25 November 2018

Rare Thor’s Hammer Amulet Found in Iceland Casts New Light on Viking Life

 Ancient Origins comes through again with this excellent article on recent archaeological finds on Iceland in an area of the island where settlement existed during the Viking Age that nobody knew about. (Ed.)


The Thor’s hammer amulet. ( Fornleifastofnun Íslands )
19 OCTOBER, 2018 - 19:01 ED WHELAN
In archaeology, anything from the past can be of great importance, including artifacts that may seem rather small and unremarkable at first glance. For example, archaeologists have just announced the discovery of a small Viking era item in Iceland that is a first of its kind – it  has real historical significance.  During some routine work, the archaeologists uncovered a stone amulet that represents the hammer of the Norse God Thor. This small artifact is going to help experts to better understand Viking society at a critical stage in its development.

A Lucky Find
The find was made by chance and it is one of many fortuitous finds in Iceland in recent years. Another item discovered by accident was a warrior’s sword discovered in 2016. The site where the amulet was found is in the south of Iceland in the breath-taking Þjórsárdalur valley. A team of experts was registering sites in the valley when they made the discovery. A local man directed the team to an area where he claimed to have found some Viking artifacts.

The experts went to the location and as they were recording the previously unknown site, they uncovered a number of artifacts, that were, according to the Iceland Magazine ‘lying on the surface of the soil’’. There were several small artifacts also recovered with the amulet. Bergur Thor Bjornsson,  who made the discovery, is the descendant of an archaeologist who located many important Viking sites in Iceland in the early twentieth century.

The Thor’s hammer amulet. ( Fornleifastofnun Íslands )
A Unique Thor’s Hammer Amulet
The most important item discovered while exploring the site this time was the amulet of Thor. Inside Edition website has declared the Thor’s hammer amulet ‘the first of its kind found’.  It is so special because it is the first Thor’s hammer amulet to be found that is made from stone. All the other examples of this ornament have been fashioned from metal or bone.  

After a preliminary investigation, the style of the amulet is unusual and it appears to offer evidence that the Norse cults had come under the influence of Christianity. It is now being studied and analyzed to determine its origin and age.

Who was Thor?
Thor is a well-known figure in the movies and comics and is very well-known in modern popular culture. To the Vikings, he was the God of Thunder and second only to Odin in the Norse Pantheon. His hammer Mjollnir had magical properties and made him near-invincible and with it, he, slew his enemies and many monsters. Thor appeared very often in Norse myth and he is often portrayed as a somewhat comical figure, nevertheless, he was much-loved by the common Norse people. 

An 1872 representation by Mårten Eskil Winge of Thor wielding his famous hammer, Mjölnir, against the giants. ( Public Domain )
 It is only in recent years that experts have been able to definitively identify a large number of amulets as representing the hammer of the God of Thunder ; after finding one with an inscription, bearing the name ‘Thor’ in Denmark. These amulets were buried with people such as warriors . For example, one amulet was found in a mass grave of two Vikings who were part of the Great Heathen Army that invaded England in the 9th century AD.

A Major Discovery
The discovery of the amulet has also led to the identification of a new Viking site. It seems that early Norse settlers lived in the area until a volcanic eruption in 1014 AD forced them to leave. But the amulet was not the only important artifact found in the valley;  a portable whetstone, which is extremely rare, was also discovered. This stone was used to sharpen tools and implements and according to the Inside Edition website , it is ‘’now named Bergsstadir after the local that discovered it’’.

The whetstone. Whetstones are among the most common finds at Viking era archaeological sites. ( Fornleifastofnun Íslands )
This chance find is significant because it is helping experts to understand the importance of the Thor cult in Norse society. The design of the Thor’s hammer amulet is also suggestive of Christian influence and this may force researchers to rethink how the Vikings became converts to Christianity. Moreover, the find has helped to provide an insight into early Icelandic settler society and its relationship to the wider Norse world.

The Stenkvista runestone in Södermanland, Sweden, shows Thor's hammer instead of a cross. (Berig/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

Top image: The small Thor’s hammer amulet was carved out of sandstone. 
Source: Fornleifastofnun Íslands

18 November 2018

Ancient Viking Ship Found Buried Next to Busy Norwegian Freeway

Virtually everything we have built in modern times sits atop or near something else built by other people from another age.

This interesting article about a Viking ship burial site recently discovered beside a Norwegian freeway confirms that supposition. (Ed.)



Ancient Viking Ship Found Buried Next to Busy Norwegian Freeway

George Dvorsky

10/16/18 9:40am

Filed to: VIKINGS

The buried ship as seen by ground-penetrating radar.Image: NIKU

 Using ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists in Norway have discovered an ancient Viking ship buried just 20 inches beneath the surface of a farmer’s field. The 66-foot-long ship, deliberately buried during a funeral ritual, appears surprisingly intact—and it could contain the skeletal remains of a high-ranking Viking warrior.

It’s called the Jellstad Ship, and it was discovered on farmland in Østfold county in southeast Norway. The site, known as Viksletta, is near the the large and fully intact Jelle burial mound, which can be seen from the busy Norwegian Rv41 118 freeway.

