14 February 2019

Axe of Iron Trilogy

The Settlers,
An Axe of Iron Novel
: is a tale of survival, strife, love, and the quest
for a new home in the face of hostile opposition.  Conditions of manifest destiny propel a large
contingent of Norse Greenlanders from relative security into an odyssey of
exploration and settlement out over the unknown waters of the North
, to a North America of
1000-years-ago; to a land they called Vinland.

Global Vikings: how the impact of the raiders and trader went far beyond Britain

Here's an interesting article from HistoryExtra that breaks down the Viking Age into specific dates, each featuring an historical event that occurred on that date. (Ed.)


When we think of the Vikings, we generally think of the early medieval Scandinavians who embarked on raids against their neighbours from the ninth to the 11th century. But the Viking age was about far more than invading and pillaging, says historian Levi Roach. Here, he chooses eight key dates that explain the expansion of the Vikings in Europe and beyond…

February 7, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Inspired by History Extra’s 8 key Viking dates you need to know’article, which focuses almost exclusively on Viking activity in England, I’ve come up with a different list – which seeks to place the Viking phenomenon more firmly in its European and global context. The term ‘Viking’ (sometimes now used with a lower-case V) originally referred to those early medieval Scandinavians who embarked on raids against their neighbours. However, as these eight dates reveal, the Viking Age was about far more than invading and pillaging…

782: First contact with wider Europe

For all the attention garnered by the sack of Lindisfarne in 793, this is not, in fact, the first mention of the Vikings. It is not even the first recorded attack. Already in 789, we hear of a Viking group killing a royal officer in southern England. And seven years earlier (782), we are informed that “the Northmen, messengers of King Sigfred [of Denmark]”, came to the court of the great continental ruler Charlemagne in order to establish diplomatic contact.

This embassy sheds important light on the origins and causes of the Viking Age. Trading links between England, the continental mainland and Scandinavia had been growing for some time – as finds of jewellery, ceramics and other imported matters at the southern Danish port of Ribe reveal. According to a study led by archaeologists at the University of York, Vikings were traveling from Norway to a marketplace at Ribe as early as 725 – well before their ‘infamous pillaging’ years.

The sudden appearance of Viking raiders in the later years of the eighth century can be explained by Charlemagne’s conquest of Saxony, just south of Denmark. This was first attempted in 772 and consolidated over the next 30 years. It brought the Frankish empire – the power in mainland Europe – face to face with the Danes, opening new points of contact and new possibilities for raiding. Suddenly, the Danes became aware of the wealth, power and influence of their new neighbours. It was to Denmark that the Saxon leader Widukind fled when he was defeated by Charlemagne’s troops in 777. And just half a decade later, Sigfred made contact with Charlemagne.

27 January 2019

Viking Houses

More good Viking stuff, thanks to Medievalists (Ed.)


Viking house of Fyrkat – photo by Västgöten / Wikimedia Commons

By Minjie Su

The longhouses built in the Norse world were more than just simple structures that served as places of shelter. In many ways they had a life of their own.

Dr Marianne Hem Eriksen spoke on the topic of Longhouses in the Iron and Viking Ages last month at the University Oxford. Currently a visiting research fellow at the University of Cambridge, she is a Norwegian archaeologist researching houses with burial mounds. Erikson argues that the commemorative activities attached to the buried longhouses are not just for individuals who lived there or for those of higher ranks, but they could also be for the houses themselves. After all, the social life and the people who lived in them also make the place full of meaning.

It is these meanings that Dr Eriksen aims to reveal. She is particularly interested in the longhouses’ lives and temporalities, as well as the image of the houses in people’s mind. Her research can be divided into three areas: first, she studies the houses as objects that are related to human personhood and agency; here she also considers the architectural form and materials. Second, she unearths the lives in the house, especially moments of tension and change. Third, she places the longhouses in wider, more networked landscapes and takes into full consideration their roles as part of larger social and political schemes.

12 January 2019

Was the Vikings’ Secret to Success Industrial-Scale Tar Production?

It is interesting that archaeologists now theorize that tar, or more correctly pine tar, to differentiate it from petroleum based tar, may have contributed to the success enjoyed by the Vikings and their magnificent ships.

Who will ever know the answer to that one? Nobody!

