Axe of Iron series

stacks_image_507 stacks_image_443 Assimilation

Eight-year-old pulls a 1,000-year-old pre-Viking era SWORD from the bottom of a lake in Sweden

An interesting article from the Daily Mail tells a story of a young girl's accidental find of a sword that may pre-date the Viking age.

If the experts, who haven't dated the sword yet, are correct, and the sword is over 1000-years old it might possibly be a weapon from the Vendel Period of ancient Sweden - 500-700 AD. The Gotar tribe inhabited the modern area of Smaland, where the sword was found, so if the sword is that old it might be a weapon of the Gotar tribe. Now that would really be something. (Ed.)


The ancient sword was discovered by 8-year-old Saga Vanecek in Vidöstern lake
The child at first thought she'd pulled out a stick, before realizing it was a sword
Experts estimate it's at least 1,000 years old, likely dating to pre-Viking era 
They're now working to preserve it before putting it on display at a museum  

PUBLISHED: 16:19 EDT, 4 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:45 EDT, 5 October 2018
An 8-year-old girl skipping rocks at a lake in Sweden earlier this summer made a remarkable discovery that now has many locals joking she should be crowned the new queen, in a nod to tales of King Arthur.

While wading in Vidöstern lake in Tånnö, Småland, Saga Vanecek stumbled upon what she thought was 'some kind of stick' – but, it turned out to be a sword dating back more than 1,000 years to the pre-Viking era.

Experts are now working to preserve the delicate relic before it's eventually put on display at the Jönköpings Läns Museum.

While wading in Vidöstern lake in Tånnö, Småland, Saga Vanecek stumbled upon what she thought was 'some kind of stick'

It turned out to be a sword dating back more than 1,000 years to the pre-Viking era.

Though Vanecek found the sword months ago, the news was kept under wraps until this week to give researchers time to scour the area for any other artefacts that could be nearby, according to The LocalAnd in doing this, they found an ancient brooch from the same time period, as well as an 18th century coin.


Archaeologists Have Discovered A Treasure Trove Of Ancient Artifacts In Scandinavia’s First Viking City

Danish archaeologists from Aarhus University and representatives of the Southwest Jutland Museum, have discovered numerous Viking artifacts beneath the streets of Ribe, Denmark, according to this article in Inquisitr.

There is a virtual certainty that more will be discovered as the dig progresses; however, a lack of sufficient operating funds may call a halt before the work is completed.

Almost all ancient cities have modern ones setting atop the original site, making digging expensive or impossible, as is the case in Ribe.

Click the title link to read the original article on Inquisitr. (Ed.)


Archaeologists Have Discovered A Treasure Trove Of Ancient Artifacts In Scandinavia’s First Viking City

Archaeologists in the west Denmark town of Ribe have excavated 330 feet of the first Viking city in Scandinavia, and have discovered artifacts from beads to lyres, which still have their tuning pegs intact.

September 15, 2018

Archaeologists have been busy excavating beneath the streets of Ribe, the first Viking city ever established in Scandinavia, and have discovered a treasure trove of ancient artifacts. Ribe, which can be found in west Denmark, is the subject of important new research that is known as the Northern Emporium Project, which is currently being conducted by archaeologists from Aarhus University and the Southwest Jutland Museum.

After digging just 10 feet beneath this ancient Viking city, archaeologists discovered thousands of artifacts such as coins, amulets, beads, bones and even combs. Lyres (ancient string instruments) have also been found, with some still having their tuning pegs attached to them, Science Nordic reports.

However, besides the numerous artifacts that have been excavated, archaeologists were also keen to learn more about how the city of Ribe would have originally been created. After all, none of the people who originally inhabited this site had ever lived in a city before, and the population would have consisted of lyrists, craftsmen, seafarers, innkeepers, and tradesmen.

While archaeologists have known about Ribe for quite some time, excavating this site was another matter entirely. Due to high costs and the amount of time required, up until recently, only small sections of this city were investigated.However, now that the Carlsberg Foundation has joined in, the funding for the project has been taken care of, and archaeologists are using 3D laser surveying techniques in combination with the study of soil chemistry and DNA analysis to learn much more about the first Viking city in Scandinavia.

Archaeologists discovered that not long after the creation of Ribe, houses had been built on the site which shows that this city quickly developed its residents, and would have been a largely urban community.

When it comes to ancient cities that existed in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, cities were packed tightly together, yet here in Ribe, the closest city would have easily been hundreds of miles away. However, archaeologists believe that despite such great distances, the earliest settlers of this Viking city would still have traversed great distances in order to network with others.

It was also determined that as 800 AD is when the Viking era is asserted to have truly started, Ribe would have been part of what is known as the sailing revolution. With this new era, archaeologists noted many changes in the artifacts that were found. For instance, craftsmen who made beads originally had quite small workshops that may have only been used for a matter of weeks.

During the height of the Viking age, the production of these beads appears to have slowed down immensely, and archaeologists spotted evidence of other imported Middle Eastern beads that would have taken their place. It was also discovered that gemstones weren’t that important to residents of Ribe. Gold, on the other hand, certainly was, and it is believed that much of the gold in use during the early days of this city would have been stolen from Roman graves.

With around 330 feet of the first Viking city excavated, archaeologists are progressing steadily with their study of Ribe, and will continue to publicize their finds in the upcoming years.


How Human Error Led the Vikings to Canada

An article from Live Science features work done on the theory that Norse ship crews may have used sun stones to sail to their desired destinations across the North Atlantic.

Seems reasonable since the Greenland Norse sailed back and forth across the North Atlantic for 400-years taking their trade goods to markets in their Scandinavian homelands. They certainly used something to navigate. 

And, according to the Norse Sagas, Bjarni Herjulfsson did miss Greenland in the late decades of the 9th century during a storm and sighted what must have been North America, but he did not land. He told Leif Eiriksson about his sighting and Lucky Leif later went to see what his friend had sighted. Leif landed on Newfoundland and the rest is history. But you all know that, right?

Original Live Science article may be seen by clicking the title link. (Ed.)

How Human Error Led the Vikings to Canada
By Tom Metcalfe, Live Science Contributor | April 12, 2018 06:54am ET

Credit: Shutterstock
Viking navigators guided by mysterious crystal "sunstones" may have accidentally sailed on to the mainland of North America while looking for Greenland, according to new research.
The new study shows that so-called sunstones — crystals of translucent minerals like Iceland spar, which split the polarization of light passing through them — would have been "surprisingly successful" as navigation devices, by revealing the position of the sun on cloudy days, a common occurrence in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The Vikings had no knowledge of the use of magnetic compasses for navigation at sea.
But observations with these crystal sunstones might have helped Viking ships steer a course due west from Norway to Greenland, the site of several Viking settlements after the 10th century, said Dénes Száz, an optical physicist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary.Száz is the lead author of the new study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science this month. [7 Secrets of Viking Seamen]

Computer simulations showed that Viking navigators who made observations of the position of the sun at least once every 3 hours had a very high chance of sailing due west and reaching the coast of Greenland, Száz told Live Science in an email.
" may have accidentally sailed on to the mainland of North America while looking for Greenland

But Vikings who made observations of the sun less frequently ran the risk of drifting south and missing Greenland altogether — and, if they didn't all die at sea first, of eventually reaching the coast of Canada.
"Through archaeological findings, we know for sure that the Vikings were present in North America centuries before Columbus," Száz said. "But we do not know whether they got there through such a misnavigation, or started discovery expeditions from previous colonies on Greenland."

Viking sunstone mystery
For the new study, Száz and co-author Gábor Horváth, also of Eötvös Loránd University, ran 36,000 computer simulations of Viking-ship voyages across the North Atlantic, to determine the expected success of navigations guided by sunstones.

