Axe of Iron series

stacks_image_507 stacks_image_443 Assimilation

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.


Draken Harald Hardrada

For those who have not seen this magnificent Viking ship built in Norway, here is your chance. 

Named for Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, or Harald Fairhair as he was also known, the 115' oaken ship was completed in 2012.

To fully appreciate the consummate skill of the men who built her, I encourage the reader to click on the title link, and watch the three accompanying videos showing the construction process, the naming and launching of Dragon, and her shakedown voyages. (Ed.)

Draken Harald Hardrada 

Draken, or Dragon where she belongs, at sea

Long-lost North American Viking settlement was in Canada, say archaeologists

As a follow-on to last weeks post, here's another good article from the UK's Independent on the possibility of a second Viking settlement in Canada.

To get the full impact of this article I encourage the reader to also click on the title link to read it on the Independents own website.(Ed.)

Friday 9 March 2018 13:03

Site described in Norse sagas would be only second early European camp identified in the Americas
A father and daughter dressed as Vikings in L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, already known as an early European settlement ( Shaun Best/Reuters )
A long lost Viking settlement that featured in sagas passed down over hundreds of years, may have been located on the east coast of Canada

Birgitta Wallace, an award-winning specialist in Norse archaeology and Viking evidence in the West, said she had uncovered evidence that the new site known as Hop – meaning tidal lagoon – is in the province of New Brunswick, on the country's east coast. 
If she is proved correct, it would be the second Viking settlement to be discovered in North America.

Experts have known from Norse sagas that there was a settlement in North America of 11th-century Europeans, who grew wild grapes, ate salmon and made canoes out of animal hides. 

The first site uncovered is at L'Anse aux Meadows, a United Nations (UN) World Heritage site, on the northern tip of Newfoundland.

Over the decades, academics have suggested possible locations where the remains of Hop might be found, including Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Maine, New England and New York.

After studying Norse texts and using the description of the settlement from sagas of Viking voyages, together with archaeological findings at L'Anse aux Meadows and at Native American sites on America’s east coast, Ms Wallace now believes it was located in New Brunswick. 
“I am placing Hop in the Miramichi-Chaleur Bay area,“ she said.

New Brunswick, Canada, where the site is thought to be located (Google Maps)

However, she said Hop may not be a single settlement. Instead she said the Vikings may have created multiple short-term settlements in the area, the locations varying from year to year.

Tales of the Viking voyages were passed down orally through generations, and “Hop” may have referred to several seasonal settlements, Ms Wallace said.
North-eastern New Brunswick is the only place that meets all the criteria in the sagas for Hop, she said, adding that it has wild grapes and salmon, coastal sandbanks and a population that used animal-hide canoes. 
“New Brunswick is the northern limit of grapes, which are not native either to Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia,” said Ms Wallace.

Sandbanks – or “barrier sandbars” - are particularly dominant along the New Brunswick east coast and wild salmon was abundant there at the time, she said. 

Research shows they were not found at pre-Columbian Native American sites in Maine or New England, she added.

Evidence of trees found at L'Anse aux Meadows also suggested the Vikings had set up camp, at least for a short time, in the New Brunswick area, she said. 

Animal skins were used in shipbuilding by the Mi'kmaq people, who lived in the Miramichi-Chaleur bay area.

As the camp was probably used only for the summer, tools and bodies for burial are likely to have been returned to the Vikings’ home base, Greenland, so evidence may no longer exist, and the key areas may now be paved over, she said. 


Viking expert certain Norse seafarers visited Miramichi, Chaleur Bay

I met Brigitta Wallace in 2004, when my wife and I visited L' Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland. She is passionate about her work and if she thinks the Vikings encamped on New Brunswick I choose to believe her, because the Greenland Vikings had 400+ - years to thoroughly explore what is now Canada and northern portions of the USA.

