24 February 2018

Thawing Ice Reveals Norwegian Mountains Littered with Iron and Bronze Age Artifacts

An article in Ancient Origins notifies us of the many Viking and Bronze Age artifacts unearthed, or un-iced perhaps, in Norway as a result of the melting of the glaciers in the country. Imagine a 1400-year old arrow that looks to be in good enough shape to shoot again. (Ed.)



A group of researchers have reportedly discovered artifacts of wood, textile, hide and other organic material on Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland, which include Norway's highest mountains at 8,690 feet.

Rich Collection of Artifacts Uncovered in Norwegian Mountains

A paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science reports that a group of researchers directed by James Barrett of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, has radiocarbon dated 153 new finds, including arrows, tools, skis, rags, horse gear and “scaring sticks” (poles used in the hunting of reindeer).

According to Cosmos magazine , the objects were all unearthed from melting ice patches in the region of Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland in Norway. According to the experts, the dates shed new light on the occupation of the region, with the researchers concluding that the population and hunting practices in the area increased and decreased drastically in combination with the climate changes there. During periods of extreme cold for example, signs of human presence decrease, while they appear to return again in the warmer periods.

Mountains of Oppland, Norway. Archaeologist with an arrow aged around 1400 years. (Image: Julian Martinsen, Secrets of the Ice Oppland County Council)
Artifacts Closely Associated with Reindeer Hunting

As the archaeologists report , the majority of the artifacts have something to do with reindeer hunting, a fact that explains the noticeable abnormality in the overall trend of increased human presence during warmer periods. One of the busiest times in Oppland occurs simultaneously with one of the coldest – the Late Antique Little Ice Age that lasted from 536 to 660 AD.

“This was a time of cooling. Harvests may have failed and populations may have dropped. Remarkably, though, the finds from the ice may have continued through this period, perhaps suggesting that the importance of mountain hunting, mainly for reindeer, increased to supplement failing agricultural harvests in times of low temperatures,” Lars Pilø, one of the key authors, writes in the Secrets of the Ice report.

As the number of finds reveal, between the eighth and tenth centuries AD was another busy period, just before the period known as the Viking Age. According to the report, this could be the result of an increase in the number of towns that occurred throughout Europe during this period. In the Norwegian context, this expansion would have created a growing market for reindeer products, and thus more hunting activity as Cosmos magazine reports .

An arrow from 800 AD found on the ground, partly covered by snow. (Image: Espen Finstad, Secrets of the Ice , Oppland County Council)
 The Viking Age

The Viking Age is the period from the late eighth century to the mid-11th century in European history, especially Northern European and Scandinavian history, following the Germanic Iron Age. It is the period of history when Scandinavian Norsemen explored Europe by its seas and rivers for trade, raids, colonization, and conquest. In this period, the Norsemen settled in Norse Greenland, Newfoundland, and present-day Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and territories of the then Byzantine Empire.

Viking travelers and colonists were seen at many points in history as brutal raiders. Many historical documents suggest that their invasion of other countries was retaliation in response to the encroachment upon tribal lands by Christian missionaries, and perhaps by the Saxon Wars prosecuted by Charlemagne and his kin to the south, or were motivated by overpopulation, trade inequities, and the lack of viable farmland in their homeland. Information about the Viking Age is drawn largely from what was written about the Vikings by their enemies, and primary sources of archaeology, supplied with secondary sources such as the Icelandic Sagas.

Close-up of a walking stick with a runic inscription, radiocarbon-dated to the 11th century AD. Found in a glaciated mountain pass. (Image: Vegard Vike, Museum of Cultural History)
 Artifact Finds Decrease from the Start of the Medieval Period

Back to the recent discovery, and co-author of the study and co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council, Lars Pilø, notices that artifact finds drop off significantly from the eleventh century, thus the start of the Medieval period, suggesting that this reflects a change of strategy in hunting practice. “At this time, bow-and-arrow hunting for reindeer was replaced with mass-harvesting techniques including funnel-shaped and pitfall trapping systems,” he says. And adds, “This type of intensive hunting probably reduced the number of wild reindeer.”

Furthermore, the decrease of hunting activity continued, reaching a low point about three centuries later that had only partly to do with low reindeer numbers. “Once the plague arrived in the mid-fourteenth century, trade and markets in the north also suffered,” another co-author of the study named Brit Solli in the study press release , “With fewer markets and fewer reindeer, the activity in the high mountains decreased substantially. This downturn could also have been influenced by declining climatic conditions during the Little Ice Age,” he concludes.

