Monday, 29th April, 2013
He’s crowded into a sleek sailing ship with 65 other men. Scarcely room to move. It’s been days since anybody has seen land – longer since anyone bathed. The old-timers’ repeated tales of bygone raids and voyages are beginning to wear thin.
His place is behind an oar, but there is no need to row continuously on the North Sea. With wind in the sail, the boat surges towards England, where riches await.
But what is there to do while waiting to reach a foreign coast?
Maybe it was a teenager engaged in a Viking version of tagging a school desk. In any case, someone took out his knife, bent down and traced the outline of his foot on the deck of the Gokstad Ship.
Today, 1,100 years later, researcher and storage manager Hanne Lovise Aannestad shows us a couple of deck planks that are among her favourite artefacts at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.
“I think this particular item gives us a clear idea of what it was like to be living in the Viking Age, in a way that few other things do,” she says.
The Gokstad Ship was excavated in the late 1800s and is a permanent feature of the Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy in Oslo.
For about a decade, from 890 to 900, the ship sailed on ocean voyages. The holes cut for oars along the upper hull are well worn, evidence that the ship had been used for more than just a funeral ceremony.
The ship’s deck was fitted with loose floorboards. These could be lifted up so that supplies and plundered treasure could be stored below deck. The outline of a foot covers two of these floorboards.
“My guess is that some time or another a person was bored and simply traced his foot with his knife. It’s a kind of an ‘I was here’ message,” says Aannestad.
There are two outlines of feet on the Gokstad Ship. One is a distinct right foot. The other is a weaker outline of a left foot on a different floorboard.
The ship was buried on land in a massive grave and the loose floorboards were helter-skelter when it was excavated. So we don’t know whether the planks with left and right feet had been originally next to each other or had been the capricious result of two separate individuals.
This makes the footprints no less fascinating for Aannestad:
“This is an artefact that gives us an empathetic understanding of a person behind the myths of the Viking Age. We know something about major events, of wars and battles and the building of kingdoms and all that, but this little outline puts you right down at the level of an individual,” she says.
“You can’t add a chapter to history with this. It shows that Vikings had feet, but we knew that. Yet it gives us an immediate emotional connection on a general human level. These were real people who went on Viking voyages, not cartoonish stereotypes. The voyages could be boring as well as harrowing.”
The outlines weren’t discovered until 2009. The floorboards were being moved from the museum at Bygdøy when one of Aannestad’s colleagues spotted the carved footprints.
So even 130 years after its excavation, researchers continue to make discoveries about one of Norway’s most famous and thoroughly studied vessels.
Aannestad has measured one of her own feet against a tracing of the carved outline – because no one can actually step on the fragile floorboard, of course. The foot was smaller than hers, and even though people were generally shorter in the Viking days, this was probably a little person.
“It could have been a young man. People were treated as adults much earlier in those days. They took off sooner than we would allow young boys to do today,” says Aannestad.
So we are free to let our imaginations run:
A young lad is bored with the tedium of a long voyage. On a whim he looks down at his foot and considers something that would provide a little diversion.
He was sufficiently dedicated to the task to include his toenails in his outline.
Maybe this was his first voyage and the drawing of his foot took his mind off the test of his manhood awaiting him in English or Irish towns? Perhaps this outline is the foot of a person who grew famous and whose name has been passed down to us through the sagas?
“We can only speculate. We’ll never know. In any case, we see the outline of an individual here,” says Aannestad.
Thursday, 21st March, 2013
These finds are so interesting that I am straying from British and Irish archaeology for this post:-
A pre-Viking woollen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday.
The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing – suitable for a person up to about 176 cms (5 ft 9 inches) tall – was found 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway.
Carbon dating showed it was made around 300 AD.
“It’s worrying that glaciers are melting but it’s exciting for us archaeologists,” Lars Pilø, a Danish archaeologist who works on Norway’s glaciers, said at the first public showing of the tunic, which has been studied since it was found in 2011.
A Viking mitten dating from 800 AD and an ornate walking stick,
a Bronze age leather shoe, ancient bows, and arrow heads used to hunt reindeer are also among 1,600 finds in Norway’s southern mountains since thaws accelerated in 2006.
“This is only the start,” Pilø said, predicting many more finds.
One ancient wooden arrow had a tiny shard from a seashell as a sharp tip in an intricate bit of craftsmanship.
The 1991 discovery of Otzi, a prehistoric man who roamed the Alps 5,300 years ago between Austria and Italy, is the best known glacier find. In recent years, other finds have been made from Alaska to the Andes, many because glaciers are receding.
