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 THE BLACKSMITH’S CRAFT OF THE MEDIEVAL PERMIANS:

ARCHAEOMETALLOGRAPHICAL INVESTIGATION

 Vladimir I. Zavyalov

ABSTRACTS

The history of Permian blacksmith’s craft was not the theme of special study until recently. The archaeological material gives an opportunity to carry out a wide-scale metallographic investigation.

The present paper is based on investigation of blacksmith’s production originating from the sites located in the Kama and Vyatka Rivers’ basins and dating from the Middle Ages. 

The performed investigations have shown that no significant changes in technical and technological appearance of the Permian blacksmith’s craft took place before the late 8th c. The data obtained by the author entirely correspond to the general trend of development of blacksmith’s technology characteristic of the forest zone of Eastern Europe from the first till the third quarters of the 1st millennium AD.

 The results of archaeometallographic investigations convincingly evidence the contacts of the Permian tribes with their western neighbours traced on the archaeological materials and maintained in the sphere of production as well.

Judging from the archaeometallographic data the medieval Permian blacksmith’s craft should be characterised as traditional, marked by long-term preservation of technical stereotypes.

 KEYWORDS

 Archaeometallography, Permian tribes, blacksmith’s craft, technology, technological schemes

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Craft as a sphere of human activity constitutes a substantial integral element of human culture. Studies of history of craft cover a wide scope of problems, including both technical and technological aspects and such questions, as cultural and historical relationships in the field of production, interaction of traditions and innovations, the role craft and craftsmen played in one or other social group.

 Comprehensive consideration of the problems related with the history of medieval craft comprises wide range of the data obtained due to the application of different sciences. One of the leading positions in their repertoire belongs to archaeology. Its role in reconstruction of the early history should not be undervalued, as far as the peoples having no written history of their own are concerned. It is archaeological finds, “the incarnation of human history”, as B.A. Kolchin formulated it, that represent the main object of the investigations of material production.  

 The recent wide-scale investigations of archaeological artefacts made of ferrous metals have contributed essentially to our knowledge of the techniques used in early ironworking. Archaeometallography (archaeological metallography) is one of the basic methods applied in the studies of the history of blacksmith’s craft in early societies.    

 In the investigations referred to emergence and development of craft production of special interest are the ethnic groups that occupied certain territory for relatively long period of time, that is, autochthonous peoples. It is such ethnic groups that the medieval Permian tribes may be attributed to. They are the ancestors of the modern Udmurts and Komi, the peoples who shared similar forms of material culture, traditions and religious beliefs and spoke kindred dialects.

 Despite long-term investigations of the Permian antiquities, the history of Permian blacksmith’s craft was not the theme of special monographic study until recently. The researches of the blacksmith’s craft definitely looked left behind, as compared with the high interest paid to the problems in economic development of the Finno-Ugrians of the East Urals and their historical and cultural relations with other peoples. The archaeological material accumulated by now gives an opportunity to carry out a wide-scale metallographic investigation and proceeding from the obtained data to outline the key moments in blacksmith’s craft development among the Permian tribes.

 Some Permian tribes entered the Iron Age as early as the 8th – the 7th cc. BC. The people of Anan’ino archaeological culture spread on the Middle Volga had acquainted with iron under the influence exercised by the Caucasian ethno-cultural factor. Probably, in this process the Indo-Iranian tribes (the Scythians or the Savromatians) must have played some role. By that time the Permian metallurgists had achieved rather high level of mastering non-ferrous metalwork, and the process of introduction of a new material, in particular, production of iron took relatively short time. Nonetheless, the craftsmanship of local blacksmiths was limited to well-known methods of plastic shaping of metal.  Thus, the Caucasian craftsmen had mastered special knowledge of specific properties of ferrous metal, which enabled them to improve iron objects’ working characteristics; unlike them, among Anan’ino blacksmiths these secrets remained virtually unknown [1].       