13 February 2018

The Viking Great Army

You will enjoy this excellent article from Archaeology Magazine, on the Viking dig at Torksey, Yorkshire County, UK, what it all means, and some of what has been uncovered. (Ed.)

A tale of conflict and adaptation played out in northern England

Monday, February 12, 2018

(Bymuseum, Oslo, Norway/Index/Bridgeman Images)
Tens of thousands of Vikings flowed into northern England beginning in the late 9th century, first as an invading army and then as a wave of migrants. A 10th-century illustration depicts a Viking force disembarking in England.
At first glance, the historic county of Yorkshire in northern England seems as English as can be. It gives its name to Yorkshire pudding, a staple of English cuisine dating back to the eighteenth century. Earlier still, it was home to the royal House of York, whose line included King Richard III. But a closer look reveals a more complicated history. Take Ormesby: Today a suburb of Middlesbrough, its name derives from the Old Norse for “Ormr’s farm.” Or the many streets in the city of York that end in “gate,” from the Old Norse gata, meaning “road” or “way.” Even the city’s name comes from the Old Norse Jorvik.
The source of these Scandinavian-influenced place names and the many more that can be found to this day in northern England dates back more than a thousand years. Starting in the late ninth century, tens of thousands of Vikings arrived in Anglo-Saxon England, first as part of an invading force known as the Viking Great Army, and later as part of a massive wave of settlers. Examining the landscape, history, and archaeology of the region tells us much about what happens when cultures clash but ultimately come to coexist. And it helps explain Anglo-Saxon and Viking interactions.

The Viking Great Army’s arrival in 865 was recounted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: “A great heathen force came into English land, and they took winter-quarters in East Anglia; there they were horsed, and they made peace.” According to the Chronicle, the Vikings spent years campaigning through the territory of the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms—East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex. They proved to be masters at keeping the Anglo-Saxons off balance, making peace with a kingdom one year, only to strike a mortal blow the next. By 880, all the kingdoms had fallen to the Vikings except Wessex, with which they made peace. “The Vikings were very quick and they got quite far inland on their boats,” says Jane Kershaw of the University of Oxford. “They had an element of surprise that the Anglo-Saxons weren’t quite able to anticipate and respond to.”

Viking raiders had been targeting wealthy enclaves on England’s coasts with summertime hit-and-run raids since at least 793, when they launched the infamous, terrifying attack on a monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast of northeast England. Attacks on other monasteries and settlements on England’s east and west coasts followed. Beginning in 850, Viking forces at times spent the winter at coastal sites, allowing them to start their raids earlier in the year. With the arrival of the Viking Great Army, at last, they were able to penetrate deep into England, making their way along rivers and ancient Roman roads, setting up overwintering camps, and wreaking havoc on the Anglo-Saxons. “It seems that the Vikings are after something a little bit different at this stage,” says Kershaw. “They’re still after portable wealth, but they start to have an eye toward acquiring land as well. They start to see England as somewhere they might be able to settle and reestablish themselves as lords with their own families.”

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the Viking Great Army’s exploits in outsized terms. In a single day’s battle against Wessex, for example, it reports a death toll in the thousands. “The implication is that it’s larger than any previous army seen in England,” says Dawn Hadley of the University of Sheffield. But until recently, there had been little archaeological evidence of its presence. Only one overwintering camp mentioned in the Chronicle had ever been discovered, at Repton, the capital of Mercia, in present-day Derbyshire, where the army spent the winter of 873–874. Excavations conducted there between 1974 and 1993 by Martin Biddle and his late wife, Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle, had revealed a small, heavily defended enclosure covering just an acre or two. Although it was unclear whether the camp extended beyond this fortified area, some experts took these findings to suggest that the Great Army was not actually so great after all, numbering at most in the hundreds—and that the Chronicle’s authors had exaggerated its size to make it appear more fearsome.

Now, however, an archaeological project at another location, Torksey, in Lincolnshire, where the army camped from 872 to 873, has established that it was indeed very large—it was in fact far more than a mere army. According to Hadley, codirector of the Torksey research project along with Julian Richards of the University of York, “We are getting the sense that the force that was at Torksey and that is referred to as an army in the Chronicle actually comprised not just warriors, but people engaged in trade and manufacture, and women and children as well.”