Their research builds on earlier studies that measured the human error involved in navigating with sunstones of Icelandic spar and other translucent crystals that create a double or bright single image, depending on the polarization of the light passing through them.
Száz explained that, while there is little archaeological evidence for the use of such crystals by Viking navigators, the 13th-century Icelandic saga of St. Olaf described mysterious sunstones — sólarsteinn, in Old Icelandic — that were used in cloudy or foggy weather to find the position of the sun.

Viking navigators are thought to have used a nonmagnetic sun compass to measure the angle of the sun at midday, which would have enabled them to steer along a constant line of latitude — due west from Norway to Greenland, for example. 

But because the North Atlantic is plagued by cloudy weather and fog for much of the year, the sun often can't be seen for days or weeks at a time.
In a hypothesis proposed in 1967 by Danish archaeologist Thorkild Ramskou, Száz said, Viking navigators could find the sun on cloudy days by rotating sunstones in front of the sky and observing where the images in the crystals aligned or brightened.

Simulated sea voyages
The computer simulations of Viking voyages revealed that sunstones used to find the position of the sun on cloudy days would have been "surprisingly successful" as navigation aids, especially when the observations were made at least every 3 hours and taken evenly around midday. [Images: Viking Twilight Compass Helps Navigate North Atlantic]

The simulations showed that Vikings from Norway who kept to this regular schedule of observations could sail close enough to due west to reach the coast of Greenland in three to four weeks, Száz said. "We showed that if the navigation periodicity was 1, 2 or 3 hours, the navigation success was very high, between 80 and 100 percent," Száz said.

But the research also showed that Vikings who made sun observations only every 6 hours or more, or none at all, tended to stray south on their voyages, with a very high chance that they might have sailed right past Greenland entirely.

If that happened — and if the Vikings on board did not perish from thirst, hunger or storms at sea — some of those Viking voyages might have sailed all the way to the coasts of what are now Labrador and Newfoundland in Canada, Száz said.

The computer simulations used in the current research took into account weather changes, the different mineral types of sunstone that might have been used, and the times of year when the voyages between Norway and Greenland were undertaken.

Future research would add factors to the simulations, including the effects of storms, water currents and varying winds, he said.
Original article on Live Science.


Thousands of objects discovered in Scandinavia’s first Viking city

Archaeologists in Scandinavia have excavated underneath the main street of Ribe, Denmark. This interesting article from Science Nordic details what they found. (Ed.)

As always, the title link takes the reader to the original article.


September 13, 2018 - 06:25
Danish archaeologists have excavated the streets beneath Ribe to discover how the first city of the Viking age was established.
The bead-makers of 8th century Ribe used pieces of glass gathered from old Roman mosaics as their raw material. They didn’t have access to newly manufactured glass. This is one of the many details that tells us about the city’s network. (Photo: Museum of Southwest Jutland)
If you want to know anything about the Viking Age, Ribe, in west Denmark, is the place to go.
Archaeologists from Aarhus University and Southwest Jutland Museums (Denmark) have been excavating the Viking city as part of the Northern Emporium Project in minute detail.
We have dug down to three metres, where we find traces of the first cities of the Nordic region.

Thousands of items discovered beneath the streets of Ribe
Deep beneath street level are thousands of Viking finds. We have discovered everything from beads, amulets, coins, and lost combs, to dog excrement and gnawed bones.
We have also been surprised on several occasions, such as when we discovered a piece of a lyre (a harp-like stringed instrument), complete with tuning pegs. This discovery alone gives the Viking trading city of Ribe a whole new soundtrack.

Another extraordinary find is the discovery of runic inscriptions.

“High-definition”-archaeology reveals new information
Interesting as this is, we have been looking for something completely different. What makes Ribe special is that this is where a city emerged. The people who lived here weren’t primarily farmers for household purposes but were craftsmen, seafarers, tradesmen, innkeepers, and maybe even lyrists.
We have known about the existence of the early period of Ribe for many years but excavating the deep layers to study this early period is expensive and time-consuming. Earlier excavations have therefore focused on smaller areas. However, two years ago the Carlsberg Foundation joined the excavation with the funding that made it possible to start a new and bigger excavation.
Meanwhile new methods of archaeology, including 3D laser surveying, DNA research, and soil chemistry, allow us to tease out new information from the site.
These ‘high-definition’ methods were developed by the Centre of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) funded by the Danish National Research Foundation.
How is a city established?
3D scans are used to document and analyse the many layers of flooring (yellow) and layers of soil (blue) from the Viking age houses. In the cut out area loom weights and other larger object can be seen in situ on the floors. (Graphic: Sarah Croix)
The early period of Ribe is a riddle: How was the city established in a part of the world where no one had ever lived in a city before? That is the question our excavation tried to answer.
Clues from earlier excavations were difficult to interpret, and scientists discussed whether Ribe was simply a seasonal market town for generations before people started to settle there more permanently.
One of the most important discoveries was that solid houses existed in Ribe only a few years after the earliest activities in the area, no later than the 720’s CE.  This suggests a more or less resident population - that is a population of trade and craftsmanship in the area, an urban community of sorts.

The development of Ribe layer by layer
In the Ancient Middle East and Ancient Mediterranean the cities were placed near each other each with their own temples, palaces, markets and city walls. Each city was at the centre of the surrounding area. Yet early period Ribe and the next closest city were hundreds of kilometres apart.
On the other hand it’s evident that people visited the city from far away. It was a city that lived by its networks.
Networks of trade and information are crucial to city life throughout history. But it is a lot harder to observe networks in archaeological excavations than it is to dig up city walls and monuments. In this regard Ribe has an ace up its sleeve: the oldest layers of the city are untouched and this makes it possible to uncover the city’s history decade by decade. In doing so, we can see how the city’s networks developed.

Ribe contributed to the creation of the Viking Age
Ribe was an ideal departure point for sailing ships and it’s development depended on them., Around 700 CE, when Ribe was beginning to develop, maritime traffic at the North Sea was in its infancy. But by 800 CE, when the Viking Age is traditionally said to have begun, the sailing ship had its breakthrough in the North.
Commercial cities like Ribe with their extensive networks, were crucial in the sailing revolution, as the ships were used to trade the cities’ goods with the rest of Scandinavia. And in that regard, Ribe helped create the Viking Age as we know it.
In Ribe we see this change in the remains of workshops. These finds are the real scoop of the excavation. Time after time we get a close-up look at the earliest city-dwellers in the North and the crafts that made them special.

Wood and other organic materials are preserved in deep underneath the Danish city of Ribe. For example, this piece of lyre with six tuning pegs, was found in a layer from the first half of the 8th century CE. (Photo: Museum of Southwest Jutland)

Networks of the craftsmen and the first globalisation
The craftsmen of Ribe depended on the city’s network both for access to raw materials and to sell their wares. We have found evidence of many trades: ironsmiths, amber workers, leather workers, comb makers, and jewellers, who worked with pewter, lead, copper alloys, silver and gold.
Initially, comb makers, who made intricately decorated combs and other tools from antlers, used local supplies such as antlers from stags. This changes around the beginning of the Viking Age, when they start using antlers from reindeer, which must have been imported from Norway.
The network of the bead makers changes just as drastically. In the oldest layers we find evidence of several smaller workshops, each only in use for days or maybe weeks. The raw material – colored fragments of glass – must have originated far from Ribe and it’s clear that each craftsman brought a slightly different range of colours.
The bead production continues for a couple of generations with the style of the bead changing according to the fashions of the day. However, the production stops around the emergence of the Viking Age. Instead, mass produced beads from the Middle East start arriving in bulk. The bead makers of Ribe are the first craftsmen in Denmark to be ousted by globalisation.

