In what has been described as an “amazing coincidence”, a viking runestone with a religious inscription has been discovered on a farm owned by archaeologist Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, an expert on Norse church history.
Found by Dr Gibbon’s father, Donnie Grieve, a retired teacher from Harray, the runes on the broken stone are a 19-character Latin passage of part the Lord’s Prayer — “who art in heaven hallowed” [*(s)insilisantifi(t)s(i)(t)or - '…s in caelis, sanctificetur' with the runic “s” in place of the Latin “c”]
Measuring approximately 8cm by 24cm, it was discovered by Mr Grieve at Naversdale farm in Orphir while he was gathering building stone from a field on September 26.
He said: “I recognised it right away as being runes. It’s very recognisable and very clear.
“It’s unusual, because it’s a Latin inscription — part of the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think there’s any record of any inscription like that in Orkney or Shetland, so it’s unusual.
“There are plenty of runes, but they are mostly Viking graffiti. This is something a bit different.”
Mr Grieve said that since the find he has been looking out for the remaining parts of the stone.
“When looking for other stone, I’ve been keeping my eye open for the other piece, but I think there’s little likelihood of it turning up,” he said.
“It could have come from anywhere, and it’s probably long separated from the other half.”
Dr Gibbon said: “Dad’s discovery of the runestone is really exciting and, as far as I know, a first for Orkney. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the stone. We have sent photographs to Professor Michael Barnes, expert on Orkney runic inscriptions, and I am looking forward very much to hearing what he has to say about the find.
“I am hoping he will be able to shed light on the date of the inscription so that we can begin to put it in its proper local and wider ecclesiastical contexts.”
Dr Gibbon said it was not known how or when the runestone came to Naversdale, but there were a number of possible scenarios.
“Was the inscription carved on a stone in a medieval structure on the farm, or was it brought here at a later date from somewhere else, perhaps from elsewhere on the Swanbister Estate?” she said.
“It would be fascinating to find out more about the history of our farm and the buildings on it, and we would be delighted to hear from anyone with information.”
Dr Gibbon added: “I am looking forward to discovering as much as I can about the runestone, especially as the preliminary findings indicate it is from a medieval Christian context, which is my main area of interest. The fact it was found where I live, by my dad, just makes this even more fascinating.”
Julie Gibson, Orkney county archaeologist, said: “The stone is a very beautiful one, each character evenly placed. I love that it is a religious inscription, and what an amazing coincidence that it should turn up at Dr Gibbon’s house.
“We are so lucky Sarah Jane’s father found it, and that Sarah Jane could recognise its value right away.”
Mrs Gibson added that photos of the stone were sent to Terje Spurkland and Professor Michael Barnes, at Oslo University, where a year long runology project is under way.
“Terje confirmed suspicions that the runes represented slightly corrupted Latin, and he translated them as meaning ‘who art in heaven hallowed’,” she said.
The stone is currently with the Orkney College archaeology department, but it is hoped it will soon be on display at the Orkney Museum.
Thursday, 31st July, 2014
A newly uncovered runic stone-carving was brought to light by Jane Harrison (Senior Associate Tutor working in our Archaeology programmes) working as part of a project team for the intriguing ‘Languages, Myths and Finds‘ programme.
‘Languages, Myths and Finds: Translating Norse and Viking Cultures for the Twenty-first Century’ is a Collaborative Skills Development Programme that brings together graduate students and full-time researchers from across the UK and Ireland to explore the translation of Norse and Viking cultures into the modern day. The project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and is based in five communities with Norse heritage: the Isle of Lewis, Cleveland, the Isle of Man, Dublin and Munster.
The fragment of inscribed runestone was found in the Tees Valley at Sockburn, in the grounds of a ruined church, having been used as building stone. The inscription on it reads: Line A … (ept)ir molmu; Line B… (re)isti krus …
Jane said, ‘We compared this inscription with a formula used in many Scandinavian runes from the Isle of Man: ‘X raised this cross in memory of Y’. The inscription on our stone therefore translates as (line B, then line A) ‘…raised cross… in memory of Máel-Muire/Máel-Maire’. Sadly, the name of the patron is lost.’