(© The Viking Torksey Research Project)
The site near Torksey where the Viking Great Army spent the winter of 872–873 is surveyed by a member of the archaeological team. The camp covered parts of six present-day agricultural fields.
Evidence of the camp at Torksey has been unearthed, for the most part, by avocational metal detectorists. Long active in the United Kingdom, they are strongly encouraged to notify scholars of their finds. When Hadley and Richards learned that a group of detectorists in the Torksey area had discovered ingots, weights, and a concentration of ninth-century coins, including a number of Arabic silver dirhams, all of which appeared to be associated with the Viking Great Army camp, they set out to carefully document the evidence. “We got the detectorists to record their finds more systematically,” says Richards. “We gave them portable global positioning devices to log the coordinates of each discovery so we could plot maps of where everything was coming from.”

The dimensions of the camp that emerged from mapping these finds covered a vast expanse—some 136 acres stretching over six present-day agricultural fields near the east bank of the River Trent north of the modern village of Torksey. “The scale of activity over all those fields suggests a large force, measuring at least in the thousands, with quite a degree of organization,” says Richards. The site is generally dry today as a result of nineteenth-century drainage projects, but the researchers determined that in the ninth century it was a natural island bordered by the River Trent on the west and marshland on the other three sides, which helps explain why the Vikings camped there.

By the time the Viking Great Army overwintered at Torksey, it had been in England for seven years and had already conquered both East Anglia and Northumbria. Archaeologists knew that it could be expected to have accumulated a great deal of treasure, and, in fact, more than 120 Arabic silver dirhams have been unearthed. As is characteristic of the Vikings, the coins had been cut up into pieces to be traded for the value of their metal. These coins are a strong sign of the presence of Vikings, who are known to have traded slaves for them in Eastern Europe. They are only rarely found in typical Anglo-Saxon contexts. “Torksey has the largest concentration of dirhams from any site in Britain or Ireland,” says Hadley. “So that jumps out.” In addition, at least 60 pieces of hacksilver, which was chopped up for use in trade, along with a dozen pieces of rare hackgold, have been found. “If they lost that much material,” asks Richards, “how much silver and gold must there have been in circulation?”

(© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)
Metal gaming pieces such as this one (top, far right) suggest how Viking army members spent leisure time at Torksey.
Evidence of tremendous wealth has also been uncovered at the site, including (clockwise from above right) pieces of
hackgold, hacksilver, a gold Carolingian coin, and a silver Arabic dirham.
The Vikings at the camp, according to Hadley and Richards, may well have engaged in trade of a sort with local Anglo-Saxons. Scandinavians at the time generally used raw metal for trade rather than coins. Several hundred weights of the kind they are known to have used to facilitate exchange have been found. However, although the Vikings had negotiated a peace with the Mercians before setting up camp, it is unclear, according to Kershaw, how cordial relations would have been with those living nearby. “I don’t see what Viking camps would have had to offer locals,” she says. “I see them as being quite parasitic on the local landscape. They would have had to acquire a lot of provisions to sustain a large army, but I don’t think they would have done that peacefully. There might have been forced, coercive trade, but I don’t think these are places where you would walk up and buy a couple of pots. The trade that was going on was probably more among the army members themselves.”

© The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)Several hundred weights found at the Torksey site would have been used by the Viking army during the course of trade, either among themselves or with those living nearby.
The camp at Torksey would have been self-sustaining in some respects. “It’s almost like a town on the move,” says Hadley. Life within its confines is becoming clearer for researchers. Members of the army appear to have had leisure time on their hands, as shown by the number of lead gaming pieces that have been found at the site. The presence of metalworkers is indicated by collections of scrap copper and iron, apparently gathered to be melted down. Women seem to have been part of the camp as well, as suggested by the discovery of spindle whorls and other tools used to work textiles. It is unclear, though, whether these were Scandinavian women who had come along with the army as part of families, or captives taken as spoils of war. Added to all this are hints of an aspiring kingdom attempting to establish itself. Three iron plowshares discovered together may have been headed for the scrap heap. But, according to Richards, “The more interesting possibility is that they were already thinking about seizing agricultural estates and acquired the plowshares with that aim in mind.”

The peace the Vikings had made with the Mercians in Torksey was soon broken. The next year, 873, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Vikings charged into the kingdom’s capital, Repton, some 60 miles southwest along the Trent. There, they sacked a monastery, sent the king, Burghred, fleeing to Paris, and replaced him with a figurehead named Ceolwulf. This sort of bait and switch was typical of how the Vikings managed to get the better of the Anglo-Saxons. “The Anglo-Saxons did their standard thing of making an oath, exchanging hostages, and paying the Vikings some money, and then they expected the Vikings to go away,” says Kershaw. “But the Vikings don’t play by the same rules. They take the money, but they come back the next year. They swear an oath, but they don’t keep it. The Anglo-Saxons don’t quite know how to negotiate with someone who doesn’t respect their laws of peacemaking.”