Scandinavia’s first city developed before global trade appeared
Ribe developed an impressive network in the Viking Age, but it was not yet global. This is indicated by several findings.
Analysis of the glass used by the bead makers shows that the glass originated in Palestine and Egypt. However, it was already several centuries old when it arrived in Ribe and so it must have been taken from old Roman mosaics, probably in Roman cities such as Cologne or Trier.
We also found a roman carnelian gemstone decorated with the picture of Venus, which had been forcibly removed from the gold ring it must have decorated. 
Apparently, the gemstone was of no interest in Ribe. But the gold was. The raw material of the first goldsmiths in Ribe was very likely comprised of objects like these looted from Roman graves.
Other findings point in the same direction. A fragment of the ornately decorated Roman ceramic, terra sigillata, must have been picked up at a Roman ruin or grave and brought to Ribe as an amulet or souvenir. Even though these things originate far away they may have been brought from relatively nearby.
Read More archa​eology articles from the ResearcherZone:
Find out more about the ResearcherZone
Findings show that the first city of the North appeared before trade with the Mediterranean and Middle East was established. It was another network that kick started the development of Ribe. The results of our excavation will no doubt tell us more about these origins in the coming years.

An epic expedition to the Viking Age
Wrapping up a big excavation like this is not the end. We have come home with bags full of samples, data, and discoveries that we have not yet had time to unpack and study properly. Many of the most important results are probably yet to come.
Now, we need to hit the laboratory, where we’ll spend hours and hours analysing samples to trace the activity in the city’s earliest houses. Terabytes of survey notes need processing and analyzing. And the network of the craftsmen needs to be mapped after analysing the materials and isotope studies.
The Northern Emporium-expedition to Viking age Ribe has gathered materials that will be used by scientists for many decades to come to answer age-old questions and hopefuly some new ones.

Findings still need analysis
All in all, the project “Northern Emporium” has excavated about 100 square meters of cultural layers in the heart of the oldest Ribe.
It will set a new standard for archaeological research of cities through the development of field methods that include geochemical element analysis, micromorphology, and dynamic, electronic methods for documenting the excavation.
The project is sponsored by the Carlsberg Foundation. It is completed in close collaboration with the Centre of Excellence for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and the Museum of Southwest Jutland, which is responsible for the archaeology of Ribe.
The project will be continuing the analysis and publish the thousands of finds and observations in the coming years.
Country Denmark
Translated by
Astrid Leed Strauss
Related content
Scientific literature
External links

The cities of the Vikings and the Pirenne thesis
Scientists and archaeologists often talk about the Pirenne thesis in the research of the oldest cities and trade networks of Northern Europe.
In the beginning of the 20th century the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne discovered that the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire in Western Europe might have happened differently than former historians had thought.
If you  crutinized the sparse source material it became clear that cities, craftsmanship, and trade with silk, wine and other luxury wares from the Mediterranean, continued to a smaller extent after the ‘barbarians,’ as the Romans called the Germanic people, had assumed control.
Therefore Pirenne theorised that the real distinction in European history was the blocking of the most important trade routes of the continent caused by the Arabian conquests in the Mediterranean in the 7th century instead of the fall of the Roman Empire.
According to Pirenne, Western Europe had grown isolated from the rest of the world since that point.
Critics of Pirenne questioned this isolation and maintained that Northern Europe still had trade and contact with the Mediterranean towards the beginning of the Viking Age, around 800 CE. Since then, the discussion has gone back and forth.
At first glance, the many traces of trade and craftsmanship from 8th century Ribe looks to argue against the Pirenne thesis. However, the discovery that the city’s oldest trade networks were limited to Germany and the area of the North Sea speaks for the thesis instead.


Danish Viking fortresses were designed to fend off other Vikings

A very interesting article from ScienceNordic on archaeologists from Aarhus University, Denmark, and their continuing work on the country's Viking Ring Fortresses, constructed at the direction of King Harald Bluetooth during his reign in the 10th century. (Ed. )


August 21, 2018 - 06:25
After four years, the excavation of the famous Viking fortress, Borgring, is coming to a close and archaeologists can now describe the fortress in a broader perspective: An anti-Viking defence that allowed the Danish King to forge a new, mobile army.

Trelleborg is one of the five Viking fortresses in Denmark, built by Harold Bluetooth at the end of the 900s CE. (Photo: National Museum of Denmark)
Four years ago, my colleague Nanna Holm from the Museum Southeast Denmark and I, announced our new discovery: A Viking fortress, known as Borgring, in Lellinge, not far from the Danish capital, Copenhagen.
The news travelled around the world, and since then our excavations have continued to cast new light on the Viking Age.
Thousands of visitors have flocked to the site, which has been open each summer as a living museum. But if you want to visit then you will need to be quick, as this summer will probably be the last year of excavations at Borgring.
Here are some of the most important and surprising discoveries made during the excavations. These finds not only tell us about the history of the fortress, but also about the purpose of these unique, ring fortresses.
A “new” ring fortress?
Borgring is one of five, large ring fortresses from the Viking Age in Denmark. Each of the large fortresses were constructed in a perfect circle and are some of the best known monuments left by the Vikings.
The other fortresses include Trelleborg, Fyrkat, Nonnebakken, and Aggersborg, as well as Borgeby in Southern Sweden. All were built by King Harold Bluetooth who reigned between circa 958 and 987 CE and is best known in Denmark for erecting the Jelling Stone—a large stone with the first written reference to the name “Denmark,” often referred to as Denmark’s birth certificate.
It had been 60 years since archaeologists had discovered such a ring fortress in Denmark when we finally found Borgring. Many doubted that it was indeed a Viking fortress, while others claimed that the fortress had been known about for some time.
Locals remember an officer from the Danish Air force spotting the outline of the fortress in 1970, in aerial photos. He contacted the National Museum of Denmark who investigated the site and concluded that there were no Viking remains. People thus knew about the old earthworks in a field north of Lellinge, but archaeologists did not connect it to Harold Bluetooth’s fortresses.
Discoveries started to turn up
But the critics came around, as the results of the excavations started coming in.
Among the most important results, which ScienceNordic has previously written about, are.
Carbon-14 dating, which placed the fortress in the early 900s.
Later discoveries of a Viking toolboxbuildingsceramics, and beads and jewellery, indicating activities in the fortress.
In May 2018, Aarhus University together with the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, held a conference on the Danish Viking Age ring fortresses, which are to be nominated as UNESCO world heritage sites. It was clear that even the researchers who had been sceptical, were no longer in any doubt that Borgring was one of Harold Bluetooth’s fortresses.
A network of fortresses
Since 2016, scientists from Museum Southeast Denmark, the National Museum of Denmark, and Aarhus University, Denmark, have excavated the site, with funding from the A.P. Møller Foundation and Køge Municipality.
We’ve learnt a lot about the fortress’s history, but also about the Viking fortresses in general.
The fortresses are impressive enough on their own. But the most unique aspect is that they were constructed as a coordinated project—a network of fortresses across the country.

