26 December 2015

Massive Viking Hoard Unearthed by Treasure Hunter Publicly Revealed for First Time

From Ancient Origins, this excerpt of their article on another Viking hoard of silver and silver coins found in Great Britain by a metal detectorist. This one is worth approximately $947,000.00; not a bad find. (Ed.)


Featured image: Credit: The British Museum

11 DECEMBER, 2015 - 00:54 MARK MILLER

Massive Viking Hoard Unearthed byTreasure Hunter Publicly Revealed for First Time
An impressive Viking and Saxon hoard of silver and gold riches that was discovered by an amateur treasure hunter in October is being publicly revealed for the first time at the British Museum. The treasure trove is believed to have been buried during ninth-century AD war and upheaval in southern England.

The Watlington Hoard, as it is known, consists of more than 200 pieces including chopped up gold, silver arm rings, silver ingots and coins minted by King Alfred the Great of Wessex and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia. The coins alone, 180 of them, are worth up to £2,500 (US$3,788) apiece, for an approximate total of £450,000 (US $947,000).

James Mather, a retired advertising manager, found the hoard while equipped with a metal detector on a farm near Watlington, and will get to share the value of it with the landowner.

Whoever the original owner of the hoard was, he probably buried it in the late 870s, when the Anglo-Saxons began to push the Vikings north of the Thames into East Anglia. Prior to 878, the Vikings had been increasing raids from Denmark. The Anglo Saxons began to re-establish their rule over southern England and won a decisive battle at Edington in 878. Experts have speculated that a Viking fleeing the Anglo Saxons after this battle buried it on his way north, on the ancient road from East Anglia to Wiltshire and Dorset.

A silver coin depicting Alfred the Great (public domain)

On one side of the coins is shown an emperor’s head, and on the other are Kings Alfred and Ceowulf II seated side by side. They became allies to defeat the Vikings, though their realms had been traditional enemies.

Later, Alfred annexed Mercia and called Ceowulf a fool and a Viking puppet.

The BBC reports that the British Museum’s curator of early medieval coins, Gareth Williams, said: “This is not just another big shiny hoard. They give a more complex political picture of a period which has been deliberately misrepresented by the victor.”

This time in English history is poorly understood, he said, and the coins give insight into the coalition of Alfred’s West Saxons and Ceowulf’s East Anglians. The alliance broke up acrimoniously, and Ceowulf disappeared from history except in a list of kings that says he ruled for five years and a document recording Alfred’s insults.

For more than 20 years, Mr. Mather’s hobby has been metal detecting. Last October he had spent a long day finding nothing important when he finally came across what he thought was a silver Viking ingot like one he had seen at the British Museum. He dug a hole and saw the big clump of coins. He filled in the hole and then called the local representative of the portable antiquities scheme to record the discovery. He told the BBC he went back to the field several times over the weekend to check on the find and make sure it was unmolested.

The next week David Williams, the finds official, excavated the earth and lifted a block of clay that held the hoard, placed it on an oven tray and took it to London in a suitcase.

A museum conservator, Pippa Pearce, said that some of the coins are so thin they can’t be handled by the edges.

The treasure has been reported, per British law. The British Museum and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford are in negotiations to purchase the hoard, and it is on display along with a 2010 find of more than 52,000 Roman coins found in jars at Frome, Somerset.

So far in 2015 113,784 portable antiquities have been reported, including 1,008 treasure discoveries.

Coins from the Frome hoard of more than 52,000 Roman coins are on display along with the Watlington hoard at the British Museum. (British Museum photo)

By: Mark Miller

Read more: http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/massive-viking-hoard-unearthed-treasure-hunter-publicly-revealed-first-time-020653#ixzz3vS6PJ3i1

23 December 2015

Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada

This article from Arqueología Medieval again calls attention to the work being done by Dr. Patricia Sutherland at the Tanfield Valley site on Baffin Island, Canadian Arctic.

Dr. Sutherland has struggled for years to gain acceptance by her colleagues for this tremendous addition to Norse archaeology in North America. This latest information may have done that for her. I certainly hope so, because as I have stated in other posts here, she certainly deserves recognition from her peers for her important work. (Ed.)

22/10/15 .- http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news

Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada
Sharpeners may be smoking guns in quest for New World's second Viking site.

For the past 50 years—since the discovery of a thousand-year-old Viking way station in Newfoundland—archaeologists and amateur historians have combed North America's east coast searching for traces of Viking visitors. It has been a long, fruitless quest, littered with bizarre claims and embarrassing failures. But at a conference in Canada earlier this month, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas.

(Read the new National Geographic magazine feature "Vikings and Native Americans: Face-to-Face.")

While digging in the ruins of a centuries-old building on Baffin Island (map), far above the Arctic Circle, a team led by Sutherland, adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, found some very intriguing whetstones. Wear grooves in the blade-sharpening tools bear traces of copper alloys such as bronze—materials known to have been made by Viking metalsmiths but unknown among the Arctic's native inhabitants.

Taken together with her earlier discoveries, Sutherland's new findings further strengthen the case for a Viking camp on Baffin Island. "While her evidence was compelling before, I find it convincing now," said James Tuck, professor emeritus of archaeology, also at Memorial University.

Archaeologists have long known that Viking seafarers set sail for the New World around A.D. 1000. A popular Icelandic saga tells of the exploits of Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain from Greenland who sailed westward to seek his fortune. According to the saga, Eriksson stopped long enough on Baffin Island to walk the coast—named Helluland, an Old Norse word meaning "stone-slab land"—before heading south to a place he called Vinland.

In the 1960s two Norwegian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L'Anse aux Meadows (map) on the northern tip of Newfoundland—the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. Dated to between 989 and 1020, the camp boasted three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.