The shrinkage is blamed on climate change, stoked by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
The archaeologists said the tunic showed that Norway’s Lendbreen glacier, where it was found, had not been so small since 300 AD. When exposed to air, untreated ancient fabrics can disintegrate in weeks because of insect and bacteria attacks.
“The tunic was well used – it was repaired several times,” said Marianne Vedeler, a conservation expert at Norway’s Museum of Cultural History.
The tunic is made of lamb’s wool with a diamond pattern that had darkened with time. Only a handful of similar tunics have survived so long in Europe.
The warming climate is have an impact elsewhere.
Patrick Hunt, a Stanford University expert who is trying to find the forgotten route that Hannibal took over the Alps with elephants in a failed invasion of Italy in 218 BC, said the Alps were unusually clear of snow at 2,500 metres last summer.
Receding snows are making searching easier.
“I favour the Clapier-Savine Coche route (over the Alps) after having been on foot over at least 25 passes including all the other major candidates,” he told Reuters by e-mail.
The experts in Oslo said one puzzle was why anyone would take off a warm tunic by a glacier.
One possibility was that the owner was suffering from cold in a snowstorm and grew confused with hypothermia, which sometimes makes suffers take off clothing because they wrongly feel hot.
Viking woollen sock from York link
Update: Another mitten pic (looking very much as if it is of woven material):
Thursday, 25th October, 2012
LYING crookedly in a shallow grave, its bones have existed undiscovered for more than 1,000 years.
But the discovery of this ancient skeleton could shed new light on the history of the Vikings in Wales
The unearthing skeleton in at Llanbedrgoch on Anglesey has given historians important new clues on the impact of both Anglo-Saxons and Vikings operating around the Irish Sea.
Archaeologists from the National Museum Wales said the burial find is an unexpected addition to a group of five – two adolescents, two adult males and one woman – discovered in 1998-99.
Originally thought to be victims of Viking raiding, which began in the 850s, this interpretation is now being revised.
The unusual non-Christian positioning of the body, and its treatment, point to distinctions being made in the burial practices for Christians and other communities during the tenth century.
Analysis of the bones by Dr Katie Hemer of Sheffield University indicates that the males were not local to Anglesey, but may have spent their early years – at least up to the age of seven – in North West Scotland or Scandinavia.
“The new burial will provide important additional evidence to shed light on the context of their unceremonious burial in shallow graves outside the elite fortified settlement in the later tenth century,” said Dr Hemer.
The recent excavations also suggest the presence of a warrior elite thanks to the discovery of seventh-century silver and bronze fittings on swords and scabbards.
They suggest the recycling of military equipment during the period of rivalry and campaigning between the kingdoms.
According to history, the borderlands between the Welsh and English were a target for Northumbrian intervention between AD610 and the 650s. The Northumbrian king Edwin subjugated Anglesey and Man, until Cadwallon in alliance with Penda of Mercia invaded England and killed Edwin in AD 633, to rule north-east Wales and Northumbria for a year.
The Llanbedrgoch site, considered one of the most intriguing settlement complexes belonging to this period, has been the subject of 10 summer seasons of fieldwork by the museum’s Department of Archaeology & Numismatics.
“The results have changed our perception of Wales in the Viking period,” said museum spokeswoman Lleucu Cooke.
“ The site was discovered in 1994 after a number of metal detector finds had been brought to the Museum for identification.”
These included an Anglo-Saxon penny of Cynethryth, struck in AD 787-792, a penny of Wulfred of Canterbury, struck around AD 810, 9th century Carolingian deniers of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, and three lead weights of Viking type.
Past excavations by the department, between 1994 and 2001, revealed much about the development of this important trading centre during the late ninth and tenth centuries, but the development of the site during the preceding period had remained less clear.
Excavation director and Acting Keeper of Archaeology, Dr Mark Redknap, said, the recent finds have revealed valuable new data on the pre-Viking development of the site.
“The 2012 excavations have revealed not only surprises such as the additional burial, bringing with it important additional evidence on this unusual grave cluster, but also valuable new data on the pre-Viking development of the site.
“Beneath a section of its 2.2m wide stone rampart, constructed in the ninth century, our team of students and volunteers uncovered an earlier buried land surface and a number of ditches, over which an early medieval midden full of food refuse along with some discarded objects had formed.
“Other finds from the excavation, which include semi-worked silver, silver casting waste and a fragment of an Islamic silver coin (exchanged via trade routes out of central Asia to Scandinavia and beyond), confirm Llanbedrgoch’s importance during the tenth century as a place for the manufacture and trade of commodities.”