Máel-Muire or Máel-Maire is a personal name from the Goidelic – which is an Insular Celtic language from the dialect continuum stretching from Ireland through the Isle of Man to Scotland. The name is linked to the place-name Melmerby (found in Cumbria and in North Yorkshire) and also seen in a runic inscription from the Isle of Man [Br Olsen;215 - Kirk Michael (III)].
‘The runestone is relatively small, measuring approximately 22 cm long, 16 cm wide and 9cm deep,’ said Jane. ‘But it’s a very exciting find, despite its small size: Scandinavian runic inscriptions in England are rare – there are fewer than 20 known.’
‘The character of the runestone suggests links with the west from the north-east. The Tees Valley has been relatively neglected in studies of the period but that’s likely to change. For “Vikingologists”, this runestone is a great find and one that makes a fascinating contribution to understanding the Viking settlement of the North-East.’
Also remarkable is the fact that the stone was found in an area with a high concentration of Norse place names, but little in the way of archaeological and historical evidence – apart from unique hogback sculptures (large stone-carved Anglo-Scandinavian sculptures from 10th-12th century England and Scotland usually found in churchyards).
The Languages, Myths and Finds programme draws on the research ideas behind the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum to generate new research and an understanding of the Viking Age in areas of the country where that period is important but rarely discussed. Jane worked with project leads Professor Heather O’Donoghue (University of Oxford), Dr Pragya Vohra (Aberystwyth University) and PhD students Ellie Rye, Jo Shortt Butler and Nik Gunn (from Nottingham, Cambridge and York Universities).
In addition to the runic discovery, the team produced a research booklet, spoke at a conference and performed public engagement work with local societies.
For full information on the Languages, Myths and Finds project, please see the programme website, at languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk On the website you can download and enjoy the booklets produced by each of the project teams, including Jane’s team’s work in Cleveland, which can be found at: languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk/north-east-england/
Thursday, 12th June, 2014
East Lothian skeleton may be 10th Century 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 [Óláfr Guðfriðarson][Ánláf] 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.
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.”
Wednesday, 19th February, 2014
A Viking metal rod which left experts baffled for more than a century has finally been identified as a ‘magic wand’ used by a witch [O.N. volva or Icelandic völva] to cast spells.
The staff, which was found in a ninth-century grave, is curved at the end – causing it to be misidentified as a fishing hook or a spit for roasting food.
However, archaeologists have now concluded that it was in fact a magical item belonging to a sorceress who was ‘on the margins of society’.
It had been buried next to a woman’s body alongside other valuable items including an unusual plaque made of whalebone, implying that the person in the grave had a high status in Viking society.
They suggest that the reason it was bent before being buried with its owner was to remove its magical properties – possibly to prevent the witch coming back from the dead.
The 90cm-long rod has been part of the British Museum’s collection since 1894, when it was discovered in Norway’s Romsdal province.
Its unusual shape, with a knobbly ‘handle’ and a hooked end, originally led historians to believe that it was a practical object used for catching fish.
They later decided that it was in fact a skewer for roasting meat – but after comparing the rod with other similar objects*, experts have now reached a different conclusion.
British Museum curator Sue Branning says that it was probably a magical staff [vølvestav] used to perform ‘seithr’ [seiðr], a form of Viking sorcery predominantly practiced by women.
‘Our rod fits with a number of these rods that turn up in the ninth and 10th century in female burials,’ she told The Times. ‘They normally take the form of these long iron rods with knobs attached to them.’
The curve in the end of the staff is likely to have signified that it was being put out of use, a common practice in the medieval period for grave goods which were routinely broken when they were buried.
Bending or breaking the buried possessions of the dead could have served to neutralise their magical properties – preventing their former owners from casting spells from beyond the grave.