Wallace also thinks the settlement of Hop might be on New Brunswick; perhaps Straumfjord is there as well, because neither place has ever been found, and they are certainly somewhere up there. I wrote about both encampments in my first novel, The Settlers, An Axe of Iron Novel.

Someday, with luck, one or both lost settlements, or encampments will be found. (Ed.)


Archaeologist not hopeful of finding definite proof

Gail Harding · CBC News · Posted: Mar 11, 2018 7:00 AM AT | Last Updated: March 11

Birgitta Wallace, senior archaeologist emerita with Parks Canada, says she believes Vikings had summer camps in New Brunswick's Miramichi and Chaleur Bay area. (Contributed/Rob Ferguson)
Did Vikings visit New Brunswick's Miramichi and Chaleur Bay areas? According to the research done by Birgitta Wallace, senior archaeologist emerita with Parks Canada, they did. 
"I'm really convinced that the Vikings did visit that area. Not all my colleagues would agree with me," said the woman who's been studying Vikings for 50 years.

While she is certain the Vikings did spend time in Miramichi and Chaleur Bay, she says she is not hopeful of ever finding anything to prove it.

Wallace said she determined that the second location that Vikings visited in North America, known as "Hóp," meaning "tidal lagoon," was in the Miramichi and Chaleur region after she studied the Vikings sagas. She also drew on her extensive work at L'Anse aux Meadows, located on the very northern tip of Newfoundland. 

Sagas tell Viking history
The sagas are contained in medieval documentation from Iceland that goes back to the oral history of the Vikings. They were not written down until 300 years after the actual events occurred, so Wallace said the oral telling of the stories may have changed a bit over time. 
"There are two separate manuscripts...that talk about voyages to what must be North America because it's land west and south of Greenland." 
Wallace said while Vikings settled on Iceland and then Greenland, they continued exploring — either by accident or intentionally - to new lands. "These were people who just settled in Greenland in 985. They were immigrating there from Iceland." 

Wallace said when voyages began between Norway or Iceland and Greenland, it was inevitable that someone would get blown off course. She believes this is how they found North America. 

Two versions
The archaeologist said there are two versions of the story. One talks about Leif Erikson retracing the watery path of one of these off-course trips, but it only talks about one settlement where he built a base camp and made four expeditions. 

The other story features a different person and combines all the expeditions into one that go between two areas: "Hóp," meaning "tidal lagoon," a summer camp and a settlement further north described as being in fjord. 

Vikings settled at the L'Anse aux Meadows site on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. (CBC)
"After working a lot with the  L'Anse Meadows and what we found there, it's really clear that L'Anse Meadows is base fits with everything," said Wallace. "And from that camp... we know they went farther south and we know they must have gone as far south as eastern New Brunswick." 

Wallace believes those explorations were done through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which would have led the Vikings to find the Miramichi and Chaleur regions. 
Wallace based her conclusions on the finding of pieces of wood, butternuts and butternut wood at the L'Anse Meadows camp.

"And butternuts have never grown north of northeastern New Brunswick. They are not native to either P.E.I. or Nova Scotia, so New Brunswick is the closest location." 

Description fits
Wallace said the descriptions in the sagas match that part of N.B. well. 
"It talks about sandbars outside the coast, rivers and wonderful hardwoods and not the least, wild grapes. And it so happens that butternuts grow in pretty much the same location as grapes and ripen at the same time," she said.  
"So, whoever picked those nuts would have seen those grapes."

Situated in Newfoundland and Labrador, L'Anse aux Meadows is believed to be where the the Vikings, the first Europeans, landed in the new world. In 1978 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism)
Wallace said the area would have been considered of great importance because it was called Vinland in the saga, which means wine land.
"Vinland wasn't one particular spot, it was a land like Iceland and Greenland, a country or region." 

The archaeologist says she believes about 40 men would spend three months exploring the region, sleeping in structures built with turf with no permanent roofs, just a canvas-like material.
"And to find anything like that after 1,000 years, people that were very anxious I'm sure to take all their tools and belongings with them back, it's not very likely that we can ever find particular, physical evidence like we do have in L'Anse Meadows." 

