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'OrĂ©al 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.