24 September 2010

Long Sought Viking Settlement Found

Author's Note: here is more news on the exciting medieval Viking archaeological site recently unearthed in northern Ireland 70-kilometers north of present day Dublin, near the town of Annagassan, County Lough, just off the Irish Sea coast.
September 23, 2010

Science Now

The Vikings, the famed Scandinavian warriors, started raiding Ireland in 795 and plundered it for decades, before establishing two Irish outposts, according to the Annals of Ulster, a 15th century account of medieval Ireland.

One outpost, Dúbh Linn, became Dublin, the other, Linn Duchaill, was lost in time. Perhaps until now. A team of archaeologists announced on Friday that it has found the lost Viking settlement near the village of Annagassan, 70 kilometers north of Dublin. "We are unbelievably delighted," said archaeologist and team leader, Mark Clinton, an independent archaeological consultant.

The Annagassan locals have long believed they lived near an ancient Viking town or fort. The stories of Viking raids were told to local children by schoolteachers, and there were also occasional finds that underscored this story. For example, a few years ago, a set of handcuffs once used to shackle Viking slaves was found by a farmer ploughing land. The modern search for Linn Duchaill began 5 years ago when a local filmmaker named Ruth Cassidy, a member of the Annagassan and District Historical Society, enlisted the help of Clinton, a family friend, to find the lost Viking town. They searched through 2005, 2006, and 2007 and were on the point of despair when they came across a flat area- ideal for lifting boats out of the water for shipbuilding and repairs- a couple of kilometers up the River Glyde. They managed to secure funding to pay for a geophysicist, John Nicholls, to survey the site. Nicholls found a series of defensive ditches about 4 meters deep, running in lines. The pattern of ditches does not seem compatible with the typical Irish structure of the period, a ring fort, and no evidence of a Norman settlement, such as moat or castle remains, was found. That left just one other option: Vikings.

Despite this evidence, the researchers struggled to secure funding for excavation work. But the local Louth County Museum eventually offered funds to excavate at three locations. The team found 200 objects in 3 weeks, convincing them that they had found a major Viking shipbuilding town. There is evidence of impressive engineering, with an artificial island constructed out of the landscape to offer protection from attacks by the indigenous Irish. There is evidence of carpentry, smelting, and ship repair, with ship rivets dotted around the site. These features alone would make the site significant as few Viking longphorts- or shipbuilding towns- have been excavated. The team also found hacked coins, which Clinton says were a typical "calling card" of the Vikings, but there is also a total absence of pottery- the Vikings used wooden bowls. There are "high status" early Christian objects, too, probably stolen from the Irish.

Other Viking experts are cautiously optimistic that the long-lost Viking outpost has been found but emphasize the settlement needs to be solidly dated before the case is closed. "If the settlement found can be identified as Linn Duchaill, its value for linking archaeology to the written sources is very important," says Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. "In addition, it appears that the site is almost untouched by later activity, unlike those of Dublin- some longphorts developed into urban settlements- and thus it might provide important knowledge of this particular type of settlement."

"It's really, really exciting," adds Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, an expert in Viking studies of Ireland and Britain. "I'm looking forward to hearing about the finds and the dating of the finds. It's a really important step in thinking about the westward expansion of the Vikings, and the importance that Ireland had for the Viking world is something that hasn't been recognized. Ireland in the Viking age is of strategic importance."

One lingering question is why Linn Duchaill was abandoned while Dublin thrived. One theory is that because Dublin has better 24-hour access to the sea, it meant that the Vikings there could take to their ships and head out when they were under attack. At Linn Duchaill, tidal fluctuations would cut off access for several hours a day.

21 September 2010

Home of Ice Giants thaws, shows pre Viking hunts

September 15, 2010


Climate change is exposing reindeer hunting gear used by the Vikings' ancestors faster than archaeologists can collect it from ice thawing in northern Europe's highest mountains.

"It's like a time machine...the ice has not been this small for many, many centuries," said Lars Piloe, a Danish scientist heading a team of "snow patch archaeologists" on newly bare ground 1,850 meters (6,070 ft) above sea level in mid-Norway.

