Friday, May 19, 2023

A Centuries-Old Mystery: Did This Elusive Viking City Exist?

A recreated “Slavs and Viking” settlement, with medieval craft demonstrations, re-enactments and guided tours in Wolin, Poland.Credit...Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Was a “medieval New York” called Jomsborg a literary fantasy or a historical reality? New archaeological discoveries may provide a clue.

After the local government decided to build an observation tower atop a sandy hill on Wolin, an island in the Baltic Sea, a Polish archaeologist was called in to check the site before construction and look for buried artifacts from the spot’s macabre past.

Hangmen’s Hill, a public park, had in earlier times been an execution ground, a cemetery and, some believe, a place for human sacrifices — so who knew what grisly discoveries were in store?

But what the archaeologist, Wojciech Filipowiak, found when he started digging caused more excitement than distaste: charcoaled wood indicating the remains of a 10th-century stronghold that could help solve one of the great riddles of the Viking Age.

Was a fearsome fortress mentioned in ancient texts a literary fantasy or a historical reality?

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Monday, May 08, 2023

Viking Burial Goods: 10 Exotic Items the Vikings Took to Valhalla

According to The Saga of the Ynglings, Odin ordered mortal Vikings to bury the dead accordingly: “He decreed that the dead were all to be cremated along with their possessions and said that everyone should arrive in Valhalla with the riches from his funeral pyre, and with the treasures he had hidden in the earth.”

Harnessing sails and ships, medieval Scandinavians explored the world, amassing treasures from faraway places. These exotic Viking burial goods preserve tales of exploration and adventure.

1. Glass Vessels in Viking Burials

On the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren, the Vikings built a trading and manufacturing settlement called Birka. Thousands of people were buried at Birka from the late ninth to the tenth centuries. The graves contained an assortment of grave goods.

Archaeologists found glass vessels from the Rhineland, France, and the British Isles inside the Birka graves. Making glass vessels was an expensive and time-consuming process. Vikings did not make their own glass drinking vessels and had to import glass cups from other places in Europe and the Near East. These items were so important to the Vikings that they took glass goblets to the grave just like other treasures of more obvious importance.

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Is There Something Fishy About Radiocarbon Dating?

A map of the route taken by the Viking Great Heathen Army.
Hel-hama, own work, via Wikipedia

The Vikings started out as raiders, but then, in the way of these things, ended up as rulers, and their influence stretched from Greenland to what is now Russia. They first enter English history in 793, with the sacking of the Monastery of Lindisfarne. By the late 9th century, they were colonising Iceland, and serving as mercenaries to the Emperor of Byzantium. In 862, Vikings under Rurik established themselves in Novgorod, forming the nucleus of what would become Kyivan Rus. In 885, Vikings besieged Paris, and although they were beaten back settled in what is now Normandy (Norman, Northmen). In 865, the Viking Great Heathen Army arrived in England, and a year later, under Ivar the Boneless, captured York, which would remain their capital in England until the defeat of Eric Bloodaxe in at 954.

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Thursday, May 04, 2023

Seemingly 'empty' burial mound is hiding a 1,200-year-old Viking ship

The ship-shaped signals from ground-penetrating radar were detected in 2022 during excavations of burial mounds on the island of Karmøy, in southwest Norway.
(Image credit: Theo B. Gill – The Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger)

Ground-penetrating radar has revealed the outline of a Viking ship in a mound in southwest Norway that was once thought to be empty.

A Viking Age burial mound in Norway long thought to be empty actually holds an incredible artifact: the remains of a ship burial, according to a ground-penetrating radar analysis.

The remains, which are still underground, indicate that a ship burial took place during the late eighth century A.D., the very start of the Viking Age (A.D. 793 to 1066). If confirmed, it would be the third early Viking ship burial found in the area, on the coast of the island of Karmøy in southwestern Norway, a region that may be the origin of Viking culture.

