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…

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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."

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.”

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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. 

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...



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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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. 

Read the rest of this article...

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).

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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).

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

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.

Read the rest of this article...

Friday, February 03, 2023


Image Credit : Shutterstock

Commonly depicted as being fearless, brutal warriors, Vikings were also accomplished farmers, and fishermen. They grew all types of grains, including wheat, oats, barley and rye, and tended to orchards to provide fresh apples, plums and cherries.

In the family social structure, the man generally worked the farm and fished during the day, while the woman cared for the household, children and animals, and delt with most other aspects of domestic home life.

Mealtime was usually twice a day, the first being in the morning (dagmal) and when the day’s work was done (nattmal). Existing as an agricultural society, the typical Viking diet was well rounded and included an abundance of meat, vegetables, fruits and grains. Reindeer, goat, elk, mutton, poultry and fowl were readily available, but beef, lamb and pork were the preferred choice in a Viking household.

Read the rest of this article...

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Nearly 600 obsidian handaxes from 1.2 million years ago found in Ethiopia show early humans were smarter than we think

Credit: FrankvandenBergh / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A trove of nearly 600 obsidian handaxes, dating back at least 1.2 million years, has been unearthed in Ethiopia, indicating the presence of a prehistoric “knapping workshop”.

Knapping is the technique used to create handaxes, which are often referred to as humanity’s “first great invention.”

Made by chipping shards off a piece of stone to make a sharp edge, handaxes were not attached to handles, but held in the hand. They have a distinctive teardrop or pear shape. They were made out of flint or, later, obsidian – a type of volcanic glass.

The first handaxes in the palaeontological record date back to at least 1.5 million years ago and were found in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge. Handaxes are believed to have spread throughout Africa, south Asia, the Middle East and Europe around 500,000 years ago. They were still being made as recently as 40,000 years ago.

Read the rest of this article...

Did Humanity Really Arise in One Place?

San hunter-gatherers—descended from the oldest distinct lineage of Homo sapiens—are one of many communities helping to rewrite the story of humanity’s origins.
Martin Harvey/Getty Images

New evidence is prompting researchers to rethink Homo sapiens’ origin story—and what it means to be human.

AS A UNIVERSITY STUDENT in the early 2010s, I recall how beautifully simple our origin story was: Homo sapiens evolved in East African savannas around 150,000 years ago. Then, sometime around 70,000 years ago, a mutation occurred that endowed these individuals with the capacity for complex, symbolic behavior. This set them apart from any other species and allowed them to leave Africa and take over the world, replacing all other humans they encountered.

This “East Side Story” made sense, based on major finds in the 20th century. The oldest fully modern H. sapiens skulls, dating to at least 233,000 years ago, were found in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. “Lucy,” the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, was also unearthed in Ethiopia. The earliest stone tools, dated to 3.3 million years old, were discovered in Kenya.

Neanderthals hunted enormous elephants that fed 100 people for a month

The extinct straight-tusked elephant was even larger than modern African elephants, making it unclear if Neanderthal hunters could take one down, but a newly analysed trove of bones suggests it was possible

Neanderthals regularly hunted and butchered elephants in Europe thousands of years ago, according to an analysis of marks made by stone tools on a trove of bones.

The find suggests the ancient humans either lived in larger groups than previously suspected or that they had ways of processing the flesh so it didn’t spoil, says Wil Roebroeks at Leiden University in the Netherlands, given the amount of meat involved. “These elephants are really big calorie bombs.”

There has long been debate over whether Neanderthals, distant cousins of modern humans, could have hunted the straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). These extinct giants stood 4 metres tall, making them larger than modern African elephants and woolly mammoths.

Read the rest of this article...

Viking warriors sailed the seas with their pets, bone analysis finds

A Viking burial mound at Heath Wood being excavated.
(Image credit: Julian Richards, University of York)

A Viking cemetery in England doesn't just hold the cremated remains of these warriors but also the beloved animals they brought from Scandinavia.

When the Vikings sailed west to England more than a millennium ago, they brought their animal companions with them and even cremated their bodies alongside human ones in a blazing pyre before burying them together, a new study finds. 

These animal and human remains were found in a unique cremation cemetery in central England that has long been assumed to hold the remains of Vikings — in particular, the warriors who sailed west to raid the countryside in the ninth century A.D. However, the new analysis revealed that several of the burial mounds didn't contain just the remains of humans but also those of domesticated animals that the warriors brought with them on their journey.

Read the rest of this article...

In pictures: Shetland's Up Helly Aa Viking fire festival

Shetland's famous Up Helly Aa fire festival - with women and girls in the torchlit procession for the first time - has witnessed the burning of a replica Viking galley light up the Lerwick sky.

Up Helly Aa - the biggest fire festival in Europe - is traditionally held on the last Tuesday in January.

The 142-year-old event sees people celebrate Shetland's Norse heritage.

Females have traditionally been restricted to participating as hostesses - organising the all-night parties that take place in community halls across the Shetland capital.

However, organisers agreed to lift the gender restrictions for the main procession. The decision followed a campaign dating back to the 1980s.

Read the rest of this article...

Perception versus reality: Implications of elephant hunting by Neanderthals

Reconstruction of Pleistocene hominins exploiting an elephant.

Neanderthals hunted elephants at Neumark-Nord 1 (Germany), a finding that has major implications for our understanding of social and cultural aspects of Neanderthal behavior.

