27 December 2013

Vikings could navigate, colonize the Arctic during Medieval times

As I have written previously, the Viking age was facilitated by the Medieval Warm Period. Had the weather not warmed markedly in the northern climes from about 700-1200, allowing the Norse people to shake loose the restrictions of winter earlier in the season, they never would have had the opportunity to venture south soon enough to accomplish their missions of conquest - the ice melted out of their fjords and they sallied forth. The rest is history. (Ed.)


Posted By Michael Bastasch On 12:54 AM 12/18/2013
The possibility that global warming might contribute to Arctic development isn’t anything new. America’s first European visitors, the Vikings, were able to reach and colonize the northernmost reaches of the continent due to the lack of sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean during Medieval times when the earth was going through a warming period.
The Viking era came well before the Industrial Revolution — when humans began burning large amounts of fossil fuels which some scientists say causes global warming — and suggests that there are strong natural climate forces that have a profound effect on the extent of Arctic sea ice coverage. However, this is not a new theory — it was discussed as far back as the 19th century.
According to an 1887 newspaper article entitled “Variations in Climate,” Scandinavian Vikings were able to sail through the Arctic Ocean and establish colonies in the “highest north latitude” of Greenland and North America centuries before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. These colonies, however, were abandoned by the Vikings due to “the increasing cold.”
“On the contrary, the formation of ice increases annually if the winters are strongly cold, long and dark,” wrote Alexander Beck in 1887. “The reverse of that state of things is found by calculations for the year 1122 A.D., and it is precisely at that time we find the Danes and other Scandinavian nations going through the Arctic open seas.”
“Colonies are established by them in the highest north latitude of Greenland, and the upper part of North America, a long time before Christopher Columbus had reached a more southern part of the same continent,” Beck added. “But those colonies were relinquished on account of the increasing cold. In the fourteenth century the seas are found again closed, even in the summer. The great north icefield … increases daily, the Arctic colonists are compelled to come more to the south, and the cold takes possession again of countries which were kept free for a few years just about the twelfth century.”
“Remains of those upper Arctic villages are found, I may say, in each Arctic expedition. The climate of Iceland becoming more and more cool also proves that the state of the earth varies in the course of centuries,” Beck continued.
The warm climate that defined the Middle Ages and allowed the Vikings to settle the most northern reaches of the Americas is known as the “Medieval Warming Period,” which lasted from the 9th century A.D. to the 13th Century A.D. During this time temperatures were warmer in the Northern Hemisphere than the so-called “Little Ice Age” that followed, according to the National Climate Data Center.
The “Little Ice Age” that followed the warmer Medieval period lasted from the 14th century A.D. to the late 19th Century A.D. Some scientists argue that this period coincided with low sunspot activity which cooled the climate substantially during this time period. Others say that it had to due with natural climate variations caused by the Atlantic Ocean.
Recently, German scientists have argued that two naturally occurring cycles will combine to lower global temperatures to levels corresponding with the “Little Ice Age” of 1870. According to scientists declining solar activity and the 65-year Atlantic and Pacific Ocean oscillation cycle will cause the earth to cool during this century.
“Due to the de Vries cycle, the global temperature will drop until 2100 to a value corresponding to the ‘little ice age’ of 1870,” write German scientists Horst-Joachim Luedecke and Carl-Otto Weiss of the European Institute for Climate and Energy.

Article printed from The Daily Caller: http://dailycaller.com
URL to article: http://dailycaller.com/2013/12/18/vikings-could-navigate-colonize-the-arctic-during-medieval-times/

09 November 2013

Medieval Viking Thing site found under parking lot in Scotland

According to this BBC article, archaeologists have found the probable site of a medieval Thing in a parking lot in Dingwall, Scotland. You might ask, what is a Thing? “An annual assembly that served as the governing body of Norse society and at which any freeman could bring their concerns before the chieftain, or law speaker, for the rule of law. Although women could be heard at a Thing, they had no vote.”  From Glossary of Norse Terms, The Settlers, An Axe of Iron Novel.
For those of you interested in such things - no pun intended – further reading on this subject and the recently discovered Viking site may be found at: http://www.thingsites.com/thing-site-profiles/dingwall-scotland (Ed.)


