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Viking-Era Discoveries & Theories

Viking gold unearthed by treasure hunter in County Down

Tom Crawford found the ingot in Brickland last year

A treasure hunter armed with a metal detector has unearthed a rare piece of Viking gold that is more than 1,000 years old.

Tom Crawford was sweeping farmland in County Down last year when he found the small ingot which may have been used as currency during the 9th and 10th centuries.

Experts said only a few such nuggets had been found in Ireland.

Close by, he found a tiny silver ring brooch dating from medieval times.

"It is all part of the big jigsaw of the history of this country," he told an inquest in Belfast which was convened to establish if the find was treasure.

Later he added: "You would need hundreds of metal detectors to go over the fields but a lot of stuff could still be lying there."

Continue reading the main story
What is a treasure trove inquest?
Held to establish who found the artefact, when and where
Heard in front of a coroner
The coroner decides if the find constitute treasure under the Treasure Act 1996
Treasure must be at least 300 years old and have a metallic content of at least 10%
The sliver of metal, 86% gold but less than three centimetres long, was found at Brickland in County Down, a short distance from Loughbrickland which appeared to be the centre of an early medieval kingdom, the National Museums Northern Ireland said.

Written records say the Vikings plundered Loughbrickland in 833 AD.

An expert told the inquest that the gold may be a direct result of contact between locals and the Scandinavians.

Mr Crawford told coroner Suzanne Anderson how he had hunted for metal as a part-time hobby after retiring.

"It is exciting when you find something that you think could be old, there is always a lot of history behind the things, especially if you find a coin and see the figure and you can identify what year it is," he said.

The coroner ruled that the brooch and ingot constituted treasure.
One of the teachers at our university gave a lecture* a few weeks ago, and claims the Vikings were Scandinavian outlaws exiled from their lawful communities driven to the lawless edges of the lands, not mainstream citizens. They were criminals, and they were all men. He claims the reason they embarked in the first place was to plunder the women of the west and the looting and establishing of outposts was just a byproduct of that primary motivation. Unimaginable horror for those Angles and Saxons of the coasts once they learned what the boats meant. Awful bloody times.

*Also, I didn't know that the Normans were Viking-descended as well. Norman = North (Norse) Men. They really had it in for the Islanders.
Were the Vikings really so bloodthirsty?
By Tom de Castella
BBC News Magazine

Viking re-enactments

The Viking story has fascinated people for centuries. But as a major exhibition opens at the British Museum, have people got them all wrong?

The longships arrived on 8 June. The monks at Lindisfarne didn't know it then - the year was 793 - but it was the beginning of 300 years of bloody Viking raids on England.

"Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race," Alcuin of York wrote at the time. "The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets."

Over 12 centuries later and the Vikings are the subject of a major exhibition at the British Museum - and they still loom large in the imagination. Blond, powerfully built men with horned helmets, nostrils flaring with naked aggression, descending on settlements to rape and pillage.

That at least is the perception. But long-held views are being challenged.

Let's start with the helmets, so beloved of Scandinavian football fans. The Vikings never wore them. They have only been included in depictions since the 19th Century. Wagner celebrated Norse legend in his opera Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) and horned helmets were created as props for the performance of his Ring Cycle at the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876.

The horned helmet is based on historical fact, says Emma Boast from the Jorvik Centre, but it just wasn't a Viking thing. The British Museum has a ceremonial horned helmet from the Iron Age that was found in the River Thames. It is dated 150-50 BC.

The Vikings used horns in feasting for drinking and blew into them for communicating. They were depicted in Viking broaches and pendants. They weren't worn. And for battle it would have been a major encumbrance, adding weight to the helmet.

But today a child asked to draw a Viking will start with the horned helmet, Boast says. "I can understand that kids are drawn to that. It's so embedded with our society that I don't think we'll ever get rid of that. But actually there's a richer explanation."

With the new exhibition there has been soul-searching in the media. A recent New Statesman headline asked: "The Vikings invented soap operas and pioneered globalisation - so why do we depict them as brutes?"

Football fan
A Daily Telegraph reviewer - brought up on the idea of them as "all hirsute jowls and beady eyes bent on rape and pillage" - suspects that the new British Museum will be an exercise in academic debunking. "I will learn that these rapacious raiders were in fact vegetarians, that they maintained some of the leading universities of the day and, worst of all, that they did not wear horned helmets."

His tongue-in-cheek fears show that the British Museum has a difficult job on its hands. "The debate about whether the Vikings were cuddly or not has been going for a long time," says Matthew Townend, who teaches Old Norse at the University of York.

The classic view is that articulated in Hollywood's 1958 movie The Vikings. Starring Kirk Douglas, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, it opened with what one critic today describes as a "full-blooded depiction of rape, fire and pillage". At least there were no horns in evidence.