Specialized hunting sticks, bows and arrows and even a 3,400-year-old leather shoe have been among finds since 2006 from a melt in the Jotunheimen mountains, the home of the "Ice Giants" of Norse mythology.

As water streams off the Juvfonna ice field, Piloe and two other archaeologists -- working in a science opening up due to climate change -- collect "scare sticks" they reckon were set up 1,500 years ago in rows to drive reindeer toward archers.

But time is short as the Ice Giants' stronghold shrinks.

"Our main focus is the rescue part," Piloe said on newly exposed rocks by the ice. "There are many ice patches. We can only cover a few...We know we are losing artefacts everywhere."

Freed from an ancient freeze, wood rots in a few years. And rarer feathers used on arrows, wool or leather crumble to dust in days unless taken to a laboratory and stored in a freezer.

Jotunheimen is unusual because so many finds are turning up at the same time -- 600 artefacts at Juvfonna alone.

Other finds have been made in glaciers or permafrost from Alaska to Siberia. Italy's iceman "Otzi," killed by an arrow wound 5,000 years ago, was found in an Alpine glacier in 1991. "Ice Mummies" have been discovered in the Andes.


Patrick Hunt, of Stanford University in California who is trying to discover where Carthaginian general Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BC with an army and elephants, said there was an "alarming rate" of thaw in the Alps.

"This is the first summer since 1994 when we began our Alpine field excavations above 8,000 ft that we have not been inundated by even one day of rain, sleet and snow flurries," he said.

"I expect we will see more 'ice patch archaeology discoveries'," he said. Hannibal found snow on the Alpine pass he crossed in autumn, according to ancient writers.

Glaciers are in retreat from the Andes to the Alps, as a likely side-effect of global warming caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases, the U.N. panel of climate experts says.

The panel's credibility has suffered since its 2007 report exaggerated a thaw by saying Himalayan glaciers might vanish by 2035. It has stuck to its main conclusion that it is "very likely" that human activities are to blame for global warming.

"Over the past 150 years we have had a worldwide trend of glacial retreat," said Michael Zemp, director of the Swiss-based World Glacier Monitoring Service. While many factors were at play, he said "the main driver is global warming."

In Norway, "some ice fields are at their minimum for at least 3,000 years," said Rune Strand Oedegaard, a glacier and permafrost expert from Norway's Gjoevik University College.

The front edge of Jovfunna has retreated about 18 meters (60 ft) over the past year, exposing a band of artefacts probably from the Iron Age 1,500 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating. Others may be from Viking times 1,000 years ago.

Juvfonna, about 1 km across on the flank of Norway's highest peak, Galdhoepiggen, at 2,469 meters, also went through a less drastic shrinking period in the 1930s, Oedegaard said.


Inside the Juvfonna ice, experts have carved a cave to expose layers of ice dating back 6,000 years. Some dark patches turned out to be ancient reindeer droppings -- giving off a pungent smell when thawed out.

Ice fields like Juvfonna differ from glaciers in that they do not slide much downhill. That means artefacts may be where they were left, giving an insight into hunting techniques.

On Juvfonna, most finds are "scare sticks" about a meter long. Each has a separate, flapping piece of wood some 30 cm long that was originally tied at the top. The connecting thread is rarely found since it disintegrates within days of exposure.

"It's a strange feeling to be tying a string around this stick just as someone else did maybe 1,500 years ago," said Elling Utvik Wammer, a archaeologist on Piloe's team knotting a tag to a stick before storing it in a box for later study.

All the finds are also logged with a GPS satellite marker before being taken to the lab for examination.

The archaeologists reckon they were set up about two meters apart to drive reindeer toward hunters. In summer, reindeer often go onto snow patches to escape parasitic flies.

Such a hunt would require 15 to 20 people, Piloe said, indicating that Norway had an organized society around the start of the Dark Ages, 1,500 years ago. Hunters probably needed to get within 20 meters of a reindeer to use an iron-tipped arrow.

"You can nearly feel the hunter here," Piloe said, standing by a makeshift wall of rocks exposed in recent weeks and probably built by an ancient archer as a hideaway.


