Monday, March 20, 2023

Did Vikings Have Tattoos? Real Norse Body Art Is Filled With Mystery

The Vikings were seafaring people originally from Scandinavia who raised hell across Europe and beyond from the late eighth to the late 11th centuries.
Image credit: DanieleGay/

Viking-inspired tattoos with Norse imagery and runes have become somewhat in vogue in the era of Pinterest-inspired body art, but did the Vikings actually have tattoos? There’s no solid archaeological evidence that tattoos were common in the Viking age since it's rare for skin to remain intact for centuries. Nevertheless, we know from written sources that some Norsemen may have been fans of body art. 

What did Viking tattoos look like?
One of the best accounts of inked-up Norsemen comes from Ahmad ibn Fadlan, a 10th-century Muslim traveler who was sent from Baghdad to make contact with the king of the Volga Bulgars, an area of modern-day western Russia and Ukraine. Around this time, the area was home to a group of people known as the Volga Vikings, conquerors and traders who had settled in the area from Scandinavia. 

In his description one of of these tribes, known as the Rus, Fadlan wrote:

"Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tattooed from fingernails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc."

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Jomsvikings: legendary Viking mercenaries or men of myth?

Who were the Jomsvikings?

According to the sagas, the Jomsvikings were a band of Norse warriors based in Jomsborg, which means ‘Jom Fortress’. It was called after its location on the island Jom, somewhere on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in Pomerania (either modern-day Germany or Poland), described as ‘Wendland’ in Old Norse sources.

The Jomsvikings were originally from Denmark, and Jomsborg was a sort of Danish colony, which makes sense since the distance between the two is short by sea, but Vikings from all over Scandinavia and the North Sea eventually joined in.

The sagas agree that Jomsborg was the base of a fearsome Viking army, but one saga in particular – the Saga of the Jomsvikings (Jómsvíkinga saga) – depicts it as a highly selective warrior band which subscribed to a more stringent set of rules than other groups.

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Friday, March 10, 2023

The Norse Myths That Shape the Way We Think

Chris Hemsworth plays Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Photograph: Marvel Studios/Sportsphoto/Allstar

In the lands of the north, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale … ” So began each episode of the 1950s and 1960s children’s TV programme The Saga of Noggin the Nog – one of countless iterations of old Norse myths that have filtered down to us, from the early 13th-century versions written down by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson all the way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, via Jacob Grimm, Richard Wagner, JRR Tolkien, Narnia, video games and death metal.

Greek myths may be having a moment in modern fiction, but The Norse Myths That Shape the Way We Think reminds us that Thor, Asgard, Valhalla and the Valkyries are as much a part of western literature and legend as are Athena and Achilles. As a professor of medieval European literature at the University of Oxford and a translator of Snorri’s texts, author Carolyne Larrington is an expert guide to the origins of the stories and an opinionated interpreter of their modern descendants. She explains how an incorrect translation of “drinking horns”, via Latin, resulted in the “madly impractical” idea that Vikings drank mead from their enemies’ skulls, and fulminates about HBO’s decision to have the villainous Euron Greyjoy slay a dragon in Game of Thrones: “An outrageously subversive recasting of the greatest of heroic achievements.”

Larrington takes the myths a theme at a time. Main characters such as Odin and Thor have a chapter to themselves, explaining how depictions of them have evolved from original sources into modern retellings such as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Loki and his monstrous children get another, which celebrates their recent starring roles in books by Joanne Harris, Francesca Simon and others, and explains quite convincingly how Loki’s current reputation as a gender nonconforming queer icon is rooted in the early texts.

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Thursday, March 09, 2023

'Viking boat' dig under pub awaits results as samples taken

The team from Wirral Archaeology CIC at work on investigation into what lies beneath The Railway pub in Meols (Image: Craig Manning / Newsquest)

THE results of an archaeological dig to determine whether a Viking boat's remains lie beneath a Wirral pub car park won't be known until later this year.

It has long been believed that a Nordic boat is buried beneath the site at the Railway Inn in Meols after remains were allegedly unearthed by workmen digging the foundations of the pub back in 1938.

The story goes that the workmen were told to cover up their discovery and rebury their find but one of them drew a map of the boat's whereabouts which survives to this day.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Vindelev Treasure Re-Writes Ancient History – World’s Oldest Runic Inscription Of God Odin Found On Ancient Gold Pendants

The oldest example we have so far of humans writing the word 'Odin'. This suggests that the Nordic god was already a central part of the cult in the fourth century.
Credit Photo: Arnold Mikkelsen, National Museum, Denmark

The Vindelev treasure was discovered where there had been a farm consisting of several longhouses and fences. For this reason, it is assumed the treasure belonged to a local chieftain or perhaps king, who buried it inside or near the house. In the 4th and 5th centuries, wealthy individuals wore gold medallions to show their status and wealth.

Studies of two 1,600-year-old gold medallions that are part of the treasure led to the discovery of very long runic inscriptions in which the name of the supreme god of the Aesir, Odin, appears.

