13 March 2021

Runriket, Where the Power Struggle of a Viking Ruler is Written in Stone

If your interest in the Viking Age includes the runes, this article from Ancient Origins will peak your interest. (Ed.)




Where the Power Struggle of a Viking Ruler is Written in Stone

The Viking era (800 -1066 AD) is arguably one of the most fascinating in history. Runriket, or the Rune Kingdom, is a unique archaeological area in Sweden, containing more than a hundred runestones with a great number of inscriptions. Runriket is the largest known concentration of runestones in the world and they offer us the opportunity to get close to Sweden’s ancient Viking past.

The Rune Kingdom and the Age in Transition
Runestones are monuments with inscriptions written in the Runic alphabet . They were typically engraved by experts known as ‘rune masters’. While Christian writers often portrayed the runes as sinister, many of them were simply memorials. Researchers are able to better understand the mindset and history of the Viking world through these writings as the Rune Kingdom demonstrates the complexity of Viking society and culture in ancient Sweden.

The majority of the runes date to the 11th but especially the 12th century. While we may regard the Vikings as pagans who worshipped the gods Thor and Odin, the reality was rather different. Many of them had been Christianized or at least partly Christianized. Through the 11th century, the pagans and the Christians had agreed to co-exist in a unique instance of tolerance in the Middle Ages . By the 12th century, Sweden was mostly Christian

06 March 2021

Melting Ice Has Revealed a Spectacular Trove of Ancient Hunting Artifacts in Norway

As the ice melts in Norway, they are finding lots of artifacts both older and younger than the Viking Age we are interested in.

I think the reader will find the article engaging. (Ed.)


Melting Ice Has Revealed a Spectacular Trove of Ancient Hunting Artifacts in Norway


27 NOVEMBER 2020

Archaeologists have uncovered a "treasure trove" of artifacts as another major ice patch melts away in the Norwegian mountains, revealing a total of 68 arrows and many more items from an ancient reindeer hunting site.

The earliest finds go back some 6,000 years, according to radiocarbon dating. They include reindeer bones and antlers, as well as scaring sticks used to herd the animals into spots where they could be more easily hunted.

Finds like this are becoming increasingly common as global temperatures rise – especially underneath static patches of ice, which don't move around and break up objects in the same way that glaciers do. As the planet's future becomes more uncertain, more of its past is being revealed.

"It is the ice site in the world with most arrows, and by a large margin," writes archaeologist Lars Pilø, from the Department of Cultural Heritage at Innlandet County Council in Norway. "Doing fieldwork here and finding all the arrows was an incredible experience, an archaeologist's dream."

"I remember telling the crew: 'Enjoy the moment as much as you can. You will never experience anything like it again.'"

The potential discoveries were so significant that the group of researchers kept the location of the site – the Langfonne ice patch in the Jotunheimen mountains – a secret for years, until all the artifacts had been recovered.

The dates of the finds stretch from the Stone Age to the Medieval period, with different patterns across different time periods. Most of the arrows are from Late Neolithic (2400-1750 BCE) and Late Iron Age (550-1050 CE) eras.

In trying to piece together some of the history of the area from the discoveries, the researchers had to take a lot of different factors into account: the movement of ice and meltwater, the impact of winds and exposure, and so on.

Read more…

27 February 2021

Delving into Viking DNA

Current Archaeology magazine always features interesting articles, this one is nor exception.

Rather than answering the many questions regarding medieval Vikings origins, this very interesting article ads to the mystery, which is a good thing. Perhaps one day we might actually know who these ancient people dubbed Vikings really were and from whence they came. (Ed.)


Delving into Viking DNA
November 3, 2020February 19, 2021

A large study, led by researchers from the University of Copenhagen, has mapped the DNA of the Viking world. The results (recently published in Nature: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2688-8) paint a complex picture of population movement across Europe during this period.

Over ten years, the team sequenced the DNA of 442 individuals whose remains were excavated at archaeological sites across Europe and Greenland, combining it with previously published genetic data from 1,118 ancient human remains as well as DNA from 3,855 people living today. One of the biggest findings from the study was how region-dependent the genetic differences within Scandinavia were. While we often lump all Scandinavians from this period together under the term ‘Viking’, there were actually fairly distinct groups, with individuals from the areas of present-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark displaying specific genetic signatures.
The Ridgeway Hill mass grave in Dorset (see CA 299) which featured in the DNA study. CREDIT: Dorset County Council/Oxford Archaeology

Not only did these groups remain separate within Scandinavia, they also appear to have chosen different regions to invade. The DNA results largely accord with archaeological and historical evidence, indicating that those with Swedish-like DNA mainly travelled eastwards, including around the Baltic region and into present-day Poland; those with Norwegian-like DNA explored the North Atlantic islands, Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland; and those with Danish-like DNA largely went to the British Isles. This adds to other evidence suggesting that the use of the word ‘Dane’ in written sources from medieval Britain – which is sometimes thought of as a catch-all term for ‘Scandinavian’ – may originally have referred to those hailing specifically from Jutland.

