Plaque from a late 9th- or early 10th-century burial at Scar, Sanday in the Orkney Islands, Scotland.
The plaque, carved from one piece of whalebone into the shape of two dragons facing each other, was found in a Viking burial, which was partly uncovered by coastal erosion on the coast near the farm of Scar, and was excavated in 1991. This was a boat burial; the boat was built in Norway and transported to Orkney on a larger boat. At the centre, lay the remains of a woman in her seventies with the whalebone plaque and other grave goods including brooches, spindle whorls, an iron sickle, and shears. Similar plaques have been found in other rich women's graves, mostly in northern Norway. Lying next to the woman were the remains of a child of about ten years of age. At the western end of the boat lay the skeleton of a man in his thirties, with a sword, arrows, a bone and antler comb, and whalebone gaming pieces.
The function of these whalebone plaques is uncertain. One possibility is that they were used like ironing boards for smoothing folds and seams in linen clothing, with the aid of a smoother, rounded on the top with a flat base. Another opinion is that plaques and smoothers were used in the manufacture of textiles. Or they could have been serving platters for food at high-status feasts. They may have also had a symbolic function. Whalebone was a prized material, obtained through risky hunting operations or if whales became stranded or washed ashore.