18 February 2020

Viking Ulfberht Sword

This week we have featured an article from Ancient Origins about a very famous sword, perhaps made by Viking smiths, composed of a steel difficult to replicate today. 

This may be the most famous sword blade of the Viking era, but it is thought that the steel that was forged into these magnificent blades originated in the Rhineland of Germany, not Scandinavia.(Ed.)


Viking Ulfberht Sword
Viking Ulfberht blades were forged with crucible steel and have the curious inscription ‘VLFBERHT' on the blade. Dated between the ninth and 11th centuries, according to an article on War History , today’s best blacksmiths have had a hard time reproducing this material, which is more superior to what is found in average medieval swords. The sharpness of the blades means wielders could easily cut through bones and lower-quality weapons with one blow, which raises the question, 'How did Viking warriors develop such an advanced sword with such a pure metal that was hundreds of years ahead of the Viking technologies of the time?

Ulfberht sword (ninth century), found in 1960 in the Old Rhine close to Friesenheimer Insel, Mannheim. Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg. ( Anagoria/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

The scientists who have tested the swords calculated that crucible steel, with its high carbon content (up to 1.2%) meant it was necessary to have heated the metals to a temperature of 1,600° C. This indicates the Ulfberhts were about 800 years ahead of European methods of achieving such high temperatures, which were not figured out until the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

Read more…

09 February 2020

Roman Coin Found in Norway

Discovery of a Roman coin in northern Norway from the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius is detailed in an article excerpt from Sputnik News.

Not only does archaeology not know how far the Roman Empire extended into the north, they don't know how far one of Earth's greatest civilizations went in any other direction. Most discoveries made over the centuries gave archaeologists enough information that they could give the public an educated guess on what it all means.

A guess is something you might have to take back at some point, and that is the case here. (Ed.)


Roman coin from the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Roman Coin Found in Northern Norway May Redraw Historic Trade Map
© CC0
06:33 GMT 20.01.2020

The Roman coin was found only 15 centimetres deep in the soil; it dates back to the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and is the northernmost find of its kind, signalling that trade contacts in the area date back to the Iron Age.

In just a few days, hobby archaeologist Ben-Harry Johansen found a 2,000-year-old coin and a richly decorated 1,000-year-old Viking sword at Våg in the municipality of Dønna on the Helgeland coast, national broadcaster NRK reported.

“The coin lay only 15 centimetres into the earth, in the so-called plough layer, where people with metal detectors are allowed to search,” Ben-Harry Johansen recalled with excitement.

Researchers described finds of this calibre as extremely rare, especially at the amateur level.

According to Caroline Fredriksen, a research fellow at the Department of Archaeology and Cultural History at the Science Museum at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, both the coin and the sword are very important finds.
“The sword is special because it has decor with silver and copper inlay. Most people did not possess such great swords in the Viking Age. And the coin is the northernmost Roman coin we have found in Norway,” Fredriksen told NRK.

Ben-Harry Johansen's coin dates back to the time of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), according to Fredriksen. Marcus Aurelius, also a Stoic philosopher, ruled from 161 to 180 and was the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, as well as the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire.
“This finding suggests that Dønna had international contacts as early as the Iron Age. The findings show that Nordland was part of the Iron Age trade network,” Fredriksen concluded.

According to the research, metal detectors used for hobby purposes are becoming increasingly trendy in Norway, and the metal search associations are reporting increasing interest. This is reflected in the the number of historical discoveries that increased dramatically over the past decade. This, in turn, has raised objections from a number of professionals, as well as the police.

“In Norway, metal searching is legal, as long as you follow the Cultural Heritage Act, and are complying with the the guidelines for private metal searching,” Frederiksen explained, suggesting that there are arguments to be made for and against hobby archaeology.

37-year-old Ben-Harry Johansen and his friends go on trips with metal detectors as often as they can, but they say it's a time-consuming hobby. Still, he has found several objects of interest, including a silver bracelet, an axe and a lead cross with a runic inscription.