19 September 2010

More on Fortress uncovered: Co Louth Viking site of international importance

September 18, 2010

Irish Times

A VIKING fortress of international importance has been uncovered at Annagassan, Co Louth (northern Ireland-blog author). It is believed to be the longphort (ship fortress) of Linn Duchaill, founded in AD 841 the same year as Viking Dublin.

"Finds of Viking ship rivets, cut-up Viking silver and looted Irish metalwork also appears to be amongst the excavated material," said archaeologist Dr Mark Clinton.

A defensive rampart, consisting of a deep ditch and a bank, was excavated and, while the results of radio carbon tests are awaited to confirm the date, it "has all the appearances of the main fortification of the Viking fortress," he said. The excavations have also uncovered part of a human skull, a whorl for spinning thread and a brooch pin.

Dr Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum, said: "This could be on a par with Woodstown in Waterford, which has been shown to be a pure Scandinavian settlement of the mid-ninth century during the raiding phase of the Vikings."

Eamonn Kelly, keeper of antiquities with the National Museum, said attempts to identify this site date back more than 200 years, "and the significance of it is immense. It will be up there with all the major Viking sites in Europe."

The current excavations, by professional archaeologists, began three weeks ago.

The discovery of the fortress, which is located on a stretch of land between the coast and the river Glyde, is especially exciting as it is on agricultural land and as such is "completely preserved", he said.

Dr Clinton described the defensive ditch at Annagassan as "massive" and said it was clear the Vikings had built it across an inlet on the river, some 200m from the Irish Sea.

The extensive site was uncovered following an excavation by Archer Heritage Planning, directed by Dr Clinton in collaboration with archaeologist Mr Kelly and local historian Michael McKeown, under the aegis of the Annagassan and District Historical Society.

The discovery has caused excitement in Co Louth, with 30 visitors to the site yesterday.

Dr Clinton said the finds "will be conserved and analyzed and a full report of the findings published".

18 September 2010

Viking site discovered in Co Louth

September 17, 2010

Radio Television Ireland(RTE)

Archaeologists believe they have found the remains of a huge Viking fortress near the village of Annagassan in Co Louth. (Blog author note - northern Ireland near the coast of the Irish Sea)

Three test trenches carried out on the site have revealed human remains, as well as the remains of 'hack' silver used for ship's ballast, nails for ship building and other artifacts of day-to-day life.

The test trenches have also revealed signs of a huge defensive wall, which would have protected the settlement on one side with the River Glyde and the Irish Sea protecting it on the other sides.

Archaeologists believe the site is that of Linn Duchaill, which was founded by the Vikings in 841 AD and which was a rival to the other large Viking town, Dublin.

According to the Ulster Annals, the Vikings used this base to raid inland as far as Longford and up to Armagh.

It is believed Linn Duchaill was a large trading town, exporting Irish slaves and looted goods.

There was also a large pitched battle there between the 'fair haired' Vikings and 'dark haired' Vikings in 851AD.

The site was last mentioned in the Ulster Annals in 927AD when it states that the Viking fleet left for Britain.

The discovery comes after years of work by local enthusiasts and members of the Annagassan and District Historical Society who always believed the area was the site of a large Viking settlement.

Several years ago they got funding from the Louth County Museum to carry out geophysical work on the site which showed the field as a likely candidate.

Now with funding from the Louth Leader Project, the test trenching has revealed these latest finds.

Those involved believe the find is of international significance and they hope the archaeological work will continue there for years.

16 September 2010

More on Ancient Norse Settlements Hit Cold Spell

More on Ancient Norse Settlements Hit Cold Spell

Discovery News

March 11, 2010

A long cooling period may have led to famine in Greenland and Iceland more than 1,000 years ago.

New research reveals just how bad an idea it was to colonize Greenland and Iceland more than a millennium ago: average temperatures in Iceland plummeted nearly 6 degrees Celsius in the century that followed the island's Norse settlement in about A.D. 870, a climate record gleaned from mollusk shells shows.

The record is the most precise year-by-year chronology yet of temperatures experienced by the northern Norse colonies, says William Patterson, an isotope geochemist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, who led the new work. The study will appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We're aware from written documents of the kinds of things that people faced in the North Atlantic over the last 1,000 years," he says. "This is a way to quantify the experiences they had."