A leap forward in the medieval Permians’ metalworking occurred all of a sudden in the Middle Volga variant of Anan’ino cultural entity only. In certain moment there appeared relatively large number of pieces of blacksmith’s production, large in size and of complicated shapes. The tribes settled on the Kama River, though acquainted with iron objects not after the first part of the 1st millennium BC, started its active introduction in the mid 1st millennium BC. Local metallurgical production developed under strong influence of the Anan’ino newcomers from the Middle Volga region. Still, the specific technological modes of iron- and steel-working well known on the Middle Volga were not typical of the Kama variant of Anan’ino cultural and historical unit. The process of mastering iron in the Kama region had started as if from the very beginning: for a long time the pieces of blacksmith’s production were represented by isolated finds, mainly of small size (knives, awls, arrowheads and the like), the repertoire of iron objects was limited to 10-12 categories, iron objects were manufactured according to extremely simple technologies. Thus, among the basic technological methods designed for improvement of artefacts’ working characteristics there were carbonisation, piled technological schemes and martensitic hardening [2].

 The present work is based on investigation of blacksmith’s production originating from the sites attributed to the Permian archaeological cultures located in the Kama and Vyatka Rivers’ basins and dating from the Middle Ages (Fig. 1). The finds recovered from the Udmurt necropolises of the 16th – the 18th cc. are regarded as supplementary materials.

 Metal objects were taken as the basic source for the metallographic investigation. Choosing samples was aimed at most comprehensive possible coverage of all known categories of finds. Significance of each category against the background of the iron objects’ aggregate was also taken into account.    

 The metallographic investigations of the blacksmith’s production of the Permian tribes have revealed the whole range of the technological schemes used by the craftsmen. 

 Fig. 1. The map of the Ural Region with the sites which objects were investigated

 

As a result, development of the Permian blacksmith’s craft may be described in the following way. On the early stages (the late 4th – the first part of the 8th cc. AD) dominating position among iron artefacts occupied the items shaped according to simple technologies (shaping tool of solid iron or bloomery steel).

 Starting from the second part of the 8th – the first part of the 9th cc. the Permian blacksmiths practiced the majority of the technological schemes known at that time. Actually, two methods clearly prevailed: shaping artefact of solid bloomery steel (35% of the total), and three-fold welding technology (29%). The same period is marked by occurrence of new types of knives at the Permian sites. A small group of tools can be attributed to the circle of Scandinavian antiquities according to the combination of such indications as artefact’s type, production technology and the technical mastery (quality) of blacksmithing (Fig. 2). These knives turned to be produced exclusively according to the scheme of three-fold welding technology.   

 Knives of other types show wide repertoire of the technologies used in their production. Despite this variety, certain features characteristic of certain types may be singled out. As for the knives of local origin, the share of those shaped of iron or bloomery steel blanks makes more than a half of the material. This fact should be interpreted as the heritage of the Permian blacksmith’s craft of the earlier epoch.

 The knives related by their origin with the steppe (Alanic?) tribes do not display any dominating technological pattern. This probably can be explained from their foreign origin: though the shape of the discussed knives’ type had been borrowed by local blacksmiths, no special technology had been worked out for its production. Most probably, craftsmen just manufactured knives of “fashionable” in the 8th – the 10th cc. type using the whole range of the technologies known in that time, not a single one being most popular. Of significance was also the limited chronological span of the knives attested to the “Alanic” type (in the second part of the 10th c. they practically ceased): it was too short to work out some technological scheme related principally with this type. It seems of interest to mention, that in their “historic heartland” identified with the forest-steppe (Alanic) variant of Saltovo-Mayatsk culture knives of the discussed type were produced basically of solid steel or pile-welded blanks [3]. 

 Fig. 2. A knife produced of three-fold welding technology

 Unlike knives found with the same frequency in the burials of men, women and children alike, axes (both socketed and shaft-hole ones) originate primarily from burials of males. Among the Udmurts axe accompanied man starting from the very moment of birth; it played an important role of an attribute in the childbirth rites performed for newborn boys and accompanied man during all his life and in afterlife, being also one of the most popular implements used as funerary gifts.