In the 1960s and 70s their portrayal as marauding barbarians was questioned. Academics pointed out that most of the written records for the Viking invasion of England were written by monks who, as the "victims", would not have been objective. Archaeology began to replace the Norse sagas - written several centuries later - as the most reliable evidence.

A crucial turning point came in the late 1970s. During the construction of a shopping centre in the Coppergate area of York, Viking homes, clothes, jewellery, and a helmet were found well preserved in the moist earth. It led to the creation of the city's Jorvik Centre. The Vikings became seen as domestic, family-oriented people.

"Until Coppergate our view of the Vikings was skewed," says Chris Tuckley, head of interpretation at the Jorvik Centre. The Viking makeover saw them transformed from bloodcurdling raiders into resourceful traders. A British Museum exhibition in 1980 - the last before this week's opening - reflected this view. They were poets. They wore leather shoes and combed their hair.

Vikings poster
On a trip to Dublin in 2007, Danish culture minister Brian Mikkelsen was reported to have apologised to the Irish people for what the Vikings had done. He later denied having said sorry, telling a Danish newspaper: "What I mentioned in my speech was 'it did a lot of damages to the Irish people', but we don't apologise for what the Vikings did 1,000 years ago. That was the way you acted back then."

An apology 1,000 years on would have been absurd. But others question Mikkelsen's second point - that their behaviour was the norm.

The correction to "cuddly" Vikings had gone too far, says Prof Simon Keynes, an Anglo-Saxon historian at Cambridge University. "There's no question how nasty, unpleasant and brutish they were. They did all that the Vikings were reputed to have done."

They stole anything they could. Churches were repositories of treasure to loot. They took cattle, money and food. It's likely they carried off women, too, he says. "They'd burn down settlements and leave a trail of destruction." It was unprovoked aggression. And unlike most armies, they came by sea, their narrow-bottomed longships allowing them to travel up rivers and take settlements by surprise. It was maritime blitzkrieg at first.

Worse was the repeat nature of the raids. The Vikings, like burglars returning over and over again to the same houses, refused to leave places alone.

British Museum collection
Images courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum, The National Museum of Denmark (gold neck ring) and National Museums Scotland (brooch)
Ivar the Boneless is said to have been particularly cruel. According to the sagas, he put Edmund, king of East Anglia, up against a tree and had his men shoot arrows at him until his head exploded. And Viking rival King Ella was put to death in York by having his ribs cut at the spine, his ribs broken so that they looked like wings and his lungs pulled out through the wounds in his back. It was known as the Blood Eagle. But the accuracy of these stories is disputed.

And others point out that the Anglo-Saxons were hardly upholders of a prototype Geneva Convention. In 2010 it was reported that 50 decapitated bodies had been found in Weymouth, thought to be executed Viking captives.

Continue reading the main story
Viking culture

A burning Viking galley ship
Vikings and religion
Culinary delights of the Viking diet
The rise of money in the Viking economy
BBC History: The Vikings
The Vikings also went west to Newfoundland, to northern France and Germany, and east into what is now Russia and Ukraine. Perhaps less known is the Viking influence in central Asia and the Middle East. "It's very difficult to find a single way of assessing them all because they did so many things," Keynes says.

The largest body of written sources on the Vikings in the 9th and 10th Century is in Arabic, points out James Montgomery, professor of Arabic at Cambridge University. The Vikings reached the Caspian Sea and came into contact with the Khazar empire. They may even have got as far as Baghdad if one mid-9th Century source is to be believed. Vikings known as the "Rus" are thought to have contributed to the formation of the princedom of Kiev, which turned into Russia, Montgomery says.

It has led some to paint the Vikings as global traders more than warriors. And even - with their Icelandic sagas - as inventors of the soap opera.

Revisionism is natural. Academics are always looking for a fresh angle. And people change their mind as social mores evolve.

"Stendhal said that the biography of Napoleon would have to be rewritten every six years," says historian Antony Beevor, author of The Second World War.

But revisionism and counter-revisionism happens more in some fields of history - World War One for example - than others. For Beevor it tends to occur "over periods and questions which have contemporary political resonances - civil wars, slavery and colonialism, labour, the treatment of women and so forth".

Viking re-enactment
Townend says the Vikings were both invaders and migrants. They didn't just raid, pillage and leave. Over the 300-year Viking period, many stayed. Their attitude to the local populace was more complicated than just that of thuggish raiding parties. "They don't wipe them out. So how do these two groups live together?"

It becomes a story about not just conquest but immigration and assimilation. Many of the Vikings embraced Christianity. There was intermarriage. King Cnut, who became King of England and ruled for 25 years, replaced those at the top but allowed society to go on as before. At the same time they held on to Norse names and traditions. "My view is that there was a good deal of give and take," Townend says.

Haakon the Good converted to Christianity while in England. On his return to rule Norway, "he was given a hard time", Townend says. "His religious beliefs were rather different to the majority of his subjects."

