17 December 2011

Glacial chill ebbs and flows

This excellent article on some of the mechanics of climate change, most specifically the polar icecaps, is thought-provoking. The author alludes to both the medieval warm period and the little ice age. the latter one of the prime causal factors for the disappearance of the Norse settlements on Greenland. Take a look at my Axe of Iron novel series on the subject.


Glacial chill ebbs and flows

• by: Ian Plimer

• From: The Australian

• December 17, 2011 12:00AM

Ice conditions at the end of the Arctic melt season in 2007, captured by NASA's Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer and overlaid on the NASA Blue Marble. Source: AFP

ICE sheets grow and shrink. At times, they disappear. At other times, ice starts to cover polar areas and high mountains. That's what ice has done over the history of our planet. The Greenland and Antarctic basins are more than 1km deep, and deeper in the centres than around the edges, so that ice is squeezed uphill like toothpaste out of a tube by the weight of overlying ice. The alarmist media stresses that changing sea ice and continental glaciers indicate rapid global warming. Is this really so?

Since the last interglacial started some 10,500 years ago, summer sea ice in the Arctic has been far from constant. Sea ice comes and goes without leaving a clear record. For this reason, our knowledge about its variations and extent was limited before we had satellite surveillance or observations from aeroplanes and ships. A huge amount of the earth's surface water moves alternately between the ice sheets and the oceans.

Svend Funder, commenting on his recent Science paper, stated: "Our studies show that there have been large fluctuations in the amount of summer sea ice during the last 10,000 years. During the so-called Holocene Climate Optimum, from approximately 8000 to 5000 years ago, when the temperatures were somewhat warmer than today, there was significantly less sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, probably less than 50 per cent of the summer 2007 coverage, which is absolutely the lowest on record.

"Our studies also show that when the ice disappears in one area, it may accumulate in another. We have discovered this by comparing our results with observations from northern Canada. While the amount of sea ice decreased in northern Greenland, it increased in Canada. This is probably due to changes in the prevailing wind systems. This factor has not been sufficiently taken into account when forecasting the imminent disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean."

In order to reach their unsurprising conclusions, Funder and the rest of the team organised several expeditions to Peary Land in northern Greenland. Funder said: "Our key to the mystery of the extent of sea ice during earlier epochs lies in the driftwood we found along the coast. One might think that it had floated across (the) sea, but such a journey takes several years, and driftwood would not be able to stay afloat for that long. The driftwood is from the outset embedded in sea ice and reaches the north Greenland coast along with it. The amount of driftwood therefore indicates how much multi-year sea ice there was in the ocean back then. And this is precisely the type of ice that is in danger of disappearing today."

What is interesting about this study is that the new understanding came from getting away from computer modelling and doing fieldwork in pretty inhospitable areas. Back in the laboratory and again away from computer models, the wood type was determined and dated using carbon-14. This wood came from near the great rivers of present-day North America and Siberia. This shows that wind and current directions have changed. The field study of coastal beach ridges shows that at times there were waves breaking unhindered by ice over at least 500km of coastline. At other times, due to sea ice cover, there were no beaches. This is the present situation.

Even if there is a great reduction in sea ice, all is not lost. Funder stated: "Our studies show that there are great natural variations in the amount of Arctic sea ice. The bad news is that there is a clear connection between temperature and the amount of sea ice. And there is no doubt that continued global warming will lead to a reduction in the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The good news is that even with a reduction to less than 50 per cent of the current amount of sea ice, the ice will not reach a point of no return: a level where the ice no longer can regenerate itself even if the climate was to return to cooler temperatures.

"Finally, our studies show that the changes to a large degree are caused by the effect that temperature has on the prevailing wind systems. This has not been sufficiently taken into account when forecasting the imminent disappearance of the ice, as often portrayed in the media."

Those playing with computer climate models need to get outside, collect new data and take into account far more factors than they feed into computer models.

Studies of the behaviour of tropical glaciers over the last 11,000 years show irregular shrinkage, with slower rates in the Little Ice Age and faster rates in the 20th century. Glaciers such as the Bolivian Telata glacier reflect long-term warming during the current 10,500-year-long interglacial and that glacial retreat was in progress thousands of years before industrialisation.

Scientists urged on by the media state that ice calving off glaciers indicates global warming. Ice always falls off the front of a glacier. If ice did not melt, then the planet would now be covered in ice. Ice drops off the toe of both advancing and retreating glaciers and the melting snout of a glacier is at a point determined by the balance between the forward movement of the ice by gravity and the rate at which it melts. Ice falling off the front of a glacier means absolutely nothing when the air temperature is less than zero. Ice sheets grow and contract. At times, ice sheets disappear. The story of glacial retreat is far more complex than a television image.

Many glaciers that are now in retreat did not exist until the Little Ice Age (which climaxed in the middle to late 17th century). During the medieval warming (which peaked around AD1000), alpine glaciers in the northern hemisphere were smaller or did not exist. Over much of the Canadian Cordillera, there may have been no glaciers at all during the Holocene Maximum (8000 to 6500 years ago), when temperatures were considerably higher than now.

Records from New Zealand and Norway show glacier retreat started in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the modern ice retreat is due to post-Little Ice Age warming, changes in humidity and a decrease in ice flow rates.

The idea that a glacier slides downhill on a base lubricated by melt water was a good idea when first presented by Horace-Benedict de Saussure in 1779. We now know a lot more, yet this treasured idea remains. Ice moves by creep, a process of constant recrystallisation of ice crystals. Ice at the snout of a glacier has crystals 1000 times larger than those in snow as a result of growth during recrystallisation.

Ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland first flow uphill before flowing down glaciers. The upward flow of ice cannot be due to human-induced global warming producing melting. There are some places in the world today where glaciers are expanding.

Ice sheets and glaciers grow and retreat for a great diversity of reasons. For scientists to argue that ice retreat is due to human activity is simplifying a very complex process. Furthermore, it is too cold in Antarctica and Greenland for ice to melt.

Since the discovery of the Hubbard Glacier (in Alaska) in 1895, it has been advancing 25m a year during periods of cooling and warming. The ice front is 10km long and 27m high. What does the ice do at the snout of the glacier? It falls off, because it is getting pushed from behind. This has nothing to do with temperature; it shows ice behaves as a plastic and brittle material and that ice sheets are always changing.

As with all areas of science, there are regular surprises. It was always thought that ice formed from frozen snow. The science was settled and there was a consensus. Recent work in East Antarctica shows that the deepest part of the ice sheet contains ice that did not originate as snow. It was melt water that seeped to the base of the ice sheet and then froze. The amount of ice formed by this method is probably greater in volume than all the glaciers on earth outside Antarctica and Greenland. The computer models predicted this melt-water escaped to the oceans and contributed to sea level rise. Wrong. The volume of water in this ice is larger than Antarctica's sub-glacial lakes. The addition of hundreds of metres of ice at the base of an ice sheet bends the overlying ice and causes uplift of the surface of the glacier. This changes the slope and flow of the ice. The thickest sub-glacial ice was 1100m and this pushed the top of glaciers up 410m to reflect the shape of the added basal ice.

Antarctica has another little surprise. Underneath the ice sheets are volcanoes. The last big eruption was in Roman times and Mount Erebus is continually restless. Addition of heat from below could cause massive melting and detachment of a large block of ice.

As snow falls, it traps air. This air is preserved as the snow becomes an ice sheet. This air remains trapped and uncontaminated in ice, otherwise it cannot be used to measure past atmospheres. Antarctic ice core (Siple) shows that there were 330 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the air in 1900; Mauna Loa Hawaiian measurements in 1960 show that the air then had 260ppm carbon dioxide.

Either the ice core data is wrong, the Hawaiian carbon dioxide measurements are wrong, or the atmospheric carbon dioxide content was decreasing during a period of industrialisation.

As in all other areas of science, uncertainty rules.

This is an extract from Ian Plimer's book How to Get Expelled from School: A Guide to Climate Change for Pupils, Parents & Punters.

28 November 2011

More on Vikings Navigated With Translucent Crystals?

National Geographic
November 13, 2011

Icelandic spar may have revealed sun's position on cloudy days, study says.

Vikings may have navigated by looking through a type of crystal called Icelandic spar, a new study suggests.

In some Icelandic sagas- embellished stories of Viking life- sailors relied on so-called sunstones to locate the sun's position and steer their ships on cloudy days. The stone would've worked by detecting a property of sunlight called polarization. Polarization is when light- which normally radiates randomly from its source- encounters something, such as a shiny surface or fog, that causes the rays to assume a particular orientation.