 Besides axes the kit of medieval wood-working tools is represented by chisels, flat axes, burins, draw-knives (prototype of modern plane). The analysis of the carpenter’s instruments’ categories and the technology of their production evidences that already in the 9th – the 10th cc. the group of craftsmen specialised in wood-working can be singled out among the Permian population. Professional tool-kit was gradually formed, the instruments constituting it were manufactured according to complicated technological patterns.    

 Weapons form an important integral part of the material culture in human society. Human life often depended on the effectiveness of weapons; that is why many scholars believe that while producing weaponry craftsmen applied the most advanced blacksmith’s technical accomplishments of the time.

 In the second part of the 1st millennium AD weapons played essential role in the Permian peoples’ life. This was, first, caused by growing significance of hunting (primarily fur-bearing animals) for the economy of the society, and, second, by the unstable situation in the East Ural region constantly affected by steppe tribes’ raids.

 Ethnographic data reveal great importance of blade weapons in the Udmurts’ ritual practice as well. According to the information of the scholars of the late 19th – the early 20th cc. fortune-tellers (tuno) used sabres and daggers as the attributes endowed with special magic force while performing various important rituals, such as moving to a new house,  choosing priest and so forth [4].

 Judging from the production technology, the majority of analysed objects attributed to the professional blade weapons (like broadswords, sabres, daggers) could have been manufactured by local blacksmiths. The technology used in their manufacturing does not differ from that used while shaping other artefacts of ferrous metal. It was established, that the basic pattern of producing blade weapons was hammering them of steel and carbonisation of finished objects. Technological welding was not performed in manufacturing this kind of blacksmith’s production, despite in the last quarter of the 1st millennium AD welding gradually gains great significance in producing tools. Apparently, this relates to the fact that the Permian blacksmiths in the discussed period had not mastered the procedure of welding steel working edge on long blanks (while broadswords and sabres could have reached up to 70-80 cm long). Heat-treatment was the most wide-spread method of improvement of battle qualities of weapons.

 Among blade weapons some pieces of foreign provenance can be singled out; they were shaped of deliberately produced carbonised well-hammered steel. Production centres of such weapons, most probably, should be searched in Western or Central Asia. In connection with the said it seems of interest to note that it was Iran and Central Asia that were the main commercial agents supplying quantities of silver artefacts to the Kama basin in exchange for furs. Maybe, the pieces of weaponry produced of high-class raw material not available for local craftsmen should be also attested to the imports procured to the Permian tribes in exchange for valuable furs. It seems proper to point out, that swords were mentioned in written sources as the objects of exchange relationships maintained by the Arabian merchants with the peoples of the North-East Ural.

 The metallographic investigations carried out by the author give grounds to shape much clearer an idea on the Permian weapons. The simplest technologies turned to be applied in producing arrowheads and spearheads. This is not a surprise, since arrowheads are in fact the objects to be used once. To meet the target both at hunting and in battlefield arrowhead hammered of bloomery iron suited well enough. The situation with battle (armour-piercing) arrowheads looks different: when manufacturing them more complicated technological schemes were used, such as carbonisation and welding-on steel working edge.   

 Thus, the arsenal of the early medieval Permian warriors not only included advanced kinds of weaponry, but the weapons as such were of rather high class. When introducing new types of blade weapons (broadswords, sabres) the Permian craftsmen applied in their production well familiar to them traditional technological patterns and modes.

 Starting from the second part of the 1st millennium AD iron was widely used for manufacturing not only tools and weapons, but utensils also: fire-steels, awls, wickerwork instruments, belt-buckles and so forth.

 The medieval Permian blacksmiths used various kinds of metallurgical raw material. Iron and bloomery steel were obtained in the course of bloomery process. The artefacts shaped of iron make in the analysed collection slightly over 21% of the total. Iron objects are represented in all categories of inventory, but among the low-class production (arrowheads, utensils) their ratio is higher.