The early Biddle excavations at the Repton overwintering camp of 873–874 were able to illustrate how the Vikings behaved in victory. After defeating the Mercians, the Vikings ran roughshod over some of their most sacred territory. They built a heavily fortified D-shaped enclosure with St. Wystan’s church to the south serving as a gatehouse and possibly an eating hall. A large defensive ditch was constructed, cutting through Mercian cemeteries to the east and west before turning north to meet the River Trent. Archaeologists also discovered what are believed to have been at least 10 carved Anglo-Saxon stone crosses smashed into small pieces. Says Biddle, who is now an emeritus professor at the University of Oxford, “They broke the place up.”

(Courtesy Martin Biddle)
A Viking warrior unearthed at the site in Repton where the Great Army camped over the winter of 873–874 was found to have received severe injuries to the head and left thigh.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle offers no insights into the nature of the battle for Repton, but evidence shows it was likely a bloody one. Next to a crypt where members of the Mercian royal family were buried, the excavation unearthed a Viking warrior who had suffered grievous injuries and had been laid to rest alongside an iron sword, with a silver Thor’s hammer around his neck. “He died a very violent death indeed,” says Biddle, reflecting back on the discovery. “He looks as though someone stabbed him more or less in the eyes. But the real great wound, which we found immediately upon excavation, was a huge cut into the inner side of his left femur. It could only have been made by someone standing above him, perhaps with a heavy sword or an ax.” A boar’s tusk had been placed between the warrior’s thighs, possibly to replace genitalia damaged or severed in his final battle.

Many more Vikings appear to have been buried in a charnel mound outside the fortified enclosure, in what was once an Anglo-Saxon mausoleum. There, Biddle discovered the disarticulated remains of at least 264 people. The remains belonged overwhelmingly to adult males. Found among them were an iron ax, two fighting knives, and five silver pennies dating to 872–874. As part of a new archaeological examination of the site, radiocarbon dating and analysis of the bones have demonstrated that they date to the time when the army overwintered at Repton and that they had been subjected to extensive violence and trauma. Cat Jarman of the University of Bristol, codirector of the current project at Repton, suggests that many of those whose bones were found in the deposit were Viking warriors killed in battle elsewhere and then buried during the winter. “We don’t actually know what happened to the thousands of people who died in battles that we read about in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” she says. “But there are a lot of examples from across the Viking world of people moving bones, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Viking Great Army took bones from battle sites and put them in this context.”

(Courtesy Mark Horton)
In this aerial view of Repton, one can see St. Wystan’s church (above right), which the Vikings put to use as a gatehouse at the edge of a fortified enclosure, and part of a recent excavation (center) that established the Viking camp was larger than had been thought.

It also appears that the overwintering camp at Repton extended beyond the heavily fortified enclosure. Excavations near the charnel mound have turned up Viking weapons—an arrowhead, a fragment of an ax—as well as lead gaming pieces and evidence of metalworking. Several clinker nails typically used in ship construction have also been found. “We know that they moved up and down the rivers, and their ships would have needed frequent repairs,” says Jarman. “They were probably getting ready for the next season’s attack.”

(Courtesy Anne Leaver (top), Courtesy Cat Jarman (above))
The recent discovery of an arrowhead (top) and ship nail (above) provides further evidence of the Viking army’s presence in Repton.

(Courtesy Mark Horton)
In this aerial view of Repton, one can see St. Wystan’s church (above right), which the Vikings put to use as a gatehouse at the edge of a fortified enclosure, and part of a recent excavation (center) that established the Viking camp was larger than had been thought.

After overwintering at Repton from 873 to 874, the Viking Great Army split in two. One part, under the leadership of Guthrum, headed south and was ultimately defeated in 878 by Wessex and its king, Alfred the Great. To make peace, Guthrum was baptized along with 30 of his warriors, and ended up reigning as an Anglo-Saxon-style king over a swath of territory allocated to him by Alfred. The other part of the army headed north and went on to “share out the land,” as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it, in Northumbria in 876, Mercia in 877, and East Anglia in 880. This seems to suggest that the Vikings took over vast stretches of England, but how did it work exactly? “We don’t really know,” says Kershaw. “The consensus is that they do take over the Anglo-Saxon estates, but I think you probably have Anglo-Saxon communities left in place alongside the new Scandinavian ones.”