For instance, Icelandic sagas mention several famines that took place in the first century after settlement, at the time temperatures were dropping. But Astrid Ogilvie, an Arctic historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says it's a stretch to blame those famines -- in which, as one saga describes it, "the old and helpless were killed and thrown over cliffs" -- totally on climate.

The mollusk temperature record is "all tremendously interesting," she says, "but there is a caveat -- we can't be 100 percent sure that climate was involved" in the famine.

The study will, however, help historians better understand exactly what was going on in the Norse settlements over the years, Ogilvie says.

Patterson's team made detailed measurements of oxygen isotopes contained within 26 mollusk shells taken from sediment cores drilled off the northwestern coast of Iceland. The ratio of oxygen-16 to oxygen-18 in the shells varies depending on water temperature, so the amounts of the two isotopes can be used as a proxy to gauge how hot or cold things were.

The shells show a large amount of variation both within years and from year to year. For instance, the researchers say, winter temperature variability increased between 990 and 1120, a time when written records suggest that crops occasionally failed. By 1250, things heated up again and summer temperatures reached 10 degrees Celsius, possibly the highest in three centuries. Within decades, though, temperatures began to plunge again.

While Iceland remained settled through the modern day, Norse settlements in Greenland were abandoned by the early 15th century. Many researchers believe that climate changes played at least a minor role.

10 September 2010

Scientist lives as Inuit for a year to save disappearing language

CNN News
August 14, 2010

A British anthropologist is setting out on a year long stay with a small community in Greenland in an ambitious attempt to document its dying language and traditions.

Stephen Pax Leonard will live with the Inughuit in north-west Greenland, the world's most northernmost people, and record their conversations and story-telling traditions to try and preserve their language.

The Inughuit, who speak Inuktun, a "pure" Inuit dialect, are under increasing political and climactic pressure to move south, says Leonard.

"They have around 10 to 15 years left in their present location, then climate change and politics will force them to move south and they will be assimilated into a different culture, into a broader community, and their way of life will be lost," Leonard told CNN.

Leonard, who flies out to Copenhagen on Sunday before heading to Greenland, says there are about 1,000 speakers of Inuktun, an undocumented language.

Although most Inughuit are trilingual, also speaking Danish and Greenlandic, their primary language is still Inuktun.

"There is no doubt that this is a major linguistic challenge... they speak a very pure form of Inuit, partly because of their geographic isolation. Their entire culture is based on a story-telling culture."

Leonard, an anthropological linguist at Cambridge University, England, is under no doubt about the physical and cultural hurdles that face him. The average temperature is minus 25 degrees Celsius, although it can fall to minus 40 degrees Celsius in the winter.

Inughuit, which is the name of the northern Inuits, are hunter-gatherers; they do not have a cash economy and the men can spend weeks away from home hunting for walruses, seals and other mammals. They still use dog sleds in the winter and kayaks in the summer.

Hivshu, an Inughuit who now lives in Sweden, helped Leonard establish contacts with his former community in Greenland.

He has written about the Inughuit way of life on his website: "Even before I went to school I began assisting my father when he was out hunting, summer or winter, no difference. That was the way I heard the stories about my ancestors and their songs told and sung by the old people as it was a tradition to tell the stories and sing the traditional drum songs of Inuit to all of us during the hunting."

Leonard says he is determined to become a part of their community and plans to hunt with the men if he is allowed.

He is taking solid-state audio recorders that should work in the freezing conditions and plans to produce an "ethnography of speaking" that he hopes will be a permanent record that shows how their language and culture are interconnected.

05 September 2010


History may be defined as “a chronological record of significant events, often with an explanation of their causes.” 2000 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

An historical event is often quoted on the evening news as a basis of comparison for current events, or to reinforce a pundit’s opinion. The fabric of our daily lives is frequently held up against the backdrop of history, to give credibility—the ring of truth. But how much of what we accept as historical fact actually ever happened as we have always thought, or been taught? Not much, in my opinion. “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” Napoleon Bonaparte

Contemporary events are often manipulated to make a political point. Ask yourself, are we Americans, or the citizens of any country for that matter, going to willfully enter information into the permanent historical record that will harm the world’s perception of our country? We, the common citizen won’t, but we have little opportunity to be a player in historical events, rather we are bystanders. But we see our elected representatives do so daily. Why? To further a political agenda that has been proven to be at odds with the desires of the majority of the electorate. We see this penchant to make history, to manipulate history, in play every day on the national news. When today’s events are recorded you may rest assured that they will not reflect what really occurred; the record will show a manipulated opinion to reflect the ideology of the time. It has always been so. Why, there are those who steadfastly maintain that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. He in fact did not, nor did he ever set foot on the American continent. He was preceded by Leif Eiriksson by some 500-years and Leif may not have been the first, either. We will never know for certain.

