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Whalebone Gaming Pieces: Aspects of Marine Mammal Exploitation in Vendel and Viking Age Scandinavia

  • Andreas Hennius (a1), Rudolf Gustavsson (a2), John Ljungkvist (a3) and Luke Spindler (a4)
Abstract

Discussions of pre-Viking trade and production have for many decades focused on products made of precious metals, glass and, to some degree, iron. This is hardly surprising considering the difficulties in finding and provenancing products made of organic matter. In this article we examine gaming pieces made from bone and antler, which are not unusual in Scandinavian burials in the Vendel and Viking period (c. ad 550–1050). A special emphasis is placed on whalebone pieces that appear to dominate after around ad 550, signalling a large-scale production and exploitation of North Atlantic whale products. In combination with other goods such as bear furs, birds of prey, and an increased iron and tar production, whalebone products are part of an intensified large-scale outland exploitation and indicate strong, pre-urban trading routes across Scandinavia and Europe some 200 years before the Viking period and well before the age of the emporia.

Le débat sur le commerce et la production avant l’époque Viking s'est concentré pendant des décennies sur les objets en métal précieux, sur le verre et, à un certain degré, sur le fer. Ceci n'est guère surprenant, vu les problèmes posés par l’état de conservation des matières organiques et les difficultés rencontrées dans l’étude de leur provenance. Notre article traite des pièces de jeu en os et en bois de cerf, un type d'objet qui n'est pas rare dans le mobilier funéraire scandinave aux époques Vendel et Viking (environ 550–1050 apr. J.-C.). Nous examinons tout particulièrement les pièces de jeu en os de baleine, un genre d'objet apparemment dominant autour de 550 apr. J.-C, qui semble indiquer que les baleines de l'Atlantique du Nord étaient exploitées à grande échelle à cette époque-là. Combinés avec d'autres produits tels que les fourrures d'ours, les oiseaux de proie et une production de fer et de poix accrue, les produits provenant des baleines font partie d'un régime d'exploitation des terres étrangères intensifié et à large échelle qui témoigne d'un commerce préurbain important à travers la Scandinavie et l'Europe continentale quelques deux siècles avant l’époque Viking et bien avant l’âge des comptoirs commerciaux. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Die Debatte über den Handel und die Herstellung von Artefakten vor der Wikingerzeit hat sich jahrelang vor allem mit Erzeugnissen aus Edelmetall, Glas und gewissermaßen auch Eisen beschäftigt. Das ist kaum verwunderlich, da es schwierig ist, Artikel aus organischen Werkstoffen zu finden und dessen Herkunft zu bestimmen. Hier untersuchen wir die Spielsteine aus Knochen und Geweih, ein Gegenstand der nicht selten in skandinavischen Gräberinventaren der Vendel- und Wikingerzeit (ca. 550–1050 n. Chr.) vorkommt. Es wird besonders auf Spielsteine aus Walknochen hingewiesen, weil diese scheinbar eine leitende Rolle um 550 n. Chr. spielten und eine erhebliche Erzeugung und Nutzung von nordatlantischen Walprodukten erkennen lässt. Zusammen mit anderen Produkten wie Bärenfell, Raubvögel und eine erhöhte Eisen- und Teerproduktion weisen die Erzeugnisse aus Walknochen auf eine intensive und bedeutende Verwertung des Rohstoffs sowie auch auf das Bestehen von prä-urbanen Handelswegen in Skandinavien und im europäischen Festland etwa zweihundert Jahre vor der Wikingerzeit und weit vor dem Zeitalter der Emporien. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

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