27 January 2018

Vikings research ongoing from Grey-Bruce

This is an interesting article for what might occur in Canadian archaeology insofar as the Vikings are concerned, rather than what has occurred, which is precious little considering the 400-year Norse presence in Canada.
The author and the Sun Times editor apparently do not have access to a spell/grammar check program, but hey, I’ve seen lots of people who write the English language that do not appear to have learned how to write. This author is one of those, but the subject article is still worth a look.

By Rob Gowan, Sun Times, Owen Sound
Sunday, January 14, 2018 3:18:01 EST PM

Robert Burcher and Alison Leonard at a discussion about vikings at Meaford Hall on Saturday. (Rob Gowan The Sun Times)

The Grey-Bruce area has become a bit of a Canadian hotbed for research into the Viking Age.

Rockford native Alison Leonard, who is currently involved in the Long Viking Age project at the University of York in England was joined by Clarksburg amateur archeologist Robert Burcher on Saturday at Meaford Hall where they talked about the different research they are undertaking into the long-ago society.

Leonard, who is again living in the area, said it is a bit of a “happy coincidence” that as she went down the path of her research, she ended up settling on the study of vikings, which do have a Canadian connection.
“My intention wasn't necessarily to look at them because of that Canadian connection, but now that I am home I do wish there was a lot more going on in terms of what we know about vikings in North America more generally,” said Leonard. “There are lots of really exciting theories and I think there is a huge amount of potential.”

There is at least some definitive evidence that the vikings made it to North America, as proven at the L'Anse aux Meadows.

“I have no doubt they travelled far and wide and along at least the coast (of North America). It would be amazing if we had firm evidence that showed them making inroads further inland,” said Leonard, who added it is going to be much more difficult finding that evidence in North America because the society's footprint here is so small.
“Everything is just very ephemeral and they were travelling very lightly,” said Leonard. “I do hold out hope for the future.”

But there are more theories out there, many of which have been explored by Burcher, who has made trips to Newfoundland studying ancient rock inscriptions and other potential archeological sites and has been attempting to get governments onboard with researching and potentially preserving the sites.

Burcher is a professional photographer who has long had a fascination with rock inscriptions and archeology. He has ruffled some feathers among archaeologists and historians with his theories, including in the late 1990s when he garnered media attention with his ideay that a mound of earth near Thornbury was built by ancient Celts, who visited the Great Lakes 2,500 years ago in search of copper. In late 1999 an excavation of the mound revealed it was just a pile of earth, probably distributed by retreating glaciers.

On Saturday, the approximately 40 people in attendance learned all about the very different paths both Leonard and Burcher have taken in studying a people from the same era.

Through her studies, Leonard is attempting to paint a picture of a people who she says were much more than just bloodthirsty warriors.

“In no way do I want to minimize the fact that they were violent, horrible, rough people, but I think it is important to remember that oftentimes they were acting seasonally, so the rest of the year they might be farmers and they might be merchants,” said Leonard. “A lot of the time they would combine the role of a trader with a raider.
“They might be travelling to England in the first place to actually trade at a local port, and then they see these undefended monasteries and realize they could triple their money if they just got their men together and took them down.”

Leonard said for her, it is about treating the whole pre-Viking and Viking period (AD 700-1100) holistically, so society is not leaving any part out.

“The more we understand their world as a whole, then the better we can understand the emergence of Vikings in the first place,” said Leonard. “We still don't have a very good idea of why people actually started going viking, so these are still big questions we hope to be able to answer eventually.

“I think it is looking at the finer details and the other side that will actually help build a big enough picture that we can do that.”
For a long time now, people have had a particular fascination with the vikings, as they have become hugely popular in today's society, with their depiction in movies, television, video games and books, and events such as viking festivals held around the world.

Leonard thinks it is the adventurous spirit of the vikings that makes people so interested in them.

“We don't glorify vikings because of all their negative attributes. It is not what has the most appeal,” Leonard said. “I think more than that, it is the fact that they travelled so far and risked their lives exploring new places.
“They also encompass ideas of loyalty as well. The sort of band of brothers travelling together on the same boat.”

Leonard grew up just outside Owen Sound in Rockford, attending school in the city, before going to McGill University for her undergraduate degree in history and anthropology, where she was introduced to archaeology.