Due to this property, as sunlight moves through the atmosphere, the resulting polarization gives away the direction of the original source of the light.

Detecting light's polarization is a natural ability of some animals, such as bees.

In 1969, a Danish archaeologist suggested real-life Vikings might have used sunstones to detect polarized light, using the stones to supplement sundials, stars, and other navigational aids.

Since then, researchers have been probing how such a sunstone might have worked. On that point, though, the sagas were silent.

Sun-Revealing Crystal

Now, Guy Ropars, a physicist at the University of Rennes in France, has conducted an experiment with a potential Viking sunstone: a piece of Icelandic spar recently found aboard the Alderney, a British ship that sank in 1592.

In the laboratory, Ropars and his team struck the piece of Icelandic spar with a beam of partly polarized laser light and measured how the crystal separates polarized from unpolarized light.

By rotating the crystal, the team found that there's only one point on the stone where those two beams were equally strong- an angle that depends on the beam's location.

That would enable a navigator to test a crystal on a sunny day and mark the sun's location on the crystal for reference on cloudy days. On cloudy days, a navigator would only be able to use the relative brightness of the two beams.

Icelandic Spar "Ideal" for Navigating

The team then recruited 20 volunteers to take turns looking at the crystal outside on a cloudy day and measure how accurately they could estimate the position of the hidden sun. Navigators subdivide the horizon by 360 degrees, and the team found that the volunteers could locate the sun's position to within 1 degree. The results confirm "that the Icelandic spar is an ideal crystal, and that it can be used with great precision" for locating the sun, said ecologist Susanne Akesson of Sweden's University of Lund, who was not part of Ropars's research team.

In 2010 Akesson and colleagues showed how local weather conditions may have influenced how light polarizes in the sky at Arctic latitudes, something Vikings would've needed to account for in their navigation.

"But the question remains," she said, "whether [Icelandic spar] was in common use" in Viking times.

On that point, physics is also silent.

11 November 2011

Treasure hunter digs up 200 piece haul of Viking jewellery and coins

UK Mail Online

October, 27 2011

A metal detecting enthusiast unearthed 'the find of a lifetime' when he discovered a Viking treasure hoard including 200 pieces of silver jewellery.

Darren Webster dug up a 1,000-year-old casket that also held coins, hacksilver and ingots while scouring at an undisclosed location on the border between Cumbria and North Lancashire.

Experts at the British Museum in London say the find is of 'national significance'.

'It's a find of a lifetime,' said Mr Webster, from Carnforth, Cumbria.

'It's a long process having the find assessed.

'Neither me or the landowner know what will happen with it. There has been a lot of interest. I want everybody to know about the find.

'I got a good signal on my detector so I dug about 18 inches and then I saw a lead pot. It was slightly open. I could see all the coins and jewellery inside. It was a great feeling.'

Bracelets elaborately engraved with serpents, which could have been worn by a wealthy Viking leader, make up part of the discovery along with rings and an impressive stash of coins.

The haul is now being studied by experts at the British Museum who will reveal their findings in December.

Secret: Mr Webster has not revealed the location of his find - which included silver jewellery and coins - but he made it while out on a weekly expedition on the border between Cumbria and North Lancashire.

Brian Randall, chairman of the Lune Valley Metal Detecting Club, said: 'We are all thrilled for Darren and wish it was us.

'No one goes out looking for hoards but it's very nice if you do find one.'

Sabine Skae, the curator of Barrow's Dock Museum, said the new hoard will help put Cumbria and South Lakeland on the map as having an important Viking heritage.

'Over the past ten years there has been an increase in small finds and now some larger finds which is really forcing people to look at Cumbria in a new way,' said Mrs Skae.

Oxford University anthropology lecturer, Stephen Oppenheimer, said big hoards such as this paint a new picture of what Vikings were doing in England.

The discovery of big hoards break down the stereotype of Vikings just coming over here to raid our churches and take valuables back to their own country.

'Burying large amounts like this indicates they were settling here,' said Mr Oppenheimer.

Local archaeologist Steve Dickinson, of Ulverston, said the hoard was 'extremely important nationally'.

He said: 'Any hoard is always rare and therefore of national importance but because of its size and detail this is particularly exciting.'

A spokesman for the British Museum confirmed that Darren's discovery was 'a significant Viking hoard'.

He said: 'Research on the hoard is ongoing and more information and images will be revealed at the time of the coroner's inquest in mid-December.'

A spokesperson for Carlisle's Tullie House Museum, where the hoard was originally taken, compared Mr Webster's find to that of the Cuerdale Hoard found on the southern bank of a bend of the River Ribble in 1840, the largest Viking silver hoard in north-western Europe.

05 November 2011

Magical Viking stone may be real

Our penchant to know how the medieval Vikings navigated the North Atlantic to Greenland and North America 500-years before Columbus was born continue with this article on the rediscovery of sunstone.
If you have an interest, click the links to my novels, where I refer to the stone's use, or sunstone for another good article on an old subject.
Telegraph UK

November 03, 2011

A Viking legend which tells of a glowing "sunstone" that, when held up to the sky, disclosed the position of the Sun on a cloudy day may have some basis in truth, scientists believe.

The ancient race is believed to have discovered North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.

Now experiments have shown that a crystal, called an Iceland spar, could detect the sun with an accuracy within a degree allowing the legendary seafarers to navigate thousands of miles on cloudy days and during short Nordic nights.

Dr Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes, and colleagues said "a precision of a few degrees could be reached" even when the sun was below the horizon.

An Iceland spar, which is transparent and made of calcite, was found in the wreck of an Elizabethan ship discovered thirty years ago off the coast of Alderney in the Channel Islands after it sank in 1592 just four years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Viking legend tells of an enigmatic sunstone or sólarsteinn that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the sun, even on overcast days or below the horizon, the study reveals.

One Icelandic saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurd on the location of the Sun. To check Sigurd's answer, Olaf "grabbed a sunstone, looked at the sky and saw from where the light came, from which he guessed the position of the invisible Sun"

Using the polarisation of the skylight, as many animals like bees do, the Vikings could have used to give them true bearings.

The Viking routes in the North Atlantic were often subject to dense fog and the stone could also be used to locate the sun on very cloudy days.

The researchers said such sunstones could have helped the Vikings in their navigation from Norway to America before the discovery of the magnetic compass in Europe.

They would have relied upon the sun's piercing rays reflected through a piece of the calcite. The trick is that light coming from 90 degrees opposite the sun will be polarised so even when the sun is below the horizon it is possible to tell where it is.

They used the double refraction of calcite to pinpoint the sun by rotating the crystals until both sides of the double image are of equal intensity.

Navigation was based on tables showing the position of the sun in the sky at various times of year, prior to the use of the compass by Europeans, around the 12th century.

Added the researchers: "The Alderney discovery opens new possibilities as it looks very promising to find Iceland spars in other ancient shipwrecks, or in archaeological sites located on the seaside such as the Viking settlement with ship repair recently discovered in Ireland."

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

04 November 2011

Linn Duchaill: Ireland's unlikely Viking capital

Twelve hundred years ago the medieval Vikings built their capitol city at the head of a bay in northeastern Ireland. The forgotten site has been found and excavation has begun.
Linn Duchaill: Ireland's unlikely Viking capital
By Conor Macauley BBC Newsline reporter

The Vikings chose Linn Duchaill as one of their first settlements in Ireland

A windswept barley field just south of Dundalk seems an unlikely spot for Ireland's capital. But if things had been different, Annagassan near Castlebellingham might have been the principal city on the island of Ireland.
Twelve hundred years ago it was the site of Linn Duchaill, one of the first Viking settlements, which rivalled Dublin in size and importance.
Folklore said it was there, but all traces of it had disappeared, until a group of archaeologists and local historians set out to prove its existence. Extensive field research and test digs have now done that.
What they found was a huge fortified settlement up to 150 acres in size, established by 841AD where the Vikings built and repaired their ships, traded and raided into the surrounding countryside.
Artist and historian Micheál McKeown was one of those who carried out extensive field research.