Runologist and script researcher Lisbeth Imer and linguist Krister Vasshus from the National Museum in Denmark made this incredible discovery.

On the gold medallion, there is also a portrait of an unknown king or great man, who may have had the (nick)name "Jaga" or "Jagaz," and it is precisely here that Odin's name comes into play. Next to him, it says that he is "Odin's man."

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Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Rare Viking Boat Burial At Kiloran Bay In Colonsay, Scotland Remains A Fascinating Find

Scales and elaborately decorated weights were found in the Viking grave.
Credit: National Museum of Scotland

Ellen Lloyd - - Generally speaking, one must say that all Viking boat burials are rare because most of the notable burial finds throughout the Viking world are cremations. Archaeologists have unearthed Viking ship burials, but not in large numbers. Most unearthed Viking boat burials have been reported from Scandinavia and occasionally UK islands. Viking funeral traditions were complex, but based on archaeological evidence, it seems that the funeral boat or wagon was a practice that was reserved for the wealthy.

What makes the Viking boat burial at Kiloran Bay in the Inner Hebrides exceptionally unique is that it remains Scotland's single richest male Viking burial site to be found so far.

The Viking boat burial on the coastal meadow, called machair, at Kiloran Bay in Colonsay was discovered in 1882 "after rabbits, digging in the soft machair, scooped up some boat rivets." 1

Based on the large number of Viking graves in Colonsay, it is evident the region was important to Norse warriors.

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Who were the Vikings, the warriors who raided Europe and explored the New World?

Painting of a fleet of Viking ships crossing the sea by Albert Sebille c1930.
(Image credit: Chris Hellier via Alamy Stock Photo)

The Vikings explored, raided and traded across a vast area stretching from North America to the Middle East between roughly the late eighth and mid-11th centuries. 

In Old Norse, the language the Vikings spoke, "a Viking was a sea-borne raider, and to go-a-viking was to undertake sea-borne raiding," Angus Somerville and Russell Andrew McDonald(opens in new tab), both professors at Brock University in Canada, wrote in their book "The Vikings and Their Age(opens in new tab)" (University of Toronto Press, 2013). "The word is a job description but it applied only to a small minority of the population," as many people in Scandinavia would not have taken part in raids. 

Among those who did raid, "being a Viking was a part-time job since Viking expeditions were undertaken seasonally by small farmers, fishermen, merchants, chieftains, and aristocrats as a means of supplementing their income and winning fame," Somerville and McDonald wrote. 

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Advertisement home page Ancient Roman vase is 1st evidence of gladiator battles on English soil

The Colchester Vase depicting a gladitorial battle circa 2nd century CE.
(Wikimedia/Carole Raddato, CC BY-SA 2.0)

New research on an ancient vase discovered in England in 1853 suggests, for the first time, that gladiator battles took place in Roman Britain.

Gladiator battles were a form of Roman entertainment featuring armed combatants facing off against each other, wild animals or even condemned criminals, and have been popularized in modern culture via movies such as “Spartacus” and “Gladiator.”

The late 2nd-century CE vase discovered in 1853 in the southeastern English town of Colchester — known to the Romans as Camulodunum — which features an inscription bearing the names of two known gladiators, was previously thought to have had the names inscribed on it after the vase was fired, meaning that they were thought to be a later addition.

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Evidence for world’s first horse riders found in eastern Europe, dating back nearly 5,000 years

Grave of a horse rider discovered in Malomirovo, Bulgaria. Credit: Michał Podsiadło.

Using horses to get around was a critical juncture for development of human society.

Human skeletons found in 4,500-5,000-year-old burial mounds in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia show the six distinct signs that the people were horse riders.

Using horses was a critical juncture for development of human society.

The earthen burial mounds, called kurgans, belonged to the Yamnayan culture – migrants from the Pontic-Caspian steppes which stretch across from what is now Romania, Moldova and Ukraine in the west to western Kazakhstan and the lower Volga regions of Russia in the east.

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Details Of Ice Age Hunter-gatherers Revealed

Prehistoric hunters and gatherers from various archaeological societies had their genomes studied.

The arrival of Ice Age hunter-gatherers in Western Europe over 30,000 years as they sought warmer climes has been revealed in “astonishing” detail for the first time.

Researchers analyzed the genomes of 356 prehistoric hunter-gatherers from different archaeological cultures – including new details of 116 individuals from 14 different European and Central Asian countries.

The team explained that modern humans began to spread across Eurasia around 45,000 years ago, but previous research showed that the first modern humans that arrived in Europe did not contribute to later populations.

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Monday, March 06, 2023

An excavation in the waterfront Bjørvika neighborhood of Oslo has unearthed the remains of a long section of a wharf believed to have been built by a medieval king of Norway. More than 26 feet of the foundations of the pier have survived in excellent condition under the thick clay of the Oslofjord seabed.