In her third year at McGill she did an exchange to Glasgow, Scotland, which is when she became hooked on European archaeology in particular. After teaching in South Korea for a couple of years, she returned to the United Kingdom to complete her masters in Medieval Archeology at York, which is where she also completed her Ph D.

After finishing her Ph D she worked at the University of Cambridge for a couple years before moving back to the Owen Sound area to be closer to family and friends, but she is still associated with projects at York and is still working on the Long Viking Age Project.

The project uses crowdsourcing methods by tabulating all the Viking Age finds people who are using metal detectors are reporting to various institutions, whether in Denmark, Flanders, England and Wales, or the Netherlands.

The researchers use the data on an international scale to map out where they see similarities in items like net sinkers and spindle whorls that were produced in one area but found in another. They are also looking at where artistic inspiration in the items, such as brooches, is similar in different regions.

“We want to sort of try to pinpoint directions of movement of these artifacts, but also the ideas and trace the people who were influencing those things,” Leonard said.

Burcher said Saturday that he has enjoyed coming together with Leonard to talk about the vikings, a subject they are both very passionate about. He said he recognizes Leonard's skillset as a university-trained researcher on the matter, while Leonard recognizes his skillset as someone who has taken the time to go and talk to people and gather information that way.

“It is a really good blend and I think we will do some work together in the future,” said Burcher, who is hopeful that all his work will soon pay off, with the Irish government wanting to commit some funds into the work he has done, through connections with a local museum near one of the inscriptions in Newfoundland.
“What I want to do at this point is sort of let the Newfoundlanders take it from here,” said Burcher. “I have done all the beating of the bushes.”

20 January 2018

The Viking Treasure that Marked the Foundation of England

From Medievalists comes this article about a Viking treasure hoard purported to be the most important ever found in the UK. It was discovered in Oxfordshire in 2015, and is still being examined by experts to date. The final tally of coinage will not be available for some time; however, the importance of the find is what it reveals of the Anglo-Saxon period. (Ed.)


Watlington Hoard in the Ashmolean Museum – photo by Minjie Su


By Minjie Su

Having you ever visited and been dazzled by Anglo-Saxon collection at the Ashmolean Museum, a priceless treasure hoard that the Museum has fought hard to keep earlier this year? Well, this is none other than the famed ‘Watlington Hoard’, a small yet pivotal collection of Viking silver (and gold) discovered and excavated in Oxfordshire in 2015.

On the 27th of November, Dr John Naylor and Dr Jane Kershaw, two chief researchers on the Watlington Hoard project, gave a seminar on the Hoard’s significance at Oxford University’s Institute of Archaeology; together, they provided the audience with a basic idea of how the Hoard is like, and explained why and how it is so important in shedding lights on Alfred the Great’s England.

The seminar was divided into two halves. In the first part, Dr Naylor, being an expert in early medieval and later coinage, gave a detailed introduction to the coins in the Hoard. Although many of the Watlington coins are fragmented and the final count is not yet ready, Dr Naylor estimates that there are around 210 coins in total, all dated to mid-9th to late-9th century, in the reigns of Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceowulf II of Mercia.

The coins are categorised into two types based on their design. Thirteen coins belong to the rare ‘Two Emperors’ type, with Alfred and Ceowulf siting face to face below a winged figure, possibly an angel of victory. This design has its roots in 4th-century Roman solidus (pl. solidi), a type of golden coin issued in the Late Roman Empire. These coins suggest the alliance between Wessex and Mercia in face of the Viking invasion, and cast doubt over the conventional portrayal of Ceowulf as a puppet king of the Vikings. The second type, the ‘cross-and-lozenge’ type, form the bulk of the collection. About fifty to fifty-five of these are issued by Ceowulf, two by Æthelred, archbishop of Canterbury, and the rest by King Alfred. Generally based on Roman models, these coins can be further divided into four subtypes: Canterbury, Winchester, London, and unassigned ‘other’ style, with Winchester almost entirely Alfred’s and the ‘other’ Mercian. Quite some of these coins are barely used; they have almost never gone into broad circulation, which may help to understand why the Hoard was buried.

In addition, there are a few coins that call for special attention. One such, though fragmented, may be the earliest example of an Anglo-Saxon half penny, which seems to have a cross design on one side. There are also two Carolingian deniers, which are dated to about 860-870. The latest issue from the Hoard is a single example of what is termed the ‘two-line’ type coins, which were not produced until after the Battle of Edington (maybe 878, after which Alfred famously burned the cakes). This coin not only helps to narrow down the burial date of the Hoard to about 879-880, but also gives us a glimpse into under what turbulent circumstance the Hoard was deposed.