The results also show that the term ‘Viking’ was not necessarily a label affixed only to those originating from Scandinavia. Two individuals from Orkney were buried in a Viking fashion, but had no identifiable Scandinavian heritage. Instead, they were more genetically similar to present-day Irish and Scottish populations. The project also found other evidence for cross-cultural connections between the Picts and the Vikings, including two more individuals buried in Orkney who had half Scandinavian ancestry, and five individuals with similarly blended DNA found in Scandinavia.

This last example is just one of many from the dataset which shows movement happening in the reverse direction, with individuals from Britain making their way into Scandinavia – and into the local genetic signature as well.

22 February 2021

Ground-Penetrating Radar Locates Massive Viking Burial Mounds in Norway

The reader is encouraged to visit Ancient Origins web site for the original article - click on the title link.

This is a huge discovery. It will take years to determine exactly what has been found by carefully opening some of the mounds. (Ed.)


Ground-Penetrating Radar Locates Massive Viking Burial Mounds in Norway


An extensive survey using ground penetrating radar in northern Norway has revealed the presence of 15 gigantic Viking burial mounds , along with other measurable remains of ongoing human activity. Based on their sizes, shapes, and designs, archaeologists have dated the mounds and other surrounding features back to the eighth century AD, when the Vikings were beginning their era of expansion and conquest.

Future excavations could reveal new and fascinating details about the beliefs and practices of the settlers who occupied this perpetually frigid and semi-frozen stretch of land, in a time when the predations of the Vikings rudely introduced Scandinavian culture to the outside world.

The survey was undertaken in November 2019 by researchers affiliated with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) devices with a penetrating range of three meters (10 feet), they carefully explored a rectangular area covering 24 acres (10 hectares) in the snow-covered fields of Bodøsjøen, a village in the municipality of Bodø located along the windswept coast of the Norwegian Sea.

The discovery of the burial mounds in Norway was not a surprise. Aerial photographs had already picked up subtle signs of their presence, and it was in fact these photographs that prompted the 2019 survey. ( Norge i Bilder )

The Mystery of the Oval Ditches Found Near Burial Mounds in Norway

The discovery of the burial mounds was not a surprise. Aerial photographs had already picked up subtle signs of their presence, and it was in fact these photographs that prompted the 2019 survey. But what fascinated archaeologists the most was the discovery of 32 moderately-sized oval ditches, an enigmatic feature that has never been seen before in GPR surveys or excavations in this part of Norway. The ditches were oriented similarly, with their narrowest ends facing toward the sea. This suggests the ditches were constructed to minimize exposure to wicked eastward winds, which are frequent and often unrelenting in this part of the globe.

Read more…

14 February 2021

Walrus Ivory Holds the Clue to the Lost Norse Civilization in Greenland

 Here’s an interesting article from The Science Times about a much-debated subject: what happened to the Greenland Norse?

It’s a good question and one that isn’t answered by this article. It has all been said by other authors down through the years, but the fact remains that we simply do not know for certain and I doubt we ever will.

I prefer to think that the Norse settlers gradually assimilated with Indian groups in North America as their business with Europe dried up and the Mini Ice Age descended on the north country with a vengeance. (Ed.)


 Walrus Ivory Holds the Clue to the Lost Norse Civilization in Greenland

Margaret Davis Feb 11, 2021 12:27 AM EST


Around 985AD, Erik the Red founded Norse communities in Greenland after his exile from Iceland that thrived for centuries. However, it did not last as it vanished in the 1400s only leaving ruins as seen today in Greenland.


Artifacts found from this civilization revealed many walrus ivory sculptures, which provide evidence of a trade network that once extended from Northern America to the Mediterranean. 


The Norse communities were able to forge a lucrative economic mainstay in Greenland despite its harsh environmental conditions, Discover reported. Theories about why Norse communities in the area abandoned it is because of climate change with the climate growing colder.


But studies published in the last five years, particularly the 2019 study of the researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Oslo, and Trondheim, found that the Norse communities did not disappear due to climate, but because of the increasing unstable walrus ivory trade.