Thursday, 2nd February, 2012
Viking axe head discovery is ‘evidence of battle’
Archaeologists think the axe head could be evidence of a battle in 894 AD
A Viking axe head found in a Gloucestershire village could be evidence of a battle more than 1,100 years ago, according to archaeologists.
The wrought iron object, found in Slimbridge in 2008, has now been identified as being of Viking origin.
Historians say a band of Vikings sailed up the River Severn and fought against the Anglo-Saxons in 894 AD.
Archaeologists say where the axe head was found is where they could have tied up their ships.
It was discovered by Ian Hunter Darling under a hedge in his garden.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw. I thought it could have been an agricultural implement of some description,” he said.
He said an archaeological visit to the farm where he lives had got the experts “quite excited”.
“They said I should take it to a museum to have it looked at.”
According to historians King Alfred the Great fought the Vikings in a bloody battle at Minchinhampton, about 10 miles from Slimbridge, in 894 AD.
Three Viking princes were killed in the battle, and fighting could have ranged over a wide area of the Berkeley Vale.
For over a century archaeologists have speculated where the Vikings could have moored their ships.
“They realised my driveway would have been creek in those days before there was a sea wall on the River Severn,” said Mr Hunter Darling.
“The boats could have tied up at the bottom of my garden.”
Members of Slimbridge local history society now want to gather further evidence of Viking activity in the village.
Peter Ballard, from the society, said: “A member of a local family claimed he found a Viking sword in a ditch by the River Cam many years ago, but that has now been lost.”
They are asking for residents who may have found other Viking objects to come forward.
A meeting to highlight the importance of the discovery will be held in Slimbridge Village Hall on 21 February.
The axe head is to go on display at Stroud Museum in the Park.
And the update:
Viking axe find in Slimbridge discounted by archaeologists
An axe head found in a garden in Gloucestershire, which was claimed to be of Viking origin, is an 18th Century woodworking tool, experts have said.
It was found in 2008 by Ian Hunter Darling under a hedge at his home in Slimbridge.
Slimbridge Local History Society who said last week it was Viking have now renamed it the “Slimbridge axe head”.
A meeting about the find is taking place in Slimbridge on 21 February.
David Mullin, from Stroud Museum, where the axe head has been on display for the last six months, said: “The axe was deposited with the museum, its Viking origin having been suggested by others.
“It will continue to be on display at the museum and we plan to take it to the Slimbridge Local History meeting on 21 February.”
Archaeologist Kurt Adams, from Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, said he went to see the find at Stroud Museum on Thursday.
He said: “It’s definitely an 18th or 19th Century woodworking tool – a heavy duty woodworking axe.
“Axes can be quite difficult to date because the form fits the function – but having said that Viking and battle axes are quite distinct.
“A single artefact doesn’t show evidence for a battle, as it could have been an object which was traded or lost.”
Peter Ballard, from the Slimbridge Local History Society, said: “We’ve decided to call it the ‘Slimbridge axe head’ because we don’t know whether it’s Viking or 18th Century.”
Professor Mark Horton, from the University of Bristol, said: “The find has aroused a great deal of interest and incredulity with the archaeological community on the internet – on the Britarch discussion board.
“There is no way that this is a Viking axe head – they look completely different. As to the claim that there was a major battle at Minchinhampton in the 10th Century – these I’m afraid are the product of an over fertile antiquarian imagination.
“There was certainly Viking activity on the River Severn during this period but this is a case of two plus two equalling five.”
British Museum accession no. 1838,0110.2: 10th=century /11th-century battle-axe
London Museum Gallery case 9.1 battle-axes and spears
Wednesday, 7th December, 2011
New research is being carried out on artefacts recovered from a site where evidence was found for every age from the Neolithic to the 20th Century.
Archaeology at Udal provides an “unbroken timeline” of occupation from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Viking, Medieval through to the 1900s.
Some of the evidence at the site on North Uist was preserved by wind-blown sand dunes.
Archaeologist Ian Crawford excavated Udal between 1963 and 1995.
The earliest Neolithic layers he revealed consisted of a line of stones with a large upright stone nicknamed the great auk stone because of its resemblance to the extinct seabird.We are one step closer to understanding what was discovered beneath the sand dunes”
Deborah Anderson Regional archaeologist
A deep shaft containing quartz pebbles which had been covered over with a whale’s vertebrae was also uncovered.
From the Bronze Age, finds included a skeleton and from the Iron Age evidence of metal work.
