24 March 2011

Vikings revered Stone Age objects

This article on recently found medieval Viking grave artifacts from Norway is noteworthy because the information suggests that Stone Age weapons and tools may have been regarded as "magical" and a possible link to the afterlife, a subject that I have noted in my Axe of Iron novels on the Greenland Vikings assimilation with certain North American natives.
Views and News from Norway

February, 02 2011

New archaeological findings suggest that the Vikings considered Stone Age objects to have magical qualities, and that such "antiques" were more important in Viking culture than previously understood.

Examinations of around 10 Viking graves found in Rogaland, southwest Norway, revealed Stone Age items, such as weapons, amulets and tools. Olle Hemdorff of the Archaeological Museum in Stavanger told newspaper Aftenposten that he believes the items were buried so that "they would protect and bring luck to the dead in the after-life."

The latest revelations are linked to discoveries from Vikings who had travelled to Iceland, and who have been found carrying Stone Age items with them. Previously, such findings were not considered to be significant, but recent analysis links them to similar, earlier-overlooked evidence from several locations over the former Viking lands.

As well as being buried with the dead, as were some of their ships, Stone Age arrowheads and daggers were sometimes buried under Viking houses. Hemdorff suggests that "by including objects from their ancestors, the Vikings legitimized and gained 'control' over the past."

The custom of burying Stone Age treasures has also been identified in Iron Age communities and excavations from the age of migration (400-600 BC) found in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Indeed, the practice is mentioned in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, where it is stated that flint, pottery, round stones and shards are thrown into Ophelia's grave.

Hemdorff speculates that Shakespeare "probably built his own description on an old custom that we now know goes back to Viking times."

18 March 2011

Dig to begin at royal Viking estate

March, 10 2011

Views and News from Norway

The largest archaeological project in Norway in nearly 10 years will begin in June to recover property of the Viking king Harald Harfagre (alternatively known as "Harald Fairhair," "Harald Finehair" or, simply, "Harald I"). He was, at any rate, the first king of Norway.

Newspaper Aftenposten reports that the work will be taking place in Avaldsnes, Karm√ły (southwest Norway), at a site believed to be part of Fairhair's royal estate. The research project, led by Oslo's Cultural History Museum in cooperation with its counterpart museum in Stavanger, will run from mid-June to mid-September and look to exhume about 11,000 square meters in the area this year, before completing the project in 2012.

Harald Fairhair is credited by many with uniting, through conquests and alliances, the various smaller princedoms into something resembling the modern kingdom of Norway. He is believed to have reigned from 872AD until his death in 932AD.

There is considerable historical debate over which areas he controlled, either directly or indirectly, and many point out that there were large parts of the existing country that lay outside of his kingdom.

The name "Fairhair" originates from a legend that suggests that Harald vowed not to cut his hair until he was king of all of Norway, after being originally rejected by his eventual queen Gyda Eiriksdottir, who wanted him to have more power before they married.

Other digs, too

Alongside the project to uncover the remains of Harald I, there are a series of other digs set to go ahead across southwestern and southern Norway.

Research will be conducted as part of motorway works in Vestfold related to a number of eras in human history, with the majority looking at the various stages of the Stone Age, especially the middle and late Mesolithic period. The Cultural History Museum hopes the work will reveal more about the development of stone age dwellings in the region.

More work will also be undertaken in Gudbrandsdalen in Oppland County before the building of a new motorway between Ringebu and Otta. It will focus on Iron Age settlements, and coal or whaling pits from the Iron and Middle Ages.

Yet more archaeological projects will take place in Hovden in the mountains of Aust-Agder and at Tyinkrysset, Oppland County before the building of new holiday homes, and will look for evidence of iron production.

11 March 2011

Viking ancestry explored on the Isle of Man by researchers

February, 04 2011


Researching your family tree can only go back so far in time before records become patchy.

Now genealogists from the University of Leicester are using DNA tests to trace Manx ancestry back to the Viking era.

Local men with popular Manx surnames are being asked to give a DNA sample to help researchers explore the links between Y chromosomes, surnames and common ancestry.

The investigation starts on Saturday, 19 February 2011 at the Manx Museum.

Allison Fox, Curator of Archaeology at Manx National Heritage, told BBC Isle of Man: "The Vikings have had a lasting impact on the island and we've still got Tynwald today.

Norwegian ancestry

"If it's possible to show that this influence has filtered down to the current generation, then it will be a very valuable piece of research."

The research is part of a PhD degree project, which looks at the proportion of Manx inhabitants with Viking ancestry.

Participants will be asked to fill out a questionnaire about their ancestry and give a DNA sample by brushing the inside of their cheek.

The only criteria is that you are a male, whose father's father was born on the Isle of Man and that your surname is one of those listed here

Viking's first took up settlement on the Isle of Man at the end of the 8th century.

The research team will analyse Y chromosomes which are linked with surnames and then estimate proportions of Norwegian ancestry in these samples.

The results of the study will be available at the end of the study in 2013.