What came after the Vikings was arguably worse, argues Tuckley. The Normans went about things in a more systematic way, he says. "They oppressed the local populace rather than integrating as the Vikings did."

No doubt the revisionism and counter argument will be fine-tuned. But the Viking story - replete with violence, colonialism and trade - has it all. With or without horns.

Discover more about the Vikings at BBC History.

Follow @BBCNewsMagazine on Twitter and on Facebook
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East Lothian skeleton may be 10th Century Irish Viking king

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop with part of the East Lothian skeleton which historians believe could be an Irish Viking king

A skeleton discovered on an archaeological dig in East Lothian may be a 10th Century Irish Viking who was king of Dublin and Northumbria.

King Olaf Guthfrithsson led raids on Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame shortly before his death in 941.

The remains excavated from Auldhame in 2005 are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank.

They include a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.

The find has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that the skeleton could be that of King Olaf or one of his entourage.

Bones found at Auldhame
A jaw bone was part of the remains found at Auldhame which may belong to King Olaf
Olaf was a member of the Uí Ímar dynasty who, in 937, defeated his Norse rivals in Limerick and pursued his family claim to the throne of York.

He married the daughter of King Constantine II of Scotland and allied himself with Owen I of Strathclyde.

The theory that he could have been buried close to the Auldhame battle site was revealed as Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop visited a Neolithic monument in County Meath, Ireland.

The tour of Newgrange is being used to highlight archaeological links between Scotland and Ireland.

Ms Hyslop said: "This is a fascinating discovery and it's tantalising that there has been the suggestion that this might be the body of a 10th Century Irish Viking king."

Dr Alex Woolf, a senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews and a consultant on the project, admits the evidence is circumstantial.

But he said: "Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf's attack."
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edi ... e-27633853
http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edi ... e-27633853
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Vikings were experts in recycling and reclamation

The remains of a Viking house found off South Main St. They used timber from long-boats in their homes. The remains of a Viking house found off South Main St. They used timber from long-boats in their homes.

The earliest Vikings settlers of 11th century Cork were recycling and land reclamation experts, and were trading with Europe, a major report on two of the city’s most significant archaeological sites has found.

The settlers were reusing wooden planks from their old long-boats to build jetties; to reclaim land from the River Lee; and as key support structures in their homes.

They were also importing wine from France and exporting hides to Europe, from their settlement near the South Gate Bridge.

The evidence was unearthed during large-scale excavations of two sites off South Main St almost a decade ago.

Both sites contained evidence of a 1,000-year-old settlement — the earliest known Viking settlement in the city — and a wooden jetty, described by experts at the time as one of the most significant Viking finds outside Dublin’s Wood Quay.

The full significance of the sites has been outlined in a major report, Archaeological Excavations at South Main Street 2003-2005, which was published last night.

“The results of the excavations are significant as they have added to our knowledge of the formation and development of Cork City,” said archaeologist Ciara Brett.

The two sites, 36-39 South Main St, next to the old Sir Henry’s site, and the neighbouring 40-48 South Main St site, the carpark opposite the former Beamish and Crawford site, were excavated between 2003 and 2005 as a condition of planning permission, with the financial support of the owners and developers of the sites, Kenny Homes Ltd and Frinailla Developments.

Both sites are close to the South Gate Bridge, one of the main entrances to the medieval walled city of Cork.

During the excavations, archaeologists found the remains of an 8m by 5m rectangular house dated to 1050 — the earliest known Viking settlement in the city.

Academic debate had raged for years about whether the Vikings settled in Cork. There was documentary evidence but no physical proof, until these finds.

Archaeologists also discovered sections of mud and wattle walls, door posts, sections of the bow of a Viking boat, fragments of decorated hair combs, metal artefacts, coins, bronze clothing pins for tying cloaks, shoe leather, fish bones, and scales, and cat skulls.

Ms Brett said the discovery of the remains of an 11m jetty some 3m to 4m inside the modern-day quay walls was among the more significant finds.

“We also found an axe head nearby which showed that they were working the wood for the jetty on site,” she said.

“An axe obviously broke during the work and we found the axe head.”

Shards of pottery found on the sites showed the Vikings were importing wine from France on large boats which could sail up the Lee to the jetty.

And the settlement showed the Vikings had settled in a swamp, using the defensive character of the marsh for their own safety. ...

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/vi ... 83706.html
Enigmatic Viking fortress discovered in Denmark

Nanna Holm stresses that the fortress was a real military installation, and probably also the scene of fighting. "We can see that the gates were burned-down; in the north gate we found massive, charred oak posts." She also puts beyond doubt that the fortress belongs to the Viking age. "fortresses constructed in this manner are only known from the Viking Age. The burned wood in the gates will makes it possible to determine the age by means radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology. The samples have been sent, and we will be eager to hear the results. If we can establish exactly when the fortress was built, we may be able to understand the historic events, which the fortress was part of." ...