BBC News, Highlands and the Islands

22 October 2013 Last updated at 05:27 ET

Location of Norse parliament in Dingwall 'confirmed'

A Fragment of an iron vessel was found during the excavation

Archaeologists say they have confirmed the location of a meeting place of a medieval Norse parliament.
Called a "thing", evidence of the mound was uncovered during excavations of Dingwall's Cromartie Memorial car park. When it was constructed in the 11th Century, the thing would have been on a man-made islet in the estuary of the Peffery.
Archaeologists and historians believe it was built on the instructions of Thorfinn the Mighty.
The powerful Viking earl, who died in 1065, is thought to have laid the foundations of what would later become the royal burgh of Dingwall in Ross-shire.
Experts suggest a road, ditch and an aqueduct, known as the Water of Dyke, that drew water from hillside springs were also constructed when Thorfinn was in control of Ross-shire and large parts of the north of Scotland.
 A school visit at the dig site in Cromartie Memorial car park

Thorfinn's rise to power was aid by his victory in a battle at Torfnes on the south side of the Cromarty Firth. At the height of his power he was lord of Caithness, Shetland and Orkney.
Estuarine mud
In Scotland, thing sites can also be found in Shetland and Orkney. Clues to the location of Dingwall's thing included an 18th Century plan of the town. OJT Heritage and Dingwall History Society were involved in excavating parts of Cromartie Memorial car park, which is on a piece of land known as the Hillyard.
Imported medieval pottery were also found during the dig
 David MacDonald was commissioned to put together a historical investigative report on the thing site. In his report, he said: "The excavation revealed that what had been a large earth mound contained within the Hillyard of Dingwall had been located within estuarine mud. This confirmed George Brown's plan of 1790 showing the Hillyard as an estuarine islet."

Radio carbon dating of earth samples indicated that the mound had been constructed in the estuary of the Peffery around the mid-11th Century. Mr MacDonald added: "That dating is consistent with the period in which, following his victory at Torfnes until his death, Earl Thorfinn the Mighty had exercised authority over Ross. It therefore reasonably can be concluded that the mound had been constructed on Thorfinn's instructions to be a man-made islet adjacent to the eastern shore of what historically had been a small peninsula projecting into the estuary of the Peffery."

28 October 2013

Viking Jewelry Unearthed in Denmark

The following excerpts from an article featured in LiveScience tells us about the uncovering of Viking Age jewelry on a farmstead in Denmark. Artifacts from the Viking age are always of interest to us; pieces such as these examples of Norse artistry are of special interest. The archaeologist's opinion of the piece containing gold inlay is fanciful at best. Why he would think that the Germanic, Teutonic, Maltese, Celtic - whichever you prefer - cross depicted in the center of the piece has anything whatever to do with Christians is peculiar given that what he identifies as a Christian cross is a mystery to him because it occurs in a setting that pre-dates the alleged conversion of the Vikings to Christianity. The Germanic cross is a symbol so ancient that archaeologists cannot categorize it, so why not call it what it is, a decorative symbol favored by Germanic tribes from antiquity. An active imagination and a propensity for political correctness must be a prerequisite for a major in archaeology, but I digress. If you wish to read the complete article with copious links, it is available by clicking the title link below. So, without further adieu, on to the article. (Ed.)
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor   |   July 24, 2013 08:45am ET

Several pieces of Viking jewelry, some of which contain gold, have been uncovered at a farm site in Denmark that dates as far back as 1,300 years.

Although the Vikings have a popular reputation as being raiders, they were also farmers, traders, and explorers, and the craftsmanship seen in this jewelry demonstrates their artistic skills.
Archaeologists working with volunteers used metal detectors to find the jewelry in different spots throughout a farmstead on Zealand, the largest island in Denmark. The remains of the site, which is now called Vestervang, date from the late seventh to the early 11th centuries.
Finding such lavish goods at such a modest farm site poses a puzzle, the archaeologists said. The reason why the farm site would hold such treasure may lie in a legendary site located nearby. 

The "most spectacular" example is 2.9 inches (73 millimeters) long and shows an image of a heart-shaped animal head with rounded ears and circular eyes, writes archaeologist Ole Thirup Kastholm, of the Roskilde Museum, in a paper published in the most recent edition of the Danish Journal of Archaeology. The piece, made of copper alloy, may be part of a necklace.

"The neck is covered by a bead like chain," Kastholm writes. "Above the creatures forelegs, there are marked elbow joints and three-fingered paws or feet, which awkwardly grasp backwards to what might be hind legs or wings." The object probably had three similar images originally, but only one survives.
In addition to the animal image, the item, possibly a pendant, also shows three masked figures, each with a "drooping moustache." A "circular mark is seen between the eyebrows and above this, two ears or horns emerge, giving the human like mask an animal character," Kastholm writes.
He said that the animal image itself seems to be anthropomorphic, something not unusual in Viking age art. "Some of these anthropomorphic pictures, though, might be seen as representations of 'shamanic' actions, i.e. as mediators between the 'real' world and the 'other' world," Kastholm wrote in an email to LiveScience. He can't say for sure who would have worn it, but it "certainly (was) a person with connections to the elite milieu of the Viking age."

