Michael Neiss


Transformations in Viking Age Animal Art
My profound interest in crafts has led me into an artefact-oriented line of research, including 3D laser scanning, database development and analytical drawing. Preliminary results are published continuously, and I participate in various research projects.
In line with my general interests, my doctoral thesis deals with Viking Age women's brooches, with a focus on production patterns and typology, as well as the cognitive and religious meaning of the ornament covering these brooches: Viking Age pictures seldom appear as self-sufficient monuments. More often, they survive as Animal Art on utility goods. The role of the goldsmith gives important clues towards the conditions of ornamental production, as well as the meaning of Animal Art. Did some motifs work as 'hieroglyphs' in the context of Viking Age orality, or do they represent mere nonsense? Generally, upper class imagery appears linked with skaldic poetry on various levels: Like skalds, smiths are in need of a patron in order to create a masterpiece. Within both arts, the hallmark of a true proficient is the ability to fit several motifs (= skaldic metaphors /puzzle pictures) into a narrow frame (= poetic metre /artefact structure) without breaking it. Just like the skald, the caster borrows motifs from somewhere else in order to unite them in a new composition. Just like the skald’s audience, the beholders of a brooch must sharpen their senses to solve the riddles. The intellectual challenge lays in puzzling together figures of increasing complexity.
All said, it seems tempting to associate the motifs in upper class brooches with the motifs in skaldic verse. My results open for the possibility that some brooches were integrated in the process of Viking Age ekphrasis ‒ i.e. multimodal poems that guided the audience through the intricate brooch décor. (On theory & method)

Awardee of The Antiquarian Society of Sweden EST. 1869:
The Mandelgren Medal of 2017 (cf Uppsala Nya Tidning)
Elected member of The International Saxon Symposion

VT 2017: Material culture research cluster coordinator at the Institute of Archaeology and Ancient History


3D laser scanning
The 'Allah' finger ring from Viking Age Birka
Emporia crafts & urban origins in early medieval Europe
Experimental archaeology
Metal casting in medieval Ribe
Scandinavian Animal Art in the Salme boat graves
A lost world? – Religious identity and practice in the Lake Mälaren region during the introduction of Christianity
Virtual casting of Viking Age brooches


Frands Herschend, Ingmar Jansson, Ulrica Söderlind

Old homepage

Viking Age brooch from Vestervang/Denmark, featuring Animal Art and puzzle pictures