26 February 2017

Why Archaeologists, Historians and Geneticists Should Work Together – and How

To those of us interested in Norse history and the possible assimilation of these people into the indigenous population, this study carries special meaning. 

I encourage the interested reader to read the full paper published by the authors on Medieval Worlds.

A link is embedded in the title from Medieval Worlds and is also at the end of this excerpt from Medievalists. (Ed.) 

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Why Archaeologists, Historians and Geneticists Should Work Together – and How
FEBRUARY 4, 2017 BY MEDIEVALISTS.NET

By Stefanie Samida and Jörg Feuchter
Medieval Worlds, No.4 (2016)

DNA lab – photo from the University of Michigan / Flickr
 Abstract: In recent years, molecular genetics has opened up an entirely new approach to human history. DNA evidence is now being used not only in studies of early human evolution (molecular anthropology), but is increasingly helping to solve the puzzles of history. This emergent research field has become known as »genetic history«.

The paper gives an overview on this new field of research. The aim is both to discuss in what ways the ascendant discipline of genetic history is relevant, and to pinpoint both the potentials and the pitfalls of the field. At the same time, we would like to raise the profile of the field within the humanities and cultural studies. We hope that the opportunity for communication between representatives of different disciplines will contribute to loosening up the widespread monodisciplinary method of working and, in particular, bring together the relevant scientific and cultural streams of research.

Introduction: In recent years, the media have repeatedly seized on the findings of genetic research to make headlines such as the following: »Finding the Iceman’s 19 living relatives«; »A million Vikings still live among us: One in 33 men can claim direct descent from the Norse warriors«; »How Germanic are we?;« »Britain is more Germanic than it thinks«; and »We Europeans are Asians«. Articles such as these already attest to the increasing attention the field of “genetic history” is receiving in public discourse. They also clearly evoke a major fascination of this new discipline: the promise of a new link between history and modern identities, a connection between past and present established biologically, via the genes people have inherited from historical ancestors. Unlike other scientific methods applied to the study of history and archaeology (e.g. carbon dating or isotope analysis), genetics is immediately concerned with issues of identity, since the modern mind perceives DNA as a carrier of identity. Thus problems of the past are often conflated with the question of the ethnic identity of modern populations.



18 February 2017

Dressed up with bling stolen in Viking raids

This Medievalists post that I pass on to you tells of an interesting trail left by a broach that a Viking woman buried 1200-years ago wore on her dress. (Ed.)

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JANUARY 22, 2017 BY MEDIEVALISTS.NET

When a female Norwegian Viking died some time during the ninth century, she was buried wearing a status symbol: a beautiful piece of bronze jewellery worn on her traditional Norse dress.

In 2016, this piece of jewellery was found in the soil at Agdenes farm, situated at the outermost part of the Trondheim Fjord in Mid-Norway. Photo: Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum

She explains that fittings like this were popular among the Norwegian Vikings who took part in the first raids to the British Isles, at the very beginning of the Viking age. The fittings were originally attached to horse harnesses, like in this case, or to religious items such as books, crosiers or altar decorations.

“A housewife in Mid-Norway probably received the fitting as a gift from a family member who took part in one or more Viking raids to Ireland or Great Britain. When she died, the jewellery was given to her as a burial gift. It has stayed underground until it was found by chance this summer,” Heen Pettersen says.

She adds that almost all of the similar finds from this era that have been discovered in Norway have been found in women’s graves that date from the first half of the 9th century, when the Vikings began to plunder the British Isles.
 
The decorations suggest that the jewellery was made in a Celtic workshop, most likely in Ireland, in the 8th or 9th century. It was originally used as a fitting for a horse’s harness, but holes at the bottom and traces of rust from a needle on the back show that it had probably been turned into a brooch at a later stage.

But how did a fitting from an Irish horse’s harness end up as a brooch for a Norwegian Viking woman?

Took the jewellery to her grave
Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen is a doctoral student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Historical Studies and works with finds brought to Norway during the Viking age. She will now study the bronze brooch more closely, which is has been curated and preserved by the NTNU University Museum.

Doctoral student Aina Margrethe Heen Pettersen at the Department of Historical Studies at NTNU will conduct more research on the bronze brooch, which is preserved and maintained by the NTNU University Museum. Photo: Åge Hojem/NTNU University Museum
 She explains that fittings like this were popular among the Norwegian Vikings who took part in the first raids to the British Isles, at the very beginning of the Viking age. The fittings were originally attached to horse harnesses, like in this case, or to religious items such as books, crosiers or altar decorations.

“A housewife in Mid-Norway probably received the fitting as a gift from a family member who took part in one or more Viking raids to Ireland or Great Britain. When she died, the jewellery was given to her as a burial gift. It has stayed underground until it was found by chance this summer,” Heen Pettersen says.

