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.