The wharf foundation was built by interlacing massive logs into bulwarks that were then embedded into the seabed. Impressions of barnacles and mussels on the logs indicate they were left exposed in the water. The structures built on top of the foundations over time pressed them deeper into the clay where they were preserved even when the surface structures were lost.

A small mystery is that inside the bulwark there are several layers of dung, food waste, fish bones and sodden peat.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The end of Roman Britain | HistoryExtra podcast series

The end of Roman Britain: introduction, and a mystery mosaic

Join us for episode one in our series examining what happened in Britain as Roman influence waned…

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Wulf and Eadwacer: why I think I’ve solved the mystery of this Old English poem

Odoacer (left) and Theoderic (right) in a woodcut from the Hartmann Schedel (1493). 
INTERFOTO / Alamy Stock Photo

Wulf and Eadwacer occupies just a few lines in the Exeter Book, an anthology of mostly anonymous Old English poems made in the second half of the 10th century. As a relic of a literary culture largely lost, the Exeter Book is priceless. But some of its contents are very hard to understand.

This includes Wulf and Eadwacer. The poem’s first editor said in 1842: “Of this I can make no sense.” Over 100 studies later, not much has changed.

The poem seems to be spoken by a woman, lamenting her relation to two men, Wulf and Eadwacer, in some unknown watery landscape with islands. She also mentions a “whelp”, often supposed to be her child by one or other of them, or neither. If you think that sounds clear enough, every point could be – and has been – disputed by scholars.

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William The Conqueror: Ruthless And Powerful Ruler Who Changed Britain Forever

William the Conqueror & Harold II swearing - 11th century. 
Image: Adobe Stock - Erica Guilane-Nachez

William was the son of Herleva and Robert I, the Duke of Normandy, France, then known as “Francia”).   William was frequently called a bastard, especially by his opponents. The reason was that his mother actually never married his father, Robert, most probably because Herleva was a simple Anglo-Saxon woman and not of noble birth.

Although he was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy Robert the Magnificent (also called "Robert the Devil"), after his father's death in 1035, William was named his successor at only eight years of age. Under the name of William II (in French: Guillaume II), the boy became the new duke of Normandy during a challenging time.

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10 Burial Excavations That Unveil Incredible Viking Women

What was a Viking? The Vikings emerged from Scandinavia in the late eighth century as marauding raiders and traders with fantastic ships. From approximately 750-1100 CE, the Vikings roamed the world. Popularly, Vikings are often portrayed as overwhelmingly male. Even in the archaeological record, male burials outnumber female graves. Despite this imbalance, evidence shows Viking women lived versatile lives as warriors, witches, queens, traders, and housewives. By exploring the lives of ten Viking women we can reveal an exciting world of intrigue and movement with many mysteries still to be deciphered.

1. Viking Women as Warriors: The Birka Warrior

A warrior was found lying in a wooden chamber in the black earth on the island of Birka. Weapons crowded the grave, pointing to a life of conflict or readiness for battle. A sword, an axe, a knife, two lances, two shields, and 25 arrows rested beside the warrior should the weapons be needed again. Elsewhere in the grave, gaming pieces waited to be used. Made of bone, these game pieces likely formed part of a hnefatafl set, a medieval game of strategy used as preparation for war. Two horses lay at the warrior’s feet. As archaeologists removed the dirt and artifacts from the chamber, they had little doubt that the warrior had been a man of considerable status. They were half right but half wrong.

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Vikings and Scotland: 10 Interesting facts about ancient Vikings and their history in Scotland

Scotland rests just over the North sea from Scandinavia which made it a prime entry point for Vikings entering the British Isles back when they invaded in the 8th century. Their violent raids took place on Scotland’s coastline and islands where they robbed precious metals from local communities before eventually forming their own settlements.

United under Norwegian rule, the Scottish islands were signed over to Magnus III of Norway by King Eagar in 1098 in a region that would be known as the Kingdom of the Isles. The Kingdom comprised the Northern Isles of Shetland and Orkney (where Norse influence is said to be its most potent) and the Southern Isles including the Isle of Man and Hebrides.

Just like with Gaelic or Pictish communities, the Norse legacy of Scotland can still be felt today as place names feature motifs from their languages and Scots can still trace their ancestry back to such groups.

To explore this heritage further, here are 10 interesting facts about Vikings in Scotland and how they influenced the Scotland we know today.

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Dwarfie Stane: Mysterious 5,000-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tomb On Dark Enchanted Island Of Hoy, Scotland

The Dwarfie Stane with the entrance to the tomb. Credit: Grovel - CC BY 3.0

A. Sutherland- - The "Dwarfie Stane" is a remarkable ancient and massive piece of red sandstone. This 5,000-year-old block is surrounded by mystery, which has not been solved until today.

There is no record of who, in what manner, and for what purpose or purposes, created this great tomb.

Known as the Dwarfie Stane, the curious stone lies in a steep-sided and remote valley between Quoys and Rackwick on the island of Hoy in Orkney, Scotland, and is believed to be Britain's only example of a rock-cut tomb.