He said the Vikings sailed their ships about a mile upstream in the River Glyde, then built a heavily defended position by digging a long trench between the river and the Irish Sea, to completely cut themselves off. "Dublin developed more as a trading town, this appeared to be more of a raiding town," he said.
"From here they attacked inland, they flattened all the monasteries in County Louth, they went to Armagh three times in one year, they went as far as the Shannon, deep into Longford. So there had to be a great amount of Vikings here. I would estimate four or five thousand Vikings here with up to 200 ships."

Test trenches were dug at the site in August last year and a host of items were found. They included ships rivets, off-cuts of silver, which the Vikings used as currency, and a tiny weighing scale. Those are now on show at an exhibition in Dundalk's Louth County Museum, along with other items recovered years ago in the same area, including a slave chain, and an axe head - all of Viking vintage.

A slave chain is among the items found at the site

Around 70 people gathered there over the weekend for a two day conference to discuss the significance of the finds at the Annagassan site. Among them was Ned Kelly, the keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, one of those who helped uncover the settlement. "There's been a bit of a mystery about where exactly the site was located or what exactly the site consisted of, and antiquarians and historians and archaeologists have been trying to sort that mystery since about 1750. We've now absolutely confirmed the location and nature of the site. It's a very large site. It's one of the earliest sites, there's only one earlier site in Lough Neagh."


"Sites of this nature by virtue of the fact that the Vikings were an international phenomenon, are of international importance. This is a site that has the potential to tell us an awful lot about the early activities of the Vikings in Ireland. This is the phase prior to the establishment of towns like Dublin and Wexford. The site is well preserved, it's very big and the trial cuttings we put in last September show us that there's a great depth of archaeological deposits, so there's an enormous amount we can learn about early Viking settlement in Ireland."

Linn Duachaill was eventually abandoned in favour of Dublin. Experts believe that was because Dundalk Bay is shallow and access to the Glyde River was dependant on the tides, which effectively meant the Vikings were stranded upstream twice a day. That left them and their ships vulnerable to attack and it became too big of a risk.

28 October 2011

More on Ardnamurchan (Scotland) Viking boat burial discovery a first

October 22, 2011


The UK mainland's first fully intact Viking boat burial site has been uncovered in the west Highlands, archaeologists have said.

The site, at Ardnamurchan, is thought to be more than 1,000 years old. Artefacts buried alongside the Viking in his boat suggest he was a high-ranking warrior.

Archaeologist Dr Hannah Cobb said the "artefacts and preservation make this one of the most important Norse graves ever excavated in Britain". Dr Cobb, from the University of Manchester, a co-director of the project, said: "This is a very exciting find." She has been excavating artefacts in Ardnamurchan for six years.

The universities of Manchester, Leicester, Newcastle and Glasgow worked on, identified, or funded the excavation.

Archaeology Scotland and East Lothian-based CFA Archaeology have also been involved in the project which led to the find.

The term "fully-intact", used to describe the find, means the remains of the body along with objects buried with it and evidence of the boat used were found and recovered.

The Ardnamurchan Viking was found buried with an axe, a sword with a decorated hilt, a spear, a shield boss and a bronze ring pin.

About 200 rivets - the remains of the boat he was laid in - were also found.

Previously, boat burials in such a condition have been excavated at sites on Orkney.

Until now mainland excavations were only partially successful and had been carried out before more careful and accurate methods were introduced.

Other finds in the 5m-long (16ft) grave in Ardnamurchan included a knife, what could be the tip of a bronze drinking horn, a whetstone from Norway, a ring pin from Ireland and Viking pottery.

'The icing'

Dozens of pieces of iron yet to be identified were also found at the site.

The finds were made as part of the Ardnamurchan Transition Project (ATP) which has been examining social change in the area from the first farmers 6,000 years ago to the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Viking specialist Dr Colleen Batey, from the University of Glasgow, has said the boat was likely to be from the 10th Century AD.

Dr Oliver Harris, project co-director from the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History, reinforced the importance of the burial site.

He said: "In previous seasons our work has examined evidence of changing beliefs and life styles in the area through a study of burial practices in the Neolithic and Bronze age periods 6,000-4,500 years ago and 4,500 to 2,800 years ago respectively.

"It has also yielded evidence for what will be one of the best-dated Neolithic chambered cairns in Scotland when all of our post-excavation work is complete.

"But the find we reveal today has got to be the icing on the cake."

20 October 2011

Viking chieftain's burial ship excavated in Scotland after 1,000 years

An excellent article from the Guardian, UK, on this very important archaeological discovery of the first undisturbed burial of a Viking chieftain on the British mainland.
Timber fragments and rivets of vessel, and deceased's sword and shield, unearthed undisturbed on Ardnamurchan peninsula.

By Maev Kennedy

The Guardian

Tuesday 18 October 2011

An intact axe is lifted in a soil block from the site of a boat burial of a Viking chief. Video: Charlotte Tooze/University of Manchester Link to this video

A Viking ship, which for 1,000 years has held the body of a chieftain, with his shield on his chest and his sword and spear by his side, has been excavated on a remote Scottish peninsula – the first undisturbed Viking ship burial found on the British mainland.

The timbers of the ship found on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – the mainland's most westerly point – rotted into the soil centuries ago, like most of the bones of the man whose coffin it became.

However the outline of the classic Viking boat, with its pointed prow and stern, remained. Its form is pressed into the soil and its lines traced by hundreds of rivets, some still attached to scraps of wood.

An expert on Viking boats, Colleen Batey from the University of Glasgow, dates it to the 10th century.

At just 5m long and 1.5m wide, it would have been a perilously small vessel for crossing the stormy seas between Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland. But the possessions buried with him suggest the Viking was a considerable traveller.

They include a whetstone from Norway, a bronze ringpin from Ireland, his sword with beautifully decorated hilt, a spear and a shield which survive only as metal fittings, and pottery.

He also had a knife, an axe, and a bronze object thought to be part of a drinking horn. Dozens of iron fragments, still being analysed, were also found in the boat.

The peninsula in the Highlands is still easier to reach by sea than along the single narrow road.

But with its magnificent mountain, sea and sunset views, it was a special place for burials for thousands of years.

The oldest, excavated by the same team three years ago, was a 6,000-year-old neolithic grave, and a bronze age burial mound is nearby.

Hannah Cobb, an archaeologist from the University of Manchester who is co-director of the excavation, said: "We had spotted this low mound the previous year, but said firmly that it was probably just a pile of field clearance rocks from comparatively recent farming.

"When we uncovered the whole mound, the team digging came back the first night and said it looked quite like a boat.

"The second night they said: 'It really does look like a boat.' The third night they said: 'We think we really do have a boat'. It was so exciting, we could hardly believe it."

They recovered fragments of an arm bone and several teeth, which should allow analysis of radioactive isotopes and reveal where the man came from.

The fragments of wood clinging to the rivets should reveal what trees were felled for his ship, and possibly where it was built.

"Such burials were reserved for high status individuals," Cobb said. "He may have been a chieftain, a famous navigator, or renowned for his wisdom, but this man was clearly special to his people."

The boat had been almost filled with stones and Cobb believes these must have had meaning for the Vikings.

"Rocks are obviously significant as they also appear in other Viking burials," she said.

"Building a lasting monument to the dead for the living may well be an important factor, and also rooting people in with landscape traditions, given the proximity to the neolithic and bronze age cairns.

"We don't think the association with the older monuments can be a coincidence – this was a place which was very important to people over an extraordinarily long period of time."

No trace of a settlement site has been found, but the team will be returning to the peninsula next summer.

The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project brings together students and academics from several universities working with CFA Archaeology and Archaeology Scotland.

The most famous ship burial in Britain, Sutton Hoo – found heaped with treasure and excavated in Suffolk in the shadow of the second world war – looks like anyone's idea of a Viking burial but proved to be Anglo-Saxon, centuries older than the seafaring Scandinavians.

When overcrowding or yearning for adventure and wealth sent the Vikings overseas in the late eighth century, the sight of their long narrow ships on the horizon struck dread.

Although their reputation has now been partly rehabilitated and they are recognised as traders, farmers, and brilliant shipwrights and metal and craft workers, a poem written in the margin of an Irish manuscript records a monk's relief that the wild seas that night were too rough even for Vikings.

In 793, Viking raids forced monks to abandon Lindisfarne, an island off the north-east coast of England, carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert with them.

But the raiders also struck as far inland as Lichfield and established permanent settlements including York, the Wirral and Dublin.

