#73: The Viking Reproductions

Is there value in a ‘fake’ object?

Pictured above are belts, combs, fabrics, and even a sewing needle holder, and they are all based on archaeological discoveries. Yet these are replicas.

But not quite. To replicate the originals would mean preserving their brokenness, their faded colours. These are archaeological reproductions, where what has been found in the ground has been studied, considered, and then remade how we think it looked originally, when it was new for the Vikings.

These reproductions were made by Adam Parsons, an archaeologist who was demonstrating these many objects (as well as selling them) at an academic conference I attended last Saturday: the Midlands Viking Symposium 2017, at Birmingham University. In between the many fascinating papers delivered that day, we were all invited to go and talk to Adam, to discover a bit more about the physical lives of these Vikings that we know and study through their literature.

Adam is an archaeologist, but he uses his knowledge to remake these objects, using experimental archaeology. He experiments with tools that the Vikings would have used, known either from archaeological findings or estimations, as unfortunately we have only limited knowledge about their tools.

One of the things that caught my eye when looking at these objects was the detail. There are numerous intricate designs etched or sewn onto these objects, just as they would have been by the Vikings. Yet this is done on combs and sewing tools. These are not just pieces of decorative jewellery, they are tools themselves, but they have their decorative, aesthetic qualities. It might seem a bit odd at first glance, but then think about our modern lives, and how the everyday objects that we use are just as pretty. Just imagine the many show-homes with beautiful, colour coordinated kitchens or vintage style containers for biscuits and herbs. We have our everyday useful objects, and just like the Vikings, we like them to look pretty too.

The details are suggested in archaeological finds, and then skilled people like Adam use these details to recreate these objects in a glittering new life. Some may disagree with this, that it may not seem ‘authentic’, but we need to think about the bigger picture. Why are we fascinated with these objects? Because we are fascinated with these obscure past lives of our ancestors, and if we want to know more, we need to know these objects as they would have been known to them. They were not broken and dull-coloured. The Vikings had access to gold and bronze, to pretty stones and brightly coloured natural fabric dyes. As Adam rightly pointed out, by making and sharing these objects of reproduction we get to see these objects closer to how the Vikings saw them, and not the faded way we see them now in their original form.

Yet ‘authenticity’ is a concern in our modern age. We seem surrounded by rip-off branded replicas, fake news, and ‘authentic’ personal branding, and we are always concerned about getting the real thing. But what is the ‘real thing’? Even fake news has its positives, used as a satirical comment to point out the obvious. Sometimes we need replicas or ‘fakes’ to be able to understand our world, and our past world. By making reproductions of these past objects we are able to duplicate them, share them with a wider audience, and even give them as gifts. The issue comes when the fake news or replica objects are claimed as real. The problem is not with the object or the ‘news’, but the people who make and sell and distribute them, and who alter our intangible knowledge of their identity. The ‘authentic’ object has its own power, and it is different to the ‘fake’ or ‘replica’.

Adam is clear about his objects: they are replicas, part of his business, Blueaxe Reproductions. But that doesn’t mean they hold less power than the ‘authentic’ originals on which they are based. These are historical reproductions, objects made with a thought for the originals in mind. By holding these objects, we can get a little bit closer to understanding our Viking ancestors, and the power that objects held for them, which actually was quite similar to ourselves today.

Many thanks to Adam Parsons for letting me photograph these fascinating objects.

Katie writes a weekly blog post about random objects that she finds in her everyday life. If you’re interested in reading more, check out her blog Object, a collaboration with fellow Medium blogger Eleanor, and sign up for the weekly newsletter below.
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