Credit: Ole Kastholm/Roskilde Museum

 A mysterious piece of jewelry found at Vestervang depicts a Christian cross and appears to have been created in continental Europe sometime between A.D. 500 and 750, predating the Viking-age farm site.
A brooch dating to A.D. 500-700 discovered at a Viking-age farm site in Denmark. "The decoration consists of a central wheel cross in relief, with inlaid gold pressed into a waffle form. The waffle gold is in some areas covered with transparent red glass or semiprecious stones and forming an equal-armed cross," writes Kastholm in the paper. How the artifact arrived at a pre-Christian Viking-age farm site is a mystery. A Christian traveler may have brought it to Vestervang, or a non-Christian person at the site may have acquired it through exchange. The item would have been used as a brooch, and Kastholm said a female of "high rank" perhaps wore it on her dress. It "tells us about close relations and networks between Southern Scandinavia and the European continent in late Iron Age, before the time of Christianization (sic)," Kastholm wrote in the email.

These discoveries leave researchers with a mystery. What is such rich jewelry doing at a modest agricultural settlement?  The answer may lie in a legendary site, named Lejre, which is located about 6 miles (10 kilometers) south-southeast of Vestervang, no more than three hours away by foot and boat.
"Legend has it that this was the place where the first Danish dynasty, the Scyldings, had its royal seat," writes Tom Christensen, also of the Roskilde Museum, in an article published in the book "Settlement and Coastal Research in the Southern North Sea Region" (Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2010). He notes that some members of this dynasty even appeared in the famous poem "Beowulf."

Archaeological research has revealed that Lejre appears to be a rich site. In 1850, a hoard consisting of "four silver vessels, a whetstone, a weight, a necklace, and a disk-shaped silver ingot" was found in the nearby hills, Christensen noted. A monument 282 feet (86 meters) long made of rocks arranged in the shape of a ship was also reconstructed in later excavations. The presence of this elite site close to Vestervang may explain the presence of the newly found rich jewelry, Kastholm writes. In the 1960s, there was vast residential development in the area of Vestervang, but maps that predate the development show two villages near the site with "Karleby" in their name, something that may signify that the area was given to retainers of Lejre's ruler. 

"The old Scandinavian term karl, corresponding with the old English ceorl, refers to a member of the king's professional warrior escort, the hirð," Kastholm writes in the journal article. Together, the rich jewelry finds at Vestervang, the site's proximity to Lejre and the presence of two nearby villages with the names "Karleby" reveal what life may have been like at Vestervang. It "seems probable that the settlement of Vestervang was a farm controlled by a Lejre superior and given to generations of retainers, i.e. to a karl of the hirð," Kastholm writes. "This would explain the extraordinary character of the stray finds contrasting with the somewhat ordinary traces of settlement."

27 October 2013


The writings of the Arab, Ibn Fadlan, in the early 10th century represent the only existing documentation of the culture of the Vikings, if true, from a credible eye-witness. This material does not come to us from teams of archaeologists sifting through the detritus of time, but from a man who was actually there. What follows, excerpted from the original text translation, especially the ship burial of a Viking chieftain, may be of interest to you even if you have never heard of Fadlan or his writings. His identification of the savage people he encountered along the Volga River, 1100-years ago, as Rusiyyah, or Rus, is of particular interest because their customs most certainly identify them as Norse. Since they are in what is now Russia, they are also most certainly Swedish Vikings. Sweden did not exist during the period in question; however, without getting into unnecessary detail I think we can reference the two dominate medieval tribes that became modern Sweden as the people that Ibn Fadlan writes about. So, more correctly, the Vikings he encountered were members of the Svear or Gotar tribes. Scholars have been arguing about this contention for the last couple of centuries, with no end to the battle in sight.
The compilation of this information by James E. Montgomery, complete with extensive end notes, may be viewed by reference to his original work. http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/montgo1.pdf (ED.)
James E. Montgomery

Ibn Fadlan’s account of his participation in the deputation sent by the Caliph al-Muqtadir in the year 921 A.D. to the King of the Bulghars of the Volga, in response to his request for help, has proved to be an invaluable source of information for modern scholars interested in, among other subjects, the birth and formation of the Russian state, in the Viking involvement in northern and eastern Europe, in the Slavs and the Khazars. It has been analyzed and commented upon frequently and forms the substance of many observations on the study of the ethnography and sociology of the peoples concerned. Yet it is no exaggeration to say that, with a few very conspicuous exceptions, the majority of the scholars who refer to it, who base their observations upon it and who argue from it, are at best improperly familiar with classical Arabic. In the case of the people known as the Rusiyyah, for example, two modern commentators have surveyed Ibn Fadlan’s Kitab, or a portion of it, and have all too hastily identified the Rus, variously, as the Vikings and the Russians, a scholarly commonplace among those involved.
The following narrative is purported to be from the writings of the Arab, Ibn Fadlan (ED.)