The chamber was carved out between the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, probably around 3,000 BC. This estimation is based on similar tombs discovered in the region of the Mediterranean.

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Modern Humans With Bows and Arrows Invaded France 54,000 Years Ago

Reproduced arrowheads made using the same flint and shot from a bow, to compare fracturing with the points found in Grotte Mandrin. Experiments by Laure Metz, Toomaï Boucherat, Christian Trubère and Ludovic Slimak show they were indeed arrowheads.Credit: Ludovic Slimak

But they didn’t stay long. New finds in southern France indicate protracted struggle: Neanderthals and humans replacing one another, more than once

Around 54,000 years ago, a group of anatomically modern humans forayed into southern France, intruding deep into the stamping ground of Neanderthals. And they came prepared, bearing the first bow and arrow technology to reach Europe – a good 10,000 years earlier than we assumed. Not that it helped them survive.

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Grave of Elite Bronze Age Brothers With Mystery Disease Discovered

Photo of Tel Megiddo National Park in modern-day Israel. This was the site of the ancient city of Megiddo.  JAVAX/GETTY

The bodies of two Bronze Age brothers have been discovered in an ancient tomb in Israel, and they bear a mysterious disease that has left scientists puzzled.

The bones of the brothers—whose relation was confirmed by DNA analysis—both show signs of developmental abnormalities and extensive bone remodeling, characteristic of a chronic infectious disease. The identity of the disease, however, remains a mystery.

"There is no one infectious disease that seems to fit all of the lesion patterns perfectly," Rachel Kalisher, who led the study, told Newsweek. "Paleopathology is an extremely complex field of study that has to not only study modern clinical manifestations of a disease, but also think about how it could have manifested in the past."

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54,000-Year-Old Stone Points Are Oldest Signs of Bow and Arrow Use in Europe

The site of Grotte Mandrin, in France

Artifacts discovered in a rock shelter suggest Homo sapiens was launching stone projectiles in Europe 40,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Hundreds of stone artifacts and 54,000-year-old human teeth have been found in a rock shelter in the south of France, pushing back evidence for Homo sapiens wielding the bow and arrow in Europe by 10,000 years.

The shelter—Grotte Mandrin, near the Rhône River valley—has yielded 852 artifacts, including cut stone points, blades, and flakes, which indicate to researchers that projectile weapons were being used by ancient humans there. The team’s study is published today in Science Advances, and it builds on a paper published last year that established the ancient human presence based on 54,000-year-old teeth.

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When in Rome: Archaeologists discover ancient wooden phallus that may be exactly what it looks like

HEXHAM, United Kingdom — Vindolanda served as an ancient Roman auxiliary fort in the north of what is now the United Kingdom for nearly 300 years (roughly 85 AD -370 AD). Now, a new analysis has identified what looks to be the first ever known example of a disembodied phallus made of wood recovered anywhere in the Ancient Roman world.

Phalli were actually quite ubiquitous at the time across the Roman Empire, as they were believed to help promote good luck and ward off bad fortune. People would wear necklaces featuring phallic pendants, and phallic images were often seen in painted frescoes and mosaics. They even formed part of the decoration of other objects such as knife handles or pottery.

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This Man Underwent Brain Surgery 3,500 Years Ago

Two brothers’ remains were found buried together under the floorboards of their home. One had a hole in his skull consistent with surgery. Kalisher et al., 2023, PLOS One, CC-BY 4.0

While excavating a 3,500-year-old tomb in Tel Megiddo, Israel, scientists discovered a skull with a surprising feature: a square hole that’s clear evidence of an ancient brain surgery.

Nobody knows whose steady hands performed the operation, or what experience made the surgeon feel prepared to remove part of a living human’s cranium. Was the patient administered some anesthesia or a mind-altering substance? Or was he left to experience the operation in excruciating pain? And what desperate straits or last-ditch hopes led to such an extreme step?

“I can only hypothesize based off of the amount of pathological evidence that is on this individual that this was an intervention because of deteriorating conditions,” says Rachel Kalisher, a bioarchaeologist at Brown University. “But we don’t really have a clear answer.”

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Centuries Before Stonehenge, This Settlement Housed the First European Stone Monument Builders

Whether its Stonehenge, the pyramids, or a myriad of other ancient places, we’ve long been fascinated by impressive monuments from the distant past. But more often than not, the stories of the people who built these ancient marvels are lost to the mists of time.

It’s rare to get a glimpse into the lives of the laborers whose handiwork still towers over landscapes today. But a newly-described site in France reveals the likely home base of some of Europe’s first stone monument builders, dating back to the Middle Neolithic period (4700-3700 BC).

Described this week in the journal Antiquity, researchers reconstructed a 6500-year-old settlement where a group of workers may have lived just a few kilometers from their job site. They pieced together the details of life at the settlement, including how it met a destructive fate.

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Neanderthals spread diverse cultures across Eurasia (before we came along)

This artist's conception shows how Neanderthals might have faced down the mammoth task of butchering a freshly-killed elephant.