 It was not after the second part of the 8th – the 9th cc. that deliberate production and usage of phosphorous iron as a special sort of raw material is registered.      

 In the second part of the 1st millennium AD steel occupied an important position in blacksmith’s production. It was basically bloomery steel obtained instantly in the course of metallurgical process. Its characteristic feature was uneven distribution of carbon. Over 30% of blacksmith’s production was hammered of solid bloomery steel. Taking into account, that considerable number of tools was supplied with steel working edges, the ratio of the artefacts made with application of steel reaches 80% of the total. 

 In the discussed epoch carbonised steel, most probably, was produced by the Permian craftsmen very seldom, if it was known at all. Carbonised steel is distinguished by its homogenous structure, even distribution of carbon and its relatively high content – not less than 0.5%C. Slag inclusions are few and, as a rule, of small size. The blacksmiths used bloomery steel of lower grade than carbonised one even for welding-on working edges on tools. Only several iron objects shaped of deliberately produced steel have been registered in the whole analysed collection. It should be underlined, that as far as the objects manufactured of carbonised steel are concerned, their major part has been identified as imports.

 The method of chemical-thermal treatment of blanks or finished artefacts was used infrequently as well. Only 13 objects turned to be shaped according to this technology.

 Steel has a substantial property, which consists in significant growth of its hardness as a result of heat-treatment. This property of ferrous metal was discovered by blacksmiths as early as the Early Iron Age. It was this discovery that caused supplanting bronze by iron in the sphere of producing tools and weapons. The Permian craftsmen widely practiced heat-treatment starting from the turn of the 8th and the 9th cc.; metastable structures have been revealed on more than 40% of the objects containing steel. The whole range of heat-treatment was known: martensitic and troostitic hardening, high and low tempering. Martensitic hardening was preferred: it was carried out on over 53% of heat-treated artefacts.  

 The performed investigations have shown that no significant changes in technical and technological appearance of the Permian blacksmith’s craft took place before the late 8th c. The simplest technologies dominated in ironworking, such as shaping objects of solid iron or bloomery steel, steel items occupying dominating position. The data obtained by the author entirely correspond to the general trend of development of blacksmith’s technology characteristic of the forest zone of Eastern Europe from the first till the third quarters of the 1st millennium AD [5].

In the second part of the 1st millennium AD blacksmith’s craft in the East Ural region was represented by the unified production stereotype characterised by domination of simple technological schemes, limited repertoire of iron artefacts and presence of specific objects in the inventory. One can state rather definitely, that in that period blacksmith’s craft had acquired the features of independent branch of craft production. Probably, it had even separated from metallurgy; anyway, application of complicated welding technologies registered since the late 8th – the 10th cc. permits to put forward this supposition. However, no differentiation and specialization in blacksmith’s craft as such existed, which is evident from the absence of standard production methods used for manufacturing one or other category of artefacts. Among local tribes circulated also the pieces produced by high-skilled professional blacksmiths from the leading production centres. These were, first of all, weapons (swords, daggers) hammered of high-class steel, or manufactured according to standard technology (sabres). Imported iron objects did not play any substantial role in development of the Permian blacksmith’s craft.

 

In the 9th c. blacksmiths of the East Ural region actively began to use welded technologies, among them the leading role played three-fold welding structure (Fig. 3). It is of importance, that mastering new technological pattern in the late 8th – the early 10th cc. developed against the background of manufacturing iron production of traditional shapes, or at least of those widely spread in the material culture of the local Finno-Ugrian population. From the mid 10th c. onward the objects of East European (medieval Russian) types spread in the Kama basin. Blacksmith’s craft of the Permian peoples entered its new stage.       