She adds that almost all of the similar finds from this era that have been discovered in Norway have been found in women’s graves that date from the first half of the 9th century, when the Vikings began to plunder the British Isles.

Visual status symbols
Being part of the early Viking raids brought status and prestige to the individuals who participated, but also to their families. The men who returned alive from the dangerous journeys gave the objects they had stolen as gifts to female family members who waited for them at home. The fittings were then turned into jewellery, and were worn on traditional Norse clothing as brooches, pendants or belt fittings.

“As a result, it became clear to everyone that those women had family members who had taken part in successful expeditions far away. There are traces of gold on the surface of the jewellery, so it was originally covered in gold. It therefore appeared to be more valuable than it actually was. In addition, each piece of jewelry was unique, so the owner did not risk having the housewife next door turn up with the same piece of jewellery,” Heen Pettersen says.

Jewellery of this kind has typically been found in women’s graves with relatively few other burial gifts. This suggests that many of the Vikings who took part in raids far away did not represent the top layer of the social hierarchy. Instead, they were “nouveau riche” farmers and fishermen who got the opportunity to climb the social ladder by taking part in Viking raids.

Strategic location
Agdenes is strategically located at the south end of the mouth of the Trondheim Fjord, where it meets the Trondheimsleia Strait. The place is mentioned several times in the Norse sagas as a gathering place where ships with warriors met before their journey continued.

Traces of King Øystein’s Harbour, which was established for military and defense reasons early in the 12th century, are found just next to Agdenes farm, where the bronze brooch was discovered. The harbour validates the strategic location of the place. It is possible that the area served as a natural gathering or stopping place for ships sailing from the Trondheim Fjord to the British Isles.

From Mid-Norway, ships probably followed the coastline southwards before they crossed the open ocean across the North Sea. If the weather was nice and the wind came from the right direction, they could sail from the southwest of Norway to the east coast of England or Scotland in just a couple of days. If they were surprised by bad weather, the journey could be fatal.

The grave has been disturbed
According to Heen Pettersen, the bronze brooch was found by a private individual with a metal detector, so it is not a find from an archaeological site. The jewellery was not found in the original grave, which indicates that the grave at some point had been disturbed – for example during ploughing or other farming activities.

The Viking women who owned this kind of jewellery were typically buried with grave gifts such as tortoise-shaped brooches, pearls, a knife and a spinning wheel, in addition to jewelry made from stolen fittings.

“The new find from Agdenes farm shows that the area was populated in the first part of the Viking Age. Even though it is a random find, it is a nice reminder that Mid-Norway was involved in the early contact with the British Isles,” says Heen Pettersen.


11 February 2017

Major Viking Age manor discovered in Sweden

The following excerpt comes to us from Medievalists.net, and is taken from a comprehensive paper on the ongoing archaeological investigations of the ancient trading town of Birka, Sweden.

I have been there, and there are burial mounds in ever direction. Evidence abounds of a large concentration of ancient activity throughout the area of Birka itself and the surrounding countryside. It has long been known that the island saw a great deal of trading activity from the Vendel Period through the Viking Age.

A link at the bottom of this excerpt will take you to the paper that details this project from a scientific viewpoint. It is excellent and comprehensive, and I highly recommend it to interested parties. (Ed.)

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JANUARY 22, 2017 BY MEDIEVALISTS.NET

Birka, Sweden’s oldest town, has long been a major source of our knowledge about the Viking Age. New geophysical research has now uncovered the ninth-century manor of a royal bailiff at this site.

Reconstruction Viking age manor – reconstruction by Jacques Vincent – photo courtesy Stockholm University
During spring of 2016 a number of large presumed house terraces were identified by the researchers at Korshamn, which lies outside the town rampart of Birka, which itself is situated on an island in Lake Mälaren, near Stockholm. As a consequence high resolution geophysical surveys using ground-penetrating radar were carried out in September 2016, which revealed a major Viking period hall on the site, with a length of around 40 meters. Based on the land upheaval the area of the Viking hall can be dated to sometime after 810 AD. The hall is connected to a large fenced area that stretches towards the harbour basin.

“This kind of Viking period high status manors has previously only been identified at a few places in southern Scandinavia, for instance at Tissø and Lejre in Denmark. It is known that the fenced area at such manors was linked to religious activities” says Johan Runer, archaeologist at the Stockholm county museum.

During the survey a predecessor for the Viking Age manor was also identified at the site: a high status manor that existed during the Vendel period, prior to the establishment of the Viking Age town of Birka. Both the identified buildings and their continued use from the Vendel period to the Viking Age correlate well with the “ancestral property” of Birka’s royal bailiff Herigar as mentioned in Rimbert’s Vita Anskarii. Herigar was Christianized by Ansgar, archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen, during his first mission c. 830 AD, and he built the first church on his land.

