28 May 2016

Did the Medieval Warm Period welcome Vikings to Greenland?

This is a good article on the climate that likely affected the longevity of the Norse Viking settlers of Greenland. Something certainly caused them to abandon Greenland. The Eastern settlement lasted until the 15 century, but the Western settlement, located further north on Greenland's southwest coast was abandoned by the 12th century. Nobody to this day knows where any of the Norse went when they left Greenland.
I treat this question in a fictional sense with my Axe of Iron historical fiction series on the Norse Greenlander's assimilation with the pre-historical Indians of what is now the province of Quebec, Canada. Take a look at these great books on my website. (Ed.)

Did the Medieval Warm Period welcome Vikings to Greenland?
by Mary Caperton Morton
May 9, 2016
Earth magazine

The Vikings first colonized Greenland in A.D. 985 and made a living primarily as dairy farmers for more than 400 years before abandoning the settlements. Credit: Nicolás Young.
Vikings are often depicted as hardy folk and fearsome warriors, but they were not immune to the harsh realities of the northern latitudes. Archaeological evidence suggests that Viking migrations around the North Atlantic were highly influenced by climate, with new settlements being colonized during warm periods and abruptly abandoned during colder times. However, according to a new study of glacial movements in Greenland during the time of Viking occupation, the local climate may have been just as cold when the Vikings arrived as when they left 400 years later. The finding may further shrink the area thought to have been affected by the Medieval Warm Period.

The Vikings migrated from Iceland to Greenland in A.D. 985, with roughly 3,000 people eventually settling in the new land. The timing coincides with the Medieval Warm Period, a time of mild temperatures well documented in Europe between 950 and 1250. Between 1360 and 1460, however, around the time of the Little Ice Age, the Viking colonies in Greenland disappeared, leaving behind few clues as to why they were abandoned.

To study the changing climate in Greenland during the Viking occupation, a team led by Nicolás Young of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory sampled terminal moraines left behind by past glaciers in southwestern Greenland and across Baffin Bay on Baffin Island. Isotopic analyses of the surfaces of boulders in the moraines allowed the team to determine when glaciers had originally transported and deposited the moraines at their current locations. “This method is most often used to trace glaciers several thousand to several tens of thousands of years ago,” Young says. “Our goal was to see if this method could be used on younger glacial deposits.”

Based on this dating, the researchers reported in Science Advances that the glaciers were at their maximum extent from about 925 to 1275. So, while Iceland and Europe may have been warmer during this period, it seems that Greenland remained cold enough to allow glaciers to advance, Young says. “It was cold when [the Vikings] got there and it was cold when they left,” he says, adding that “if they entered Greenland when it was cold, it’s unlikely they were driven out by cold.”

The findings support the idea that the Medieval Warm Period was confined mainly to Europe, Young says. “The Medieval Warm Period is very well documented in Europe, but it wasn’t global. In fact, warming in Europe often coincides with cooler conditions in Greenland as more cold air gets pulled out of the Arctic and funnels through Baffin Bay.” The pattern points to a possible relationship between the Medieval Warm Period and an extended phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, a usually decadal-scale climate cycle in which warm air flowing from the tropics raises temperatures in Europe and Iceland while Greenland and Baffin Island get colder due to influxes of Arctic air.

However, glacial moraines are not necessarily a reliable source of temperature data for this region, saysWilliam Patterson, a geochemist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada who was not involved in the new study. “The problem … is that when it gets warmer in this part of the North Atlantic, you actually get more ice in some areas, including Greenland,” because there is more evaporation and increased snowfall, he says. The observations of glacial advance in the new study might thus suggest that relatively warm temperatures had extended to Greenland by the time of the Vikings’ arrival.

More reliable climate records for this part of the world are found in the growth rings of the shells of clams, which can live 500 years and preserve temperature records over centuries, Patterson says. Such records have previously shown a period of warming in Greenland beginning about 900, followed by periods of cooler summer temperatures starting about 1100. In Patterson’s estimation, the Vikings arrived in Greenland “when things were good, but shortly after [that], things went bad. The Norse depended on livestock, and when summer temperatures dropped by a couple degrees, that meant less fodder for the animals and often famine.”