Encounters with Indigenous inhabitants
But Wallace points out another strong indication the Vikings visited the area is found in the strong similarities of the descriptions in Leif Erikson's saga and Jacques Cartier's journal.
"It is exactly the same type of description." 

Her belief is strengthened by the saga's description of the Vikings encounters with most of the Indigenous inhabitants at "Hóp." 

Birgitta Wallace says the Vikings likely encountered the Indigenous inhabitants of Metepenagiag. (Radio-Canada)
"That would fit this area very well," she said. "It would be the ancestors of Mi'kmaq and you have Red Bank, Metepenagiag which has been inhabited for 3,000 years or more." 

Wallace is finding the sudden interest in this part of the story of the Vikings' expedition humorous considering she's been researching and writing about it for several years. She thinks an article she recently had published is the reason. 
"Somehow, it grabbed people's attention," she said with a laugh. "The interest in Vikings is astounding to me." 


Unearthed - Cork's Viking history on show

Ireland continues to produce remarkable artifacts of the Viking Age for archaeologists. This time it is the southern city of Cork that has the limelight, and there is certain to be more from that city as the dig continues. (Ed.)

Bill Browne

June 2 2018 12:00 AM

Fascinating exhibition offers insight into everyday Cork life during the Viking era

3A reconstructed Viking era wooden house with at the exhibition in The Cork Public Museum

People are being offered a fascinating insight into the everyday life of Viking Cork through a thought-provoking exhibition taking place at the Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald's Park.

Aptly entitled 'Below Our Feet', the free exhibition features a fascinating wealth of artefacts from the Viking era, unearthed during the development of the former Beamish and Crawford site in the heart of the city between November 2016 and March of this year. The former brewery on South Main Street is the site for the proposed €75 million Cork event centre and student accommodation.  

Excavations have uncovered evidence of the Cork's earliest urban layout dating back to 1070 - making them some 30-years older than any housing previously discovered in the city. 

The delicate and painstaking task of excavation was undertaken by a team led by renowned archaeologist Dr Maurice Hurley, with the resultant discoveries revealing fascinating details of the city's origins and positioning Cork as one of the earliest Viking settlements in Ireland. 

The lowest excavated items were found some four metres (12 feet) below South Main Street's current level, with the individual levels yielding finds representing almost every period throughout Cork's history and development. 

In addition to evidence that houses existed in Cork more than a millennia ago, the team also found the foundations of 19 wooden Viking houses from the 11th and 12 centuries, a perfectly preserved weaver's sword featuring a carved human face - thought to be more than a 1,000 years old - and three stone walls and a doorway at St Laurence's Church from the 13th century. 

Other artefacts found included a collection of spoons, ladles and buckets and a wooden thread-winder with a design of two horses heads carved into it. 

Also on display will be the wooden items and structures recovered that revealed 12th century Cork as a wooden town where all of the houses and many of the everyday objects used by their inhabitants were fashioned from wood. 

The exhibition, which is being held in partnership with Cork City Council and funded by BAM, was prepared by Dr Hurley and his staff in conjunction with students from the MA course in Museum Studies at UCC. 

It will highlight the findings, with a particular emphasis on the earliest excavated levels dating from the 12th and 13th centuries and the late Viking-age or Hiberno-Norse era, a period that saw a mix of Scandinavian and native Irish influences. 

Dr Hurley said the discoveries were important in terms of getting a greater understanding of life in Cork during the early medieval period. 
"The preservation of a great variety of wooden structures and objects of the late Viking age has been the greatest reward and cultural gain from the excavation in the medieval levels of Cork City. I hope the exhibition will be to the enjoyment of scholars and residents of Cork fascinated by the Viking era," said Dr Hurley. 

