172n].
[3] Earle, J. (Ed.)(1888) Land Charters and other Saxonic Documents. 1888(3) [226'].

...to be continued...
(This work is an extract from a paper entitled "The Construction of a Viking Shield" by Anthony C. Lewis BA(Hons) MCFM JP.   The full work can be found HERE )

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