The most famous description of a Viking ship burial, complete with the human sacrifice of a woman who volunteered to go with the dead chieftain into the next world – with lurid details of drugged potions and ritual sexual intercourse pillaged by generations of novelists and film-makers – was left by a 10th century Arab writer, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. But archaeology has vindicated much of his account.

Fadlan's chieftain was cremated along with his ship, leaving only ashes to be buried under a mound. But many Vikings, like the man in Ardnamurchan, were laid in ships with their possessions heaped around them.

One of the best preserved, holding the remains of two women, was excavated at Oseberg in Norway in the early 20th century.

The burial dated from around 834 but the ship used was a generation older. The ship's superbly carved bow and stern are now preserved at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

Most of the Viking graves found in Britain are from cemeteries, after the raiders became settled and Christianised.

There is an intriguing rumoured Viking ship under a pub car park on the Wirral, and there are many claimed earlier ship burial finds – including one almost a century ago on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

But all of these had been disturbed or were ransacked by the people who stumbled on them, so none was properly recorded by archaeologists.

Years of work will follow on the new find, and may reveal whether the man who lay quietly in his ship for 1,000 years was a local resident, a sailor taking shelter from a storm or whether his body was brought specially to the beautiful site for burial.

© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

13 October 2011

Vikings as citizens, craft workers, artists, traders and homemakers.

A good article on the medieval Viking research of Richard Hall in the UK.

Richard Hall, who died of cancer on September 13 aged 62, led excavations in York that showed that the popular image of the Vikings as Scandinavian thugs intent on rape and pillage was misplaced.

The Telegraph

5:58PM BST 12 Oct 2011

His research revealed another, less familiar image of the Vikings as citizens, craft workers, artists, traders and homemakers.

Richard Hall

Hall’s interest in the Vikings was sparked during history lessons at school when he found that, while much was known about England’s Norman invaders, very little was known about the Vikings. “Others were interested in the Dark Ages or Greece, but I realised the British Isles had their very own dark ages,” he recalled.

The fearsome stereotype came from the writings of monks who found themselves literally on the sharp end of Viking attacks. Their monasteries were targeted as they contained much portable wealth, and the monks could be forced into slavery. As a result, Hall explained, “horror stories swept over Europe describing [the Vikings] as a revolting bunch of pagans coming from the North”.

When an invasion force led by Ivar the Boneless arrived in York in 866, the old Roman settlement of Eboracum was crumbling. The outline of the Roman fortress remained, but other buildings were long gone. The Saxons had renamed it Eoforwic, but had not altered things much.

The Vikings changed the name of the city to the more Danish “Jorvik” and established a thriving community based on agriculture and trade, leaving a legacy of street names — the suffix “gate” that attaches to many York streets (the Viking “gata” means “street”). By 1066 York was much bigger in terms of size, status and population than it had ever been.

Hall’s involvement in investigating Jorvik began in the 1970s, when approval was given for the demolition of a sweet factory in Coppergate (the “cup maker’s street”) to make way for a new shopping centre. In 1976 he was appointed director of excavations at the 1,000 square metre site before development got under way.

There he unearthed remains of 10th-century closely-packed wood and wattle buildings, set gable end on to the street and surrounded by moist, spongy layers of earth providing anoxic (oxygen-free) conditions similar to those of a peat bog.

In addition to jewellery, bone and antler carvings, metalwork and coins, the damp conditions had helped to preserve everyday items such as wood, leather, cloth, insects, cesspools and even a Viking latrine and its contents. The 1,000-year-old smells, Hall recalled, “hit us at full blast”. In addition there were luxury goods from as far afield as Byzantium and the Arabian gulf, side by side with goods from around the British Isles and northern Europe.

“Archaeology has shown that these people took over by the sword initially,” Hall explained, “but most settled, adapted, indulged in trade and soon became part of the local communities of farmers and fisherfolk.”

The excavations lasted five years and generated enormous local and international interest. Unusually for that time, he saw it as an important part of his job to involve the public in the project, and he provided viewing points around the site from where the work could be seen as it progressed.

The huge range of discoveries prompted an entrepreneur, Ian Skipper, to suggest to the York Archaeological Trust, for which Hall worked, that the excavation should be turned into a permanent exhibition below the planned shopping centre. Luckily the developers were happy with the idea, and the Jorvik Viking Centre, which Hall helped to develop, opened in 1984.

The centre went on to become one of the most successful archaeological exhibitions in the world. Visitors travel in a “time car” monorail that takes them past various Viking scenes (many of them — such as the butcher, fishmonger and latrine — with appropriate smells). To date, nearly 17 million people have visited the attraction.

Richard Andrew Hall was born at Ilford, Essex, on May 17 1949. His father’s job in the linen industry took the family to Belfast, where Richard was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He read Archaeology at Queen’s University, Belfast, graduating in 1971. His dissertation, in which he updated the catalogue of Viking Age material for Ireland, marked the beginning of a lifelong interest. Later on, in the 1980s, he took a doctorate at Southampton University with a thesis on the towns of the English Danelaw.

Hall began his career in archaeology excavating several sites in Dublin and Derby, and also at Mount Grace, the Carthusian priory near Northallerton, Yorkshire.

Moving to York, he joined York Archaeological Trust in 1974 as excavations supervisor, eventually holding the position of director of archaeology and deputy director of the trust. He also held a post as lecturer in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Leeds.

Hall’s expertise led him to advise numerous international excavations, especially of Viking sites in Scandinavia, among them a major dig at the Viking port of Kaupang, Norway. In 2001 archaeologists revealed evidence that the Vikings had abandoned the area in the mid-9th century, raising the possibility that York had been settled by Vikings from the Kaupang area.

Hall was a trustee of the Foundation for the Preservation of Archaeological Heritage and served on the council of the Society of Antiquaries of London, the executive board of the Council for British Archaeology Executive and the council of the Institute for Archaeologists, of which he served as chairman from 1987 to 1989. He was also president of the Society for Medieval Archaeology and of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society.

Besides Viking archaeology, Hall was active in the conservation and analysis of church fabric and oversaw excavations of what is thought to be the oldest complete Saxon crypt in England, uncovered during work on Ripon cathedral. In 2005 he led studies on the Ripon Charter Horn, a steer’s horn carved into a ceremonial musical instrument thought to have been given to the city in AD886 by Alfred the Great. Among other things he discovered that the horn had been filed down in what musical experts believe was an attempt to improve its tone and resonance.

During the 1980s Hall and his co-workers published a series of reports on the Coppergate excavations, and Hall also wrote a number of books about the Vikings and their world. In Exploring the World of the Vikings (2007) he investigated Viking culture from its origins in Scandinavia during the first millennium AD, through the period of raiding, trading and settling, to the last surviving settlements in 15th-century Greenland.

Hall’s first marriage to Linda Tollerton was dissolved. In 1991 he married a ceramics expert, Ailsa Mainman, who survives him with their two sons.

Richard Hall, born May 17 1949, died September 13 2011

22 September 2011

Book Tour To Canada

Hi Folks,

We leave tomorrow morning for a driving book tour of Idaho, Montana, and Alberta, CA, so this will have to suffice for a blog until our return on or about 6 October.
I expect to do some excerpt readings for interested fans while in Alberta, so wish me luck.

All the Best to You,

16 September 2011

Review--Confrontation: An Axe of Iron Novel

Confrontation details the dangers and hardships of a large mixed group of Greenland Vikings and their attempts at a peaceful assimilation with the pre-historical natives of what is now the Province of Quebec, Canada, 1000-years ago.

Click on the title link to read a review of the second novel of the Axe of Iron series, Confrontation. Christie Olsen Field, of the Norwegian American Weekly newspaper wrote this review last summer.

Other reviewers opinions of Confrontation may be read on my website, under the Reviews button, here, along with synopsis and excerpts of the book.

02 September 2011

Viking Museum Ship, Sea Stallion, Roskilde, Denmark

This banner of the magnificent Sea Stallion, a modern, 98' recreation of an 11th century Viking Longship built in Glendalough, Ireland, appears on the website of the Vikingeskibsmuseet in Denmark. Full details of the ship's construction may be viewed in video and text on this site.


25 August 2011

Oxford Viking massacre revealed by skeleton find

"A furorae Normanorum libera Nos, Dominae!" No wonder King Ethelred the Unready ordered these Viking warriors killed, he was scared to death of them.



August 13, 2011

Evidence of a brutal massacre of Vikings in Oxford 1100 years ago has been uncovered by archaeologists.

