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Archaeologia Islandica

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Archaeologia Islandica

						Arne Espelund
ANCIENT IRONMAKING IN ICELAND,
GREENLAND AND NEWFOUNDLAND
Iron was needed for tools and weapons, and also as rivets for oceangoing vessels
in the North Atlantic waters during the Viking Age - Early Medieval period. By
means of select finds the author documents a large and professional production of
bloomery iron in Northern and also some in Southern Iceland. The method used
seems to correspond to contemporary ironmaking in Norway with moderate modi-
fications, one caused by the lack of clay for fumace construction. Newer studies
of iron artefacts found in Greenland do not support an alleged local production,
most likely due to a lack of wood. While the settlers at the “base camp” L’Anse
aux Meadows around year 1000 AM had access to the required raw materials, their
efforts did not result in a sizeable production. Single finds of objects containing
molybdenum indicate that the settlers in the cargo included blooms from a region
close to the coast of Southern Norway when they sailed to the New World. Most
likely they came from Greenland. However, it has not been possible to follow in
detail the element molybdenum, most likely present as the mineral molybdenite
MoS2 from the rock via bog ore to the metal, but the outcome - the presence in
metallic objects - seems to justiíy the conclusion. The experiments at L’Anse aux
Meadows that failed remind of the situation of modern bloomery ironmakers.
Arne Espelund, Department of Materials Science, Norwegian University of Sci-
ence and Technology, 7491 Trondheim. Email: arne.espelund@nt.ntnu.no
Keywords: ironmaking, Norse Iceland, Greenland, L’Anse aux Meadows
Introduction
Ironmaking in Iceland by a bloomery
process is well documented by many
slag heaps as well as specimens of pri-
mary iron. Its rðle in Greenland and at
L’Anse aux Meadows is less certain, in
spite of finds of some metallic objects.
The present paper represents an attempt
to make a synthesis of the available lit-
erature and the author’s own research in
the 1990s, properly named archaeometal-
lurgy. Iceland and Greenland were settled
more than 1000 years ago, while L’Anse
aux Meadows in Newfoundland for some
10 years represented a sort of base camp
for explorers, most likely coming from
Greenland. The immigrants came to
an uninhabitated Iceland. The emigra-
tion sheds light on contemporary living
conditions in Norway and the prospects
in the west. In Greenland the Norsemen
met Inuits while the contact with North
American Indians in Newfoundland was
scant. The routes of the Norsemen are
shown in Figure 1.
In Norway ironmaking in the
period c. 800-1300 is well documented by
slag heaps and remains of low shaft fur-
naces measuring some 30 cm in diameter,
which were built of clay and had almost
Archaeologia Islandica 6 (2007) 48-73
					
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