“The consequences of our discoveries cannot be overestimated: in terms of the emergence of the Viking town of Birka, its royal administration and the earliest Christian mission to Scandinavia”, says Sven Kalmring, researcher at the Zentrum für Baltische und Skandinavische Archäologie, Schleswig.

 “The results highlight the benefits of using non-intrusive geophysical surveys for the detection of archaeological features and, once again, prove to be an invaluable tool for documenting Iron Age building remains in Scandinavia”, says Andreas Viberg, researcher at the Archaeological Research Laboratory at Stockholm University.

The results has been published in the journal Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt – click here to read the article: At Home with Herigar: a Magnate’s Residence from the Vendel- to Viking Period at Korshamn, Birka (Uppland / S)


03 February 2017

Silver hoard in Gotland

More on the Gotland treasure hoard: One of the most famous trading centers of the Viking Age was Visby, on the island of Gotland, off the southeast coast of Sweden in the southern Baltic. Over the years it has yielded an incredible amount of buried treasure dating to that period, and people continue to look, so there is bound to be more. (Ed.)

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NEWS ABOUT THE MIDDLE AGES
11. APRIL 2012

During Easter a spectacular silver hoard was uncovered

Gotland is famous for its silver hoards. All in all more than 700 have been archaeologically registered. To this should be added any number of illegal finds, like for instance the 2000 silver coins dated from around 1000, which were recovered from looters in 2009. The five men – one of whom was a licensed coin dealer from Stockholm – were later sentenced up to one year in prison for their illegal digging.

The new hoard consists of an intact copper barrel filled with a leather purse, which probably contains more than 6000 silver coins. One of them has already been cleaned and is a coin from Köln dated 1043. Currently the treasure, which was lying deep in a field near Stale, is being x-rayed, while archaeologists are trying to discover whether the fortune was originally hidden under a floor of a building or dug directly into the field. Later the cleaning and registration will take place, before the new treasure will be shown to the public some time this summer. The new find is especially interesting because it complements an old hoard, which was found around 1838 in the same field. This consisted of 5922 coins. Such collections give a snapshot of trading routes and networks, which can be precisely dated. As such they present the archaeologists and historians with very valuable information. All in all more than 170.000 coins have been found either in hoards or as loose finds in Gotland.

Silver Hoard from Spillinge

Nobody really knows why the Vikings in the Early Middle Ages hid such huge fortunes at Gotland and never recovered them. However, some patterns seem to be discernible. The treasures or hoards can be dated from around 800 – 1140, a period covering app. 10 generations. With 1500 farms on the island, this means that at least 4 -5% of all generationally defined households “forgot” the whereabouts of a hoard.

About 64 of them contained gold. The rest consisted only of silver or copper. The silver has either been found in the form of bracelets, jewellery or broken silver or as collections of coins, which for most of the period in question must have been used as payment in kind; that is weighted and valued before used as part of a payment. While Viking minting was taking place in e.g. York around 890, it took until 1140 before the people in Gotland started their own mint; until then coins were simply imported and reused as silver.

Further, analysing the origin of the coins, it appears that most of them were either of Arabic, German or English origin. Nearly 90% of the coins from Stale, which were found in 1838, were of German origin (the youngest from 1084 AD). Because of the low percentage of English (or Frankish) coins it is generally believed that the hoarded wealth represents the surplus of trade as opposed to income from raids. This fits with the fact that the Vikings in Gotland were key partners in the trade between the Viking Emporiums along the Northern coast of Germany and the Russian trading stations in Novgorod and further South to the Caliphate along the so-called Silver-Fur Road.

The largest hoard of them all – the Spillings Hoard – is currently exhibited at the Museum in Visby. It weighed 67 kilograms or 335 mark silver and has been dated to 870 – 71. The weight can be compared to the fact that the 1500 farms of Gotland according to Gutasagan at some point were obliged to pay the king of Sweden around 60 mark silver each year, the equivalent of 7,5 pennies or 0.04 % of a mark silver each in order to be able to trade freely at the Swedish markets.

However, in what way the famous hoards will be exhibited in Gotland in the future is as yet not known. Come June a new permanent medieval exhibition will be unveiled. According to the pre-notice the exhibition will be dedicated to catering primarily for families and tell the story of how Gotland was central to the Baltic area in terms of trade, politics and culture. Whether the treasures will be weaved into this exhibition or as now, shown apart, is as yet not known.

The new exhibition will open on the 6th of June.
Read more about the Silver Hoards in:
Gotland. Vikingaön. Gotländskt Arkiv 2004. Ed: Gun Westholm.