27 January 2015

Making Tracks-York Vikings

Making Tracks: A weekend in York - Richard III, the Jorvik Viking Centre and taking part in an archaeological dig

By Blackmore Vale Magazine  |  Posted: January 20, 2015
By travel blogger Lottie Hayton

 The Jorvik Viking Centre, in York 
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York”. The opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III link the city of York inextricably to the infamous King. Certainly the city is not best pleased at the loss of their ‘son’, Richard III’s, remains to their rival Leicester..

The more cynical might suppose that the money that could be made by Richard’s presence was the sole driver in York’s campaign to house the King. Yet, the city’s claim on Richard has historical grounds.

Richard was well regarded in York during his brother Edward IV’s reign as he spent time in the North as leader of the Council of the North. His father was the Duke of York. Richard held a grand ceremony at York Minster after his coronation and sources suggest Richard showed preference for the clergy of the Minster.

Indeed some argue that his time in the North made him likely to give preferential treatment to the North, sometimes to the detriment of his relations with southern nobles. Thus, perhaps York’s disappointment at their loss of a High Court case to house Richard’s remains stems simply from their belief that as Richard III was of the House of York, he should be buried in York.
Still there is plenty for Ricardians, or simply those wishing to find out more about Richard III to see in York, despite the absence of the King. The Minster is fascinating to visit and the Richard III museum is interesting if not a little ‘touristy’ and does provide an interesting history of Richard’s life and times.

However, Richard is not the only attraction. York has a rich history and a great deal of pre-Norman history has survived in York compared to elsewhere in Britain. This is unsurprising since York, or ‘Jorvik’, was the Viking Capital from the time of its capture by Viking raiders in 866.
The Jorvik Viking Centre is a reminder that though we in the South, and particularly in the West Country, have been fed an image of King Alfred as a hero for his protection of Britain from the Vikings, in the Viking North, Alfred was simply a King of another region; Wessex. The Jorvik centre brings history to life, part of the relatively recent phenomenon of ‘living history’.
Historians and students with an interest in Viking history and archaeology are all around the centre dressed as Vikings to answer questions on Jorvik. Not as cheesy as it sounds, the “Vikings’” enthusiasm is somewhat infectious, one of them excitedly explaining how he made his ‘historically accurate Viking costume himself’.

The centre is impressive in the way that those who run it constantly change the layout of the model of Coppergate, the area of Jorvik that the centre attempts to recreate, in order to keep up to date with the latest archaeological discoveries. I got the sense that in York they are proud of their history and archaeology and of the way in which they accurately represent it whilst still making it accessible to tourists.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Richard discovery sparked an increased interest in archaeology. It is a little rare to find the lost remains of a King in the first place one digs, even if a member of the Richard III society was certain of the discovery due to the letter R being painted-in modern spray paint on the car parks surface.

This is not, however an attempt to dissuade those who are at this moment hurriedly grabbing trowels and spades. Indeed, they are not alone; I too had my interest piqued by Richard’s discovery and since York is an area so rich with history and historical artefacts, whilst in York, I joined a training ‘Archaeology Live’ dig with York Archaeological Trust on a site at All Saints Church.

As the part of history that can be seen and touched, archaeology offers a different perspective on history. In a weekend the dig found roman tiles and medieval pottery, dateable by the colour of the enamel. Of less historic value in the present day, we also found chicken bones from the lunch of the builders of this century who had previously built on the site.

Other animal bones could inform us of the diet of people of the past and whilst there we started to see the outlines of unmarked graves that had been placed there in the absence of any room in the graveyard. We also used modern surveying technology to draw plans of each level of the dig and the objects found.

Some aspects were more technical than I expected. Archaeology is, in many ways, the meeting of a science and humanity and it felt as though, however minute the piece of tile, ceramic, or bone that was found and then sent off to be analysed, all of those at the dig were part of the process of historical analysis and discovery in which historians and archaeologists take part.

In much the same way as Richard III’s discovery, the bones of humans, animals, tools and other items, however commonly found, bring about wider understanding and debate about the past. For instance, the archaeological discovery that Richard did indeed have scoliosis, a fact nevertheless devastating to those Ricardians who have seen him as a great King whose image was sullied by Shakespeare, is a discovery that poses new questions to the historian.

We must question the extent to which Henry VII, his successor, gave an accurate portrayal of Richard. Essentially: if Henry told the truth about the hunchback then was he telling the truth about Richard’s murder of his nephews, the Princes in the tower?

We do not yet know but the collaboration of modern science, archaeology and history may answer this historical conundrum. Richard III’s discovery, although on a grander scale, was a similar process to the finding and then sending off for analysis of the shards of pottery and bone found on smaller archaeological digs.

Both illustrate the extent to which the modern trend for interdisciplinary co-operation is leading towards a more rigorous study of history and promises to enliven historical study. However, there is a fear that fewer students than ever before are choosing to study archaeology at University.

