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