The following is the write up for my entry into Calontir’s Kingdom Arts and Sciences Tri-Level competition in July, 2019.
Beads Made to Size:
Replicating the Beads from Grave T 16136 at Vaernes in Norway
Zaneta Baseggio, Axed Root
The goal of this project was to recreate a particular set of beads as closely as possible regarding the size and decoration. Modern materials and tools were used as the focus of the project is the size of the beads, not how they were manufactured.
This project began with my desire to recreate a set of extant beads to size. I have heard several times that the Norse only had small beads and that those in the SCA with large beads on their Norse strands were “doing it wrong.” Therefore, I went looking for information on the size of beads.
For this project, I wanted to replicate a specific grave find so that I would not be cherry picking from the findings on the sizes of beads. Unfortunately, a large number of the finds do not include the sizes of each bead when they are pictured together. My original focus piece for this project had a range that included measurements for the smallest and largest beads – everything else I would have to figure out myself.
On July 5, 2019, an article was published that took another look at the finds from grave T 16136 in Norway – my main focus area when I play at being Norse. The grave find included textiles, metalwork, and beads. Brooches in the find were dated to 850 – 900 AD. The article included not only museum photos of the beads, but personal private photos of all the beads from both top and side. Each bead had measurements and descriptions included.
The article was everything I was looking for and then some.
In addition, the article includes links to the museum pages on every bead. While the museum pages are in Norwegian, Google did a decent job of translating for me.
Separated by magazine audit. Original description: 17 beads of glass and 1 of amber. Of these, 1 is of black glass with no fused decor, especially large, 4 cm wide, 2 cm high. It has created a quaint decor around the edge by transverse rows of three elliptical depressions in each, an ornament reminiscent of the ring chain. The pearl is obviously very worn and therefore probably old when it was closed down in the grave. Thus, both holes at the wear of the cord are pulled up towards the edge, so that the opening on both sides is almost pear-shaped. It is probably also due to the wear and tear that both sides now only see weak traces of recesses, which, like those around the edge, have also been placed here. These are no longer parallel, but wear considerably down to the part of the edge which, after wear in the hole opening, turns out to have turned up. Then there are 2 several smaller beads, but larger than the others, of blackish glass with the decoration of white rings on a blue field. Of the rest, 8 with different decor, 4 of green and yellowish glass without decor, 1 small pearl of amber and 2 “clay beads”
Note: There are measurements and photos in the original article. They were included in my printed copy for the competition but have not been included here – one: it was a lot of formatting, two: they aren’t my photos to share on the internet. I highly suggest you check out the original article.
Glass beads are typically made by melting glass at a high heat and winding it around a metal rod that has been coated with a clay based substance. This clay is called a ‘bead release’ and forms a barrier between the hot metal and the hot glass – hot metal sticks to hot glass. The release will break and wash away, allowing the bead to be removed from the mandrel (metal rod) once it has finished cooling.
Glass needs to be cooled slowly to avoid breaking or thermal shock. Thermal shock is the reason you should not take a pyrex baking dish directly from the freezer to a hot oven. Glass will shatter and break when it is exposed to rapid changes in temperature. Modernly, I used a crockpot filled with vermiculite to cool my beads. The vermiculite holds the heat of the glass and allows it to cool slowly.
Glass can be shaped using tools made of metal, graphite, or soapstone. For this project, I use marvers (flat pieces of graphite or metal) and mashers (tweezers with flat pads on the ends) to shape the beads. In period, they may have used soapstone molds and marvers as well as metal tools.
Bead Creation in Period:
The extant beads were probably made over a clay furnace fueled by charcoal. Air was forced into the furnace through bellows. The extant traces of furnaces have an opening on top where bead makers may have worked. Metal trays with sides and handles have been found in glass workshop debris. These trays may have been used to keep the finished beads warm after creation in order to cool them down slowly.
Creating the Beads:
A list of tools and glass colors is available at the end.
I hadn’t fully thought about the size of any of the beads except for the large black bead. However, when I sat down to start, I realized that almost all of these beads were larger than I normally work with. After working with that first bead, I realized I had my work cut out for me.
