Viking age and Medieval ring pins made from copper alloy have been found all over the world from Novgorod to Newfoundland; over a third of these were found in Ireland (McEneaney & Ryan, 2004, pp. 24). The pins were used as fastenings for cloaks and dresses. Finds of these pins predating the Viking age in Ireland suggest that the pins originated in Ireland and highlight the ties between the ‘Celtic West’ and ‘Sub-Roman Britain’ (Fanning, 1994, pp.1). Vikings first appeared in Ireland in 795 and in the subsequent years settled throughout country establishing its oldest towns and cities (McEneaney et al, 2004, pp. 18).
Although many variations of ring pins have been found, at Asgard, we create replicas of the plain-ringed Baluster and polyhedral ring pins. What’s the difference you say? The baluster headed pin pre-dates Norse settlement in Britain and includes a square headed pin head incised with designs such as a cross or dots and features ‘lozenged shaped panels’ at the top and bottom of the chased middle section. Whereas the polyhedral headed pins feature a 14-sided cubed shaped pin head (Fanning, 1994, pp. 8). Jim had the chance to go and examine the real thing at the Jorvik Viking Centre. His visit is pictured below.
Plain ringed baluster headed pins were first found in a crannog (an ancient loch dwelling) at Lough Gara, co. Sligo, dating from between the 2nd to 5th centuries, pre-dating Viking settlement in Ireland. The only pin of this kind which can be dated broadly between the 9th and 12th centuries was found in a Viking encampment at Knowth, co. Meath which is thought to have served as the capital of Northern Brega, the Medieval Irish Kingdom north of Dublin. It was found decorated with dot ring perforations.
Plain ringed polyhedral ring pins are the most common ring pins from a 1990 archaeological excavation in Dublin, they have also been found in Waterford and are though to have been popular with the Vikings (Fanning, 1994, pp.25; McEneaney et al, pp. 24). Waterford is the only Irish city to have kept its original Norse name. It was in fact founded by a Viking warlord in 914 (McEneaney et al, 2004, pp. 18).
It is believed that these pins were fashionable in 10th century Dublin (Fanning, 1994, pp. 23). Some rings pin shave been found attached to tablet weave, though to prevent loss of the pin (McEneaney et al, 2004, pp. 24).
To make our ring pins, Jim first studied the existing research on ring pins found in Coppergate, York. He then constructed a master piece based on his research, so we could make our own moulds. Once cast, the pins are then cleaned up and hand polished before adding the ring to the pin. It really is a simple yet understated piece.
Our Ring pins are available on the website now, buy one of your own here: https://www.asgard.scot/shop/viking-brooches
McEneaney, E. and Ryan, R. (2004). Waterford treasures. Waterford: Waterford Museum of Treasures.
Fanning, T. (1994). Viking age ringed pins from Dublin. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy.