09 December 2017

Millennium-old Viking burial boat

From ZME Science, we receive notification of this archaeological dig in Norway. The site yielded a few Viking age artifacts, but soil chemistry played a large part in what remains for us to look at. (Ed.)
Millenium-old Viking burial boat unearthed under a market square in Norway


The boat, which measured at least 4 meters (13ft) long, was buried on a north-south direction under what is today the city’s trading center.
The Oseberg ship, Kulturhistorisk museum (Viking Ship Museum), Oslo, Norway. Credits: Daderot.
Just as archaeologists working in the historical city of Trondheim were preparing to end their dig under the central market square, they came across something intriguing. It didn’t take long for the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) researchers to realize what they had on their hands. Although the wood had long rotted away, the distinctive shape and other preserved structural elements helped identify the structure: a long Viking funeral boat.

“Careful excavation revealed that no wood remained intact, but lumps of rust and some poorly-preserved nails indicated that it was a boat that was buried here,” archaeologist Ian Reed of NIKU said in a statement.
The boast is damaged several places by pits and post holes. Cautious excavation has revealed that there is no wood left but clumps of rust and some poorly preserved nails that show that this is probably a boat grave. Credits: NIKU.
The feature, which was dug into the natural deposits, had been disturbed in several places by later pits and postholes, but it was quite clearly boat-shaped. It also contained two long bones, potentially indicating that a person had been buried there — though the bones could have also come from animals.

“This suggests that there was a human skeleton contained within the boat. Because of the poor state of preservation we will have to carry out DNA tests to be 100% certain that the bones are human, says Reed.”

The dig also revealed a small piece of sheet bronze, located up against one of the bones, as well as what appears to be personal items from the grave.

NIKU’s Knut Paasche, a specialist in early boats, says that the boat had been dug up into the ground and likely covered up by a burial mount which has since eroded with the development of the city. As legend has it, Trondheim was founded by the Viking King Olav Tryggvason in the year 997, but archaeological evidence indicates that the area was inhabited for thousands of years.

Boat graves are not unusual in Norway. Here is a boat grave with a boat/ ship from Myklebostad in Nordfjord. Photo: Knut Paasche, NIKU.
As for the boat, it’s unclear exactly when it was built and placed there. The objects that survived the burial seem to indicate that it’s at least one thousand years old, potentially 1,200 years old. The boat itself is relatively flat in the bottom midship. This type of vessel was likely intended to go into shallow waters on the river Nidelven.

“In a posthole dug through the middle of the boat we found a piece of a spoon and part of a key for a chest. If this is from the grave then it can probably be dated from the 7th to the 10th century, says Reed.”

Sketcth of an Åfjord boat. The boat in the grave is likely similar to this boat. Source: Nordlandsbåten og Åfjordsbåten av G. Eldjarn og J. Godal, 1988.
Burial boats are quite common in Scandinavia, though this is the first time one was found in Trondheim. It’s another indication that life flourished in today’s Trondheim way before Medieval times, Paasche says. Other Viking settlements such as Birka, Gokstad or Kaupang, all have graves in close proximity to the trading centre.

The practice of burial ships is ancient in Scandinavia, dating from at least the Nordic Bronze Age, around 1500 BCE. The Hjortspring boat (400-300 BC) or the Nydam boats (200-450 AD) are some of the oldest evidence, but the practice was significant through the centuries. Man and sea were intertwined for the Vikings, during life — and even after it.

05 December 2017

How Weather Ruled the Vikings

From the author, Danielle Turner, and taken from Medievalists, comes this study of how weather might have affected Norse daily life and long term development. (Ed.)

How Weather Ruled the Vikings


By Danielle Turner

When the weather determines most happenings in a person’s life, what kind of cultural changes emerge as a direct result of their particular climate?

Here we see a rider with a sword who tries to escape from the strong gale blowing from the west – from Olaus Magnus’ History of the Northern Peoples
The world of the Northmen in the Middle Ages rapidly expanded with trading, raiding, and emigration. It is generally accepted that the Viking Age started in 793 AD with the raid on Lindisfarne Monastery in England and ended in 1066 AD with both the Norman conquest of England and Norwegian King Harald Hardrada’s loss at Stamford Bridge. The scope of this work extends beyond the end of the Viking Age to 1600 AD in order to accommodate the later movements of people and sources written after but dealing with the Viking Age.

The extension of the end of the Viking Age in this research also allows for a broader look into the effects of the Medieval Warming Period, one of the Little Ice Ages in the late medieval period, and changes in culture that these brought for the medieval Scandinavians. Geographically, this work encompasses a rather large area of the world. It includes not only the current boundaries of the homelands of the Northmen: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, but extends to Iceland, Greenland, and continental Europe.

The people considered in this study are the Norse, Scandinavians, Icelanders, and non-Inuit Greenlanders. Mainly considered in this writing are Scandinavians and the areas in which they lived and emigrated to in the medieval period. Medieval Scandinavians often found themselves at the mercy of nature, weather, and climate changes. The sometimes extreme weather and long winters in Northern Europe greatly impacted the cultural development of the medieval Norse, especially shaped their livelihood, entertainment, and faith.


Ways in which medieval Scandinavians provided for themselves and their families greatly depended on the variable climate in northern Europe. People mainly relied on farming as the main source of sustenance, but if they experienced a poor harvest season or bad weather, many starved during the harsh and long winters. For many Norsemen, fishing was widely practiced and local marine life often supplemented dietary needs not found in grains.

Fishing from Olaus Magnus’ History of the Northern Peoples
The climate also affected the Scandinavians seafaring and raiding. Summer storms stopped the movement of the Vikings to new lands and winter sea-ice is one of the causes of the first overwintering for raiding of the Norse on mainland Europe. Weather and seasonal cycles in the world of the Northmen determined their survivability since it effected (Sic) their farming, fishing, seafaring, and raiding.


With long winters and lots of time spent in close quarters it was important for medieval Northmen to develop pastimes to combat seasonal depression and fight the bitter cold. Similar to other games played by the Vikings, winter sports focused on both skill and amusement. Ice skating combined the ancient form of winter travel with competition and it became a popular sport both for those playing and others cheering on the participants. Prizes were awarded to the winner of the races to encourage competition and rivalry.

For children in the winter, building snow forts became not only popular, but also taught them about warfare. After securing their forts, they would engage in snow ball fights where the brave were rewarded and the weak or shy were left behind. This helped them cultivate war tactics and team building that would be useful later in their lives. In a cold climate with long winters, it was necessary to develop different forms of entertainment like ice skating and snow ball fights to help pass the time.

On this woodcut Olaus Magnus shows a Snow Castle with defenders to the left. 
It is attacked by other boys who tries to intrude trough tunnels and who are bombarding them with snowballs. Behind a snow-wall in the middle of the picture, some faces are seen. It is boys which brings forward “battering rams” under protection of storming screen.

The ethnographical work of Olaus Magnus, archbishop of Uppsala in the sixteenth century, titled History of the Northern Peoples provides wonderful commentary dealing with winter entertainment. He describes the spectator sport of ice skating which involved men “who attach to the soles of their feet a piece of flat, polished iron, a foot long, or the flat bones of deer or oxen, the shin bones that is” and with these they race across a lake for a prize. The skill of ice skating was necessary for winter survival and travel. With many of the lakes and water frozen in the areas of the Northmen, it was popular for people to ice skate, and it became a spectator sport, a way to have fun in the cold.

In 2012, Leszek Gardeła explored archeological finds to answer the question of how the Vikings passed the time in Northern Europe. He concluded that there is no doubt that there was ice skating and that the bone skates found resemble those described by Olaus Magnus. The Norse even had a god named Ullr who was associated with skiing, suggesting the prominence and use of skating in their lives. Olaus also describes the building of castles from snow and snowball fights encouraged competition among children and celebrated the players who showed bravery. He includes the various rules and prizes awarded in these snow fort games.


By employing faith in their surroundings, the Norse attempted to conceptualize the weather and climate around them. It is notable that certain pagan gods were associated with climate and seafaring, especially Njord. This indicates that the ocean played a large role in their lives. In the sagas, men often call out to him and Odin during travel and environmental hardship in hopes to appeal to them to provide more favorable weather. People payed attention to patterns in the sky and some seasoned farmers practiced telling what kind of weather might come from their observations. People looked to the gods for both good weather and a way to explain what was happening around them. By placing faith in the power of Njord and Odin and paying attention to occurrences around them, the Northmen felt as if they had a bit more control over nature instead of having their lives simply at the will of weather.

Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda work details faith and ideology around Njord and Odin. Folks attempted to appease Njord for safe passage over the sea and bountiful fishing. They did not have the broad understanding of scientific knowledge to explain what was happening around them so they attributed storms on the sea to Njord to help comprehend natural happenings. The work of Snorri is instrumental to modern understanding of how the Northmen perceived and explained happenings in life and death. Seafaring was used for trading, raiding, travel, exploration, expansion, and was an integral part of Norse society. It is possible that having a god to pray to in hopes of safe passage made them feel that they had some control over the weather. 

The witch to the right develops a terrible storm by emptying her pot with magic potion into the sea. A ship is wrecked in the storm. A man is holding her magic pole with a horse head on top. The moon is darkened by her magic force. 
John Lindow, scholar on Norse mythology, explains that since Njord is in charge of the wind and calmness of the sea, he should be looked to when a person is seafaring or fishing. Odin, the main Old Norse god, was seen as in control of the weather and movements of the sky. Snorri also attests to Odin’s power overlapping a bit of Njord’s in the area of the ocean but also weather in general that would greatly affect their food sources and travel. Olaus reports vivid explanations of how people tried to predict the weather in the sixteenth century by noting sky patterns. Between Gods and observations, the importance of weather in the lives of the Vikings is evident in how they perceived the world around them.


The variable element of weather in the world of the Northmen helped create a culture and society particular to Scandinavia. With so much of their lives dependent on their climate and weather, it was important to adapt to their surroundings. If their grass and hay could not dry for the winter because of a wet season or bad harvest, they were able to use fish to supplement necessary nutrition. Seafaring was also left to the mercy of the weather. Many ships were lost in storms and travel in the winter was impossible because of the sea ice surrounding the northern lands. This led to the first Viking overwintering on the European continent.

The medieval Scandinavians also created ways to cope with the harsh winter that resulted in competitive games like ice skating and snow ball fights for the children. These forms of entertainment encouraged competition and taught children war skills that they would need as they got older. The Norse also prayed and sacrificed to the god Njord for safe seafaring and to Odin for general weather. Through this and from paying close attention to sky patterns, people felt as if they had a bit more control over the variable weather. With all of this in consideration, the vast impacts of weather and climate on the Norse become more visible.

Further Reading

Gardeła, Leszek. “What the Vikings Did for Fun? Sports and Pastimes in Medieval Northern Europe.” World Archaeology 44, no. 2 (2012): 234-47.

Magnus, Olaus. Description of The Northern Peoples, Rome 1555. Edited by Peter Foote. Translated by Peter Fisher and Humphery Higgens. Vol. I, London: The Hakluyt Society, 1996.

Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Translated with an introduction and notes by Jesse L. Byock. London: Penguin Books, 2005.
The author, Danielle Turner
Danielle Turner is a historian who focuses on Viking culture, warfare, and movements. She is currently finishing her M.A. in history from California State University, Fullerton. Turner is internationally published and served as a special features presenter and historical consultant for VIKINGS on the History Channel. Follow her on Instagram at Viking Danielle.

27 November 2017

Viking boatyard - Isle of Skye

Fortunately for those of us with an interest, the effort to preserve and document data and artifacts from the Viking Age continues, as evidenced by this ongoing project on the beautiful Island Of Skye, Scotland. (Ed.)

The presence of the Viking canal shows that the site was a significant anchorage GETTY IMAGES
Viking boatyard to be historic monument on Loch na h-Àirde on the Rubh’ an Dùnain peninsula
Gurpreet Narwan
24 November 2017, 1201, The Times

A shipyard on a remote peninsula on the island of Skye where Vikings may have built and maintained their longships is to become an official historic monument.

Archaeologists believe that Loch na h-Àirde on the Rubh’ an Dùnain peninsula was a hub of maritime activity during the years of Norse power and was used to service the vital waterways of the Highlands and islands.
A canal was cut to link the loch to the headland, and there is also a stone quay, an entrance canal and a blockage system designed to keep a constant water level in the loch.
Archaeologists from St Andrews University, who were among the first to investigate the site after timbers from an 800-year-old vessel were discovered, found the 12th-century Norse shipyard.

The timbers were dated to about 1100AD and were from a workshop for producing or repairing galleys at a time when Vikings were becoming more settlers than warriors.

A spokesman for Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said: “The complex is particularly notable for its impressive survival of field remains, the possible relationship to an Iron Age dun, the rock-cut channel and the potential for further Norse and medieval boat remains to survive in the loch.

“The scale of the docks and the presence of the canal and loch quays demonstrates that the site was a significant anchorage for the western seaboard.

“Given its sheltered and important strategic location, it is possible that the loch was used to shelter and overwinter boats, or that the site was a staging location. It may also have been used to repair or even to construct boats.”

HES has listed the 115-metre (380ft) canal, two boat docks, former boat shelters and other structures. It has also preserved the bed of Loch na h-Àirde, the lochan on the peninsula used as a harbour. The shipyard is believed to have been active until the 19th century.

The peninsula is the hereditary homeland of the MacAskill clan. Gordon Mack, editor of the website for the MacAskills of Rubh’ an Dùnain Society, said that official recognition for the boatyard would “add to our campaign to repopulate the area with a virtual online community”.

12 November 2017

How and Why did the Viking Age Begin?

This excellent article from Medievalists on a study by Professor Neil Price of Uppsala University, Sweden, and colleagues from Tallinn and Tartu Universities, Estonia, is slated to shake up the world of medieval archaeology.

When the 10-year study is complete, we may finally have definitive answers, which we do not have presently, as to when and where the Viking Age began.

Be sure and click on the three video links in the article, they are most engaging. (Ed.)


How and Why did the Viking Age Begin?

By Minjie Su

The question of how the Viking Age started has been much debated by historians. One of the leading scholars in the field, Neil Price, is looking to address this fundamental question with his latest project – The Viking Phenomenon.

Photo by Martin Jacquet /Flickr
Professor Price, currently chair of the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, spoke earlier this month at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Archaeology about his latest project, which began in 2015. It is a collaborative effort between Uppsala University and Tallinn and Tartu Universities in Estonia. Acknowledging the breadth and width of the recent research into the Viking Age (circa AD 750-1050), this ten-year project means to travel even further back in understanding how and why the Viking Age began.

Five principal points are singled out as requiring special (re)consideration. First, the very concept of the Viking Age. Is it merely a Victorian invention? Or is it just a part of what was happening in Europe at large? Professor Price is not content with either. The Viking diaspora is marked by interaction with a huge variety of cultural groups. It simply cannot be something that ‘just happened’; it is an issue of complexity that needs to be examined in its own right.

Second, Professor Price believes that stereotypes should not be dismissed. Instead, they must be ‘honestly confronted, challenged, and elucidated, not least where it may contain some truth’.

Third, it may be time to critically dismantle some boundaries such as those between the Vendel Period (circa AD 550-790) and Viking Age. Fourth, the project will make conscious effort to remove the ‘ghettoization’ of gender. Instead of eye-catching notions such as ‘Women of the Viking Age’, Professor Price emphasizes on ‘People of the Viking Age’, which includes also the unfree, the enslaved population.

Last but not the least, having worked with History Channel’s Vikings, Professor Price points out the importance of engaging contemporary culture and mass media. It would be impossible to effectively study the Viking Age without understanding how and why the Viking imagery is represented and/or misrepresented in modern popular culture. Besides, it will be a useful tool for scholars to reach a wider audience, and their research to achieve greater influence.

Despite its breadth in scope, the project is composed of two main branches – the boat grave culture and Viking economics. At the core of the first branch lies the archaeological sites of Valsgärde (Sweden) and Salme (Estonia). Located near the famed Gamla Uppsala, Valsgärde is one of Sweden’s greatest archaeological treasures and certainly the biggest cemetery of boat burials. The site was already excavated between the 1920s and the 1950s. Fifteen (presumably) male boat graves are found, together with over sixty cremations and burial chambers, mostly of women. The site is dated to from the 6th century to the 11th century AD, with the boats buried once per year. Therefore, it provides a valuable and rare opportunity not only to look at the transition between the Vendel and the Viking Age, but also the activities of a small area over a long period of time.


Located on the coastal area in Estonia, the site of Salme, dated to ca. AD 750 (thus the very beginning of the Viking Age), was excavated between 2008 and 2012. Two boat graves are found, aligned parallel with the shore, respectively containing seven and thirty-four bodies. Apparently, complex rituals have been performed here: a mound of shields has been found, with swords standing vertically on the shields; birds, fish, and dogs have been killed and buried along. Archaeologists also discovered gaming pieces, deliberately arranged in certain patterns around the corpses. One of them – buried in the centre – was perhaps a king, for a single gaming piece – the king – is found in his mouth. He must have died a gruesome death: his body has been cut into pieces and reassembled for burial; a sword was put in his hand.

Isotope analyses show that the Salme men were from Mälar Valley; this would put them in close affinity with the Valsgärde people – in fact, some war gears prove to have been cast in the same mould. They may even be the same people. Together, Valsgärde and Salme indicate early maritime contact. They provide the lens to see the beginning of the raiding activities and, above all, the society that produced them.


The second branch of the project develops around Viking economics – economics, not the economic system, Professor Price emphasizes. As the term indicates, this branch focuses on the network that gave rises to the early raiding activities. This is also where the unfree, enslaved population come in, for raiding, slaving, and trading form a triangle that should not be considered and discussed in separate terms; within the socio-political context that generated and supported raiding, everyone is implicated.

It will not be hard to imagine, that the project will lead to a double number of conferences, lectures, workshops, and publications in the foreseeable future. They will be mostly devoted to five sub-projects: Viking ideologies, Viking dynamics, Viking slavery, Viking infrastructure, Viking economics. Keen on its public engagement, publications – including excavation reports of the archaeological sites – born from this project are to be made accessible online. A geolocated digital reconstruction app is in the making, meant to be used on the sites of Gamla Uppsala, Valsgärde, and Salme. The communities that used to live there will be brought back to life once again and, as a visitor, you shall also be a part.

05 November 2017

DNA Samples Reveal Viking Age Fish Trade

It seems that my favorite food fish, the Atlantic Cod, may have been exported to distant customers by the Vikings. Cod has been an important food fish for thousands of years, and the protection of nearby stocks have even precipitated an armed standoff between the Icelanders and British in contemporary times.

This study at the university of Oslo is defining the origin of cod bones. Researchers have found a direct link between cod bones found in the Baltic region of what is now northern Germany, and the Lofoten cod of Northern Norway. (Ed.)

DNA Samples Reveal Viking Age Fish Trade


It has been assumed that the Vikings were trading in cod, but so far solid evidence has been lacking. With new methods, it is possible to extract ancient DNA from fish bone remnants and this can provide some exciting new information!

The jaw bone of a cod used for DNA extraction – photo courtesy University of Oslo
Towards the end of the 8th century the Viking chieftain Ottar (Ohthere), from Hålogaland in northern Norway, was visiting Haithabu in today's Germany. He brought furs and walrus ivory, that he delivered as gifts to King Alfred the Great of Wessex. The meeting between Ottar and King Alfred is written in ”Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum”, and this is also the text where Norway is mentioned for the first time in history.

Ottar tells King Alfred about his travels and his visit to Haithabu on the way to Wessex. Such historical accounts have provided tantalising ideas about possible early movement of goods from Northern Norway to central Europe, but scientific evidence was inconclusive. Now scientists have been able to use DNA preserved in old fish bones to solve this question.

Researches from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, used ancient DNA extracted from the remnants of Viking-age fish suppers. The study analysed five cod bones dating from between 800 and 1066 AD found in the mud of the former wharves of Haithabu, which was an early medieval trading port on the Baltic.

The DNA from these cod bones contained genetic signatures seen in the Arctic stock that swims off the coast of Lofoten: the northern archipelago still a centre for Norway’s fishing industry.

Researchers say the findings show that supplies of ‘stockfish’ – an ancient dried cod dish popular to this day – were transported over a thousand miles from northern Norway to the Baltic Sea during the Viking era.

Prior to the latest study, there was no archaeological or historical proof of a European stockfish trade before the 12th century.

Norway’s first export?

“It has long been speculated that the trade of Norwegian stockfish might have begun in the Viking Age (i.e. 800-1066),” says Dr. James Barrett of the University of Cambridge, “but this interpretation has been controversial because the earliest definite historical evidence dates from the 12th century and previously the most secure archaeological evidence had been from the 13th century. Past research at Cambridge using stable isotopes strongly suggested that the Haithabu cod were not from local waters, but we could not say for certain where they had been caught.

“With the new ancient DNA evidence we now know, with a high degree of confidence that they were from Arctic Norwegian cod. If the bones are from 1066 (their latest possible date) we have only changed existing knowledge a little, but it is equally likely that they are from the 9th or 10th century, in which case our understanding of Viking Age trade might need to be rewritten.

“This trade may have been as much about staple commodities as about luxury goods, such as walrus ivory or furs. Having opened this possibility, we aim to investigate more precisely dated cod bones in the future, at Haithabu itself or other sites in the region, and that more bones can be analysed in order to evaluate the scale of this activity. Do the bones only represent travelling provisions, or are we witnessing urban provisioning over vast distances?”

The sequencing of the ancient cod genomes was done at the University of Oslo, where researchers are studying the genetic makeup of Atlantic cod in an effort to unpick the anthropogenic impacts on these long-exploited fish populations.

“Fishing, particularly of cod, has been of central importance for the settlement of Norway for thousands of years. By combining fishing in winter with farming in summer, whole areas of northern Norway could be settled in a more reliable manner,” says the University of Oslo’s Bastiaan Star, another author of the new study.
Sanne Boessenkool and Bastaan Star are working on ancient DNA samples – photo courtesy University of Oslo
In order to be certain of where the fish were from, Bastiaan Star and Sanne Boessenkool, who work at the work at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), compared the genetic profiles from the old bones to those from modern cod populations from the same areas. Although it is too early to identify specific mutations and changes in the DNA that may have happened over time, these profiles were detailed enough to pinpoint the most likely source population back in time. Such comparisons can tell us a lot about human and animal development over time and give us a better understanding of evolution.

Even if we do not know if the cod in Haithabu represent travellers provisions or that they were goods for trade, it is quite certain that the cod did not end up there by itself. With these advanced methods we can learn more about Ottar from Hålogaland and how he lived.

25 October 2017

1,000-year-old Viking sword discovered in Cork

The fascinating aspect of this short article, is that the object pictured below is made of wood, yew to be specific, and it is more than 1000-years old. It has been identified as a weaver's sword, used to tighten each run of yarn on the loom.

As you see from the accompanying photos, the object is virtually in pristine condition, as though it was made recently. It was found in what became an archaeological site in Cork, Irish Republic. (Ed.)


1,000-year-old Viking sword discovered in Cork

Updated / Tuesday, 26 Sep 2017 18:02

The wooden weaver's sword is made from yew and features carved human faces
A 1,000-year-old perfectly preserved Viking sword has been discovered by archaeologists at the historic site of the former Beamish and Crawford brewery in Cork city.

The wooden weaver’s sword is just over 30cm in length, made entirely from yew, and features carved human faces typical of the Ringerike style of Viking art, dating it roughly to the late 11th century.

Consultant Archaeologist Dr Maurice Hurley said it was one of several artefacts of "exceptional significance" unearthed during recent excavations at the South Main Street site, along with intact ground plans of 19 Viking houses, remnants of central hearths and bedding material.

"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," he said.

"A couple of objects similar to the weaver’s sword have been found in Wood Quay, but nothing of the quality of craftsmanship and preservation of this one," Dr Hurley said.

He added that it was "quite miraculous" how the various wooden items had survived underground in such pristine condition.

"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’s highly decorated - the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object," he said.

One of the other artefacts found was a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads, also associated with fabric weaving.

The Viking remains were found in May, but only came to light last Tuesday following an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

"The visit did not coincide with any official or diplomatic event, but came about due to the Ambassador’s deep personal interest in the Vikings," said Museum Curator Daniel Breen said.

The eight-month archaeological dig led by Dr Hurley finished in June, but developers BAM Ireland have not given any indication yet when building might begin or end at the site.

A spokesperson for BAM said the company had been delighted to be able to facilitate and fully fund the archaeological excavations, thus adding to the medieval heritage of Cork city.

22 October 2017

The Viking Shield in the British Isles

The reader might think that a dissertation on the shields of the Viking warriors could be covered in a few short paragraphs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This excerpt, featured on Medievalists, comes to us from a master's thesis on that very subject, and the author conveys everything known about the Viking shields, as well as much else gleaned from her research.

I encourage the interested reader to click the link at the end of this excerpt, to be taken to Academia.edu, where you may read this very interesting thesis in its entirety. (Ed.)


The Viking Shield in the British Isles: Changes in use from the 8th-11th Century in England and the Isle of Man


The Viking Shield in the British Isles: Changes in use from the 8th-11th Century in England and the Isle of Man

By Emma Boast
Master’s Thesis, University of York, 2011 (re-edited 2017)

Abstract: This investigation into the study of the Viking shield will include analysis and interpretation of archaeological material, from England and the Isle of Man, with wider parallels being drawn upon from the Scandinavian homelands. Historical evidence from Saga’s and historical accounts for this period will be used to enhance the vibrancy of the Viking shield and show the role of it as a symbolic object within Viking Society.

This is an ever evolving topic of study and it has opened up new areas for investigation as well as the potential for further cataloguing and re-evaluation of Viking age archaeology throughout the 8th-11th centuries.

Introduction: The Viking shield although a very iconic object, it is an item which has not received the same kind of artefact analysis in recent years as maybe some other objects have from the Viking Age. The studies done on Viking Age combs have enabled a greater understanding on manufacture, trade and exchange. The extensive artefact analysis of tortoise brooches and keys at Ribe, Denmark has shown the qualities of Viking age craftsman but also enabled good chronologies and distinct typologies to be developed.

Click here to read this thesis from Academia.edu

08 October 2017

Largest Viking Building Ever Found in Scandinavia

Featured this week is an interesting article about the largest Viking longhouse ever discovered in Scandinavia. Located in northern Norway, near the hamlet of Borg, Lofoten Islands, it is believed that the longhouse belonged to local chieftain. At 272' in length, the longhouse, constructed to resemble an inverted long ship, is unlikely to find an equal anywhere in the Viking world.

As you may know, the Vikings were believed to use their inverted ships as shelters, rather than build houses, when the gods Njord and Thor brought winter to the land in which they found themselves. (Ed.)


Jun 23, 2017 Marija Georgievska

In 1983, a joint Scandinavian research project was conducted in the small village of Borg, near the center of Vestvågøy, in northern Norway. During the excavation, researchers discovered a Viking building that belonged to one of the chieftains. It is believed to be the largest ever found. The 272-foot-long house was the seat of one of the chieftains, and it is the only such building found as of now.

In the 1990s, the residence was reconstructed in order for it to become part of the Lofotr Viking Museum. Historians believe the building was raised around 500 AD and abandoned around 950. The last chieftain who lived in the house was probably Olaf Tvennumbruni, who moved to Iceland because of a conflict with the other chieftains.

These events are described in a book called the  Lándnáma Bok.  It is believed that it was written around the 12th or 13th centuries, and the book describes the colonization of Iceland, including Tvennumbruni as one of the settlers from Lofotr (which is the medieval name for “Vestvågøy”). There is a detailed description of his family in the book, saying that he had three sons and he was married to Ashild.

The largest Viking building ever found in Scandinavia. Photo Credit

A Viking workshop. Photo Credit
Today, as part of the museum, the house is a major attraction for visitors to enjoy traditional Viking food, see a precise reconstruction of two Viking ships, visit the blacksmith’s forge, and learn craft skills. The most enjoyable part is that, unlike other museums, people can touch the artifacts and every other object inside. Some guides are dressed as Vikings from 1,000 years ago and walk visitors through this amazing historical experience.

The banquet hall, shaped like an upside-down boat. Photo Credit

The full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship. Photo Credit
The banquet hall, which is shaped like an upside-down boat, is reserved for traditional food, as well as singing and dancing. In the summer a Viking ship, which is a full-scale replica of the Gokstad ship from the 9th century, can carry 90 people on the water. Close to Gokstad there is a smaller ship, and together they are known as Vargfotr and Lofotr. The museum also has a large barn, living quarters, and a storeroom for grain.

The smaller ship is known as Vargfotr. Photo Credit
The interior of the living quarters is made to look as it might have in the year 800. Between the farm and the house, a sunken smithy was restored in 1997. Here, visitors can watch a demonstration of a Viking blacksmith’s craft and learn how the Vikings produced iron and charcoal. The barn was used to keep the animals warm through the winter, and today, various animals can be seen around it, including wild pigs, horses, and sheep.

The front view of the Viking smithy. Photo Credit
Since 2006, many additions and changes have been made at the museum, including the building of a large amphitheater between the house and the reception building. Several other buildings can be seen on the site, such as a film theater and two exhibition halls. In these halls there are various unique artifacts, and visitors can watch videos about the excavation of Borg.

Footwear from the Viking era at the Lofotr Viking Museum. Photo Credit

On the outside, around the museum, there are walking paths for visitors to explore the site more closely. The attractions are open from May until September. The museum was nominated for two awards in two years, firstly in 2011 for Museum of the Year in Norway, and second in 2013 for the European Museum of the Year Award.
Related story from us: New initiative underway to reconstruct a Viking ship built in Norway in 900 AD

Every August, there is a Viking festival in the village that lasts for five days and features many “Vikings” from Norway and other countries. During the event, various game shows, markets, competitions, and concerts are held.

29 September 2017

Breakthrough In Dating Viking Fortress

The following article from Aarhus University and the Museum of Southeast Denmark is interesting, because of the precise dating of wood found at the site. Dendrochronology is an amazing science that has given us glimpses of another time, another world, that we would not have otherwise. (Ed.)


Breakthrough In Dating Viking Fortress




Since then the search has been on to uncover the life, function, destruction and, not least, the precise dating of the Viking fortress. Now a new find has produced a break-through in the investigation.

In the period 2016-18 a programme of new excavations is made possible by a grant from the A.P. Møller Foundation. The team from the Museum of South East Denmark and Aarhus University are joind by leading experts from the Environmental Archeology and Materials Research at the Danish National Museum and the National Police Department’s Section for arson investigation. Prior to this year’s excavations it was only known that the massive, 150m wide fortress dated to the tenth century. Experts suspected that it was built in the reing of Viking king Harold Bluetooth (c.958-c.987), but the association could not be proven.

On Monday 26 June, the archaeological team opened new trenches is the meadow next to the fortress to search for evidence of the landscape surrounding the fortress. Around 2.5 meters below the current surface of the valley was found a c. 1m long piece of carved oak wood with drilled holes and several wooden pegs in situ. The wood carries clear traces of wear, but it is not currently possible to say what function the wood piece has had.

Leading specialist in dendrochronological dating, Associate Professor Aoife Daly from the University of Copenhagen and the owner of dendro.dk, has just completed his study of the piece of wood and says: “The plank is oak and the conserved part of the tree trunk has grown in the years 829-950 In the Danish area. A comparison with the material from the Trelleborg fortress in Sjælland shows a high statistical correlation that confirms the dating. Since no splints have been preserved, it means that the tree has fallen at some point after year 966 “.

Research leader Jens Ulriksen says: “The wood piece was found on top of a peat layer, and is fully preserved as it is completely water-logged. We now have a date of wood in the valley of Borgring, which corresponds to the dating from the other ring fortresses from Harold Bluetooth’s reign. With the dendrochronological dating, in conjunction with the traces of wear the piece has, it is likely that the piece ended as waste in the late 900s, possibly in the early 1000’s. ”

In the coming week, the National Museum’s environmental archaeologists will take samples of wet depositions in the valley with the aim of uncovering how the layers have evolved from the earliest strata we have dated to the Bronze Age and over time.” Says excavation leader Nanna Holm. Nanna Holm, of course, hopes that the studies will particularly clarify one of the unclear questions archaeologists have, namely where the river was exactly when the fortress was built in the Viking Age, and how passable it was.

Søren M. Sindbæk, professor in Archaeology at Aarhus University and part of the excavation team says: “This find is the major break-through, which we have been searching for. We finally have the dating evidence at hand to prove that this is a late tenth century fortress. We lack the exact year, but since the find also shows us where the river flowed in the Viking Age, we also know where to look for more timbers from the fortress.”


24 September 2017

To understand Viking culture, take a look at their plates

You might find this article on Viking food interesting. The accompanying photos are great; however, some of Serra's contentions are suspect, i. e. sausage. Did the Vikings make sausage? I don't know, but it's doubtful, because I have never seen a reference to sausage making among the paucity of text actually written during the Viking age - no, the sagas were not written during the Viking age. The average Viking was illiterate by our standards, the art form known as runes, which your average Viking could not read, notwithstanding.

Mr. Serra further postulates: "Aside from dried fish, Vikings apparently didn't hunt or gather much." What an absurd contention! The middens containing the remains of their food, indicate they consumed all kinds of wild meat and fish, e.g. - walrus, seal, birds of all kinds, dogs, deer, bear, trout, salmon, etc.

Had Mr. Serra really studied the culture of the Vikings he would realize that their trading ultimately led to raiding. It has recently been proven that they came to Ireland much earlier in the 8th century that has been in vogue among archaeologists. Early trading expeditions may have come as early as the latter part of the 7th century according to recent grave finds in Dublin, Ireland, and these people came not only to trade, but to settle, bringing their women and children with them.

The period of the Viking Age was a period of continuous warfare, that is why we refer to it as the Dark Ages. The Vikings were a savage society, living in a savage age, and they were well able to cope with the times in which they existed. Had they not, we would know nothing about them.

So, enjoy the article for what it portrays - a tale about a corpulent contemporary man and his corpulent companion who both love to eat, while he tries to emulate a people he admires, at the same time furthering his own opinion of how and what the Vikings ate. (Ed.)


To understand Viking culture, take a look at their plates

Dan Gunderson · Jun 24, 2017

Swedish culinary archeologist Daniel Serra cooks over a fire at the Midwest Viking Festival in Moorhead on Thursday. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Daniel Serra likes to bust myths about Vikings. Like the image of Vikings gnawing on huge chunks of meat pulled from the fire.

"It's a myth of course, and it's the myth of the barbarian, the wild man," said Serra, a Swedish culinary archaeologist. "To start with most of the Vikings would have been farmers or traders. You had the fighters and raiders of course, but that's just a small part of it."
Viking food varied depending on the region, but Serra said most food in the Viking age was boiled in clay, soapstone or iron pots.

"A stew would have been common. A porridge, a savory porridge almost like a risotto would have been common," said Serra. "They did have some roasted meats but that would have been quite the upper class."

Viking re-enactor Terrie Helleloid watches Serra cook. She uses his cookbook to make meals at festivals across the Midwest. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Vikings had knives, spoons and fingers, but no forks. That meant food was usually cut up before it was cooked to make it easier to eat. And dried or salted meat needed a good boiling to be rehydrated so it could be eaten.

Serra has spent years immersed in Viking Age history and he looks the part. A long flowing beard is whipped by the wind as he stands in swirling smoke tending an iron pot boiling sausage over an open fire in Moorhead, where he's appearing at the Midwest Viking Festival.

He grins as he pats his slightly rotund middle and explains his choice of research might have been influenced by his fondness for food. The Vikings left little documentation of what they ate, but Serra studied archaeological finds, and pored over Norse sagas and medieval texts to develop a list of ingredients and cooking techniques that were likely used during the Viking Age that lasted about 300 years from the 8th to 11th centuries.

Food archaeology became his specialty. Through research and trial and error he developed recipes he says are as "historically accurate as possible with the information we have".

He co-wrote a cookbook called "An Early Meal: A Viking Age Cookbook and Culinary Odyssey."

Serra boils sausage in a kettle. He says Vikings likely used a cut off cow horn and animal intestines to make sausages. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Of course, fish was a staple for many Vikings. Stockfish was a dried cod which Serra says is much drier than beef jerky; he describes it being "like a block of wood." Preparing stockfish involved beating it with the back side of an ax.
"A medieval cookbook says you should beat your stockfish for a good hour. When I tried it, the good hour was two hours and I smelled like ... well put it another way, cats really loved me that day," said Serra with a chuckle.

The Vikings often survived on this leathery cod, but no; the Vikings did not create or eat lutefisk. Serra glances surreptitiously over his shoulder before sharing this bit of culinary heresy.
"The first recipe for that is not from Scandinavia. The first recipe for lutefisk I found was from France in the 14th century," explained Serra. "I'm not sure if I'll get out of here alive, but yes, that's the origin."

Serra has researched and replicated cuisine and cookware. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
Aside from dried fish, Vikings apparently didn't hunt or gather much. Serra says most bones found in archeological sites are from domestic cattle, sheep and goats. And Vikings grew most of the grains and vegetables they ate.

They made bread from the grain and, more importantly, beer. Serra says beer was a staple, an every meal drink. It had health benefits, helping prevent waterborne illnesses and providing some necessary nutrients.

Beer was mostly brewed in open vats without hops. Instead, Vikings used aromatic plants like bog myrtle for flavor.
Beer, Serra says, was a social expectation.
"If you don't serve the beer when you have it, people will take offense," said Serra, adding with a laugh, "And that is important today as well, I think."

Serra uses a small stone mill to grind wheat. Dan Gunderson | MPR News
The pleasure of good food aside, Serra finds value in learning about historical food culture.
"It is an understanding of how people are living.This is giving an everyday understanding of life," said Serra. "Everyone can relate to people eating. And that makes it a very good way of displaying history I think."

Serra demonstrates Viking cuisine Friday and Saturday at the Midwest Viking Festival in Moorhead. Next Tuesday and Wednesday he's at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

17 September 2017

The Vikings in Ireland

It is unfortunate that Dublin can't be moved over about a mile, for a Viking treasure trove exists just beneath her streets in the old part of town. (Ed.)


A surprising discovery in Dublin challenges long-held ideas about when the Scandinavian raiders arrived on the Emerald Isle

The Vikings in Ireland

By ROGER ATWOOD Tuesday, March 10, 2015

(Courtesy Linzi Simpson)

An impressive ax head is one of hundreds of Viking artifacts found during excavations under the streets of Dublin.

When Irish archaeologists working under Dublin’s South Great George’s Street just over a decade ago excavated the remains of four young men buried with fragments of Viking shields, daggers, and personal ornaments, the discovery appeared to be simply more evidence of the Viking presence in Ireland. At least 77 Viking burials have been discovered across Dublin since the late 1700s, some accidentally by ditch diggers, others by archaeologists working on building sites. All have been dated to the ninth or tenth centuries on the basis of artifacts that accompanied them, and the South Great George’s Street burials seemed to be four more examples.

Yet when excavation leader Linzi Simpson of Dublin’s Trinity College sent the remains for carbon dating to determine their age, the results were “quite surprising,” she says. The tests, performed at Beta Analytic in Miami, Florida, and at Queen’s University in Belfast, showed that the men had been buried in Irish soil years, or even decades, before the accepted date for the establishment of the first year-round Viking settlement in Dublin —and perhaps even before the first known Viking raid on the island took place.

(Courtesy Linzi Simpson)
All across Dublin at sites such as South Great George’s Street (above), archaeologists have uncovered dozens of Viking burials. These graves are now contributing to a picture of the city as a successful trading outpost of the Viking world.
Simpson’s findings are now adding new weight to an idea gaining growing acceptance—that, instead of a sudden, cataclysmic invasion, the arrival of the Vikings in Ireland and Britain began, rather, with small-scale settlements and trade links that connected Ireland with northern European commerce for the first time. And, further, that those trading contacts may have occurred generations before the violent raids described in contemporary texts, works written by monks in isolated monasteries—often the only places where literate people lived—which were especially targeted by Viking raiders for their food and treasures. Scholars are continuing to examine these texts, but are also considering the limitations of using them to understand the historical record. The monks were devastated by the attacks on their homes and institutions, and other contemporaneous events may not have been recorded because there was no one literate available to do so. “Most researchers accept now that the raids were not the first contact, as the old texts suggest,” says Gareth Williams, curator of medieval coinage and a Viking expert at the British Museum. “How did the Vikings know where all those monasteries were? It’s because there was already contact. They were already trading before those raids happened.”

(CourtesyNational Museum of Ireland)

Unlike the Christian populations they encountered—and sometimes conquered—Vikings often buried their dead with treasured objects such as this late 9th- to early 10th-century zoomorphic iron figurine found in a grave in the Dublin neighborhood of Islandbridge.

The beginning of the Viking era in Britain was long thought to have been June 8, A.D. 793, the day when seaborne Scandinavian raiders appeared on the horizon and attacked a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, off the east coast of England. Population pressures at home, a thirst for wealth and adventure, and improvements in boat-building techniques all propelled the Vikings out of their chilly realm in search of conquest. In 795 they reached Ireland with an attack on Rathlin Island, where the monastery was “burned by the heathens,” according to the Annals of Ulster, the longest and most detailed of the medieval texts that historians have relied on to chronicle the period. At the time, Ireland had been Christian for at least three centuries, and its monasteries were its wealthiest and most powerful institutions. Early medieval texts refer to the Vikings as simply “the heathens,” stressing the religious, rather than ethnic, differences between them and the Irish.

The Annals describe hordes of Vikings plundering the landscape and battling the feuding warlords who ruled Ireland. One entry, from 798, says the pagan invaders stole cattle tribute from chieftains, burned their churches, and “made great incursions in Ireland and also Alba [Scotland],” painting a picture of widespread chaos and destruction. Another entry records the arrival of a flotilla of 60 Viking ships in 837 at the mouth of the Boyne River, 30 miles north of Dublin. Within weeks, the Annals say, the Vikings had won a battle “in which an uncounted number [of people] were slaughtered.” Recent excavations in Ireland tend to confirm the account the texts depict. “They came, they saw the lay of the land, and then came the catastrophic invasions described in the Annals,” Simpson says. “Considering the weapons buried with these guys, and all the Viking cemeteries discovered in Dublin, I don’t think the Annals were exaggerating. It must have been a very violent time.”

By 841, Vikings had established a year-round settlement around a timber-and-earthen fort known as a longphort at the confluence of the Liffey and Poddle Rivers, in the heart of modern Dublin. This date has long been taken to be the beginning of the Vikings’ permanent settlement in Ireland. Through alliances, conquest, and intermarriage with local kings, their power waxed and waned over the next two centuries until they were expelled by celebrated Irish warlord Brian Boru in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. In recent years the story of that battle has also been revised, with modern scholars seeing it more as a clash for control of Dublin’s port than the shining moment of Irish nationalism of lore. Nonetheless, it meant the end of the Vikings’ presence. Unlike in England and northern France, where they created new cultural orders and royal lineages, the Vikings left little permanent imprint on Ireland, and there are few Viking place names there or Norse words in its language.

(Courtesy Linzi Simpson)

A decorated comb made of deer antler was found lying on the shoulder of one of the Vikings 

in the South Great George’s Street excavation.

Since the 1960s, archaeologists have been gathering information about the mid-ninth-century longphort that lay under the pubs and sidewalks of Fishamble Street in Dublin. “The Vikings started with sporadic summer raids, but after some years they decided, ‘This is lucrative, let’s stay,’ and so they built settlements to stay over the winter,” says Ruth Johnson, Dublin’s city archaeologist. Although the earlier dates for a Viking presence in Dublin that have been identified by Simpson and independent archaeologist Edmond O’Donovan differ from the established dates by only a few decades, when combined with other evidence, they are challenging the chronology of Viking settlement in Ireland.

Carbon dating, which measures the age of organic materials based on the amount of radioactive carbon 14 remaining in a specimen, usually gives a range of likely dates at the time of death. The older the material, the wider the range. In the case of the four individuals excavated under Dublin’s South Great George’s Street, Simpson found that two of them had a 95 percent probability of having died between 670 and 880, with a 68 percent probability of between 690 and 790. Thus, the entire most likely range was before the first documented arrival of Vikings in 795. A third individual lived slightly later, with a 95 percent probability of having died between 689 and 882, with a 68 percent probability of between 771 and 851. “I expected a later range of dates, safe to say,” says Simpson. “These dates seem impossibly early and difficult to reconcile with the available historical and archaeological sources.”

(Courtesy Linzi Simpson)

The bones of a Viking warrior in a grave in South Great George’s Street were discovered partly covered by the boss of his iron shield.

The fourth Viking excavated at South Great George’s Street was the most intact of the group and revealed the most about their lives and hardships. A powerfully built man in his late teens or early 20s, he stood five foot seven—tall by the day’s standards—with the muscular torso and arms that would come from hard, oceangoing rowing. His bones showed stresses associated with heavy lifting beginning in childhood. Unlike the three other men, he was not buried with weapons. He and one of the other men shared a congenital deformity in the lower spine, perhaps indicating they were relatives. Carbon dating gave a wider range for his lifetime, showing a 95 percent probability that he died between 786 and 955.

(Courtesy Kevin Weldon)

Archaeologists Edmond O’Donovan (left) and Linzi Simpson (right) excavate human remains and artifacts at a Dublin site called Golden Lane.

In 2005, O’Donovan found two Viking burials under Dublin’s Golden Lane of similar ages to Simpson’s, with a 94 percent probability of death between 678 and 870 for both individuals. One of the burials was an elderly woman, suggesting that Viking family groups, a telltale sign of permanent settlement, were likely established in Dublin earlier than medieval texts had indicated, and perhaps even before the establishment of the longphort. In a separate excavation under Ship Street Great, a few blocks away, Simpson found a Viking corpse with a 68 percent chance of dating from 680 to 775—again, before historical sources say Vikings had even set foot in Ireland. “We know that Vikings started staying over the winter in 841. But now these findings are showing dates before that, and people are starting to wonder what’s going on,” explains Johnson. “They weren’t supposed to be here yet.”

Tests done at the University of Bradford in England on the four South Great George’s Street men’s isotopic oxygen levels, which indicate where an individual spent childhood based on a chemical signature left by groundwater in developing teeth, told yet another story. The results showed that the two men with the spinal deformity had spent their childhood in Scandinavia, though the tests were not precise enough to show where exactly. However, the other two had spent their childhoods far from the Viking homeland, in Ireland or Scotland, another sign of permanent settlement by families, and not just summertime raids by Viking warriors. “You’ve got these four guys, with a mixed geographic origin, and closely associated with fixed settlements, with fires and postholes,” says Simpson. “They didn’t just come here and die and get buried. They were amongst the living.”

(Courtesy Edmond O'Donovan)

This decorated belt ornament was unearthed at Golden Lane.
The evidence of an earlier-than-expected Viking presence in Ireland, based as it is on forensic tests conducted on a handful of burials, may seem slight. But seemingly small pieces of evidence can overturn well established conventions in archaeology. Both Simpson and Johnson stress that more excavations and tests will be needed before anyone can rewrite the history of Viking settlement, and that is years away. Archaeological work in Ireland has been starved of funds and nearly stopped completely after the country’s economic crash of 2008, and it is only now reviving. Williams adds, “There are two possibilities raised by [Simpson’s] work. Either there was Viking activity earlier than we’ve realized in Ireland, or there is something in the water or soil in Dublin skewing the data, and both possibilities need further research.”

Nevertheless Williams agrees with Simpson and others that the chronology of the Viking presence in Britain and Ireland is in flux, and that they were likely trading or raiding in Britain, and perhaps Ireland as well, before 793. “Most archaeologists would accept that there was extended contact in Britain with the Vikings from the late eighth century or earlier, and there is no reason to think that contact would not extend around Scotland and down into Ireland, especially in a natural landing place like Dublin,” says Williams. Other finds support this: For example, the discovery at the port of Ribe, Denmark, of Anglo-Saxon artifacts dated to the eighth century and recent carbon dating of Viking remains in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland from the same period all suggest fluid trade before raids began, he explains. “It’s a poorly documented part of history,” he says. “But before there was Viking settlement, there was this big trading zone in the North Sea. Did it extend to the Irish Sea? We don’t have any evidence to say that, but it could be just a question of time.”

Roger Atwood is contributing editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.