Two recent studies of Neanderthal archaeological sites (one on the coast of Portugal and one in central Germany) demonstrate yet again that our extinct cousins were smarter and more adaptable than we’ve often given them credit for. One study found that Neanderthals living on the coast of Portugal 90,000 years ago roasted brown crabs—a meal that’s still a delicacy on the Iberian coast today. The other showed that 125,000 years ago, large groups of Neanderthals came together to take down enormous Ice Age elephants in what’s now central Germany.

Individually, both discoveries are fascinating glimpses into the lives of a species that's hauntingly similar to our own. But to really understand the most important thing these Neanderthal diet discoveries tell us, we have to look at them together. Together, they show that Neanderthals in different parts of Europe had distinct cultures and ways of life—at least as diverse as the cultures that now occupy the same lands.

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Did Byzantine Christian Icons Conceal Pagan Gods?

Early Christian icons may have derived some of their stylistic elements from pagan religious portraits, according to some historians. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Religious icons of Christ, the Blessed Mother Mary, and the saints are integral to the religious practices of Orthodox Christians. The tradition was largely handed down to modern Christians by the iconographers of the Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire.

However, the practice may have evolved from earlier pagan religious rituals. That the peoples of the ancient world worshipped statues and figures of their gods is well known, but newer evidence suggests that they also commissioned portraits of their gods to be venerated in their own homes, not unlike Orthodox Christian icons.

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Interview: Ave Caesar! Romans, Gauls and Germanic tribes on the Banks of the Rhine

JBW: Many thanks for speaking with me yet again, Dr. Esaù Dozio. For thousands of
years, people have viewed the Rhine River as a boundary of sorts, dividing northern and
southern Europe. The Rhine River was a conduit of wealth and exchange. Nonetheless, I am curious to know why you and your fellow curators chose the Rhine River as the focus of the Antikenmuseum’s latest exhibition. I would suspect that Basel’s location, sitting astride the Rhine, had some role in this.

ED: Between fall 2022 and summer 2023, the Netzwerk Museen is dedicating an international exhibition series to the Rhine. Thirty-eight museums from Germany, France, and Switzerland highlight the importance of this river for our region from different perspectives. For the Antikenmuseum, it was a fitting occasion to present the ancient history of the Rhine. In this context, Basel and the surrounding region have a special role to play, especially since the Celtic settlement of Basel-Gasfabrik, the fortified oppidum on the local Münsterhügel and the nearby Roman colony of Augusta Raurica provide outstanding conditions for such a project.

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Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Meols Pub Boat: a hypothesis

Satellite view of the Railway Inn Pub. The position of the vessel is marked by an ellipse. 

In 2007 Ground Penetrating Radar confirmed the existence of an old boat buried deep under
a car park/patio area of a pub near the Railway Station in Meols, Wirral (Fig. 1), a find that
had been reported some 70 years earlier. 

1938 Discovery
In 1938 the Railway Inn Pub was being rebuilt further away from the road with the site of the
old building becoming a car-park. Workers unearthed part of an old clinker boat buried in
waterlogged blue clay some 2-3m underneath the surface. One of the workers, Mr John
McRae, made detailed notes about the vessel - its size and clinker design (built with
overlapping planks) - and noted its location before it was covered over. In 1991 his son - also
John - compiled the notes together into a report with a sketch (Fig 2), and presented it to
Liverpool Museum (now National Museums: Liverpool) in 1991, after which the information
was entered by an assitant curator into the Sites and Monuments Record [1]. No further
action was taken. 

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

Artist’s impression of the viking camp established in 873 at Repton (Derbyshire, England). Compost Creative, Author provided Hideouts, harbours and homes: how vikings may have owed their success to their encampments

Artist’s impression of the viking camp established in 873 at Repton (Derbyshire, England).
Compost Creative, Author provided

For many years, archaeologists and historians have provided an increasingly informed insight into the dynamic world of the vikings, chipping away at the clichés of a crazed, capricious people preoccupied with beards and bloodshed. One particular approach to understanding viking activity has been to study the encampments they set up along the coasts and rivers of western Europe, allowing them to substitute their ships for a fixed, onshore position whenever cold, fatigue, hunger, or other conditions compelled them to.

Often called “winter camps” or longphuirt, more than 100 of these sites were witnessed across the Atlantic archipelago and European mainland during the ninth century alone, and their tangible remains have been uncovered in places like Repton and Torksey in England, and Woodstown in Ireland. Most recently, potential viking encampments have also been pointed to near Zutphen in the Netherlands, as well as the Coquet Valley in Northumbria.

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Could there be a Viking boat buried underneath a Wirral pub carpark?

80 years ago when the pub was built, workers made a discovery which is thought could be a Viking boat

Dominga Dett, Chair of Wirral Archaeology said: "There has been intense local interest in this buried object for many years.

"It has been thought that the boat dates from the Viking era but no professional investigation has ever been carried out to establish the truth, so everyone is really delighted at the prospect of what we might discover."

