Anglo-Saxon smiths and myths
David A. Hinton (Department of Archaeology, University of South Hampton)
Bulletin of the John Rylands Library: Vol. 80:1 (1998)
Knowledge of the metalworking and jewellery-making abilities of the Anglo-Saxons has been much enhanced in recent years by metallurgical and other technical studies. Just as great skill was required to cut garnets, to create gold wires or foils, to inlay, and to gild base metals, so too was great patience to punch a tiny triangle 500 times on to a single brooch or to remake moulds for almost every new one. Most of the artefacts on which such studies are based have derived from graves, but information on metalworking is also now coming from a few early settlement sites, such as the failed casting of a saucer-brooch and broken fragments of an unused mould for a square-headed brooch, both sixth- century, from Mucking, Essex, the metal waste, crucible fragments and possibly a mould fragment, perhaps ‘part of the collection of a metalworker’, from the settlement adjacent to the mainly cremation cemetery at Spong Hill,the crucible debris and copper-alloy scrap from Witton, both in Norfolk, and the sixth- century saucer-brooch casting from Cassington, Oxfordshire.
The ironworker’s skills are also now better understood, whether those of a sword-maker pattern-welding a blade,or those of a knife-maker making the best use of available ores by butt-welding a steel edge to an iron core.Here also recent excavations are contributing new information. Although West Stow, Suffolk, produced no evidence of the smelting of ore, but only smithing slags and the remains of hearth bottoms, slags from both iron smelting and smithing have been found at sites like Mucking and Witton, at the former with quantities of charcoal. Most excavations of larger settlement complexes have produced evidence at least of smithing. It has been suggested that because some of the Mucking slag was probably from a shaft rather than from a bowl furnace, there was quite a sophisticated production operation, perhaps indicating evidence of Romano-British continuity, or of an overseas workman from a non-Germanic area, since bowl furnaces may have been all that were known there.