"This is a very strategic point, where maritime traffic along the Norwegian coast was controlled," Håkon Reiersen(opens in new tab), an archaeologist at the University of Stavanger in Norway, told Live Science. Reiersen works for the university's Museum of Archaeology and led the team that made the discovery last year, near the village of Avaldsnes.

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Image Credit : Eva Gjerde - Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger


The mound was first investigated over a century ago by the archaeologist, Haakon Shetelig, however, excavations at the time showed no evidence to indicate that a ship was buried in situ.

“He was incredibly disappointed, and nothing more was done with this mound,” says Håkon Reiersen, an archaeologist at the Museum of Archaeology at the University of Stavanger.

Archaeologists returned to the mound in June 2022 to conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey (GPR), a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface and detect archaeological features.

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Rare, 1,000-year-old Viking Age iron hoard found in basement in Norway

The Viking hoard consists of 32 iron ingots, which are all pierced with a hole on one end and may have been grouped together in a bundle. (Image credit: Mildri Een Eide)

Forty years after her father stored them away, a woman discovered 32 identical iron ingots that Vikings may have used as a form of currency

A rare stash of 1,000-year-old ironwork, which sat for 40 years in a family's basement in Norway, is now seeing the light of day after a woman discovered the hoard during some spring cleaning. 

The hoard consists of 32 iron ingots that look like small spatulas and date back to the Viking Age (A.D. 793 to 1066) or high Middle Ages (1066 to 1350). The rods are identical and weigh about 1.8 ounces (50 grams) each, prompting archeologists to think they may have been used as a form of currency and that someone probably buried them with the intention of coming back for the treasure later.

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How Accurate Are the Viking Sagas?

The Viking sagas are deeply compelling mythologies, but epics like the Volsunga saga also preserve some elements of historical fact.

Almost a thousand years after stories of the Germanic Burgundians were first told, an unknown Icelandic scribe wrote down an accurate description of the events and personages of the 5th century CE, based only on the legends of his people. This incredible feat of oral history was powerful — and to understand its implications, we have to get inside the heads of the Christian Icelanders who looked to their pagan past for a proud literary tradition. Here, we shall attempt to do just that, examining just how accurate the Viking sagas really are.

What Are the Viking Sagas?

At their simplest, the Viking sagas are a body of literature that was mostly written by Icelanders in the 13th century CE. Saga is an Old Norse word meaning “a thing that is said” — it’s roughly analogous to the ancient Greek muthon (“things that are said”, from where we get our word myth), as opposed to ergon (“things that are done”). Thus, we can broadly conceive of the sagas as oral tales about a central figure or figures that recount the deeds of characters from Viking mythology and history. As we shall see, debate still rages as to whether the Norse themselves made a meaningful distinction between these two modern categories — myth and history.

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How Were Viking Ships Built and Buried?

In 793, the monks of Lindisfarne watched in horror as men invaded their holy place. They were under attack. There had been rumors of pirates in nearby Kent, but this was the first time the monks at Lindisfarne had come face-to-face with the raiders. The strangers plundered the monastery of everything valuable and left the edifice covered in the blood of the priests. Then the invaders returned to their ships and sailed away.

Their fine vessels would take the Vikings through Europe, the Baltic, and the Near East, allowing the Norse to establish trading ports and conquer foreign kingdoms. The ships would also allow the Vikings to colonize Greenland and Iceland. Always the ship carried the Vikings onward. Viking ships represented technical innovation and became monuments to honored leaders, ensuring the iconic legacy of the Vikings.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2023

New Genetic Study of Scotland’s Picts

A new genetic study has offered insight into the geographic origins and social organization of the Picts of Scotland, according to a report from Live Science. The Picts’ name is derived from the Latin word picti and references their use of body paint or tattoos. In the third century A.D., they fought off the Romans and established a kingdom in northern Britain that survived until around A.D. 900. Little is known of the Picts, but early medieval historians suggested they came from the Aegean Sea or Eastern Europe and that they traced their descent through their mother’s side. The new study, led by Adeline Morez of Liverpool John Moores University and Linus Girdland-Flink of the University of Aberdeen, analyzed genetic material from eight skeletons—seven from the Lundin Links cemetery and one from the Balintore cemetery, both in present-day Scotland.