The CEO of BAM, Theo Cullinane, said they were "honoured" to be playing a central role in the development of modern Cork while also helping to "reveal a hidden chapter of its past." 
"The discovery of these artefacts gives a flavour of life and society in Viking era Cork and the historical importance the city played during that era," he said.


More info from Fox News on my previous post about the terrific dig discoveries at the former site of the Pictish fortress in northern Scotland. 

Again, there is a video accompanying the article that may be accessed by clicking the title link below and reading the article on the Fox News site. (Ed.)


May 31st

File photo - Men dressed as vikings stand in front of a 40 foot-long viking longship as it is burned on Calton Hill in Edinburgh as the launch pad for the city's Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations Dec. 29, 2004. (REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell)
Marauding Vikings may have inadvertently preserved Scotland's largest Pictish fort by setting it on fire. At the site archaeologists found the fort's wall and beautiful hair and dress pins.

A ‘treasure trove’ of ancient artifacts has been discovered at a fort in Scotland that archaeologists believe was razed to the ground by Vikings.

Archaeologists at the University of Aberdeen made the remarkable finds at Burghead on Scotland’s northern Moray coast. The fort, which was once used by the ancient Pictish people, is described as the largest of its kind in Scotland.

The fort was burned to the ground in the 10th century, likely by advancing Vikings. Experts say that this has preserved items that would have otherwise rotted away hundreds of years ago.

Excavations at the site began in 2015. Last month a dig at the site revealed more of the fort’s secrets.

A bramble headed dress or hair pin (University of Aberdeen)
“When we started digging, we discovered that while the destruction of the fort in the 10thcentury may not have been good news for the Picts, the fact that so much of it was set alight is a real bonus for archaeologists,” said Dr. Gordon Noble head of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, in a statement.

In addition to a fortified wall, archaeologists found ornate hair and dress pins, one of which has a detailed bramble design. They also identified so-called “midden layers,” which are essentially ancient garbage dumps and are likely to shed more light on the lives of the ancient fort dwellers.

“We are digging in what is essentially the area that the Picts threw their rubbish but this collection of the waste products of their day-to-day lives is a treasure trove to archaeologists,” said Noble, who led the excavation. “What’s exciting is the level of preservation here. We’ve found animal bone which rarely survives in mainland Scotland because of the acidic soil. We are already getting really nice information about what people ate within the fort and we hope to extract a level of information we’ve not had for Pictish sites before.”

The wall face of the Pictish fort at Burghead (University of Aberdeen)
Dubbed “Picti” or “painted people” by the Romans, the Picts were a confederation of tribesin northern Scotland.

Much of the Pictish culture, however, remains shrouded in mystery so archaeologists are thrilled with the Burghead finds. “The Picts were a huge influence on northern Scotland but because they left no written records, archaeology is essential in providing answers in regard to their lives, influence and culture,” said Noble, in the statement.

Coastal erosion means that archaeologists are facing a race against time at Burghead. “The timber wall we found is only one to one and a half meters [5 feet] away from the erosion face,” explained Noble. “We hope to return next year to rescue as much as we can before it falls into the sea.”

Other archaeological finds in Scotland have also offered insight into the country’s history. Last year, for example, experts announced the discovery of a rare Roman coin on a remote island in the Orkney archipelago. Archaeologists and volunteers also found the location of a long-lost early medieval kingdom in southern Scotland.

In 2014, a stunning hoard of ancient silver, believed to have been used as bribes by Romans, was discovered with a metal detector by a teenager in Dairsie, in the Scottish region of Fife.

Experts in Scotland have also used 3-D technology to reconstruct the face of an 18th-century ‘witch.’

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers


‘Viking Age Destruction’ found to have preserved key parts of Scotland’s largest Pictish fort

From Medievalists, this interesting article on an archaeological dig on the coast of Moray Firth in northern Scotland.