I saw the Rusiyyah when they had arrived on their trading expedition and had disembarked at the River Atil. I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs—they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish. The man wears a cloak with which he covers one half of his body, leaving one of his arms uncovered. Every one of them carries an axe, a sword and a dagger and is never without all of that which we have mentioned. Their swords are of the Frankish variety, with broad, ridged blades. Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark-green lines, pictures and such like. Each woman has, on her breast, a small disc, tied around her neck, made of either iron, silver, copper or gold, in relation to her husband’s financial and social worth. Each disc has a ring to which a dagger is attached, also lying on her breast. Around their necks they wear bands of gold and silver. Whenever a man’s wealth reaches ten thousand dirham, he has a band made for his wife; if it reaches twenty thousand dirham, he has two bands made for her—for every ten thousand more, he gives another band to his wife. Sometimes one woman may wear many bands around her neck. The jewelry which they prize the most is the dark-green ceramic beads which they have aboard their boats and which they value very highly: they purchase beads for a dirham a piece and string them together as necklaces for their wives. They are the filthiest of all Allah’s creatures: they do not clean themselves after excreting or urinating or wash themselves when in a state of ritual impurity and do not even wash their hands after food. Indeed they are like asses that roam in the fields.

They arrive from their territory and moor their boats by the Atil (a large river), building on its banks large wooden houses against possible attack. They gather in the one house in their tens and twenties, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of them has a couch on which he sits. They are accompanied by beautiful slave girls for trading. One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes a group of them comes together to do this, each in front of the other. Sometimes indeed the merchant will come in to buy a slave-girl from one of them and he will chance upon him having intercourse with her, but the Rus will not leave her alone until he has satisfied his urge.

They cannot, of course, avoid washing their faces and their heads each day, which they do with the filthiest
and most polluted water imaginable. I shall explain. Every day the slave-girl arrives in the morning with a large basin containing water, which she hands to her owner. He washes his hands and his face and his hair in the water, then he dips his comb in the water and brushes his hair, blows his nose and spits in the basin. There is no filthy impurity which he will not do in this water. When he no longer requires it, the slave-girl takes the basin to the man beside him and he goes through the same routine as his friend. She continues to carry it from one man to the next until she has gone round everyone in the house, with each of them blowing his nose and spitting, washing his face and hair in the basin.

The moment their boats reach this dock every one of them disembarks, carrying bread, meat, onions, milk and alcohol and goes to a tall piece of wood set up in the ground. This piece of wood has a face like the face of a man and is surrounded by small figurines behind which are long pieces of wood set up in the ground. When he reaches the large figure, he prostrates himself before it and says, “Lord, I have come from a distant land, bringing so many slave-girls priced at such and such per head and so many sables priced at such and such per pelt.” He continues until he has mentioned all of the merchandise he has brought with him, then says, “And I have brought this offering,” leaving what he has brought with him in front of the piece of wood, saying, “I wish you to provide me with a merchant who has many dinar and dirham and who will buy from me whatever I want to sell without haggling over the price I fix.” Then he departs. If he has difficulty in selling his goods and he has to remain too many days, he returns with a second and third offering. If his wishes prove to be impossible he brings an offering to every single one of those figurines and seeks its intercession, saying, “These are the wives, daughters and sons of our Lord.” He goes up to each figurine in turn and questions it, begging its intercession and groveling before it. Sometimes business is good and he makes a quick sell, at which point he will say, “My Lord has satisfied my request, so I am required to recompense him.” He procures a number of sheep or cows and slaughters them, donating a portion of the meat to charity and taking the rest and casting it before the large piece of wood and the small ones around it. He ties the heads of the cows or the sheep to that piece of wood set up in the ground. At night, the dogs come and eat it all, but the man who has done all this will say, “My Lord is pleased with me and has eaten my offering.”

When one of them falls ill, they erect a tent away from them and cast him into it, giving him some bread and water. They do not come near him or speak to him; indeed they have no contact with him for the duration of his illness, especially if he is socially inferior or is a slave. If he recovers and gets back to his feet, he rejoins them. If he dies, they bury him, though if he was a slave they leave him there as food for the dogs and the birds.
If they catch a thief or a bandit, they bring him to a large tree and tie a strong rope around his neck. They tie it to the tree and leave him hanging there until the rope breaks, rotted away by exposure to the rain and the wind.

I was told that when their chieftains die, the least they do is to cremate them. I was very keen to verify this, when I learned of the death of one of their great men. They placed him in his grave and erected a canopy over it for ten days, until they had finished making and sewing his funeral garments. In the case of a poor man they build a small boat, place him inside and burn it. In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide them into three, one third for his family, one third to use for his funeral garments, and one third with which they purchase alcohol which they drink on the day when his slave-girl kills herself and is cremated together with her master. They are addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day. Sometimes one of them dies with the cup still in his hand.