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DNA study sheds light on Scotland’s Picts, and resolves some myths about them

The people known as the Picts have puzzled archaeologists and historians for centuries. They lived in Scotland during the early medieval period, from around AD300 to AD900, but many aspects of their society remain mysterious.

The Picts’ unique cultural characteristics, such as large stones decorated with distinct symbols, and lack of written records, have led to numerous theories about their origins, way of life, and culture.

This is commonly referred to in archaeology as the “Pictish problem”, a term popularised by the title of a 1955 edited book by the archaeologist Frederick Threlfall Wainwright.

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The Shadowy Kingdom Of Gewissae, Britain’s First Kings

Gewissae was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom that ruled much of southern Britain from the fifth to the seventh centuries as the island began forging a new identity in the aftermath of Roman occupation. Beginning with the fabled reign of the mysterious Germanic invader Cerdic and ending with the documented conquests of Cædwalla, the Gewissae straddled the murky line between myth and history and as such, many of the dates discussed have been the subject of intense historical debate and should not be viewed as definitive fact.

Cerdic and Cynric

The first recorded king of the Gewissae was Cerdic, an obscure individual allegedly of Germanic stock said to be directly related to Gewis, a mythological founding figure. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle , Cerdic and his son Cynric first arrived in southern Britain at a place called Cerdicesora in 495 with five ships. Later on in 508 a great battle involving an indigenous British ruler called Natanleod is recorded, with Cerdic and his son emerging triumphant. For the next decade or so, the pair established themselves in the region though military force and became kings in 519 after defeating the British at Cerdicesford, a settlement which has since been identified as Charford in Hampshire.

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Tiny Bead, Found In Bulgaria, Is World's Oldest Gold

Every year, we discover something about our history on the planet through excavations around the world. In one such excavation, archaeologists found what may be the world’s oldest gold dating back to 4,500 B.C. The gold bead found was an eighth of an inch found in Bulgaria and it might be the oldest processed gold ever discovered in Europe and probably the world.

Reuters reported in 2016 that the bead predates the previous oldest gold object, the Varna Gold, which is a cache of gold found in a necropolis outside the Black Sea port of Varna. The Varna Gold cache was found between 1972 and 1991 and weighed about 5.8 kilograms. However, the new bead found in Bulgaria pushes the mystery back another 200 years.

Yavor Boyadzhiev, professor at the Bulgarian Academy of Science and in charge of the dig told Krasimiov, “I do not doubt that it is older than the Varna gold. It’s a really important discovery. It is a tiny piece of gold but big enough to find its place in history.”

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Researchers discover what triggered Earth's last ice age

At the beginning of the last ice, local mountain glaciers grew and formed large ice sheets, like the one seen here. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

For quite some time, paleo-climate specialists have been perplexed by two enigmas: What was the origin of the ice sheets that defined the final ice age, and how could they expand so rapidly?

A fresh research conducted by the University of Arizona's experts suggests a plausible explanation for the swift expansion of the ice sheets that coated a considerable portion of the Northern Hemisphere during the last ice age. Furthermore, the study's findings may be applicable to other glacial periods in the Earth's past.

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The puzzle of Neanderthal aesthetics

Surprising new insights into the minds of this extinct human species suggest they may have been far more cultured than their outdated brutish reputation once suggested. But getting into the minds of a long-dead species is no easy task.

Sometime between 135,000-50,000 years ago, hands slick with animal blood carried more than 35 huge horned heads into a small, dark, winding cave. Tiny fires were lit amidst a boulder-jumbled floor, and the flame-illuminated chamber echoed to dull pounding, cracking and squelching sounds as the skulls of bison, wild cattle, red deer and rhinoceros were smashed open.