Ring fortresses (dark blue circles) and other focal points of Harold Bluetooth’s kingdom. The shading indicates proximity to medieval churches (red = dense), which gives an indication of the population density shortly after the Viking Age. Roads (white lines) represent the old network, many of which have existed since the Viking Age. (Graphic: Søren M. Sindbæk/Aarhus University)
 Many have tried to explain what purpose the network of fortifications served. Here, it’s important to ask the right questions, as the challenge is to find an explanation that best accounts for everything that we know about these fortresses.
Big fortifications, short lifespan
The ring fortresses only existed for a short part of the Viking Age.
Two of the best dated fortresses, Fyrkat and Trelleborg, look to have been established between 974 and 981, and finds from the other fortresses suggest a similar date.
No other large fortifications existed in Denmark in the rest of the Viking Age, from the end of the 700s up to 1000s, except for city walls in Hedeby (in modern day Germany), Ribe, and Aarhus.
Chieftains and kings built large halls and farms, but not fortresses.
Four hypotheses for the Viking fortresses
Why did Harold Bluetooth build five fortresses in the 970s?
This is the central question that has bothered Viking researchers since the fortresses were first discovered. So far, four main hypotheses have been floated:
Training camps for the Viking army that conquered England around the time of Sweyn Forkbeard. This hypothesis was shelved in the 80s, when tree-ring dating revealed that Trelleborg and Fyrkat fortresses were built and used decades before the large attack on England.
Fortified centres of royal control built by Harold Bluetooth to subdue the population in the newly united Denmark: This was the dominant hypothesis for many years, but the dates again did not fit. Why would Bluetooth build the fortresses in the later part of his reign, long after he became king around 958 CE, and long after he declared Denmark a Christian country in 963 CE?
Military bases during the fight between Bluetooth and his son, Sweyn Forkbeard: Bluetooth’s son rebelled against his father, but if the fortresses were built around 975, this rebellion must have lasted more than a decade across the entire country. Again, it didn’t fit.
A result of an extraordinary foreign policy situation: Early in Bluetooth’s reign, a new power was growing from central Europe under King Otto I, who was crowned emperor in 962. Otto’s growing power was probably a crucial factor in Harold Bluetooth’s conversion to Christianity, to avoid becoming Otto’s next target. Many researchers have come to the conclusion, that it was the unique set of challenges posed by this situation that led Harold Bluetooth to construct the fortresses. Let me explain why.
A network to defend against Viking attacks
Otto I died in 973 and was succeeded by his son, Otto II who attacked Danevirke (in what is modern day Germany), upping the threat to Harold Bluetooth’s Denmark, which remained a target for war until Otto II’s death in 983.
These events coincide precisely with activity at the fortresses, and can explain the need for such unusual fortifications.
But a mystery remains: If the threat was from Germany, why were they built so far from the Danish-German border, on the island of Fyn and Zealand, and Skåne in southern Sweden?
In 2014 I put forward another version of this “invasion theory,” together with my colleague Else Roesdahl. We suggested that the acute danger probably came from Otto II, which explained the timing of the fortress construction.
But another factor can explain the distribution of fortresses around the country: The threat from the south left Harold Bluetooth exposed to other threats from elsewhere, specifically from Norway and Sweden, who might try to exploit the king’s weak position.
And so fortresses were established right across the kingdom. They was a coastal defence: Rather than being Viking fortresses, they were actually “anti-Viking” fortresses.
A new theory

Archaeologist Nanna Holm excavates burnt posts at Borgring’s east gate. The charred wooden posts give a clear indication of the fortress construction. (Photo: Søren M. Sindbæk/Aarhus University)
It was this hypothesis that led us to discover Borgring.
It suggested that Harold Bluetooth must also have had a fortress to protect the east coast of the country, which turned out to be the case.
What we couldn’t explain was, how exactly the fortresses were used as a defence. And this is where the discoveries made at Borgring can shed some new light.
With this in mind, we can propose a new explanation for the fortresses, and a more direct connection between Harold Bluetooth’s fight on the southern borders and his need for coastal defences in the rest of the country.
Built in a hurry
The excavations at Borgring have revealed a fortress built to the same design as Trelleborg and the other ring fortresses. We also see that the fortifications were well planned and completed swiftly.
The landscape was levelled, and the walls were built in a precise circle, with gently sloping sides inside the fortress. The interior is divided into even sections, with four wooden gates placed at exactly 90 degrees to each other.
But then… nothing.
There’s no sign of repairs or extensions to the walls, there are only feeble traces of wooden constructions, which could have supported a high wall, and unlike Trelleborg, Fyrkat, and Aggersborg, there are no signs of construction in the interior of the fortress.
But there are traces of a damaging fire in numerous places around the fortress, and deep wheel tracks that suggest long-term use by traffic coming in and out.
A fortress for refugees
How can we explain these features? It is possible that the construction was interrupted prematurely, but in this case we might have expected to see more clear traces of the building process, and we wouldn’t expect to see any later activity.
The wheel tracks suggest that Borgring was sufficiently ready for use, even without the construction of actual buildings or dwellings inside.
Looking at the excavation drawings from Trelleborg made in the 1930s, we see that the fortress walls were built up numerous times, with the oldest phase most similar to the walls at Borgring.
And Borgring is not alone: One of the other fortresses, Nonnebakken, does not appear to have any interior buildings either. This suggests, that the primary function of the fortresses was not to house a permanent settlement, but to allow people to flee there for short periods of time.
This function as a place for refugees to seek shelter, points to a new and stronger connection between the fortresses and Harold Bluetooth’s was against Otto II.
Fortresses sent warriors to the southern border

Fire experts from the Danish police fire department assist Søren Sindbæk (right) during the excavation of the burnt gates. (Photo: Søren M. Sindbæk/Aarhus University)

The war with the south meant that Harold needed to call up reinforcements from all of the supporting chieftains to gather warriors along the southern border.
Such an operation was described in the Skaldic poem Vellakla, written as a praise poem to the Norwegian Earl Hakon, a contemporary of Harald Bluetooth. According to the poem, Hakon was summoned to assist Harald’s fighting at the Danevirke.
This left over parts of the country without the warriors who would usually defend them and entirely unprotected. In order to win the war with the south, Bluetooth had to offer some other form of protection to these areas, hence the fortresses.
Placed on top of a fortified wall, it was possible for a poorly armed and untrained person, man or woman, to fight off a well-trained warrior.
If enough people sought refuge in the fortress, then the attackers were unlikely to take it. They could initiate a siege, but time would be against them.
A successful strategy
The fortresses offered protection to locals, in the absence of the warriors who had be called up to protect the south. This allowed locals to withstand Viking attacks, and provided Harold Bluetooth with a mobile army that he could deploy to the German border.
The fortresses were intended to deter potential attackers, by allowing the local population to seek shelter and defend themselves.
Seen this way, the fortresses are no longer a mystery. In fact, they successfully fulfilled their mission.
Harold Bluetooth strengthened his power base
Constructing the ring fortresses, allowed Harold to consolidate his power throughout the kingdom in a way that no other king of Denmark had done before.
The large buildings of Trelleborg suggest that some of the fortresses came in due time to take on a more active role as settlements or perhaps winter camps for warriors. But first and foremost, this network of fortresses allowed the king to exploit his chief military assets, warriors, more effectively.
These warriors did not man the fortresses, which were, on the contrary, a means of protecting the portion of the population who were not warriors.  This was a decisive countermeasure that allowed Harold to defend and win the war in another part of the kingdom.
Excavations at Borgring have revealed new pieces of the puzzle to understand all of Harold Bluetooth’s fortresses. 
You can still catch a glimpse of the excavations of the walls and west gate, before this little piece of Viking Age Denmark will be covered by soil and grass once more.
Country Denmark
Translated by
Catherine Jex


Why did Greenland’s Viking colonies disappear? It may have been because the trade in walrus ivory collapsed

Here's another article on what happened to the Norse on Greenland. Now even the Chinese are into the conversation.
Walrus ivory seems to be in vogue with archaeologists searching for a reason why the Vikings, or Norse if you will - they had not been Vikings for several centuries - completely disappeared from Greenland and history.