(Courtesy Jane Kershaw) 
Scandinavian-style jewelry discovered in East Anglia, such as a disc brooch (top) and a gilt silver pendant (above), both shown front and back, suggest Viking women migrated to England in the late 9th to early 10th centuries.
The area of northern and eastern England inhabited by the Vikings ultimately came to be known as the Danelaw, after the Anglo-Saxons’ belief that most of the invaders had come from Denmark. New evidence suggests that once the army members settled there, large numbers of Viking women came over to join them. Kershaw has analyzed metal-detected finds from rural parts of the Danelaw and identified 125 women’s brooches of types that have turned up nowhere else in England, but have been found in Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark, and date to the Viking Age. “It’s clear that these items are coming in on the clothing of women arriving from southern Scandinavia to settle in rural England,” she says. “So I think there is a second wave of migration following the settlement of the Danelaw that includes women and children.” The discovery of brooches that mix Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian elements indicates that the two communities intermingled to a great degree. “These styles are seen as somehow fashionable by the locals,” says Kershaw. “There is a desire to emulate these styles, which suggests that Scandinavians are either in political control or they’re seen as exotic.”

The Anglo-Saxons, united under the House of Wessex, regained rule of the Danelaw by the mid-tenth century, but the Scandinavian influence endured. In a 1086 survey of England called the Domesday Book, nearly half the place names in Yorkshire are Scandinavian. “It’s not just towns and villages that have these names,” says Kershaw. “It’s really small features of the rural landscape, such as rivers, hedgerows, and little parks.” More than a thousand years after the Vikings first arrived, and despite their eventual defeat, their influence remains etched into the fabric of England to this day.

Daniel Weiss is senior editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.

03 February 2018

Norwegian Glacial Melt Reveals Artifact Trove

Thank God, that halfwit, Al Gore, the opportunist extraordinaire, is causing the ice to melt worldwide, otherwise we wouldn't know about all this great stuff. (Ed.)


A Bronze Age shoe, radiocarbon-dated to about 1200 B.C. (Vegard Vike, Museum of Cultural History/University of Oslo

(CN) – A team of glacial archaeologists has recovered more than 2,000 artifacts exposed by climate change in the mountains of Norway.

Reporting Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes the haul which includes ancient wood, hide, textile and other organic materials that are rarely preserved.

The finds date as far back as 4,000 B.C. and include arrows, skis and the remains of pack horses and clothing items from the Iron and Bronze ages.

Unfortunately, the climate change-driven melting that reveals the artifacts – so well preserved by the glaciers – also destroys them through exposure.

The team conducted a systematic survey at the edges of contracting ice along Norway’s Jotunheimen and the surrounding mountain areas of Oppland, which include the nation’s tallest peak.

Statistical analysis of the incredibly rare finds’ radiocarbon dates revealed patterns that showed the items do not evenly represent different time periods, which could be attributed to variations in human activity, past climate change or a combination of the two.

“One such pattern which really surprised us was the possible increase in activity in the period known as the Late Antique Little Ice Age (c. 536 to 660 A.D.),” said senior author James Barrett, an environmental archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England.

This era was marked by cooling, which may have caused harvests to fail and population to decline, according to Barrett. However, the team’s finds may have originated throughout this period, possibly signaling that the importance of mountain hunting – primarily of reindeer – grew to supplement failing agricultural harvests in periods of low temperatures.

Any decline in high-elevation activity during the Late Antique Little Ice Age may also have been so short that it cannot be observed from the available evidence, according to Barrett.
Ski from 700 A.D. with a preserved binding – only the second ski with preserved binding globally. (Aud Hole, secretsoftheice.com /Oppland County Council)

“We then see particularly high numbers of finds dating to the 8th to 10th centuries A.D., probably reflecting increased population, mobility (including the use of mountain passes) and trade – just before and during the Viking age when outward expansion was also characteristic of Scandinavia,” Barrett said.

This increase could have resulted in part from the expanding ecological frontier of towns emerging throughout Europe at this time.

“Town dwellers needed mountain products such as antlers for artifact manufacture and probably also furs,” said Barrett. “Other drivers were the changing needs and aspirations of the mountain hunters themselves.”

The team found fewer artifacts from the latter half of the Middle Ages.

“There is a sharp decline in finds dating from the 11th century onwards,” said lead author Lars Pilo, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council in Norway. 