The site may prove to be an important discovery in the Viking history of Denmark, says Nanna Holm. "We are eager to establish, if the castle will turn out to be from the time of King Harald Bluetooth, like the previously known fortresses, or perhaps a former king's work. As a military fortification from the Viking Age, the monument may help to unravel the position of Zealand in relation to the oldest Danish kingdom. " ...

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-enigmatic- ... k.html#jCp
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-09-enigmatic- ... k.html#jCp
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I find this fascinating - the whole idea of Viking and Elizabethan crystal 'sun compasses'.

The scientific analysis of the Alderney ship crystal indicates beyond doubt that these optical compass were real, and not just fanciful ramblings on the part of contemporary scribes.

The use of these polished calcite gems to generate a navigable bright-spot reference relative to the sun's position, even with cloudy skies or starless dusk/dawn situations is simply stunning.

Am I somehow unusual in never having heard about this before? Is this a more commonly appreciated aspect of ancient seafaring than I realise? If so, I can't see how I was so unaware of it.

We have a physical navigation system, that may even have existed for thousands of years, providing an intriguing analogue resonance with the new-age/metaphysical perspective that crystals can be used for divination/determination and be relied upon as providing mystical...direction through life.

This is just marvellously interesting. Break it to me, forum: is this actually quite a widely-appeciated reality that somehow has missed me out, in the dissemination?

Or is this as much of a new shiny gem of knowledge for you, dear reader, as it is for me?

Zilch5 said:
This is something that the Vikings are suspected to have used for navigation - though it has never been proven thus far:

The sixteenth century Alderney crystal: a calcite as an efficient reference optical compass?

The crystal recently discovered in the 1592 sunken Elizabethan ship is shown to be an Iceland spar. We report that two main phenomena, with opposite effects, explain the good conservation and the evolution of this relatively fragile calcite crystal. We demonstrate that the Ca2+–Mg2+ ion exchanges in such a crystal immersed in sea water play a crucial role by limiting the solubility, strengthening the mechanical properties of the calcite, while the sand abrasion alters the crystal by inducing roughness of its surface. Although both phenomena have reduced the transparency of the Alderney calcite crystal, we demonstrate that Alderney-like crystals could really have been used as an accurate optical sun compass as an aid to ancient navigation, when the Sun was hidden by clouds or below the horizon. To avoid the possibility of large magnetic errors, not understood before 1600, an optical compass could have helped in providing the sailors with an absolute reference. An Alderney-like crystal permits the observer to follow the azimuth of the Sun, far below the horizon, with an accuracy as great as ±1°. The evolution of the Alderney crystal lends hope for identifying other calcite crystals in Viking shipwrecks, burials or settlements.

http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing.org/ ... b11d50e28f
Vikings are known for raiding and trading, but those who settled in Iceland centuries ago spent more time producing and consuming booze and beef -- in part to gain political clout in a place very different from their Scandinavian homeland, says a Baylor University archaeologist.

The seafaring warriors wanted to sustain the "big man" society of Scandinavia -- a political economy in which chieftains hosted huge feasts of beer and beef served in great halls, says Davide Zori, Ph.D., a Denmark native and archeological field director in Iceland, who conducted National Science Foundation-funded research in archeology and medieval Viking literature.

But instead, what Zori and his team discovered is what happened when the Vikings spent too long living too high on the hog -- or, in this case, the bovine. "It was somewhat like the barbecue here. You wanted a big steak on the grill," said Zori, assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core. He co-edited the book Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaelogical Project with Jesse Byock, Ph.D., professor of Old Norse and medieval Scandinavian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. ...

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 161035.htm
Yes, Vikings got a bad press.

The connections between technology, urban trading, and international economics which have come to define modern living are nothing new. Back in the first millennium AD, the Vikings were expert at exploring these very issues.

While the Vikings are gone their legacy is remembered, such as at the annual Jorvik Viking Festival in York. The Norsemen's military prowess and exploration are more often the focus of study, but of course the vikings were more than just bloodthirsty pirates: they were also settlers, landholders, farmers, politicians, and merchants.

Between the 8th and 11th century (the Viking Age), Europe saw significanttechnological advances, not all of them Scandinavian – the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians and Franks were equal players. To understand these changes, we have to see them in the context of increasing contact between Scandinavia, the British Isles, and continental Europe – in which the Vikings were key players. Technological innovations such as the potter's wheel and the vertical loom transformed not only the types of products being manufactured in Viking settlements, but also the scale on which they were produced. ...

Viking Age Started Earlier than Previously Thought, Archaeologists Say

Previously, the dawn of the Viking Age has been dated to a June 793 raid by Norwegian Vikings on Lindisfarne. But a new study, led by Dr Steve Ashby of the University of York, UK, shows that Vikings were traveling from Norway to the vital trading center in Ribe on Denmark’s west coast as early as 725.

