Category Archives: Viking

VM_365 Day 127 Viking period polished and perforated shale disc

Kimmeridge shale perforated disc, later Saxon or Viking period.
Kimmeridge shale perforated disc, later Saxon or Viking period.

Our image for Day 127 of VM_365 is of this disc of Kimmeridge shale, found at Cliffsend, Ramsgate near the former shore of the Wantsum channel.

Kimmeridge oil shale is easily worked and the black surface of the material could be polished to a glossy sheen, making it attractive throughout history for manufacturing decorative objects and ornaments. In this case the ground conditions in the deposit where the disc was found have caused the surface to become pitted and rough. The disc may have been a personal ornament or been combined with other materials into a decorative or practical object.

The disc was found in a plough truncated ditch and the pottery and rubbish found in association with it suggest it probably dates to the 8th or 9th century, one of the rare finds from this Later Anglo-Saxon or Viking period in Thanet’s archaeological record.

VM_365 Day 51 The Keys to Anglo-Saxon domestic life

Iron lock mechanism from an Anglo-Saxon site in Westgate
Iron lock mechanism from an Anglo-Saxon site in Westgate, Thanet

Our image for VM_365 Day 51 is of a find from an excavation carried out on the site of a housing development close to the sea front at Westgate on Sea in 2006. This composite iron object was found among features that represent a phase of a settlement which seems to date to the 8th or 9th century AD. Another of the few Viking age sites known in Thanet.

This complex iron block which was recovered from the fill of one of the pits appears to have  been a lock mechanism, perhaps originally attached to a box or chest.  The mechanism has been reconstructed from the evidence of several X-ray photographs taken at varying intensities which revealed the hidden structure on the back of the plate.

The 2-3mm thick flat iron plate would have been mounted on the external surface of the chest with two rows of four iron rivets or nails arranged along each of the long axes. The front of the plate was pierced with an irregular key hole, centrally placed on the short axis but offset slightly on the long axis.

An iron spring with a right-angled bend was attached to the inside face of the plate. A sliding bolt rested on a rod that projected from the plate, held in place by the spring bearing down on the bolt where it pressed against the rod. The bar appears to have passed through a slot in the spring at a point above the attachment where the spring was fixed to the plate. The bolt would probably have projected a little further, fitting into a socket or staple fitted in the box.

The lock would have been operated by pushing a simple key through the hole in the plate. The key pushed against the bolt pin located on the underside of the sliding bolt at the end of the keyhole forcing the bolt away from the socket which held the box shut.  In its present state the mechanism appears to be in the locked position and sliding the bar would need a little force to lift the spring where it was bearing down on the rod.

Lock fittings and keys are a common find on both Roman and Anglo-Saxon sites and the common discovery of bunches of keys in Anglo-Saxon female graves are interpreted as a symbols of female domestic authority, as holders of the keys to a household chest where the valuable items were kept.

VM_365 Day 48 Combs, Cod and Vikings


Today’s image shows a fragment of a comb carved from a piece of ivory. The surface is inscribed with curving lines and a dot and circle pattern and was found in an 8th to 9th century refuse pit at Cliffsend in 1998.

Comparable combs have been associated with the Viking period of the 8th-9th centuries and although Thanet is mentioned in historical records of Viking raiding, we have few archaeological finds from the period.

In the same pit, along with pottery and other objects, was the skeleton of a Cod estimated to have weighed about 18 kilogrammes  (40lb) which tells us something about the contemporary economy and ecology of the 8th-9th century.