Walrus ivory was eventually replaced by elephant ivory in world trade, so it stands to reason that the hazardous voyages across the North Atlantic became unnecessary and the Greenland Norse colony went somewhere else because their main trade with their homeland collapsed; providing this theory is actually correct, because all it will ever be is a theory.
Nobody to this day knows what happened to these hardy people, who had lived and prospered on the island of Greenland for almost 500-years.

They did not return to their European homeland, they simply disappeared. Or did they?

That is the question that has vexed every archaeological researcher. Not a shred of evidence exists as to where the last of the Greenland Norse went when they left Greenland for good sometime in the early 15th or 16th century. Even the timeline is questionable because the Western Settlement, the smaller of the two known Greenland Norse settlements, was abandoned during the 13th or 14th century.

In a fictional sense, my Axe of Iron novel series addresses this enduring mystery. In my opinion those remaining went to North America to assimilate with the natives as their ancestors had been doing for centuries. Check it out on my website. My theory makes as much sense as any of the others.

Click the title link to read the article at its origin. (Ed.)

Why did Greenland’s Viking colonies disappear? It may have been because the trade in walrus ivory collapsed

At one point, the Vikings’ descendants thrived on a lucrative trade in walrus tusks, which were sold to Europe’s elite and carved into luxury items

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 3:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 10:07pm

For almost 500 years, the Norse descendants of Erik the Red built churches and manor homes and expanded their settlements on the icy fringes of European civilisation.

On Greenland, they had elaborate stone churches with bronze bells and stained glass, a monastery, and their own bishop. Their colonies at one time supported more than 2,000 people. And then they vanished. Scholars have long wondered why.

“Why did they flourish and why did they disappear?” asked Thomas McGovern, an anthropologist at Hunter College in New York. “And did their greatest success also contain the seeds of their demise?”

Researchers who visited museums across western Europe to assemble a rare pile of artefacts – fragments of medieval walrus skulls – reported in a study in Wednesday’s Proceedings of the Royal Society B that the fate of these medieval outposts may have been tied to the demand for walrus ivory among rich Europeans.

The study revealed that during the height of the Norse settlement – from about 1120 to 1400 – at least 80 per cent of the walrus samples were directly sourced from Greenland.

“It’s possible that almost all the walrus ivory in western Europe during the High Middle Ages came from Greenland,” said Bastiaan Star, a scientist at the University of Oslo and one of the study’s authors. “This result tells a very clear story.”

A dozen years ago, many historians believed that the changing climate of medieval Europe was the main reason Norse settlements in Greenland expanded and went extinct. This view was popularised in Jared Diamond’s 2005 book Collapse.

But evidence such as walrus bones at archaeological sites in Greenland and historical documents – including church records of tithes paid in walrus tusks – suggested another possible factor: that the Vikings’ descendants thrived on a lucrative trade in walrus tusks, which were sold to Europe’s elite and carved into luxury items, such as ivory crucifixes, knife handles, and fancy dice and chess sets.

This is the first study that conclusively shows that Greenland walrus exports obtained a near-monopoly in Europe


Archaeologists suspected that famous ivory artefacts from the Middle Ages – such as the Lewis Chessmen, a set of expressive and intricately carved statuettes from the 12th century now housed in the British Museum in London – were made from walrus tusks from Greenland. But they could not get permission to bore into these precious artefacts for genetic analysis.

James Barrett, another study author and an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, was “opening dusty boxes and poring through museum catalogues” in galleries in Norway, France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK when he realised that the tusks were often sold attached to fragments of walrus skulls – and that the bone could provide the DNA he needed. Barrett didn’t get access to the Lewis Chessmen, but his hunt produced 23 medieval artefacts for analysis, after examining hundreds of related objects.

“This is the first study that conclusively shows that Greenland walrus exports obtained a near-monopoly in Europe,” said Poul Holm, an environmental historian at Trinity College in Dublin, who was not involved in the study.

McGovern, also not part of the study, said of the research: “It’s changing the story that we’ve been telling for years.”

If walrus ivory was the key to Greenland’s medieval wealth, experts now suspect a collapsing market for the ivory may have helped doom the outposts. The Norse Greenland settlements vanished in the 1400s, sometime after life in continental Europe was badly rattled by the onset of the Black Death and the beginning of the Little Ice Age, an era of cooler climates. These calamities undermined demand for walrus ivory, said Barrett.

After “a bonanza tied to the novelty of bringing exotic products to the market” in Europe, Holm said, “the fading allure of the product locks the society in decline”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Walruses shed light on Viking mystery


Lost Norse of Greenland fueled the medieval ivory trade, ancient walrus DNA suggests

This is an interesting article published by Cambridge University on walrus ivory, or the lack of demand for same, as being a possible cause of the Norse demise on the island of Greenland. (Ed.)

This is an example of an elaborately-carved ecclesiastical walrus ivory plaque from the beginning of the medieval walrus ivory trade, featuring the figure of Christ, together with St Mary and St Peter, and believed to date from the 10th or 11th century. Found in North Elmham, Norfolk, UK, in the 19th century, and currently exhibited in the University of Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 

Credit: Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge 

Lost Norse of Greenland fueled the medieval ivory trade, ancient walrus DNA suggests
August 7, 2018

University of Cambridge

New DNA analysis reveals that, before their mysterious disappearance, the Norse colonies of Greenland had a 'near monopoly' on Europe's walrus ivory supply. An overreliance on this trade may have contributed to Norse Greenland's collapse when the medieval market declined.

The Icelandic Sagas tell of Erik the Red: exiled for murder in the late 10th century he fled to southwest Greenland, establishing its first Norse settlement.

The colony took root, and by the mid-12th century there were two major settlements with a population of thousands. Greenland even gained its own bishop.

By the end of the 15th century, however, the Norse of Greenland had vanished -- leaving only abandoned ruins and an enduring mystery.

Past theories as to why these communities collapsed include a change in climate and a hubristic adherence to failing farming techniques.

Some have suggested that trading commodities -- most notably walrus tusks -- with Europe may have been vital to sustaining the Greenlanders. Ornate items including crucifixes and chess pieces were fashioned from walrus ivory by craftsmen of the age. However, the source of this ivory has never been empirically established.

Now, researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo have studied ancient DNA from offcuts of tusks and skulls, most found on the sites of former ivory workshops across Europe, in order to trace the origin of the animals used in the medieval trade.

In doing so they have discovered an evolutionary split in the walrus, and revealed that the Greenland colonies may have had a "near monopoly" on the supply of ivory to Western Europe for over two hundred years.

For the latest study, published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the research team analysed walrus samples found in several medieval trading centres -- Trondheim, Bergen, Oslo, Dublin, London, Schleswig and Sigtuna -- mostly dating between 900 and 1400 CE.

The DNA showed that, during the last Ice Age, the Atlantic walrus divided into two ancestral lines, which researchers term "eastern" and "western." Walruses of the eastern lineage are widespread across much of the Arctic, including Scandinavia. Those of the western, however, are unique to the waters between western Greenland and Canada.

Finds from the early years of the ivory trade were mostly from the eastern lineage. Yet as demand grew from the 12th century onwards, the research team discovered that Europe's ivory supply shifted almost exclusively to tusks from the western lineage.

They say that ivory from western linage walruses must have been supplied by the Norse Greenlanders -- by hunting and perhaps also by trade with the indigenous peoples of Arctic North America.

"The results suggest that by the 1100s Greenland had become the main supplier of walrus ivory to Western Europe -- a near monopoly even," said Dr James H. Barrett, study co-author from the University of Cambridge's Department of Archaeology.

"The change in the ivory trade coincides with the flourishing of the Norse settlements on Greenland. The populations grew and elaborate churches were constructed.

