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spindle whorls from Viking-age Iceland

spindle whorls from Viking-age Iceland

I picked up my copy of Kuml og haugfé úr heiðnum sið á Íslandi, by Kristján Eldjárn this morning with the intent of flipping through it looking for a spindle whorl to replicate. It’s now 8pm and I’m just now poking my head back out of the rabbit hole I fell down on this topic (with some breaks during the day to run errands and take the dogs out to play).  What started as just looking for one spindle whorl turned into me translating a small portion of the book, and then doing a search on for all of the spindle whorls in their database and making a summary of them with sizes, material, when they’re dated to, and any other interesting or unique things about them, like the few that have decorative markings on them.  I then went on a Google search, and the result of all this is that there’s definitely some sort of paper or something in the works about this.  That will take longer than I have available to me today, and I wanted to get an entry posted, so the spindle whorl project will definitely be a multi-post thing.  Today I’m going to share with you the text of the 2 or 3 paragraphs I translated from Kuml og Haugfé.

This is not a literal word for word translation, because Icelandic grammar and sentence structure is very different than English grammar and sentence structure. I’ve developed a process for translating things like this that results in a much more readable text than just cutting and pasting into Google Translate. I started to explain how I go about it, but quickly realized that it would make a great topic for another entire entry, so you’ll have to wait on that one.  I will mention, though, that the final step in the process is consulting one of my friends from Iceland on any words I’m completely stumped on, and sometimes to make sure my interpretation is correct.

And so, I am going to share with you my translation, and for the curious, I will include the original Icelandic text afterward.  Also, for the record, the spindle I choose to replicate will definitely NOT be one of the lead ones.  I neither have the facilities to melt lead, nor do I want them, and I want lead poisoning even less.

Spindle Whorls

Spindle Whorls have been found in four graves: Austarahóli, Hrísum, Daðastöðum and Ketilsstödum (Kt. 82, 83, 126, 142, 330. mynd). (Translator’s note: I’ve left the Icelandic abbreviation Kt. in there as I need to check with one of my Icelandic friends on what it means.) The spindle whorls from Austarahóli are made of lead, round, with a flat bottom and domed top, 2.7cm in diameter and 8mm in thickness.  The Hŕisum spindle whorl is also made of lead, semi-spherical, 2.5 cm in diameter, and 1.6cm thick. Lead spindle whorls were rare in ancient times, but nowhere near unknown.  In Norway, at least 6 have been found, and two other lead whorls here in Iceland.  Artifacts 3348 (photo 330), were found on bare ground in Skjögrastöðum in Thjórsárdal.  Most of the time, spindle whorls were made of any type of stone, such as the ones found in the other digs. In the Daðastaður grave finds, two whorls made from clay, the second 2 cm in diameter, flatter above and below, but with rounded sides, 1.7cm in height, and the other was was broken but was about 3.2cm in diameter, 2.1cm in height, and convex.

At Ketilsstaðir, made out of clay, a spindle whorl was found with a flat bottom and rounded top, 4 cm in size, and 2 cm high (thickness), completely unlike most undecorated and ancient spindle whorls. These are the most common spindle whorls from the ancient and middle ages, but billions of such whorls have been found everywhere in the Nordic countries all from the Roman Iron Age.  In more recent centuries, spindle whorls have not been common here in Iceland, but in the middle ages, they have been used frequently and are often found anywhere humans have lived. They are made from various types of local stone and have not been counted together, but 27 locations have been found with whorls made of clay like the Ketilsstaðir ones, and more than one on some support. (Editor’s note: it means that the whorl was found still on the spindle). As I have noted in another article, the material in these whorls is foreign, probably Norwegian, and it will be important to note as it will discussed later in the section regarding Katla.

Spindle whorls were often found in Viking era graves overseas.

And the accompanying picture:

The original text in Icelandic:


Snældusnúdar hafa fundist í fjórum kumlum: á Austarahóli, Hrísum, Daðastöðum og Ketilsstödum (Kt. 82, 83, 126, 142, 330. Mynd). Snældusnúðurinn frá Austarahóli er úr blýi, laglega kringlóttur, flatur að neðan og hvelfdur ofan, 2,7 sm í þvm. og 8 mm á þykkt.

Snældusnúðurinn frá Hrísum er einnig úr blýi, hálfkúlulagaður, 2,5 sm í þvm, 1.6 sm á  þykkt. Snældusnúðar úr blýi voru sjaldgæfir í fornöld en þó hvergi nærri óþekktir.  Í Noregi þekkjast a.m.k. 6, og hér á landi hafa fundist tveir aðrir blýsnúðar, þjms. 3348 (330. mynd), fannst á berum mel á Skjögrastöðum í Vallahreppi, S-Múl., og þjms. 4159, frá Sámsstöðum í Þjórsárdal. Langoftast voru snældusnúðar úr einhverri steintegund eins og hinir kumlfundnu snúðarnir. Í Daðastaðakumlinu voru tveir snúðar úr klébergi, annar 2 sm í þvm., flatur ofan og neðan, en kúptur umhverfis, hæð 1,7 sm, hinn var í brotum en hefur verið um 3,2 sm í þvm., 2.1 sm á hæð, kúptur.

Á Ketilsstöðum fannst snældusnúður úr gráu klébergi, flatur að neðan, kúptur að ofan, 4 sm í þvm., 2 sm á háeð (þykkt), alveg óskreyttur eins og flestir fornir snældusnúðar. Thetta e rog hið algengasta lag snældusnúða frá fornóld og miðóldum, en ógrynni slikra snúða hafa fundist hvarvetna um Norðurlond allt frá rómverskri járnöld. Á seinni öldum hafa steinsnúðar ekki tiðkast hér á landi, en  á miðóldum hljóta  þeir að hafa verið notaðir mikið til einvörðungu og finnast þvi mjög oft þar sem mannabyggð hefur verið. Þeir eru úr ýmsum innlendum steintegundum og hafa ekki verið taldir saman, en á 27 stöðum hafa fundist snúðar ú klébergi eins og Ketilsstaðasnúðurinn og fleiri en einn á sumum stöðunum.   Eins og ég hef gert grein fyrir í öðru riti, er efnið í þessum snúðum útlent, sennilega norskt, og verður seinna vikið að þvi í þætti um katla.

Snældusnúðar finnast mjög oft í vikingaaldarkumlum erlendis.

From pages 399-400 of Kuml og haugfé úr heiðnum sið á Íslandi, by Kristján Eldjárn, 3rd edition.
Posted in accordance, I believe, with the fair dealing exception to the Canadian Copyright Law, section 29 which allows for use for private research and study. I’m a historical re-enactor with almost no money and this book had to be ordered all the way from Iceland. I’ve posted 2 paragraphs plus a sentence out of a many-hundred page book. Anyone who is interested in reading this is likely to be a broke history geek too. Don’t sue me – you can’t get water out of a stone.