When their chieftain dies, his family asks his slave-girls and slave-boys, “Who among you will die with him?” and some of them reply, “I shall.” Having said this, it becomes incumbent upon the person and it is impossible ever to turn back. Should that person try to, he is not permitted to do so. It is usually slave-girls who make this offer. When that man whom I mentioned earlier died, they said to his slave-girls, “Who will die with him?” and one of them said, “I shall.” So they placed two slave-girls in charge of her to take care of her and accompany her wherever she went, even to the point of occasionally washing her feet with their own hands. They set about attending to the dead man, preparing his clothes for him and setting right all he needed. Every day the slave-girl would drink alcohol and would sing merrily and cheerfully. On the day when he and the slave-girl were to be burned I arrived at the river where his ship was. To my surprise I discovered that it had been beached and that four planks of birch and other types of wood had been erected for it. Around them wood had been placed in such a way as to resemble scaffolding. Then the ship was hauled and placed on top of this wood. They advanced, going to and fro around the boat uttering words which I did not understand, while he was still in his grave and had not been exhumed. Then they produced a couch and placed it on the ship, covering it with quilts made of Byzantine silk brocade and cushions made of Byzantine silk brocade. Then a crone arrived whom they called the “Angel of Death,” and she spread on the couch the coverings we have mentioned. She is responsible for having his garments sewn up and putting him in order and it is she who kills the slave-girls. I myself saw her: a gloomy, corpulent woman, neither young nor old.

When they came to his grave, they removed the soil from the wood and then removed the wood, exhuming him still dressed in the clothing in which he died. Meanwhile, the slave-girl who wished to be killed was coming and going, entering one pavilion after another. The owner of the pavilion would have intercourse with her and say to her, “Tell your master that I have done this purely out of love for you.”

At the time of the evening prayer on Friday they brought the slave-girl to a thing that they had constructed, like a door-frame. She placed her feet on the hands of the men and was raised above that door-frame. She said something and they brought her down. Then they lifted her up a second time and she did what she had done the first time. They brought her down and then lifted her up a third time and she did what she had done on the first two occasions. They next handed her a hen. She cut off its head and threw it away. They took the hen and threw it on board the ship.

I quizzed the interpreter about her actions and he said, “The first time they lifted her, she said, ‘Behold, I see my father and my mother.’ The second time she said, ‘Behold, I see all of my dead kindred, seated.’ The third time she said, ‘Behold, I see my master, seated in Paradise. Paradise is beautiful and verdant. He is accompanied by his men and his male slaves. He summons me, so bring me to him.’ So they brought her to the ship and she removed two bracelets that she was wearing, handing them to the woman called the “Angel of Death,” the one who was to kill her. She also removed two anklets that she was wearing, handing them to the two slave-girls who had waited upon her: they were the daughters of the crone known as the “Angel of Death.” Then they lifted her onto the ship but did not bring her into the pavilion. The men came with their shields and sticks and handed her a cup of alcohol over which she chanted and then drank. The interpreter said to me, “Thereby she bids her female companions farewell.” She was handed another cup, which she took and chanted for a long time, while the crone urged her to drink it and to enter the pavilion in which her master lay. I saw that she was befuddled and wanted to enter the pavilion but she had only put her head into the pavilion while her body remained outside it. The crone grabbed hold of her head and dragged her into the pavilion, entering it at the same time. The men began to bang their shields with the sticks so that her screams could not be heard and so terrify the other slave-girls, who would not, then, seek to die with their masters. Six men entered the pavilion and all had intercourse with the slave girl. They laid her down beside her master and two of them took hold of her feet, two her hands. The crone called the “Angel of Death” placed a rope around her neck in such a way that the ends crossed one another and handed it to two of the men to pull on it. She advanced with a broad-bladed dagger and began to thrust it in and out between her ribs, now here, now there, while the two men throttled her with the rope until she died. Then the deceased’s next of kin approached and took hold of a piece of wood and set fire to it. He walked backwards, with the back of his neck to the ship, his face to the people, with the lighted piece of wood in one hand and the other hand on his anus, being completely naked. He ignited the wood that had been set up under the ship after they had placed the slave-girl whom they had killed beside her master. Then the people came forward with sticks and firewood. Each one carried a stick the end of which he had set fire to and which he threw on top of the wood. The wood caught fire, and then the ship, the pavilion, the man, the slave-girl and all it contained. A dreadful wind arose and the flames leapt higher and blazed fiercely.