It seems that the Viking destruction of the Pictish fortress during the 10 century may have provided us with a look into the life of the Picts that we have never had before.

I encourage the reader to read the article on the Medievalists site by clicking the title link if you want to view the accompanying videos. (Ed.)



When one of Scotland’s most powerful Pictish forts was destroyed by fire in the 10th century – a time when Vikings are known to have been raiding the Moray coastline – it brought to a rapid end a way of life which had endured for centuries.

The wall face of the Pictish fort at Burghead – photo courtesy University of Aberdeen
But archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen have now discovered that while the tenth-century fire razing of the fort, which is often attributed to advancing Vikings, may have spelled the end for Pictish life on the promontory, it has preserved material from the site that would normally have rotted away hundreds of years ago – offering them a unique insight into its history.
The team, led by Dr Gordon Noble head of archaeology at the University, returned to Burghead near Lossiemouth, in April to continue excavations at the fort – the largest of its kind in Scotland.
Although Burghead’s significance as a seat of Pictish power is well known, little archaeological work has been undertaken there as it was believed all significant evidence of its earlier life was destroyed when the building of the modern town commenced in 1805.
The Aberdeen team began excavations in 2015 and their efforts have already yielded significant finds including a Pictish longhouse and Anglo Saxon coins of Alfred the Great. This time they were granted scheduled monument consent to dig in the lower citadel for the first time and at the seaward ramparts of the upper citadel.
In the lower citadel their excavations uncovered a huge timber laced wall which would have stood more than six metres high and in the upper citadel remarkably preserved timbers. The complexity of the fort defences was documented in the 19th century work of archaeologist Hugh Young but Dr Noble said his team had expected little trace to remain. Instead they found the defensive structure preserved in amazing detail.
Dr Noble explains: “We are fortunate to have the descriptions of the site written by Hugh Young in 1893. He describes a lattice work of oak timbers which would have acted as an enormous defensive barrier and must have been a hugely complex feat of engineering in the early medieval period.
“In the years that have passed since he made his observations, the Burghead Fort has unfortunately been subject to significant coastal erosion and the harsh North Sea environment.
“But when we started digging, we discovered that while the destruction of the fort in the 10th century may not have been good news for the Picts, the fact that so much of it was set alight is a real bonus for archaeologists.
“We have discovered that the complex layer of oak planks set in the wall was burned in situ and that the resulting charring has actually preserved it in amazing detail when ordinarily it would have rotten away to nothing by now.”

Cathy MacIver of AOC Archaeology with a bronze ring from the excavations – photo courtesy University of Aberdeen
The level of preservation has allowed the archaeologists to take multiple samples for carbon dating which should provide new insights into the period when the fort was built, its construction and final destruction.
“What’s exciting is the level of preservation here,” says Dr Noble. “We’ve found animal bone which rarely survives in mainland Scotland because of the acidic soil. We are already getting really nice information about what people ate within the fort and we hope to extract a level of information we’ve not had for Pictish sites before.”
“The Picts were a huge influence on northern Scotland but because they left no written records, archaeology is essential in providing answers in regard to their lives, influence and culture. While it has long been known that Burghead was a very significant place, it was also assumed that its archaeological value had been largely lost due to the destruction caused by the building of the modern town.
“Our work so far has shown that this is certainly not the case. Instead we are starting to build a picture of Pictish resources being out into this site on a scale we have never found evidence for before.”
In addition to the fortified wall, archaeologists also found intricate hair and dress pins, one with a detailed bramble design and identified ‘midden layers’ which they expect to yield significant archaeological value in assessing the economy and everyday lives of the fort dwellers.
“We are digging in what is essentially the area that the Picts threw their rubbish but this collection of the waste products of their day-to-day lives is a treasure trove to archaeologists.
“What’s exciting is the level of preservation here. We’ve found animal bone which rarely survives in mainland Scotland because of the acidic soil. We are already getting really nice information about what people ate within the fort and we hope to extract a level of information we’ve not had for Pictish sites before.”