Lisa Jones, General Manager at The Railway, said: "Team Railway is very happy to be part of this historic moment and supports the work of the archelogy group.

"There is a buzz and excitement around this and we look forward to finding out more about what is buried beneath the car park.

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Standing Swords

(Arkeologerna Statens historiska museer)Upright swords, Köping, Sweden

While excavating a Viking cemetery near the Swedish town of Köping, archaeologists discovered a pair of sword hilts protruding curiously from the earth. After further investigation, they determined that the handles belonged to Viking swords that had been thrust into the earth above two burials and had remained upright for 1,200 years. “Viking Age graves containing swords are very rare,” says Anton Seiler, an archaeologist working with Sweden’s National Historical Museums. “Graves where swords were set in a vertical position are even rarer.”

Because it would have taken a great amount of force to hammer the weapons through the soil and large stones that covered the burials, researchers do not believe the blades were in this position by chance. “It was clearly a conscious action,” Seiler says, though he is not certain why the swords were arranged in this unusual way. Perhaps, he says, it was a gesture meant to aid the deceased warriors’ journey to Valhalla. It also may have been a way of commemorating the dead. Family members visiting the graves would have been able to touch the sword handles, thereby maintaining a close connection with the departed.

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The boat was first discovered in 1938 by workmen, who partially exposed the vessel at the Railway Inn pub in Meols. The workmen reburied the boat after making several notes and sketches, with no further archaeological studies conducted until now.

A closer study of the sketches suggest that the boat is a clinker design (overlapping planks), technique that developed in the Nordic shipbuilding tradition, and was commonly used by the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians and Scandinavians.

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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Ewelme, Oxfordshire: The medieval almshouses set up by Chaucer’s grand-daughter and still running today

Country Life's 21st century Grand Tour of Britain stops off at the remarkable church and almshouses at Ewelme, Oxfordshire.

You feel you can almost touch the late Middle Ages at Ewelme. This small settlement near Wallingford, south of Oxford, is where William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Alice Chaucer — granddaughter of Geoffrey and a great heiress — maintained and extended their palace.

Although little remains of that splendid house, several other structures survive. Medieval manors were rather like camp sites, scattered with disparate structures. As the spirit world seemed almost as vivid as the material one, they needed a church or chapel in which to offer Divine Service.

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Greek Archaeologists Strike Over Newly Approved Law That Could Reshape Several Museums

Several well-attended museums in Greece closed this week as archaeologists in the country demonstrated in protest of a newly approved law that could permanently alter those institutions and reshape how looted antiquities are shown abroad.

The law would effectively make it so that the five museums in question—the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, the Byzantine and Christian Museum, the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture of Thessaloniki, and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, Crete—are split from control by the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The move would make it so that these museums are allowed to run more freely, but they will also have to undertake certain efforts on their own, most notably fundraising.

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Stunning reconstruction reveals 'lonely boy' with deformed skull who died in cave in Norway 8,300 years ago

Here we see a gif of a skull that gets muscles, eyes and finally hair and coloring added to it in 10 steps.It took Oscar Nilsson, a forensic artist based in Sweden, months to complete a reconstruction based on the boy's skull. (Image credit: Oscar Nilsson)

About 8,300 years ago, a teenage boy with an unusual skull and short stature may have scampered along the rocky coast of what is now Norway, pausing to regain his balance as he clutched a fishing rod. Now, a new full-body reconstruction of the Stone Age teenager — nicknamed Vistegutten, Norwegian for "the boy from Viste" — is on display at the Hå Gamle Prestegard museum in southern Norway.

The boy's reconstruction was a months-long project, but researchers have known about Vistegutten since 1907, when archaeologists found his remains in a Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, cave in Randaberg, along Norway's western coast. 

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Roman city uncovered by archeologists in Luxor

Luxor, which translates as “The Palaces” in Arabic, was formerly known as “The City of Hundred Doors” in ancient times. It is regarded by many as the world’s largest open-air museum due to the presence of some of the most majestic temples on a 417 sq km (161 sq mi) area, including the Valley of the Kings, the Karnak Temple, Queen Hatshepsut Temple, and the Luxor Temple, which houses some of the most extraordinary ruins and artifacts. Luxor is a portion of the ancient city of Thebes and is situated in the southern region of Upper Egypt on the east bank of the Nile River. Luxor served as both the nation’s capital under the New Kingdom and was regarded as a very significant city in ancient Egypt.

Millions of tourists come to the city from around the world to see this amazing beauty. Over 500,000 people still live in the city in an active population who are almost exclusively reliant on tourism. Luxor experiences an extremely hot and sunny environment, with summertime highs of 40 C (104 F) and wintertime lows of 22 C (71.6 F).

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How medieval monasteries survived Viking raids

Lyminge Archaeology | Twitter | Fair Use

Archaeologists now claim that English monasteries were more resilient to Viking attacks than previously thought.