Few human remains dating to the time of the Viking abandonment of Greenland have been found, but archaeological evidence points to at least four episodes of extreme hunger while they were there, with people eating dogs and livestock, all the way down to hides and hooves, Patterson says. “They ate everything they could possibly eat, and then they left Greenland” in the early 1400s, he says.

For now, it seems the question of what Greenland’s climate was like during the Vikings’ tenure there remains open to interpretation. Young says he and his colleagues plan to continue their glacial moraine studies elsewhere around the North Atlantic to further test the technique on younger deposits and gauge the extent of the Medieval Warm Period outside of mainland Europe. “The evidence is mounting that the Medieval Warm Period was patchy, not global,” Young says. “The concept is Eurocentric — that’s where the best-known observations were made. Elsewhere, the climate may have been much cooler.”

Mary Caperton Morton

Morton is a freelance writer and photographer (and EARTH roving correspondent) who makes her home on the back roads of North America, living and working out of a tiny solar-powered Teardrop camper. Follow her travels at www.theblondecoyote.com.

21 May 2016

Viking 'parliament' site unearthed in Scotland

Back in the Viking Age there was a great deal of activity in and around the Irish Sea, as evidenced by this recent find of a Thing site on the western Scottish island of Bute. (Ed.)


Nowadays, the word 'thing' is given to any object not important enough to have a name, but the meaning of the word for the Vikings could not be more different.
In the 8th century, a thing was an important meeting, essentially a kind of Norse parliament, where people would gather to settle disputes, decide laws and make other decisions.
Now archaeologists believe they have discovered one of the sites where these meetings happened, on the island of Bute in Scotland.

In the 8th century,  a 'thing' was an important meeting, essentially a kind of Norse parliament, where people would gather to settle disputes, decide laws and make other decisions. Archaeologists believe they have discovered one of the sites where these meetings happened in Scotland. A 'thing' from 193 is illustrated

Findings presented at the Scottish Place-Name Society annual conference this week suggested an area on Bute (pictured) is likely to have been the site of one of these 'things' in the 8th and 9th centuries

Cnoc An Rath has been listed as an important archaeological monument since the 1950s, but the significance of the area has been unclear for decades.

A painting showing a romanticised view of the 11th century Viking parliament in session
Some had suggested it could have been a prehistoric or medieval farm site. 
But new findings, presented at the Scottish Place-Name Society annual conference this week, revealed it is likely to have been an important assembly places.

'Although the excavations revealed the site had been heavily disturbed in the 19th century, the results of the carbon dating programme have allowed us to understand that human activity was occurring at the site between the 8th and late 9th century,' archaeologist Dr Paul Duffy, who runs Brandanii Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy told MailOnline.

He said this was 'a time we know historically marks the very end of the Dalriadic power in the area and the start of the period when Vikings were active on Bute and around the Argyll coast.'

Law Rock
A series of excavations revealed samples of a preserved surface which, when analysed through radio-carbon dating, correspond to the time when Vikings were active around the Argyll coast.

'The dates strengthen the hypothesis developed through the place name evidence that the original name for the site indicates a "ting" or "thing" site, in other words a Viking assembly place,' Dr Duffy told MailOnline.

Gilbert Markus, a Celtic and Gaelic researcher at Glasgow University who carried out the study of place-names on Bute, said the name Cnoc an Rath – Gaelic for hill of the fort – may be recent.

He identified nearby medieval farm names dating back to the 14th century, which are thought to have included the Norse word 'thing'.
'That suggested to me there might be a "thing" in the area,' he said. 'The most obvious site for that is the mound just below the farm, which is now called Cnoc An Rath.'