“Long voyages were underway early in the 8th century AD, with the establishment of a marketplace in Ribe,” Dr Ashby said.

“What were to become history’s Viking expeditions can be directly linked to the development of Ribe as a town and commercial center.”

Dr Ashby and his colleagues from the University of Cape Town and Aarhus University studied bone/antler objects and fragments of manufacturing waste from the archaeological remains of Ribe’s old marketplace. A number of samples turned out to be reindeer antler, which is not local to Denmark, and was probably brought in from Norway.

“The antlers are proof that Vikings visited Ribe, the oldest town in Scandinavia, well before their infamous pillaging. Those trips gave the Vikings the seafaring skills that would be used some 70 years later to strike England.”

Deer antlers were central to one of the key industries of the Viking Age: the manufacture of hair combs.

Access to antler was fundamental to this specialist craft, and it may have been difficult for a professional combmaker to find sufficient quantities locally, so some form of organized supply network is likely. ...

The last Viking and his 'magical' sword?
July 14, 2015
University of Museum of Cultural History Oslo
Have you held the sword? Have you felt its weight? Have you felt how sharp and strong the blade is? A deadly weapon and symbol of power -- jewellery for a man, with 'magical properties'. The sword gave power to the warrior, but the warrior's strength could also be transferred to the sword. That is how they were bound together: man and weapon, warrior and sword.

Hiker stumbles upon ‘extraordinary’ 1,200-year-old Viking sword
After more than a millennium buried in the snow of Norway’s mountains, a surprisingly well-preserved sword sheds light on the Viking age
Alan Yuhas
Wednesday 28 October 2015 18.40 GMT

Some time near AD750, someone left a Viking sword along a mountain plateau in southern Norway. On a late October day more than 1,250 years later, a hiker named Goran Olsen picked it up.

The Hordaland County council announced this week that the hiker had discovered the sword in surprisingly pristine condition among the rocks of an old road in Haukeli, as he stopped to rest along an old road through the region’s mountains and valleys.

“It’s quite unusual to find remnants from the Viking age that are so well-preserved,” county conservator Per Morten Ekerhovd told CNN. “It might be used today if you sharpened the edge,” he added.
The 30-inch, wrought iron sword has been dated to about AD750, and although it has rusted during its millennia of rest in frost, snows and springs, Ekerhovd called it a “quite extraordinary” find.
“We are really happy that this person found the sword and gave it to us,” he said. “It will shed light on our early history. It’s a very [important] example of the Viking age.”

Wrought-iron arms and armor were expensive, and the sword’s owner was probably wealthier or more influential than the average Viking, Professor Alexandra Sanmark, a Viking expert at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, said.
“Generally if you had a sword, that tends to be a very high-status item,” she said.
“The common idea about Vikings was that they wore big, metal helmets, but they probably wore leather helmets. The metal would’ve gone into making these fabulous weapons, which have more like steel, it’s really high quality.”
She added that only one Viking helmet of iron has so far been found.
Sanmark said that the Norwegian archaeologists’ initial theories rang true: the sword may have been part of a burial for someone of high status.

Haukeli’s mountains are buried in frost and snow for half the year, but artifacts have increasingly turned up along such paths in recent years. Wealthy individuals may have been buried with hundreds of objects, from their precious weapons to their riding gear and the horses themselves, Sanmark said.

Climate change has led to the discovery of more and more artifacts, as glaciers retreat and reveal more clues about the variety of Viking life and death. Vikings held a number of different funeral practices, she said, from the fiery bier cast off to the sea, well rehearsed in popular culture, to more generic cremations. Others were placed under barrow mounds – two women were buried with an entire Viking ship in Oseberg – while slaves were dumped in ditches.


I'm amazed it's as well preserved as that.
It must be a high-grade steel, perhaps with a bit of nickel in it (like meteoritic steel).
1,500-year-old Viking settlement discovered underneath Norwegian airport
The site discovered expands across an area roughly the size of 13 football pitches
Will Grice

A 1,500-year-old Viking settlement has been discovered underdeath an airport in Norway.
During expansion work on the Ørland Airport, archaeologists found a plot of ancient land that reportedly to expand across 91,000 square metres - just under the size of 13 football pitches.
Some of the artefacts pulled from the excavation site include jewellery, animal bones and a shard from a green glass goblet.

It is believed the area was inhabited by a fishing community, with a large proportion of the site acting as an Iron Age rubbish tip, known as a midden.
This is the first time materials of this age have been discovered in Norway, with many of the archaeologists believing the remains were in good condition due to the soil in the area having low-acidity.

Historians have long anticipated the area to be rich with ancient artefacts but have previously been unable to excavate it due to government restrictions on archaeological digs.
The law require archaeologists to wait for an opportunity to excavate an area to arise before commencing a dig, meaning the government’s plan to purchase 52 F-35 fighter jets and expand Ørland Airport came at exactly the right time.

