26 March 2016

Medieval Viking finds on an Island off the Coast of Wales

Oftentimes, it is difficult to find worthwhile material to impart to this blogging effort on all things medieval Viking. After sifting through what I have found, I selected the following for your edification.

This information comes to us from the ongoing BBC efforts to report on the historical significance of the Viking Age on their islands. This particular dig is situated on the Welsh island of Anglesey, situated just off the northwest coast of Wales. (Ed.)



In 1992 Mark Redknap, from the National Museum of Wales, was sent some small artefacts from Anglesey. The haul included ninth-century coins and some small lead weights typical of those used by Viking traders. Evidence for the Vikings in Wales is sparse, but a hoard of five exquisite silver arm rings had also been found on Anglesey. The island itself has Scandianvian connections, probably deriving its name, Onguls-ey, from a Viking leader.

Based on this evidence, Mark instigated a geophysical survey of the site where these objects had been found, and discovered a hidden trench. Excavations then began which revealed a ninth-century defensive wall, partly constructed with massive stone blocks and about two metres wide at its base. The question was, what were the inhabitants of this settlement defending themselves against?

Archaeologists uncover some surprising finds ©

In the Welsh Annals Mark found records of Viking raids in the ninth and tenth centuries. Combined with the archaeological clues to a Scandinavian presence, Mark began to suspect these local people might have been under threat from Vikings.

A few seasons into the excavation Mark got a surprise. Two skeletons were found. It looked as if they had been thrown into the ditch - without the care or ceremony one would expect if they had been buried by family and friends. The following year three more skeletons turned up. The position of one, a young male, led Mark to believe his hands had been tied behind his back. It's possible these Welsh victims of violence were killed by the Vikings.

19 March 2016

The Viking Burial Ship from Ladby, Denmark

The Ladby ship of Denmark is the only ship burial mound found to date in Denmark where the deceased had been aboard before grave-robbers plundered the site. This article from Medieval Histories provides insight into this important archaeological discovery.

17. MARCH 2016

The Ladby ship

Curiously enough, Vikings in Denmark were buried in so-called ships-settings, stone-ships created in the landscape to mark out the their graves. Only one viking has ever been found in his ship: the Viking from Ladby.

The Ladby ship in new light

Around 925 AD, the “king” of Ladby was buried in his ship, which measured 21.5 meters in its length and was 3 meters wide. A burial mound was raised above the ship. His grave was furnished with all his fine possessions, including 11 horses and 3 or 4 dogs. In the bow of the ship lies the original anchor and anchor chain.

Unfortunately, the grave was plundered or desecrated back in the Viking times, so the deceased was removed and most of the grave goods destroyed. Nevertheless, some very precious items were preserved, for instance a very delicate metal fitting to a dog harnes. The Jelling style of this piece has helped to date the burial to c. 925 – 50. Renewed explorations of the finds resulted in a number of fragments of the gold-embroidered clothes of the deceased as well as his belt-buckles and strap-fittings. Other finds are an axe, a shield boos, a quire of 45 lanceolate arrows and perhaps part of a sword-hilt. To this should be added three sets of riding-gear consisting of bridles, cheek-pieces, strap-buckles and stirrup irons. The grave also contained tableware: a partially gilded silver-plate, a bronze dish, two buckets and a set of finely decorated knives. To this should be added a curious small gold-mount, fragments of painted wood and the fragments of a gaming board.

Dog leash from the Ladby ship

Another fabled item is a ring with six Thor’s hammers, which was found in a ditch very close to the mound. It is speculated that the grave-robbers or perhaps grave-desecrators dropped the item while leaving the place. The plundering of the grave is by some believed to have been a public and willful desecration of the grave of a petty king at a time, when the Jelling Dynasty was trying to conquer all Denmark.

The Ship and the Mound

Currently a reconstruction of the Ship from Ladby is taking place. Launch will be in 2016. © Østfyns Museer

The museum consists of two buildings. One holds the museum with a reconstruction of the grave and an exhibition of the finds. The other is simply a concrete dome built on top of the grave. It is thus possible to enter the mound and explore the ship in situ.
Inside the burial mound, you can see the imprint of the ship, the approximately 2000 rivets that held its planks together, and the shroud rings for the rigging of the mast. In the bow, the original anchor with its chain and the 11 horse skeletons can be seen. The stem is decorated with the “dragon’s mane”, in the form of iron curls. (The originals are on display in the exhibition building.)

In 2012, the ship the old florescent lights were taken down, a new ventilation system was installed, and the walls were painted in a dark color to signal that this is a burial chamber. The idea is that the ship, the unique authentic artifact, which still lies where it was placed as a ship grave for the Ladby king more than 1000 years ago, should be the central part of the museum.
So let your eyes get used to the darkness and allow yourself the time to see all the fascinating details of the ship.