(Related: "American Indian Sailed to Europe With Vikings?")

Viking Yarn

As reported in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, Sutherland first caught wind of another possible Viking way station in 1999, when she spotted two unusual pieces of cord that had been excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

Sutherland noticed that the strands bore little resemblance to the animal sinew Arctic hunters twisted into cordage. The cords turned out to be expertly woven Viking yarn, identical in technique to yarn produced by Viking women living in Greenland in the 14th century.

The discovery prompted Sutherland to scour other museum collections for more Viking artifacts from Baffin Island and other sites. She found more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear, from wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions to dozens of Viking whetstones. (Also see "Viking Weapon Recycling Site Found in England.")

The artifacts came from four sites, ranging from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador, a distance of a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers). Indigenous Arctic hunters known as the Dorset people had camped at each of the sites, raising the possibility that they had made friendly contact with the Vikings.

Intrigued, Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as "very difficult to interpret." Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.

Clues Etched in Bronze, Brass, and Iron

Since 2001 Sutherland's team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.

Still, some Arctic researchers remained skeptical. Most of the radiocarbon dates obtained by earlier archaeologists had suggested that Tanfield Valley was inhabited long before Vikings arrived in the New World. But as Sutherland points out, the complex site shows evidence of several occupations, and one of the radiocarbon dates indicates that the valley was occupied in the 14th century, when Viking settlers were farming along the coast of nearby Greenland.

In search of other clues to help solve the mystery, Sutherland turned to the Geological Survey of Canada. Using a technique known as energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined the wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones from Tanfield Valley and other sites. Sutherland and her colleagues detected microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—clear evidence of European metallurgy, which she presented October 7 at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. John's, Canada.

(Related: "Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning to Fade.")

Norse-Native American Trade Network?

Sutherland speculates that parties of Viking seafarers travelled to the Canadian Arctic to search for valuable resources. In northern Europe at the time, medieval nobles prized walrus ivory, soft Arctic furs, and other northern luxuries—and Dorset hunters and trappers could readily stockpile such products. Helluland's waters teemed with walruses, and its coasts abounded in Arctic foxes and other small fur-bearing animals. To barter for such goods, Viking traders likely offered bits of iron and pieces of wood that could be carved into figurines and other goods, Sutherland says.

If Sutherland is correct, the lines of evidence she has uncovered may point to a previously unknown chapter in New World history in which Viking seafarers and Native American hunters were partners together in a transatlantic trade network. "I think things were a lot more complex in this part of the world than most people assumed," Sutherland said. James Tuck agreed. "It's pretty convincing that there was a much larger Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic than any of us thought."

21 December 2015

1,000 year old silver treasure hoard discovered in Denmark

This article proves once again that all you need to find Viking artifacts in Scandinavia is the time to look, tenacity, and a good metal detector. (Ed.)



Over 550 silver items have been discovered on the Danish island of Omø. The hoard is believed to date from around the reign of Sweyn Forkbeard (986–1014) and includes coins and pieces of jewellery.

Coins discovered on the Danish island of Omø – Photo: Tobias Bondesson / Museum Vestsjællandd
The discovery was made by Robert Hemming Poulsen, an amateur archaeologist. He was on the island working to lay fibre optic cables when a local farmer mentioned having found as a boy a twisted silver ring in his fields. Poulsen agreed to check out the field with his metal detecting equipment and soon discovered some coins and silver items.

Local authorities were called in, and on October 24-25 Poulsen returned to the site with three more metal detectorists to make a thorough search. During that weekend they found hundreds of more items, including rare coins dating back between the years 975-980, which were minted by King Harald Bluetooth. Other coins that were discovered come from further afield, including England, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and even Arabic dirhams.

A coin from King Harald Bluetooth, about 975 to 980″. Photographed just as it came out of the earth. Photo: Tobias Bondesson / Museum Vestsjælland
Also found were small pieces of silver jewellery – parts of bracelets and rings. No evidence was found that a building once existed where the treasure was discovered, and it is believed that centuries of farming had probably disturbed the items.

The treasure is now on display at Museum Vestsjælland. Curator Hugo Hvid Sørensen explained to the Copenhagen Post that “A treasure like this is found once every 10-15 years. It contains many items and is extremely well kept because it has been buried in sandy earth.”

Robert Hemming Poulsen at the site of his discovery. Photo courtesy Museum Vestsjælland

18 December 2015

Ancient Vikings Settled Greenland for the Ivory

This interesting article was published in the left-wing environmental periodical, Hakai Magazine. Like most such articles, it takes things out of context rather than reporting events in chronological order – as they happened, if you will.

The Norse knew that Greenland existed when they settled it from Iceland in the 9th century. Eirik the Red and his sons gave it the once over the year before settlement, but their knowledge of the flora and fauna must have been cursory at best. The particulars, such as abundant walrus, must have come later.

Thomas McGovern, one of Arctic archaeology's stalwarts, surmises that the chief reason for the Greenland settlement's existence was walrus ivory.

He is wrong about that, but being an archaeologist he must posit about something to maintain his grants and employment. Finding fault with past opinion seems in vogue for the discipline, giving contemporary archaeologists almost unlimited fodder with which to disagree, or posit.

As I stated previously, Erik the Red founded the Norse Greenland settlements because he knew of the island's existence beforehand. He had been banished from Iceland for murder.So he gathered up a following of kinsmen and other like-minded folks and launched a settlement expedition of 25-ships. These people populated the two known Greenland Norse settlements because they sought a new home, free of the strife of Iceland at the time, with a chance to live on their own land, something unavailable on Iceland or the homeland for most.