At least 35 skeletons, all males aged 16 to 25 were discovered in 2008 at St John's College, Oxford.

Analysis of wound marks on the bones now suggests they had been subjected to violence.

Archaeologists analysing the find believe it dates from 1002 AD when King Ethelred the Unready ordered a massacre of all Danes (Vikings) in England.

The surprise discovery of the skeletons was made by Thames Valley Archaeological Services under the quadrangle at St John's College at the University of Oxford, before building work started on the site.

The bodies had not received any type of formal burial and they had been dumped in a mass grave on the site of a 4,000-year-old Neolithic henge monument.

Ceri Falys, an osteologist (a scientist who studies the structure of bones) from Thames Valley Archaeological Services, has been examining the bones since they were excavated. She has found a host of gruesome injuries on each of the individuals.

It was obvious at the time of excavation that many of the skulls had been fractured or crushed, but after piecing these skulls back together, she found that many of them were covered in blade and puncture wounds mostly to the back of the head.

One of the victims had puncture wounds to his pelvis that seem to have come from behind him and from the side, as well as substantial blade wounds to his skull, suggesting that he had been attacked from all sides by at least two different people.

These injuries were almost certainly fatal in each case, slicing through flesh and arteries right to the bone.

"Usually when people have been involved in hand to hand combat or are attacked you get evidence of this on the bones," Ceri Falys explained.

"You get cut marks on the forearms as they raise their arms to defend themselves, but we have minimal evidence of this on these skeletons, it seems that whoever was attacking them, it is likely that they were just trying to run away."'

It is possible that the Oxford skeletons were victims of an event called the St Brice's Day Massacre, recorded in a number of historical sources.

In AD1002, the Saxon king Ethelred the Unready recorded in a charter that he ordered "a most just extermination" of all the Danes in England.

He made the decision after he was told of a Danish plot to assassinate him.

The charter also recorded how on that day, the Danes in Oxford fled to St Fridewides church expecting to find refuge, but instead were pursued by the townspeople, who then set the church on fire.

Radiocarbon dating of the bones indicated that the bodies were dumped between AD960 and AD1020. This is compelling evidence for the association with St Brice's Day, explained archaeologist Sean Wallis, who directed the dig.

"We found evidence of charring on some of the bones, but not in the soil surrounding them.

"This ties in nicely with the documentary sources that the bodies may have been partially burnt prior to burial," he said.

Isotope analysis of the bones has shown that the men were eating a diet that was high in seafood.

This is an unusual find considering that they lived in inland Britain and perhaps a further indication that they may have been first or second generation Vikings.

A similar mass grave was found last year by Oxford Archaeology during work to build the Weymouth relief road.

It was radiocarbon dated to a similar period and again containing only young male victims, indicating that Anglo Saxon violence towards Vikings at the time may have been nationwide.

19 August 2011

Salme Yields Evidence of Oldest Sailing Ship in Baltic Sea

More data on the Viking ship discovered by archaeologists on an island off western Estonia. I disagree with the article's keel supposition as stated, for it an opinion unsupported by our collective present-day knowledge of these magnificent vessels.
NOTE: No Viking ship has ever been found with a keel; the reason being that a keeled sailing ship could not be run up on a beach, a common practice for them, nor could it be transported overland, another common practice. As far as is known, all Viking ocean-going vessels had a large steerboard affixed on the outside of the hull, on the starboard (a term no doubt derived from steerboard) aft quarter and extending well below the longitudinal axis of the hull. This steerboard performed the same function as the contemporary keel and could be secured up out of the water, allowing the crew to beach the ship.

August 11, 2011
Estonian Public Broadcasting

The ancient ship burial site in Salme on the island of Saaremaa still has some surprises in store.

The archeological excavations in Salme, soon to be completed, have yielded evidence that the ship that had been buried with 35 warriors and nobles had a keel, which in turn leads to the conclusion that it used sails. This represents the earliest known use of sails on a vessel in the Baltic Sea region, reported ETV.

"One piece of new information that we have been anticipating since winter was still to be found - namely, confirmation of whether it was a sailing ship or not. Now we have evidence that it used sails," said archeologist Jüri Peets of Tallinn University.

Peets called this discovery the cherry on top of the cake that was the nearly two-year-long archeological dig. "It is thought that sails were first introduced in the North Sea and Baltic Sea region at about 700 A.D., which is the conventional date. Our ship dates from the year 750. The ship from the year 700 was from the North Sea region, near Norway. However, here in the Baltic Sea region, this is without a doubt the oldest sailing ship that has been found," said Peets.

In addition to the discovery of the keel, the irregular rows of strong rivets found on the bottom of the vessel also prove that the ship used sails.

Maritime archaeologist Vello Mäss confirmed that the Salme ship was without a doubt a warship that used sails. Although sails had been long in use in the Mediterranean Sea region, it was the Norwegians who first started using them in the North Sea region. Mäss also suggested that perhaps two separate war parties on two different ships had met in Salme centuries ago. Such hypotheses concerning the Salme ship burial site are sure to keep the scientists busy for years to come.

10 August 2011

30 Viking graves found in Setesdal

Views and News from Norway

August 3, 2011

Thirty graves believed to originate from the Viking period have been discovered in the valley of Setesdal, southern Norway. The major discovery earlier this summer was made in connection with a road project in the area.

Newspaper Aftenposten reports that the burial area, near the settlement of Langeid, was first found in June as part of archaeological surveys connected to work on state highway 9, a road that winds through the scenic valley.

The graves lay side-by-side in deep, rectangular pits around 1.5 to 2.5 meters long. Most of the graves are believed to have been made between 900 and some point in the 1000's, although some of the graves could predate the Vikings by centuries.

A preliminary study last year had already found traces of archaeological interest in the region, including cooking pits and signs of early agricultural cultivation that suggest a settlement was built nearby. Early estimates believe this settlement may long predate the graves, and could go as far back as 600 BC.

As the graves have been found among moraine (accumulations of unconsolidated glacial debris characterized by stones and sand), researchers have found that much of the organic matter has been eroded away. Some remains have been found outside of the graves in the same area, but require further analysis before it can be determined whether they are animal or human. One grave found so far has postholes in all four corners, indicating that a structure with a roof was built over the grave at some point. Such a burial arrangement is usually reserved for those with higher status.

In terms of artifacts found on the site, field leader Camilla C. Wenn of the Museum of Cultural History, Oslo, told Aftenposten, "we have taken out a series of remains from the 10 graves that have been opened so far." Finds from these graves reported by Wenn include "three simple iron axes, of which one is dated from the period 850 to 950," as well as "a few knives and sickles, a pair of scales made with a copper alloy, five to six weighing instruments," "several spinning wheels," "two lovely 50 to 60 centimeter long sharpening stones, flint and some detached glass beads." Many of the metal objects found are poorly preserved, with some iron finds so badly corroded that it is difficult to tell what they are without the use of x-ray equipment at the Museum of Cultural History.

Because of the long time periods potentially covered by the graves and the other archaeological finds around them, researchers have lengthened their investigative period until August 19. "It is not unthinkable that we will manage to find further surprises," Wenn concluded.

05 August 2011

Things I’ve Learned About Writing/Publishing

The road to publication has been a nightmare because of the time and money wasted while I learned the business. I wish I could say that there is lots of help out there for the newbie’s, but actually, the reverse is true. You are prey swimming in the shark’s pool—take heed. Believe nobody, and get everything in writing, research, research, and research. Even then, you will have picked the worst time in the world’s economy to enter the business.

Dealing with agents is the most disheartening undertaking for a writer. Agents act like the writer exists because of agents, when in fact it is the other way around. I wasted a year trying to find an agent from among those professing to have an interest in my area of my genre only to find that there are not any in existence. So no, I have no need for an agent. Having said all of that, though, clearing the air so to speak, I do have a few suggestions if you are interested.

Do your homework on the submission guidelines for any query. All literary agents will have their own guidelines; adhere to them absolutely. Do not ever send a manuscript unless it is requested. Hire professional editors to edit everything that another person will read, especially the final draft of your manuscript. An English teacher is not an editor and you cannot edit your own work, so hire someone. Your professionalism will determine whether you ever make the grade. A shabby cover letter on your submission packet will guarantee its demise. Agents and publishers are busy people and they have no time to waste on people who do not follow the submission guidelines.

