I was fascinated when I read about the dirt balls found in the Galloway Hoard in Archaeology Magazine. I’m still searching for information on them, but there were apparently dirt balls in Greenland, Scotland and Denmark, as well as elsewhere in the Viking world. The dates are ambiguous, but they are from the Christian era.
A supposition—that seems very logical to me—is that the dirt balls were souvenirs. Not quite pilgrims’ medallions, but the idea is close. They show you—and others—that You Were There. They were scooped up and rolled into balls from holy sites and then rolled against reliquaries, picking up gold dust from the reliquary. Were they produced in an industry, or did pilgrims o out and scoop them up themselves? For that matter, I am uncertain of how frequently they were made during the time, but there are suppositions that they dried and crumbled away. Those found in the Galloway Hoard lasted because they had ben put into air-tight containers that kept them safe.
Doing research into making some, Roland Williamson repeated something that I had already considered: Make them out of clay to insure their longevity. I ended up getting some air-dryable clay. The white seemed a little too pristine and brilliant white. I wondered if I could assume an adequate color by dyeing it with tea. I still do not know. I may experiment later, but this time I bought some terra cota-colored clay. I liked the hue it was, even if it was a lot darker than the relic! Ah well, reenactment is always very absolutely thenty…
I ordered ten ounces of dirt containing gold dust. Uncertain how much gold dust. Some buyers said it wasn’t filled with enough gold since they seemed to expect to retire to Mara-Lago on gold contained. I think the seller just went and scooped up a shovelfuls of dirt from an era where gold was found. They even included a free prospecting pan! 🙂 It was, I decided, good enough for my purposes. (yes, I did do Walter Huston’s prospector dance when it arrived 🙂 )
I rolled the clay into balls. Not spherical or smooth because I tried to mimics the Galloway balls. Dome cracks and fissures. Then I spread out some of the dirt that allegedly—or perhaps hopefully—contained gold. The dust covered the balls, and they actually sparkled in the sun, sine they seemed to have flecks of gold—or pyrite at least.
Then, wanting to see what drying would do to it, I set the dirt balls for a few days, an they dried into a very satisfying hardness.
The results were great!
In period, were the dirt balls carried around like a crucifix? Were they kept in a single, stationery place like replicas? How were they kept safe? The answers may pop up, but I will not be waiting for hat information.
When I feel safe to do shows again, I plan to trot out a dirt ball. The dust can easily be rubbed off, so MoPs probably will not be allowed to handle them. But for that matter, the dust might be rubbed off in transit and storage, so I am using boxes and packing foam to keep them safe!
I have no idea what the reaction will be. I hope that MoPs are fascinated by them and have never herd of them before. Aren’t those the main reasons we do re-enacting to start with?