Tracing Iron Sources and Artefacts in Viking-Age Scotland

Harrison Arts Making Iron Tools 2019 Shortlisted

Keywords: Archaeology; geoscience; Viking; Scotland; material culture; iron; trace elements; analytical chemistry

Project Summary: From the 9th to 11th centuries, small groups of ‘Vikings’ transformed large areas of Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, including Scotland. Their ability to produce high-quality iron has sometimes been cited as a key element in their success. However, modern scholarship points to more complex relationships between Viking settlers and indigenous communities, including technological exchange and production techniques. Some research has been carried out on the sources of copper alloys, but almost no work has been carried out on iron sources.

This project will develop a potentially transformative approach of using advanced microanalytical techniques from the geosciences to determine the provenance of iron used for Viking-age artefacts, with an emphasis on Scottish material.

Iron samples from different sources and locations will be examined with a view to identifying distinctive trace elements within them. The project will then attempt to identify comparable trace elements within a number of Viking-age ferrous artefacts from sites around Scotland, using non-destructive techniques in the first instance. This exciting project has the potential to break new ground in the study of Viking artefacts, and more widely.

From an archaeological perspective, there is the potential to identify sources of iron, whether bog iron or ironstone, and to associate specific artefacts with these sources. This has the potential to transform our understanding of iron production and exchange in this key period in Scotland’s development. From an Earth Sciences perspective, this project will create the opportunity to apply microanalytical techniques from the geosciences in a wholly new archaeological context.

Project Team: Dr Stephen Harrison (Archaeology, School of Humanities), is a specialist in Viking-age artefacts. He works primarily with typology and morphology, examining cultural influence and exchange, and has a particular interest in weapon technology in this period.

Dr John MacDonald (School of Geographical and Earth Sciences) has worked with the products and by-products of iron smelting in the industrial age, and has experience in a wide range of microanalytical techniques, including Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) which will be utilised in this project.

The successful candidate will be based in the Gregory Building, the home of both Archaeology and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow. They will be part of the postgraduate pool of both subject areas, and will develop his or her research in a diverse but supportive research environment. In addition, the project has funding for multiple field trips, both to potential Viking-age iron sources in Scotland, and to museums and allied institutions holding artefacts suitable for analysis.

Person Specification: This studentship is open to candidates of any nationality – UK, EU or International.

Applicants should demonstrate the following:

  • Academic qualifications - The minimum qualification is a  minimum 2:1 but ideally 1st class BA or BSc in Archaeology, Earth Sciences or a closely allied subject, with a high final grade. A postgraduate qualification is preferred, even if this has not been completed at the time of the initial application.
  • Experience - Previous lab experience is an advantage. Applications from students with some prior experience either of working with Viking-age material, or with appropriate microanalytical techniques are particularly encouraged
  • Skills/Attributes - While some prior experience is desirable, all necessary training will be provided during the PhD. The candidate may be required to attend appropriate honours or postgraduate courses as part of their training. Given the field-based element of the project, a full driving licence may be advantageous.

Application Process: In the first instance, prospective applicants should contact Dr Stephen Harrison to discuss their eligibility. Applicants may submit applications to the same email address up until the application deadline of 5.00pm, Friday 11 January 2019.