Pastoral farms were established for their livestock. Greenland is not conducive to the growing of any cereal crops because of the short growing season, except perhaps barley in small amounts, so their agricultural focus would have been their livestock. These people and their descendants lived on Greenland for almost 500-years. During those centuries vast herds of walrus were discovered in the far north of Greenland itself, and across the Greenland Sea on present day Baffin and Ellesmere Islands. The men capitalized on this resource to feed Iceland’s and the homeland’s thirst for ivory, not to mention the hides and meat that were also much sought after by all peoples in the northern climes. The finest rope obtainable at the time was made of twisted walrus hide strips.

So, the initial reason for settlement was not walrus ivory, it was primarily livestock farming. The ivory came along subsequent to the establishment of the farms.

But, like everything that happened centuries ago, nobody, including Dr. Thomas McGovern really knows what motivated the Norse to do anything, anywhere. That fact does not stop them from giving we, the unwashed masses, their opinion. We all do that, huh? The article is interesting, but the findings presented are pure conjecture, nothing more.(Ed.)


New archaeological research hints at a new reason for Vikings’ Greenland occupation.

Published July 28, 2015

After Erik the Red killed his enemies in Iceland, he found himself banished and sailing westward. Around 985 AD, Erik settled his family on an unexplored island, and, in what is widely regarded as the first act of real estate branding, named the place “Greenland,” hoping to attract other Vikings with the implicit promise of rich farmland. But as archaeologists are now learning, Erik may have been better off naming the place “Walrusland.”

Scholars have long thought that Erik’s branding deception worked, and that Vikings flocked to Greenland to set up farms—even though the growing season is short and raising livestock difficult. Archaeologist Thomas McGovern and colleagues, however, are testing a new idea: that Vikings settled Greenland to provide European markets with luxury trade goods such as furs, eiderdown, hides, and walrus tusk ivory.

As new research suggests, it does appear that walrus hunting, not farming, was the main source of prosperity for many of the Vikings—an estimated 3,000 at peak population—who chose to eke out a living on the farthest fringe of European culture.

A replica Viking casket made of gilded bronze and ivory. Photo by Werner Forman/Corbis
Throughout the first millennium AD, European economics went through an important change as new trade networks across Europe and Asia opened markets for goods of all kinds. And in the first few centuries after Erik the Red’s westward voyage, the number of ivory artifacts in medieval Europe blossomed.

The Middle Age ivory trade was incredibly lucrative, but it was not easy money. One historical source describes a 15-day row in a six-oared boat from the nearest Viking settlement to the walrus colonies in Disko Bay, on Greenland’s west coast. Even in summer, the men would have risked hypothermia. With the hunt complete, the hunters would reverse the journey, now with up to 160 severed walrus heads piled in the boat. (Tusk extraction, it seems, was easier once the head had rotted for a few weeks.)

Still, the risks had a sizable reward. A document from 1327 AD, analyzed by Christian Keller of Oslo University, showed that a load of walrus ivory equivalent to 520 tusks was enough to pay six years’ worth of Greenland’s taxes to their ruler, the king of Norway. That much walrus ivory had the same value as 780 cows or 60 tonnes of fish.

During the Viking ivory trade’s boom years, Europe’s economy was based on luxury goods, with elites and nobles trading high-prestige gifts, says McGovern. But then, in the High Medieval period (about 1200 to 1400 AD), things gradually changed. The European economy transitioned from one based around luxury goods to something more akin to a modern economy, where bulk goods like wool and fish are sold for profit.

“The Greenlanders were left stuck in the old economy, they were left producing for the prestige goods market,” says McGovern. As European markets for bulk goods expanded and fashions moved away from ivory decorations, the incentive to visit Greenland may have disappeared.

The remains of a Viking settlement in Greenland. Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/Corbis
This was borne out in the 1300s when the number of Greenland ivory artifacts in Europe declined. Adding to ivory’s fall from fashion, in the mid-1300s Greenland’s economic connection to Europe was damaged when Norway was ravaged by the Black Death, leaving few people able to make the long voyage.

By around 1350 AD, the settlement closest to Disko Bay was abandoned. By the mid-1400s, Europeans deserted the rest of Greenland as well. Despite Erik the Red’s deceptions, Greenland was never very good for farming. But with European economics changing around them, so too went its appeal for Greenland’s Viking walrus hunters.

12 December 2015

Viking-Era Ring Unearthed in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland contines to be a treasure trove of medieval Viking artifacts, as evidenced by this Viking arm ring found in a farm field by a man removing rocks. (Ed.)

SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 By Barbara Maranzani

David Taylor holds the 10th century Viking arm ring he discovered last year.

This week, a court in Northern Ireland announced its ruling that the 2012 discovery of a metal bracelet was in fact a rare artifact--a Viking arm ring from the 10th century.
The artifact was discovered in April 2012 while David Taylor and his brother-in-law Andrew Coulter were removing stones from a field on Coulter’s farm in the village of Kircubbin in Northern Ireland’s Country Down. After spotting the dirt-encrusted object lying on one of the rocks, Taylor pocketed it, mistakenly thinking it might be a piece of machinery of some value.

His wife, however, wasn’t convinced and suggested he simply throw it in the garbage. Instead, Taylor contacted a local museum, which informed that he hadn’t found a piece of machinery, but something much more significant.

For the Vikings, arm rings such as the one discovered by Dave Taylor were not merely ornamental. They were often used to cement bonds of loyalty between a lord and his warriors in a society where men lived and died by their honor. They were often bestowed upon young adult males to symbolize their coming of age. In addition, some groups used the rings—which were made of precious metals—as a form of, easily transportable (and protectable) currency, in a time before coins or paper money.

