The Symbolic Use of Whetstones and Their Role in Displaying Authority over Metallurgical Processes and Trade


  • Mads Dengsø Jessen
  • Michelle Taube



Whetstones of the Viking Age can have a conspicuous design, but not much is understood about the specific use of more unusual specimens, or their place in rituals. This article proposes a new interpretation of whetstones, based on novel studies of a well-known whetstone from Lejre, and miniature pendants from Tissø. Our examination of the prominent whetstone from the Lejre hoard with an x-ray fluorescence (XRF) scan, did not reveal any metal traces, which suggests that it was unused. At Tissø, the find distribution of so-called stafflike pendants – made of iron, bronze, or silver – links them to a metal-working area, and since their morphology resembles full-scale whetstones we suggest that they may be symbolic, miniature whetstones. Finally, we argue that the overarching meaning of the ritual use of whetstones is more related to the authority over – and control of – metallurgical processes, as well as the trade of metal goods, and only by proxy to the smith himself.






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