Dr Jane Kershaw, having taken over the second half of the seminar, talked about the rest of items in the Hoard, which consists of 15 silver ingots, 6 silver arm rings, 2 neck ring fragments, and 1 tiny yet valuable piece of hack gold, all most likely having a Danish origin. Unlike the coins many of which have never circulated, these silvers are heavily ‘nicked’, meaning that they have been tested for its fineness. Three of the arm rings are also deliberately cut – not broken, but cut up to be weighed. This attests to these metals’ circulation on the bullion exchange market, which was not at all uncommon in major Scandinavian trading towns such as Birke and had been introduced to England by the time the Hoard was buried.

The presence of the hack gold, however tiny, makes the Hoard even more interesting, for gold was rarely used as currency and tended to be traded separately from silver. The inclusion of gold in the Watlington Hoard gives evidence to the rise of a multi-metallic bullion exchange economy. Dr Kershaw thinks these metals and the two Carolingian coins come in one parcel, while the Anglo-Saxon coins belong to another.

How and why, then, was the Watlington Hoard buried? These treasure, as Dr Kershaw suggested, was likely associated with the ‘Great Army’ in the late 9th century. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles mention Alfred’s peace-making with the Vikings but offer no further detail – was he in fact paying them to leave, and the Hoard came as part of that payment? It is not an unprecedented move on a ruler’s part: the Royal Frankish Annals tell of Charles the Bald paying the Vikings and the Vikings weighing the silver.

When the Hoard was buried, the Viking army was on their way to East Anglia, as agreed under the Treaty of Wedmore after the Battle of Edington. They most likely took the old Roman road through Cirencester, where they stayed for about one year, then went onto the Ridgeway and the Icknield Way, thus passing Watlington. Sitting on the border between Wessex and Mercia and as an important Mercian fort, Cirencester is an interesting stop for the Vikings – just what made them choose that route? We know that Ceowulf II disappeared the year the Vikings took over Cirencester. Around the same time, Alfred melted down the ‘Two Emperors’ type of coins and started to mint the ‘Two-line’ type. This is all only speculative, but could it be that Alfred paid the Vikings to get rid of Ceowulf for him? Then, in that case, the Watlington Hoard would be a witness to the agreement between Alfred and the Viking army.

14 January 2018

Threading through Cork’s Viking past

Archaeology continues to produce spectacular Viking artifacts from Dublin, Ireland. Digs in the city continue and more Viking period items will surely be unearthed. (Ed.)


Posted by
Kathryn Krakowka
November 24, 2017

Twelfth-century wooden instruments in situ during the excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City. (Images: Maurice F. Hurley)
In the course of excavations on the site of the former Beamish and Crawford Brewery in Cork City, Ireland, earlier this year, a perfectly preserved Viking weaver’s sword was discovered.

It was a striking find, as it cements the idea that medieval Cork had a Viking presence. As Dr Maurice Hurley, a consultant archaeology, said, ‘For a long time there was a belief that the strongest Viking influence was on Dublin and Waterford, but the full spectrum of evidence shows that Cork was in the same cultural sphere and that its development was very similar.’

The sword, dating roughly to the 11th century, is made entirely of yew and measures just over 30cm in length. It is so well-preserved that the human head on the pommel of the sword and the Ringerike-style Viking art embellished on the grip are all clearly visible. While similar weaver’s swords have been found in Ireland – most notably in Wood Quay, Dublin (see CA 328) – this find is unique in its quality and preservation.
The immaculately preserved weaver’s sword recovered from the Cork excavations.
‘The sword was used probably by women to hammer threads into place on a loom; the pointed end is for picking up the threads for pattern-making. It is highly decorated – the Vikings decorated every utilitarian object,’ said Maurice.

The excavation also unearthed the foundations of 19 Viking houses, including hearths and bedding material. In addition to the weaver’s sword, a wooden thread-winder carved with two horses’ heads was also discovered on the site. Numerous other artefacts represent evidence for a wide spectrum of trades and cultural activities.

The excavations took place between November 2016 and July 2017, and the finds are currently undergoing post-excavation analysis and conservation. A few of the more spectacular items – including the weaver’s sword – were unveiled during an informal visit to the Cork Public Museum by the Norwegian ambassador to Ireland, Else Berit Eikeland.