Archaeologists with the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), with the help of radar specialists from Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology (LBI ArchPro), detected the vessel using mobile ground-penetrating radar. The discovery is significant in that it’s only the fourth Viking ship burial ever discovered, according to Knut Paasche, head of the Department of Digital Archaeology at NIKU.

The Viksletta site: red circles show locations of the burial mounds, orange rectangles the longhouses, and the green eye-shaped object the ancient boat.
“There are only a small number of ship burials known from Scandinavia so far and only three of them (Gokstad, Oseberg and Tune ships) are actually well preserved,” Erich Nau, an archaeologist with NIKU, told Gizmodo. “The last one of these—Oseberg—was found and excavated in 1904, when archaeological methods were far less advanced than they are today. This new finding offers the possibility for modern, state-of-the-art research. Both further non-invasive methods and modern excavation and documentation methodology can now be applied and will probably lead to a much deeper understanding of the phenomenon of ship-burials.”

In addition to the ship, the scans revealed eight previously undiscovered burial mounds and several longhouses. All eight of the mounds had been plowed over by farmers, but enough evidence remained beneath the surface for the researchers to identify them as such.

In a statement, Morten Hanisch, the county conservator in Østfold, said the archaeologists “are certain that there is a ship there, but how much is preserved is hard to say before further investigation.”

The researchers haven’t dug into the topsoil yet, as they’re hoping to perform as much non-invasive work as possible using “all modern means of archaeology,” said Paasche. Indeed, the ship’s timbers, once exposed to the elements, will start to degrade immediately. What’s more, radar scans show the ship in its undisturbed condition. The researchers are planning to perform more scans of the area, but they haven’t ruled out an excavation of the ship at some point in the future.

The ship is resting just 20 inches (50 centimeters) below the topsoil, and it’s around 66 feet (20 meters) long. Preliminary scans suggest the ship’s keel and floor timbers are still intact. While the researchers have not yet dated this site, similar sites in Norway date to around 800 AD.

Artist’s depiction of the ship prior to its burial.Illustration: NIKU

The researchers say the ship was deliberately buried in a burial mound, which is not as extraordinary as it might sound. Boats and ships were an indelible aspect of Viking culture, used for transportation, trade, and conquest in northern Europe until about 1,000 years ago. Ships were precious and considered symbols of wealth and status. Archaeologists have found buried ships before, some even containing bodies. In 2011, for example, archaeologists in Scotland discovered a 15-foot-long (5-meter) boat with a warrior inside, along with his shield, sword, spear, and other grave goods.

“Ship burials are a tradition that only exist in Scandinavia and adjoining areas during the Late Iron Age in Scandinavia—from the 6th to the 11th century—and the majority of the already excavated examples can be dated to the 9th and 10th century which is also called the Viking Age,” said Nau. “Therefore we can assume that the new one is also from this period and thus between 1,000 and 1,200 years old. However, we cannot date the new findings with certainty yet—this will probably be possible only within the framework of an excavation.”

This newly discovered ship may have been part of a cemetery, which was “clearly designed to display power and influence,” archaeologist and project leader Lars Gustavsen said in a statement. There’s a very real possibility that the Jellstad Ship contains the remains of a high-ranking Viking, but that still needs to be proven.

It’s not immediately clear if ground-penetrating radar could pick up traces of a body, or bodies; for that, ground excavations may be necessary.

Five longhouses, or halls, were also discovered by the researchers, some of which were quite large. The scientists said the site is reminiscent of another Viking site: the Borre site in Vestfold County, on the opposite side of the Oslofjord.

These findings are all very preliminary, and the researchers are preparing for the next stage of the project, which will involve more thorough scans of the Viksletta site using additional non-invasive geophysical methods. The discovery of this ancient ship is very exciting, but the best may be yet to come.

This post was updated to include comments from Erich Nau.

[Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research]

10 November 2018

Viking Warrior Women?

This interesting article comes to us from Medievalists. Click on the title link to watch the video from the author of the study, Dr. Leszek Garderla, Bonn University, Germany.

The subject of women warriors comes to us from movies which generally bear little to no resemblance to reality during the Viking Age, including several illusions to Viking female warriors.

Not a shed of evidence exists  for Viking female warriors, and Dr Leszek makes that point as he combs through manuscripts and museums for definitive proof of what has become contemporary fantasy. As has been stated previously, grave goods that include weapons is not proof that the erstwhile occupant of the grave was a warrior.


Published on Oct 30, 2018

Medieval texts tell of Viking warrior women taking part in battles, but are these stories describing reality or pure fiction? What can archaeology tell us about women in the Viking Age? 

The search for answers is being done by ‘Amazons of the North: Armed Females in Viking Archaeology and Old Norse Literature,’ a research project led by Dr Leszek Gardeła (Bonn University, Germany) and funded by the DAAD German Academic Exchange Service.

You can follow the project on Facebook and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/archeoleszek/ https://www.facebook.com/Amazons-of-t...

Script and production: Leszek Gardeła and Mira Fricke

Music: “TYR” written by Einar Selvik. Copyright BMG Platinum Songs US. Used by kind permission of BMG Management GMBH. “Hagal” written by Einar Selvik. Copyright BMG Platinum Songs US. Used by kind permission of BMG Management GMBH.