Okay, it is time to consider your mission—to get published. I will assume that your manuscript is a first draft. Before you can send out query letters telling the world of the birth of the great American novel, your work needs editing. I do not mean having a friend, an English teacher, your boss, or any other layman read your manuscript, no, I mean that you must engage the services of a professional editor. Thus begins the process of polishing your manuscript until it is the best it can be. This process can involve numerous corrections and rewrites. The time and expense involved varies with the quality of the work. One hundred thousand words will cost in the neighborhood of $2000.00, or more, by the time you get it right.

Believe it or not, writing your book is only the beginning. With a final draft of your manuscript in hand, it is time to query. Famous people query with a proposal before writing the book. I will assume that you are not yet famous. As an author, you cannot deal directly with one of the large publishing houses, so your next challenge is to interest a literary agent in your work. If you find a literary agent, your relationship will be contractual. Do nothing with anyone without a contract. Fully understand your part of the contract before signing or hire an attorney versed in literary contracts to help you understand. There are numerous listings of literary agents on the Internet. Research each agent for their submission guidelines, select those receptive to your genre, be certain that they are accepting submissions, submit only what they require, and never send an unsolicited manuscript, they will not read it. Your literary agent will handle your contractual relationship with a publisher; they are your agent acting in your behalf.

If you are fortunate enough to become a published author through the literary agent/publisher/reader sequence of progression, congratulations, you have hit the big time. Your publisher will handle all the details of composition/format, cover design, printing/binding, fulfillment/marketing, and warehouse/distribution, leaving you free to crank out books. You will have little or no input regarding any of the production aspects of your book, nor will you retain any rights other than copyright. The publisher will own the ISBN and all future negotiations for anything concerning that work will be through, or with the permission of, the publisher.

Okay, you have spent a year submitting to literary agents without results. If you have not completely lost interest in publishing your work, you are left with publishing it yourself, e.g. self-publishing or becoming an independent publisher. A self-published author has hired a publishing company to publish a book, surrendering all rights save copyright—this last is negotiable in some instances. An independent publisher has formed a small company and gone through the process from copyright to a finished book ready for the market. That author owns all rights to the book because often the author and the publishing company are one and the same. Books are produced and marketed by an independent publisher working closely with a large full service book production facility such as BookMasters, Ashland, OH, where everything is done in house.

Regardless of the method used to publish your work yourself, you will be responsible for promotion and marketing. In working with an organization such as BookMasters, you will already have a leg up as they handle some of the initial marketing through their own marketing department. Getting the word out before and after the publication date is vital to your sales success. You must have a website and/or a blog that calls attention to your book and ultimately leads a visitor to your order page. If you do not want to handle book sales from your garage, then your website order page will link your customers to your distributor or other points of sale that you have set up. In this way, someone else will take care of the myriad details of the warehousing/distribution of your work.

Solicit professional book reviewers. Do not send them a book until you have queried them first. Be the consummate professional insofar as your contacts with reviewers. Always include a cover letter with your book that includes a short synopsis and your expectations as the author. Reviews are important and they can restore your bruised and battered ego when you read what someone else has to say about your work. Their reviews look good on your website and provide potential customers for your next book a sales closer as they read your book cover’s ad copy.

I have found that conventional print and display advertising on websites is only minimally successful. The mission here is to get your name and that of your book out to as many sites on the Internet as possible. Hire professional people to do this for you, e.g. Theodocia McLean, promotionalservices@booksinsync.com/. Additionally, Amazon is one of the most effective and important book sales tools out there. When you have your book listed with them be sure that you also use their ‘Look Inside the Book’ program. Ditto for Google Book Search. Going through the submission process with Internet book promotion and sales sites is time consuming, but the rewards outweigh this expenditure.

Local booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Borders do everything possible to arrange and facilitate book-signing events for local authors. So, be certain you contact the individual store’s book manager to set one up for you. They provide a display table and chairs, posters, and a newspaper announcement of the event, and it is all free. In addition, they will order a supply of your books to stock your book-signing. Not a bad deal, I think.

If you do not have letterhead stationery, design some, including the envelope. Remember, you are trying to sell a product, be professional in all of your contacts. Edit religiously, use spell check. Everything that you write is a reflection on you personally, so do it right the first time because the one chance is usually all you will get. And oh, good luck to you.

J. A. Hunsinger, Vinland Publishing, http://www.vinlandpublishing.com/
©2011 Jerry A. Hunsinger, All Rights Reserved

28 July 2011

Man Receives 100,000 Euros for Treasure Trove

Viking artifacts continue to surface in Estonia. This coin trove, first reported in January 2011, is the most monetarily valuable so far.


ERR News
Published: 28.01.2011 10:34

                                         Photo: Postimees/Scanpix

A man who found a large hoard of Viking-era silver in Harju County last summer has received 100,000 euros from the state as a finder's reward.

The treasure was dated to around 1060 and consisted of 1,329 coins and nine pieces of silver appraised at about 200,000 euros, Eesti Ekspress reported.

The finder had been conducting investigations in the field with the consent of the land owner. Other items included an axe, also from before the 13th century, and several daggers and several hundred other silver coins.

Most of the coins were forged in areas controlled by Germany, but there were also coins from Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Arabia and Hungary; and one Italian and two Bohemian coins.

22 July 2011

Dorset burial pit Viking had filed teeth

Archaeologists reported an interesting discovery near Dorset, UK, with the excavation of a 10th century burial pit that contains the remains of 54-Viking warriors. The supposition is that they were executed and thrown into the pit for disposal.


July 07, 2011

Archaeologists have discovered one of the victims of a suspected mass Viking burial pit found in Dorset had grooves filed into his two front teeth.

Experts believe a collection of bones and decapitated heads, unearthed during the creation of the Weymouth Relief Road, belong to young Viking warriors.

During analysis, a pair of front teeth was found to have distinct incisions.

Archaeologists think it may have been designed to frighten opponents or show status as a great fighter.

Oxford Archaeology project manager David Score said: "It's difficult to say how painful the process of filing teeth may have been, but it wouldn't have been a pleasant experience.

"The incisions have been very carefully made and it is most likely that they were filed by a skilled craftsman.

"The purpose behind filed teeth remains unclear but, as we know these men were warriors, it may have been to frighten opponents in battle or to show their status as a great fighter."

Multiple wounds

The burial pit, found in 2009, contained 51 skulls and 54 bodies.

Many of the executed men suffered multiple wounds inflicted by a sharp blade, including one skeleton with six cut marks to the back of the neck.

Dorset County Council senior archaeologist Steve Wallis said radiocarbon dating showed they come from about AD970 to 1025.

Mr Wallis said those dates fell within the period of Viking raids on the Anglo Saxons in the UK, and isotope analysis of teeth found in a severed jaw suggests they were from the Nordic countries.

He said: "It's great that the burial pit on Ridgeway is still surprising us and teaching us more about who these men may have been and what they may have been like.

"It is very rare that this kind of deliberate dental modification is found in European remains, although it is often found in cultures from around the world, so that it was found in an excavation in Dorset is fantastic."

15 July 2011

Archaeologists Find Pre-Viking Ship Burial (3)

A significant archaeological discovery has been made of the site of a Viking battle that occurred on an island in the Baltic west of the Estonian mainland. Swedish Vikings (Svear or Gotar), no doubt. This article appeared in the English version of the ERR News from Estonia last year and I missed it, so I include it as a starting point for ongoing news from this site. Standby for more news on this active excavation.

ERR News
Published: 30.08.2010 09:51

Excavations in Salme ( Photo: ERR )

Another ship burial discovered this year in the village of Salme may turn out to be a pre-viking era battleground burial, an unparalleled find in Europe. So far, 16 skeletons of men killed in battle have been discovered on the site.

There is no doubt that a fierce struggle took place some 1,250 years ago near what is now the village of Salme on the island of Saaremaa, said Jüri Peets, professor of archaeology at Tallinn University. "Our estimate is 30 casualties, plus the same amount of injured. The skeletons bear sword marks. This shows the battle took place on land - you can't reach the enemy with a sword from a boat. There were also arrowheads found in the skeletons and in a shield."

The remains of the men-at-arms have been preserved as if by a miracle - at some point, three cable pipes were laid straight through the hull, narrowly missing the ancient treasure.

Such a mass grave of warriors from that period has never before been discovered anywhere in Europe. This, and the large amount of artifacts found, make the discovery exceptional, said Peets.