One of the Rusiyyah stood beside me and I heard him speaking to my interpreter. I quizzed him about what he had said, and he replied, “He said, ‘You Arabs are a foolish lot!’” So I said, “Why is that?” and he replied, “Because you purposely take those who are dearest to you and whom you hold in highest esteem and throw them under the earth, where they are eaten by the earth, by vermin and by worms, whereas we burn them in the fire there and then, so that they enter Paradise immediately.” Then he laughed loud and long. I quizzed him about that, the entry into Paradise, and he said, “Because of the love which my Lord feels for him. He has sent the wind to take him away within an hour.”

It took scarcely an hour for the ship, the firewood, the slave-girl and her master to be burnt to a fine ash. They built something like a round hillock over the ship, which they had pulled out of the water, and placed in the middle of it a large piece of birch on which they wrote the name of the man and the name of the King of the Rus. Then they left.

24 September 2013

New evidence of Dingwall's Viking past to be revealed

The topic of this article from BBC News is the discovery of a Thing site in the town of Dingwall, at the head of Cromarty Firth in northeastern Scotland, UK. Dingwall, from the Norse Þingvöllr, meant meeting place, hence the meeting place of the Norse Thing. This area is rich in Viking history and many discoveries have been made in the area. For readers who may not know the definition of a Norse Thing, I offer the following from the Glossary of my novel, The Settlers, the first book in my Axe of Iron series on the Vikings of Greenland.

Thing—The h is silent, thus literally Ting. An annual
assembly that served as the governing body of Norse society
and at which any Freemen could bring their concerns before
the chieftain, or lawspeaker, for the rule of law. Although
women could be heard at a thing, they had no vote.
16 September 2013 Last updated at 08:43 ET

"Exciting answers" to questions about Dingwall's Viking past are to be revealed

New evidence confirming Dingwall's origins as a Viking power base are to be revealed at a public meeting in the Highland town later this month.
Dingwall's Cromartie car park is believed to be the site of a "thing", the meeting place of a medieval Norse parliament. Archaeologists excavated part of the car park last year.
A report on the dig, including the results of radiocarbon dating, will be presented at the meeting. Highland Council said some "exciting answers" to questions about the town's Viking past will be revealed. Ahead of next Wednesday's event, local councillors said in a joint statement: "Tracing our Viking past is one of the most exciting things that has happened in Dingwall. "The archaeological investigation well and truly put Dingwall on the map."
Dr Oliver O'Grady of OJT Heritage, which was commissioned by Dingwall History Society to dig a trial trench in the car park, will give a report on what the excavation uncovered. Another of the speakers will be David MacDonald who was commissioned to put together a historical investigative report on Dingwall as a Viking thing site.
A new book, Things in the Viking World, edited by Olwyn Owen, will also be launched at the meeting.
Treasure hunt
Dingwall is a location on a European tourist trail of thing sites. Funded by the EU, the Thing Sites GeoTour involves Scotland, Norway, Iceland, the Faroes and Isle of Man. It has been described as a treasure hunt in which visitors use GPS and mobile phone apps to uncover details about the locations.
In Scotland, thing sites can also be found in Shetland and Orkney.

The Dingwall event will be held in Highland Council's High Street office from 19:00.

02 September 2013

Pre-historical Canadian Indian Site Discovered

The following article detailing the discovery of more than 400,000 artifacts dating to 1100 A.D. is the largest archaeological find of such materials ever located in the Canadian province of Manitoba. The pre-historical aboriginal peoples represented by this treasure trove may be the ancient ancestors of the Anishinabeg (Ojibwa/Chippewa) people that I introduce in the 2nd novel, Confrontation, of my Axe of Iron series of historical fiction novels about the assimilation of the Greenland Vikings with the natives of Vinland.
I have highlighted two areas of the article to call attention to the end of the period represented by the materials found at the site. Pottery never before seen has been dated to approximately 1100 A.D., yet the archeologists never mention possible Norse influence in that revelation. I find that omission amazing because the Greenland Norse certainly could have played a part in introducing new techniques to the pre-historical natives of Canada. (Ed.)