Also from the Iron Age were the remains of homes dubbed Jelly Baby houses because the shape of them looked like the sweets.
Evidence of a Viking longhouse and later occupation during the 1600s through to the 18th and 19th centuries were also found.
From the early 20th Century was a saw pit for cutting up wrecked boats.
Crawford’s collection is in the care of Western Isles local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The comhairle believes the site on the Grenitote peninsula to be one of the most important of its kind in the world.
It said the preservation of relics by being buried under sand was rare outside of the Middle East.
The comhairle has received £85,000 from the Museum Association’s Esmee Fairbairn Collections Fund to carry out the most complete post-excavation research to be done so far on the site and its finds.
Historic Scotland is assisting with the study.
Money from the grant will also be used to investigate the potential for an archaeological resource centre on North Uist.
Evidence of Viking occupation included a longhouse
Councillor Archie Campbell said the £85,000 grant would help islanders and the comhairle achieve a vision.
He said: “The local community has been waiting nearly 50 years to learn about what was discovered beneath the sand dunes and to see the finds for themselves.
“Long before the material was released by Ian Crawford the community made it clear that their wish was for the collections to be returned to the islands on a permanent basis.
“This grant will go towards achieving that vision by funding a feasibility study into the potential of the Udal collections as the basis for an archaeological resource centre and the impact it would have on the islands’ economy.”
Deborah Anderson, regional archaeologist with the comhairle, welcomed the funding towards better understanding the collection.
She said: “This is an assemblage which is not just important to the Outer Hebrides but which is essential to help date other collections from the west coast of Scotland and Ireland.
“The local community will no doubt be thrilled that we have received this grant, and we are one step closer to understanding what was discovered beneath the sand dunes.”
Friday, 2nd December, 2011
*They are a collection of chess pieces, handcrafted in the 12th century from walrus tusks and whale teeth and discovered on the Isle of Lewis. The little figures were also the inspiration for Noggin the Nog.
Thursday, 27th October, 2011
This discovery has been known about for a little while, but it’s back in the news:
Darren Webster unearthed “the find of a lifetime” when his metal detector picked up a signal at an undisclosed location on the border of Cumbria with north Lancashire.
He could barely believe it when he dug up a casket containing 200 pieces of silver jewellery, coins, hacksilver and ingots.
Experts say the 1,000-year-old artefacts, now at the British Museum in London, are of national significance.
Mr Webster said the find was “exciting”.
“It’s a long process having the find assessed. Neither me or the landowner know what will happen with it,” he added.
“I got a good signal on my detector so I dug about 18 inches and then I saw a lead pot. It was slightly open. I could see all the coins and jewellery inside. It was a great feeling.”
Bracelets elaborately engraved with serpents, which could have been worn by a wealthy Viking leader, make up part of the discovery along with rings and an impressive set of coins.
The haul is now being studied by experts at the British Museum who will reveal their findings in December.
The curator of Barrow’s Dock Museum, Sabine Skae, said she hoped the new hoard would help put Cumbria and South Lakeland on the map as having an important Viking heritage.
“Over the past ten years there has been an increase in small finds and now some larger finds which is really forcing people to look at Cumbria in a new way,” she added.
Stephen Oppenheimer, an anthropology lecturer at Oxford University, said big hoards such as this paint a new picture of what Vikings were doing in England.
The discovery of big hoards break down the stereotype of Vikings just coming over here to raid our churches and take valuables back to their own country.
A spokesman for the British Museum confirmed that Darren’s discovery was “a significant Viking hoard”.
He said: “Research on the hoard is ongoing and more information and images will be revealed at the time of the coroner’s inquest in mid-December.”
A spokesperson for Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum, where the hoard was originally taken, compared Mr Webster’s find to that of the Cuerdale Hoard found on the southern bank of a bend of the River Ribble.
When it was unearthed in 1840, it was the largest Viking silver hoard in north-western Europe.
Wednesday, 19th October, 2011
Viking chieftain’s burial ship excavated in Scotland after 1,000 years
Timber fragments and rivets of vessel, and deceased’s sword and shield, unearthed undisturbed on Ardnamurchan peninsula.
A Viking ship, which for 1,000 years has held the body of a chieftain, with his shield on his chest and his sword and spear by his side, has been excavated on a remote Scottish peninsula – the first undisturbed Viking ship burial found on the British mainland.
The timbers of the ship found on the Ardnamurchan peninsula – the mainland’s most westerly point – rotted into the soil centuries ago, like most of the bones of the man whose coffin it became.