Earlier this year, an inquest was convened in Belfast Coroners Court, which holds jurisdiction over the discovery under the United Kingdom’s antiquity laws. At the inquest, experts testified that the ring was 90 percent silver (but also included traces of copper and gold) and likely dated to between 950 and 1100 A.D. They also told the court that the arm ring didn’t originate in Ireland but in Scotland, most likely in the Orkney Islands or Shetland, which were under Viking control at that time.

Almost as rare as the ring itself is the fact that it was the only Viking artifact discovered at the Kircubbin site. Items such as these have almost always been found as part of a larger pile of treasures, such as a 1998 find of Viking jewelry and silver pieces valued at more than $1 million or the discovery of the Silverdale Hoard in 2011, a collection of over 200 pieces believed to be one of the largest Viking treasure troves ever found in the United Kingdom. That coupled with its likely Scottish origins led experts to speculate that the ring may have passed from Scottish or  

Viking control to Irish hands through trade, theft or as a spoil of war. The location of Andrew Coulter’s farm near the remains of a medieval church provided additional clues about the ring’s possible history. In an era with little in the way of home protection technology, it was common practice to bury valuables near sacred, and presumably secure, lands such as those owned by churches.

The ring has been sent to the UK’s Treasure Valuation Committee, comprised of antiquity experts from the British Museum and elsewhere, for further study. In addition to learning more about the ring’s history, the committee hopes to determine its monetary value. If Taylor chooses to sell the ring, (with Northern Ireland’s Ulster Museum a likely destination) he will be legally required to split any proceeds with his brother-in-law, on whose land it was discovered.

28 November 2015

The Bronze Age Black Forest Girl of Denmark

From Popular Archaeology: an interesting article about a grave found in Denmark that contained the remains of a girl who lived in several widely separated northern European areas. The science that established where she lived during her life is engaging and fascinating. And, she and the ashes of a cremated child were placed in a wooden coffin and buried in the grave in 1370BC, that’s right, BC. (Ed.)
Thu, May 21, 2015

Burial analysis shows she traveled between present-day Denmark and Southern Germany during the Bronze Age.

This is the Egtved Girl's grave, from 1370 BC. Courtesy the National Museum of Denmark

University of Copenhagen—The famous Bronze Age Egtved Girl did not originally come from Denmark, but from far away, as revealed by strontium isotope analyses of the girl's teeth. The analyses show that she was born and raised outside Denmark's current borders, and strontium isotope analyses of the girl's hair and a thumb nail also show that she travelled great distances the last two years of her life.
The wool from the Egtved Girl's clothing, the blanket she was covered with, and the oxhide she was laid to rest on in the oak coffin all originate from a location outside present-day Denmark. The combination of the different provenance analyses indicates that the Egtved Girl, her clothing, and the oxhide come from Schwarzwald ("the Black Forest") in South West Germany - as do the cremated remains of a six-year-old child who was buried with the Egtved Girl. The girl's coffin dates the burial to a summer day in the year 1370 BC.
Senior researcher Karin Margarita Frei, from the National Museum of Denmark and Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen, analysed (sic) the Egtved Girl's strontium isotope signatures, in collaboration with Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg and the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management and the Centre for GeoGenetics of the University of Copenhagen.

The girl's movements mapped month by month

Strontium is an element which exists in the earth's crust, but its prevalence is subject to geological variation. Humans, animals, and plants absorb strontium through water and food. By measuring the strontium isotopic signatures in archaeological remains, researchers can determine where humans and animals lived, and where plants grew because of their strontium isotope signatures. In that sense, strontium serves as a kind of GPS for scientists.
"I have analysed (sic) the strontium isotopic signatures of the enamel from one of the Egtved Girl's first molars, which was fully formed/crystallized when she was three or four years old, and the analysis tells us that she was born and lived her first years in a region that is geologically older than and different from the peninsula of Jutland in Denmark," Karin Margarita Frei says.
Karin Margarita Frei has also traced the last two years of the Egtved Girl's life by examining the strontium isotopic signatures in the girl's 23-centimetre-long hair. The analysis shows that she had been on a long journey shortly before she died, and this is the first time that researchers have been able to so accurately track a prehistoric person's movements.
"If we consider the last two years of the girl's life, we can see that, 13 to 15 months before her death, she stayed in a place with a strontium isotope signature very similar to the one that characterizes the area where she was born. Then she moved to an area that may well have been Jutland. After a period of c. 9 to 10 months there, she went back to the region she originally came from and stayed there for four to six months before she travelled to her final resting place, Egtved. Neither her hair nor her thumb nail contains a strontium isotopic signatures which indicates that she returned to Scandinavia until very shortly before she died. As an area's strontium isotopic signature is only detectable in human hair and nails after a month, she must have come to "Denmark" and "Egtved" about a month before she passed away," Karin Margarita Frei explains.

