Some Viking-Age Whetstones from South Main Street, Wexford.

Whetstones 3

These whetstones, or sharpening stones, are some of my favourite artefacts recovered from any of our excavations in Wexford town. They form part of a collection of stones excavated from an archaeological site at South Main Street, which was Hiberno-Norse (Viking) in origin. Items such as these really give us a glimpse of the everyday lives of the people who inhabited the town, a tangible reminder of lives lived in in the distant past right beneath our streets.

The photograph below shows four of the whetstones recovered from the site. Whetstones were indispensable items for anyone using the tools of the period, such as axes, knives and other blades. Indeed many whetstones are pendant stones, perforated at one end and designed to be suspended either on a waist-belt or around the neck. The smallest whetstone in the photograph is one such pendant stone which measures approximately 8cm in length. All of the stones show visible signs of use-wear such as vertical striations and grooves. The fact that whetstones were considered such important personal items is reflected in the fact that they are sometimes found in Viking burials such as that at Woodstown, Co. Waterford, where a burial was accompanied by a sword, shield, spearhead, knife and perforated whetstone (Harrison, 2014, 91).

Whetstones 2

The whetstones shown were recovered from one of only two Viking-Age sites excavated to date within Wexford town. Our site was at 84-86 South Main Street, where Wexford Insurances is presently situated. The other site was 50m to the south at the corner of South Main Street and Bride Street, where Colman Doyle’s is today. That site was excavated by Edward Bourke in the 1980’s and I’m sure many local Wexford people will remember the excavation.

The photograph below shows our site under excavation. There was a deep build-up of archaeological stratigraphy, or layers, reflecting a successive number of occupation deposits built up over time. The remains of a structure was excavated, defined by a row of posts. Other features included hearths, pits and stakeholes.

Site during excavation
Site during excavation

At the Bride Street excavation a deep build-up of stratigraphic deposits revealed the remains of successive houses dating from the late Viking to the medieval periods. I will do a more detailed blog post on both of these excavations in the near future. In the meantime I hope you like the whetstones as much as I do.

Harrison, S.H. 2014. ‘Discussion of the Viking Burial’ in Russell, I., Hurley, M.F., & Eogan, J. (eds) 2014 Woodstown, A Viking-Age Settlement in Co. Waterford. Four Courts Press, Dublin.