Interdisciplinary study is not possible if one of those disciplines is losing recruits. Richard, ever a controversial King, has provided DNA which scientific testing has suggested proves that there may be one, or more than one break in the line of succession of the monarchy.

This demonstrates the multiplicity of questions that archaeology and science can raise and which history seeks to answer. Perhaps in order to keep alive the vital discipline of archaeology, historians must be fully aware and appreciative not just of their own discipline but of those disciplines that feed and help them. I felt in York, at least, they had succeeded in recognising the importance of this relationship.

17 January 2015

Archaeologists search for the lost Vikings of Spain

Here's an article about Viking voyages and raids that you may not have heard of. This article is preliminary and Dr. Irene - I have no idea which part of what follows Irene is her last name, perhaps Losqui something, but you have the general idea anyway - is to submit a follow-up at some point. (Ed.)
Archaeologists search for the lost Vikings of Spain

Thursday 18 December 2014

A CHANCE discovery thrown up by a storm has set a Scottish-based archaeologist on a quest to uncover the secrets of Vikings who raided far from their Scandinavian home more than 1,000 years ago.

Dr Irene García Losquiño

The fearsome attacks by the Norsemen changed the face of medieval Scotland and cast a wave of terror over western Europe for hundreds of years.
But now the extent of their incursions into Spain is to be explored by a team from the University of Aberdeen, after a set of anchors from a host of Viking longships was uncovered by a spring gale.
Viking raids on many countries in Europe are well-documented, but the extent of their presence on the Iberian peninsula is shrouded in mystery.
Dr Irene García Losquiño, from the University of Aberdeen's Centre for Scandinavian Studies, plans to dig up the 'Spanish Vikings' for the first time and shed light on their elusive past.
She said: "There are written accounts of Viking raids in northern Spain but, archaeologically, absolutely nothing has been done on an academic scale.
"Internationally, there is only a vague knowledge that the Vikings went there. They visited the area from around 840 until the 11th century but there is no realisation that there is this vast history to be explored. Most of the studies focus on their activities in other countries such as Britain and Ireland."
Dr García Losquiño, who is from the region, travelled to Galicia in northern Spain after hearing about the anchors when they were washed ashore in a storm in March.
She said: "I don't believe in fate, but I had been writing about Galicia at the time of the storm, and when I read that these anchors had washed up, I dropped everything and went to investigate for myself, with the invaluable help of two knowledgeable archaeologists, Dr Jan Henrik Fallgren, from University of Aberdeen, and Ylva Backstrom, from University of Lund.
"On the beach where the anchors were found there was a big mound which locals thought might have been a motte-and-bailey construction, which was used by the later Vikings in France.
"But with the help of a geographer using tomography we now think this was a 'longphort', a Viking construction only found in Ireland during the early Viking age, and very similar to English Viking camps, where they would winter, after taking over the harbour."
The Vikings, were seafaring warriors from Norway, Sweden and Denmark who first appeared in the eighth century and became a source of terror for much of the medieval world for around 400 years.
Records show that they periodically attacked northern Spain, but evidence of their activities is thin on the ground.
Dr García Losquiño plans to study areas around Galicia and Seville where a Norse warband was said to have been active for three years.
Some of the sites are marshlands, which Dr García Losquiño says are perfect conditions for preserving archaeological treasures.
She said: "Excitingly, I am preparing a dig in spring. We are going to several sites that have very unusual shapes with metal detectors. We have been comparing aerial maps from the 1950s with up-to-date satellite images and they look exactly like Viking camps that have been found elsewhere.
"We want to find something datable and trace their movements, through where they established camps."

The Vikings and Genetics

Here's an impressive posting from Medievalists.net on redundant studies that are ongoing on Viking mitochondrial DNA.

This group of researchers is going to study the contemporary population on Greenland for links to the presence of Viking DNAwhich has already been established, and their possible association with Inuit and earlier cultures, which has also already been established. But hey, scientists work on grant money - not their own money - so why would they care that the work has already been done?

A really big discovery of this DNA team, according to Maja Krzewinska, one of the knowledgeable researchers, is that the Vikings took their women with them to Iceland and other areas. Who knew?

Maja also states that what they have discovered 'fits well with what we know from written sources.' Really? What written sources, Maja? Other than the sagas written several hundred years after the fact - fanciful fiction at best - there are no written sources from the period of Viking migration.

Oh, and they have also discovered that men on the islands of the Orkney's, Shetlands, and much of Great Britain have Viking ancestry; not much in Wales though.

Anyway, I don't want to ruin this article for you with more up-to- date info, so read it and decide for yourself.
I expect some really big NEW discoveries from this research team - stay tuned. (ED.)
DECEMBER 30, 2014

Researchers are continuing the discover more about the Vikings and how they spread across much of northern Europe during the early Middle Ages.  In an article published this month in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B it was revealed that Norse women accompanied their men when they colonized the North Atlantic.