“At this time, bow-and-arrow hunting for reindeer was replaced with mass-harvesting techniques including funnel-shaped and pitfall trapping systems. This type of intensive hunting probably reduced the number of wild reindeer.”

Climate variations and the plague could also have led to reduced activity at the time and the reason why the team found fewer items from this period, according to co-author Brit Solli, who led the examination of the recovered artifacts.

“Once the plague arrived in the mid-14th century, trade and markets in the north also suffered,” said Solli, a professor of medieval archaeology at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. “With fewer markets and fewer reindeer, the activity in the high mountains decreased substantially.

“This downturn could also have been influenced by declining climatic conditions during the Little Ice Age.”
A complete tunic, radiocarbon-dated to about 300 A.D. (Mårten Teigen, Museum of Cultural History/University of Oslo)

27 January 2018

Vikings research ongoing from Grey-Bruce

This is an interesting article for what might occur in Canadian archaeology insofar as the Vikings are concerned, rather than what has occurred, which is precious little considering the 400-year Norse presence in Canada.
The author and the Sun Times editor apparently do not have access to a spell/grammar check program, but hey, I’ve seen lots of people who write the English language that do not appear to have learned how to write. This author is one of those, but the subject article is still worth a look.

By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Sunday, January 14, 2018 3:18:01 EST PM

Robert Burcher and Alison Leonard at a discussion about vikings at Meaford Hall on Saturday. (Rob Gowan The Sun Times)

The Grey-Bruce area has become a bit of a Canadian hotbed for research into the Viking Age.

Rockford native Alison Leonard, who is currently involved in the Long Viking Age project at the University of York in England was joined by Clarksburg amateur archeologist Robert Burcher on Saturday at Meaford Hall where they talked about the different research they are undertaking into the long-ago society.

Leonard, who is again living in the area, said it is a bit of a “happy coincidence” that as she went down the path of her research, she ended up settling on the study of vikings, which do have a Canadian connection.
“My intention wasn't necessarily to look at them because of that Canadian connection, but now that I am home I do wish there was a lot more going on in terms of what we know about vikings in North America more generally,” said Leonard. “There are lots of really exciting theories and I think there is a huge amount of potential.”

There is at least some definitive evidence that the vikings made it to North America, as proven at the L'Anse aux Meadows.

“I have no doubt they travelled far and wide and along at least the coast (of North America). It would be amazing if we had firm evidence that showed them making inroads further inland,” said Leonard, who added it is going to be much more difficult finding that evidence in North America because the society's footprint here is so small.
“Everything is just very ephemeral and they were travelling very lightly,” said Leonard. “I do hold out hope for the future.”

But there are more theories out there, many of which have been explored by Burcher, who has made trips to Newfoundland studying ancient rock inscriptions and other potential archeological sites and has been attempting to get governments onboard with researching and potentially preserving the sites.

Burcher is a professional photographer who has long had a fascination with rock inscriptions and archeology. He has ruffled some feathers among archaeologists and historians with his theories, including in the late 1990s when he garnered media attention with his ideay that a mound of earth near Thornbury was built by ancient Celts, who visited the Great Lakes 2,500 years ago in search of copper. In late 1999 an excavation of the mound revealed it was just a pile of earth, probably distributed by retreating glaciers.

On Saturday, the approximately 40 people in attendance learned all about the very different paths both Leonard and Burcher have taken in studying a people from the same era.

Through her studies, Leonard is attempting to paint a picture of a people who she says were much more than just bloodthirsty warriors.

“In no way do I want to minimize the fact that they were violent, horrible, rough people, but I think it is important to remember that oftentimes they were acting seasonally, so the rest of the year they might be farmers and they might be merchants,” said Leonard. “A lot of the time they would combine the role of a trader with a raider.
“They might be travelling to England in the first place to actually trade at a local port, and then they see these undefended monasteries and realize they could triple their money if they just got their men together and took them down.”

Leonard said for her, it is about treating the whole pre-Viking and Viking period (AD 700-1100) holistically, so society is not leaving any part out.

“The more we understand their world as a whole, then the better we can understand the emergence of Vikings in the first place,” said Leonard. “We still don't have a very good idea of why people actually started going viking, so these are still big questions we hope to be able to answer eventually.

“I think it is looking at the finer details and the other side that will actually help build a big enough picture that we can do that.”
For a long time now, people have had a particular fascination with the vikings, as they have become hugely popular in today's society, with their depiction in movies, television, video games and books, and events such as viking festivals held around the world.

Leonard thinks it is the adventurous spirit of the vikings that makes people so interested in them.

