Mästermyr and Oseberg

This section deals with the locks on two Viking-Era wooden storage chests. The first was found in Mästermyr on the Swedish island of Gotland, the second was found in a Viking ship in Oseberg, Norway.

The chest from Mästermyr

In 1936, a farmer plowing his field on the island of Gotland discovered a whole set of Viking-Era tools, most of them stored in an oak chest. This turned out to be the largest find of its type in all of Europe. Along with the tools were a number of locks and keys.

The site of the find, Mästermyr, was once the bed of one of Gotland’s largest marshy lakes, now farmland, about 50 km south of Visby. A thousand years ago, this was a sailing route across the lake.

In the early 19th century, the Swedish government hired a British expert named George Steffens to evaluate the agricultural value of the moors of Gotland. His report recommended cultivation, which the farmers who owned the wetlands took to heart. With state subsidies, they diked out the moors in the early 20th century.

We will probably never know who owned the toolbox, but it probably belonged to one or more craftspeople with a wide range of skills. The chest was wrapped with an iron chain and contained the tools of many professions – blacksmith, coppersmith, cooper, locksmith, carpenter and builder.

We do not know how the toolbox ended up in the lakebed; perhaps from a capsized boat or sledge? Or perhaps it was a sacrifice?

Rather than discussing the circumstances of the archaeological find, this chapter will deal with the locks and keys found in the toolbox, their age and their relationship to other locks and keys.

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