The Vikings did not make much pottery but used natural materials such as wood (for plates) and bone and horn (for cups). Their cooking pots and similar were made from soapstone.
Soapstone, as its name suggests, is soft and easy to work when fresh, but it hardens up when placed in a fire, so it was ideal for making cooking pots and, later, baking plates. Smaller objects such as loom and fishing weights, lamps and spindle whorls were also made from soapstone.
To quarry the stone, the Vikings cut circular and rectangular blocks by chiselling the required shape into the rock on the hillside. They worked the hillside in steps so there was always one side that was already exposed, often by previous workings.
Once they had chiselled the outline down to the required depth, they drove wedges under the base and so prised the block off. (Modern-day experiments with this method have shown it to take around one hour - with practise.) Sometimes the blocks broke, particularly along lines of oxidisation. The Vikings often tried to retrieve the situation by reshaping the block into something smaller (perhaps a lamp or loom weight).
The basic shape of the item, both inside and out, was made on the hillside. This was presumably so the blocks were lighter to carry and also so that breakages happened before the effort had been put into transporting them.
Bowls and bake plates were then finished, and smaller objects created, away from the quarries. Once the object was made, the surface could be polished with pumice to get a good finish and make it look pretty.
Bone and antler are durable materials that were readily available in the Viking period, in both rural and more developed areas, not least as waste from food production.
Craftsmen used different animal and skeleton parts to make a range of practical and often beautiful objects. Needles were made from both bone and antler, and needle cases, for example, were made from birds’ bones as they are naturally hollow. Flutes could be made from a sheep’s front leg.
Besides being practical, bone and antler are soft enough when fresh to allow the craftsman to decorate the object by drilling, cutting, filing and scraping.
Most pottery made during the Viking age was simple and limited to vessels used for cooking, eating and storage. Domestic pottery was most often made locally but there is evidence of finer products being exported from the Rhineland to the Nordic countries.
The pottery was made from tempered clay by building up layers which were then shaped and smoothed (coiling). Later in the Viking age, craftsmen started using turning tables or kick wheels.
To fire the pottery it was simply put in a pit with a fire on top rather than an elaborate kiln. The lack of oxygen in the pit during this process made the pottery black or greyish in colour.