Book Review: “The Mästermyr Find – A Viking Age Tool Chest from Gotland”

by Jamie Hall on June 3, 2010

When I first started looking into medieval jewellery, I found a lot of interesting material on the Vikings, in particular the work of Anders Söderberg, on crucibles and casting. Further reading on Viking metalwork quickly led me to this book, The Mästermyr Find. Unlike many of the other texts I’ve bought, (eg. Theophilus or Agricola), this is an entirely modern text, and does not discuss technique or process. What’s significant about it is the subject – a full wooden tool chest, weighing upwards of 40kgs, and probably dating from around 1000AD.mastermyr

 It isn’t a jeweller’s toolkit, that much is certain. Instead, it seems to belong to a jack-of-all-trades – primarily working in iron and wood, but with evidence of work with bronze, brass and copper. There doesn’t seem to be direct evidence of precious metal-work, but many of the tools are shared between copper-, white- and blacksmithing. Only the woodworking tools are of little use to the jeweller.

 The book provides excellent analysis of the find and it’s context. There are 14 pages of photographs, and, more importantly, a further 16 pages of line drawings of the find, with compreshensive cross-sections for the items. Alongside the catalogue, which is a text description of the items, this makes for an impressive snapshot of Viking hardware – it covers not just tools, but padlocks, chains and raw materials.

 I presume that the book was originally written in Swedish, and translated, but the English is excellent, unlike some books I have. Less than a third of the book is in the form of prose – a short description of the context of the find precedes the catalogue, and later on, ethnological aspects are discussed, particularly how the tools relate to other finds throughout Europe, of the same era.

 Because of the lack of technique, this isn’t by any means an essential text for the working jeweller, but it’s a fascinating read, and it will be very important to me when I try to make some of my own tools. If you’re interested in the subject, some of the information is available online, at The Mästermyr Project.

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