3.1 Decorated bronze/silver mounts

Figure 3
Figure 3: Bronze mount found in a woman's burial at Hoset, Stjørdal, AD 900-950. © NTNU, Vitenskapsmuseet. Photo: Per Fredriksen

The largest group of Insular objects found in Norway, and also in Trøndelag, are various types of highly decorated pieces of mounts. In Trøndelag, 28 whole or partial mounts have been found, widely spread across the region. Most of these items appear to have been part of horse harnesses or from religious equipment, such as reliquary shrines, books and altar furniture (Figures 3-6). All have traces of gilding, and, with the exception of two silver examples, all the pieces are made of copper alloy. The majority of the mounts are thought to be of Irish origin (Bakka 1963; 1965; Wamers 1985). Egil Bakka and Egon Wamers have, however, identified four pieces from Trøndelag that may be English products (Figure 35 and Figure 36). Three of these have been found in the region of Stjørdal, an area with an unusually high concentration of English-produced objects (discussed in section 4.2).

Figure 4: Bronze mount found in a woman's grave at Værnes, Stjørdal, AD 850-900. © NTNU, Vitenskapsmuseet. Photo: Per Fredriksen.

A great many of the decorated mounts appear to have been converted into brooches by the addition of pin fittings. However, there are also three examples from Trøndelag - from Finsås in Steinkjer, Grande and Uthaug, Ørland - where the mounts were buried at the waist of the women, accompanied by keys and knives, indicating their use as belt decorations (Heen-Pettersen 2013, 51-53). With few exceptions, Insular mounts are found in 9th-century women's graves. Only four male burials from Trøndelag are known to have contained such objects. Traditionally, such artefacts are often interpreted as exotic gifts or souvenirs given to the wives and mothers of men returning from raids overseas. According to Johannes Bøe (1927, 15) 'The custom of wearing souvenirs presented to them by the Vikings on the return from his westward expedition, has evidently been high fashion among the Norwegian women in the first half of the 9th century'. However, a number of Insular mounts have been found in graves from the contemporary trading settlements of Kaupang, Hedeby, Helgø and Birka, leading to the suggestion that some of this material represents merchandise and was sold second-hand (Blindheim 1978; 1999). Alternatively, this material may also derive from the Norse custom of 'pillage-trading', which means that people who traded also took part in raids wherever this was more profitable. Wamers (1998, 44) has therefore proposed that the presence of Insular 'loot' on trading settlements could indicate the presence of such traders turned raiders.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Bronze mount from a woman's burial at Halsan, Levanger. Length 154mm, width 300mm. © NTNU, Vitenskapsmuseet. Photo: Per Fredriksen

In any case, based on the dates of the graves containing pieces of mount, it seems that these objects were most valued and appreciated during the first phase of contact and colonisation of the British Isles. Such pieces worn as jewellery must indeed have appeared as exclusive and exotic forms of dress ornament, with a clear association to the Insular world. Whether used as brooches, belt-fittings or other types of decoration, these items would have formed a prominent part of the clothing they were worn on. Various types of dress ornaments are often highlighted as artefacts likely to have been utilised as distinctive and important symbols of the wearer's status and social background (e.g. Gustin 2004; Harlow 2004). This may have especially been the case for exotic items, which were obtained from remote landscapes (Hines 1994; Glørstad 2010). In that connection, it is worth noting that three of the four earliest datable graves from Trøndelag with evidence for contact with Britain and Ireland, each contained pieces of mounts. The converting of such Insular objects into ornaments of Norse dress at the very beginning of contact emphasises the strong meaning these foreign artefacts had in the early Viking Age.

Figure 6
Figure 6: Selection of bronze mounts from the area of Oppdal. © NTNU, Vitenskapsmuseet. Photo: Per Fredriksen


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