WINNIPEG, MANITOBA--(Marketwired - Aug. 28, 2013) - The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) today released the official reports of archaeological excavations conducted on its building site, revealing important new evidence about the role of The Forks among early inhabitants.
"These new findings may lead archaeologists to rethink current theories about how The Forks has been used over thousands of years," CMHR president and CEO Stuart Murray said at a news conference attended by archaeologists, Aboriginal Elders and other site partners. "Evidence that this site has long been a place for peaceful meeting also supports Aboriginal oral history passed down through generations."
More than 400,000 artifacts dating as far back as 1100 A.D. were recovered from the CMHR digs, conducted in two stages between 2008 and 2012 by Quaternary Consultants, led by senior archaeologist Sid Kroker, and by Stantec Consulting, led by senior archaeologist David McLeod. The first stage was the largest block archaeological excavation ever conducted in Manitoba.
This spring, the CMHR presented the archaeological results to the annual conference of the Canadian Archaeological Association and to Aboriginal Elders at Thunderbird House in Winnipeg. Among the significant findings were:
  • A large number of hearths (191) in the relatively small excavation area, possibly the highest concentration of any site in Canada. This suggests long-term seasonal habitation, raising questions about interpretation of the role of The Forks as simply a stopping and trading place.
  • At least five completely new and previously unseen types of ceramic pottery, which seem to represent a period of rapid cultural change that took place over 200 to 300 years, between 1100 and 1400 A.D. This suggests different groups from a wide geographic area met here to interact, trade, form alliances and marry - resulting in the evolution of a "homegrown" localized pottery type distinct from those of Saskatchewan or North Dakota. The pottery findings may also refute the theory that Anishinaabe (Ojibway) people did not move into The Forks until the fur-trade era, and instead suggest they had been using the site for hundreds of years previously, along with many other groups.
  • The presence of maize and bean residues on ceramics, scapula hoe fragments and squash knives, supporting theories that farming took place along the Red River, particularly since evidence was also found at a dig at Lockport.
  • An intact ceremonial pipe adorned with a beaver effigy (the bowl being the nose), similar to those made by Aboriginal peoples far to the south, evidence that sophisticated long-distance trade networks existed.
  • A high concentration of sacred materials such as ceremonial pipe fragments, possible sucking tubes and a significant presence of red ochre support theories that the site was a place of peaceful meeting, alliance-building and celebration.
  • There was no evidence that the CMHR site has ever been a burial ground.
Elder Clarence Nepinak, who offered a traditional blessing before an Aboriginal water ceremony at today's news event, said Anishinaabe oral traditions speak of a very large peace meeting about 500 to 700 years ago at The Forks among seven to 11 different Aboriginal groups. Archaeologists agree that such a meeting would match the timeline of the site, and could explain some of its artifacts and assemblages.
More information can be found on the CMHR Web site and blog. The full reports, totaling over 1,600 pages, are posted on the Bibliography page of The Forks Heritage Research Web site alongside reports from other archaeological work at The Forks.
The total cost of the CMHR archaeological excavations was approximately $1 million. Artifacts from the 2008 Quaternary dig now reside with the Historic Resources Branch, Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism (HRB). Discussions are currently underway with HRB regarding future custody of the artifacts from the Stantec mitigation as well.
Partners in the project included Aboriginal elders who provided advice and conducted ceremonies on site and with some of the recovered artifacts; Parks Canada, which provided advice and consultation, helped fund residue analysis and radiocarbon dating, supported a public information project called "Footprints Through Time", and offered a public interpretive program at the dig site in 2008; Historic Resources Branch of the Province of Manitoba, which issued a heritage permit for the 2008 excavation and established terms of reference in consultation with Parks Canada for both projects; the University of Winnipeg's Department of Anthropology, which provided data-base management; Friends of the CMHR; and PCL Constructors Canada Inc.
Currently under construction in Winnipeg, the CMHR is the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights. It is the first national museum to be established in Canada since 1967 and the first outside the National Capital Region. It opens in 2014.
More information about the CMHR archaeology project
  • Recovered artifacts include over 13,000 ceramic pottery shards, with 121 vessels identified (between five and 10 of these have never been found anywhere before); 191 hearths; over 200 stone tools such as projectile points, scrapers, flakes, an adze, rare pallettes, hammerstones and groundstones; over 50 bone tools such as awls, spatulas, a double-pointed needle, harpoon, possible hoe fragments and squash knives; a rare shell tool; shell beads; pipe fragments (including one intact pipe); and evidence of a major bison kill.
  • Two human footprints were found, including one very clear impression from a person who lived about 800 years ago, apparently wearing moccasins. This sparked a CMHR public event called "Amazing Feet" in 2009, where people were invited to leave behind their own foot and handprints.
  • A complete female horse skeleton and fetus bones were found, believed to be from the Hudson's Bay Company Experimental Farm of the mid-1800s. This is significant as much of the archaeological history from more recent times (fur-trade era) was destroyed during subsequent use of the site as a rail yard.
  • A total of 379,941 artifacts were recovered by Quaternary in 2008 in a block excavation and another 33,000 artifacts recovered by Stantec during monitoring of construction and drainage work, primarily during 2009 when construction first began.
  • Eight cultural levels were uncovered to a depth of three metres during the Quaternary block excavation, with radio-carbon dating tracing artifacts to 600 to 900 years ago, corresponding to what is known as the Late Woodland Period.
  • The block excavation occurred over a 150-square-metre area beneath the Museum's freight elevator footing and classroom spaces, contained in Root A. Because the building has no basement but was built on piles at grade, sub-surface impact was mainly confined to the elevator footing and drill holes for piles and caissons. In each drill hole, a traditional Aboriginal medicine bundle was deposited under supervision of an Elder.
  • Excavators used a dry-screening technique and tools like trowels, sharpened teaspoons, grapefruit knives and dental picks. Water-screening was also done to recover tiny artifacts, botanical and faunal remains.
  • Radiocarbon dating was conducted by Brock University in Ontario, the University of Laval in Quebec, the University of California and Beta Analytic in Florida. Residue analysis was conducted by the Paleo Research Institute in Colorado.
  • The CMHR plans to integrate some of the archaeological findings into its public and educational programs, in close collaboration with Indigenous community representatives. Aspects of the project may also become part of Museum exhibits, but no decisions have yet been finalized.
Maureen Fitzhenry
CMHR media relations manager
(204) 289-2112
Cell: (204) 782-8442

