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Medieval North European Spindles and Whorls
Introduction This document discusses spindle whorls and shafts found throughout the areas Scandinavians lived in during the Middle Ages (800-1500 CE). Many hundreds of spindle whorls survive from the Scandinavian Middle Ages. In the Viking Age they were frequently buried with women, and throughout the period many were lost or discarded at settlement sites, only to be dug up centuries later.
Materials The surviving whorls are made of many different materials: amber, antler (elk), bone (cattle, pig), clay, coral, glass, metal (iron, lead, lead alloy), and wood (oak). Many types of local stone were also used, such as chalk, limestone, mudstone, sandstone, schist, siltstone, slate, and soapstone. In Norway and Iceland, where soapstone can be quarried, and in the areas such as Scotland, Greenland, and Newfoundland that were influenced by Norway and Iceland, more soapstone whorls survive than whorls of any other material. Often soapstone whorls were made from reused fragments of cooking vessels.