Dr Barbara Crawford from St Andrews University had previously suggested it could be a 'thing' site based on geographical location.
She said the new research on dates added to 'evidence building up' that it was a thing site.
'This is how historians have to go about studying these Norse settlements areas in this period, because the historical evidence is so thin and in many areas it just doesn't exist at all in the Viking period,' Dr Crawford said.
'One has to use place-names and archaeology and general geographical settlement principles to build up the pattern of what the Viking settlement might have been like.'

Cnoc An Rath, Bute (pictured) has been listed as an important archaeological monument since the 1950s, but the significance of the area has been unclear for decades. Some had suggested it could have been a prehistoric or a medieval farm site

Now archaeologists think they have discovered one of the sites where Norse assemblies happened, on the island of Bute in Scotland (pictured). 


Ketill Björnsson, nicknamed Flatnose, was a Norse King of the Isles of the 9th century.
He moved from Norway to the Hebrides sometime in the 9th century. 
There he went into Ireland, the British Isles, and back into Norway, something the Norwegians would later punish him 

Ketil Flatnose, showing the power of his office to the King of Sweden at Gamla Uppsala, 1018
'Combined with other evidence proposed by academic examination of historical documents, this may have significant impact on understandings of what was happening on Bute at the time, and the role of the island in the wider Viking world in the 9th century.'

The dates identified corresponded with the end of the period of the kingdom of Dalriada and the start of Viking settlement on Bute.

Duffy said Bute has been suggested as a possible location for the headquarters of the Gall-Gaidheil, or 'Foreign Gaels'.
These Norse-Gael people dominated much of the Irish Sea region, including western Scotland, for a part of the middle Ages and are believed to have offered support to various high Kings of Ireland in battles. 

According to the Scottish Herald, Dr Duffy said at the conference: 'We have got a very unusual and definite historical evidence which puts Bute in the Gall-Gaidheil territory, and possibly quite an important place in the Gall-Gaidheil territory.

'What we have now is another brick in the evidential wall which suggests there is an assembly site on Bute.'

He also raised the possibility the leader of the Gall-Gaidheil at that time, Ketill Flatnose, could be linked to the site.

'If you have got people coming in Viking times to the islands for laws to be dispensed and for justice to be handed out, then there is obviously someone that has got to be doing that dispensing of justice and making of laws - and that would be somebody who was quite powerful.' 

14 May 2016

Viking Trading or Raiding?

This find on a hilltop above Trodheim Fjord, Norway includes the discovery of a Viking iron shield boss with a cache of silver coins in a leather bag hidden within. No human remains were in situ; however, sword and shield boss were discovered at the same site. (Ed.)


Viking Trading or Raiding?


Monday, April 06, 2015

(Courtesy Åge Hojem/NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology)
10-century Viking sword
Last year, the discovery of an ax head on a mountaintop overlooking Norway’s Trondheim Fjord led archaeologists to a tenth-century Viking grave. Though they found no remains, the team recovered a sword and a shield boss. The discovery seemed routine, until the boss was X-rayed. “We could see there was stuff in there,” says archaeologist Ingrid Ystgaard of the Norwegian University Science and Technology’s Museum of Natural History and Archaeology. It turned out to contain a leather purse holding Islamic silver coins that were minted in what is now Iraq, along with agates and a small lead weight. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Ystgaard. “It’s extremely rare to find coins in Viking burials, and so far as I know, none have ever been found in a shield boss.”

Ystgaard points out that Vikings were known to travel as far as Constantinople, and the agates and coins could have been obtained through either trading or raiding. Extensive marks on the sword and shield boss show that they had been used in combat, but the lead weight secreted inside suggests the warrior may have at least occasionally played the role of merchant. “It’s a good reminder that they were not just raiders,” says Ystgaard. “This man was likely a classic trader-warrior of the Viking Age.”

(Courtesy Åge Hojem/NTNU Museum of Natural History and Archaeology)
Viking shield boss containing remains of a leather purse

07 May 2016

Oldest Viking Crucifix Uncovered in Denmark

Archaeology stretches the boundaries of credibility often. To state that this pendant/charm/figurine is of Christian origin stretches the limits of common sense.