A similar article ran in the International Business Times - Science, by Sounak Mukhopadhyay | August 30, 2013 1:54 PM EST, Winnipeg Museum Displays 1,100 A.DArtefacts .


26 August 2013

Vikings didn't find Faroes first (they were 500 years late)

Each generation of archaeologists have a new challenge - find something nobody else has found about the Viking Age or refute something that has been regarded as sacrosanct for centuries - and that is the case here. Is it true? Only God knows the answer to that one. You be the judge. (Ed.)


Vikings didn't find Faroes first (they were 500 years late)

By Josephine Lethbridge, The Conversation

The Faroe Islands could have been inhabited 500 years earlier than was previously thought, according to a startling archaeological discovery.
The islands had been thought to be originally colonised by the Vikings in the 9th century AD. However, dating of peat ash and barley grains has revealed that humans had actually settled there somewhere between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.
The Faroes were the first stepping stone beyond Shetland for the dispersal of European people across the North Atlantic. The findings therefore allow speculation as to whether Iceland, Greenland, and even North America were colonised earlier than previously thought.

 Faroe Islands and surrounding area www.demis.nl

Mike Church from the University of Durham said he and his research partner, Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, had not expected to find such evidence.
“Símun and myself sampled the site in 2006 to take scientific samples for environmental archaeological analysis from the medieval Viking settlement,“ he said.
“We uncovered some burnt peat ash containing barley grains under the Viking longhouse. It was not until we had it dated that we realised what we had found.”
It was a common practise across the North Atlantic for peat to be burnt for warmth, before being spread on fields and grasslands to improve soil stability and fertility. Barley is not indigenous to the Faroes and so must have been either grown or brought to the islands by humans. Their findings are therefore conclusive evidence that the Faroes were colonised in pre-Viking times.

Archaeologists revealing the wall of a Viking longhouse. University of Durham

Andrew Jennings, a Nordic historian at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said the theory of pre-Viking settlement was not new. “Christian Matras, for example, was convinced there were pre-Viking settlers in the 1950’s. He believed there were old field systems that didn’t seem to tie into later settlements. But he had no evidence.”
It is unknown, as yet, whether these mysterious settlers hailed from the British Isles or Scandinavia.
“There is evidence of Irish hermits sailing into the North Atlantic islands in a passage by an Irish Monk called Dicuil in 825AD,” Church said.
The passage from Dicuil’s geographical book describes islands that don’t turn up in any other writing of the time:
Many other islands lie in the northerly British Ocean. One reaches them from the northerly islands of Britain, by sailing directly for two days and two nights with a full sail in a favourable wind the whole time … Most of these islands are small, they are separated by narrow channels, and for nearly a hundred years hermits lived there, coming from our land, Ireland, by boat.
Jennings described how the identification of the Faroes in the text was a subject of debate. “However, it now seems pretty conclusive that Dicuil was referring to the Faroes.”
However, Church stressed that their findings are not necessarily tied to these voyaging Irish monks. “Our findings indicate even earlier colonisation, and more research is needed before any conclusions as to the origin of these settlers can be drawn. We would need to find evidence of the type of settlement to compare to those we know about in that period before forming any opinions on this matter.”
 An Irish model of a boat, c. 100 AD Ardfern

The uncovering of this further evidence, however, may be a way off. The evidence is “very ephemeral, and very hard to find,” said Church. This means that future research in the area will be time-consuming and difficult. There are only a few places that allow settlement in the Faroe Islands and when the Vikings did settle there, they destroyed any structural evidence that there may have been.
Despite this, Jennings is confident that the settlers derived from the British Isles. “I personally would think that any pre-Viking settlers in the Faroes would have come from the Hebrides or Shetland rather than Norway,” he said.
“The civilisation in Shetland at the time was Pictish, and had boats. There is also good evidence that they had sails: there is a model boat from Ireland that dates from about 100 BC that has a mast, which could be a model for Celtic boats more generally.”
“There is not so much evidence of sails in Norway until as late as 700 AD. It is therefore more likely that these early Faroese settlers came from the British Isles.”