‘There must have been some kind of ritual,’ Ms Branning said. ‘This object was ritually “killed”, an act that would have removed the power of this object.’
Although Viking society, like most medieval societies, was dominated by men, some women were believed to have special powers which made them influential figures.
Ms Branning said: ‘These women were very well respected, but they were quite feared as well. They may have been on the margins of society.’
Because the Vikings were not converted to Christianity until around 1000 AD, there is strong evidence for the importance of magic in their society at a time when the rest of Europe had largely abandoned the practice.
Gardela, L. (2009) ‘A Biography of the Seiðr-Staffs. Towards an Archaeology of Emotions‘. In L. P. Slupecki, J. Morawiec (eds.), Between Paganism and Christianity in the North, Rzeszów: Rzeszów University, 190-219.
Sunday, 5th January, 2014
Looted Viking treasure is discovered in British Museum store: Curator spots 1,000-year-old brooch in lump taken from 18th century excavationA Celtic treasure looted by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago has been discovered in the British Museum’s storerooms. An ornate, gilded disc brooch dating from the eighth or ninth century was found by chance and is being described as a “staggering find”. No-one knew of its existence until now.Investigating the Lilleburge assemblage, a collection of Viking objects that includes items still in the small blocks of soil in which they were excavated in 1886 from a long barrow in Norway.
It had been concealed in a lump of organic material excavated from a Viking burial site at Lilleberge in Norway by a British archaeologist in the 1880s and acquired by the British Museum in 1891.
Curator Barry Ager, a Vikings specialist, was poring over artefacts before a visit from a Norwegian researching the Viking site when his eye was caught by some metal sticking out of the side of the organic lump.
Intrigued, he asked the conservation department to X-ray it. “At that stage, I really didn’t know what was inside,” he said. “It was a staggering find.”
He added: “It turned out, quite remarkably, to be this Celtic disc… It’s extremely exciting… It’s a very rare example of its sort within the collection… shows contact between the British Isles and Norway in the Viking period … objects seized as loot in this country and taken back.”
He believes that it was originally made in Ireland or Scotland, that it came from a shrine or a reliquary, and that the Vikings converted it into a brooch by attaching rivet holes and a pin.
The brooch, almost 6cm in diameter, had been buried in the grave of a high-status Viking woman. Substantial remains of the gilding still survive on the top surface and its elaborate design includes three dolphin-like creatures and interlaced patterns.
“The …patterns, the quatrefoil of the central roundel and the form of the ‘dolphins’ heads have clear parallels in Celtic metalwork and manuscripts of the 8th to early 9th centuries, such as the Tara Brooch and the Book of Mac Regol,” Ager said.
He described the craftsmanship as “very fine” and said that the Vikings valued “eye-catching” objects: “The Vikings themselves were very skilled metalworkers, so I’m sure that’s something that would appeal to a Viking eye.”
Other artefacts that came to the museum from that burial site included two oval brooches and strings of beads. There was also a spindle whorl and a whalebone plaque, which may have been used as a food serving-tray in feasts.
Ager explained: “It was the custom to bury the person with their personal possessions. They were pagan at the time, so it was part of the standard Viking burial rite.”
The burial site was a grave field marked by large mounds. The 19th-century excavation was carried out by Alfred Heneage Cocks*, a British archaeologist, in his spare time between hunting and fishing in Norway. He recorded his progress in a journal. Describing the moment he discovered the spindle whorl, he wrote: “This my knife unfortunately divided before I saw it – it was as soft as the softest cheese.”
Fortunately, he also retained some lumps of organic material, Ager said.
Extensive research is yet to be done. The wood within that lump leads him to suspect that it is the remains of a box to which the brooch may have been attached. Tests might determine whether it is local from the British Isles.
Removing the brooch from the lump was a painstaking process involving scalpels as conservators wanted to preserve a rare example of Viking textile. That too will be tested, but experts have already detected three different types, including a herringbone pattern.