05 March 2011

Scotland's DNA: Who do you think you are?

This article is of interest because it gives the reader a sense of the continuing work on the influence that the medieval Vikings had on every culture they contacted.
Published Date: 04 March 2011

By Alistair Moffat and Dr Jim Wilson

Our series on the DNA make-up of Scots looks at how the Vikings left an indelible mark on this country and in particular Orkney, where around 20 per cent of all Orcadian men carry the bloodthirsty raiders' M17 marker

HIDDEN snug beneath oiled sheep- and goatskins, or tucked into tiny corners under gear, or nibbling at parcels of food, mice began sailing to Scotland in the 9th century. They came from Norway, mostly, and settled in Orkney, where their descendants still thrive. The mice brought other creatures with them who were neither tim'rous nor cow'rin, but they were certainly beasties. The mice sailed the North Sea with the Vikings.

DNA researchers conducted a series of tests on house mice in Orkney and discovered that their genetic make-up was quite different from mice on the Scottish mainland, even though they had been on the islands for about 1,000 years. But when they compared it with that of mice in Norway, they found it was an exact match. The only possible explanation was that mice had stowed away on Viking longships and when these ferocious warriors rasped up their keels on Orcadian beaches to attack terrified communities, their little passengers quietly scuttled through the rocks and seaweed to settle and multiply.

As with mice, so it was with men. The Viking attacks began in AD793 with the surprise assault on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Even across 12 centuries the shock is palpable. These pagan sea-raiders seemed to sail out of nowhere and attack without hesitation some of the most sacred places in the north. The footsteps of Columba and Cuthbert were spattered with blood as monks and nuns were tortured, killed and raped, and their churches echoed not with prayer and plainsong but with the screams of the dying as they were ransacked for gold, silver and other valuables. Iona was desecrated repeatedly.

An account of what happened in AD825 was written by Walafrid Strabo, Abbot of Reichenau in southern Germany. Like many raiders wishing to use the element of surprise, the Vikings attacked the monastery on Iona at first light and broke into the abbey where St Blathmac and his followers lay prostrate in prayer. In what must have been a terrible orgy of ferocity, they were all slaughtered before the altar except for their leader. Demanding to know where the monks had buried Columba's reliquary and other precious objects, the Vikings began to torture Blathmac. Using ponies they took ropes attached to their harness and tied the ends to his arms and legs, and when he continued to refuse to give up the holy relics, Walafrid wrote that the pious sacrifice was torn limb from limb.

The appalling fate of Blathmac was by no means unique. Among recorded atrocities – and there must have many that were not – the pagan ritual of blood-eagling was horrific. As a sacrifice to the war god, Odin, victims were tied face-first to a post or pillar before a Viking marked the blood-eagle on his back. In AD869 King Edmund of East Anglia suffered this dreadful death when his ribs were hacked from his spine and pulled outwards like an eagle's wings. Then his lungs were wrenched out and draped over his shoulders. On Orkney the Viking Earl Turf Einarr ordered the same ritual in the 870s. It is no wonder the monks called the Vikings the Sons of Death.

In the light of such sustained and well-documented barbarity it is perhaps surprising that many Scottish men hanker after a Viking legacy. Before having their DNA tested, they often express a wish to be the descendants of these bloodthirsty raiders and many are disappointed when another result is conveyed. But there is a significant group who glory in the DNA of the Vikings, and while there was much to abhor, it is fair to say that there was also much to admire. Great seamen and daring, they sailed in open longships to discover Iceland, Greenland, (eventually making landfall in North America), they founded the embryonic Russian state of Kievan Rus, composed epic sagas of verve and colour, and inspired the cartoon character Noggin the Nog – although his mild manners must have been an exception.

Recent DNA research has shown a very significant Viking inheritance in Orkney. Around 20 per cent of all Orcadian men carry the M17 marker, the classic signature of Viking settlement. If the statistics are narrowed to cover only men with ancient Orcadian surnames like Linklater, Foubister, Clouston, Flett or Rendall, the percentage of M17 rockets to 75 per cent.

M17 is also present in the Western Isles in large numbers. Clan names are a visible relic; MacIvors were originally the sons of Ivar, MacSween, the sons of Swein, Macaulay, the sons of Olaf, MacAskill, the sons of Asgeir and so on. Clan MacLeod is a fascinating case study. From a sample of the DNA of 45 Macleod Y chromosomes almost half, 47 per cent, clearly show social selection at work in that they descend from one individual. If this statistic is projected amongst the total number of MacLeods, it means that almost 10,000 men alive today are descended from this man. Among the remaining 53 per cent, researchers have found only nine other lineages present, showing that MacLeod men married women who were unfailingly faithful to them.

Nevertheless, the MacLeods do not carry the M17 marker group. Theirs is a recently discovered sub-group labelled S68. It is found in Lewis, Harris and Skye, core Macleod territory, but also in Orkney, Shetland and Norway, with a few examples in Sweden. Despite extensive screening, S68 is very specifically located, showing up only once in the east of Scotland and once in England. This is a classic pattern for a Viking marker in Britain, but one much rarer than M17. MacLeods determinedly claim descent from a common name father, a Norse aristocrat called Ljot, a relative of Olaf, King of Man. They are probably right to continue to claim that – science for once supporting tradition.