In order to make sure I was getting close to the size of the beads while working, I ordered two sets of calipers/micrometers. I set one to the height and the other to the width. While forming the bead, I would check the size with the calipers and add additional glass if needed. I used mashers and my graphite marver to move the glass as needed to form the correct size and shape.
While I got close to the size of the extant beads, I did not match the sizes exactly. I seem to have ended up one to two millimeters short on many of the beads – especially the decorated beads. When I created the decorated beads, I left the base bead a little short before I added decoration. My line of thought was that the additional glass from the decoration would make the bead bigger. When I figured out that was wrong, it was too late to add more glass. As I ran out of time, I was unable to go back and make another run at the undersize beads.
The wavy lines were made with ribbon stringers that I made. I haven’t used ribbon stringers in ages, so they ended up messier than I would have wanted. But I ran out of time to go back and try again. I also ran out of stringer.
The millefiori was also made for a previous project.
The large black bead took an hour and a half on my minor burner torch. It also took two and a half glass rods. When I would get toward the end of the rod, I would heat and wrap the ends into the bead. So this bead is made of two complete glass rods plus at least half of a third. It is still a couple millimeters small.
The design on the large black bead was made with the end of a butter knife. The bead was allowed to cool slightly and then one spot was heated up. I used the edge of the knife to make the indentation. The bead was then warmed slightly and another spot heated. This continued until the design was completely around the bead.
Changes from the Extant Beads:
The two ‘clay’ beads referenced in the museum write up are likely the small red and orange beads. They may have been faience beads – a style of beadwork where the beads are formed by rolling and shaping a clay/glass material and then firing them until solid. However, the main article treated these beads as glass and so did I. In fact, until I read through the museum translation, I thought that those beads were glass. They look like a lot of other extant beads I have seen.
Instead of amber, I have substituted a glass bead. I used a color called ‘Ghee’ that creates an amberish color. This bead was not made for this project, but it happened to be in my box of beads and was about the right size.
The design on the large black bead was not a change I made intentionally. When I finally got the bead to size, I did not look at the picture to double check the pattern. It is close but not exact to the extant pattern. Given that it took an hour and a half, and two and a half rods of glass to make, I did not have time to go back and redo the bead.
This project has stretched my skills and made me realize I need to practice my large bead skills. I have gotten so used to creating donut shaped beads that I am not used to dealing with the flatter disks this project called for. Overall, I am happy with the size and shape of these beads. I plan on revisiting the large black bead as a friend has requested one for herself. I have a theory that it may take less time to create the bead if I used shorter pieces instead of a full rod. I would also like to have a second one of my own to use as a spindle whorl.
I hope that this project has reached my goal of expanding our understanding of bead sizes in the Viking world.
“The Woman in the Mound, A New Interpretation of Grave T 16136 at Værnes,” by Hilde Thunem. http://urd.priv.no/viking/vernes.html?fbclid=IwAR1K6twKzbTHwCxAqOJRdbgcAj-E2ig8nVvHqJHFjjYF9_wadG4r5-KMsTg
University Museums Objects / Artifacts website, NTNU Science Museum. http://www.unimus.no/artefacts/vm/180795/?f=html
Dark Ages Recreation Company website:
Nortel Minor Burner – Propane and oxygen surface mix torch
Mandrels – Stainless steel rods
Bead Release – Dip and Go. Clay based substance that coats the mandrel to allow the bead to be removed when cool
Marver – Graphite paddle used to shape the beads
Masher – Stainless steel tweezers with square ends
Butter Knife – Used to create designs in beads
Vermiculite – It helps to slows the cooling process.
Transparent Yellow – Electric Yellow (Striking) Transparent, Vetrofond (791069)
Transparent Green – Grass Green Light Transparent, Vetrofond (791020)
Transparent Blue – Blue Intense Transparent, Effetre (591057)
Transparent Teal – Teal Light Transparent, Effetre (591026)
Opaque Black – Tuxedo, Creation is Messy (511872)
Opaque Orange – Clockwork, Creation is Messy (511229)
Opaque Red – Ladybug Ltd Run, Creation is Messy (511120)
Opaque White – Unknown. Possibly Peace or White Pastel Effetre (591204)
Opaque Yellow – Yellow Bright Acid, Effetre (591416)
Millefiori – Ladybug, Peace, and Lapis Light Pastel, Effetre (591240)