The Black Forest Girl

If the Egtved Girl was not born in Jutland, then where did she come from? Karin Margarita Frei suggests that she came from South West Germany, more specifically the Black Forest, which is located 500 miles south of Egtved.
Considered in isolation, the Egtved Girl's strontium isotope signature could indicate that she came from Sweden, Norway or Western or Southern Europe. She could also come from the island Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. But when Karin Margarita Frei combines the girl's strontium isotopic signatures with that of her clothing, she can pinpoint the girl's place of origin relatively accurately.
"The wool that her clothing was made from did not come from Denmark and the strontium isotope values vary greatly from wool thread to wool thread. This proves that the wool was made from sheep that either grazed in different geographical areas or that they grazed in one vast area with very complex geology, and Black Forest's bedrock is characterized by a similarly heterogeneous strontium isotopic range," Karin Margarita Frei says.
That the Egtved Girl in all probability came from the Black Forest region in Germany comes as no surprise to professor Kristian Kristiansen from the University of Gothenburg; the archaeological finds confirm that there were close relations between Denmark and Southern Germany in the Bronze Age.
"In Bronze Age Western Europe, Southern Germany and Denmark were the two dominant centres (sic) of power, very similar to kingdoms. We find many direct connections between the two in the archaeological evidence, and my guess is that the Egtved Girl was a Southern German girl who was given in marriage to a man in Jutland so as to forge an alliance between two powerful families," Kristian Kristiansen says.
According to him, Denmark was rich in amber and traded amber for bronze. In Mycenaean Greece and in the Middle East, Baltic amber was as coveted as gold, and, through middlemen in Southern Germany, large quantities of amber were transported to the Mediterranean, and large quantities of bronze came to Denmark as payment. In the Bronze Age, bronze was as valuable a raw material as oil is today so Denmark became one of the richest areas of Northern Europe.
"Amber was the engine of Bronze Age economy, and in order to keep the trade routes going, powerful families would forge alliances by giving their daughters in marriage to each other and letting their sons be raised by each other as a kind of security," Kristian Kristiansen says.
A great number of Danish Bronze Age graves contain human remains that are as well-preserved as those found the Egtved Girl's grave. Karin Margarita Frei and Kristian Kristiansen plan to examine these remains with a view to analyzing (sic) their strontium isotope signatures.
The research was made possible through the support of The Danish National Research Foundation, European Research Council, the Carlsberg Foundation and the L'Oréal Denmark-UNESCO For Women in Science Award. The results are published in Scientific Reports.
Adapted and edited from the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen press release.

21 November 2015

Viking Chief Buried in His Boat Found in Scotland

This article was first published in 2011, but it is new to me, so perhaps it is new to you, too. It is a very rare and unusual boat burial, the first ever discovered in GB, and it comes to us in such a condition that the site can be reconstructed, perhaps as depicted in the accompanying artwork.
The actual location of the find is the Ardnamurchan Penisula of northwestern Scotland. I've inserted a photo of what the area looks like today. (Ed.)

Ardnamurchan Peninsula and lighthouse, NW Scotland


Viking Chief Buried in His Boat Found in Scotland

OCTOBER 19, 2011 By Jennie Cohen

Reconstruction of what the burial site unearthed at Ardnamurchan might have looked like. (Credit: Geoff Robinson) 
The first intact Viking boat burial site to be found on the British mainland was discovered recently in Scotland, archaeologists announced. The grave contains the body of a Norse warrior thought to have been a chieftain or other high-ranking figure, lying with his weapons by his side in the remains of a rotted ship. He was likely interred during a ritualized pagan ceremony roughly 1,000 years ago, according to the researchers.
“This is a very exciting find,” said project co-director Hannah Cole, who for six years has been leading digs on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula in the Scottish highlands. “Though we have excavated many important artifacts over the years, I think it’s fair to say that this year the archaeology has really exceeded our expectations.”
Viking boat burials are extremely rare, in part because only prominent individuals received the reverent and elaborate sendoff. In the Norse religion, valiant warriors entered festive and glorious realms after death, and it was thought that the vessels that served them well in life would help them reach their final destination. Distinguished raiders were also equipped with weapons and valuable goods for the afterlife, even if they were to be cremated.
Although its wooden timbers decomposed long ago, the outline of a ship surrounds what’s left of the body—fragments of an arm bone and several teeth—found in the Ardnamurchan grave. Hundreds of metal rivets that once held the vessel together, some with wood shards still attached, also remain. The dig also revealed a knife, an axe, a sword with an ornate hilt, a shield, part of a bronze drinking horn, pottery and other possessions that the dead chief might have needed for the hereafter—all encrusted with centuries of rust but shown by X-rays to be in remarkable condition.
“A Viking boat burial is an incredible discovery, but in addition to that, the artifacts and preservation make this one of the most important Norse graves ever excavated in Britain,” said Cole. A handful of other boat burials have been unearthed on the UK mainland, but lack of expertise and outdated techniques made these early excavations unsuccessful. The best-preserved examples come from Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
The seafaring Scandinavians known as the Vikings raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond between the ninth and 11th centuries. In the 10th century, when the Ardnamurchan Viking was laid to rest, Norsemen occupied Ireland, Scotland and northwest England, and some had already begun converting to Christianity. This was apparently not the case for the mourners who interred the newly discovered warrior, whose grave bears traces of pagan traditions including stones covering the body.
With support from several universities and organizations, archaeologists and students have uncovered a number of treasures at Ardnamurchan, a peninsula that is thought to have been an important site even in prehistoric times. Examples include graves dating back 6,000 years and an Iron Age fort, discovered earlier this year. Oliver Harris, another co-director of the project, said that previous digs focused on burial practices between 6,000 and 2,800 years ago, long before the Vikings pillaged Britain’s shores. But, he said, “the find we reveal today has got to be the icing on the cake.”

14 November 2015


Viking artifacts are usually found by accident unless they are found as a part of an archaeological dig. Such an accidental find is detailed in this article published on the History website. 
This sword is an unusual pattern for what the experts say is a Viking sword, although it is older than the Viking Age. The author describes the blade as being double edged, yet one notices immediately that that the blade point is shaped for a single edge rather than a double edge. Additionally, one wonders if it could be a Vendel sword rather than a Viking sword. As you no doubt know, the Vendels (550-790) were also Germanic tribesmen and predated the Vikings in what is now Sweden by several hundred years. The center of Vendel activity in Sweden was the area around Gamla Uppsala, north of Stockholm. 
By reference to the Vendel helmet I have included with this Editors Note, you will see that the Vendels were very skilled in their metal work.
This sword, if the date of 750 is correct, could be a Vendel sword. Judging from the pattern of the blade, and the unusual handle tang I do not believe it is a Viking sword. (Ed.)