Few members of the hominin lineage have been more maligned in popular culture than Neanderthals. From their discovery and the earliest depictions of Neanderthals at the turn of the 20th century, there has been an “othering” of our closest hominin cousins, to the extent that calling someone a cave man or Neanderthal is taken as an insult that implies being stupid or backward. Scientists have not been immune to this, and, indeed, many have pushed aspects of the incompetent Neanderthal trope through much of the 20th century [e.g., (1)]. However, some researchers voiced the need to moderate the conversation, and by the 1990s, many archaeologists began to characterize Neanderthals as successful big game hunters (2). This view, though, did not seem to extend beyond standard large game on the European landscape (e.g., horses, cattle, and deer).

Read the rest of this article...

Viking gods, goddesses & tricksters: 12 figures from Norse mythology

Norse mythology is filled with fascinating figures which hold a mirror up to the societies that created their legends. From Odin, a one-eyed ruler who sought arcane knowledge, to Hel, keeper of the underworld – we take a closer look at the gods and goddesses of Viking lore…

Before the existence of humanity, there was the Ginnungagap, a great chasm which yawned between two realms of legend: the ice of Niflheim and the fiery Muspelheim. When the borders of the two lands of legend clashed in the void, they formed a burning frost, from which were born the first gods of the Vikings.

So held the pagan beliefs of many Norse societies between the eighth and 11th centuries. In the near-millennium that has passed since the end of the Viking age, such myths and stories have evolved and merged to become fixtures of today’s popular culture – from Thor’s mighty hammer to the notion of Valhalla.

Read the rest of this article...

Vikings brought their animals to England, research suggests

Excavations at Heath Wood in Derbyshire, the only known large-scale Viking cremation site in the British Isles. Photograph: Handout

Experts find evidence at Derbyshire cremation site of horses and dogs originating from the Baltic Shield

When the Vikings arrived in England they didn’t just bring their helmets, axes and beards –they also brought their horses and dogs, research suggests.

Experts studying cremated remains associated with the Viking great army that invaded England in AD865, say they have found evidence of animals and humans travelling from the Baltic Shield – a geographical area that encompasses Finland and parts of Norway, Sweden and Russia.

“It’s the first scientific proof that the Vikings did bring their animals with them from Scandinavia,” said Prof Julian Richards, co-author of the study from the University of York.

“It’s so nice to have this scientific evidence for something we see later in the Bayeux tapestry with the Normans disembarking the fleet, but this is 200 years earlier.”

Writing in the journal Plos One, Richards and colleagues describe how they analysed the ratio of different strontium isotopes in cremated remains found at the barrow cemetery at Heath Wood, Derbyshire.

Read the rest of this article...

Vikings brought horses and dogs to England, cremated bones confirm

Excavations at Heath Wood in England
Julian Richards, University of York

The first physical proof that Vikings brought horses and dogs to England has been unearthed

Archaeologists have uncovered the first physical evidence that confirms some Vikings shipped their own horses and dogs from Scandinavia to England.

The animal bone evidence comes from a burial mound at the only known Viking cremation cemetery in the British Isles. The Heath Wood cemetery – located in what is now Derbyshire in central England – is believed to be a burial ground for the first large Viking army to travel to the country.

Read the rest of this article...

First Solid Scientific Evidence That Vikings Brought Animals To Britain

Viking burial mound at Heath Wood, Derbyshire, UK, being excavated.
Credit: Julian Richards, University of York.

Archaeologists have found what they say is the first solid scientific evidence suggesting that Vikings crossed the North Sea to Britain with dogs and horses.

Research led by Durham University, UK, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium, examined human and animal remains from Britain's only known Viking cremation cemetery at Heath Wood, in Derbyshire.

Scientists looked at strontium isotopes contained within the remains. Strontium is a natural element found in different ratios across the world and provides a geographical fingerprint for human and animal movements.

Their analysis showed that within the context of the archaeology, one human adult and several animals almost certainly came from the Baltic Shield area of Scandinavia, covering Norway and central and northern Sweden, and died soon after arrival in Britain.

The researchers say this suggests that Vikings were not only stealing animals when they arrived in Britain, as accounts from the time describe, but were also transporting animals from Scandinavia, too.

Read the rest of this article...

Study: Some Vikings Brought Horses and Dogs To Britain

Cremation leaves behind bone fragments like these, which can still reveal information about their geographic origin, if not much else.Julian Richards, University of York

The bones of one dead warrior and their animals may shed new light on the Viking Great Army’s logistics.

When the army of (mostly) Scandinavian warriors landed in East Anglia in 865 CE, they came to plunder — and they were equally happy to fight or to extort the locals. The king of East Anglia, Edmund the Martyr, apparently gave the Viking Great Army horses in return for not having to fight the Vikings, and unleashing them on neighboring, rival kingdoms like Mercia and Wessex. Elsewhere, the Vikings were said to steal horses and whatever else they wanted.

Based on historical descriptions like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it sounds like the Viking Great Army’s approach to logistical planning was “we’ll just steal it when we get there.” But recent archaeological evidence suggests that at least some Vikings brought animals like horses, dogs, and maybe even pigs with them on their campaign to Britain.

Durham University archaeologist Tessi Löffelmann and her colleagues published their findings in a recent paper in the journal PLOS ONE.

What’s new — Wherever you go in the world, the bedrock beneath your feet has a particular ratio of different isotopes of the element strontium. That isotopic ratio gives the place a chemical fingerprint that’s shared by plants that grow in the soil, animals that eat the plants and drink the water, and other animals that eat those animals. Once it’s in the body, strontium can fill in for calcium in your bones, so that if you’ve in a place long enough, its geology becomes part of your bones.

Read the rest of this article...