This isn't the gory beginning of an ice age horror novel, but the setting for a fascinating Neanderthal mystery. At the start of 2023 researchers announced that a Spanish archaeological site known as Cueva Des-Cubierta (a play on "uncover" and "discover") held an unusually large number of big-game skulls. All were fragmented but their horns or antlers were relatively intact, and some were found near to traces of hearths.

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Video – Viking Age fortresses on the North Frisian islands

The Borgsumburg on the North Frisian island Föhr.

The recording of April’s research seminar, featuring Dr Martin Segschneider on the Viking Age fortifications in Germany’s North Frisian Islands.

The two well-preserved, circular ramparts Borgsumburg and Tinnumburg were something of an enigma for decades as little was known about their structure, role and archaeological context.

But recent rescue excavations, aerial photography and geophysical survey have remedied the situation dramatically, leading to a research project focusing on Viking Age merchant sites in the vicinity of the fortifications and a second focusing on the ramparts themselves.

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Beowulf was connected to King Cnut, study finds

When King Cnut sailed to Denmark in 1019, did he bring a copy of Beowulf with him? That is the theory put forward in a new article on why the famous Old English poem was written in the early years of the 11th century.

Beowulf is only found in one copy: the Nowell Codex, which is now kept at the British Library. In his article, “Behold the Front Page: Cnut and the Scyldings in Beowulf,” the historian Richard North argues that this manuscript was at least partially written after Cnut became King of England in 1016. Moreover, the Norse leader and his entourage took a keen interest in the story, using it to develop a claim to the throne of Denmark.

Set hundreds of years in the past, Beowulf tells the story of a hero arriving to help Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, defeat the monster Grendel. Beowulf slays Grendel, then Grendel’s mother, before returning home to Geatland and becoming King of the Geats. Many years later, Beowulf also defeats a dragon, but at the cost of his own life.

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Stolen coins reveals King Alfred had help from ally to stop Vikings ruling England

Alfred was the king of Wessex and then later king of the Anglo-Saxons, and his grandson Æthelstan was the first 'King of the English' (Image: HampshireLive - Grahame Larter)

Alfred, who is widely regarded as the first person to be king of the English, may have been assisted by fellow leader Ceolwulf in his struggle against Viking marauders

Alfred the Great was helped on his way to legendary status by a fellow leader he refused to give credit to and allowed to be written out of history, experts now believe.

Images on medieval coins found in a stolen haul suggest King of Wessex Alfred, who stopped the Vikings in their tracks and paved the way for the formation of England, was in a years-long alliance with Ceolwulff II, King of Mercia.

A silver ‘Two Emperor’ penny from 870 AD shows the pair together, suggesting they were strong allies.

But Ceolwulf was later mocked by scribes loyal to Alfred as being a puppet of the Vikings.

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Double hoard of Viking treasure discovered near Harald Bluetooth's fort in Denmark

 Archaeologists say Harald Bluetooth paid his men and the Danish aristocracy with "cross coins" and thereby spread knowledge of the new Christian religion throughout the region. On this side of the silver coin there are several runes. (Image credit: Nordjyske Museer, Denmark)

Silver coins and jewelry unearthed from a field on the Jutland peninsula in Denmark are revealing new insight into the reign and religious ambitions of the powerful Viking king Harald Bluetooth, according to archaeologists.

The objects — around 300 pieces of silver, including about 50 coins and cut-up jewelry — were discovered late last year by a local archaeology group surveying a farm northeast of the town of Hobro and near Fyrkat, a ring fort built by Harald Bluetooth in about A.D. 980. 

Excavations show that the valuables were originally buried in two hoards about 100 feet (30 meters) apart, probably beneath two now long-gone buildings. Since then, these hoards have been spread around by farm machinery.

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