Finds from the Latrine: A Silvered Salve Box from Oslo

Anyone who has camped (or gone to Pennsic) knows the horrors of dropping things into the latrine.  Once it falls in, that’s it.  Say “goodbye”!

I am so delighted about this wooden box of salve from Medieval Oslo; It is one little treasure that has been returned to us thanks to the archaeologists working on the Follo Train Line excavations.

 Salve box with silver foil decoration  from Follo Train Line Excivations, Oslo, Norway Drawing by author, detail of Photograph by Sara Langvik Berge, NIKU in  Alle Tiders  2016, page 6. Click through for another view from niku_archaeology.

Salve box with silver foil decoration
from Follo Train Line Excivations, Oslo, Norway
Drawing by author, detail of Photograph by Sara Langvik Berge, NIKU
in Alle Tiders 2016, page 6. Click through for another view from niku_archaeology.

A shiny little box of salve

First, let me share a few details about the find.  A beautiful flat wooden box still shows traces of leaf silver on the lid and remains of salve within.  The box was still tightly closed when it was excavated, a surprising survivor from the first part of the 14th century.  Chemical analysis revealed the composition of the salve: equal parts pine resin and tallow from some small domesticated animal.  (Helstad and Sture).  Follow the information under “Sources/Links” below for their article to see two views of this box.  To my eye, it appears to be relatively small (about the size of a compact powder case?), and looks like it might have been turned on a lathe.  Another detailed photo can be seen on the NIKU Instagram.

I’d also like to encourage anyone on FaceBook to follow the NIKU page (Norwegian language) for many interesting articles and updates on historical and cultural heritage projects.

More to come

The Follo Rail Line excavations are scheduled to conclude in 2018.  NIKU has shared tidbits, but now the real work continues with conservation and publication.  I can’t wait to read more about this little box of salve, and I’m absolutely sure I’ll try my hand at making some.  Antiseptic salve is such a sweet, relatable find that opens a small window into 14th century life in Medieval Norway.  Oh, and loosing stuff in the latrine? Not nearly so sweet, yet all the more relatable!

Sources/Links:

  • Helstad, Magnus and Maria Sture.  “Fra dypet av en gammel utedo” in Alle Tiders: Riksantikvarens Magasin, 2016.   pp 5-6. accessed November 20, 2018 (select “Alle Tiders 2016” on https://www.riksantikvaren.no/Veiledning/Publikasjonar/Trykte-publikasjoner)

  • NIKU (Norsk institutt for kulturminneforsking/Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research) Instigram (niku_archaeology), foto posted 01. September, 2016 (https://www.instagram.com/p/BJzvU5PA8G6/)

  • NIKU’s page on FaceBook (https://www.facebook.com/pg/NIKUnorway/posts/)