The monastery of Lyminge is known for being an Anglo-Saxon royal monastery. Archaeological research demonstrates that Lyminge is one of the best preserved monastic sites in Kent – a region where Christianity first gained a foothold in Anglo-Saxon England. Because of its importance, it was repeatedly attacked by Vikings, until Alfred the Great won a decisive victory in the Battle of Edington (878) and made an agreement with the Vikings, dividing England between Anglo-Saxon territories and the Viking-ruled Danelaw. Alfred also oversaw the conversion of the Danish Viking warlord Guthrum to Christianity, and soon became the dominant ruler in England, even taking London back from its Viking occupants.

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Welcome to Roman Times!

Roman Times is a new organization dedicated to exploring life in the ancient Roman Empire. Our mission is to foster and perpetuate an appreciation and knowledge of the history, culture, and greatness of the ancient Roman Empire; educating both members and the public through living history events, workshops and research into the daily lives and material culture of the soldiers and civilians of ancient Rome and the cultures with which they interacted. History does not have to be boring, especially when it is interactive. Much has been written and shown in movies (often more fiction than fact) and media series about the people of ancient Rome. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in ancient Rome; then this experience is for you. Roman Times provides the opportunity for history to come alive. An opportunity for you to wear the clothes, the armor, or use the tools used by ancient Romans. Our immersion events allow you to do all of this while learning about the life of Roman soldiers, citizens, those who became Roman citizens, or opposed Roman rule.

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Monday, February 13, 2023

Never-Before-Seen Minoan Artifacts Exhibited in Oxford Museum

Minoan ladies women artifact Never-Before-See Minoan Artifacts Exhibited in Oxford’s Museum. Credit: ArchaiOptix / Wkimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 

Over a hundred Minoan artifacts that have never left Crete and Greece before -including some which have never been displayed anywhere- launched on February 10 at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

Labyrinth – Knossos, Myth and Reality is the first UK exhibition focusing on Knossos, the center of the Minoan civilization, which had been excavated by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th century.

The selection of Minoan artifacts, many of which were discovered after World War II, has been lent by the Archaeological Museum and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion, Crete, and will be exhibited until July 30, 2023, alongside discoveries from the Ashmolean’s Sir Arthur Evans Archive.

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Fishbourne Roman Palace starts brush-up for 2,000-year-old mosaics

Mosaic of Cupid riding on a dolphin, which was first laid in AD150, at Fishbourne Roman Palace in Chichester. (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

The world-renowned mosaics at Fishbourne Roman Palace are getting a spruce-up ahead of the heritage site reopening on Saturday.

The site, near Chichester, West Sussex, is home to the largest collection of in-situ Roman mosaics in the country.

With the attraction due to reopen to the public on February 11, a team of conservators has been delicately cleaning the 2,000-year-old decorative floors.

Each of the 29 mosaics takes up to 10 hours to clean as a small fine brush is used to sweep the dust away, charity Sussex Past, which owns the site, said.

Fishbourne Roman Palace curator Dr Rob Symmons said: “We’re proud to be the guardians of probably the finest collection of in-situ mosaics in the country.

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What Was the Role of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople?

The Theodosian Walls of Constantinople were one of the most powerful defensive structures from ancient and medieval times. Built in the early fifth century AD, during the reign of emperor Theodosius II (thus the name), the Theodosian Walls fulfilled their primary task for a thousand years. They protected the city of Constantinople, the capital of the Medieval Roman Empire, better known as the Byzantine Empire. However, the Theodosian Walls were more than a defensive bulwark. Their mighty appearance marked the boundaries of the “Queen of the Cities” – Constantinople.

The walls also had a ceremonial role in the imperial, military and religious processions that passed throughout the city. Lastly, the Theodosian walls symbolized the power and endurance of the Empire. In their long history, only once did the enemy breach the walls. When that occurred in 1453, the Roman Empire fell with them.

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The world's oldest rune stone was found sticking out of the ground. Here’s how researchers figured out how old it is

 The Svingerud stone is marked in this photo with a red ring. The photograph shows the way it stuck out in the excavation field. (Photo: KHM)

The Museum of Cultural History in Oslo recently announced that they had found the world's oldest rune stone during an excavation in 2021.

The roughly 1,800-2,000-year-old stone is called the Svingerud stone, and was found during an excavation of several grave fields near Tyrifjord, west of Oslo. The stone's name comes from this location.

The archaeologists were not aware of what they had found until the stone was examined later. The Svingerud stone is about the size of a large book, and someone has neatly carved runes into the stone.

“It is surprising that there are so many inscriptions on such an old stone, and there are also traces of shallow inscriptions in the Svingerud stone,” said Kristel Zilmer to Zilmer is Professor of Written Culture and Iconography at the Museum of Cultural History (KHM).

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Sunday, February 12, 2023

Skegriedösen (Skegrie Dolmen) – 5,000-Year-Old Stone Chamber Tomb In Southern Sweden

Skegrie megalith grave in Skåne, Sweden. Image credit: Jorchr - CC BY-SA 3.0

Megalithic graves appeared more or less simultaneously in southern Sweden and were first used around 3500–3300 cal BC.