Despite striking examples of extreme violence, the Vikings were often anxious to keep their captives alive. At Dublin they set up a great slave market and many poor souls were sold on to the agents of wealthy individuals. Some were taken as far south as the Mediterranean and the developing Muslim states of Spain and North Africa where fair-skinned thralls or slaves commanded a premium. The discovery of both the pan-British Isles DNA marker of S145 and the Irish and Scottish-specific M222 in coastal Norway has suggested a remnant legacy of slaves shipped back to the Viking homeland. Even very small numbers of M284, one of the founding lineages in Scotland, have been detected. Although many Scots visited and even settled for long periods in Norway, from the later middle ages onwards, it is quite possible that some of these S145 and M222 descendants are, in fact, the children of slaves. The British-specific mtDNA or female group of J1b1 has also been found in coastal Norway, and it almost certainly represents another survival of slaving.

There is a fourth distinctly Irish subtype of the great S145 marker but, like the Pictish subgroup, it has yet to be identified with a single, slowly evolving marker. Instead geneticists rely on a particular signature of more quickly evolving markers to identify members of this group. It is concentrated in Munster, and particularly in counties Cork and Kerry. It is very rare in Scotland and has only been found in the Northern and Western Isles. This suggests that it is unlikely to have spread outwards from Dalriada – as M222 appears to have done. Rather it looks as it was taken directly from South-west Ireland to north and west Scotland. A likely explanation would be that these lineages represent the descendants of Irish slaves taken north by the Vikings. This is supported by the fact that the major genetic lineage of the surname of Macaulay, the sons of Olaf, belongs to the group. It seems that some slaves contributed to the ancestral gene pool of the peripheral regions of Scotland.

One of the most fascinating mixes of DNA in Scotland can be seen in the most southerly part of the country. The territory of Greater Galloway stretched east to Annandale and north to include Carrick and it may be seen as a palimpsest of our linguistic and cultural history, a mirror to what happened in perhaps more familiar parts of the country. The most westerly peninsula, the Rhinns of Galloway, lies close to Ireland and at the same time as Dalriada was emerging in Argyll and the south-western Hebrides, Gaelic was certainly also spoken there. The ancient kingdom of Rheged understood itself in Old Welsh and it had royal centres near Stranraer, Kirkcudbright and probably at Carlisle. When it faded and died at the end of the 6th century, the English-speaking Bernicians pushed westwards to establish an episcopal see at Whithorn and colonise fertile costal areas.

Even Pictish became part of the mix – by mistake. The Bernicians may have believed the Gaelic speakers of Galloway to have been Picts because the first two bishops at Whithorn took symbolic names. Peohthelm means "Leader of the Picts" and Peohtwine "Friend of the Picts".

In the late 9th and early 10th century the kaleidoscope was twisted once more when some of the Celto-Norse peoples of the Hebrides migrated south. Because they spoke Gaelic but were descended from Vikings, they became known as the Gall-Gaidheil and they gave their name to Galloway.

It means the Land of the Stranger-Gaels. For six centuries at least, dialects of Old Welsh, Gaelic and English were spoken by substantial communities who lived alongside each other.

Multiculturalism may not be fashionable in certain quarters nowadays but it has a long history in Scotland. A very early linguistic mix like this is usually reflected in DNA, and when more testing is completed in Galloway, a rich and complex picture is likely to emerge.

Perhaps the most attractive achievement of the Viking settlers and their descendants was the great medieval Atlantic principality of the west, the Lordship of the Isles. It was essentially the creation of Somerled, also the founder of Clan Donald and the progenitor of its major name-fathers. There is accurate data available from a large sample, from 164 MacDonald Y chromosomes, and they contain a fascinating twist on tradition.

Somerled was known to chroniclers as Somerled the Viking and it turns out that the large number in the sample descended directly from him, 23 per cent, carry a specific signature type within the Norse subgroup of M17.

Somerled's own ancestors did indeed originate in Scandinavia. And the tradition lives on, for Clan Donald have genotyped the chiefs of their various clan branches and they all carry the old Vikings' marker.

It seems in the north, west and south of Scotland the legacy of the sea-raiders carries on. Most of the significant in-migrations to Scotland had taken place by the years around AD1000, but in the later 19th and the 20th century, the age of mass transport, more peoples came to enrich our collective DNA.

• The Scots: A Genetic Journey by Alistair Moffat and Dr Jim Wilson is available now. Readers of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday can buy copies of the book at the special price of £12.75 (p&p free in the UK) by calling 0845 370 0067 and quoting reference SMAN211.

• Last Updated: 03 March 2011 7:54 PM

• Source: The Scotsman

• Location: Edinburgh

• Related Topics: Who do you think you are?