The article, Mitochondrial DNA variation in the Viking age population of Norway, examined 45 Norse skeletons dating from between 796 and 1066 AD that were found in Norway. The researchers took DNA samples and found that that they matched with modern-day people living in the North Atlantic isles, in particular from the Orkney and Shetland Islands.
Maja Krzewinska, one of the researchers behind the study on the Norwegian Viking Genetics, said ”We are working with the mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the female line, from a number of Norwegian individuals from the late Iron Age. We compare them with both modern and prehistoric groups in northern Europe, and we show that the Norwegian Vikings are not completely genetically identical to modern humans in Norway. We can also show that our Norwegian Vikings brought Norwegian women when they colonized Iceland and went to other areas. It fits well with what we know from written sources and gives us an exciting picture of how migration was done in groups with high mobility like the Vikings”.
This news follows up on research released earlier this year, that showed nearly one million Britons, or one in 33 men across the United Kingdom, have some Norse ancestry. The study, carried out by BritainsDNA, revealed that in the northern islands of the Orkneys and Shetlands over a quarter of men could trace their roots to the Norse peoples, while in Wales only about 1% of people have some Scandinavian heritage.
Jim Wilson, chief scientist at BritainsDNA, explained, “Despite arriving well over 1,000 years ago the Viking legacy still remains strong in Britain and Ireland. The research suggests that the concentration of Norse blood is quite variable, but as the Y chromosome only relates to the nation’s male population and only to one ancestral lineage for each man, there is a very real chance that many more of us are related to the Vikings.”
We also might be getting some more news related to genetics and the Vikings, as researchers at the University of Copenhagen are set to begin a study to examine the DNA of Greenlanders. Ida Moltke, who is leading the study, explains that “Greenlanders constitute a very small population group which, by reason of its isolation, markedly stands apart in genetic terms from other population groups.”
She hopes that by sampling the DNA of 4,500 individuals living in Greenland, they can determine if these people are solely the descendants of the Inuit who settled on the island in 13th century, or were they mixed with the Viking inhabitants and other Paleo-Eskimo groups.

03 January 2015

Revisiting the Viking Outpost Found in Artic Canada

Here's a follow-on article by one of the authors featured previously here. Dr. Sutherland's work continues in the Canadian Arctic at the Tanfield site on Baffin Island. Dr. Sutherland can use your support as she endeavors to prove that the Norse Greenlanders not only had close relations with the Dorset Culture, some of the Norse apparently lived with them. (Ed.)
Monday, December 22, 2014 12:10 PM EST
By Jenny Michelle Panganiban

More archaeological finds from Tanfield Valley on Baffin Island support an interesting theory that indigenous American people interacted with European Vikings. Arctic archaeologist Patricia Sutherland and her team have been painstakingly collecting relics to prove the presence of Viking seafarers in North America at some time between A.D. 989 and 1020. While sifting, the group stumbled upon well used whetstones and a jumble of equipment with North European features at the ruins of a Viking outpost.
The whetstones had deeply worn grooves, formed by constant sharpening of knives, swords and axes. While examining the blade-sharpening tools, archaeologists found traces of bronze and copper alloys-materials which Viking metal smiths are known to create.  Native Arctic inhabitants did not use such tools during that era. Baffin island, now called Nanook, used to be inhabited by the Dorset. The team had also unearthed a whalebone shovel, fragments of turf blocks with Norse masonry features, yarn, and rat pelts from old rat species endemic to Northern Europe.


The town Iqaluit, Nunavut on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic is shown at dusk August 16, 2009.

Sutherland's theory concerning presence of Vikings in Northern America was doubted at first by other members of the archaeological community. Her interest in this particular pursuit started in 1999 when she studied strands of cordage kept in the Canadian Museum of Civilization which were believed to have been crafted by natives of Baffin Island. However, the samples do not bear semblance to the ones found in the Baffin area. Instead, the cordage looks a lot like the ones made in Europe. Prehistoric  inhabitants of Baffin Island were not weavers. Hence, these could have been brought to the island or woven by Vikings who have been there. With the recent diggings unearthing more historical objects, the archaeologists have conclusive evidence to substantiate the presence of Vikings in North America. Sutherland posits that these ancient Europeans travelled North America to hunt animals for ivory and pelts or to barter goods with the inhabitants.
Stories about this fascinating exploration was featured on the National Geographic. Unfortunately, after a successful media coverage of the discovery in November 2012, Dr Patricia Sutherland, curator of Arctic archaeology at the Canadian Museum of History, was dismissed from her post after 30 years of service. Further research came to a halt.
In early December this year, Dr. Sutherland was interviewed in CBC's, As It Happens, regarding a recent publication about her work on Baffin Island. Here, she was also asked whether her dismissal was influenced by government views on Canadian history. She agreed, responded briefly but made no more comment on the issue. In an emailed statement forwarded to CBC's As It Happens producer, the Canadian Museum of History stated 'harassment' as the basis for terminating Dr. Sutherland. Advocates of Dr Sutherland's work have created an online campaign to gather support and to uphold the research's findings.