The brooch will go on display from March 27 in Room 41 – Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300–1100 – which tells the story of a formative period in Europe’s history. A major exhibition, Vikings: Life and Legend, which focuses on the core period of the Viking Age from the late 8th century to the early 11th century, will include the remains of a 37-metre Viking longship – the longest ever found and never seen before in the UK – runs from 6 March to 22 June.
The reuse of an Insular mount may be paralleled by the example from Komnes, Norway. The gilt-bronze disc mount, with raised ‘watch spring’ spiral bosses, is now in the Universitetets Oldsaksamling, Oslo. It was probably, also, looted from an ecclesiastical cross or shrine during a raid in Ireland and brought to Norway and dates to the 8th or 9th century.
*Alfred Heneage Cocks (British archaeologist; collector; 1864 – 1928)
Tuesday, 13th August, 2013
A METAL detecting enthusiast has discovered a rare gold Viking pendant – the only one of its kind to be discovered in Lincolnshire.
Devin Wormsleycorr, from Spilsby, is now awaiting confirmation through the Treasure Act after discovering the piece in February.
He made the discovery in the first 10 minutes while metal detecting in a field with the landowner’s permission.
He said: “I did not know what it was at first. I just thought is was a modern day cross and put it in my pocket.
“I had found a few coins that day and thought more of them at first then the cross.
“I even wore it for a bit myself as part of a necklace – I just thought it was a modern sadist cross as it had three points on it.
“It was only when I got in touch with Adam Daubney that we thought it could be something very special.”
Adam Daubney Lincolnshire Finds Liaison Officer said: “This is something quite special.
“This is the only one in gold to be known in Lincolnshire and there are only two or three other gold ones we know about in other parts of the country.
“They are not that uncommon in bronze or silver but is quite rare in gold.
“It is currently going through the Treasure Act process which gives museums the opportunity to buy it if they want it.
“At the moment, this piece is with the British Museum awaiting valuation.”
Lincoln’s The Collection Museum has expressed an initial interest in the find.
Thor’s hammers are Viking-period amulet pendants, which are thought to represent the hammer of the Norse god Thor, known as Mjollnir.
It weighs around 3.65grams and dates late ninth or early 10th century.
It is a double-headed hammer with an elongated pentagonal head.
From the centre of the head extends an integral tapering rectangular-sectioned shaft.
The terminal of the shaft is narrowed to form a suspension loop.
Both faces of the axe are decorated with punched motifs resembling quatrefoils or perhaps miniature axes.
All sides of the shaft are also decorated in a similar manner.
Similar decoration has been seen on a silver Thor’s hammer pendant found in Leicestershire.
Mr Wormsley has made other findings in the past through his hobby, including a silver gilt seal-matrix dating back to the 14th century.
Wednesday, 3rd July, 2013
Viking treasure goes on show for the first time
The Viking ring discovered in King’s Newnham [Newnham Regis] and declared treasure.
A RARE Viking ring discovered on the outskirts of Rugby is to go on display to the public for the first time.
Rugby Museum‘s first official piece of treasure was found in King’s Newnham and dates back to the 9th or 10th century.
It is among a rare discovery of artefacts from that era in Warwickshire and has led experts to suggest the local area had links with Viking traders.
The ring will take centre stage during the Relics and Romans day on Saturday, July 13.
Members of Rugby Archaeology Society (RAS) will treat visitors to guided tours of the museum’s Tripontium exhibition while Geminus, the Roman craftsman and part-time guard, will give craft demonstrations and talk about living and working in the turbulent times of 4th Century Britain.
Visitors can also take along archaeological finds of their own to the museum on the day, where Dr Graham Morgan, of RAS, will offer expert advice. The event – part of the National Festival of Archaeology – runs from 10.30am until 3.30pm.
Angie Irvine, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum’s collections officer, said: “Relics and Romans promises to offer a fascinating glimpse into the past and a fitting celebration of the National Festival of Archaeology.”
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.