Vendel helmet
Sarah Pruitt
November 02, 2015

While hiking on a mountain path in south-central Norway, a man recently stumbled on a well-preserved Viking sword that archaeologists say dates back to A.D. 750.

Credit: Hordaland County Council
While hiking across the mountain plateau that runs between western and eastern Norway, Goran Olsen sat down to take a break. That’s when he spotted a rusty sword blade lying under some rocks on the well-traveled mountain path. Archaeologists have identified Olsen’s find as a type of Viking sword made circa A.D. 750. That makes it some 1,265 years old, though the scientists have warned this is not an exact date.

Double-edged and made of wrought iron, the sword measures just over 30 inches long (77 centimeters). Though covered in rust, and lacking a handle, it is otherwise in excellent condition. The Haukeli mountains are covered in snow and frost at least six months out of the year, and experience little humidity in summer, conditions that may explain why the sword is so well preserved. As County Conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd told CNN: “It’s quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking Age that are so well-preserved…[the sword] might be used today if you sharpened the edge.”

Beginning in the 8th century, many Vikings left their native homes in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, using advanced navigational technology to spread out across Europe and beyond. Famous—and feared—for their violent attacks on coastal cities and towns, they were also skilled traders and daring explorers who founded the first colony in Greenland and reached North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus. The Viking Age endured until the late 11th century, leaving a lasting impact on Western society and the world.

Credit: Hordaland County Council
Viking law mandated that all free men were required to carry weapons and be prepared to wage war at all times. Of the most common weapons—swords, spears and battle-axes—swords were the most expensive to make. With their decorated hilts of silver, bronze or copper, Viking swords functioned as status symbols. According to the pagan beliefs of many Vikings, a sword was a sacred object that could help its bearer enter heaven. After attaining the highest honor of dying in battle, the heroic Viking warrior, with his sword in hand, would feast with the gods in a special place known as Valhalla.

Many later Viking sword blades were emblazoned with specific markings, believed to be the names of their creators. Of the thousands of Viking swords that have been discovered across Scandinavia and northern Europe—most excavated from burial sites or found in rivers—some 170 have been marked with the name Ulfberht. Their superior quality shocked archaeologists, as the technology needed to produce such pure metal would not be invented for another 800 years. In order to liquefy iron ore and remove impurities (known as “slag”), modern metal workers heat it to 3,000°F (1,650°C); carbon is then added in order to strengthen the brittle iron. In medieval times, when ovens could not achieve high-enough temperatures to liquefy the iron, metal workers would have to remove slag by pounding it out, a much less effective process. With very little slag, and high carbon content, the Ulfberht blades are made of what’s known as “crucible steel,” a state-of-the-art metal that would not be seen in Europe again until the Industrial Revolution.

Experts believe the crucible steel used by the Vikings may have come from the Islamic world. Warriors in Central Asia had been using swords of material similar to that of the Ulfberht for centuries before the Viking Age, and a robust trade route known as the Volga connected Scandinavia with northern Iran from the early 9th to the mid-11th century. Last March, researchers announced that a ring recovered from a 9th century Viking grave a century ago bears an Islamic inscription meaning “for/to Allah,” providing a rare physical link between the two worlds.

The sword Olsen discovered in Haukeli is not branded, and is missing its handle, but is still a strong blade. Experts believe it could be from a Viking burial site, or it could have belonged to a traveler who died in an accident or succumbed to frostbite. Either way, they say, its owner would likely have been a high-status member of Viking society. The sword is now at the University of Bergen, for preservation and research purposes. Archaeologists are planning an expedition to the site of Olsen’s discovery for next spring, once the snow melts, in order to see if they can uncover any more artifacts.

07 November 2015

Archaeologists in Lincolnshire

England is especially rich in medieval Viking artifacts. Lincolnshire, UK, on the east central North Sea coast, is a case in point, as evidenced by the following article from the Lincolnshire Echo. As always, the reader should keep in mind that British and American English words sometimes have different spellings. T'aint my fault folks. :) (Ed.)

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: October 03, 2015

When many people think of the Vikings, they think of a horde of bloodthirsty marauders, intent on rape and pillage. This common belief is largely based on the historical writings of the time, when people had very good reason to fear lightning fast raids from the sea. But how accurate really is this image? Archaeological evidence is sparse and often ambiguous, but recent work in Lincolnshire has helped to shed more light on this period and perhaps change our perceptions.

The first recorded Viking raid in Britain occurred in 793AD, when the Anglo-Saxon monastery at Lindisfarne was attacked. Similar raids were recorded in Lincolnshire, notably in 841AD, when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that 'many men in Lindsey were killed by the enemy'.

While these raids were often described as being especially violent, direct evidence of their effects is hard to find, and no major sites of destruction have ever been identified in Lincolnshire.
Indeed, the archaeological record for most settlements of this period shows little substantial change to the existing cultural assemblages, and many places seem to thrive at this time. This is especially true of both Lincoln and Stamford, whose dramatic growth turned them into two of the most important towns of early medieval England.

While the majority of the archaeological evidence points towards relatively peaceful Scandinavian settlement and trade, it is undoubtedly true that conflict did occur. Perhaps the greatest example of this within Lincolnshire can be found at the village of Torksey, where a large Viking army is recorded to have spent the winter of 872-3AD. This army had already spent several years raiding large parts of northern and eastern England before it camped close to the site of the modern village, and it is thought to have stayed here for almost a year before moving on.