This article was published in CA 334.

02 January 2018

Historic finds unearthed in Medieval cemetery

This Viking site was recently uncovered in Norway, near Trondheim. It is an interesting article about a minor site in the whole scheme of things.

It is unfortunate that certain of today's archaeologists feel they can justify their existence by changing the way time dates are noted. The entire world uses BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domine), or literally After Christ.

But, not these people. Apparently, they think it fashionable - in a socialist, politically correct sort of way - to change the nomenclature by which time dates have been kept since somebody started recording them about 2000 years ago. They think CE (Current Epoch) and BCE (Before Current Epoch) will catch hold. They won't, you socialist twits.


December 14, 2017
Archaeologists thought they were going to find a layer of beer brewing stones from the Viking age, but instead they found a "Viking import" from Ireland. Credit: NTNU University Museum
What was supposed to be a simple excavation to allow for the expansion of a church cemetery turned into a treasure trove of historic artefacts, including a decorative fitting from a book "imported" by Vikings from Ireland.

Byneset Cemetery, adjacent to the medieval Steine Church in Trondheim in mid-Norway, is expanding, and Norwegian cultural heritage laws require and archaeological review of the affected area beforehand.

The expansion plans brought archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) University Museum to survey the site earlier this year.

Jo Sindre Pålsson Eidshaug and Øyunn Wathne Sæther, research assistants at the NTNU University Museum, came across a surprising find during their excavations.
"This is a decorative fitting," Eidshaug said of his discovery. "It almost looks like it's gilded here. It's a kind of decorative fitting, I would guess."

Tove Eivindsen, head of communications for the museum, just happened to be there and captured the moment when the discovery was unearthed.

The find is probably a gold-plated, silver fitting from a book. It appears to be Celtic in origin, and might have come from a religious book brought here during the Viking Age that disappeared several centuries ago, and that hasn't been seen by anyone since then – but for now everything is speculation.

A fitting, probably from a book. The style is typical of Celtic and Irish areas and dates from the 800s. Traces of gilding can be seen in the recesses. Credit: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum
"Someone very politely called this an Irish import, but that's just a nice way of saying that someone was in Ireland and picked up an interesting item," said museum director Reidar Andersen, who was also at the site.

Raymond Sauvage from NTNU's Department of Archaeology and Cultural History, and the project manager for these excavations, concurs.
"Yes, that's right. We know that the Vikings went out on raids. They went to Ireland and brought things back. But how peacefully it all transpired, I won't venture to say," he said.

The archaeologists call a find like this one an "imported object."

Digging in the cultural layer. Pictured are: Eivind Krag, Karen Oftedal, Raymond Sauvage, Jo Sindre Eidshaug, Øyunn Sætre and Marte Mokkelbost. Credit: Trond Sverre Skevik, NTNU University Museum
"We started the project with slightly lower hopes for what we might find than what's recently emerged," said Andersen, who calls the discovery "fantastic" and thinks this is an exciting area.
Sauvage says you don't make discoveries like this everywhere. There are only a few areas where people had the resources to go out on such voyages.

The church and the excavation site used to be connected to a large, old farm estate that probably existed here from at least the Viking age. Excavation sites like this often date back to the Nordic Iron Age and the Middle Ages and can provide valuable insight into the position and status of the Steine farm during this period, as described on the project's Norwegian website Norark, Norsk arkeologi.
Archaeologists also came across a belt buckle, a key and a knife blade.

Frode Iversen digs in the cultural layer. Pictured in the background are: Karen Oftedal and Øyunn Watne Sætre. Credit: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum
"Steine Church was built in the 1140s," says Sauvage, explaining that the archaeologists also found a link to Nidaros Cathedral.

Archaeologists uncovered a church mason's mark that corresponds to one found on Nidaros Cathedral. These marks were personal to every individual stonemason, which means that the same stonemason worked on both buildings.

The archaeologists were actually planning to do a sampling of layers containing brewing stones, but the area has proved to have considerably more conserved cultural layers than archaeologists were aware of before the work began, said Sauvage.

The dig was therefore expanded, and now objects dating as far back as 700 CE have been found. That means they belong to what is called the late Germanic Iron (or Merovingian) Age.

The archaeological excavations, paid for by Trondheim municipality, ran for five weeks this summer. The cemetery expansion started on 16 October.