The foreign warriors were buried with their belongings. For example, the findings included a gilded bronze sword handle. The archaeologists plan to extract a tooth from one of the skulls and submit it to a DNA-analysis to find out where the unwelcome visitors might have arrived from.

The estimated length of the ship is 18 meters and the width 3.5 meters. The excavations will continue next year by the village schoolhouse, where the bow of the ship is expected to be.

In 2008, a smaller ship with an estimated length of 10 meters was discovered during excavations in Salme.

09 July 2011

The Trial of Eirik the Red

I wrote this skit last year for a Viking reenactment group in Colorado. It has never been published, but I thought to do so now for readers who might have an interest in what may have occurred on Iceland in the 10th century that led to the banishment of Eirik Thorvaldsson--Eirik the Red.
His subsequent voyages into the western ocean from Iceland in 985-986, looking for a new home, led to the discovery and colonization of Greenland by the Norse people. As you know, he already knew of Greenland's existence, from a previous explorer by the name of Gunnbjorn Ulfsson who found the Earth's largest island about 100-years before, but I digress.
The NARRATOR sets the stage and the LAW SPEAKER is the supreme and final authority of the Althing, an assembly of Viking chieftains.


Southern Iceland
Spring 985 AD

NARRATOR: (calm, strong voice throughout) I will tell you a Viking tale of murder, revenge, and adventure that began on Iceland in about 985. Later, the story moves to Greenland, and finally to Vinland, the land that would become North America.

During those times arguments between men frequently led to violence because the laws of the land were not clearly defined. Thirty-six jarls, or chieftains, ruled the four major districts of Iceland. When trouble came the district high chieftain called a thing, a lawsuit or assembly of freemen to decide the fate of a lawbreaker. Attended by minor chieftains acting as a council, the high chieftain assumed the position of the law speaker--judge and jury--during the thing and his verdicts were final.

And so it was on Iceland with a man called Eirik Thorvaldsson, who later became known as Eirik the Red. A vile tempered man, Eirik stood accused of killing two men in a fit of rage. One, Filth-Eyjolf, a kinsman of the owner of a neighboring farm, killed two of Eirik’s slaves for causing a rock slide that destroyed a sheep shed. A kinsman of Filth-Eyjolf, Hrafen the Dueler, sought revenge for the killing and Eirik killed him, too.

In a separate matter that led to killings, Eirik loaned a set of his bed boards to a neighbor, Thorgest. Eirik later asked for the return of his boards and Thorgest refused. Fighting resulted from this theft. There were two main factions, those men supporting Eirik the Red and those men supporting Thorgest. The fighting turned into a blood feud, spreading over the district, finally reaching the point of open warfare when Eirik and his men killed two of Thorgest’s sons and several of his followers.

As the feud spread, the district chieftain intervened and called for a thing at Thorsnes, in the south of Iceland, to settle the matter. The word went out over the district that the fighting was to stop and all landowning freemen were expected to attend.

The Trial of Eirik the Red

NARRATOR: The people gathered in the amphitheater of the Thorsnes Thing, among the rocks and grasses along the base of a sheer granite cliff overlooking the sea. A grass-covered knoll dominated one end and scattered birch trees dotted the landscape. A splash of color from the woolen clothing of the people gathered around the base of the knoll brightened the earth tones of the scenery and lent a festive air as the people stood in groups or milled around the wood fires to stay warm. The buzz of many conversations filled the air.

A chill onshore wind, moist with spray from the breakers that crashed onto the rocky shoreline, ruffled the tall grass and the leaves of the birch trees. Low grey clouds obscured the sky and the summit of the volcano Hekla, in the near distance. The law speaker and his council of minor chieftains sat atop the knoll. His eyes played over his charges as the last of the latecomers joined friends and kinsmen.

Prominently arrayed nearby, Eirik the Red, his wife, three sons, daughter, kinsmen, and friends, stood apart from the others. The immediate family had not been involved in the feud, but was present in a support role. Eirik presented a commanding figure, hands fisted on his hips; his red beard blew in the wind as he glared belligerently at his enemies standing nearby.

The law speaker got to his feet. Silence fell over the people as all waited for their high chieftain to speak. He beckoned those having business at the thing to draw near.

Eirik, the accused, and Geirstein and Odd of Jorvi, the first of the accusers, stepped forward.

The law speaker looked at Eirik for a moment before he turned his attention to the other two men.

LAW SPEAKER: (firm voice) “Tell me your part in this matter.”

ACCUSERS: (angry, loud voices) “Eirik killed our kinsmen, Filth-Eyjolf and Hrafen the Dueler at Leikskalar,” Odd said.

“We demand to settle our differences by the einvigi, a duel to the death, each of us in turn.” Geirstein said.

NARRATOR: Eirik made to bluster at them until stopped by the raised hand of the law speaker. The law speaker glanced at the crowd and then fastened his attention on the two accusers.

LAW SPEAKER: (forceful) “There will be no einvigi. A duel to the death will not solve this matter. Now, who witnessed these killings?”

WITNESSES: (shouted from the crowd) “I saw Eirik kill Eyjolf,” a man said. “Aye, I saw him kill Eyjolf without warning and then he had a fight with Hrafen the Dueler and killed him, too,” another man added.

NARRATOR: The law speaker motioned them forward.

LAW SPEAKER: (calm, questioning tone) “Why did Eirik kill, Eyjolf? Tell me what happened to make him kill him.”

WITNESSES: (angry, voice raised) “Eirik’s two thralls caused a rock slide that smashed a sheep shed. Eyjolf got mad and killed both of them. When Eirik heard about it he flew into a rage. He and Eyjolf argued and Eirik killed him.”

NARRATOR: Over the next hour or so, the law speaker also heard from Thorgest and two of his witnesses on the other matter before the thing. Thorgest admitted his part in starting the feud by stealing Eirik’s bed boards. But, he would never forgive Eirik for killing his sons and kinsmen. His anger boiled over, forcing the law speaker to silence him. It seemed the problems were without solution. A pattern of violence was emerging that all pointed in one direction. Things were not going well for Eirik.

LAW SPEAKER: (questioning tone) “Are there other witnesses for the accusers?”

NARRATOR: The law speaker looked out over the silent assembly. When nobody answered his eyes came to rest on Eirik.

LAW SPEAKER: (forceful) “What say you?”

EIRIK: (angry, voice raised) “Aye, I killed both of them, everybody knows that.” Eirik sweeps a hand out over the onlookers. “Eyjolf killed my thralls and I killed him for that. It is my right. He deprived me of my property. Hrafen the Dueler attacked me and I defended myself, killing him in the process. Thorgest is a common thief and I attacked him and his men for stealing from me. I make no apology for any of this. It is my business and mine alone.”

NARRATOR: Eirik glared at his accusers and their witnesses. The law speaker’s expression did not change during Eirik’s final outburst; he looked at him silently for a heartbeat.

LAW SPEAKER: (very forceful tone) “I will decide what is to be done, according to our laws and customs. You, Eirik Thorvaldsson will heed my words.”

NARRATOR: The law speaker’s commanding voice boomed out over the crowd. Eirik gritted his teeth, his famous temper barely held in check as he glared at the law speaker. Eirik heaved a great sigh, knowing full well that he could not afford to anger his chieftain.

LAW SPEAKER: (loud, for all to hear) “Who speaks for Eirik?”

NARRATOR: The law speaker’s eyes swept the crowd.

WITNESSES: (shouted from crowd) “We do!”

NARRATOR: Thorbjorn and a man called Styr stepped forward from the crowd. The law speaker beckoned for them to speak.

WITNESSES: (loud clear voices) “Eirik defended himself when attacked by Thorgest and his followers,” Thorbjorn said. “Aye, we fought with him,” Styr added.

LAW SPEAKER: (questioning tone) “Who started the argument that led to this fighting?”

NARRATOR: The law speaker’s eyes bored into the eyes of the two witnesses.

Both men seemed uncomfortable, each glancing at Eirik for support.

EIRIK: (angrily shouting) “I started the argument. Thorgest stole my property. I wanted him to return my bed boards. He refused.”

NARRATOR: The law speaker nodded thoughtfully, motioning for the two witnesses to continue.

EIRIK: (angry, loud, threatening) “Enough of this; I have not denied the killings. Make your decision.”

NARRATOR: Eirik waved his arms angrily, shouting at the law speaker and glaring defiantly at his accusers and their witnesses. Shouts and angry gestures of defiance swept through the crowd, with each faction loudly voicing their opinions. The order of the Thing fell apart, beginning a slide into chaos.