I write novels about the medieval Greenland Norse people. Little substantiated information exists about them, because they wrote nothing down. Except for some facility with the runic alphabet of the time, I think they were illiterate. There are many historical gaps where I can portray daily events with fiction, i.e. - my own opinion of the unknown aspects of their history. Some of their history was recorded in sagas as long as 200-years after the events they portray, by writers who knew nothing about the subject people; the tales they tell are hearsay, folklore if you will. Although the sagas do give us a sense of the life of the times in which they were written the stories themselves cannot be verified.

All of history has been written by the bystanders. “The men who make history have not time to write it.” Metternich

It is human nature to embellish facts to increase individual participation or to reinforce opinion. I am doing that with this article. Memoirs written long after the events they portray are also a case in point. Embellishment is not dishonest, exactly, unless it is a lie and there are lots of those. Two generations of the youth of the major combatants of World War II have not been taught of the actual parts their country’s played in the conflict—the facts have been intentionally distorted. It is more palatable that way; ignorance is bliss, so to speak.

This brings me to archaeology. While archaeology has provided many windows into ancient civilizations and much terrific work has been, and continues to be done in the field, an overactive imagination is a prerequisite for success. Granted I am a layman, but I have had more than a passing association with the discipline through my years of research on the Viking Age and specifically the Greenland Norse people. Archaeology can, and has built entire civilizations on piles of rocks and scattered ruins, even to the point that the daily dress and thought processes of the ancient peoples are detailed—all of this in the absence of a single corroborating written word from the antecedents. These flights of fancy continue to the present day. The accepted dogma becomes so sacrosanct that to dare to make mention of a differing opinion will ensure the end of one’s career. Since I am not constrained by such, I am not cowed in any fashion.

Greenland was settled by the Norse during the height of the Medieval Warm Period and gradually abandoned during the next natural climate cycle, the Mini-Ice Age. William W. Fitzhugh, Vikings The North Atlantic Saga (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, 2000) 330.

The medieval Norse settlers of Greenland disappeared from history after about 400 odd years. They went somewhere, leaving little behind, no ships, tools, and more importantly, no bodies. Those are the facts of the matter. Nobody knows what happened to them, not even the archaeologists. Nobody is even certain when the settlers disappeared. Many of us who are interested believe that they gradually assimilated with the natives of North America and the Arctic. Ellesmere - Vikings in the Far North, Peter Schledermann, 1977-1980. Vikings, The North Atlantic Saga, William Fitzhugh and Elizabeth Ward, (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 2000)248-256.

I believe that the Mini-Ice Age prompted mass human migration on a vast scale that altered population locations of many of the indigenous people in the Arctic and on the North American continent. As the winter weather worsened the natives in the northern climes followed the animals on which they subsisted, they had no choice. This mass migration theory has been largely ignored because it is impossible to prove. Native language groups are the only certain indicator of homogenous relationships—a common origin. One such example would be the Athapaskan, or Athabaskan linguistic group, with origins in eastern Canada. The Navajo and Apache Indians of the American southwest belong to this group. The inference here should be obvious to all but the most obtuse individual—one who accepts without question the associated dogma of conventional archaeology. With the end of the Mini-Ice Age sometime in the 18th century, many of the northern dwelling indigenous peoples had been displaced from their ancestral homelands by a natural climate change cycle, some for generations, others forever.

“History is nothing but a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” Voltaire

And so, historically speaking, the Greenland Norse people did not disappear, they are still here. Over the past 1000-years their progeny became so mixed and commingled with the pre-historical ancestors of the North American Indians as to become invisible.


J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing, http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2010 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved