What was made in Viking Age Jorvik (York)?

Jorvik (York) was not only a centre where goods were traded but also a place where things were made. There was manufacturing as well as commerce. There were those items made in the home, for use in the home – sort of one-off  ‘do-it-yourself’ items; then there were the goods made in larger quantities and meant for bartering or selling in a wider market.


The working of iron and other metals was an important industry in Viking Age Jorvik (York) and the archaeological finds include manufactured items and a variety of metalworking tools.


Before the Vikings settled in Jorvik (York), pottery seems to have been fairly crude and hand-made as one-off, home-produced items. When the Vikings settled there appeared more-standardised, wheel-thrown and kiln-fired pottery, which could be mass produced for local sale and for trading elsewhere. This was probably due more to influences from continental Europe in general and not the Scandinavians in particular. No remains of Viking Age pottery kilns have yet been found in Jorvik (York) but some must have existed quite close by.


Glass vessels and window-glass were not very common in Viking Age England, yet there is evidence at Jorvik of glassmaking on a small scale, probably for small items such as beads and finger rings.


As well as glass, a number of other materials were used for jewellery-making, including amber, jet, copper and precious metals. Jewellery-making in metal seems to have been carried out in Jorvik (in part, at least) by the same smiths who mainly worked with iron, though there were also probably specialist jewellers with whom the smiths may have cooperated from time to time.


This was very important in Jorvik (York). Lathe-turned plates, bowls and cups made from wood seem to have been in wider use in Jorvik than pottery ones. Indeed, the present-day name of the street where the Jorvik Viking Centre (external link) is situated, Coppergate, has nothing to do with copper but comes from the two Old Norse words ‘koppari’ (= cup maker) and ‘gata’ (= street). Evidence of the presence in this area of Viking Age woodturners has been found by archaeologists in the form of both finished items and waste materials. It is probable that, like the smiths, woodturners were plentiful and were serving a large market. Other woodworkers would include the makers of ‘stave’ items (barrels, churns and buckets), shipbuilders, and constructional carpenters.


The excavations at Jorvik have shown that wool and flax textiles were produced there. Finds include wool combs, spindles and whorls, loom weights, pin beaters, needles, shears and linen smoothers. The Jorvik textile producers used a range of natural dyes for their cloths. Textile production was a home-based activity and much of the production would have been for home use. It is not clear whether a surplus was produced for export to places further afield. Silk offcuts and a silk headscarf suggest that at least some textile workers were handling imported material.


Leather-working was carried on in Jorvik as an industry. Shoe lasts and well-preserved shoes have been excavated, along with a great quantity of leather offcuts and some tools. Leather was used for shoes, belts, straps, weapon sheaths and harness. The raw material would be the leather made by tanning the hides of animal skins, after they had been butchered for meat.

Bone and antler

The bones and antlers of animals were the ‘plastic’ of the Viking Age. They are easily carved, shaped and drilled and were used for a range of items such as spindle whorls, scoops and strainers, ice skates, whistles and flutes, combs, gaming pieces, pins and needles. Bone and antler were also used to add decoration to such things as wooden chests and boxes. There certainly seems to have been a great demand for combs and perhaps there is some truth in the story that Anglo-Saxon women preferred to take Viking husbands as they bathed regularly and combed their hair ! Then again, the abundance of combs may simply show that they were an essential item for getting rid of head lice…!