LAW SPEAKER: (loud, very forceful) “Hold! Quiet all of you!”

NARRATOR: The law speaker shouted above the din, both hands over his head in an attempt to restore order. Gradually the people became silent, their frustration and anger satisfied for the moment. Everybody was on their feet, naturally split into the feuding factions. The law speaker’s hold over his people was the only thing preventing bloodshed. He glanced at Eirik occasionally as he strode back and forth atop the mound, his mind grappling with what he knew he must do. Seeming to come to a decision, he stopped suddenly and gave his full attention to Eirik the Red.

LAW SPEAKER: (forceful) “Eirik Thorvaldsson, you stand accused of killings and outlawry.”

NARRATOR: Again, the deep voice of the law speaker boomed out over the crowd. A kind of animal growl rose from many of the people. The law speaker’s raised hand restored order after a moment. As all fell silent, waiting for the verdict and sentence to be passed down, Leif Eiriksson, the oldest of Eirik’s offspring stepped closer to his mother Thjodhild, and draped an arm over her shoulders protectively. Tears wet her cheeks.

LAW SPEAKER: (loud, forceful) “Eirik, I find you guilty of all charges. You are banished from all of Iceland for three years. No man will interfere while you settle your affairs. Be gone from this island before the new moon or you will be hunted down and killed.”

NARRATOR: Pandemonium ruled for a time, while the law speaker and his council departed the scene. Eventually, the people departed for their scattered farms. Eirik, his family, kinsmen, and followers departed for his farm at Eiriksstadir, for a strategy meeting. At this meeting, it was decided to explore and settle the unknown land sighted by Gunnbjorn Ulfsson as he was storm driven far off course to the northwest of Iceland. Thorvald, Thorstein, and Freydis, Eirik’s offspring, were to remain with their mother on Iceland to find people to join the expedition. Eirik, his son Leif, and a full crew of men, sailed from Iceland on the ebb tide the following morning. They found the ice covered island, later to be known as Greenland, spending the remainder of that first year exploring the rugged coastline and building shelters to stay the winter.

Settlement of Greenland

NARRATOR: (calm, strong voice throughout) The following year, during the summer of 986, Eirik, his son Leif Eiriksson, and other men of his crew, returned to Iceland for their families. Upon his return, Eirik found that his other two sons and daughter had gathered 500-people, 25-ships, and supplies for the first year of settlement. It is said that Eirik called the island Greenland to entice people to follow him there. That is not certain, nor is it known if he actually gave the island its name. Fourteen of the original complement of 25-ships made it to Greenland, the fate of the other 11-ships is unknown, but given the stormy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, they probably rest on the seabed somewhere between Iceland and Greenland.

Greenland is the largest island on Earth and the only portion of the island not covered with an ice sheet, is along the southwestern coast. During the first year, the people settled there on small farms around the head of a long fjord that came to be known as Eiriksfjord. Eirik and his family claimed the best land at the head of the fjord and he called his farm Brattahlid. In the beginning, green grass for livestock forage was abundant. There were even a few thin stands of stunted birch trees and willow bushes until all had been eaten to the ground by the settler’s livestock. Trade with Iceland and Norway commenced and life was good.

In later years, several people moved 400-miles north to another likely fjord that became known as Lysufjord. Eventually, as many as 4000-Viking settlers may have lived on Greenland for some 400-years and then, sometime between the 14th and 15th centuries, all disappeared, never to be seen again.

Sighting of North America

NARRATOR: During that first summer of the Greenland settlements, a seafarer and trader named Bjarni Herjulfsson arrived on Iceland, from Norway, to find that his father, Herjulf had sailed to Greenland with Eirik the Red and his followers. Bjarni immediately put back to sea and set sail for the island. A violent storm blew him far off course and he missed Greenland; however, he sighted unknown land further to the west—North America. Realizing his mistake, Bjarni reversed course and finally found Greenland, reuniting with his father.

Discovery of America

NARRATOR: Leif Eiriksson later became interested in Bjarni’s tale of unknown land to the west of Greenland, bought Bjarni’s ship, and with his original crew, sailed into the western ocean to have a look. On the voyage he landed on two shores, one he called Helluland (flat stone land) and the other he called Markland (forestland). Today we call them Baffin Island and Labrador respectively. Leif and his crew then sailed further south, finally landing on the northeastern tip of another island. We call this island Newfoundland. What Leif and his men called the island we may never know, but the saga writers two centuries later referred to it as Vinland

Leif built a settlement on Newfoundland, consisting of eight buildings, that he called Leifsbudir (Leif’s Booths). This settlement was used for several years for some unknown purpose.

In 1962, the Norwegian explorer, Helge Ingstad and his wife, Anne-Stine Ingstad, an archaeologist, found Leifsbudir and spent the next several years excavating the site. Although the sagas tell us that there are two other settlements in Vinland, Hop and Straumfjord, which have not been found, we have positive identification of Leifsbudir.

So, sometime between 997 and 1002--nobody is certain of the year--Leif Eiriksson, the eldest son of Eirik the Red, became the first man of European descent to land on the North American continent, almost 500-years before Christopher Columbus was born.

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

30 June 2011

Abrupt climate change doomed Norse settlements: Study

Interest continues to develop for a sudden climatic change leading to the destruction of the two medieval Viking settlements on Greenland as the scientific community gears-up for another summer of archaeological work in the far north.




                                                                       Photograph by: File photo, Postmedia News

New scientific evidence supporting a long-standing theory that abrupt climate change probably doomed Greenland's Norse settlements about 650 years ago may also explain why most Canadians today are not speaking Danish and celebrating their Viking ancestry.

The study by a group of researchers from Denmark, Germany and Norway used samples of marine sediment from Greenland's west coast to reconstruct a picture of the giant island's climate over the past 1,500 years. Their findings showed that when Scandinavian settlers led by Eric the Red first established colonies on Greenland in 985, the west coast around present-day Disko Bay — located just 400 kilometres east of Baffin Island across the Davis Strait — was relatively warm and conducive to the farming life the settlers favoured.

It was during that early era of Norse settlement in Greenland that Viking explorers — most famously Eric's son, Leif Ericsson — are known to have become the first Europeans to reach the Americas.

L'Anse aux Meadows, at the northern tip of Newfoundland, was the site of a Norse settlement established around 1,000 but abandoned shortly after — primarily, scholars believe, because of attacks by hostile aboriginal tribes known as "skraelings" to Ericsson and his fellow adventurers.

The Norse continued to inhabit their Greenland settlements for at least 350 more years, with evidence documented from Baffin Island by Canadian archaeologist Pat Sutherland suggesting sporadic contact between Greenlandic Norse traders and the Dorset culture, ancient aboriginals who were later overrun — probably before 1400 — by the eastward-migrating Thule ancestors of modern Inuit.

But around that same time, the European researchers have concluded in a study published in the journal Boreas, a prolonged stretch of cold weather on Greenland appears to have led to the demise of the Norse settlements there. And any chance of a renewed effort by the Scandinavian seafarers to colonize Canada disappeared with them.

That left the next, and enduring, wave of European settlement in North America to French and English colonists after explorer John Cabot reached Newfoundland in 1497.

"Our study shows a major shift towards cooler conditions and extensive sea-ice which coincides with the estimated time for the collapse of the western settlement in AD 1350," University of Copenhagen geologist Sofia Ribeiro said in a summary of the new study.

"The Norse were proud of being Europeans, farmers and Christians, and never adopted the hunting and survival techniques of the Inuit, so these temperature shifts would have caused significant problems for the colonists and their livestock."

Ribeiro cautioned that "we cannot attribute the end of the Norse civilization to a single factor," but noted that "there is enough evidence to suggest that climate change played a major role in determining its collapse."

The harsher climate in Greenland would have made "farming and cattle production increasingly difficult" at the same time that increased sea ice "prevented navigation and trading with Europe," she stated.

Ribeiro told Postmedia News that "what happened to the Norse after 1350 is a mystery."

But she noted that in both Greenland and nearby Newfoundland, "there were no specially favourable conditions for the Norse to settle there during medieval times."

The Boreas study pointing to the onset of severe cooling in Greenland at the end of the Norse habitation supports recent research published by scientists at Brown University in Rhode Island in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

After probing sediments from two lakes near Greenland's west coast, they also concluded that abrupt climate cooling preceded the disappearance of the Norse settlements in the region.


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