Not only did all seagoing people use some greasy substance to waterproof their boats and ships, and protect them from the toredo worm (ship worm), the Norsemen specifically used a product readily available in the vast coniferous forests of Scandinavia, pine sap. Heating or cooking the sap and green wood of pine trees will provide you with all the pine tar you might need.

The modern Norwegian Viking ship, Draken Harald Hardrada, the world's largest currently, is sealed with - you guessed it - pine tar, produced in exactly the same manner as that produced by the Vikings more than 1000-years ago. (Ed.)


Evidence suggests that the ability to mass-produce tar bolstered their trade repertoire and allowed them to waterproof and seal their iconic longships.

Viking tar kiln. (A. Hennius/Antiquity)

OCTOBER 29, 2018

The Vikings are often viewed as brutish, destructive village-pillagers, but their knack for innovation is perhaps overlooked. Viking-age Scandinavia was kind of the Silicon Valley of shipbuilding in the early Medieval period. Their iconic longboat designs, advanced navigational skills, and perhaps even legendary sunstones gave them the ability to raid, trade and establish settlements as far away as Russia, Italy and North Africa. A new study adds another bit of technology to the list of things that gave Vikings a leg up on their adversaries: they may have been capable of making industrial scale quantities of tar, according to a new paper published in the journal Antiquity.

Tar was probably essential to the Vikings’ lifestyle since each longship would have required about 130 gallons of tar to coat all of its wooden elements, the study suggests. Tar was also needed to coat the ships’ wool sails, and the boats would need to be regularly re-tarred between voyages as well. Multiply all that to fit the needs of a fleet and we're talking about a lot of tar here.

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

05 January 2019

Thor’s Hammer in Iceland – an Interview with Ragnheiður Gló Gylfadóttir

Posted by Wild Hunt in October, an interview regarding a new archaeological find on Iceland. (Ed.)

Thor’s Hammer in Iceland 

An Interview with Ragnheiður Gló Gylfadóttir
Karl E. H. Seigfried —  October 27, 2018 — 1 Comment
Pagan Perspectives

A farmstead from the Viking Age was found earlier this month by a local resident in Þjórsárdalur, a valley in the southern highlands of Iceland.

Bergur Þór Björnsson is the great-grandson of the man who discovered the region’s most recently found Viking-era farm back in 1920. With his new find, the total number of known farms stands at twenty-one.

Archaeologists from Fornleifastofnun Ísland (“the Institute of Archaeology in Iceland”) were called to the scene and soon found several small objects. Among them was a Thor’s hammer amulet, only the second ever found in Iceland. Adolf Friðriksson, director of the Institute, told me that record searches so far suggest that this is the first Mjölnir pendant made of stone found anywhere.

29 December 2018

What Really Happened at Viking Funerals? It’s Not What You Think!

Earlier this month the following article from Ancient Origins about the medieval Viking's beliefs about the afterlife were detailed.

Much of the author's statements can only be construed as supposition, but that it about all we have from a culture that existed more than 1000-years ago, for which we have no records written by the Vikings themselves, in spite of ongoing archaeological efforts.
As always, draw your own conclusions. (Ed.)


What Really Happened at Viking Funerals? It’s Not What You Think!

5 DECEMBER, 2018 - 22:58 DHWTY

Like many ancient societies, the Vikings believed in an afterlife, and these were based on the religious beliefs they held. The current understanding of Viking funerary practices has been discovered in both archaeological and textual sources. One of the best-known accounts describing a Viking funeral is to be found in the writings of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a member of the Abbasid embassy that was sent to Volga Bulgaria.

What Did the Vikings Believe About the Afterlife?

Like many other ancient cultures, the Vikings believed that it was possible to take their worldly possessions into the afterlife with them. Therefore, an important feature of Viking funerals was the grave goods. The Vikings believed that warriors who fell in battle would earn the right to enter Valhalla, an enormous hall located in Asgard, the domain of Odin. There, the fallen warriors would feast and fight until the arrival of Ragnarok. Therefore, it was essential that dead Vikings be equipped by the living with the gear necessary for their journey to and stay in Valhalla. Apart from Valhalla, other Viking realms of the dead include Folkvangr (also for warriors), Helgafjell (for those who have led good lives), and Helheim (for those who died dishonorable deaths).