“We don't glorify vikings because of all their negative attributes. It is not what has the most appeal,” Leonard said. “I think more than that, it is the fact that they travelled so far and risked their lives exploring new places.
“They also encompass ideas of loyalty as well. The sort of band of brothers travelling together on the same boat.”

Leonard grew up just outside Owen Sound in Rockford, attending school in the city, before going to McGill University for her undergraduate degree in history and anthropology, where she was introduced to archaeology.

In her third year at McGill she did an exchange to Glasgow, Scotland, which is when she became hooked on European archaeology in particular. After teaching in South Korea for a couple of years, she returned to the United Kingdom to complete her masters in Medieval Archeology at York, which is where she also completed her Ph D.

After finishing her Ph D she worked at the University of Cambridge for a couple years before moving back to the Owen Sound area to be closer to family and friends, but she is still associated with projects at York and is still working on the Long Viking Age Project.

The project uses crowdsourcing methods by tabulating all the Viking Age finds people who are using metal detectors are reporting to various institutions, whether in Denmark, Flanders, England and Wales, or the Netherlands.

The researchers use the data on an international scale to map out where they see similarities in items like net sinkers and spindle whorls that were produced in one area but found in another. They are also looking at where artistic inspiration in the items, such as brooches, is similar in different regions.

“We want to sort of try to pinpoint directions of movement of these artifacts, but also the ideas and trace the people who were influencing those things,” Leonard said.

Burcher said Saturday that he has enjoyed coming together with Leonard to talk about the vikings, a subject they are both very passionate about. He said he recognizes Leonard's skillset as a university-trained researcher on the matter, while Leonard recognizes his skillset as someone who has taken the time to go and talk to people and gather information that way.

“It is a really good blend and I think we will do some work together in the future,” said Burcher, who is hopeful that all his work will soon pay off, with the Irish government wanting to commit some funds into the work he has done, through connections with a local museum near one of the inscriptions in Newfoundland.
“What I want to do at this point is sort of let the Newfoundlanders take it from here,” said Burcher. “I have done all the beating of the bushes.”

20 January 2018

The Viking Treasure that Marked the Foundation of England

From Medievalists comes this article about a Viking treasure hoard purported to be the most important ever found in the UK. It was discovered in Oxfordshire in 2015, and is still being examined by experts to date. The final tally of coinage will not be available for some time; however, the importance of the find is what it reveals of the Anglo-Saxon period. (Ed.)


Watlington Hoard in the Ashmolean Museum – photo by Minjie Su


By Minjie Su

Having you ever visited and been dazzled by Anglo-Saxon collection at the Ashmolean Museum, a priceless treasure hoard that the Museum has fought hard to keep earlier this year? Well, this is none other than the famed ‘Watlington Hoard’, a small yet pivotal collection of Viking silver (and gold) discovered and excavated in Oxfordshire in 2015.

On the 27th of November, Dr John Naylor and Dr Jane Kershaw, two chief researchers on the Watlington Hoard project, gave a seminar on the Hoard’s significance at Oxford University’s Institute of Archaeology; together, they provided the audience with a basic idea of how the Hoard is like, and explained why and how it is so important in shedding lights on Alfred the Great’s England.

The seminar was divided into two halves. In the first part, Dr Naylor, being an expert in early medieval and later coinage, gave a detailed introduction to the coins in the Hoard. Although many of the Watlington coins are fragmented and the final count is not yet ready, Dr Naylor estimates that there are around 210 coins in total, all dated to mid-9th to late-9th century, in the reigns of Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceowulf II of Mercia.

The coins are categorised into two types based on their design. Thirteen coins belong to the rare ‘Two Emperors’ type, with Alfred and Ceowulf siting face to face below a winged figure, possibly an angel of victory. This design has its roots in 4th-century Roman solidus (pl. solidi), a type of golden coin issued in the Late Roman Empire. These coins suggest the alliance between Wessex and Mercia in face of the Viking invasion, and cast doubt over the conventional portrayal of Ceowulf as a puppet king of the Vikings. The second type, the ‘cross-and-lozenge’ type, form the bulk of the collection. About fifty to fifty-five of these are issued by Ceowulf, two by Æthelred, archbishop of Canterbury, and the rest by King Alfred. Generally based on Roman models, these coins can be further divided into four subtypes: Canterbury, Winchester, London, and unassigned ‘other’ style, with Winchester almost entirely Alfred’s and the ‘other’ Mercian. Quite some of these coins are barely used; they have almost never gone into broad circulation, which may help to understand why the Hoard was buried.