However the outline of the classic Viking boat, with its pointed prow and stern, remained. Its form is pressed into the soil and its lines traced by hundreds of rivets, some still attached to scraps of wood.
An expert on Viking boats, Colleen Batey from the University of Glasgow, dates it to the 10th century.
At just 5m long and 1.5m wide, it would have been a perilously small vessel for crossing the stormy seas between Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland. But the possessions buried with him suggest the Viking was a considerable traveller.
They include a whetstone from Norway, a bronze ringpin from Ireland, his sword with beautifully decorated hilt, a spear and a shield which survive only as metal fittings, and pottery.
He also had a knife, an axe, and a bronze object thought to be part of a drinking horn. Dozens of iron fragments, still being analysed, were also found in the boat.
The peninsula in the Highlands is still easier to reach by sea than along the single narrow road.
But with its magnificent mountain, sea and sunset views, it was a special place for burials for thousands of years.
The oldest, excavated by the same team three years ago, was a 6,000-year-old neolithic grave, and a bronze age burial mound is nearby.
Hannah Cobb, an archaeologist from the University of Manchester who is co-director of the excavation, said: “We had spotted this low mound the previous year, but said firmly that it was probably just a pile of field clearance rocks from comparatively recent farming.
“When we uncovered the whole mound, the team digging came back the first night and said it looked quite like a boat.
“The second night they said: ‘It really does look like a boat.’ The third night they said: ‘We think we really do have a boat’. It was so exciting, we could hardly believe it.”
They recovered fragments of an arm bone and several teeth, which should allow analysis of radioactive isotopes and reveal where the man came from.
The fragments of wood clinging to the rivets should reveal what trees were felled for his ship, and possibly where it was built.
“Such burials were reserved for high status individuals,” Cobb said. “He may have been a chieftain, a famous navigator, or renowned for his wisdom, but this man was clearly special to his people.”
The boat had been almost filled with stones and Cobb believes these must have had meaning for the Vikings.
“Rocks are obviously significant as they also appear in other Viking burials,” she said.
“Building a lasting monument to the dead for the living may well be an important factor, and also rooting people in with landscape traditions, given the proximity to the neolithic and bronze age cairns.
“We don’t think the association with the older monuments can be a coincidence – this was a place which was very important to people over an extraordinarily long period of time.”
No trace of a settlement site has been found, but the team will be returning to the peninsula next summer.
The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project brings together students and academics from several universities working with Archaeology Scotland.
The most famous ship burial in Britain, Sutton Hoo – found heaped with treasure and excavated in Suffolk in the shadow of the second world war – looks like anyone’s idea of a Viking burial but proved to be Anglo-Saxon, centuries older than the seafaring Scandinavians.
When overcrowding or yearning for adventure and wealth sent the Vikings overseas in the late eighth century, the sight of their long narrow ships on the horizon struck dread.
Although their reputation has now been partly rehabilitated and they are recognised as traders, farmers, and brilliant shipwrights and metal and craft workers, a poem written in the margin of an Irish manuscript records a monk’s relief that the wild seas that night were too rough even for Vikings.
In 793, Viking raids forced monks to abandon Lindisfarne, an island off the north-east coast of England, carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert with them.
But the raiders also struck as far inland as Lichfield and established permanent settlements including York, the Wirral and Dublin.
The most famous description of a Viking ship burial, complete with the human sacrifice of a woman who volunteered to go with the dead chieftain into the next world – with lurid tales of drugged potions and ritual sexual intercourse pillaged by generations of novelists and film-makers – was left by a 10th century Arab writer, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. But archaeology has vindicated much of his account.
Fadlan’s chieftain was cremated along with his ship, leaving only ashes to be buried under a mound. But many Vikings, like the man in Ardnamurchan, were laid in ships with their possessions heaped around them.
One of the best preserved, holding the remains of two women, was excavated at Oseberg in Norway in the early 20th century.
The burial dated from around 834 but the ship used was a generation older. The ship’s superbly carved bow and stern are now preserved at the Viking Ship museum in Oslo.
Most of the Viking graves found in Britain are from cemeteries, after the raiders became settled and Christianised.
There is an intriguing rumoured Viking ship under a pub car park on the Wirral, and there are many claimed earlier ship burial finds – including one almost a century ago on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
But all of these had been disturbed or were ransacked by the people who stumbled on them, so none was properly recorded by archaeologists.
Years of work will follow on the new find, and may reveal whether the man who lay quietly in his ship for 1,000 years was a local resident, a sailor taking shelter from a storm or whether his body was brought specially to the beautiful site for burial.