Funeral of a Viking - grave goods were buried with them for their journey and stay into the afterlife. igorigorevich / Adobe)

One of the most important objects required by a dead Viking was a warship. As the Vikings were great sea-farers, they believed that ships would also provide them with safe passage into the afterlife. Although the warship played a prominent role in Viking funerals, there was no typical ‘one-size fits-all’ custom and variations existed according to the status and wealth of the deceased.

Vikings Traveled to the Afterlife by Ship but Not by Sea

Archaeology has revealed that some Viking burial mounds were meant to resemble ships and stones were used to outline the shape of the vessels. Higher ranking Vikings, such as chiefs and kings, were even able to have actual ships accompany them into the afterlife. In some cases, the boats would be buried with its contents, while in others, they would be burnt before the burial. There is also the popular belief today that Viking ships would be set on fire before sent off to sea, though there is no archaeological proof for this practice if it did occur.

Funerary stone settings around Viking burial mounds. (Bunnyfrosch / Public Domain )

Apart from their ships, warriors entering Valhalla would be required to bring their weapons and armor along, and hence these objects were part of a Viking’s grave goods. Archaeologists have found that blades that were part of a Viking’s grave goods would usually be broken or bent. This was meant to symbolically signify the final death of the individual, as the Vikings believed that a warrior’s soul was linked to his weapon. Additionally, the destruction of the blade served as a deterrent to grave robbers.

o Vikings in Ireland: Recent Discoveries Shedding New Light on the Fearsome Warriors that Invaded Irish Shores

o Vikings in Ireland: Traces of Warriors Not Just Buried Beneath the Ground, They Are in the DNA

o Sword of Late Viking Age Burial Unveiled Exhibiting Links Between Norway and England

Archaeologists have found that blades were part of a Viking’s grave goods. Petr / Adobe)
Why Was Human Sacrifice Part of the Viking Funeral?

Viking funerals also involved human sacrifice, as servants and slaves were sent by this means to serve their dead master in the afterlife. The human sacrifice, however, depended on whether the deceased was cremated or buried. For the former, those accompanying the dead would be burnt alive, whereas for the latter, their bodies would be placed in a specific position so as to ensure that they would arrive in the afterlife.

If the deceased was cremated the human sacrifice would be burnt alive to accompany them to the afterlife.Erica Guilane-Nachez / Adobe)

Consequences of an Inadequate Viking Funeral Ritual

Grave goods also served to ensure that the deceased was satisfied in the afterlife. The Vikings believed that if the dead were not appeased, they could return as a draugr (or revenants) to haunt the living. These undead beings could cause much trouble for the living, including crop failure, defeat in war, and pestilence. If a draugr was suspected of causing such troubles, the Vikings would exhume the recently dead and look for signs of undead activity. When a draugr was identified, the Vikings would rebury the body with more grave goods, assuming that the person had been a highly respected person in life. Alternatively, a wooden stake could simply be used to pin the body to the ground and the head chopped off, so as to kill the creature.

A draugr aboard a ship, in sub-human form, wearing oilskins. (Groshek / Public Domain )

A Detailed Account of a Viking Funeral

Lastly, a few words may be said about Ahmad Ibn Fadlan’s famous description of a Viking funeral . Ibn Fadlan was a 10 th century Arab who was part of the embassy sent by the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to Volga Bulgaria (in modern day Russia). A detailed account of the Volga Vikings, including the funeral of a chieftain, may be found in Ibn Fadlan’s writing, known as the Risala. One of the funerary rituals recorded in the Risala is that of a peculiar form of human sacrifice. According to Ibn Fadlan, a slave girl had volunteered to accompany the dead chief into the afterlife. Before being sacrificed, however, she had sexual intercourse with six different men, so as to collect their ‘essence of life’ for the dead chief. It must be pointed out, however, that such a ritual was rare. Ibn Fadlan’s description of a Volga Bulgarian Viking funeral may be unique to that area and is not necessarily representative of Viking funerals elsewhere.

Top image: The Funeral of a Viking - painting 1893. Source (Manchester Art Gallery / Public Domain )

By Wu Mingren


01 December 2018

Do CanadianCarvings Depict Vikings? Removing Mammal Fat May Tell

This interesting article from Live Science features information on the continuing quest to answer the many questions arising from what archaeological findings in the Canadian Arctic really mean and when they were produced. (Ed.)


By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | October 16, 2018 07:38am ET

Credit: Shutterstock

Carvings uncovered in the Canadian Arctic may be the earliest portraits of the Vikings created in the Americas. But archaeologists have been puzzling over whether the artwork really shows the infamous seafarers.

Now, scientists think a simple, flammable liquid called acetone could help solve this mystery by removing sea-mammal oil and fat from these artifacts and other artifacts found near them. Until now, those contaminants have prevented scientists from getting an accurate radiocarbon date, according to a paper published in the August issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Oily problem
The Vikings, along with other peoples who lived in arctic or subarctic environments, used oils and fat from sea mammals for a variety of purposes, including preparing food and cooking. The substances interfere with radiocarbon dating, because rather than getting the date of the artifact, you may get the date for the oil and fat covering the object, study authors Michele Hayeur Smith, Kevin Smith and Gørill Nilsen wrote in the new paper.

Hayeur Smith is a research associate at the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University in Rhode Island, where Smith is chief curator. Nilsen is an archaeology professor at the Arctic University of Norway. [In Photos: Viking Settlement Discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows]

Credit: Owen Jarus
The carvings were created by the indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic. The new method may help date them. This particular carving is from Axel Heiberg Island. 

Arctic environments often have little soil accumulation, making it easier for oil and fat to get on artifacts lying in the ground. "Across the Arctic, where most sites are shallow, reoccupation episodes thousands of years apart may be separated from one another by mere centimeters of soil development," the scientists wrote. This means that artifacts can intermix with oil and fat from a variety of time periods making it hard to tell when artifacts date to.

Acetone to the rescue
To solve this radiocarbon-dating problem, Nilsen developed a few methods to remove sea-mammal oil and fat from artifacts. To test the methods, Nilsen used samples of wood dated, via radiocarbon methods, to around 42,000 years ago. She drenched those samples in modern-day sea-mammal oil.

Her first method used a mix of acids and alkalis, but it failed, resulting in dates of 16,000 years ago. That suggested the process hadn't stripped off all of the oil and fats, Nilsen said. She then tried two acetone-based methods, and both were successful.

Solving mysteries
The ability to remove sea-mammal oils and fats from artifacts is a "major breakthrough" for archaeologists studying the Vikings and other Arctic peoples, the three researchers said. 

Credit: Michele Hayeur-Smith, Canadian Museum of History collection number KdDq-9 4268
A sample of spun yarn found in the Canadian Arctic. A new method of removing sea mammal oil from artifacts helped prove that the indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic already knew how to spin yarn when the Vikings arrived in the area.

The new method has already helped solve one mystery, the scientists said. They used it to radiocarbon-date samples of spun yarn found by archaeologists at various sites in the Canadian Arctic.

A long-running debate disputes whether the Vikings taught indigenous peoples in the Canadian Arctic how to spin yarn when the invaders arrived in the region around 1,000 years ago. The team found that some of the spun yarn dates back at least 2,000 years, long before the Vikings arrived in the area. This shows that the indigenous peoples in the Canadian Arctic developed yarn-spinning technologies without any help from the Vikings, the scientists said.

Wooden carvings
Now it may be possible to solve the mystery of the wooden carvings from the Canadian Arctic. These carvings, which were created by the region's indigenous peoples, have features that some scholars believe identify the objects as Viking.

Researchers haven't radiocarbon-dated any of the wooden carvings so far, Hayeur Smith told Live Science, adding that the initial round of radiocarbon dating focused on textiles.

One of the carvings was excavated in the 1970s at the Okivilialuk site on southern Baffin Island.Two textiles found near the Okivilialuk carving date back to the 16th century, suggesting that the carving may also date back to that time, the scientists said. This carving may not show a Viking, but it could show someone from one of Sir Martin Frobisher's expeditions to the Canadian Arctic in the 1570s, the researchers said.

Researcher Patricia Sutherland urged caution on these findings, saying that excavation records indicate that the Okivilialukcarving was found at a lower level (meaning it was created earlier) than the textiles. Sutherland is a research associate at Carleton University in Canada who has excavated extensively in the Canadian Arctic but is not involved in the new research. That finding, Sutherland said, suggests that the carving may date back to earlier than the 16th century meaning it could show Vikings.  

Originally published on Live Science.