In addition, there are a few coins that call for special attention. One such, though fragmented, may be the earliest example of an Anglo-Saxon half penny, which seems to have a cross design on one side. There are also two Carolingian deniers, which are dated to about 860-870. The latest issue from the Hoard is a single example of what is termed the ‘two-line’ type coins, which were not produced until after the Battle of Edington (maybe 878, after which Alfred famously burned the cakes). This coin not only helps to narrow down the burial date of the Hoard to about 879-880, but also gives us a glimpse into under what turbulent circumstance the Hoard was deposed.

Dr Jane Kershaw, having taken over the second half of the seminar, talked about the rest of items in the Hoard, which consists of 15 silver ingots, 6 silver arm rings, 2 neck ring fragments, and 1 tiny yet valuable piece of hack gold, all most likely having a Danish origin. Unlike the coins many of which have never circulated, these silvers are heavily ‘nicked’, meaning that they have been tested for its fineness. Three of the arm rings are also deliberately cut – not broken, but cut up to be weighed. This attests to these metals’ circulation on the bullion exchange market, which was not at all uncommon in major Scandinavian trading towns such as Birke and had been introduced to England by the time the Hoard was buried.

The presence of the hack gold, however tiny, makes the Hoard even more interesting, for gold was rarely used as currency and tended to be traded separately from silver. The inclusion of gold in the Watlington Hoard gives evidence to the rise of a multi-metallic bullion exchange economy. Dr Kershaw thinks these metals and the two Carolingian coins come in one parcel, while the Anglo-Saxon coins belong to another.

How and why, then, was the Watlington Hoard buried? These treasure, as Dr Kershaw suggested, was likely associated with the ‘Great Army’ in the late 9th century. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles mention Alfred’s peace-making with the Vikings but offer no further detail – was he in fact paying them to leave, and the Hoard came as part of that payment? It is not an unprecedented move on a ruler’s part: the Royal Frankish Annals tell of Charles the Bald paying the Vikings and the Vikings weighing the silver.

When the Hoard was buried, the Viking army was on their way to East Anglia, as agreed under the Treaty of Wedmore after the Battle of Edington. They most likely took the old Roman road through Cirencester, where they stayed for about one year, then went onto the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way, thus passing Watlington. Sitting on the border between Wessex and Mercia and as an important Mercian fort, Cirencester is an interesting stop for the Vikings – just what made them choose that route? We know that Ceowulf II disappeared the year the Vikings took over Cirencester. Around the same time, Alfred melted down the ‘Two Emperors’ type of coins and started to mint the ‘Two-line’ type. This is all only speculative, but could it be that Alfred paid the Vikings to get rid of Ceowulf for him? Then, in that case, the Watlington Hoard would be a witness to the agreement between Alfred and the Viking army.

14 January 2018

Threading through Cork’s Viking past

Archaeology continues to produce spectacular Viking artifacts from Dublin, Ireland. Digs in the city continue and more Viking period items will surely be unearthed. (Ed.)


Posted by
Kathryn Krakowka
November 24, 2017

Twelfth-century wooden instruments in situ during the excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City. (Images: Maurice F. Hurley)
In the course of excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City, Ireland, earlier this year, a perfectly preserved Viking weaver’s sword was discovered.

It was a striking find, as it cements the idea that medieval Cork had a Viking presence. As Dr Maurice Hurley, a consultant archaeology, said, ‘For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar.’

The sword, dating roughly to the 11th century, is made entirely of yew and measures just over 30cm in length. It is so well-preserved that the human head on the pommel of the sword and the Ringerike-style Viking art embellished on the grip are all clearly visible. While similar weaver’s swords have been found in Ireland – most notably in Wood Quay, Dublin (see CA 328) – this find is unique in its quality and preservation.
The immaculately preserved weaver’s sword recovered from the Cork excavations.
‘The sword was used probably by women to hammer threads into place on a loom; the pointed end is for picking up the threads for pattern-making. It is highly decorated – the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object,’ said Maurice.

The excavation also unearthed the foundations of 19 Viking houses, including hearths and bedding material. In addition to the weaver’s sword, a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads was also discovered on the site. Numerous other artefacts represent evidence for a wide spectrum of trades and cultural activities.

The excavations took place between November 2016 and July 2017, and the finds are currently undergoing post-excavation analysis and conservation. A few of the more spectacular items – including the weaver’s sword – were unveiled during an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

This article was published in CA 334.