Fascinating detail

An ongoing project by the Universities of York and Sheffield has been investigating the remains they left, combining programmes of geophysical survey, targeted trial trenching and the collection of artefacts brought to the surface by ploughing. Large quantities of Viking Age material have been recovered and analysed, revealing fascinating detail into the life of the people who camped here, and how they occupied their time until the next raiding season.

The project also identified many features thought to actually reflect domestic activity on the site, including the remains of former enclosures and cemeteries, hearths and possible pottery kilns or metal-working areas. The camp's location on the bankshttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png of the River Trent would not only have allowed the easy supply of provisions, but also afforded access to a wide trading network and markets for the goods they likely produced over the winter.

Although the Vikings are often portrayed as brutal conquerors, this project is helping us to see the diverse nature of their activities, and understand how, despite some conflict, they were largely peacefully assimilated into Anglo-Saxon culture and society.

31 October 2015

Futhark: Mysterious Ancient Runic Alphabet of Northern Europe

This article from Ancient Origins on the Futhark, the ancient runic alphabet of the Germanic tribes, is extremely detailed and interesting. Anyone with a professed interest in medieval Vikings will glean much from this informative article. (Ed.)


Featured image: Detail of the runic inscription found on one of the copies of the golden horns of Gallehus housed at the Moesgaard Museum. Wikimedia Commons

18 JUNE, 2015 - 03:22 BRYAN HILL

The word rune comes from the Norse rún which means mystery or secret. Little is known about the origins of the Runic alphabet and no one knows exactly when, where or who invented it. 
Runes are the characters of the earliest written alphabet used by the Germanic peoples of Europe called Futhark. The runic alphabet was used within Germanic languages but primarily in Nordic countries.  Inscriptions have been found throughout northern Europe from the Balkans to Germany, Scandinavia, the British Isles and Iceland, and were in use from about 100 to 1600 AD. Runic inscriptions have even been found in North America, supporting claims that the Vikings arrived in the Americas long before Columbus. These days English and other Northern European languages are written using Latin letters, but they used to be written using “Runestaves.”
The oldest known runic inscription dates to 160 AD and is found on the Vimose Comb reading simply “HARJA”.

A comb made of antler from around 150 to 200 CE and was found in Vimose on the island of Funen, Denmark. The Elder Futhark inscription reads "Harja", a male name. This is the oldest known runic inscription. The comb is housed at the National Museum of Denmark. Wikimedia Commons
More than 4,000 runic inscriptions and several runic manuscripts have been found with approximately 2,500 of these coming from Sweden.  Many date from the 800's to the 1000's, during the period of the Vikings.  Runic texts are found on hard surfaces such as rock, wood, and metal. The characters were also scratched on coins, jewelry, monuments, and slabs of stone. 

This runic inscription has been carved into bone. Found in Sweden. Wikimedia Commons
The Runic alphabet is known as Futhark after the first six runes, namely f,u,th,a,r and k.  It consisted of 24 letters, 18 consonants and 6 vowels, and was a writing system where each character marked a certain sound. Runes could be written in both directions and could also be inverted or upside down. The earliest runes consisted almost entirely of straight lines, arranged singly or in combinations of two or more.  Later runes took on more complex forms and some even resemble modern day letters of the English alphabet.

Futhark origins

Because of the resemblance to Mediterranean writing, it is thought that Futhark was adapted from either the Greek or Etruscan alphabet and its origin begins further back than the pre-history of Northern Europe. The earliest Futhark inscriptions don’t have a fixed writing direction, but instead were written left-to-right or right-to-left, which was a feature of very archaic Greek or Etruscan alphabets before the third century BC. One theory is that the runic alphabet was developed by the Goths, a Germanic people.  Two inscriptions, the Negau and the Maria Saalerberg inscriptions, written in Etruscan script in a Germanic language and dating from the second and first centuries BC, give credence to the theory of Etruscan origins.

A sample of Etruscan text carved into the Cippus Perusinus - a stone tablet discovered on the hill of San Marco, Italy, in 1822. Circa third/second century BC. Wikimedia Commons

Elder Futhark – the oldest runic script

Elder Futhark is thought to be the oldest version of the runic script, and was used in the parts of Europe that were home to Germanic peoples, including Scandinavia.  It consisted of 24 letters, and was used mostly before the ninth century AD. This was the ancestor language of English, Dutch, German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. As languages changed and more Germanic groups adopted it, Futhark changed to suit the language that it came to write. An early offshoot of Futhark was employed by Goths known as Gothic Runes, which was used until 500 AD before it was replaced by the Greek-based Gothic alphabet.  Elder Futhark was used until 550 AD around the Baltic and North Seas to write the language described by Antonson as ‘North-west Germanic’. Unlike other forms of runes, the skill of reading Elder Futhark was lost overtime until it was rediscovered with its decipherment in 1865 by the Norwegian Sophus Bugge.

Younger Futhark or "Normal Runes" evolved from Elder Futhark over a period of many years and stabilized by about 800 AD, the beginning of the Viking Age. Instead of 24 letters, the Scandinavian "Younger" Futhark had 16, as nine of the original Elder Futhark letters were dropped. The Younger Futhark is divided into two types, short-twig (Swedish and Norwegian) and long-branch (Danish).  It was the main alphabet in Norway, Sweden and Denmark throughout the Viking Age, and largely (though not completely) replaced by the Latin alphabet by about 1200 AD, which was a result of the conversion of most of Scandinavia to Christianity. Futhark continued to be used in Scandinavia for centuries, but by 1600 AD, it had become little more than a curiosity among scholars.