"Later Icelandic accounts suggest that in the 1120s, Greenlanders used walrus ivory to secure the right to their own bishopric from the king of Norway. Tusks were also used to pay tithes to the church," said Barrett.

He points out that the 11th to 13th centuries were a time of demographic and economic boom in Europe, with growing demand from urban centres and the elite served by transporting commodities from increasingly distant sources.

"The demands for luxury goods produced from ivory may have helped the far-flung Norse communities in Greenland survive for centuries," said Barrett.

Co-author Dr Sanne Boessenkool of the University of Oslo said: "We knew from the start that analysing ancient DNA would have the potential for new historical insights, but the findings proved to be particularly spectacular."

The new study tells us less about the end of the Greenland colonies, say Barrett and colleagues. However, they note that it is hard to find evidence of walrus ivory imports to Europe that date after 1400.

Elephant ivory eventually became the material of choice for Europe's artisans. "Changing tastes could have led to a decline in the walrus ivory market of the Middle Ages," said Barrett.

Ivory exports from Greenland could have stalled for other reasons: over-hunting can cause walrus populations to abandon their coastal "haulouts"; the "Little Ice Age" -- a sustained period of lower temperatures -- began in the 14th century; the Black Death ravaged Europe.

Whatever caused the cessation of Europe's trade in walrus ivory, it must have been significant for the end of the Norse Greenlanders," said Barrett. "An overreliance on a single commodity, the very thing which gave the society its initial resilience, may have also contained the seeds of its vulnerability."

The heyday of the walrus ivory trade saw the material used for exquisitely carved items during Europe's Romanesque art period. The church produced much of this, with major ivory workshops in ecclesiastical centres such as Canterbury, UK.

Ivory games were also popular. The Viking board game hnefatafl was often played with walrus ivory pieces, as was chess, with the famous Lewis chessmen among the most stunning examples of Norse carved ivory.

Tusks were exported still attached to the walrus skull and snout, which formed a neat protective package that was broken up at workshops for ivory removal. These remains allowed the study to take place, as DNA extraction from carved artefacts would be far too damaging.

Co-author Dr Bastiaan Star of the University of Oslo said: "Until now, there was no quantitative data to support the story about walrus ivory from Greenland. Walruses could have been hunted in the north of Russia, and perhaps even in Arctic Norway at that time. Our research now proves beyond doubt that much of the ivory traded to Europe during the Middle Ages really did come from Greenland."

The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Nansenfondet and the Research Council of Norway.


An interesting National Geographic article through their SmartNews site on the difficulty faced by contemporary researchers as they attempt to separate fact from fiction. (Ed.)


Researchers test it out on a medieval epic to investigate whether the Battle of Clontarf was fought against the Vikings or was part of an Irish civil war
Battle of Clontarf, Hugh Frazer, 1826 (Wikimedia Commons)

FEBRUARY 2, 2018

In 1014, the famous high king of all Ireland and founder of the O’Brien dynasty, Brian Boru— Brian of Béal Bóraimhe Bóraimhe, near Killaloe in Co Clare —fought Viking forces that controlled Leinster and Dublin at the Battle of Clontarf. Boru’s victory finally broke the power of the Norsemen on the island and united the nation. Supposedly.

As Michael Price at Science reports, over the centuries, some historians have suggested the battle may have been fought as more of a civil war between Boru’s forces and opposing Irish factions instead, and that the Norsemen were bit players.

Now, a new study in the journal Royal Society Open uses social network analysis to weigh in on the debate and see if the battle, remembered across generations as a fight between the Vikings and the Irish, might not have been about that at all. 

According to a press release, lead author Ralph Kenna, a theoretical physicist at Coventry University and other researchers from Coventry, Oxford and Sheffield Universities conducted the social science analysis—which draws inferences based on inspecting a network of relations—on a translation of a 217-page medieval text. Called Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh, or The War of the Irish with the Foreigners, it chronicles 50 years of skirmishes between the Irish and Vikings, including the climactic Battle of Clontarf.

After the researchers formulated a way to measure hostility between the 315 characters in the sprawling epic, they quantified 1,100 interactions as positive (Irish versus Irish) or negative (Irish versus Viking). Crunching the numbers, the analysis overall was negative, suggesting that the hostility was mainly between the Irish and Vikings, though the result is not clear-cut, indicating that the relationships all around were mixed.

As the researchers write in the paper, their findings do not support “clear-cut traditionalist or revisionist depictions of the Viking Age in Ireland.” Instead, they conclude, their analysis suggests “a moderate traditionalist picture of conflict which is mostly between Irish and Viking characters, but with significant amounts of hostilities between both sides as well.” 
Kenna tells Price that the team is highly aware that the source material they are drawing from may not be completely accurate. Today, there is sparse archaeological evidence from the reign of Boru and Contarf to pull from and there are no contemporary historical accounts of the battle. Additionally, researchers do not know when the Cogadh was written, and its timeline is out of whack.

The text itself is also a pretty blatant piece of propaganda against the Vikings. It’s believed the work was a way to strengthen the O’Brien clans claim to Ireland’s throne. Instead of focusing on the real battle between anti-Boru Irish in Leinster and Dublin, some historians believe it casts the battles as a noble fight to drive out the Vikings and unite Ireland.
But regardless of the intent of the book, Kenna tells Price that he thinks the relationships described in it might be more or less accurate. “There’s an art to propaganda,” he says. “You can’t falsify too much or else people won’t accept it.”

Søren Michael Sindbæk, a Viking archaeologist at Aarhus University not involved in the study, tells Price that he agrees that the analysis may be a way to cut through the layers of propaganda and get at something that might not have been consciously constructed by the author. He points out that similar analysis has been used recently in anthropology. For instance, in a recent study researchers used social network theory to compare the similarity of pottery decorations and map regional networks and discern the role played by Jefferson County Iroquoians in the 16th century.

Though we’ll likely never know exactly how the Battle of Clontarf went down, we do at least know King Boru’s fate. He was killed during the battle, either in hand-to-hand combat or when his tent was overrun by foes fleeing the battlefield. Ireland did not stay united for long after his death and soon the island fell back into regional conflict. 


800-Year-Old Church in Ireland Survives Viking Presence, an English Invasion and War

Ancient Origins continues to provide interesting articles with this one about the survival of a Christian Church from the Dark Ages. (Ed.)


6 JULY, 2018 - 22:53 DHWTY

800-Year-OldChurch in Ireland Survives Viking Presence, an English Invasion and War

St. Mary's Collegiate Church is a stunning medieval church located in the 13 th century town of Youghal, in the eastern part of County Cork, the southernmost county of Ireland. When you enter the Church, you walk in the footsteps of 800 years of inhabitants of the town, as well as mariners who visited to give thanks for a safe arrival. It is the largest surviving medieval Parish Church in Ireland and one of only five in continuous use for religious worship.

1,600 Years of HistoryThe 800-year-old building that stands as it is now is the third church on the site. It started off as a monastic settlement of St. Declan of Ardmore, an early Irish saint, in the 5 th century AD, but that church – built of timber – burned down in a fire. The second was a stone church, but that was destroyed in a storm in the 12 th century. The current church was constructed in 1220 AD and has remained strong ever since.
The Chancel, inside St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
The Beginning of St Mary’s ChurchThe earliest entry in the vestry book of Youghal is a statement of parish accounts for 1201. Additionally, on the current church’s West Door is the list of clergy serving the church, which can be traced all the way back to 1221.