“I am interested in history, and there has been great activity by Vikings here on the island. Here, among other things, there is a boat tomb and several burial mounds, which I find interesting,” Johansen said. “As in Dønna, for example, where the objects found can say something about the wealth and social status of the place, but also who the people here were in contact with”.

03 February 2020

Viking Graves Found in Poland

The following excerpt from a Polish FirstNews article, regards the finding of graves containing four Viking warriors that purportedly came to northern Poland from Denmark about 1000-years ago. (Ed.)


Viking Graves Found in Poland

The graves were found in a medieval cemetery in the village of Ciepłe, northern Poland.Z. Ratajczak
Archeologists find VIKING graves in Polish village

Archaeologists in northern Poland have made an unexpected discovery: certain local graves from the Middle Ages belonged to warriors from Scandinavia.

The discovery was made in a medieval cemetery in the village of Ciepłe, in the Pomeranian region in northern Poland.

Some of the graves are around 1,000 years old; they belong to people who lived during the reign of Bolesław the Brave, the first King of Poland, who lived from 967 to 1025.


Archaeology news: Researchers in Poland uncovered the remains of four Scandinavian warriors (Image: J. Szmit/Z. Ratajczyk)

28 January 2020

Rot Hastens Viking Ship's Excavation

This article excerpt comes to us from Norway - newsinenglish.no - where archaeologists have located another Viking ship burial. The difference this time is that Norway has not excavated a complete Viking Age ship in 114-years, and this one was found using ground penetrating radar - Georadar. Now that is definitely noteworthy.

Scientists hope to excavate the entire area as soon as possible out of fears that the ship could be lost due to rot, and to discover what else may be buried there. I can hardly wait for more on this developing story. (Ed.)


January 20, 2020

Archaeologists and Norway’s director of cultural heritage are calling for rapid excavation of a Viking ship found buried in a field at Gjellestad near Halden in the fall of 2018. They’ve won initial support from government officials, setting the stage for what could be the first full-scale Viking ship excavation in Norway for 114 years.

Preliminary excavation work at the Viking ship site at Gjellestad was carried out late last summer. Now experts recommend a full-scale dig of the entire area.
PHOTO: Riksantikvaren/Lene Buskoven

“A Viking ship is so important for Norwegian history, and we have an international responsibility here,” said Ola Elvestuen, government minister in charge of culture and the environment, just after test results from the site were presented on Friday. They were extracted during careful and preliminary digging around the vessel in August and September of last year.
Samples from the so-called “Gjellestad-ship’s” keel found last year have revealed signs of mildew or dry rot, indicating that the vessel could rapidly deteriorate if left in the ground. The overall condition of the ship was described as poor.
“When it’s no longer an alternative to take care of the vessel by letting it remain in the ground, this is no longer about how much of the ship should be dug out, but about when, how and to what degree it should be done,” Elvestuen added. He fears, along with the experts, that much of the vessel may rot away unless a major excavation gets underway “in the course of quite a short time.”
Project leader Christian Glorstad of the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History showed a sample of the Viking ship to Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen and Riksantikvar Hanna Geiran, Norway’s director general of cultural monuments. PHOTO: KMD
The vessel’s discovery through the use of georadar made international news in the fall of 2018. It’s believed to have been buried along with a Viking chief referred to in one of the sagas as “King Jell” in the area that’s also believed to contain five Viking langhus (literally, long houses that housed both people and animals) and at least 10 burial mounds. Two of the houses date from the years 400-500 while the ship has been linked to the early Viking period that ran from around 800-1050AD. Archaeologists have dated it to 733AD at the earliest.

11 January 2020

The First Vikings

Archaeology magazine alluded to this 2013 article with their article of "Possible Viking-Era Grave Discovered in Estonia," published on Tuesday, December 10, 2019. Since the 2013 article contains all the data of discovery, I include it alone. (Ed.)


(Courtesy Liina Maldre, University of Tallinn)

The carefully stacked remains of 33 men were buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to an Estonian island more than a century before the Vikings are thought to have been able to sail across such distances.