15 March 2016

A Violent End For a Viking Warrior

This post is an excerpt of an article featured by the BBC on their Viking archaeological site. As you will see from the article, raiding definitely had its drawbacks for the Viking warrior featured herein. (Ed.)
The wounds on this warrior's skull suggest he died a violent death ©

In the ninth century, a group of Danish Vikings set sail for England. For several years the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes the journey of this 'Great Army', attacking towns and villages on the way. In 873 the Great Army is said to have travelled to Repton, where it took up quarters for the winter.

Over 20 years ago, Birthe and Martin Biddle uncovered the body of a warrior in the churchyard at Repton. As well as sword, the body had been buried with a small Thor's hammer - the sign of the Viking god Thor, and a boar's tusk. Examination of the bones revealed the man to have been killed in the most brutal way. Two wounds in the skull were probably made by a spear, and marks on the spine suggest he was disembowelled after death. Finally a violent blow to the top of the thigh could easily have removed his genitals, perhaps explaining why the boar's tusk was found between the legs of the skeleton. It was an attempt to make his body complete before his trip to Valhalla, the Viking afterlife.

The warrior was buried with a small Thor's Hammer, a sign of his beliefs ©

The Biddles also excavated a nearby Anglo-Saxon body, and found the remains of at least 249 people. A report from an earlier excavation - in 1686 - claimed to have found a 'humane body nine foot long' surrounded by further skeletons. Might this have been the body of the Viking leader legendary for his size, Ivar the boneless?

Nearby, in Ingleby, further evidence for the Great Army's presence has been found by archaeologist Julian Richards, of York University. A cluster of burial mounds was excavated in the 1950s - some of which appeared to have been the site of cremations. Goods found with the bodies also appeared to have been through the cremation fires. Sword and buckles, nails and wire embroidery all suggested these had been Viking cremations.

The face of the Repton warrior, reconstructed from his battered skull ©

Could the two groups of people have been part of the Great Army, and if so why did those at Repton bury their dead, but those in Ingleby still practice the pagan ritual of cremation? The Great Army was probably made up of various groups of Vikings - there is no reason why they would all practice the same burial rituals. These two groups of people may have had two different leaders, and joined together for a brief time at Repton.

05 March 2016

Ingroup identification,identity fusion and the formation of Viking war bands


From Medievalists Magazine we have this interesting analysis taken from World
Archaeology on the whys and wherefores of the Viking propensity for raiding. It seems that there are those that think these men's loyalties were bought and paid for with food and general upkeep, which is expensive, to say the least. So, in that respect they were mercenaries, but it has always been so with armies. Someone must arm, feed, and clothe those of us that choose to take up arms for our country or some other cause, right? 

The title link or the link at the end of this excerpt will take you to the full paper. (Ed.)


Ingroup identification, identity fusion and the formation of Viking war bands



By Ben Raffield, Claire Greenlow, Neil Price and Mark Collard
World Archaeology, Vol.48:1 (2016)

Abstract: The lið, a retinue of warriors sworn to a leader, has long been considered one of the basic armed groups of the Viking Age. However, in recent years the study of lið has been eclipsed by the discussion of larger Viking armies. In this paper, we focus on the key question of how loyalty to the lið was achieved. We argue that two processes that have been intensively studied by psychologists and anthropologists – ingroup identification and identity fusion – would have been important in the formation and operation of lið. In support of this hypothesis, we outline archaeological, historical and literary evidence pertaining to material and psychological identities.
The construction of such identities, we contend, would have facilitated the formation of cohesive fighting groups and contributed to their success while operating in the field.

Introduction: Although the Viking Age (c. AD 750–1050) is often regarded as synonymous with violence, a number of important issues regarding conflict during this period have yet to be adequately researched. One of these is the nature of the Viking groups that engaged in warfare and raiding. The large Viking armies that were active in north-western Europe during the mid to late ninth century have been discussed in recent years. So far, however, relatively little attention has been paid to the groups that came together to form the armies and that were also responsible for the raids for which the Vikings are famous. One of the most important of these was the lið.

There is some uncertainty about the precise meaning of the term lið, but it is usually taken to refer to an independent ship-borne host or troop. A more detailed definition has been offered by Lund. He suggests that a lið was a retinue of warriors sworn to a leader who was responsible for feeding, equipping and rewarding the warriors for their service. Hedenstierna-Jonson has also emphasized the importance of reciprocal relationships between leaders and their followers in connection with lið. The size of lið was not fixed and likely depended on a leader’s reputation and wealth. As such, it is probable that some lið comprised no more than a couple of ships’ crews while others were much larger. The lið’sautonomous nature is indicated in the ninth-century Annals of St. Bertin, which describes Viking groups operating on the continent as part of a fleet in 861. It refers to these groups as ‘brotherhoods’ (Lat. sodalitates) and explains that they dispersed from the main force to overwinter in various ports along the river Seine.

Read more