“This as a very strategic place,” Ingrid Ystgaard, the dig’s project manager told Ars Technica.
“It was a sheltered area along the Norwegian coastal route from southern Norway to the northern coasts. And it was at the mouth of Trondheim Fjord, which was a vital link to Sweden and the inner regions of mid-Norway.
“Nothing like this has been examined anywhere in Norway before.
“Now our job is to find out what happened here, how people lived. We discover new things every day we are out in the field. It’s amazing.”

Skeleton found in well confirms Viking Saga

Archaeologists working in Trondheim in Norway are amazed by the discovery of a human skeleton in the bottom of an abandoned castle well. The skeleton provides evidence that confirms dramatic historical events mentioned in the Sagas.

The location and contents of the well are mentioned in Sverre’s Saga, a chronicle of one of the kings of Norway, and one of very few historical manuscripts describing events in the Norwegian Viking age and medieval period.

Scholars have questioned the chronicle’s trustworthiness as a historical document. But now, at least one part of the saga seems to hold truth – down to the tiniest detail.

"This is truly astonishing. As far as I know there is no known example of the discovery of an individual historically connected with an act of war as far back as the year 1197. And the fact that this actually corroborates an event described in Sverre’s saga is simply amazing," says lead archaeologist at the site, Anna Petersén.

In 1197 King Sverre Sigurdsson and his Birkebeiner-mercenaries were attacked and defeated in his castle stronghold, Sverresborg, by his rivals, the Baglers. According to the Saga, the Baglers burned down buildings and destroyed the castle’s fresh water supply by throwing one of King Sverre’s dead men into the well, and then filling it with stones.

Now, following a trial excavation in the well, archaeologists can confirm this dramatic story. Archaeologists managed to retrieve part of the skeleton they found in the well in 2014. A fragment of bone produced a radiocarbon date that confirmed that the individual lived and died at the end of the 12th century, the same time as the incident described in the Saga.

Recent iPlayer, reassessing the Vikings' role in history:

On June 8th 793 Europe changed, forever. The famous monastery at Lindisfarne on the Northumbrian coast was suddenly attacked and looted by seafaring Scandinavians. The Viking Age had begun.

Professor Alice Roberts examines how dramatically the story of the Vikings has changed on TV since the 1960s. She investigates how our focus has shifted from viewing them as brutal, pagan barbarians to pioneering traders, able to integrate into multiple cultures. We also discover that without their naval technology we would never have heard of the Vikings, how their huge trading empire spread, and their surprising legacy in the modern world.


First shown: 9pm 18 Jul 2017
The Mystery of Maine’s Viking Penny

The story that Guy Mellgren told about the curious silver coin began on the shores of Maine, where he met a stranger named Goddard. In the fall of 1956, Mellgren and Ed Runge, a pair of amateur archaeologists, had come in search of the most basic of coastal dig sites—a shell midden—when they happened onto a more unusual discovery.

Goddard had invited them to explore his shoreline property, and there, on a natural terrace about eight feet above the high tide line, they found stone chips, knives, and fire pits, along with an abundance of other unexpected artifacts. Each summer for many years, Mellgren and Runge returned to excavate the “Goddard Site,” with little help from professional archaeologists. In the second summer, they produced the coin.

Since 1978, no one has questioned that the Mellgren coin is an authentic Norse penny, made in medieval Scandinavia. But 60 years after Mellgren’s find, archaeologists and numismatic experts are still asking how in the world this small, worn coin got to Maine.

Versatile Vikings.

Fish, Farm, or Fight
A new study is examining how Vikings adapted to climate change.

by Zach Zorich

In Norway’s Lofoten Islands, archaeologists unearthed one of the largest Viking buildings ever found. The massive 83-meter longhouse, discovered in what is now the town of Borg, was an ostentatious display by powerful chieftains who ruled what at first glance seems to be a marginal area—a cluster of islands just shy of the Arctic Circle. For more than 2,500 years, the people of the Lofotens grew barley and wheat and pulled cod from the frigid North Atlantic. The Lofotens were at the center of Viking politics, yet at the very edge of where the brisk northern climate made farming possible. This makes the Lofotens an ideal place to explore how climate change affected Viking life.

Each year, the landowners in the Lofotens would make critical decisions: which crops to plant, how much livestock to raise, how much cod to fish, whether to send ships to raid the wealthy European villages to the south. In weighing all of these options, minor shifts in climate could be a major factor, says William D’Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. Over the next three years, D’Andrea and Nicholas Balascio, a paleoclimatologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, will be working to reconstruct the effects of short-term climate variability on the islands.

The study is just getting underway, but D’Andrea and Balascio think that by examining everything from plant pollen to animal waste, as recorded in lakebed sediments, they can gain an understanding of how the islands’ people and their activities might have changed to adapt to the changing climate. The researchers will be looking for biomarkers—molecules unique to specific animals or plants—to see how much and what types of livestock and crops were being raised from year to year.

“These marginal communities can be very sensitive to these natural environmental changes,” Balascio says. For instance, the changing climate may have caused the Vikings to move their farms to new locations to take advantage of the best conditions for their fields.

Falling sea levels provided another challenge for the Lofoten Vikings. The Lofoten Islands, like much of Scandinavia, are to this day rebounding from the loss of the massive ice sheets that covered the land during the last ice age. This phenomenon, called isostatic rebound, is causing the islands to rise, effectively making the sea level fall. This means that boathouses built at the water’s edge could be stranded inland a few decades later. ...

Some updating to consolidate sunstone references into this thread dedicated to the subject ...

In a 2014 post to the Viking-Era Discoveries & Theories thread:


... Ermintruder raised the subject of sunstones (without getting any responses ... ), citing the following article discussing 'optical compasses' in light of Viking claims and a similar crystal retrieved from an Elizabethan shipwreck.

The sixteenth century Alderney crystal: a calcite as an efficient reference optical compass?

The crystal recently discovered in the 1592 sunken Elizabethan ship is shown to be an Iceland spar. We report that two main phenomena, with opposite effects, explain the good conservation and the evolution of this relatively fragile calcite crystal. We demonstrate that the Ca2+–Mg2+ ion exchanges in such a crystal immersed in sea water play a crucial role by limiting the solubility, strengthening the mechanical properties of the calcite, while the sand abrasion alters the crystal by inducing roughness of its surface. Although both phenomena have reduced the transparency of the Alderney calcite crystal, we demonstrate that Alderney-like crystals could really have been used as an accurate optical sun compass as an aid to ancient navigation, when the Sun was hidden by clouds or below the horizon. To avoid the possibility of large magnetic errors, not understood before 1600, an optical compass could have helped in providing the sailors with an absolute reference. An Alderney-like crystal permits the observer to follow the azimuth of the Sun, far below the horizon, with an accuracy as great as ±1°. The evolution of the Alderney crystal lends hope for identifying other calcite crystals in Viking shipwrecks, burials or settlements.

SOURCE: http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing....0651?sid=d9067187-90e2-4fe6-b6c2-36b11d50e28f
In a 2013 post to The Vikings TV Series thread:


... rynner2 cited the following Wired item on sunstones and navigation:

... The Norse sagas mention a mysterious "sunstone" used for navigation. Now a team of scientists claims that the sunstones could have been calcite crystals and that Vikings could have used them to get highly accurate compass readings even when the sun was hidden.

The trick for locating the position of the hidden sun is to detect polarization, the orientation of light waves along their path. Even on a cloudy day, the sky still forms a pattern of concentric rings of polarized light with the sun at its center. If you have a crystal that depolarizes light, you can determine the location of the rings around the hidden sun.

Calcite is such a crystal. It has a property called birefringence: Light passing through calcite is split along two paths, forming a double image on the far side. The brightness of the two images relative to each other depends on the polarization of the light. By passing light from the sky through calcite and changing the crystal's orientation until the projections of the split beams are equally bright, it is theoretically possible to detect the concentric rings of polarization and thus the location of the sun. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.wired.com/2011/11/viking-polarized-navigation/
This 2011 New Scientist article:


... explains that the notion of Vikings navigating via polarized light traces back to the Danish archaeologist Thorkild Ramskou circa 1967. It also notes that no one seems to have seriously researched the possibilities until after 2000.

This 2011 article seems to have been pivotal in drawing researchers' interest to the subject of sunstones ...

On the trail of Vikings with polarized skylight: experimental study of the atmospheric optical prerequisites allowing polarimetric navigation by Viking seafarers


Between AD 900 and AD 1200 Vikings, being able to navigate skillfully across the open sea, were the dominant seafarers of the North Atlantic. When the Sun was shining, geographical north could be determined with a special sundial. However, how the Vikings could have navigated in cloudy or foggy situations, when the Sun's disc was unusable, is still not fully known. A hypothesis was formulated in 1967, which suggested that under foggy or cloudy conditions, Vikings might have been able to determine the azimuth direction of the Sun with the help of skylight polarization, just like some insects. This hypothesis has been widely accepted and is regularly cited by researchers, even though an experimental basis, so far, has not been forthcoming. According to this theory, the Vikings could have determined the direction of the skylight polarization with the help of an enigmatic birefringent crystal, functioning as a linearly polarizing filter. Such a crystal is referred to as ‘sunstone’ in one of the Viking's sagas, but its exact nature is unknown. Although accepted by many, the hypothesis of polarimetric navigation by Vikings also has numerous sceptics. In this paper, we summarize the results of our own celestial polarization measurements and psychophysical laboratory experiments, in which we studied the atmospheric optical prerequisites of possible sky-polarimetric navigation in Tunisia, Finland, Hungary and the high Arctic.

FULL ARTICLE: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/366/1565/772

PDF DOWNLOAD: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royptb/366/1565/772.full.pdf
More recently, the Hungarian researchers who'd written the 2011 article have conducted field tests and developed a procedural model for how sunstones could have been used to navigate on the open sea with an estimated course deviation error of no more than circa 4%.

The gory details can be found in (e.g.):

(2014): http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/470/2166/20130787.short?rss=1

(2017): http://rspa.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/473/2205/20170358

(2018): http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/5/4/172187
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This walrus tusk trinket may shed light on the early days of Viking trading
By Frankie Schembri Aug. 7, 2018 , 7:01 PM

Ivory was a hot commodity in Medieval Europe, where the elite had a taste for intricately carved trinkets. A new study reveals where this ivory came from, providing clues to why Vikings colonized Greenland—and why they may have eventually abandoned it.

To conduct the work, researchers ground up 23 artifacts dating from 600 to 1100 years ago. The scientists could not use such a destructive technique on carved ivory objects made from walrus tusks, which rose to fashion during a period of elephant tusk scarcity. Instead, they were able to use rostrums (pictured above), parts of the walruses’ skulls to which the tusks were often left attached during transport. The scientists then sequenced the DNA they recovered and compared it to the DNA of modern walruses as well as to 14 specimens of known origin: Four from Greenland dated to between 900 and 1400 C.E. and 10 from the Svalbard archipelago in Norway dated to the 18th and 19th centuries C.E.

Old Canadian Arctic carvings are reputed to depict Vikings, but radiocarbon dating the artifacts has been prevented / misled by .... fat.

Do Canadian Carvings Depict Vikings? Removing Mammal Fat May Tell
Carvings uncovered in the Canadian Arctic may be the earliest portraits of the Vikings created in the Americas. But archaeologists have been puzzling over whether the artwork really shows the infamous seafarers. ...

The Vikings, along with other peoples who lived in arctic or subarctic environments, used oils and fat from sea mammals for a variety of purposes, including preparing food and cooking. The substances interfere with radiocarbon dating, because rather than getting the date of the artifact, you may get the date for the oil and fat covering the object ...

FULL STORY: https://www.livescience.com/63839-viking-carvings-mystery.html
Here's a new and interesting angle on Viking expansionism - it was largely enabled by tar production ...

The secret of Viking success? A good coat of tar…
Vikings conquered Europe thanks to an unexpected technological innovation. They learned how to make tar on an industrial scale and used it to waterproof their longships so that they could undertake large-scale, lengthy pillaging trips around Europe – and across the Atlantic, say archaeologists. ...

The discovery is the work of Andreas Hennius, of Uppsala University. In Antiquity, he reports finding critical evidence that shows output from tar pits in Scandinavia increased dramatically just as Vikings began raiding other parts of Europe. These pits could have made up to 300 litres in a single production cycle, enough to waterproof large numbers of ships. “Tar production … developed from a small-scale activity … into large-scale production that relocated to forested outlands during the Viking period,” says Hennius. “This change … resulted from the increasing demand for tar driven by an evolving maritime culture.” ...

Now Hennius has pitched in with his theory. Tar drove Vikings to be the hammer of the gods in Europe. He says tar has been used for millennia to waterproof boats. It was made in pits filled with pine wood, covered with turf and set on fire. Small domestic tar kilns were found in Sweden in the early 2000s. These dated to between AD100 and 400. But much larger pits were found during road construction and dated to between 680 and 900, when the rise of the Vikings began. They were originally thought to have been used for making charcoal, but Hennius’s investigation has revealed they had a different purpose: tar manufacture.

These kilns are not associated with any inhabited settlements and were situated closer to forests of pine, which was their key ingredient. These were industrial sites used solely to mass-produce tar, he argues. Vikings were then able to sail their longships on raids. Hennius says: “The size of the late Viking-age fleets suggests an extensive and continuous need for the product.”

FULL STORY: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/nov/04/viking-longboat-industrial-tar-pits-dominance-seas
Might he not have mixed up cause and effect?
Might he not have mixed up cause and effect?

Yeah - I wondered the same thing. I'm not sure how much of the implied cause / effect relationship is actually Hennius' doing versus exaggeration by the writer of the press account.
One of the teachers at our university gave a lecture* a few weeks ago, and claims the Vikings were Scandinavian outlaws exiled from their lawful communities driven to the lawless edges of the lands, not mainstream citizens. They were criminals, and they were all men. He claims the reason they embarked in the first place was to plunder the women of the west and the looting and establishing of outposts was just a byproduct of that primary motivation. Unimaginable horror for those Angles and Saxons of the coasts once they learned what the boats meant. Awful bloody times.

*Also, I didn't know that the Normans were Viking-descended as well. Norman = North (Norse) Men. They really had it in for the Islanders.

That' a bit simplistic and he/she has obviously read Egel's Saga