The First Vikings

Two remarkable ships may show that the Viking storm was brewing long before their assault on England and the continent


July/August 2013

(Courtesy Liina Maldre, University of Tallinn)

The carefully stacked remains of 33 men were buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to an Estonian island more than a century before the Vikings are thought to have been able to sail across such distances.

According to historians, the Viking Age began on June 8, A.D. 793, at an island monastery off the coast of northern England. A contemporary chronicle recorded the moment with a brief entry: “The ravages of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, with plunder and slaughter.” The “heathen men” were Vikings, fierce warriors who sailed from Scandinavia and bore down on their prey in Europe and beyond in sleek, fast-sailing ships. In the centuries that followed, the Vikings’ vessels carried them deep into Russia and as far south as Constantinople, Sicily, and possibly even North Africa. They organized flotillas capable of carrying warriors across vast distances, and terrorized the English, Irish, and French coasts with lightning-fast raids. Exploratory voyages to the west took them all the way to North America.

The Vikings’ explosion across Europe and Asia and into the Americas was the result of the right combination of tools, technology, adventurousness, and ferocity. They came to be known as an unstoppable force capable of raiding and trading on four continents, yet our understanding of what led up to that June day on Lindisfarne is surprisingly shaky. A recent discovery on a remote Baltic island is beginning to change that. Two ships filled with slain warriors uncovered on the Estonian island of Saaremaa may help archaeologists and historians understand how the Vikings’ warships evolved from short-range, rowed craft to sailing ships; where the first warriors came from; and how their battle tactics developed. “We all agree these burials are Scandinavian in origin,” says Marge Konsa, an archaeologist at the University of Tartu. “This is our first taste of the Viking era.”

Between them, the two boats contain the remains of dozens of men. Seven lay haphazardly in the smaller of the two boats, which was found first. Nearby, in the larger vessel, 33 men were buried in a neat pile, stacked like wood, together with their weapons and animals. The site seems to be a hastily arranged mass grave, the final resting place for Scandinavian warriors killed in an ill-fated raid on Saaremaa, or perhaps waylaid on a remote beach by rivals. The archaeologists believe the men died in a battle some time between 700 and 750, perhaps almost as much as a century before the Viking Age officially began. This was an era scholars call the Vendel period, a transitional time not previously known for far-reaching voyages—or even for sails. The two boats themselves bear witness to the tremendous technological transformations in the eighth-century Baltic.

In 2008, workers digging trenches for electrical cables in the tiny island town of Salme uncovered human bones and a variety of odd objects that they unceremoniously piled next to their trench. Local authorities at first assumed the remains belonged to a luckless WWII soldier, until Konsa arrived and recognized a spearhead and carved-bone gaming pieces among the artifacts, clear signs the remains belonged to someone from a much earlier conflict. Together with a small team, Konsa dug a little deeper and soon found traces of a boat’s hull. Nearly all of the craft’s timber had rotted away, leaving behind only discolorations in the soil. But 275 of the iron rivets holding the boat together remained in place, allowing the researchers to reconstruct the outlines of the 38-foot-long craft.

Soon Konsa realized she had found something unique for this place and period. “This isn’t a fishing boat, it’s a war boat,” Konsa says. “It’s quite fast and narrow, and also quite light.” Based on radiocarbon dating of tiny fragments of boat timbers, Konsa estimates the vessel was built between 650 and 700, and perhaps repaired and patched for decades before making its final voyage. It had no sail, and would have been rowed for short stretches along the Baltic coast, or between islands to make the journey from Scandinavia to the seafarers’ hunting grounds farther east. From bones found inside the boat, Konsa pieced together the remains of the seven men, all between the ages of 18 and 45. She also found knives, whetstones, and a bone comb among the remains. The craft was a remarkable find—the first such boat ever recovered in Estonia, complete with the bodies of its slain crew.


05 January 2020

Mysterious double Viking boat burial discovered

From FoxNews, more on the archaeological discovery in Norway. (Ed.)

Mysterious double Viking boat burial discovered

A mysterious double Viking boat burial has been discovered in Norway, intriguing experts.

An artist's illustration of the older grave, which dates to the 8th century A.D. (Illustration: Arkikon)

Last month archaeologists excavating a site at Vinjeroa in central Norway uncovered the boat grave of a woman who died in the second half of the 9th century. Shell-shaped gilded bronze brooches and a crucifix-shaped brooch fashioned from an Irish harness fitting were found in the grave, along with a pearl necklace, two pairs of scissors, part of a spindle and a cow’s skull, according to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Archaeologists, however, were surprised to find that, instead of digging a new grave for the woman, she and her boat were placed inside a larger boat grave from 100 years earlier. The larger boat, which measures between 29.5 feet and 32.8 feet long, contains the remains of a man who was buried with his weapons.

While most of the wood from the boats has rotted away, their rivets were still in position, so archaeologists were able to identify the double boat burial. The man had been buried with a spear, a shield and a shingle-edged sword.

30 December 2019

It escapes me why anyone would concern themselves, 1000-years or so after the event – when some hungry Norseman killed the last Icelandic walrus on earth – but, here we have an article on just that concern.

Norsemen killed or produced everything they ate, there were no grocery stores to go shopping in for food. So, did they kill lots of animals? You bet, and so would you if you were hungry. Oh, and they even ate their dogs when necessary, and probably each other - only when necessary, of course.

Whoever was able to kill the last walrus on Iceland, I say well-done, I am certain the fat and meat fed your family for quite some time. (Ed.)


Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia

Ancient DNA says the extinct Icelandic walruses were a genetically distinct population.

KIONA N. SMITH - 11/4/2019, 7:24 AM

There are no walruses in Iceland, but, at one time, there were hundreds. The timing of the walruses' disappearance suggests that the population's loss may be one of the earliest known examples of humans driving a marine species to local extinction.

The ghost of walruses past
Walruses used to be a major feature of life in Iceland. Several settlements and landmarks along Iceland’s coast still bear names that refer to walruses, and a few of the medieval Sagas (the stories of the island’s early settler families) even mention them. The Saga of Hrafin Sveinbjarnarson, written down sometime in the late 1100s, tells the story of a chieftain who killed a walrus and brought its tusks and skull to Canterbury Cathedral in England. But the walruses themselves have been reduced to only a few ancient bones and tusks.

Did the walruses disappear before or after the Norse arrived? In other words, did the Norse kill off Iceland’s walruses, or did the population die of natural causes? Because Iceland has no living walruses today, historians have debated whether the place names referred to places where walruses were living when people arrived or just places where settlers found the skulls and tusks of long-dead animals. The walrus tusks that Hrafin Sveinbjarnarson delivered to England could have been part of a thriving Icelandic walrus population, but it could also have been only a lost wanderer from more distant shores.

To learn more about Iceland’s pinniped past, evolutionary genomicist Xenia Keighley of the University of Copenhagen and her colleagues radiocarbon dated and sequenced DNA from 34 samples of bones and tusks from walruses in the Icelandic Museum of Natural History. The DNA studies also showed that Iceland’s long-lost walruses were a distinct branch of the walrus family. The oldest walrus remains in the museum, dating to 5502-5332 BC, were related to the ancestors of today’s Atlantic walrus population. More recent samples, though, belonged to a separate mitochondrial branch of the walrus family tree, genetically distinct from every group that’s known in the North Atlantic—including the older Icelandic walruses.

“I would suspect that the most recent clade represent a colonization event that replaced the lineage represented by the old sample, rather than the old sample being a direct ancestor to the more recent clade,” co-author Morten Olsen, also an evolutionary genomicist at the University of Copenhagen, told Ars.

Radiocarbon dates of the bones, combined with the walruses’ genomes, provided an estimate of the size of their breeding population, which suggested that walruses had lived on Iceland’s coasts for around 7,500 years. Although their numbers had been small—perhaps around 1,000 walruses at any one time—their foothold on the island had been pretty stable until around 1213-1330 AD, well after Norse settlement began in 870 AD.