The Permian ironworking in the 10th – the 15th cc. followed the tendencies shaped out in the 9th – the early 10th cc. Considerable growth is registered in this period, it concerns both the total number of blacksmith’s production and the repertoire of categories of iron artefacts. Essential changes occurred in the types of iron and steel tools; generally they corresponded to the typology of East European production dating from the late 9th – the 15th cc. Three-fold welding technological scheme became basic one used in production of knives. At the same time other welded constructions (such as different variants of welding-on) practically fell out of use. It seems certain, that blacksmith’s technique practiced by the medieval Permians represented an integral part of northern variant of East European metalworking, which was distinguished by manufacturing high-class objects with application of welding structures aimed to attach steel working edge to iron core.

The results of archaeometallographic investigations convincingly evidence the contacts of the Permian tribes with their western neighbours traced on the archaeological materials and maintained in the sphere of production as well. Rather early penetration of the knives shaped in three-fold welding technology to the East Uralian sites should be regarded as a spectacular evidence of such relationships. Cultural and historical connections of the medieval Permian Finns maintained in blacksmith’s craft were developed mainly in western direction, to the territories inhabited by the mixed Slavic-Finnish-Scandinavian population. These relationships took the shape of borrowing the most advanced tool shapes and technologies. The contacts with the southern neighbours, first of all, the Volga Bulgars in blacksmith’s craft are not evident and eloquent, despite that economic contacts with the Turkic world constantly grew even from the earliest moment when the Turkic tribes appeared in the Volga-Ural region.     

The turn of the 9th and the 10th cc. was marked by the greatest shift in the Permian ironworking. In the first part of the 2nd millennium its technical and technological system corresponded to the North Russian blacksmith’s traditions. At the same time, certain features of stagnation manifested themselves, generally characteristic of the Finnish craft production. In blacksmith’s craft they took the shape of long-term functioning of technological stereotypes. Starting from the early 2nd millennium such stereotype practiced by the Permian blacksmiths became shaping artefacts according to three-strip scheme. No substantial changes can be seen in the Permian blacksmith’s craft until the end of the Middle Ages.  

In the 16th – the 18th cc. the Permian blacksmiths continued to follow the production tradition formed in the 9th – the 15th cc. Knives with welded-on cutting edges can be interpreted as innovation. At the present level of our knowledge of the Permian ironworking of the High Middle Ages it is impossible to determine whether local craftsmen had mastered this technology or such knives were manufactured in Russian towns of the Vyatka region. Judging from the archaeometallographic data presented in this book, the medieval Permian blacksmith’s craft should be characterised as traditional, marked by long-term preservation of technical stereotypes. Numerous bans placed by central administration on local iron foundries and ironworking craft were of little effect. Decline of blacksmith’s craft is evidenced by ethnographic data also: it is of interest that the ethnographers of the 19th – the 20th cc. wrote about the Udmurts as skilled joiners, woodcutters, weavers, specialists in wickerwork, bur never blacksmiths. The decline, most probably, occurred in the second part of the 18th c. and was closely related with establishment of iron foundries and ironworking factories. On the one hand, the enterprises required much labour force and, on the other hand, started mass output of industrial production. Handmade goods had no chance to compete with it.         

REFERENCES

1)      L.S. Rozanova, N.N. Terekhova, Chteniya, posvashchenye 100-letiyu deyatelnosti V.A. Gorodtsova v Gosudarstvennom Istoricheskom muzee, II, Moscow (2003), p. 45.

2)      L.S. Rozanova, N.N. Terekhova, Mezhdunarodnoe (XVI Uralskoe) arkheologicheskoe soveshchanie, Perm’ (2003), p. 125.

3)      N.N. Terekhova, L.S. Rozanova, V.I. Zavyalov and M.M. Tolmacheva, Essays on History of Ancient Ironworking in Eastern Europe. Metallurgia, Moscow (1997),  p. 184.

4)      N.I. Shutova, Drevnie remeslenniki Priuralya, Izhevsk (2001), p. 124.

5)      N.N. Terekhova, L.S. Rozanova, V.I. Zavyalov and M.M. Tolmacheva, Essays on History of Ancient Ironworking in Eastern Europe. Metallurgia, Moscow (1997),  p. 153.