It could just as easily be a fanciful semblance of a Norse god. Only a Christian would feel the need to attach Christian dogma to this relic.

In spite of archaeology's constant need to invent substantiation for their grants, they have stepped well over the limit by calling this figurine a cross or crucifix.

They do not know what it is, or whether it was worn by a man or woman - a wealthy woman, you state - REALLY? Nobody will ever know what it is, like much else in the flight of fancy we call archaeology these days. That is not to imply that archaeology does not discover things, it does, but let's leave it at that - discover and report, stop trying to invent entire civilizations from a pile of rocks. Or in this case, a Christian cross when you do not seriously know what it is. (Ed.)


Oldest Viking Crucifix Uncovered in Denmark
by Tia Ghose, Senior Writer   |   April 21, 2016 07:46am ET

A solid-gold cross depicting Jesus with his arms outstretched may be Denmark's oldest crucifix, dating back more than 1,100 years.

The gorgeous pendant was unearthed in March by a hobbyist with a metal detector. Found in a field on the island of Funen, Denmark, the Viking jewelry piece may have been worn by a Viking woman, according to the Viking Museum at Ladby, where the pendant was on display.

"It's a completely sensational find that dates back to the first half of the 900s," Malene Refshauge Beck, a curator and archaeologist at Østfyns Museum, told the Danish newspaper DR Nyheder. "This object will definitely need to figure in future history books as it could alter the period when it is believed that Danes became Christian."
Fruitful day off work
The stunning find was pure chance. Dennis Fabricius Holm, a metal detector hobbyist living in Aunslev, Denmark, was enjoying a few hours off work by doing scouting in the empty field outside a medieval church. He encountered a gold pendant, and posted a photo of it to social media, where others suggested he contact an archaeologist, he told the Danish newspaper.

"I got off early on Friday, so I took just a few hours, I went around with my metal detector and then I came suddenly on something," Holm told DR Nyheder. "Since I cleared the mud and saw the jewelry, I have not been able to think of anything else."

The Viking bling is about 1.6 inches (4.1 cm) long and shows a man with outstretched arms. The Jesus figure is crafted out of filigree gold pellets and gold thread and weighs 0.46 ounces (13.2 g). The weighty cross likely belonged to a wealthy woman, though it's not clear whether the woman was Christian or whether a pagan Viking was showing some stolen goods, according to the museum.
Rare find
The Viking trinket is rare in a number of ways. It's unusual to find such a delicate and expensive piece of jewelry intact in an open field. While archaeologists had found fragments of crosses in Viking burial ships, those dated to later periods, were made of silver and were smaller that this discovery. A very similar cross, dating to about the same time period, however, was found in Sweden.

Dating to the first half of the 10th century, the new find predates the A.D. 965 Jelling Stones, which include Harald Bluetooth's rune stone. That stone, which tells of King Harald's conversion of the Danes to Christianity, was previously thought to be the oldest depiction of Christ on a cross in Denmark.

The medieval church near the field dates to the 1200s, but other rare objects, such as a rune stone, have been unearthed in the area before, according to a statement. That suggests the church may have been founded near an ancient Viking settlement.

The new find pushes back the date at which Christianity entered the region, Beck said.
"Over the last few years there have been more and more signs that Christianity was spread earlier than previously thought – and up until now, this find is the clearest proof of that," Beck told DR Nyheder.

The popular conception is that manly Viking pirates pillaged and terrorized Europe for centuries before converting to Christianity and settling down to a sober life of praying, farming and churchgoing in the 11th century. Over the last several decades, archaeologists and historians have realized the reality was much more complicated. For instance, most Vikings were only part-time pirates and had day jobs as farmers. Viking women came along on adventures, too. And many Vikings didn't simply loot and run, but established far-flung urban centers that are still occupied today, such as the city of Dyfflin, or Dublin, which was founded by Vikings.

The new find was on display during the Easter season at the Viking Museum at Ladby, but has since been sent for preservation work, according to the statement.