Walrus Ivory Trade Went From Being a Blessing to Becoming a Curse

A thousand years ago, walrus ivory was a valuable medieval commodity used by the Norse communities in Greenland to trade with those from Europe. Norse in Greenland carved ornate crucifixes, pieces for games like chess, and hnefatafl made from walrus ivory. Even the famous Lewis chessmen were also made of walrus ivory.


However, the study said that this trade slowly went from an economic blessing to become a curse. James H. Barrett, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge and lead author of the study, and his team found that the ivory came from smaller animals, often female, as time wore on.


They tested the bones and found that some of it could even come from ever farther north, which means they must have voyaged for longer periods of time in dangerous journeys but a lesser reward.


"This really cranks up the amount of danger they are facing," said Tom McGovern, an archaeologist from Hunter College in New York who was not part of Barrett's research team.


Science Daily reported that the increasing elephant ivory trade that flooded the European markets during the 13th century, and changes in fashion have led to the decrease in demand for walrus ivory. By the 1400s, walrus ivory imports to mainland Europe have slowly faded.


Barrett said that the Norse abandonment in Greenland may have been due to the depleted resources and volatile prices that were worsened by climate change.


Read more…

12 January 2021

L’Anse aux Meadows – the Viking Settlement in Canada

 Heritage Daily from the UK brings us this well-written and detailed article about the World Heritage Site of L’Anse aux Meadows, located on the northeastern tip of Newfoundland, Canada, the only unquestioned medieval Viking settlement ever discovered in North America.

I have been there, and I must say the place gave me chills. (Ed.)



Reconstruction of Viking structures L’Anse aux Meadows 
Image Credit : Douglas Sprott – CC BY-NC 2.0

L’Anse aux Meadows – the Viking Settlement in Canada


L’Anse aux Meadows is an archaeological site, and the remains of a Norse settlement in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


The earliest evidence of occupation dates from roughly 6,000 years ago, with the most prominent period of prior Norse settlement, dating to the Dorset people, a Paleo-Eskimo culture.


A study of the Norse architectural type, artifacts, and carbon dating suggests that the Norse settled at L’Anse aux Meadows around AD 990–1050. Archaeologists suggest that the settlement served as an exploratory base and winter camp, with industrial activity for iron production and woodworking, likely used for ship repair.


The site consists of eight buildings (labelled from A–J) most likely constructed from sod (grass and the part of the soil beneath it held together by its roots) placed over a wooden frame. Buildings B,C, and G have been identified as possible workshops or dwellings, with building J being an iron smithy, and building D a carpentry workshop.


Read more…


05 December 2020

Left handed Viking sword Discovered in Norway Dig

 Excerpt from the Smithsonian magazine details the discovery of several Viking Age graves in Norway, one of which contained a warrior and his sword. The hypothesis on the swords placement beside the warrior is a stretch, but interesting. (Ed.)


Left handed Viking sword Discovered in Norway Dig

The 1,100-year-old sword found in Norway measures about three feet long. (Courtesy of NTNU University Museum)

Vikings’ weapons were often buried on the opposite side of where their owners had held them in life, pointing toward belief in a “mirror afterlife.”

Norwegian Archaeologists Unearth Grave of Left-Handed Viking Warrior


Archaeologists conducting excavations in Vinjeøra, Norway, recently uncovered a group of ninth- or tenth-century Viking graves—including one whose unusual layout suggests it may contain the cremated remains of a left-handed warrior.

Most swords found in Viking burials are placed on the right side of the grave, explains George Dvorsky for Gizmodo. But this individual was interred with his weapon on his left side.

In combat, Vikings held their sword with one hand while wielding a shield on the other arm. Right-handed fighters kept their scabbard, or sheath, hanging on the left side to facilitate reaching across and pulling out their blade. When these warriors died, they were buried with their sword and scabbard on the right side in a reversal of how they had appeared in life.

“The idea is that this placement must reflect some beliefs that were important in the mortuary rites,” excavation manager Raymond Sauvage, an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), tells Live Science’s Laura Geggel. “Other [Viking] items are often found to be placed mirrored of what is normal. Several archaeologists therefore believe that this may reflect a belief that they understood the afterlife to be mirrored of the normal world.”

Researchers from NTNU are excavating the area ahead of expansion of a highway, according to a statement. So far, finds include the overlapping graves of several warriors—including the probably left-handed Viking—and a burial thought to hold the ashes of an early Viking woman.

The archaeologists made this gender determination based on the presence of artifacts such as an oval brooch, a pair of scissors and several colored beads.

 Combined, the proposed woman’s cremated remains weigh just over four pounds, or the estimated weight of a whole body. Most Iron Age burials contain only half a pound of material. For now, Gizmodo notes, the archaeologists don’t have an explanation for the discrepancy.

 Read more…