Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Why is Christmas Day on 25 December?

'Nativity of Christ', medieval illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)

Christmas became one of the most important religious festivals in medieval Christendom, second only to Easter. Much of what we associate with Christmas today has its origins in the Middle Ages, including the name. We can also trace the date and some familiar elements like the crib scene to their early roots too.

Why is it called Christmas?
Christmas is a slightly shortened version of Christ’s mass. It appears in various forms through the medieval period, combining Christos from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, meaning messiah, or anointed, and the Latin Missa, the celebration of the Eucharist. ‘Xmas’ is another further abbreviation of the word, which is often frowned upon and discouraged, and you can find online style guides that will advise you not to use Xmas as it’s too informal, but it does appear in middle English texts. What we recognise as the letter X is in fact the Greek letter chi and it’s used as an abbreviation of the Greek Christos, which begins with the letter chi.

Anglo-Saxons referred to the period as midwinter and sometimes as nativity. Old English contains references to Yule, a word and a celebration that has Viking and Scandinavian heritage, which covered December and January and eventually became associated with Christmas by the late 14th century. The old French word Noel derived from the Latin natalis, meaning birth, was beginning to enter use in English too.

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Winter solstice: Explore these new 3D scans of passage tomb megalithic art

A TREASURE TROVE of megalithic art imagery from a recently uncovered passage tomb is being released to mark the winter solstice.

The Dowth Hall tomb is part of the Brú na Boinne complex, and is located a stone’s throw away from the more famous Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth tombs.

It was hidden underground until an excavation in 2017. What remains was damaged by the construction of a building above it in the 18th century.

The find was described as ‘the most significant’ of the past 50 years in Ireland.

An estimated one-third of the kerbstones – which would have surrounded the tomb – and orthostats – upright stones – found at Dowth Hall are decorated in Neolithic art.

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Video: Marking the winter solstice at Maeshowe chambered cairn

With its south-westerly facing entrance,perhaps Maeshowe’s best known attribute is its orientation towards the setting sun around midwinter.

Five thousand years ago, as now, it may be that the solstice marked the passing of time – the death of the old year and the birth of the new one. In the dark depths of an Orkney winter today, the solstice remains a welcome indicator that the sun is returning.

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Monday, December 19, 2022

700-Year-Old Viking Shipwreck Found at the Bottom of Norwegian Lake

A shipwreck at the bottom of Norway's largest lake, Mjøsa

During a government research mission researchers stumbled upon what they believe to be a 700-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Norway’s largest lake, Mjøsa, reported Live Science.

The Norwegian Defence Research Establishment launched Mission Mjøsa after officials discovered unexploded bombs from World War II in the lake. They quickly drew up a plan to carefully map the lake bed to track the presence of these bombs and study their potential health effects on the water, as the lake provides 100,000 people with potable water.

Though previous research missions have turned up 20 shipwrecks in this lake, this was the first time that the deepest parts of the lake—some 1,350 feet deep—were explored with sonar technology.

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Time Team recording special at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk

Sir Tony Robinson, pictured in 2005, is recording at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk (Image: Newsquest)

Long-running archaeological TV show Time Team has been in Suffolk recording a special episode at Sutton Hoo.

Original presenter Sir Tony Robinson has been at the Anglo-Saxon burial site near Woodbridge to film the special for the show's YouTube channel.

Time Team was broadcast for 20 years on Channel 4 and released almost 300 episodes, with each one featuring a team of specialists carrying out an archaeological dig over a three-day period.

After the show's original run ended in 2014, it returned as an online show earlier this year and is fan-funded via Patreon.

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Bog Body Discovered in Denmark

STENLØSE, DENMARK—Live Science reports that human and animal bones, as well as an unpolished flint ax head, were recovered from what was once a bog on Denmark’s island of Zealand during an investigation conducted before a construction project. The style of the ax suggests that the bones date to the early Neolithic period, more than 5,000 years ago, according to Emil Struve of the ROMU museums. “We know that traditions of human sacrifices date back that far—we have other examples of it,” he said. The human remains include leg bones, a pelvis, and part of a lower jaw with some teeth still attached. The rest of the body probably lay outside the protective layer of peat and was not preserved.

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U.K. Archaeologists Say That Ancient Tools Discovered Around Stonehenge Point to a More Advanced Society Than Previously Known

Archaeologists at the University of Leicester have just re-examined five 4,000-year-old tools like flint cups and Neolithic axes that have puzzled experts since their discovery 220 years ago in a Bronze-Age burial near Stonehenge. Four were examined for the first time.

Based on the bones, cups, and cobbles surrounding two bodies at the grave—most recently dated 1850–1700 B.C.E.—researchers have hypothesized over the past century that these grave goods belonged to a costumed shaman, or a goldsmith of status.

Applying contemporary technologies including microwear analysis and scanning electron microscopy to the tools’ surfaces, researchers have revealed their owner was more likely a gold worker who coaxed the precious metal into sheets to gild other items.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers

The University of Oxford online course: Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers is currently enroling for Trinity Term when the course will begin on 25 January.

Find out more about this course...

Monday, December 12, 2022

Early medieval female burial site is ‘most significant ever discovered’ in UK

A reconstruction of the burial site near Harpole in Northamptonshire. 
Photograph: MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology)

Find dating from about 650AD in Northamptonshire includes jewelled necklace and changed archaeologists’ view of the period

Archaeologists don’t often bounce with excitement, but the Museum of London archaeology team could hardly contain themselves on Tuesday as they unveiled an “exhilarating” discovery made on the last day of an otherwise barren dig in the spring.

“This is the most significant early medieval female burial ever discovered in Britain,” said the leader of the dig, Levente Bence Balázs, almost skipping with elation. “It is an archaeologist’s dream to find something like this.”

“I was looking through a suspected rubbish pit when I saw teeth,” Balázs added, his voice catching with emotion at the memory. “Then two gold items appeared out of the earth and glinted at me. These artefacts haven’t seen the light of day for 1,300 years, and to be the first person to see them is indescribable. But even then, we didn’t know quite how special this find was going to be.”

What Balázs had found was a woman buried between 630 and 670 AD – a woman buried in a bed alongside an extraordinary, 30-piece necklace of intricately-wrought gold, garnets and semi-precious stones. It is, by a country mile, the richest necklace of its type ever uncovered in Britain and reveals craftsmanship unparalleled in the early medieval period.

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A 1,300-Year-Old Gold Necklace Found in an Early Christian Burial in England Is a ‘Once-in-a-Lifetime Discovery,’ Says Archaeologist

Collection of pendants from the Harpole Treasure. Photo by Andy Chopping; © MOLA.

An exquisite gold necklace from the seventh century C.E. has been found in England at the burial site of a powerful woman who was interred some 1,300 years ago, according to the Associated Press.  

The necklace, known as the Harpole Treasure after the Northamptonshire village where it was discovered, is decorated with 30 pendants and beads fashioned from gold Roman coins and semi-precious stones. The large rectangular pendant features a cross, iconography that suggests the deceased may have been an early Christian religious leader. The use of precious metals and stones suggests she was also very wealthy.

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Great Viking Fortresses Built By King Harald Bluetooth

Aerial view of the Viking ring fortress of Aggersborg. The similarity in design with Trelleborg near Slagelse, is clearly evident. Image credit: View author information - CC BY 2.0

About 1,000 years ago, legendary King Harald Bluetooth built several impressive Viking fortresses. Today, there is not much left of these once powerful ancient buildings, but re-constructions give us a unique glimpse of what life was like inside the circular ringforts.

Harald Bluetooth was the Viking king of Denmark between 958 and 970.

King Harald was famous for uniting parts of Denmark and Norway into one nation and converting the Danes to Christianity.

The impressive remains of one of the Vikings’ great ring fortresses were originally constructed around AD 980 by King Harald Bluetooth, and the museum at Trelleborg has models, archaeological finds, and reconstructions that hekp to experience some of  Trelleborg’s history, its inhabitants and the function of the fortress in the distant past.

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Revisiting one of Scotland's rarest Viking burials

One hundred and forty years ago Victorian antiquarians excavated a rare Viking boat grave in the Inner Hebrides.

What they uncovered on the coastal meadow, called machair, at Kiloran Bay in Colonsay remains Scotland's single richest male Viking burial site to be found so far.

The finds included weapons, a silver dress pin and a set of scales and elaborately decorated weights for trading.

A boat had been placed over the top of the man's grave chamber and buried next to it was his horse, which had been sacrificed. There was also possible evidence of a human sacrifice having taken place.

"The grave was discovered after rabbits, digging in the soft machair, scooped up some boat rivets," says Prof James Graham-Campbell, an expert on pagan Norse graves of Scotland.

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Who were the Normans?

How did a group of rowdy itinerant Scandinavians come to dominate swathes of Europe for more than two centuries? Alex Burghart tackles the big questions about the origins of the Normans and their enduring influence

The Normans were the violent parvenu opportunists of their day: Vikings who settled in Normandy and became French before conquering England and becoming English.

From obscure Scandinavian origins, the Normans relied on their military proficiency – and ruthlessness – to dominate the institutions and elites of Europe, and assimilated cultures, ideas and whole political systems in their pursuit of glory. Norman knights and generals occupied areas from the lowlands of Scotland to the deserts of the near east, thrusting themselves into the midst of conflicts and seizing chances whenever they appeared. They also left behind some of the most remarkable ecclesiastical and military architecture of the period, which speaks volumes about both their self-importance and their piety.

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