Past event

Steatite Rocks: vessels, pioneers, and trade in the Norse North Atlantic

Steatite, or soapstone is a material that can tell us a great deal about the people of the North Atlantic region from the 8th to the 14th centuries. This presentation investigates steatite artefacts and raw material to trace the life stories of objects from across the Viking diaspora. Through understanding the location of quarries and the distribution of products, especially artefacts recovered from Viking-period sites in northern Britain (York to Orkney), Ireland, Faroe, and Iceland, we can spot distinct typological classes of vessels and map movement of objects and people.
The talk will also present results from the recent Homeland to Home project, undertaken in collaboration with Richard Jones of the University of Glasgow. The project has applied archaeological, typological, and scientific analysis to link vessel types to a likely source region. Results linked to several quarries on Shetland and southeast Norway are presented here, with a discussion of the evidence relating to artefacts from Shetland (Sandwick, Unst), York, Orkney (Quoygrew, Westray), Kaupang and the Faroes.
For several reasons, including the still limited size of the quarry chemical database, positive assignments of origin to individual artefacts remain difficult to propose based on chemical composition alone. However, more progress has been made in a process of association, by close consideration of groups of artefacts that are likely to have a similar origin owing to their similarity of composition. Can this combined approach help us identify the origins of Viking pioneers and map subsequent networks across the North Atlantic? And does it overturn previous assumptions based on typological analysis?

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