Description of the Younger Futhark as "Viking Ogham" in the Book of Ballymote (AD 1390). Public Domain
Futhark is brought to Britain

Between 400 and 600 AD, three Germanic tribes, the Angles, the Saxons and the Jutes, invaded Britain and brought Futhark from continental Europe with them. They modified it into the 33-letter "Futhorc" to accommodate sound changes that were occurring in Old English, the language spoken by the Anglo-Saxons. The name "Futhorc" is evidence to a phonological change where the long /a/ vowel in Old English evolved into a later /o/ vowel.  Even though Futhark thrived as a writing system, it started to decline with the spread of the Latin alphabet. In England, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc began to be replaced by Latin by the ninth century AD, and did not survive much more past the Norman Conquest of 1066.  By the 1000's, missionaries had converted the Germanic peoples to Christianity.

A secret religious formula?

As runes date from before the time Northern Europe became Christianized, they have become associated with the "pagan" or non-Christian past, and thus a mystique has been cast upon the alphabet. The many meanings of the word have led to a number of theories linking the origin of the runic alphabet to cultic use. When the missionary bishop Wulfila translated the Bible from Greek into Visigothic in the fourth century, he translated the word mysterion toruna.  One theory, therefore, is that the oldest Proto-Norse or Proto-Germanic meanings of the word may have been “religious mystery” or “secret religious formula.”

Codex runicus, a vellum manuscript from c. 1300 containing one of the oldest and best preserved texts of the Scanian law (Skånske lov), written entirely in runes. Public Domain

In popular culture, runes have been seen as possessing mystical or magical properties.  Historical and fictional, runes appear commonly in modern popular culture, particularly in fantasy literature, video games and various other forms of media. Many modern Wiccan sects use Runes ceremonially and ritualistically.
The ‘secret’ of the runes continues to captivate us today.

"The Origins of the Runes." Norse Mythology for Smart People. [Online] Available here
"Runes." Norse Mythology for Smart People. [Online] Available at: http://norse-mythology.org/runes/
"The Runic Alphabet – Futhark." ThorNews. March 2, 2013. [Online] Available at:   http://thornews.com/2013/03/02/the-runic-alphabet-futhark/
"Use of Runes Survived Introduction of Christianity." ThorNews. February 5, 2015. [Online] Available here.
"Ancient Scripts: Futhark." Ancient Scripts: Futhark. [Online] Available at:   http://www.ancientscripts.com/futhark.html
"Runic Alphabet." Omniglot. [Online] Available at:   http://www.omniglot.com/writing/runic.htm

24 October 2015

Viking Doors to the Dead

Most ancient people's revered their dead in some way. The medieval Vikings were among them. The author, Eriksen, pens a good article on the possibility that doors and thresholds are portals back and forth to the Otherworld. (Ed.)


Doors to the dead: The power of doorways and thresholds in Viking Age Scandinavia


Doors to the dead: The power of doorways and thresholds in Viking Age Scandinavia
By Marianne Hem Eriksen

Archaeological Dialogues, Vol. 20:2 (2013)

Photograph of Þjóðveldisbærinn in Iceland, a reconstruction of the Viking Longhouse Stöng. Photo by Thomas Ormston / Flickr
Abstract: Mortuary practices could vary almost indefinitely in the Viking Age. Within a theoretical framework of ritualization and architectural philosophy, this article explores how doors and thresholds were used in mortuary practice and ritual behaviour. The door is a deep metaphor for transition, transformation and liminality. It is argued that Viking Age people built ‘doors to the dead’ of various types, such as freestanding portals, causewayed ring-ditches or thresholds to grave mounds; or on occasion even buried their dead in the doorway. The paper proposes that the ritualized doors functioned in three ways: they created connections between the dead and the living; they constituted boundaries and thresholds that could possibly be controlled; and they formed between-spaces, expressing liminality and, conceivably, deviance. Ultimately, the paper underlines the profound impact of domestic architecture on mortuary practice and ritual behaviour in the Viking Age.

Introduction: This article discusses how the power of the door was utilized by Viking Age communities to obtain contact with the dead in the Otherworld, materially and metaphorically. Doors and thresholds are near-universal expressions of social transformation, boundaries, and liminality. The main topic of the article is the practice of echoing domestic architecture, specifically doors, in mortuary contexts in Viking Age Scandinavia (A.D. 750–1050). It is suggested that the door could create an access point between the world of the living and the world of the dead, where the dead could be approached. Creating ritualized doors in mortuary contexts can be understood as one of multiple ritual strategies in a society with diverse cultic traditions, rooted in practice rather than dogma. Interaction with the dead was achieved through ritualized practices, by ritualized bodies, in a highly ritualized environment. Thus the ‘door to the dead’ constitutes an excellent case study for exploring ritualization.

The socio-ritual significance of doors has been sporadically explored in Viking Age research. In this article, I aim to expand on previous studies and underline the potential of exploring the door’s role as an influential spatial, social and ritual element of Viking Age society. Door and threshold are deep metaphors in almost all sedentary cultures and languages of the world – to paraphrase Lakoff and Johnson, they constitute metaphors we live by. The near-universal metaphorical significance of the door, while impossible to date, probably developed early in human history, because of the door’s vital role as a border between the inside and outside of inhabited space. The door controls access and marks the boundary between antagonistic spaces confronting each other. Yet it is also the architectural element allowing passage from one space to the next. Crossing the threshold means abandoning one space and entering the next, a bodily practice recognized both in ritual and in language as a transition from one social role to another. Doors and thresholds are thus closely linked with rites de passage – the word ‘liminality’ itself stemming from Latin for ‘threshold’. This does not imply that each and every crossing of a threshold constitutes a liminal ritual – but rather that passing through a doorway is an embodied, everyday experience prompting numerous social and metaphorical implications.