In comparison with other countries, Sweden has only about a hundred dolmens, mainly in Skåne, Halland, and Bohuslän. From the beginning, Sweden certainly possessed many more of them. Today, the existing number of these structures constitutes only a tiny part of what once existed.

No one knows precisely how these massive stones were moved and laid in their place.

Today we visit Skegriedösen (Skegrie Dolmen), located in Skegrie Parish in Trelleborg, Skåne, Sweden's most southern county. This dolmen (in Swedish - 'dös') is a stone chamber grave from the Neolithic times.

What we see today are the large boulders. All organic building materials such as reeds, birch bark, cloth, animal skins, and wood have disappeared over time.

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Saturday, February 11, 2023

Viking Games: 9 Nordic Ways to Pass the Time

In the twelfth century CE, a young Norwegian Kali Kolsson ventured to Orkney. Eager to prove his worth, he listed his nine skills: “I am quick at playing chess…I hardly forget runes, I am often at either a book or craftsmanship. I am able to glide on skis, I shoot and row so it makes a difference, I understand both the playing of the harp and poetry.” Kolsson’s skills share similarities with the traditional pastimes of the Viking Age (c. 793-1066 CE). As demonstrated by Kolsson, Viking games served as more than just a good time, they offered training in strategy in a volatile medieval world.

1. Medieval Board Games: Unique Viking Games

The Old Norse word tafl figures prominently in Viking lore. Tafl translates to table and often refers to table-based games or board games. Various game boards and pieces have been found throughout the Viking world. These games seem to have been strategy games, but the rules have yet to be found. Game boards seem to have been typically made of wood, but their sizes varied considerably. Vikings marked many game boards with squares like a checkers or chess board while others had round peg holes.

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Friday, February 10, 2023

9 Surprises Viking Beads Reveal About Their World

The Vikings, masters of the seas and terror of medieval Europe, made and amassed thousands of viking beads that reveal surprising insights into their priorities and ambitions.

The Vikings are known for many things — raiding, trading, sailing, stealing, and fighting — but not beads. Yet, viking beads dominate the archaeological record in excavations of the Viking world. Easily overshadowed by the Vikings’ grand ships and (historically inaccurate) horned helmets, beads traveled with the Vikings around the world. Viking beads retain insights about the Norse world and what it meant to be a marauding trader, thief, and explorer in the volatile medieval world.

1. Viking Beads Show a Mastery of Craft

She was a witch! Maybe. Archaeologists discovered a woman buried in a cist grave on the Isle of Man in 1984. They named her the “Pagan Lady of Peel,” after discovering an iron rod wrapped in a goose wing and herbs placed beside her. At first, they called the rod a cooking spit. After further reflection, archaeologists suggested that the cooking spit might be a ritual staff. The Pagan Lady of Peel quickly gained renown as a Viking sorceress, though her true identity remains a mystery.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

What Was Justinian’s “Reconquest”?

Detail of the mosaic showing the emperor Justinian I, 6th century CE, Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna

The Wars That Made Justinian’s Reconquest Possible

Since the mid-fifth century CE, and the fall of Rome, the emperors in Constantinople dreamed of the reconquest of the former Roman territories lost to the barbarian kingdoms. However, the constant threat from Sassanid Persia in the East and the barbarian incursions at the Danubian frontier tied down most of the troops. All that changed during the reign of emperor Justinian I. His predecessors left Justinian with a full treasury, a stable government, and a disciplined, professional army. Justinian also inherited the war against Persia, a traditional rival of the Roman Empire since the times of Crassus. However, the Roman victories at Dara and Satala led to the “Eternal Peace” with Persia in 532 CE. Justinian could finally focus on his lifelong aim – the reconquest of the Roman West.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire

The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire

By Tore Skeie

Pushkin Press
ISBN: 978-1-78227-835-1

This book focuses on the Norse history in England from the mid-10th to mid-11th centuries. Scandinavia, Normandy and other lands also appear in its pages, but the main story details the campaigns and battles of various Viking leaders in Britain, ultimately leading to the reign of Cnut as King of England.

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Is there any evidence that Iceland had human habitation prior to the arrival of Europeans?


The conventional date given for the settlement of Iceland is 874, plus or minus a couple of years. In terms of evidence of human activity before settlement, yes there may be. But don’t let your imagination run away from you: there are several caveats.

To speak first of historical evidence, there are references in medieval Icelandic literature to people called the “Papar,” an Icelandic name likely referring to the pope.  This name refers to a group of Irish monks who supposedly settled parts of Iceland, including the island of “Papey.” There is no archaeological evidence of their dwellings, only some historical and literary references in the medieval material. In Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), these mysterious monks were said to have left behind relics like books and croziers, departing the country upon the arrival of the Norse settlers. While there are many examples of Irish monks from the early medieval period looking for isolation in remote environments, some scholars have more recently interpreted the Papar as a literary trope, by which medieval Christian Icelanders tried to re-write Christianity into their pagan past.

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