This is a total departure for this blog, but archaeology is not active at the moment, so some Norse mythology may be called for because we seem to be living a nightmare of mythic proportion on planet Earth. (Ed.)
|A depiction of Ratatoskr in a 17th-century illuminated manuscript. (Johanna Olafsdottir)|
April 13, 2020 at 2:05 p.m. MDT
When one ponders the case of Ratatoskr, the most celebrated squirrel in Norse mythology, one must eventually confront a question: Why is there a horn growing out of his forehead?
You can see it in a 17th-century illuminated manuscript in the collection of the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavik. A drawing shows the symbol around which all Norse mythology is organized: the famed Ygdrasil, or World Tree. The tree is populated by various fearsome creatures. At the bottom left is Ratatoskr, looking like a dog with a horn coming straight out of his noggin.
“We have no text to explain [this] for us,” said Gisli Sigurdsson, a professor in the department of folklore at the University of Iceland’s Magnusson Institute.
We will speculate about that horn in a bit, but first, a crash course in Norse mythology and the role a squirrel plays in it: The Viking age began around A.D. 800 and ended about 300 years later. During that time, Norsemen (and women) poured forth from Scandinavia, pillaging and colonizing their way across Britain, through the scattered islands of the North Atlantic, into Iceland and Greenland and venturing as far as North America.