Viking Bead Research: A Necklace from the Kneep on the Isle of Lewis
by Baroness Aranwen Ap Rhys Verch Gwalter
A NEW WAY TO MAKE BEADS
I am always looking for a challenge to recreate. At first when I looked at the picture of the Kneep necklace in RDE Welander, Batey and Cowie “A Viking burial from Kneep, Uig, Isle of Lewis”, I thought this would be an easy necklace to recreate. It was just four colors and the beads were all round, and it seemed the only challenge was to successfully fume silver and gold foil on the beads. But the more I read and the more I researched, I found out that the beads were indeed complex.
First off, they were not any ordinary round beads but segmented beads. This intrigued me as the first study I did several years ago on the history of beads was on trade beads. Segmented beads were often times used as currency as purchases were made with beads. The beads were often segmented with two or more sections and if a purchase required one or two beads, those segments were broken off and used as payment.
Khalid states, “In his blog entry, “Kaupang before the Coin”, Matthew Delvaux discusses the idea that the segmented beads were imported goods from the Middle East and proposes the idea that they possibly were a form of currency in the early Viking Age.” These beads were created differently than I have ever known before. As a lampworker, I use glass rods heated and then wrapped around a prepared metal rod to make my beads. These beads were drawn.
Welander’s article goes into great detail on how these particular beads would have been made. “The basic beads would have been formed from a length of thick-walled glass tube and formed on a central metal rod. This would have been dipped into molten glass of appropriate colour and the glass gathered-up on the rod. On the cooling both the rod and the glass would shrink, releasing the central rod. The segmentation of this glass tube would have been done while the glass was still plastic, either by using some form of crimping tool or possibly by pressing the glass tube (still supported by the metal rod) into a prefabricated template.”
The necklace is composed of only four different colors/metals: blue, yellow, gold, and silver. Welander had the beads analyzed. The original beads were made of soda glass with colorants of iron, copper, and strontium for blue. High levels of iron were found in the yellow beads with traces of iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and silver. The most unusual find in regards to the gold and silver beads is that only silver was found in them, no gold whatsoever. It was suggested that the gold color might have been achieved by fluming the glass with silver and overlaying it with either a clear or perhaps amber glass.
TOOLS AND MATERIALS / PROCEDURES
As I don’t have a crucible or a long metal rod like the drawn beads were originally made, I thought of how I could make these beads to look like the originals only using the lampwork method.
WHAT WORKED AND WHAT DID NOT WORK
I made the beads for this necklace twice. I included my first necklace with the display. For my first necklace, I used a gold aventurine rod to make my gold beads. As I was not happy with the color of the beads, I purchased gold foil and remade the beads with the gold foil. This process was not as successful because the gold easily melted into the glass. The finished bead I displayed was made from the first set of beads I recreated. The “silver” beads were fumed with silver, but like the gold, the silver foil melted into the beads. I experimented with Kaupang style of segmented beads by flattening them, but as the fluming was not successful, I decided to stay with the first set of beads for my final necklace.
I am still not satisfied with the results of the fluming. The first time I overlaid clear glass over the flumed silver. The beads were large and you could not see the silver. The second time I did not overlay glass, and the color is better. I would like to continue to try to improve my fluming techniques and will recreate this necklace again. As for recreating a drawn bead, that will need some more thought.
- Welander, Batey, and Cowie, A Viking burial from Kneep, Uig, Isle of Lewis (1987). Retrieved December 15, 2019
- Culler, Jen (SCA: Álfrún ketta), A Wandering Elf’s Journey, Viking Bead Research: Kneep (1/18/19). Retrieved 1/5/20
- Delvaux, Text and Trowel, history and archaeology at work, Kaupang before the Coin (May 11,2017). Retrieved 1/5/20