It was during this time, 1220, to be more exact, that the church’s Great Nave was erected. The roof of the Nave is styled in a form typical of 13 th century Gothic architecture and has been radiocarbon dated to 1250AD, making it the oldest church roof in Ireland
The roof of the Nave in St Mary’s Church, the oldest church roof in Ireland. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
Upside-down Cross?One of the more unusual features that appears inside the church, is what first appears as an upside-down cross, which in recent times is viewed as an anti-Christian or Satanic symbol. However, it is not as it seems. The upside-down cross is actually a sword rest. Dating back to 1684, the rest was used to hold the sword of the sword bearer, who proceeded the Mayor into the Church for ceremonial occasions.

The sword rest in St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Famous and Infamous VisitorsSome historical personages associated with St. Mary’s Collegiate Church include Sir Walter Raleigh, Oliver Cromwell, John Wesley, the Earls of Desmond and Ormonde, the Duke of Wellington, and many famous travellers and writers.

Sir Walter Raleigh arrived in Ireland in 1579 to fight against the Irish for Queen Elizabeth I, and was rewarded handsomely for his efforts – he was granted the beautiful town of Youghal and the farms around it and was elected Mayor of Youghal in 1588. Things didn’t end too well for Raleigh. After the Queen died, King James I didn’t take too kindly to Raleigh and had him imprisoned, believing he was plotting to kill him. Later, in 1618, the King ordered Raleigh’s execution by beheading. His wife was so heartbroken that she carried his head around in a velvet bag for the remainder of her life.
Life was good for Sir Walter Raleigh, until the Queen died ( public domain )

English military leader Oliver Cromwell was one of the church’s least welcome visitors. He made Youghal the base for his Irish campaign, which lasted from 1649 to 1650. Cromwell didn’t think much of the church and used the graveyard outside to stable his horses. On Sundays, he would march his soldiers and horses up through the town and into the church, where, as a puritan he would give fiery sermons about heaven and hell. According to local folklore, Cromwell delivered a funeral oration from the top of a chest, which is still kept today in the church.
An engraving of a Viking longboat, dating to between 850 and 1050AD can be seen faintly etched into the surface of this stone slab. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
Vikings in Youghal
The Vikings also paid a visit to Youghal, and their mark has been left on a stone slab dating to between 850 AD and 1050 AD – a Viking longboat can be faintly seen etched into the slab, which is now on display in St Mary’s church. The Annals of Youghal record that a site was first inhabited in 853 AD. The Vikings later built a fortress there and laid the foundations of a commercial sea-port.

Historic Graveyard
St. Mary’s Collegiate Church is also notable for its irregularly-shaped historic graveyard, which is situated in the north-western corner of the town walls. The names of those buried in this graveyard have been meticulously recorded in the parish records, which is a useful resource for those who would like to find more information about burials there. The earliest grave dates to 1632 and reads “Here lyeth the body of John the son of Richard Nicholas who died Febry the 25 th 1632”.
The oldest gravestone at St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
One of the most unusual features of this graveyard is the so-called ‘pauper’s grave’. This is a coffin-shaped recess in the town wall, which, according to tradition, was a resuable grave built to hold a coffin for burials of the poor. Those who could not afford a coffin would be placed temporarily in this one for the funerary rites. After the deceased was placed in a grave, the coffin would be brought back to the recess.
The Elaborate Tomb of Sir Richard Boyle
A stark contrast can be seen between the ‘pauper’s grave’ and the tomb of Sir Richard Boyle, which is located within the church. Boyle was an Englishman who lived between the 16 th and 17 thcenturies. He served as the Lord Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland, and was created Earl of Cork in 1620. Apart from being a politician, Boyle was also an entrepreneur, and he is said to have been the richest man in the known world at the time of his death in 1643. Boyle was interred in a monument that he made for himself and his family in the church. Apart from Boyle’s effigy, those of his two wives, his mother, and 9 of his 15 children may also be found on this lavish monument.

New Discoveries
St Mary’s church in Youghal continues to yield new discoveries. In 2014, a burial vault was discovered beneath the church when the floor’s subsidence was investigated during a restoration project funded by the Heritage Council of Ireland. The vault was used to inter a high-status individual / family. Apart from that, the archaeologists also uncovered evidence of subterranean flues from the 18 th century that carried heat from fires lit inside the church, as well as a system that transported water from a furnace via earthen channels.
A stone grave now on display in St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
The Collegiate Church of Youghal is a building of historical importance for Ireland. It is now classified as a National Monument of Ireland and is under the care of the government, by way of a lease between the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body, and the Youghal Urban District Council.

Top image: St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

By Wu Mingren


New Yorkers in Viking Age Iceland

Another good article posted through The author details the early migration patterns of the Norse over the course of their history during the Viking Age, and points out the reasons why all the sagas and tales of that period are so similar, and in some cases identical - they were from the same source. (Ed.) 


New Yorkers in Viking Age Iceland

By Matthias Egeler

What is the founding date of New York? A seemingly obvious answer is: AD 1664, when the former Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam gave in to the threatening guns of the English Royal Navy and was re-named after their new owner James, the Duke of York, and after the city which was his seat of power. This is, however, not the only possible answer. A less obvious but equally correct answer is: which one of them?

In Iceland, there are four settlement sites that answer to the name of Jórvík – and all of them probably are Viking Age foundations named after the Old Norse name of York: Jórvík. So basically, there are four ‘New Yorks’ in Iceland. They may be a bit smaller than the city on the American East Coast: the Jórvík in Skaftárhreppur in Southern Iceland today consists of barely a dozen buildings, even if one includes agricultural outbuildings in the count. Yet nevertheless, new Yorks these settlement sites are: places named after the ‘old’ York in northern England by Scandinavian settlers who had moved westwards across the Atlantic.

The New Yorks of Iceland: the four settlement-places called ‘Jórvík’ in Fljótsdalshérað, Fjarðabyggð, Skaftárhreppur, and Sveitarfélagið Árborg. All four places are named after the Old Norse name of York: Jórvík. Map based on data from the National Land Survey of Iceland, used by permission (accessed 30 March 2017)
The broader context of the foundation of the four Icelandic ‘New Yorks’ is found in the history of the Norse westward expansion during the early Middle Ages. Iceland was discovered in the middle of the ninth century and was subsequently settled between c. AD 870 and AD 930. Yet neither the discovery nor the settlement of Iceland were isolated occurrences.

With the beginning of the Viking Age in the late eighth century, the Norse began to push the borders of their settlement territory to the west: northern England; the Scottish mainland; Shetland; Orkney; the Western Isles of Scotland; Ireland; the Faeroes; and finally Iceland, Greenland, and even a bit of Newfoundland were all settled by Norse incomers. Of the Norse that came to these lands west of Scandinavia, some came to raid, some to trade, and some to stay; and of those who had come to stay, some after a while ended up moving even further west. Or in other words: while the first generation of settlers in newly-discovered Iceland was dominated by men (and very, very few women) who were ethnically Norse, not all of these early settlers had come to Iceland directly from Scandinavia.

If our medieval textual sources are to be believed, about a quarter of the earliest Icelandic settlers came to Iceland only indirectly: from Scandinavia, these settlers originally had moved to Britain or Ireland and decided only later on that maybe there were greener pastures to be found even further west. So, some of them then continued their move westwards by setting sail for Iceland. At least part of these ‘indirect’ settlers, who went to Iceland via Britain or Ireland rather than directly from Scandinavia, spent several generations in their first host countries before finally moving on to Iceland. Such extended stays meant that some of them, at least to a certain extent, went native in northern England or the Gaelic-speaking world, even to the point where some were on the brink of losing their linguistic identity.