Viking artefacts indicate industrious life within Cork city

Interesting article from the Irish Examiner on the big Viking news from downtown Cork, Ireland.
And no, I haven't misspelled numerous words in the article, the author writes in the King's English, which can be somewhat different than American English.
To view the video accompanying the article and the politicians posing for the camera - providing you have an interest in posed politicians - read the article on the Irish Examiner site by clicking the title link below.
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Niall Murray 
The everyday homes and utensils of our Viking ancestors have been brought to life as archaeological artefacts from Cork’s early medieval city go on public display.
om the Viking era to go on display this week in partnership with Cork City Council, Cork PuMuseum and University CollCork.
While many of the artefacts taken from the ground below Cork’s former Beamish & Crawford brewery site in the inner city look like the possessions of dignitaries, the rich decorations instead reflect the craftwork of those who lived there nearly 1,000 years ago.
They can be seen up close in the free Below Our Feet exhibition that opens to general viewing at Cork Public Museum tomorrow.
Following specialist conservation work, the perfectly-preserved objects and fragments which can be seen publicly for the first time include what looks like a dagger owned by an important person.
However, the 30cm ‘sword’ with two back-to-back heads carved in minute detail above an interlace decoration on its handle was used in weaving to hammer threads into place on a loom. This was simply a personalised object, with its intricate interlace carved below the heads. People did their own work of this nature.
“In the early development of towns, lots of skills would have been put to use in each household,” said archaeologist Maurice Hurley, who led the excavation project for the Beamish & Crawford site’s developers Bam.
As well as turning up artefacts, nearly 18 months of excavations up to last March to facilitate building of the long-delayed events centre have added significantly to our understanding of Cork’s and Ireland’s Hiberno-Norse and early medieval history.
As explained in the Irish Examiner earlier this year, scientific analysis has shown that the earliest houses whose floors were unearthed can be dated to around 1070. This is 25 years earlier than the previously-proven existence of an urban streetscape layout in Cork, meaning the city and Waterford probably underwent formalised urban settlement in the same decades.
However, it is stressed by Mr Hurley, who has excavated Hiberno-Norse sites in both cities and elsewhere, that there is still evidence of much earlier viking presence in Waterford even if living arrangements were not organised in an urban fashion.
Some of the most fascinating of a dozen artefacts on display from the South Main Street dig are everyday items, one of which looks like a simple wooden pot lid.
On closer examination, as Mr Hurley said, it can be seen that the underside is threaded to ensure the yew-wood lid could be firmly secured on the vessel.
It shows signs of repair, as a split in the wood is kept together by tiny threads of wire, a sign that there was significant value placed on the vessel or its contents.
The archaeologists also found what is probably the wooden back of an early mirror, whose frame would once have held in place a thin sheet of reflective metal in the centuries long before glass was used. An oval loop at one end suggests it once hung on a wall or a post inside one of Cork’s early medieval homes.
The artefacts were taken from the lowest layers of the excavations funded by Bam, which has also supported the exhibition and associated conservation work.
Overseen by the National Museum of Ireland, it has ensured the items survived their removal from the ground whose marshy nature ensured they were so well preserved after centuries below the feet of brewery workers and other Cork citizens.
Cork Public Museum acting curator Dan Breen said adapting to this marshy surface inspired the use of clay blocks for the floors of the earliest homes discovered by Mr Hurley and his colleagues.
One such floor is replicated in a lifesize house entrance constructed in the museum.
Clockwise from top: The carved head on the handle of the ‘sword’used for weaving from the artefacts found during the excavations; The wooden back of an early mirror from the collection of artefacts found during the excavations in Cork; A wooden box with iron from the collection of Viking artefacts found during the Beamish & Crawford excavations in Cork; and the lid with a wire repair from the collection of artefacts found during the Beamish & Crawford excavations.
Pictures: Dan Linehan
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