A certain Auðun, for instance, who had come to Iceland from the Hebrides (where his father had emigrated to) and who was married to an Irish wife, was nicknamed ‘the Stutterer’: since Auðun seems to have grown up on the (Gaelic-speaking) Hebrides and there had been integrated enough into Gaelic society to have an Irish spouse, this ‘stuttering’ may not so much be a speech defect but rather the reflex of an inadequate grasp of Norse by somebody who ethnically was Scandinavian, but who had culturally and linguistically grown up in and into a Gaelic environment.

When such settlers came to Iceland, their reference-point for what was ‘home’ might not have been Scandinavia, but rather the place where their family had last lived: northern England and the Gaelic-speaking world of Ireland and Scotland. Just as in the case of the Dutch settlers of Nieuw Amsterdam and the Duke of York, a first step for such settlers to make themselves at home in the new land could have been to name their new settlement after their old. Thus, Norse settlers from Viking York – Jórvík – might have given their new farms in Iceland just that very name: Jórvík. (New) York.

At a close reading of Old Norse-Icelandic and medieval Irish literature, it turns out that this focusing on an old ‘home’ in Britain or Ireland is relevant not only for the history of the settlement and place-names of Iceland, but also for important parts of medieval Irish storytelling. A well-known instance is the story of how Auðr the Deep-Minded had crosses erected at her settlement site on the Hvammsfjörður fjord, thus creating both a place for her prayers and the place-name Krosshólar, ‘Cross Hills’. Today, this is memorialised by a stone cross on the rock outcrop of Krosshólaborg on the north-eastern tip of the fjord. In scholarship to date, Auðr’s ‘Cross Hills’ have mostly been seen as a calvary hill. Yet it may not be chance that, according to her story as told by medieval Icelandic literature, Auðr’s home before her emigration to Iceland had been the Gaelic-world of Ireland, Scotland, and the Scottish Isles – a world where High Crosses were among the most prominent monuments visible in the religious landscape. Maybe Auðr did not simply create a calvary hill, but rather – and much more poignantly – turned her new settlement place into a facsimile of the landscape in which she had grown up and which for most of her life for her had meant ‘home’.

The rock outcrop of Krosshólaborg on the north-eastern tip of the Hvammsfjörður fjord, crowned by a stone cross erected in 1965 to commemorate Auðr as the first, Christian settler at Hvammur, who reputedly erected High Crosses in this area already in the Settlement Period. © M. Egeler, 2011.
Similarly, ever since Ari the Wise in the twelfth century wrote his ‘Book of Icelanders’, the paparhave loomed large in the cultural imagination of early Iceland: fabled Gaelic anchorites who were thought to have reached Iceland even before the Norse did, only to abandon it when the island was taken over by pagan settlers from Scandinavia. The ‘Book of Icelanders’ or Íslendingabókmakes much of them, and so does the ‘Book of Settlements’ or Landnámabók.

Yet if one has a close look both at the Icelandic and at the Gaelic material – stories about saints, place-names, and the Latin writings of the Irish historian Dicuil – it turns out that another scenario is much more likely than an early settlement of Iceland by Irish monks. 

Norse settlers coming from the Gaelic-speaking world (especially Scotland and the Scottish islands) seem to have brought the idea of papar-places to Iceland because in their old home on the Hebrides, such monastic places were what had made up the sacred landscape. 

The papar came to Iceland not physically, but as part of the cultural imaginary of partly-Gaelicised settlers who tried to feel at home in Iceland by turning Iceland conceptually into a mirror-image of their old home in the Gaelic world – almost a ‘Nova Scotia’ or a ‘Nova Hibernia’.

Papós (‘papar-Estuary’) at the mouth of the lagoon of Papafjörður (‘papar-Fjord’) in southern Iceland: a place whose names evoke imaginary Gaelic anchorites and thus the sacred landscape of northern Scotland and the Scottish islands. © M. Egeler, 2014.
Even heroic landscapes were affected in this way. One of the most famous of the Sagas of Icelanders is Eyrbyggja saga, the ‘Saga of the Inhabitants of Eyr’. Much of the main narrative of this saga is framed by the story of Þórólfr Twist-Foot, who may well be one of the most interestingly evil characters of Icelandic saga literature. Having been a ‘great Viking’ (i.e., a robber and raider) before his arrival in Iceland, he behaves as a violent, unfair bully even after he has settled down there. The older he gets, the worse his bullying becomes, and this trajectory is even continued after his death: soon after his burial, he returns from the grave as a viciously destructive revenant whose hauntings threaten to turn the whole area into a wasteland. When his son intervenes and moves the body to an outlying headland, there is peace for a while.

The terror returns after the death of Þórólfr’s son. Þórólfr resumes his hauntings with such ferocity that one farm after another has to be abandoned. To stop him, the new local landowner disinters the body and burns it. Yet then a cow licks the stones where the ashes from Þórólfr’s pyre had been blown, and Þórólfr returns through its womb: the cow gives birth to a calf and Þórólfr is reborn as a magnificent, violent, terrible bull who ultimately kills his owner and ends his life by disappearing in a swamp. The swamp is then named Glæsiskelda. This name is a linguistic game that both plays with the imagery of water and light, as the name can be translated as ‘Shining Spring’, and takes up the name of the bull, which had been called Glæsir.

The same pattern that is found in the saga narrative also is well-known from medieval Irish storytelling. Among the main protagonists of the Ulster Cycle of Tales, the main heroic cycle of early medieval Irish storytelling, are two magnificent bulls. Originally, these bulls had been men from the otherworld who underwent a series of transformations. Towards the end of this series of transformations, they turned into two water-worms. As water-worms, they were swallowed by two cows. From this, the cows had calves. They gave birth to two magnificent, violent, terrible bulls, which in the end tore each other to pieces. In their final fight, these bulls created the place-name Áth Lúain. This place-name, just like the place-name Glæsiskelda, represents a linguistic game that plays both with the imagery of water and light and with a body part of one of the bulls from which the place reputedly is named: it can mean both ‘Ford of Brightness’ and ‘Ford of the [Bull’s] Loin’.

Thus, the stories from the Icelandic saga and from Irish heroic storytelling present the same patterns, and even the same details. In both narrative traditions, a being, at the end of a series of transformations, is turned into something tiny that is swallowed by cows. The cows then give birth to monstrous bulls. The lives of these bulls end in a hugely destructive fight, which leads to the creation of a place-name that plays both with the imagery of water and light and with [body parts of] the bulls themselves.

In the ‘Saga of the Inhabitants of Eyr’, the story of Þórólfr Twist-Foot and his bull-transformation is closely connected with the topography of the Álftafjörður fjord. Step by narrative step, the saga connects the plot with local place-names, culminating in the creation of the ‘Spring of Brightness’ Glæsiskelda – which one can still locate on the official maps of the area. It is almost as if an Icelandic fjord had been turned into a Gaelic heroic landscape. 

One wonders whether what we see here is something quite similar to what we see in the four Icelandic New Yorks: a settler looking at his new land and trying to turn it into a facsimile of his (or her) old home. This can be done by transferring names from the old home to the new, but, in a much more elaborate way, it can also be done by transferring whole stories. In this way, the connection of the settlement of Iceland with Britain and Ireland seems to have instilled an element of Gaelicness into the Icelandic sense of place. When looking at their new land, part of the settlers of Iceland apparently still yearned for a home located in Britain and Ireland, and tried to bring it with them, be it in the form of High Crosses, imaginary hermitages, men-turned-into-bulls, or the name of York.

Matthias Egeler holds a Heisenberg fellowship at the Institut für Nordische Philologie of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich and is Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He is the author of Atlantic Outlooks on Being at Home: Gaelic Place-Lore and the Construction of a Sense of Place in Medieval Iceland, published by the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. Click here to learn more about the book.